Copper Canyon Passenger Train in Mexico - What a Ride!

The interior of a second class car. The difference is minor between first and second class. Both have access to the dining car.
The interior of a second class car. The difference is minor between first and second class. Both have access to the dining car. | Source

Mexico's Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) Train Ride is a Must!

Introduction to the Copper Canyon and the El Chepe, the Copper Canyon Train

The Copper Canyon, or Barrancas del Cobre in Spanish, is one of the most remote areas of Mexico. The Copper Canyon has the City of Chihuahua on its eastern border, El Fuente on its western edge. Guachochi touches the southern border. Basaseachi, home of a 800+ foot high waterfall, touches the northern canyons.

Additionally, the Mexicans name for the area Barrancos del Cobre means the ravines of copper . The names themselves are a misnomer. Copper Canyon is not a canyon nor a ravine, but 6 distinct canyons. Uniquely formed over 1,000's of years, the 6 rivers, combined with the rains, continually reshape the canyons. Put together, the 6 rivers would have a length of over 37,000 miles!

Comparatively, depths within the 6 canyons are deeper, the area larger, than the Grand Canyon. Mountain cliff's are copper-colored, hence the name Copper Canyon. The canyon complex is in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico.

Equally important, the climate within the Copper Canyon complex helps shape the canyons. On the floors, the climate is sub-tropical. Correspondingly, snow may fall in the mountains, at higher elevations. Together with the rivers, rain and snow, the climate helps transform the appearance of the canyons, year after year.

Tarahumara, the indigenous people of the area, are farmers. They farm the lower levels of the canyons in the winter and the high mountain areas in the summer. The Tarahumara are known as the "runners of the canyon". They trek up and down the mountains, sometimes running for long distances, to reach their farms.

The reason the El Chepe Train route was built was to allow one consistent venue for transportation through the Copper Canyon. The El Chepe allows the loggers and miners a way of getting the resources out from the Copper Canyon.

The best time to take the El Chepe is in the rainy season. The area is full of vegetation in their most colorful stage. The waterfalls are coming off cliffs throughout the train ride. The rivers are raging throughout the canyon floors.

If you love waterfalls, I've included a video of the Basaseachi Waterfall. The falls are the second highest in Mexico.

The Basaseachi Waterfalls, Over 800 Ft. High!

The Railway Line and the Engine's Name

Additionally, the railway line's name is Ferrocarril Chihuahua el Pacifico. (Chihuahua Pacific railway) El Chepe (God will increase) is the name of the engine that pulls the passenger cars. Moreover, the train consists of ten cars - 2 or 3 (depending on demand) 1st class cars, 6 or 7 2nd class cars and a dining car.

Furthermore, the train leaves the City of Chihuahua and heads west to the town of Los Mochis. In Los Mochis, the train does a 180 degree turn and heads back to the City of Chihuahua. Paying $100 for the round trip, was one of the best deals I've run across!

Between the City of Chihuahua and the town of Creel, the canyon slowly starts to appear. West of Creel is where the canyon gets deep, so I caught the train in Creel. The terrain is pretty mundane after El Fuente, so I stopped and spent the night. I caught the train back to Creel the next morning.

 The train arrives at the town of El Fuente, heading to Chihuahua, Mexico.
The train arrives at the town of El Fuente, heading to Chihuahua, Mexico. | Source
The train consists of 10 cars. When it winds around the curves, it's possible to see all the train from the back car.
The train consists of 10 cars. When it winds around the curves, it's possible to see all the train from the back car. | Source

The Ride is Slow

The train can never pick up any speed. It starts off by following the rim of the Copper Canyon in the high elevations. There is never any great length of straight track. Picking up people in the smaller towns west of Creel, El Chepe moves along the tracks. About 2 hours into the ride, it starts the slow decent to the bottom of the canyon. The best side of the train to sit is on your left if heading west, and on your right if heading east.


The train winds it's way, 405 miles through the valleys and mountains of the Copper Canyon
The train winds it's way, 405 miles through the valleys and mountains of the Copper Canyon | Source

The Tracks are Straight for Bridges

The tracks straighten up when approaching a bridge, but even then the train doesn't speed up. The train goes over bridges and through the tunnels at slow speeds.

There are 36 bridges that the train has to cross going to El Fuente, which is where I'll get off. The sights between the City of Chihuahua/Creel and the sights between El Fuente/Los Mochis are blasé. My suggestion, if you take the train, go from Creel to El Fuente, or vice versa.

 One of the 36 bridges that the train crosses on it's daily route. (one day, Chihuahua to Los Mochis, the next day Los Mochis to Chihuahua)
One of the 36 bridges that the train crosses on it's daily route. (one day, Chihuahua to Los Mochis, the next day Los Mochis to Chihuahua) | Source

Tracks are Maintained 24/7, 365 Days a Year

The El Chepe runs every day, either heading east or heading west. It's one of the best tourist attractions in the State of Chihuahua. Hence, the tracks are maintained 24/7, 365 days a year. It's the best maintained train track in Latin America. Ferrocarril Chihuahua el Pacific does not want to miss the tourist dollars!

