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We first heard about the Copper Canyon train ride on arriving in Mexico and reading the book Mexico’s Copper Canyon: Barranca del Cobre, Canyon Train Adventure, Sierra Tarhumara, by Richard D Fisher. It sounded like it would be one of the best train rides in the world and we immediately knew we had to do it. It was an AMAZING experience and our favourite in Mexico. The research and planning proved a bit tricky, to say the least, but as we weren’t interested in any organised Copper Canyon tours, I finally managed to create a 5-day Copper Canyon train ride itinerary.
Our Copper Canyon train schedule was tailored to suit our time restraints and budget and included a combination of classes of El Chepe train, bus, and colectivo to keep costs down.
Copper Canyon Train Ride Itinerary from Chihuahua
Travel through Copper Canyon can be in either direction; from Chihuahua to Los Mochis or vice versa. Alternative start points are Creel and El Fuerte which are slightly further along the railway towards the canyon from either end. Our journey began in Chihuahua and went all the way to Los Mochis.
|Note: If you’re struggling to find out information on Copper Canyon railway or El Chepe ticket booking process we’ve simplified it for you with this step-by-step guide: How to Book El Chepe Train Tickets for Copper Canyon.|
I’d recommend at least a full day in Chihuahua before or after your Copper Canyon trip. This city in the Mexican desert is in cowboy country and it’s an interesting place to visit. Every other store sells cowboy boots, hats and shirts, in a multitude of different colours and designs. There’s also a very high possibility you’ll meet cowboys sauntering down the street and riding on horseback. Based on our own Copper Canyon trip here’s our suggested 5-day Copper Canyon train ride itinerary from Chihuahua to Los Mochis. Reverse it if you want to travel in the other direction, add in extra days if you’ve more time, and swap activities about depending on your chosen transport.
Day 1 Chihuahua to Creel
If you’re on a budget or aren’t a fan of getting up before dawn to catch a 6 am train, taking the bus from Chihuahua to Creel is the best option. This is the least scenic part of the journey and not in the canyon itself. This means you won’t miss much by taking the bus, plus, it’s quicker than the train by an hour or so.
Bus from Chihuahua to Creel
Catch the bus to Creel from Rapidos Cuauhtemoc bus station, with the bus company by the same name. The bus times on the official website were wrong when we looked, but I found correct times on the Busbud website, which our guesthouse host verified. At my last check buses run throughout the day, with early morning ones at 5:50 am, 7:20 am and 9:20 am. Double-check the times with the host at your accommodation though, just in case. Buy your tickets at the bus station; they cost us 244 pesos (£9.50) per person.
The bus ride from Chihuahua to Creel takes four to five hours and despite the windy roads is relatively comfy. This is a necessary part of the journey to reach the start of the Copper Canyon but is fairly non-eventful scenery-wise.
For the first three hours you’ll cut through flattish plains, then as the desert gets left behind the scenery becomes more interesting. Grassland and rolling hills break into clusters of pine and juniper trees. Then there’s the odd ranch nestled amongst cornfields and fruit orchards.
Glimpses of the Sierra Tarahumara eventually appear in the distance and the landscape transforms into pine-dotted valleys and ridges. Towards the end of the drive, you’ll go through some authentic Mexican towns and villages. These are an interesting contrast to the rugged landscape that follows over the next few days.
En-route vendors will board the bus to sell fruit, snacks and soft drinks. Try the tasty homemade crisps (chips) drenched in hot sauce for around 20 pesos (£0.80). If you’re lucky (or unlucky) a mariachi or two may also jump on to perform traditional music to earn a few pesos.
Arrive into Creel
Depending on when you left Chihuahua you should arrive into the picturesque mountain village of Creel, one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos or Magical Towns, early to mid-afternoon.
Pre-booking accommodation isn’t essential because touts from hotels and guesthouses flock to the bus when it arrives. Do think about booking in advance though when travelling during a festival such as Semana Santa or during peak Mexican holiday season in July and August.
