All Aboard! Exploring Mexico’s Copper Canyon by Train

Copper Canyon Train Chihuahua Mexico

Chihuahua, Mexico

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

“Woah.” That was the most intelligent expression of awe 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 the Copper Canyon, 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

Chepe Train Copper Canyon Mexico

The Copper Canyon Train

In fact the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona isn’t quite as “grand”. Mexico’s Copper Canyon is actually both bigger and deeper than its famous American cousin.

Even better, there is a first-class railroad that takes you through this rough wilderness too. Affectionately called “El Chepe”, this train journey through the Copper Canyon was a highlight of my recent trip to Northern Mexico.

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

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

Creel, Copper Canyon Mexico
Countryside Outside Creel
Local Man in Copper Canyon
Local Tarahumara Man

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 its 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 people (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“.

Copper Canyon People

Train through Copper Canyon in Mexico

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 surprisingly 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 scenic waterfalls as icing on the cake.

Chepe Train Copper Canyon Mexico

Cactus in Copper Canyon

Where To Stay In The Copper Canyon

Creel is the town I spent the most time in while passing through the Copper Canyon. If you’re wondering where to stay in the Copper Canyon area, here are my recommendations:



Copper Canyon Train

Copper Canyon Temoris

Train Travel In Northern Mexico

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

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 one of the best train experiences I’ve ever had. ★

Bonus Travel Video! The Copper Canyon Train

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(Click to watch The Copper Canyon Train on YouTube)


Travel Planning Resources for Chihuahua City
Official Website: Chihuahua-Pacific Railway
Tour Company: Authentic Copper Canyon

Packing Guide

Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip. Pick up a travel backpack, camera gear, and other useful travel accessories.

Book Your Flight

Book cheap flights on Skyscanner, my favorite airline search engine to find deals. Also read my tips for how I find the cheapest flights.

Rent A Car

Discover Car Hire is a great site for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Book Accommodation

Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. Or rent local apartments on Airbnb ($35 discount!). Read my post for tips on booking cheap hotels.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance.

Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Mexico
Suggested Reading: Born To Run

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Travel guide to Mexico's Copper Canon and the El Chepe Train!

Have any questions about the Copper Canyon? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
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86 thoughts on “All Aboard! Exploring Mexico’s Copper Canyon by Train”

  1. Hi,
    I will be driving north from Mazatlan to Arizona and have two days available to see the Copper Canyon. Can you give me any info on how to get the most out of the trip? Where to buy tickets? Cost? Can I buy a round trip ticket? I would be grateful for any information you can pass along to me? Thank you.

  2. Hi Mathew, we are a group of 20 traveling to Copper Cyn. Our dates are 6/28-8/2. We were planning to take a tour, however our rigid dates don’t allow it. Do you think that it’s possible to piece a trip together on own without a tour? Is it safe? Would we be able to find a tour guide, and buy train tickets?

  3. Thoughts on safety? I have long been intrigued by the Copper Canyon and hope to visit, but the recent news stories about the American teacher killed in Urique worry me.

    • I have my own drug cartel story from this region, which I’ll be sharing soon. My suggestion is to stick to the normal train route. This guy was killed in Urique, one of the smaller canyon villages where the cartels operate freely.

      If you’re a typical tourist, doing tourist things, you don’t have much to worry about. But if you go off-the-beaten-track in this region, or start asking too many questions, the risk goes up. It sounds like that’s what this guy was doing.

      The cartel doesn’t care about tourists, they see them all the time. My own story includes chatting with actual cartel members. But they get suspicious about people who don’t fit the normal “tourist” mold. Or people out exploring too close to their hidden poppy/weed fields in the mountains. If you go for a hike out here, go with a guide. Not by yourself.

  4. Hello.
    This is amazing, and I thank you for bringing such beauty to our attention.
    I am planning a trip en Febrero a Mexico, or somewhere South of US border. This may be a wonderful destination!

    With two weeks total, do you feel El Chepe or a Copper Canyon exploration would be realistic within this time frame? My plan would be to fly into Chihuahua.

  5. Ever since I heard of the train through Copper Canyon, I’ve wanted to go. Admittedly, it hasn’t been a long time since I’ve heard of it. Your post and pictures just cement that desire in my mind!

