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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“.

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Copper Canyon People

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Train through Copper Canyon in Mexico

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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:


Staying In Creel

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Budget
Hotel Posada de Cobre
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Mid-Range
Hotel Mansión Tarahumara
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Luxury
Hotel Quinta Mision
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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)

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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 Cars 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!

READ MORE MEXICO TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide to exploring Mexico’s Copper Canyon by train! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

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

Iván

Tuesday 28th of April 2020

Great blog! I wanted to share some of my experiences with you. My wife and I got to visit with a Rarámuri family and ate lunch with them. This was an incredible experience. I highly recommend it as well. Take a look at the pictures I took. Let me know if you have any other pointers when visiting. We actually enjoyed staying at El Divisadero quite a bit! A+. Keep up the great work!

Jacquie

Thursday 16th of January 2020

We have our trip coming up in a week and a half and we are not sure if we should take the train into Los Mochis or end in El Fuerte? We have 2 nights at the end of the trip and not sure if we should do a night in each or 2 nights in one town. We also can't find any info on getting to the airport from either place. We have a 9am flight. We also have most of our hotels booked but they can be cancelled. Sounds like some folks wish they had not pre-booked? Much thanks for any advice

Alma L Osnaya

Wednesday 19th of June 2019

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.

byrd macgowan

Saturday 14th of September 2019

Thanks Matt Awesome advice

Diana

Wednesday 19th of June 2019

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?

L

Tuesday 20th of November 2018

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.

Matthew Karsten

Thursday 22nd of November 2018

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.

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