Rearing up out of the North Mexico desert in a blaze of green only to drop away again into canyons many times greater than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, this place is arrestingly beautiful.
Foreign visitors per year: 200,000
Main town: Creel
Languages: Spanish, Raramuri
Major industries: tourism, agriculture
Unit of currency: Mexican peso (M$)
Cost index: hotel double/dorm M$700/150 (US$55/11), day’s mountain-bike hire M$300 (US$23), four-person canyon tour M$2300 (US$175), second-class Chihuahua-Copper Canyon-Los Mochis train ride M$1442 (US$109)
Topography: deepest canyon depth (1849m), highest point (3306m)
Why go ASAP?
Run for your life, bike for your life, or – for real daredevils – be blasted out over a 1250m-deep precipice: the Copper Canyon was never short on thrills but its list is lengthening year by year.
The big reason for the changes is the new Creel Airport, finally set to get off the ground running connections to Houston and Dallas in the US, as well as prominent Mexican destinations like Mexico City and Canciin. Traditionally, visiting the canyons has been an undertaking of several days – approaching via the classic but time-consuming Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico rail route and letting off steam with an into-the-wild odyssey of canyon rim-to-bottom–hiking. Now travellers can get the `wow’ without the ‘ow’.
Creative tour companies will have opened by 2015 a Tarahumara running trip (far-off-road running with the region’s most distinctive indigenous people, the Tarahumara), and biking down the hair-raising but newly paved road to Batopilas, a colonial town hidden in the tropical canyon valleys. The canyons’ rim-straddling adventure park, Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre, is adding a brace of new adrenaline highs too: the world’s longest zip line, and a slingshot ride – which casts you out into the middle of the canyon on a bungee before reeling you squealing back in.
Festivals & Events:
March sees the epic Ultra Marathon Caballo Blanco, a 50-mile lung-buster of a race across unadulterated wilderness and your chance to compete with Tarahumara runners. Get training…
Running from March to July in locations across Chihuahua state is the Festival Internacional de Turismo Aventura (International Adventure Tourism Festival). Expect extreme dune events in the desert — or catch a trout festival in Madera just north of the canyons.
Festival Internacional Chihuahua takes place in the city of the same name throughout September, focusing on the region’s musical heritage.
Tarahumara immersion experiences, paved roads (well, a little bit), anyone who finishes the Copper Canyon’s ultra-marathon
Express trains, marijuana plantation bust-ups.
Ride the rails on Mexico’s best train journey from the desert (Chihuahua) through the canyons to the Pacific coast (Los Mochis).
Steel yourself for a cross-canyon whoosh on the world’s longest zip line at Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre.
See the canyons from the clouds with the brand new helicopter tours offered by Creel-based outfit the 3Amigos.
Flashpackers are replacing the backpackers of old among the canyons’ tourist clientele and that trend is likely to continue, as sampling the cream of the outdoor offerings here is nowhere near as cheap as it was. Add a session at the adventure park onto the price of a train ride, factor in that soon there will be more zip lines and snazzier hotels (planned for the canyon bottom) and you’ll see why it’s well-heeled thrill-seekers checking in.
The remote peaks and troughs of the Copper Canyon are a refuge not only for the Tarahumara (best-known for their legendary long-distance running abilities over hundreds of kilometres and 1500m+ elevation gains) but also many of Mexico’s Mennonites (a fair-haired, often blue-eyed people tracing their roots to 16th-century Holland, best-known for their farming prowess which yields, among other things, delicious cheeses). Such cultures lend more colour to a region that, rearing up out of the North Mexico desert in a blaze of green only to drop away again into canyons many times greater than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, would already be arrestingly beautiful.
Most bizarre sight:
Cuauhtemoc, a stop that the already eccentric-looking old steam train El Chepe makes on the Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico just before Creel, is a pretty singular city. It’s home to the vast majority of Mexico’s Mennonites who arrived here from Canada in the 1920s, and wear clothes reminiscent of an earlier century. The men are usually seen in loose-fitting overalls and the women attire themselves in long dark dresses and headscarves. They speak a dialect of Low German, and still do most agricultural work with equipment worthy of being acquisitioned by a museum in most countries.