All Aboard! Exploring Mexico’s Copper Canyon by Train

Copper Canyon Train Chihuahua Mexico

“El Chepe” The Copper Canyon Train

Chihuahua, Mexico

Join me for a scenic ride through Northern Mexico’s most rugged & beautiful landscapes on “El Chepe” — the Copper Canyon train.

“WOW.” That’s the most intelligent expression of awe that came from my mouth while standing on the edge of a 400 foot cliff overlooking Barranca del Cobre, also known as the Copper Canyon.

It’s difficult to find better words when you’re in the moment.

We’d been traveling by train through one of Mexico’s greatest natural treasures, and the scenery was spectacular. But the views here in the little town of Divisadero were my favorite by far.

Mexico’s Copper Canyon dominates the southern landscape of Chihuahua, the country’s largest state. You really can’t appreciate how vast and remote this area is until you see it in person.

Cowboy in Creel Mexico

Local Cowboy in Creel

The Copper Canyon Train

In fact the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona isn’t quite as “grand”. Mexico’s version is both bigger and deeper than it’s neighboring cousin in the US.

There is a first-class railroad that will take you through the rough wilderness too. Affectionately called “El Chepe”, this train journey was a highlight of my recent trip into Northern Mexico. It was both comfortable and safe.

Starting in the city of Chihuahua, we chugged along across the desert before slowly climbing into the towering Sierra Madre mountains. El Chepe stops at many small towns over the course of it’s itinerary.

One such town was Creel, the big tourism hub of the region.

Chepe Train Copper Canyon Mexico

Just One of 37 Bridges Along the Route

Tarahumara Indians

Creel has a whopping population of 5,000. It also marks the highest point of the train journey at just under 8,000 feet. Beginning it’s life as a logging town — these days Creel is full of colorful craft shops, small family-owned restaurants, local cowboys, and Tarahumara Indians trying to earn a meager living.

The Tarahumara (known locally as the Rarámuri) live throughout these canyons in small wooden shacks and natural caves. They currently number about 50,000 and most still practice a traditional semi-nomadic farming lifestyle.

Tarahumara women sell beautiful handmade baskets and other crafts to help support their families.

Both the men & women are famous for their superhuman long-distance running abilities, as described in Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book “Born to Run“.

Tarahumara Indian Woman Mexico

Indigenous Tarahumara: Carmen & Little Maria

Diverse Natural Landscapes

After a night in Creel, we jumped back onto El Chepe for some of the most breathtaking canyon scenery yet. From the train’s vestibules between cars you can lean out and breathe fresh mountain air. It’s surprising chilly at the higher elevations too. They get snow here in the winter.

Because I was traveling as part of a tour with Authentic Copper Canyon, we were always notified when the best views were approaching.

The train stopped in the town of Divisadero for 20 minutes so everyone could drink-in the most incredible view of the whole trip.

Next it was on to Bahuichivo, and then to Temoris. This leg of the journey entails even more mountain tunnels, thick forests, tall bridges, sheer drops, and a few waterfalls.

Chepe Train Copper Canyon Mexico

Copper Canyon Landscape at Divisadero

Train Travel in Northern Mexico

The people you encounter on this trip are a big part of it’s appeal. It’s the old ranchers on horseback, indigenous Tarahumara women in colorful dresses, and groups of waving local children that really made me smile.

We disembarked in the tiny village of Temoris and jumped in a truck to explore mountain roads — but the full train route continues another 130 miles to Los Mochis and the Pacific Ocean.

The complete 400 mile, 16 hour train journey from Chihuahua to Los Mochis boasts 37 bridges and 87 tunnels along a rugged landscape that makes you wonder how difficult it must have been to build a railroad track here in the first place!

A true marvel of engineering for the early 1900’s.

Riding El Chepe through northern Mexico’s beautiful Copper Canyon was easily the best train experience I’ve ever had. ★


What About You?

Do you enjoy train travel? Where is your favorite route?


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Details & Information:

Location: Chihuahua City, Mexico
Place to Stay: Hotel Mansión Tarahumara
Company: Chihuahua-Pacific Railway
Cost: $170 US (First-Class ticket to Los Mochis)
Notes: Price of the trip varies depending on how far you go. There is also a 2nd Class section that is plenty comfortable for the budget-minded traveler. Check the railroad’s website for more details. [/message]


*This journey was made possible with help from Authentic Copper Canyon & Chihuahua Tourism. However, as you probably know by now, all opinions & experiences are my own. Learn More..


THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I'm Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for over 4 years. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and useful tips from my travel adventures. Join thousands who receive exclusive email updates and click the green button below...

