Explore Mexico's Copper Canyon by train, on foot and horseback on a Mexican holiday.
Explore Mexico's Copper Canyon by train, on foot and horseback on a Mexican holiday.
Copper Canyon railroad vacations, Mexico train journeys and Tarahumara culture.
First class and economy class trains are the only way to get to the heart of canyon country. Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway.
Copper Canyon train travel on Mexican holidays by Alison Gardner

It would be rare to find an adult who has not heard of Arizona's Grand Canyon, and not at all difficult to recruit a roomful of people who have visited there at least once. But how many travelers have heard of Mexico's Copper Canyon, or can pinpoint its location, not far as the crow flies from Arizona itself? Until the late 1990s, few people have had the opportunity to visit the Copper Canyon, one of Mother Nature's most dramatic construction projects-up to 1,500 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four times its area!

Copper Canyon railroad vacations, Mexico train journeys and Tarahumara culture.
At a Divisadero lookout, the Copper Canyon drops over 4,000 feet to the river below. Alison Gardner

Covering 25,000 square miles of northwest Mexico, the Sierra Tarahumara is a rugged landscape of interlaced canyons, rivers, waterfalls, caves, and Shangri-La-like valleys. The region is commonly known as the Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon), though that canyon is only one of nine separate geological channels chiseled into an ancient volcanic landscape. Today most of those channels have cut deeper than the Grand Canyon.

As a result of its inaccessibility, flora and fauna have gone their own directions, largely undisturbed until very recent times. Cliff lookouts sometimes drop a dizzying mile in a single sweep, and weather systems take on an unpredictable drama rarely seen elsewhere.

Click here to learn more about the natural history of this spectacular canyon country and its indigenous people.
Click here to learn more about the network of small towns and colorful lodgings along the railroad route.
Click here to go straight to listings of tour operators who know their Copper Canyon!

Rail Travel in Mexico's Copper Canyon.

For 90 years entrepreneurs on both sides of the Sierra Tarahumara and internationally, planned and raised money for an almost unthinkable engineering project - joining Los Mochis on the Sea of Cortez with the booming central plateau city of Chihuahua to the northeast. Interestingly, this route was not perceived as a tourist attraction until the late 1990s. Rather it was viewed as an economic lifeline through a region with insurmountable natural obstacles and an opportunity to open up virgin mining and forestry territory.

By the time the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad became a reality in 1961, this $90 million marvel was celebrated as a model of engineering genius by many and dreaded by the indigenous people of the region as putting an end to their traditional solitary way of life.

Nature pictures and train pictures in Mexico's Copper Canyon are part of rail travel.
Thirty-seven bridges and 89 tunnels make this rail route one of the world's finest engineering projects. Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway

El Chepe, as the train is nicknamed, boasts 37 major bridges and 89 tunnels along a 400-mile route that goes from sea level to 8,000 feet at the highest point. The train takes visitors through five climate zones of changing vegetation, past stunning rock formations and waterfalls, and even through a tunnel that does a 180-degree turn within a 95-foot elevation change-all in a 16-hour trip.

Since 1998 tourism has become a key focus in the region. Today separate first class and economy class trains travel both directions daily. The first class train, stopping at all tourist-serviced stations, includes a bar car and a dining car, air conditioning, carpeting, and comfortable reclining seats. The economy class train mainly serves the local population (and hardy adventurous tourists) with many scheduled and unscheduled stops en route. While lacking the finer amenities of first class service, the price is very low.

Mexico's Copper Canyon rail travel bar.
The first class train features a bar car and a dining car as well as comfortable
coach seating.
Alison Gardner
Copper Canyon railroad vacations, Mexico train journeys and Tarahumara culture.
Basaseachic Falls drop a spectacular 812 feet. Chihuahua State Tourism.

By going west to east, travelers see the most dramatic aspects of the route in daylight. Only five per cent of visitors do the train trip without stopping. On foot, horseback or by 4 WD vehicle, a week exploring the Copper Canyon's natural and cultural highlights barely scratches the surface.

Remote ranches and lodges, restored Spanish colonial missions and mansions, and modern hotels can be mixed and matched with backpacker hostels and guided wilderness camping. Most accommodation hosts meet the train and escort visitors by 4WD vehicle to overnight lodging.

Tour Operators who know their Copper Canyon.

Check out this specialist who hasbeen familiar with the region over many years and whose guided experiences and expert advice will help you get the most out of your visit:

S&S Tours offers tours of Mexico's Copper Canyon by train.
Arizona-based S & S Tours has led small groups on eight and nine-day learning adventures to the Copper Canyon with a depth of experience and personal connections dating back to 1986. Tours begin and end in Los Mochis on the Sea of Cortez. The company also offers learning adventures in other parts of Mexico as well as Costa Rica and South America. www.ss-tours.com.


Best Time:
From March through June is the dry season, often with mountain fires that can create a haze. The best season for travel is July through October when landscapes are vibrant and sharp. The tourist train runs year round. Copper Canyon makes an ideal Mexican holiday by rail travel.

Train Options: A one-way train ticket between the Mexican west coast and Chihuahua allows unlimited station stops permitting vacationers to leave the train for a night or more to explore the region. Or travelers may book a round-trip ticket from the west coast towns of Los Mochis or El Fuerte, enjoy the most characteristic scenery and rural settlements as far as Divisadero in the heart of canyon country, then return to the Sea of Cortez or go on to a beach vacation in Mazatlan or Los Cabos.

Sunracer Publications (Arizona) publishes the most photo-rich currently informative guidebooks, as well as cultural and natural histories of the Copper Canyon, www.coppercanyon.org.

The Mexico File in print and on the web specializes in grassroots travel opportunities and destinations throughout the country with affectionate yet realistic eyeglasses, www.mexicofile.com.

While exploring Mexico, also consider these additional options in other regions of the country:
Hotel Eco Paraiso Xixim Mexico holiday accommodation.
Nestled on a 3-mile virgin beach, HOTEL ECO PARAÍSO XIXIM offers 15 spacious, attractively-furnished bungalows, each overlooking the emerald green Gulf of Mexico. Our hotel was designed to meet strict ecological standards while providing a unique experience with nature in a relaxed yet stimulating environment. www.ecoparaiso.com.

Instituto Chac-Mool  Spanish School learn Spanish.
Spanish immersion at its finest in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Instituto Chac-Mool Spanish School offers a unique learning experience with Spanish language courses, plenty of fun with enriching extra curricular activities, and homestays with Mexican families.

Iluminado Tours in Mexico's Yucatan state. ILUMINADO TOURS specializes in Mexico's fabulous Yucatan state - offering in-depth cultural and archeological encounters, distinctive cuisine, Spanish language-learning, and women's-only itineraries. www.iluminado-tours.com.

Click here to learn more about the natural history of this spectacular canyon country and its indigenous people.
Click here to learn more about the network of small towns and colorful lodgings along the railroad route.

Alison Gardner is a travel journalist, magazine editor, guidebook author, and consultant. She specializes in researching alternative vacations throughout the world, suitable for people over 50 and for women travelers of all ages. She is also the publisher and editor of Travel with a Challenge web magazine.
Email: alison@travelwithachallenge.com.

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