Before you explore Creel you’re going to need lunch, for which there are several options in town. For authentic Chihuahuan food, head back towards the train station to Hospital Para Crudos (Hospital for Hangovers). This is a popular no-frills eatery serving a variety of rich, inexpensive dishes. We both ate a delicious chicken mole burrito for 22 pesos (£0.88) each and understand the pozole is also excellent.
After you’ve eaten, take a wander around Creel’s small town centre. Start at the pretty main plaza or square where Tarahumara women sell colourful textiles draped over the low fences.
The Tarahumara are a group of indigenous people that still lead partially nomadic lives in caves and wood huts throughout the Copper Cayon. Locally known as Rarámuri, they are famed for their long-distance running abilities. You can read more about them in the bestselling book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall.
Once you leave the plaza, walk along Creel’s colourful main street that runs alongside the railway. Hotels, restaurants, cafes and shops line the street, along with a couple of agencies that run tours into the canyon and surrounding areas. Mingling with domestic tourists and Rarámuri you’ll also encounter local cowboys on foot or horseback going about their daily cowboy business.
Pick up some picnic food for lunch the next day and head back to your accommodation for a while. Not much happens in the evenings in Creel so it’s likely you’ll just eat dinner where you’re staying or at one of the eateries on the main street. That’s the extent of the weekday nightlife so why not get an early night and be up bright and breezy the next morning for a full day of sightseeing.
Day 2 San Ignacio Arareko Hike
Although there may not be loads to see and do in Creel itself, there’s plenty in the surrounding area. Several options are close by that are perfect for only one full day in Creel and others need an overnight or multi-day trip.
One option is to explore a loop in the forested hills and mountains of San Ignacio Arareko overlooking Creel. This 20,000-hectare area of land is a community managed project looked after by a Rarámuri community.
With only one day to spare and as we prefer to do things independently when possible, we hiked the loop without a guide. To do this, buy tickets from one of the booths set up around the perimeter of the project. It costs 20 pesos (£0.80) each which helps support the Rarámuri community and maintenance of the area. You can follow the hand-drawn, photocopied map they give you, alongside Google Maps or Maps.me to find many of the nearby key sites.
An alternative to hiking is to rent a bicycle or arrange a guided horse ride from town to do the same loop. If using a local guide is your preference then your accommodation should be able to put you in touch with one.
Below is the loop we hiked. You could do this in a different order or miss certain things out depending on your time, interests and how far you want to walk.
San Sebastian Cave
About 3.5 km outside of Creel to the right of the main trail is San Sebastian Cave. This is an example of the typical Rarámuri cave dwellings that are dotted throughout this part of Mexico. You can enter the cave to look around and possibly buy handicrafts made there. We skipped this as we felt uncomfortable with the idea of gawking at the Rarámuri people in their own homes. We did, however, bump into several Rarámuri families throughout our hike and they were all very friendly.
Valle de las Ranjas and Valle de los Hongos
A bit further along the trail, about 5 km outside of Creel, is Valle de las Ranjas (Valley of the Frogs) and Valle de los Hongos (Valley of the Mushrooms). As the names suggest these are groups of natural rock formations [vaguely] resembling frogs and mushrooms. On the lowest flat surfaces of the rocks, Rarámuri women and children set up camp for the day to sell their handicrafts to supplement their income.
With a bit of luck, you may witness a local festival or ceremony. When we were standing amongst the frog rock formations we heard drumming and a small parade of Rarámuri men walked past. We could hear the drumming for the rest of our hike as it echoed off the rocks. We’re not sure what it was about, but it was near Semana Santa time so it may have to do with that.
San Ignacio Mision
Down to the left of the frog and mushroom rocks, you’ll see the 18th century San Ignacio Misson. Built by Jesuits, this small church is still used by Rarámuri communities to worship. Have a quick look around inside, but be prepared for the tiny children that will follow trying to sell trinkets calling ”compras, compras” (”you buy, you buy”).