  6. Hi, I’m trying to figure out where to start, and get off and turn back around to where I started on the train. We (The Traveling Together Journal on YouTube) are driving our own truck and we have a dog. The idea would be to get a hotel for a day/night for the dog to hang out in while we do a little train ride, so it’s important we get back the same night. From your blog it sounds like it gets really beautiful after Creel? Should we start in Creel and go west for a few stops? how many stops? Can we just get a train headed back that same night? Thank you for your help

  7. I travelled the copper canyon railway line this year! Fabulous views , awesome experience! Great lodging and food! Going by train to each village and seeing and learning the ways of a different culture through the whole trip was exhilarating! Will be a best memory !

    • In the first class option there is no pullman service, however the wagons are comfortable, and clean. This is because most of the passengers make stops during the trip. This is highly recommended to enjoy the full tour. Very few places in the world offer views like these. I hope you enjoy your trip.

  8. Just came back from a week going through the Copper Canyon with stops in Creel and Divisadero (which was a highlight – stayed overnight which permitted me to do some hiking as well as the world’s longest zipline at Adventure Park).

    I actually got inspired to do this journey reading this post. I second your sentiment – best train journey I’ve had AS WELL as one of the best trips I’ve had anywhere. There’s some really interesting history on the railroad as well for those into the history of transportation on the continent.

    A couple of notes for people planning to do this:
    1) I bought tickets as I went, either same day at ticket offices or on the train itself. No problem.
    2) economy just as good as 1st class, difference being the fancier dining carriage on the 1st class train (economy has a snack carriage with drinks, sandwiches etc). 1st class basically all tourists, in economy trains you actually get Tarahumara indians climbing on board.
    3) In hindsight, one could do this trip booking not booking anything in advance. I wish I hadn’t, especially in Creel where you have people coming up to you to rent out hotel rooms (the one exception: Hotel Divisadero Barrancas which seems to be almost always full up)
    4) I was surprised by the lack of foreign tourists. Most visitors were Mexicans visiting their own country. Incredibly friendly and accommodative…but it helps to speak some Spanish.

    Overall just an incredible, incredible experience: http://bbqboy.net/riding-el-chepe-copper-canyon-just-mind-blowingly-amazing/ I’ve included it in case readers are looking for additional info.

    Thanks again for your post.

    Frank (bbqboy)

  9. We live south of Mazatlan, so will drive to Los Moches. Should we buy a round trip ticket to Chihuahua, stop along the way at various cities. Then just bomb back non stop home? Or would you suggest just going part way and turning around.

  10. Hi Matthew

    I am trying to find a price for a journey from Los Mochis to Chihuahuas but nothing on the web
    Do you remember the price range for this journey ( or vice versa)?

    Regards

    Karine

  11. Hey Matthew! Very interesting article. I read a lot about the Canyon and I have been wanting to experience it for so long but I haven’t got round to it yet even thought I lived in Mexico several times :)

    • Thanks Carlotta. It’s a wonderful off-the-beaten-path adventure, in an area of Mexico many people have never heard of. The landscapes of the Copper Canyon are beautiful, and the history & culture is fascinating too.

  12. I travelled on this train from Chihuahua to Los Mochis in 1977. Los Mochis (and Mazatlan) were two very small towns. It was a wonderful trip. I was in my mid-twenties and travelled alone and always felt safe.

  13. My Buddy and I rode our 1200cc Harley’s through Mexico back in 2005. (All back roade) On the way back we stopped in El Fuerte (The Fort) to take the Ferrocarril Chihuahua Al Pacifico to Creel. Since we had these 550lb bikes, we took the “2nd class” train. Me and 4 other guys picked up the bikes and loaded them into a freight car. (After they siphoned out all the gas). Riding with the local was pretty amazing. My buddy speaks Spanish pretty well so we were able to get a lot of local infomation. When we arrived in Creel, they brought a donkey cart and a 2’X12′ board and we coasted the bikes down. Riding to and part way through the canyon was amazing!

    • Hi, thanks for the post. Do you know if they still allow motorcycles to be transported? We are planning a ride from the Presidio/Ojinaga border to Chihuahua. We want to load the bikes and pick them up in Los Mochis. Any help would be appreciated.