Comments & Questions

47 Comments

  1. Joan
    May 15, 2015

    I live in Tucson, AZ. A friend and I want to take the train through Copper Canon. I have spent hours researching and, while there is lots of information on how great the trip is and how beautiful the canyon is, I have not been able to find any info on trips from Tucson. Do you have any suggestions?

    Reply
  2. David Scott
    April 10, 2015

    are there any worries about the cartels on the trip.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      April 10, 2015

      While the cartels are around, you probably won’t see them, unless you head way out in the middle of nowhere. Either way, they generally don’t mess with tourists, as that would draw increased attention to what they’re up to. I actually did run into cartel members while traveling on my own later, but not in an area tourists normally go. And they didn’t bother me.

      Reply
  3. S Garcia
    May 30, 2014

    can anyone tell me what is wajikichic? I wrote the name in a journal i kept during a copper canyon trip but can’t remember what it is…i think it is a place name. thanks for any info. SG

    Reply
  4. George Baranki
    January 28, 2014

    Do you organize trips to Copper Canyon for Semana Santa? I was many years ago to see Good Friday celebration in Norogachi. Now I would like to go to see celebration of Good Friday or Palm Sunday by Trahumara in other important place there.

    Reply
  5. Ariane
    September 12, 2013

    I’m about to embark on this journey, and looking at Los Mochis – Creel on the train. As I’m a female solo traveller, I think I will stay in Creel, and come back for activities from there (the waterfall, a hike, a horse-ride, and the adventure park). Is the 20 minute stop at Divisadero enough to take it in? Many thanks for any advice!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      September 12, 2013

      Hi Ariane! You’ll love traveling on El Chepe. :D

      The 20 minute stop is enough to take a photo from the amazing cliffs nearby, and maybe buy a souvenir from the Tarahumara who are selling crafts. It would be nice for a bit more time, but really it’s enough. You don’t need a whole day there. My recommendation is to be ready to jump off the train quickly when that time comes though.

      Reply
      • Ariane
        September 25, 2013

        Hi Matthew,

        Thanks so much. Very helpful. One more question… do you know… from Topolobampo – is it easy to get to Los Mochis, or even El Fuerte by a safe bus? I can’t find any info online – I’m hoping it is so easy no-one needed to write about it! Your blog is a pleasure to read, I’m so excited to see all these exciting places. I’m reading Born to Run at this moment! Many thanks!

        Reply
        • Paty
          January 10, 2015

          Hi did you find transportation from topolobombo to El Fuerte. We plan to make the ferry fromLaPaz do walk on and off. Any info is appreciated. Paty

  6. Sarah Somewhere
    January 23, 2013

    Wonderful images, looks like a spectacular journey! And that book sounds really interesting, thanks for sharing it. Getting really excited about heading back to Mexico now!
    Recent Post: Rickshaw Run India – The Mahem and The Miracles

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 24, 2013

      Definitely pick up the book. One of the best reads I’ve had in a long time.

      Reply
  7. The Traveling Fool
    January 21, 2013

    Always wanted to take the Copper canyon Train trip the place looks amazing.
    Recent Post: How To Make Your Next Trip Epic

    Reply
  8. Lisa @chickybus
    January 12, 2013

    I’ve done this trip, too. I started in Los Mochis and ended in Creel. Cool/interesting ride–some great views! I do recall it being as hot as hell in Los Mochis and sort of muddy in Creel (due to traveling in the rainy season). Still, it was fun.

    Love the photo of the guy in the cowboy hat. Saw many men like that there! Feels very different than other parts of Mexico, I thought…
    Recent Post: Colorful Moon Crab Climbing Cliff at Beach in #Nicaragua (#Photo of the Day) #travel #ttot

    Reply
  9. Clint
    January 11, 2013

    I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I read Born to Run and heard Caballo Blanco’s story. Great photos too!
    Recent Post: Interview with Andrew McCarthy: Award Winning Travel Writer

    Reply
  10. Jeremy Branham
    January 10, 2013

    I had no idea this area was so beautiful. I would definitely take a train through here. Looks like my kind of place with the mountains and landscape.
    Recent Post: 2013 New Years resolutions, travel plans, and a look ahead

    Reply
  11. Cole @ FourJandals.com
    January 10, 2013

    Not sure I can add any other exclamations to the comments… Stunning scenery!
    Recent Post: 6 Basic Money Saving Tips for Travel Adventures in 2013

    Reply
  12. Ian of Borderless Travels
    January 9, 2013

    This ride looks amazing!! I’ve been wanting to visit Mexico for a while and now I have one more reason to do so :)
    Recent Post: Sushi breakfast and the best view in Tokyo

    Reply
  13. The Curmudgeon
    January 9, 2013

    See, now this is a good trip. Great scenery, riding a nice train, no bugs. Riding on top of a chicken bus, hoping you brought enough Preparation H, fighting off chickens and other animals is another story. I used to say “wow” when in the moment, but then I hit my thumb with a hammer, now I’ve added more words. Try it.

