Because so many people have asked about our trip to the Copper Canyons, we thought we would do things differently for this post: focussing more on the logistics of how to get here, where to stay, what to see, and how much it all cost.
Some of the information we came across on the internet is outdated. So, hopefully, this will help anyone planning to go to the Barrancas del Cobre in 2022 before this too gets old.
El Chepe Logistics
The Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico train runs between Los Mochis and Creel with stops at El Fuerte, Bahuichivo and Divisadero. It is possible to book stops at any one of these locations. However, Divisadero is the most popular because of the views and proximity to the Adventure Park, home to the (now) second longest zipline in the world.
So, it would seem to make sense to hop off the train at Divisadero and book into a hotel. But, at the time of writing, the train only travels from Los Mochis to Creel on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from Creel to Los Mochis on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. So, if you opt to break up the train journey, it’s going to be at least a 2-night hotel stay wherever you stop.
We decided on the Creel – Los Mochis route primarily because of seat availability. Even economy class tickets were unavailable from Los Mochis for the time slots we were looking for. But, although first-class tickets were sold out, we could buy business class seats from Creel.
Booking the El Chepe
Seat reservations can, in theory, be booked online at https://chepe.mx/reservaciones/. But, unfortunately, that didn’t work out too well for us. Internet connectivity and credit card processing issues prompted me to phone the booking line on 01 614 439 7208, where I spoke with an English-speaking agent to make the reservation. He then sent me a link to pay for the tickets.
Although the booking system indicates that it is possible to reserve specific seats, your seat allocation is given to you while boarding the train. For example, we wanted to travel on the left side of the train because that allegedly has the best views. But, Sod’s law gave us seats on the right. However, although there might be a slight bias to the left-hand side, the view from the right wasn’t bad at all.
If possible, book plenty of time in advance. That will give you the best chance of securing first-class tickets.
And, to clarify what seems to be a popular misconception, the El Chepe does not go to Chihuahua city. Only the local train runs between Creel and Chihuahua, and that rattles along at a speed that makes the coach seem like Speedy Gonzales.
We flew from Mazatlan to Chihuahua on flights with Viva Aerobus, booked on Expedia UK for a reasonable £50.73 each, including taxes and stayed at the Central Hotel Boutique, which we recommend, for USD $214.26 two nights including breakfast on Booking.com. The easiest way to get to the old town from Chihuahua airport is by taxi. You pay the fare (MX$260) at the taxi window in the airport, then head out and turn right to the taxi rank.
Two nights – giving us one full day in Chihuahua – was enough for us, mainly as many historic buildings are closed to visitors.
The realistic options to get to Creel from Chihuahua, unless you are a financial masochist, are the bus or train. We opted for the bus because we would spend a long time on the El Chepe later. We also experienced problems with the Estrella Blanca bus online reservation system https://estrellablanca.com.mx. So, we walked to the bus station on our first morning in Chihuahua, where we bought tickets at MX$287 for the two of us. The tickets show reserved seating, but it is a free-for-all in reality. So, get to the front of the queue and your luggage in the hold as quickly as possible.
The bus station is at Av. Niños Heroes 140, San Pedro, Zona Centro II, 31000 Chihuahua.
Set your expectations appropriately for your visit to Creel. You will not find a JW Marriott or Hyatt. Hotels here do not have all the features you might associate with an international hotel. Instead, there are several basic B&B style hotels and a more prominent hotel that, I think, used to be a Best Western.
Again using Booking.com, we reserved a room for three nights at the Maria del Tio Molcas for MX$4,800, including breakfast at the nearby Tio Molcas restaurant. The restaurant offers good basic food, and the hotel offers good, basic accommodation: clean and warm with consistently hot water. Tio, the owner, is very accommodating and will arrange for a tour guide if you want him to.
It may look like a wild-west outpost, but we think Creel is the best base to explore the Copper Canyons. There is so much to do here locally, aside from the tours to the canyons. Mountain biking, horse riding and ATVs are just some of the options. A few local places hire bikes, and you can go off alone down well-mapped trails. But, remain aware of where you are, stick to the trails and listen to advice regarding security.