Behind the Mission is a small shop where you can buy drinks and snacks from a smiling Rarámuri lady. Take them over to the nearby basketball court and escape from the sun in the shade for a bit. You may even get to watch some local youngsters shooting hoops – a fun insight into local valley life.
After some rest and refreshment, move onto Lake Arareko. It’s about another 5 km (10 km total from Creel), so make sure you have water and try not to go off-piste as we did.
We ended up traipsing through boggy farmland full of cattle, which made me rather nervous after my incident with a beach cow in Goa, India. En-route to the lake, you’ll encounter all kinds of farm animals and birds. Cows, horses, goats, chickens and ducks roam the fields and loiter in the middle of trails and roads.
The tranquil u-shaped Arareko Lake is set amongst fragrant pines and is a great spot for a picnic lunch. It’s not ‘spectacular’ as far as lakes go, but it’s peaceful and makes for a nice place to recover from your hike so far. After lunch, you could rent out a rowing boat for 60 pesos (£2.50) to paddle around the central island with its rock formations.
Valle de Los Monjes
“Valley of the Monks” by railsnroots is licensed under CC BY NC
If you get an early start you could hike another 5 km to Valle de los Monjes (Valley of the Monks). There’s an extra entrance fee of 15 pesos (£0.78). Amusingly the Rarámuri actually called it Valle de Bisabirachi (Valley of the Erect Penises) because of its phallic rock formations. It was later renamed by the Spanish who thought Valley of the Monks was much more appropriate. If you don’t have the time or energy you could return early in the morning of day 3 (if you’re getting the late morning train).
Dinner and Mariachis
Other Activities in Creel
If you have more than one full day in Creel you could venture further afield. A multi-day Copper Canyon hike into the canyon with camping sounded like a great option.
Other activities include Cusarare Waterfall and Basaseachic Waterfall (the second highest in Mexico). Batopilas an 18th-century mining town at the bottom of the canyon also looked intriguing.
If you decide to do one of these or similar I’d recommend contacting one of the Copper Canyon tour agencies in town. The most popular are Three Amigos, Eco Alter Native Tours and Canyons Adventure.
Day 3 Creel to Divisadero/ Posada Barrancas
“Puente Alta” by railsnroots is licensed under CC BY NC
The time you get up on day three will depend on which El Chepe train you’re catching from Creel. Chepe Express leaves from Creel at 7.30 am on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday arriving in Los Mochis at 5:10 pm, whilst Chepe Regional leaves at 11:47 am on Monday Wednesday and Saturday.
Museo de Arte Popular
Seconds from the train station on the other side of the platform is the Museo de Arte Popular. It’s a small museum with displays of photographs and other exhibits of Rarámuri culture. It’s a simple museum and only costs 10 pesos (£0.40) to enter. It’s worth a quick look if you want to learn more about the Rarámuri who live throughout Copper Canyon.
If you’re in the mood for souvenir shopping, have a browse of the Artesanias Mision handicraft store. It’s on the main plaza and has all sorts for sale including baskets, dolls, textiles, bracelets and a whole host of other handicrafts. By purchasing something here you’ll be supporting the local Rarámuri communities.
El Chepe Train from Creel to Divisadero/ Posada Barrancas
Be sure to get to the platform about 30 minutes early, especially if you want to travel on the Economica (Economy) class of the Chepe Regional.
|Note: You MUST buy Chepe Express and Chepe Regional – Turista (Tourist) class in advance as you won’t be able to buy them on the train. See more detail in our post How to Book El Chepe Train Tickets for Copper Canyon. This also includes schedules and prices for all classes.|
|Note: Chepe Express DOES NOT stop in Posada Barrancas. If you’re travelling on that class train and want to spend the night in Posada Barrancas you’ll need to get off at Divisadero and either walk the extra 5 km or so or arrange for your Posada Barrancas hotel to pick you up.|
There isn’t much to see for the first hour as it’s mainly a continuation of the pine-covered hilly landscape at the end of the previous stretch from Chihuahua to Creel. Do take a moment though, to stand in between carriages and appreciate the fresh mountain air that rushes in the windows.
