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Copper Canyon Travel
Area Overview

The Copper Canyon region is 25,000 square miles and stretches across almost 1/3 of the state of Chihuahua, located in Northern Mexico.  If you board the Chihuahua al Pacifico train in Los Mochis you will pass through the beautiful farmland of Sinaloa and then begin slowly climbing into the Sierra Madres.  If you board the train in Chihuahua the high desert country of that region is also spectacular.  Although the train ascends as high as 8,000 feet near San Juanito, amazingly, the angle of descent never exceeds 2.5%.  The entire trip is 397 miles and can take as long as 20 hours on the second class train and about three hours less on the first class train.

Scenery ranges from old-growth Ponderosa Pines to pristine snow capped mountains.  There are two climate bands in the Sierra Madres: the colder areas along the rims of the canyons and the sub-tropical areas in the canyon bottoms.  If you take a side trip into the canyons you may see glistening lakes of pure fresh water and enormous waterfalls.  Bird watchers love this trip because the region has almost 300 species, both indigenous and migratory.  There are deer, bears, and large hunting cats in the canyons as well. 

You will see firsthand why the railway is heralded as an incredible engineering feat.  The train passes through 87 tunnels.  Just north of Témoris it enters the Tunel la Pera, which is 3,073 feet long and actually makes a 180 degree turn inside of the mountain. 

The railway engineers made equally impressive use of bridges, of which there are 36, one of them towering 1,000 feet over the Chinípas River.  As you can see on the map, just north of El Divisadero the tracks actually make a loop over themselves.  This railroad required 100 years to build.

As of December, 2004, the first class train left at 6 a.m. in the morning, and the second class train left an hour later at 7 a.m.  My trip from Chihuahua to Los Mochis took 18 hours on the second class train, not arriving in Los Mochis until almost 2 a.m. the following morning.  The second class train is used purely for transportation by many people who live in the Sierra Madres, so it makes twice as many stops as the first class train, quite a few more stops than listed on the price schedule, I might add.  (The conductors were not going to put a family with little children out in the cold night 15 miles from their cabin.)

If you are not going to take the train both ways on separate days you should probably choose Los Mochis as your point of departure for the train ride.  I doubt if you would be disappointed with either route, but the mountain views you will see on the daylight leg of the journey are even more interesting than those on the eastern end of the Sierra Madres.  Most people say the best scenery is between Temoris and Cerocahui on the west.  Get to the station an hour early if you do not have reservations and ask for a seat on the south side of the train (lado sur). 

Depths (in feet)
of the
Five Deepest Canyons
Urique 6,136
Sinforosa 6,002
Candaména 5,775
Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre) 5,770
Batopilas 5,904
Grand Canyon 4,674

When you look at the geography of the region you will see that the Copper Canyon region is really a maze of over 200 gorges which in turn form six massive canyons (called barrancas in Spanish).  Much hoo-hah is made about these canyons being larger than the grand canyon, but this tends to put the wrong expectations in the mind of someone planning the trip.  The Grand Canyon is stark and beautiful.  These canyons are lush with vegetation.  They are two distinct natural wonders and should not really be compared in this fashion.  These canyons were formed by six different rivers, all of which finally combine into the Rio Fuerte which empties into the Sea of Cortez after it's journey across the Mexican state of Sinaloa. 

To add another dimension to the trip, the entire Sierra Madre region is inhabited by the gentle, mysterious Tarahumara Indians.  They number approximately 50,000 and are the last free living indigenous people in North America. 

Finally, there is a host of great, well established companies which can provide you with complete tour packages of the canyon region, ranging in price from just under $1,000 to much more if you wish to travel in a private railway car.  These tours are led by people and who know the Copper Canyon region and who understand the people and culture of this part of Mexico.  They have spent years developing the vacation packages you see on the internet.  Each package is different, because each company has made different arrangements with the hotels and local guides in the area.  But you cannot go wrong in choosing any of them as your tour guides on this wonderful, unforgettable journey.  Having taken the trip on my own, I can tell you that next time I am going to buy one of these vacation packages, because the Copper Canyon region is too vast to figure out on the fly.  Down whatever road your guides may take you into the vast canyons or Tarahumara cave dwellings or sites of towering waterfalls, you are not going to forget this vacation.  The region itself transcends any attempt to promote it or describe it to those who have not been there. 

 
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