 Probably the most well maintained transportation in Mexico. El Chepe has crews that work around the clock to maintain and to clear the tracks.
Probably the most well maintained transportation in Mexico. El Chepe has crews that work around the clock to maintain and to clear the tracks. | Source

The Best Time for the Train Ride is the Rainy Season

Ideally, you want to see the waterfalls and the lushness of the canyons. Of course, the lushness happens during the rainy season, not to mention waterfalls appearing everywhere. Most importantly, you want to see all the waterfalls along your train ride

Rainy season weather patterns work in favor of the train traveler. In the morning it's usually sunny. As the afternoon unfolds, the clouds begin to form. The rains usually don't come until the latter part of the afternoon. For myself, when the rains came about 4PM, I was happy with the pictures I took, and enjoyed the train ride. The timing couldn't have been better!

 Waterfalls, lakes and real green! The area had received a lot of rain, and everything was alive!
Waterfalls, lakes and real green! The area had received a lot of rain, and everything was alive! | Source

Train Derailments Are Unusual

The train ride is safe. The picture below shows a freight car derailed - might have been loaded wrong. Although, with the train's rocking back and forth, the river roaring through the canyon within spitting distance, the waterfalls going underneath the tracks, it does give you a minor case of the willies!

Gently turning tracks follow the river, slowly making a u-turn over the river, placing you on the other side. The rocking stops, the train heads higher and higher, and calmness returns.

Most cars make the trip in one piece and on the track. Others, well ...... not so lucky
Most cars make the trip in one piece and on the track. Others, well ...... not so lucky | Source
 Looking back, as the train was climbing a grade, this came into view. Waterfalls, a small town, a bridge and a rugged mountain - what more could a photographer ask for?
Looking back, as the train was climbing a grade, this came into view. Waterfalls, a small town, a bridge and a rugged mountain - what more could a photographer ask for? | Source

People Live Throughout the Canyons

People live all around the canyons. They log wood, tend farms and try to find more gold and silver in them thar' hills. This is the Mexican Alaska - the most inaccessible part of Mexico.

Of course, the logs and minerals have to get out of the canyons. Thus, the rail way was built. The construction started in the early 1900's and was completed - from Chihuahua to Los Mochis - in 1961.

 The Tarahumara are the local indigenous people that inhabit the area. They live in the summers at top of the canyon mountains and in the winter, move down to the valleys.
The Tarahumara are the local indigenous people that inhabit the area. They live in the summers at top of the canyon mountains and in the winter, move down to the valleys. | Source
 No train station, doesn't matter. The locals need a lift, the train stops
No train station, doesn't matter. The locals need a lift, the train stops | Source

Tunnels, Tunnels and More Tunnels

The canyon wall's rise into the clouds. For about 4 hours your at the bottom of the canyons. It's really remote and rough terrain. It gives you an idea why it took almost 60 years to build.

I imagine the engineers thought, "Up and over or through the mountains?"

In the end, they did both. In many parts it wasn't workable to go up and over. In fact, it wasn't feasible 86 times! That's the number of tunnels the train passes through! 86 tunnels are a lot of dynamite and rock!

 The Copper Canyon get it's name from the color of copper in the canyon walls
The Copper Canyon get it's name from the color of copper in the canyon walls | Source
 Leaving one of the 86 tunnels the train passes through,daily.
Leaving one of the 86 tunnels the train passes through,daily. | Source
 As you can tell, nothing to protect the train from going down into the river, if hit by a landslide. As far as I know, this has never happened.
As you can tell, nothing to protect the train from going down into the river, if hit by a landslide. As far as I know, this has never happened. | Source

The River's Dammed Outside of El Fuente, Mexico

About 30 miles outside of El Fuente, they've built a hydroelectric plant, El Cajon. Mexico needs low cost electricity and they felt this was the best way to achieve the goal. They had to move a town to a new location because of the dam project and the lake that formed. The electrical lines you'll see further down in the photos are coming from El Cajon.

What resulted was some of the best bass fishing in North America. Bass fishing excursions can be taken out of El Fuente, to El Cajon. Even with the dam, it's still quite a remote spot, with great scenery and fishing. The combination of a Copper Canyon train ride and a fishing expedition would be quite the adventure!


 The rivers constantly erode the mountains and hills within the canyons. The river is never a "sparkling" river
The rivers constantly erode the mountains and hills within the canyons. The river is never a "sparkling" river | Source
Lakes, streams, rivers and mountains. The Copper Canyon has what anyone wants.
Lakes, streams, rivers and mountains. The Copper Canyon has what anyone wants. | Source
This is a lake that was formed by a dam to produce electricity. The town of Huites was moved to accommodate the lake, hence the name, Lake Huites
This is a lake that was formed by a dam to produce electricity. The town of Huites was moved to accommodate the lake, hence the name, Lake Huites | Source

Modernization is Coming Quickly

Mexico wants to get the minerals and lumber out the canyon area. Therefore, roads, power lines and pipes for water distribution are coming into the Copper Canyon. Destroying pristine mountains, rugged landscape and upsetting the ecosystems is collateral damage.