After an hour or so you still won’t quite be in the canyon, but the scenery starts to get more interesting as the land becomes more rugged and the valleys deeper. Then the train will arrive at Divisadero station and you’ll enter Copper Canyon itself.
Arrive into Posada Barrancas
Canyon Rim Walk
A must do whilst in Areponápuchi is a canyon rim walk. Touts offer tours to do this and the two main hotels, Hotel Mirador and Hotel Barrancas del Cobre, offer a 2 km walking tour for 120 pesos (£4.92), but it’s also really easy to do yourself as we did.
Go opposite and slightly to the left of Posada Barrancas train station is a path leading up to the rim of the canyon. You can’t miss it as it has a big wooden sign saying ‘HOTEL POSADA BARRANCAS TO THE RIM’. Follow the path up through pines until you come out near the carpark of the Mirador Hotel. The path to the canyon rim is down some steps to the left of the hotel which lead to a small trail.
Follow the trail down a short way and round to the right; from there you can walk all the way along the canyon rim. Slightly obscured by trees and vegetation at first, these soon give way to present the most spectacular panoramic views down into the canyon and miles into the distance. Dotted amongst the canyon walls you’ll see small Tarahumara settlements of caves and wooden shacks.
Tarahumara women and children are also likely to pass during your walk selling handicrafts.
|Note: If you arrived earlier in the day, you could also visit the Adventure Park (first activity of day 4) today by swapping things around. Especially consider this if you’re on the Chepe Express for the next stretch as there won’t be time for the park before the train leaves Divisadero next morning. It would be a huge shame to miss out on this; it was one of the highlights of our whole Copper Canyon train ride.|
Dinner and Stargazing
Day 4 Posada Barrancas to El Fuerte
Copper Canyon Adventure Park
Copper Canyon Train from Posada Barrancas to El Fuerte
Arrive into El Fuerte
|Note: If you got the early Chepe Express train you may want to do some of the day 5 activities in the afternoon of day 4. This will give you time for a nice lay-in on day 5, or maybe one of the alternative activities I mention later.|
Day 5 El Fuerte to Los Mochis
There’s really no rush today as Los Mochis and the end of your Copper Canyon trip is only a couple of hours away. El Fuerte, the birthplace of the legendary Zorro is the last destination worth exploring in the Copper Canyon. Try to stretch out your time there for as long as possible. We spent the morning and early afternoon exploring El Fuerte and could have stayed at least another day and night.
Explore Historic Downtown
A Riverside Walk
Take a pleasant walk along the wide stone pathway that follows El Fuerte River behind the city. We did this then looped back through the backstreets into town to give us a better insight into local life.
El Fuerte Museum
El Fuerte actually means ‘the fort’ in Spanish and is so-called because the city used to be a fort. The original fort has long since gone but a replica has been built on the hill where it used to be. This replica is also a museum which showcases the history of the city and surrounding area and also has good views of the town and river from the top. It costs 20 pesos (£0.80) and I think worth a look if you have time.
Other Activities in El Fuerte
If you have more time in El Fuerte (we wished we’d stayed at least two nights), there are a few other things to see and do.
Colectivo from El Fuerte to Las Mochis
You’re unlikely to want to spend much, if any time in Los Moschis as there isn’t supposed to be a great deal to do. We just used it as somewhere to overnight before our early morning flight to Guadalajara the next day. Despite this, we were pleasantly surprised with what we did see of the city as we’d heard lots of unsavoury things. However, I’m not sure we really got a true impression of the place as we lucked out with our hotel. It turned out to be in a fairly upmarket residential area which was actually pretty nice. It may not have been the same story had we stayed in a different area.
Where to Stay in Copper Canyon
Accommodation options in Copper Canyon are rather limited except for in the cities of Chihuahua and El Fuerte/ Los Mochis at either end of the railway. This is especially true around the smaller train stations such as Divisadero and Posada Barrancas and some villages at the bottom of the canyon such as Batopilas.