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 13, 2013

      I almost made the return trip like a proper vagabond, hitching a ride on the cargo train. It’s legal in Mexico. Unfortunately I wasn’t feeling great that day, and hitched a ride back in a truck instead. An 9 hour trip!

      Reply
  14. TammyOnTheMove
    January 9, 2013

    The scenery is breathtaking. I love the fact that you always write about things nobody else ever writes about. But what have you done to the poor kid? It looks a bit shocked. :-)
    Recent Post: Top – 10 things to pack for voluntary placements

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 9, 2013

      Thanks Tammy! :D
      She probably thought I was an alien from Neptune, with the super white skin & bald head…

      Reply
  15. Laurence
    January 9, 2013

    Well, as the other commentators have said – wow is basically the word to use! The first shot of the bridge got me – there’s an amazing sense of scale with the train in shot. Great job!
    Recent Post: What to see in Ayutthaya

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 13, 2013

      Thanks Laurence. Makes you feel pretty insignificant winding through those deep canyons.

      Reply
  16. Craig Zabransky
    January 8, 2013

    “Wow” indeed… I couldn’t agree more. The views were just that… “Wow.” This is really one of Mexico’s treasures and a train ride for the ages.

    stay adventurous, Craig
    Recent Post: Sunset Sunday – Near South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

    Reply
  17. Red Hunt
    January 7, 2013

    Wow, 37 bridges? I’m surprised that this train ride ranks so high, but I have heard that the views in and around Copper Canyon are pretty amazing – as witnessed in some of your pictures. A part of Mexico I’d love to get to eventually.
    Recent Post: 10 Surprisingly Tasty Animals

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 13, 2013

      It’s a steep ride, with drop-offs, waterfalls, and rugged wilderness. Incredible that they could even build the route in the first place..

      Reply
  18. Paul Thomson
    January 7, 2013

    Some fantastic photos Matthew! Train ride looks AMAZING! I should be hitting Mexico in about 6-8 months and will make sure to check it out! Safe travels brother!

    Paul
    Recent Post: Athens City Tour

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 13, 2013

      That sounds great Paul! You should definitely check out the Copper Canyon while you’re there.

      Reply
  19. Karen @ Trans-Americas Journey
    January 7, 2013

    Agreed that the trip on El Chepe through Mexico’s Copper Canyon is a top train trip, for sure. And the adventures and food and personal encounters we had OFF the train when we explored the vast canyon system with Dave from Authentic Copper Canyon were thrilling as well. Some were downright challenging–like hiking to the bottom of one of the deepest canyons (and back up again) http://trans-americas.com/blog/2009/11/copper-canyon-4-hike/
    Recent Post: Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2012 – Best Food & Beverages

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 8, 2013

      Hiking in the canyon can definitely be tough. I’ll be sharing another story about that in the future.
      TEASER: The story includes ancient human bones!

      Reply
  20. Stephen S.
    January 7, 2013

    I’ve heard of copper canyon, but never realized how vast it was. Through in the bonus that you get to hang out with old ranchers! This is a must see! Great post Matthew!
    Recent Post: Where this Blog is Headed in 2013

    Reply
  21. Ryan - Pause The Moment
    January 7, 2013

    Sounds like an awesome adventure! Looking forward to reading more about your travels to Mexico.
    Recent Post: 2012 GoPro Year in Review: An Adventure Extravaganza!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 8, 2013

      Northern Mexico was beautiful & interesting. I have a lot to share.

      Reply
  22. Geoff
    January 7, 2013

    I’ve done the whole Creel – Los Mochis journey, and it is absolutely spectacular, definitely the best train journey I’ve ever done.

    It’s worth noting that if you can’t afford the First Class train, it’s well worth going with the Second Class one – that’s what I did on my tight backpacking budget, and it’s easily comfortable enough.
    Recent Post: Olympic Park from the air

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 8, 2013

      Yup. We walked back to check out the 2nd class area, and if I was on my own, I’d have done that. Was plenty nice.

      Reply
  23. Maria
    January 7, 2013

    Now there’s some impressive scenery! Trains (above or under ground) – maybe because I’m in the US where train travel is not so popular/available or because as a child it was a common source of transport for my family but it always has a romantic quality.
    Recent Post: Fluff and Fold

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 8, 2013

      This train journey has me wanting to explore more of them in the future as well.

      Reply
  24. David Paul Krug
    January 7, 2013

    Simply an amazing train journey that I still need to do before I exit this great country.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!!!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      January 8, 2013

      No worries David. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back, relax, and watch some beautiful scenery go by.

      Reply

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