The indigenous people lose their way of life. Habitats change, animals disappear. The landscape changes because the trees are cut, leading to quick erosion of the canyon in general.

The lake fills up with silt, slowing the water flow, slowing the electrical production. But, it's hoped that there will be ways to maintain it.

As more of the Copper Canyon area opens up for farming, logging, mining and tourism, the ruggedness, the pristine beauty and the charm diminishes. All in the name of progress.

They're bringing in electricity, water and roads. Forever changing the make up of the Copper Canyon. Progress stops for no environment.
They're bringing in electricity, water and roads. Forever changing the make up of the Copper Canyon. Progress stops for no environment. | Source
Source
Source

Copper Canyon Train Ride Highlights

1) The Copper Canyon Railway took more than 60 years to complete

2) The trip covers 405 miles

3) The rail line crosses 39 major bridges

4) The rail way goes through 86 tunnels

5) The El Chepe makes 15 stops scheduled stops between Chihuahua and Los Mochis. There are 9 train stations.

6) The El Chepe will stop for anyone standing along the rail road tracks.

7) The train ride is 14 hours long, if there are no delays due to landslides.

8) The highest elevation that the train gets too is 7,900 ft. above sea level.

9) The El Chepe goes through 5 different climate zones

10) The deepest part of the train ride is in Urique Canyon

In the map below, you'll see the layout of the Copper Canyon. Upper right shows Chihuahua, lower left shows Los Mochis. Lower middle is Guachochi and in the north is Área Natural Protegida Tutuaca, just outside the small city of Basaseachi.

The map gives a great view of the total area. Just hours from El Paso, a weekend getaway to the Copper Canyon is easy peasy! Just be sure there's limited violence!

Remember, travel safely and play nice!

The Copper Canyon - Chihuahua to El Fuente, Guachochi to Area Natural Protegida Tutuaca

My rating of the Copper Canyon Train Ride

5 stars for I think one of the most scenic train rides in the world!

The Copper Canyon Guide

Copper Canyon Mexico
Copper Canyon Mexico

This book will give you insight into the Copper Canyon area.

The co-author has lived in the Copper Canyon area for over 20 years. He provides a great history about the Tarahumara.

Provides information about some of the towns in the area - like Batopilas - a old siliver mining town that's got a road going to it that's got 32 switchbacks!

The book delivers great information to the traveler.

 

More by this Author


Comments 10 comments

Amanda108 profile image

Amanda108 18 months ago from Michigan, United States

What a beautiful hub! I love to travel through others' eyes, seeing and experiencing through words and pictures and videos the places I can't get to right now. Voted up!


claptona profile image

claptona 18 months ago from Earth Author

Thanks, Amanda108.

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the "pictorial" train ride.

It's for people like yourself, that may need get to see the Copper Canyon, that I do this for.

It really is a marvelous and beautiful place, and I don't say that about many places.

Cheers


oliversmum profile image

oliversmum 18 months ago from australia

Claptona Hi. Thank you for a wonderful Train journey thru a beautiful part of this world. Loved all your photographs, made me feel like I was actually there. Thumbs up. Beautiful. :) :)


claptona profile image

claptona 18 months ago from Earth Author

Thank you oliversmum,

I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the "pictorial" train ride.

I enjoy sharing my pics to allow people to see parts of the world that they may never get too.

Cheers


esja profile image

esja 16 months ago from South Africa

Thanks! Enjoyed it very much!


claptona profile image

claptona 16 months ago from Earth Author

Hi esja,

Thanks for taking the time to read the hub and post a comment.

Appreciated!

Cheers


sallybea profile image

sallybea 4 weeks ago from Norfolk

Such a beautiful Hub with some gorgeous images. Definitely on my wish list of places to travel.


claptona profile image

claptona 4 weeks ago from Earth Author

Thanks for the compliment, Sally.

A very impressive place, the Copper Canyon.

If you want to see it - better hurry. "Progress" is quickly taking place, destroying the pristine beauty.

Thanks for taking the time to comment, appreciate it!

Cheers

John


SheilaMilne profile image

SheilaMilne 4 weeks ago from Kent, UK

This certainly brings back memories for me! We did the trip from Los Mochis to Chihuahua roughly 10 years ago, with a couple of night's stop in Divisidero, and it was wonderful. It looks like the trains have improved quite a bit!


claptona profile image

claptona 4 weeks ago from Earth Author

Hi Sheila,

10 years ago must have been neat!

I made it to Los Mochis in my car vs. the train. Met a retired American couple that lived there.

I stayed in Creel vs. Divisidero - Creel having more restaurants and such. Stayed there a month. But, Divisidero had some great views!

Trains may have improved, but they do leak along the windows. In Latin America they just can't seem to get things to fit or work exactly right.

I meet a lot of Brits in my travels. You folks are much more open to traveling Mexico and Central America that Americans. I find that odd, as I do with many things. HAHAHA

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, it was very kind of you.

Cheers,

John

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working