The Copper Canyon is a set of seven canyons located on the southwestern side of the state of Chihuahua. It is four times bigger and two times deeper than the Grand Canyon in the US. The green/copper color of its walls give it the name of “Las Barrancas del Cobre” which translates to “ The Copper Canyon”.
This trip will bring you a little closer to one of Mexico’s native communities, the Rarámuri, more commonly known as the Tarahumara who managed to escape from the Spanish conquest centuries ago by retreating deeper into the Sierra Madre Occidental and have kept their traditions alive by keeping mostly to themselves living in the canyon.
How to get to the Copper Canyon:
There are a few different ways to get to the Copper Canyon. Many travel agencies can arrange small tours from Chihuahua or Sinaloa to any of the towns in the Copper Canyon area, and there are also buses and even taxi drivers that can take you there.
The Chepe Train - El Tren Chepe
We decided to take the train “Chepe”, the Chihuahua-Pacifico train which started operating in 1961 and every single day takes off on a journey through the Sierra Madre Occidental passing by the Copper Canyon and surrounding towns. This is the only passenger train in Mexico so we figured this would be the perfect start to our adventure.
The Chepe has two routes, one from Chihuahua to Sinaloa, and one from Sinaloa to Chihuahua. This train offers two services:
Chepe Train Economy Class
Only runs Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, Sinaloa. Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays it runs only from Los Mochis, Sinaloa to Chihuahua.
Chepe Train First Express
With daily departures from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, Sinaloa and from Los Mochis, Sinaloa to Chihuahua.
Whether you decide to start your trip in Los Mochis or in Chihuahua, you have to get to the train station at least 30 minutes before departure (The train leaves at 6am). This gives passengers just enough time to board the right cart and find their seats.
From Chihuahua, the train stops seven times in different towns before reaching Los Mochis, Sinaloa. It only stops for passengers to get off and on the train, but at Divisadero it stops for around a half hour for people to get off and appreciate one of the best views of the canyon. There, you can find delicious regional food and also buy handcrafts directly from the Rarámuri.
How to plan your Barrancas del Cobre trip:
We flew to Chihuahua from Mexico City and stayed the night at an AirBnB. If you are taking the Chepe from Chihuahua or from Los Mochis we recommend you do as we did and stay the night in the city so you are well rested and on time for the trip. Here’s an example of a 5-day Copper Canyon itinerary to help plan your trip.
Our AirBnB host was very nice to take us early in the morning to the train station where we bought our tickets.
We chose the First Express service because we wanted to stop and stay in two different towns along our way. This service gives you the chance to get off and on the train three times over the course of a week without having to buy another ticket. When you are getting your tickets you have to let them know when and where you will be getting off and back on because they will print your ticket with the exact dates so you have access to the train again. We stopped twice on our way to Los Mochis, Sinaloa and didn’t have to pay more. Our itinerary was like this:
Chihuahua - Creel (stay one night)
Creel - Posada Barrancas (stay one night)
Posada Barrancas - Los Mochis, Sinaloa.
What to do in Creel:
Creel is one of the 111 Magical Towns in Mexico and it is one of the most visited towns in the area surrounding the Copper Canyon. From this town you can arrange an incredible amount of tours in the area, some of these are:
Piedra Volada Waterfall. The highest waterfall in Mexico.
Cristo Rey Monument. This is a lookout from where you can appreciate the entire town of Creel.
Valley of the Monks. 20 million year old rock formations along the canyon.
Recowata Hot Springs. This was one of the highlights of our trip. We had the place for ourselves and, even though I was hoping for this place to have a more rustic/natural look, the warm water combined with the cool breeze made the whole experience worth it. What made this tour extra special was the fact that we had to take a cuatrimoto to get there. We followed our guide through the forest and along parts of the canyon to get to the hot springs. It was so much fun! A little scary once we started to go down on the edge of the canyon but really exciting and fun.
What to do in Posada Barrancas:
Posada Barrancas is a lot smaller than Creel and a lot less touristy. You won’t see many people in this area and there’s honestly not much to do there, but if you are into extreme adventures you definitely have to visit.
Parque de Aventuras Barrancas del Cobre. This is another thing we were looking forward to doing, especially Jim. In this adventure park you can go on one of the longest ziplines in the world. Jim had been looking forward to visiting here well before we left for Chihuahua. I on the other hand opted for the teleférico ride. They have different activities for everyone and it is a must when you are in the area.
What can speaking Spanish do for you in this adventure:
This area of Mexico is not as touristy as others like Puerto Vallarta or Cancun. Most tour guides here only speak Spanish. Being able to communicate in Spanish will make your tour experience a lot more interesting and entertaining. If you want to talk to the Rarámuri there, you'll need to know Spanish. This is a culture that speaks mostly their indigenous tongue, and uses Spanish as a second language, which is mostly spoken by the younger generation.
Our impressions of The Copper Canyon:
This whole experience was delightful. Even though we arrived with a minimal plan, we were amazed by the number of opportunities for tours and sites to see in the area. We didn’t book any tours or accommodation prior to our trip, and this wasn't a problem at all. It's not necessary to plan every detail ahead of time, at least in the low season. If you are visiting during a holiday, summer break, winter break, spring break, you may want to make sure there are accommodations available ahead of time.
Most train stops have hotel employees and tour guides ready to offer their services to exiting passengers. We only had to ask one of them about basic cabins and they hooked us up with the right people.
Costs of our Copper Canyon adventure:
Train Ticket (First Express): $2,979 MXP each
Room in Creel: Hotel Plaza Mexicana Margarita's $700 MXP a night
Recowata ATV tour: $1,100 MXP each
Room in Posada Barrancas: Cabañas La Esmeralda $750 MXP a night
Taxi to Adventure Park: $100 MXP one way
Adventure Park Activities: Prices change based on the season. Lower occupation means cheaper costs for the activities.
Ziprider: $1000 MXN Pesos (~$52 USD) during high season. We paid $600 MXN Pesos (~$31 USD) in March of 2017.
Extra Tips for your trip to The Copper Canyon:
Bring snacks and drinks for the train ride. There is a restaurant on the train but their food is overpriced and nothing to brag about.
Don't forget to bring sunscreen. The moderate climate can trick you into thinking the sun isn't strong enough to burn you, but it will.
Cash is also important. There are ATMs around the area but don’t rely on them as your only source of money. A few hundred pesos for food or tips in case there are no ATMs around. If you do need to use an ATM, make sure you plan ahead to avoid paying fees.
Useful Spanish vocabulary:
Cañón = Canyon
Cobre = Copper
Tren = Train
Cuatrimoto = Four wheeler
Aguas Termales = Hot Springs
Parque de Aventuras = Adventure Park
Teleférico = Cable Car
Have you ever traveled by train? Would you like to visit Las Barrancas del Cobre? Let us know in the comments! We love hearing from you!