Maria and I struck lucky in that we arrived on Saturday when the bistro run by the 3 Amigos tour company was open (only Friday and Saturday.) Our timing fortuitously introduced us to Yolanda, who runs the bistro. Yolanda arranged a tour for the next day. And, as an aside, she makes great Sangria, using a recipe acquired several years ago from a Spanish native.
The trip we chose was the 8-hour Copper Canyon Private Tour. From their website, the highlights are:
- Explore the impressive terrain of the Copper Canyon led by an expert guide in a private vehicle
- Drive through the middle of the Basihuare, Humira and Copper Canyons
- Meet the Rarámuri Indians and purchase their beautiful handmade crafts for souvenirs
- Enjoy a walk on a wooded path to Cusarare Waterfall
- Explore San Ignacio Mission and Cusarare Mission (if open) in two different Indian Ejido’s
- Experience the bizarre rock formations in the Valley of the Mushrooms, Frogs, and Monks
- Enjoy a healthy picnic at a beautiful lookout point, complete with table and chairs as an optional add-in on this tour.
Apart from the healthy picnic bit, which consisted of potato crips and beer and our contribution of bread and cheese, the tour was exactly as described. And our tour guide, Ivan, knew his stuff. He kept us entertained the whole time we travelled with him.
You can book tours with the 3 Amigos at https://www.amigos3.com. The online price of the tour we took is MX$5000.
Getting from Creel to Divisadero
Ivan arranged for a driver from another company to pick us up the next day to take us to the adventure park in Divisadero. We didn’t want a tour, just transport. Although Manuel, our driver, did show us a few things outside of the adventure park on the way back. The vehicle from Creel to Divisadero and back was MX$1,500.
The other option is to get the bus there. That’s the cheap option, but it comes with some risk: The first bus leaves at 1000, and the last one returns from Divisadero at 1430, so there isn’t much room for error. If you miss the bus back, you will likely wish you had stumped up the cash for a car.
Our principal objective going to the adventure park in Divisadero was to launch ourselves down the zipline. There are two zip line adventures to choose from here: One in seven sections and one continuous one. The latter might not be the longest one in the world anymore – at over 2.5km against the one in the United Arab Emirates at 2.8km – but I am sure it’s the longest high one. The Zip Rider has you dangling high above the canyon floor at 450m.
Manuel guided us to the park entrance and the ticket booth. But we found that we should have gone to another counter beforehand to sign a disclaimer. Fortunately, the ticket seller allowed us to get the release forms and jump the queue afterwards. Then, after paying MX$2000 for the two of us, we headed off to get kitted out.
Frankly, I don’t know why I put myself through this stuff. After years of training, my deep-rooted fear of heights is under conscious control. But even so, the thought of going anywhere high still makes my palms sweat.
To set the height in context, Blackpool Tower, where I started to train my brain to behave at altitudes, is just 158m high; the Eiffel Tower is 324m, including its antenna, and the Empire State Building is 443m overall. So this is high.
In theory, the catenary of the line helps propel you to the other side at speeds of up to 34 km/h. And, after being thrown out the safety gate by an operative who could give Albert Pierpoint a run for his money, I was whizzing down the line. But I have the aerodynamics of a parachute.
As I approached the other side, I slowed to an undignified stop about 150 metres from the end, dangling like a wet sock on a washing line and presented with a drop of around 200m.
That was not my finest moment.
But after spending several minutes wafting around in the breeze, I can attest that the webbing used to fasten your carcass to the roller attached to the line is in perfect condition. I can also assure you that the view from the cable car is every bit as good.
After a slight delay of what felt like 3 hours, I could feel the cable being shaken, presumably in an attempt to free me from my immobile position, but that only had the effect of me mentally checking if I had squared everything away in my will. Then, squinting into the distance, I could see the woman whose job it is to catch normal people as they whizz across the canyon, put on her harness and come towards me. “Grab a leg,” she said. So I did, and she pulled us both back to safety. She gave me a drink of water. I put some cash in her tip box.
