A few years back I learned of Copper Canyon – Mexico’s much larger version of the United States ‘Grand’ canyon. Why they don’t include this in U.S. grade school geography is a topic for another site to pursue. Copper Canyon is a series of six major canyons four times the size of the Grand Canyon. Not only is there a train (El Chepe) that takes you through the canyons, but there’s an adventure park in Divisadero with zip lines, gondolas, and rock climbing!!!
So for the last couple of years I’ve been researching taking a trip on El Chepe. I’m still currently living in the States, so I wanted to tack this on to one of my trips to Mazatlán. Most of the reviews of the Copper Canyon trip suggest starting in Los Mochis and going to Chihuahua, but this really puts me in the opposite direction, so I’m flying into El Paso, bussing to Chihuahua and catching El Chepe there. I’ve planned stops in Creel, Divisadero, El Fuerte and Los Mochis; starting Mid-July 2017, for a total of one week riding the train and seeing the sights! Here’s my itinerary, along with links to the places and things I found useful:
El Paso – I’m taking an ‘El Paso – Los Angeles Limousine Express, Inc.‘ bus from El Paso to Chihuahua. $37 USD one way. you can book on their website, or over the phone. They don’t let you book too far in advance – and told me that they generally don’t sell out, so most of the time you can just walk in and get a same day ticket.
EDIT: Didn’t spend too much time in El Paso. Arrived at the airport without much fanfare and used Lyft for a ride to the LA Limousine bus terminal. The bus terminal was just like every other one I’ve been to … hot, dirty and bathrooms that have no words to describe the layers of buildup that covers everything. Bus was on time, but expect a lengthy process through the border at Juarez. If you’re a U.S. citizen, go inside and get processed at the window. Take your hat off for the cameras if you’re wearing one! You can get your visitors permit online now, and make sure you have pesos to pay the fee if you get one there! Once you’re done, run back outside and get in the shuffle for the bag scanner.
Chihuahua – Staying here for two days. I wanted to have a little time to see Chihuahua and not have to rush. Staying at the ‘Hotel Plaza Chihuahua‘. $132 for the two nights and includes breakfast. Decent reviews on Trip Advisor, and was able to book on Expedia.
EDIT: Chihuahua was nice! I highly recommend the hotel Plaza Chihuahua – free breakfast on their rooftop. Close to everything downtown, and several nice restaurants within walking distance. Excellent front desk agent checked us in when we arrived fairly late at night.
El Chepe – Website in English: http://www.chepe.com.mx/english/index.html, although you may find the Spanish site has more functionality [They’ve re-vamped their website. English page no longer there, so use Chrome and install translate – http://www.chepe.com.mx]. I emailed them at ‘email@example.com’ with my dates and planned stops, and they created tickets and gave me a payment link. Price for the tickets on the premium train (it runs more frequently) were $148.93 USD. Many of the reviews I read said that the train can fill up early, so I didn’t want to wait until I was in Chihuahua to get the tickets.
EDIT: Ok, here’s what I didn’t know … The car number is printed on your tickets, as is the seat assignment – at least for the premium class tickets! Make sure you find your way to the right spot! Also, if they start taking breakfast orders be SURE to ask them what table you’ve been assigned to. Our order taker didn’t give several people a table number and it was a free-for-all in the dining car! Breakfast is extra – not free, so be prepared to pay when you’re done. Seats in the train are comfortable, and you can move about, visit the dining car, or get a better view from peering out from between the cars. From what I understand, El Chepe is frequently off schedule (i.e. late). Make sure you plan accordingly, and don’t schedule any tight connections at your stops!
Creel – Staying one nigh at the Hotel ‘Posada Del Cobre‘ – $65 USD. Again, good reviews on Trip Advisor, and able to book on Expedia. We’re taking the Tarahumara tour from ‘Canyons Adventures’. Their website, now unavailable, said $800 MXN for 1-4 people, but they quoted me $1,500 in an email. Gringo tax, perhaps … still inexpensive and they’re flexible with what time they start/end the tour. They also pick up at the train station and will take us to our hotel.
EDIT: Creel was one of those absolutely amazing places! The town is small, but colorful. Our hotel was a tad run-down, but cozy and the room was clean. Breakfast was simple, but nice. The tour to the Valley of the Monks, and the additional Cusarare Falls tour were spectacular. If your trip permits – this is a must do! Canyons Adventures was very accommodating and unobtrusive during our wanderings. I’m sure our guide would have followed us around and given a little more info on what we were seeing, but we wouldn’t have remembered as the scenery was breathtaking and captured all of our attention!
Divisadero – Home of the Adventure Park!!! Woooo!!! We’re staying two days here as I want to do everything and don’t want to feel rushed. Plus, this is one of the ‘fantastic views’ places so I want to enjoy. We’re staying at the ‘Hotel Divisadero Barrancas‘ – $205 USD for the two days. I wanted to save a little $$, otherwise I’d have stayed at the ‘Hotel Mirador‘. We’ll see how that decision turns out!
