Due to its remote location and the reticence of its indigenous Tarahumara Indians, Mexico’s Copper Canyon was for many years shrouded in mystery. Not only was it difficult to reach, misinformation about the rugged canyons abounded. Even today, most visitors are still under the impression that Copper Canyon is a single canyon when, in fact, it is a complex of six different canyons in the Sierra Tarahumara, part of the larger Sierra Madre Mountain range.
Since the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad completed a rail line through the area in 1961, Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre in Spanish) has been much easier to access. For much of its 405 mile route the train, known as “El Chepe,” runs along Urique Canyon, the main and deepest canyon within the Copper Canyon complex, crossing 39 bridges and 86 tunnels on its 13+ hour journey between Chihuahua in the west and Los Mochis in the east. With the most stunning scenery occurring on the western end of the route between El Fuerte and Divisadero, it is highly recommended to take the ride from west to east in order to see the highlights during daylight hours.
Currently, a first class train runs once each day in both directions, while economy class runs only three days per week n each direction (from Chihuahua to Los Mochis on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday; from Los Mochis to Chihuahua on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday). However schedules can change without notice, especially during slower tourist seasons, so it is wise to check ahead rather than just arriving and hoping to catch the train. Fares for the first class are $1,981 pesos (about $165 USD), and $991 pesos (about $83 USD) for economy class. The first class train has seats that are a bit more comfortable and the dining car is equipped with seats rather than stand-up tables; other than that the only difference between the two is that the economy class train leaves one hour later and stops at more stations, thus it is a 14+ hour ride.
It is also possible – and highly recommended – to get off the train and spend some time in the canyons, rather than riding straight through. From the towns of Creel and Bahuichivo passengers can ride local buses into Batopilas and Urique canyons, both of which are adrenaline pumping descents via narrow, dirt tracks that hug sheer canyon walls and offer some of the most stunning vistas in the world.