Maria, being the sleek person that she is, arrived like royalty.
It’s an uphill hike from here to the cable car to return to the other side of the canyon. But the view is beautiful. And the return is included with the ticket for the Zip Rider.
Some of the best canyon views are from the restaurant near the cable car and Zip Rider start points. So, if you don’t fancy terrifying yourself half to death, the alternative is to sit at the restaurant admiring the view.
Boarding the El Chepe to Los Mochis
Maria and I were pleased to learn that the El Chepe train sets off at a very reasonable 0800 from Creel rather than the bleary-eyed 0600 mentioned in some other posts. That meant we could have breakfast at the hotel before walking over to the train station, near the town plaza.
Luggage typically hurled in the hold of an aircraft will be stored in the luggage carriage on the train. Fortunately, we had bags small enough to take as aircraft cabin baggage, so we could take these on board with us to put under the seats. That saved us a lengthy wait. Note that there is no provision for bag storage in the passenger carriages.
If you have large bags, join the queue for the baggage car nearest your carriage. Staff and conductors are on the platform to give you information.
The train is very well organised. The person who checked us in spoke very clearly in Spanish and English and explained what to expect. Entry to the dining car is arranged with military precision by carriage number, so it’s best to eat before getting on the train; otherwise, you might not have breakfast for a few hours. So we went in for lunch and sat with a couple of Mexican women who helped us understand the menu blasted out by the woman in clear charge of the dining arrangements.
Temperature control on the train could be described as enthusiastic. I kept my thermals on for the entire trip.
The views from the train, no matter where you are seated, are spectacular. I doubt there is a better way to see the canyons than this. And although the journey was long – even longer than scheduled at 11 hours – it didn’t feel like it.
The train pulled into Los Mochis at 1900. And, similar to the dining car organisation, passengers are released from the train in carriage order to avoid chaos on the platform.
From the station, we grabbed a taxi (mildly shafted on price at MX$150) to the Ibis hotel and went for an enjoyable dinner across the road at the Lola restaurant.
Los Mochis to Mazatlan
I’m sure there are things to see in Los Mochis, but we didn’t go out of the hotel except to get the 1200 Tufesa bus for the 5.5-hour journey to Mazatlan (MX$1294.)
In contrast to the bus from Chihuahua to Creel, this bus was the epitome of organised. Our reserved seats were still vacant, which is a big plus. The seats on the bus are exceptionally comfortable and, if you want to watch Top Gun dubbed in Spanish – you can do that too.
Our journey concluded at the Tufesa bus station in Mazatlan, from where we got a taxi back to the marina.
Our concern was that Jamala’s boat batteries would be flat, the fridge and freezer off, and the food festering. But we were beyond pleased to find the batteries up to 98% when we arrived back at 1900, so the solar panels had more than kept up with demand.
Summary of costs in GBP
Travel and Tours
- Flights from Mazatlan to Chihuahua – 2 people: £101
- Bus from Chihuahua to Creel – 2 people: £10
- 3 Amigos private tour: £162
- Private car to and from Divisadero Adventure Park: £54
- Zip Rider – 2 people: £72
- El Chepe train from Creel to Los Mochis – 2 people: £216
- Bus from Los Mochis to Mazatlan – 2 people: £47
- Central Hotel Boutique – Chihuahua – 2 nights: £189
- Maria del Tio Molcas – Creel – 3 nights: £173
- Ibis Hotel – Los Mochis – 1 night: £44
Total £ 406
Here’s a link to another website you might find handy for planning your trip. I started my search using the Indiana Jo website: https://indianajo.com , which is full of helpful travel information.
You might also find this site useful:https://www.worldnomads.com/explore/north-america/mexico/copper-canyon-guide
And I used a Lonely Planet guidebook for information on Chihuahua. Although you need to buy the book for detailed information, this site contains some of the basics: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/mexico/the-copper-canyon-ferrocarril-chihuahua-pacifico