EDIT: There are no words to describe the area here. Getting off the train in Divisadero puts you RIGHT at the Hotel Divisadero Barrancas, with a jaw dropping view of the canyons. The hotel was picture perfect – we were in room 7 which is right outside the lobby and steps from the edge of the canyon. Reviews are correct about the food … Think summer camp buffet line and you’ll get a good idea of the fare. Plus, the dining room is on a tight schedule for breakfast, lunch and dinner – nothing available in between! Ok, they have a bar where you can drink – and it’s open all day! Lots of vendor stalls with different wares between the station and the hotel, and right on the platform are several food vendors with EXCELLENT street food for a bargain price. They serve twice a day when each train arrives (NorthEast bound and SouthWest bound), and I highly recommend giving one, or more, of them a try. The adventure park is beyond description as well. We paid for all of the events, but wound up only doing the 7 tirolesa’s (zip lines). They don’t go if it’s raining, so get an early start if you are there, like we were, during the rainy season. If you buy a multiple event ticket, you have to turn it in and then retrieve it at the booth outside. Make sure they don’t mark events until you’ve done them (they did on our tickets)! Zip lines also require you to traverse two very long suspension bridges – if you have a fear of them you’ll have to suck it up, or skip the zip lines! I highly recommend you suck it up! Oh – LISTO means ‘Ready’, so when your guide asks ‘LISTO?’, everyone replies with ‘LISTO!’. Pay attention to them when they’re showing you the three different hand signals and you should be fine! Trinkets are available for purchase at the end of the zip lines while you’re waiting for the gondola to take you back up. Getting to the adventure park was an easy 30 minute walk from the hotel along the rim of the canyon – and we had two local perros guiding us along the way! One was even waiting when we were finished (we rewarded her with a hamburger patty)! Restaurant food was decent in the park, and they have a glass section on the floor so you can watch the tourists who elected to go on the rock climbing event! Make sure you don the white booties before stepping on the glass! We also went on a tour to the Tarahumara indian caves … very informative – the guide used Spanish that even I could understand. And the different view of the canyon was just as amazing as the others.
El Fuerte – I love Zorro, so I had to spend a day in the town where he was born! Staying at the ‘Hotel Pasada del Hidalgo‘ for $103 USD. They tout themselves as being on the homesite where Zorro was born and raised … hype? Possibly, but fun nonetheless! No plans for tours/excursions other than walking around town and possibly having a cab driver give a little tour.
EDIT: They didn’t have the Zorro show, and some guests said they hadn’t for several previous days either! In any event, it was a spectacularly beautiful hotel! Be EXTREMELY careful of the stone/cement ramp from the street to the upper level though – even just damp it was more slippery than a 1960’s slip-n-slide! We were in room 69, just off of the courtyard with the Zorro statue. We had a tiny balcony with a partial view of the church. The restaurant in the hotel was good – but the street vendors a few blocks away were even better (mmm – Birria de Chivo)! If you want to visit the museum next to the hotel, you can exit from behind the restaurant area and avoid climbing up the steep street. I recommend stopping in El Fuerte for a day, just to relax and let your head process the amazing scenery you just witnessed in Creel and Divisadero – and on the trip from Divisadero to El Fuerte.
Los Mochis – For some reason I couldn’t find mention of buses from El Fuerte to Mazatlán online. I’m sure they exist … but I saw timetables for Los Mochis to Mazatlán, so I added Los Mochis as the last stop. Will be staying at the nothing fancy ‘Hotel Ibis Los Mochis‘ for $48 USD. We’re planning on taking a taxi to the Botanical Gardens, but otherwise it’s a ‘get ready for Mazatlán’ stop. If we don’t do the gardens we might take a taxi tour.
EDIT: We really didn’t need to do this leg of the trip, but I though we might as well do the whole ride on El Chepe. We took a very early bus from Los Mochis to Mazatlán so we didn’t see anything of the city outside of the cab ride from the train, and the ride to the bus terminal. The Hotel Ibis was really, really nice. Very modern and extremely cheap. Room was small but sparkly clean and the breakfast setup in the morning was full of good things to eat. We snuck coffee from the espresso machine – not sure if we were supposed to or not! Oh, they had signs on the tables saying that if you booked your room online through their website you’d get a free breakfast. Something to consider! In the morning our driver took us to the TAP station – and went inside and made sure we got the right tickets, and knew which bus to get on! He was amazingly helpful – and from what I understood he contracted with the hotel and they had service guidelines that their drivers were asked to follow. The whole experience with this hotel was excellent. Maybe one day I’ll get back to Los Mochis and see a little more of their city!
TAP bus line from Los Mochis to Mazatlán – $30 USD will get me to my future home in Mazatlán, and will give me a view of Sinaloa on the way!
EDIT: TAP bus station in Los Mochis reminded me of the Greyhound station in Nashville. Let’s just say that it was the one portion of the trip I’ll be putting in the ‘purge anytime’ section of my memory. The clerk who sold us our tickets wrote the bus number on the ticket – very nice! Room on the bus for a very small bag, so take anything you want with you out of your luggage! Not much scenery on the way down to Mazatlán, but I’m glad I did the trip as now I know there’s not much there! Bus ride was a little more than 6 hours. Don’t believe them when they say 5!
And here ends the story! I highly recommend this trip! El Chepe, the last passenger train in Mexico, is an experience not to be missed; and Las Barrancas del Cobre are a hidden wonder of the world.
Great article about El Chepe here: http://viajeropeligro.com/2017/11/29/boletos-chepe-1/
ADD: Here’s a nice site with more information on Copper Canyon – https://www.visitcoppercanyon.com/