One of the best ways to explore Copper Canyon is by riding the Chihuahua al Pacifico train. // © 2014 Thinkstock
Named for the rust and green hues of the mountains in the area, Copper Canyon is an expansive region in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. Its canyons are longer and deeper than those in the Grand Canyon, and intrepid travelers up to the destination’s challenges are rewarded with unrivaled adventures and experiences.
“This is an area steeped in culture and Mexican history,” said Marianne Braly, owner of Now Voyage Traveler in Huntington Beach, Calif. “Father Hidalgo was killed there, Pancho Villa’s hideout was there. Though there are Class III and Class IV rapids to raft on, the area is much more important for its history and people than its adrenaline-inducing options.”
For those travelers with an adventurous spirit, following are a few ways to experience the region.
Ride Chihuahua al Pacifico
Commonly known as “El Chepe,” the Chihuahua al Pacifico train travels through nearly 400 miles of spectacular terrain. It traverses the Copper Canyon region over the course of 14 hours and is currently the only operating passenger train in Mexico. El Chepe departs twice daily from the capital city of Chihuahua as well as Los Mochis in the state of Sinaloa, stopping at a handful of towns along the way, including Cuauhtemoc, Creel, Divisadero and Cerocahui.
“The bridges, sheer cliffs and stunning scenery along the route are like nowhere else in the world,” said Braly. “El Chepe is a wonderful way to see this beautiful part of Mexico — and many have said it is one of the best train trips in the world. Plus, it’s the easiest way to travel the area, as the roads are not always great.”
Agustin Caparros, owner of A Closer Look Tours, agrees.
“This train ride is a must,” he said. “I recommend clients travel from west to east during the morning hours, so they can enjoy the best part of the ride before dark.”
A Closer Look Tours offers travel agents 15 percent commission or more on travel packages, including the Copper Canyon.
Take a Hike
Sprawling vistas and towering waterfalls await travelers willing to trek out of towns in the region. Although the area is likened to the Grand Canyon, it’s important to remember that conditions in Copper Canyon can be much more strenuous.
Hikers should pack appropriate gear and prepare for a range of weather. Numerous tour companies offer multi-day hikes and travel packages, but it’s also possible to plan much shorter escorted hikes. Preferred hiking destinations include Basaseachi Waterfalls, one of Mexico’s tallest waterfalls, and Cusarare Falls, both accessible from the town of Creel.
Get to Know Raramuri Culture
Much of the world was first introduced to the Raramuri people by way of the 2007 bestselling book Born To Run. Indigenous to Chihuahua, the Raramuri fled to the Copper Canyon region upon the arrival of Spanish explorers during the 16th century. It is estimated that around 60,000 Raramuri still live in the area and maintain the same lifestyle as previous generations, finding shelter in caves, overhangs or simple cabins and raising crops and livestock. They continue to be known for their incredible long-distance running abilities: Raramuri can be translated as “runners on foot” or “those who run fast.”
To Braly, experiencing Raramuri culture firsthand is the primary reason to visit the area.
“They are a lovely people,” she said. “They have such an interesting history and lifestyle. This is not a tourist site.”
Travelers might shop for Raramuri-made handicrafts — pottery and baskets among them — or hear the Raramuri singing in their native language in various towns and villages in Copper Canyon. Braly specifically recommends visiting Guachochi, a ranching town, or Norogochi, famous for its Semana Santa, or Holy Week, celebrations.