  14. We are planning our annual winter trip to Mexico. We drive down from Boise, Idaho and camp and love it! This year we plan on taking the Copper Canyon Train…My question is what to do with our sweet doggie? Would it be better to
    go separately on the trip and stay with the dog..so my husband goes and I stay with dog and then I go and he stays with dog. Or, is there another way..perhaps someone we could leave the dog with??? Seems like a long shot.
    Es un problema, amigo.
    Pam

  15. Dear friend great blog
    I am a lady solo traveller from Ireland and I would like to take this spectacular journey. I will have 10 days. Where should I fly to as I would like to take the Train journey through the Copper Canyon it has been on my bucket list. Where should I start and where should I stop over. I also want to learn about native american indians healing /culture. In September what is the temperature ? or when is the rainy season as too hot weather or too wet may not suit.
    Thanks you so much I would really like to do this in September 2016 just decided
    Regards
    Verona

    • Hi! I’m from Ciudad Juarez Chihuahua and had taken the train twice….this coming week I will do it with my wife and two kids….being from the state what can I say….is something that you have to do …..you can fly to El Paso Texas USA, take a 4 hours bus to Chihuahua, Chihuahua or fly directly to Chihuahua….

    • Hi ; Did u do the trip? If not September would be comfortable. Chihuahua is in the desert so will be hot days. Not a lot of rain until you get out to the coastal plain. Temperatute comfortable in mountains.Fly into Dallas or Houston and transfer to a flight into Chihuahua. Bus it from Los Mochis to Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta. Wonderful trip try to break it up into a 2 or 3 day train trip. Roy

  16. we are two women in our 60’s who want to do the Copper Canyon TRain however we would need to leave from either mazatlan or puerto vallarta as we will be there in January; would you suggest a tour or attempting it on our own?
    Love your blogs; happy trails and safe home

  17. Hi Matthew
    After a wedding in Chihuahua city my wife and I will only have a couple days to see some sights. How far will we have to go on El Chepe to get to the nice parts of Copper Canyon? Would it be worth the tedious trip there and back?
    Thanks,
    Brian

  18. Hi There!!

    I am going to Chihuahua in April with my 18 month old son, husband, and senior age in laws. We would like to ride El Chepe but I think going to El Fuerte with a toddler is just too long. Any suggestions? Posada Barrancas? Where are the worthwhile attractions and what stop are they located at? I have read to skip Creel. Our trip is 6 days long which allocates about 4 for Chepe. Everyone speaks Spanish except for me so no language issues. We don’t plan to take a tour. Thank you in advance.
    Laura

  19. Hello I am going to Mexico for 3 weeks at end of Aug. My husband is Mexican and we are dong the whole visiting family thing… however I said I have to spend some time doing the adventure/tourist thing (we are from uk). Part of my plan is to get on the train from Chihuaha and spend 3 to 4 days doing the Copper Canyon trip. In peoples opinions should I go all the way to Los Mochis (I have to go back to Chihuaha)…or should I maybe just go as far as Creel? And which stop should I dedicate a couple of nights to? Thankyou

  20. 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?

      • I’d look for An AeroMexico flight to Chihuahua. Cuidad Juarez bus depot is in an ugly part of a crime ridden,cartel governed city

    • 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.

    • I’d look for An AeroMexico flight to Chihuahua. Cuidad Juarez bus depot is in an ugly part of a crime ridden,cartel governed city.

  21. 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

  22. 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.

  23. 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!

    • 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.

      • 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!

        • 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

  24. 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!

  25. 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…

      • Yes the waterfalls flow–like more than you can count as you travel the remote parts of the train.

        Hey a note to travelers: skip Creel (the books and local hotels promote this place), take two days in Areponapuchi/Divisadero, and hit the remote spots.

        Dave

  26. 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.

  27. This ride looks amazing!! I’ve been wanting to visit Mexico for a while and now I have one more reason to do so :)

  28. 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.

    • 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!

      • Hi Matthew, thanks for this great post, it is definitely useful now that we are preparing a trip from north to south of Mexico. Quick question, is still hopping on cargo trains legal in Mexico?Is it safe?Any other link, info or person I could ask??
        thanks!

  29. 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. :-)

  30. 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!

  31. “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

  32. 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.

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

  33. 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

  34. 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/

    • 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!

  35. 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!

  36. 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.

    • 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.

  37. 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.

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

    Thanks for sharing your experience!!!