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.
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 to 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 its itinerary.
One such town was Creel, the big tourism hub of the region.
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 (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“.
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 waterfalls.
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 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 miles, 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. ★
Location: Chihuahua City, Mexico
Accommodation: Hotel Mansión Tarahumara
Company: Chihuahua-Pacific Railway
Price: $170 US (First-Class ticket to Los Mochis)
Useful 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.
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Have any questions about the Copper Canyon? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!
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