We stayed in five places during our Copper Canyon trip which I’ve reviewed below.
La Decima Guesthouse in Chihuahua
La Decima Guesthouse is conveniently located in the historic centre of Chihuahua. It’s in a beautiful old house and is managed by the wonderful Urbano, he was warm, welcoming and full of helpful advice for our stay and onward travel.
Villa Mexicana Creel Mountain Lodge
We were hosted for two nights by Villa Mexicana Creel Mountain Lodge. Read more in our full Product Review Disclosure.
Villa Mexicana Creel Mountain Lodge is a fantastic traditional Mexican mountain lodge. It has many rustic wooden cabins, plus rooms and suites inside the main building and a campground. The wood cabins vary in price from $78 USD (£59.40) for a standard cabin up to $132 USD (£150) for a ‘Mr Suite’ which sleeps six people.
Hotel Barrancas del Cobre in Areponápuchi
Hotel Barrancas del Cobre is one of only two hotels in Areponápuchi and is directly next door to Posada Barrancas station, literally a two-minute walk away. We were met off the train by a member of staff who walked us to the hotel which I thought was a really nice touch.
They offer two types of rooms, a King Garden with a king-size bed and a Standard Garden with two double beds. Attractively decorated in Mexican hacienda-style they had a big screen TV, dressing table and chairs, washbasin, shower room and toilet and heating. We paid 1,400 pesos (£57.40) for the night, but prices vary depending on the time of year.
There’s no restaurant at Hotel Barrancas del Cobre but you can get coffees and snacks from reception. Breakfast is included in the price but you eat this at their sister hotel Posada Barrancas Mirador which has the wonderful views of the canyon so you get the best of both worlds.
Hacienda Santa Cruz in El Fuerte
Hacienda Santa Cruz is a family-run hotel on one of the main streets of El Fuerte, a short walk from the main square. It’s colonial style with rooms built around a central courtyard. Very simple with no frills, with the need for a bit of sprucing up it was still fine for one night on a budget. We paid 325 pesos (£13.30) for a basic double room with a small en-suite shower and toilet.
Hotel Ibis in Los Mochis
Hotel Ibis Los Mochis was our hotel for the final night of our Copper Canyon adventure. We had an early flight the next morning so we chose it for convenience as it was fairly close to the airport. The hotel was modern and clean with a bar and restaurant. The only downside was how tiny the room was, it was extremely cramped for the two of us. For one night, and just to sleep it was fine though if a little pricey at 759 pesos (£31).
There are many other accommodation options in Chihuahua and Los Mochis for all budgets and a few more en-route, although these tend to be bigger or boutique hotels which are on the pricey side.
|Note: Don’t forget to take a look at our post How to Book El Chepe Train Tickets for Copper Canyon as there are several considerations to make before finalising your plans which may impact your itinerary and modes of transport.|
If you can allow more time for your trip, definitely do so. We wish we’d have been able to take it much slower as there’s so much more we’d have liked to see and do.
Mexico Travel Resources
Planning your trip to Mexico? Here are some of our recommended useful resources to help you have the best time possible:
|● DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE. If you’re travelling long-term like us and from the EU True Traveller is best. If you’re from other countries worldwide, World Nomads is good.
A new contender for long-term travel insurance is SafetyWing, which you can pay for on a month by month basis. This is also a good option for shorter trips.
● Our go-to for self-catering accommodation is Vrbo.
● Before booking accommodation, check reviews on TripAdvisor.
● Even in the days of Google we still like to use guidebooks for ideas.
Have you travelled through the Copper Canyon by El Chepe train? If so we’d love to hear about your adventure in the comments below.
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Product Review Disclosure: Villa Mexicana Creel Mountain Lodge provided us with a complimentary two-night stay. This did not influence my post in any way and as always I’ve provided balanced and honest reviews. Read more in our full Product Review Disclosure.