Copper Canyon Railway: Ultimate Guide

by | 22 Dec, 2017

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The Copper Canyon Railway, Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico in full or El Chepe for short as it is called in Spanish, is the last passenger train in Mexico.

It winds through some of the most epic scenery in the whole of the country. Virtually every guide to travelling Mexico will tell you it’s a must do. And we can confirm from experience that is definitely is.

Sierre-Madre-landscape

The Sierre Madre landscapes are quite simply epic. The Copper Canyon Railway journey takes you through some seriously remote parts of the country.

It passes over huge canyons via vast viaducts and through tunnels carved into the massive mountains. And you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time with the 1980’s style carriages and the old school train conductors in dickie bows.

The full length of the Copper Canyon railway track is 656km, contains 37 bridges, 86 tunnels and took 60 years to build. The Copper Canyon, or Barrancas del Cobre in Spanish, refers to only a specific part of these Northern Mexico highlands.

The labyrinth is actually made up of six other major canyons, Barrancas de Unique, Sinforosa, Batopilas, Oteros, Chinipas and Candameña.

Copper-Canyon

Plunging to depths of 1800m in several places, not only are they deeper than the US Grand Canyon in Arizona, but also four times bigger by area. Your eyes will seriously be glued to the windows of the Copper Canyon railway as you get to see Mexico like you’ve never seen it before.

Here’s our ultimate guide to taking a Copper Canyon train ride.

Copper Canyon Railway Schedule

The Copper Canyon railway runs east to west and back again between a town called Los Mochis and the larger city of Chihuahua, stopping at a number of smaller towns villages on route.

The train runs daily, but there are two different types of train that you can take, leaving on alternating days, which can be a little confusing.

James-at-the-railway

The Primera Express train (first class only) runs on Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Whereas the Clase Economica train (first and second class) runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

We didn’t realise this and because we wanted to go second class had to stay an extra night in Los Mochis. So if you are wanting take a particular class of the Copper Canyon train make sure to time your arrival right.

Both trains leave Los Mochis train station at 6am with boarding starting around 5.30am. It’s an early start in the dark. So make sure you get a reasonably early night too if you are starting your Copper Canyon train tour here.

The last thing you want to be doing is to be snoring your way through the beautiful Copper Canyon railway scenery.

Below are the prices of the two different trains from the different stations through to Chihuahua.

prices

Copper Canyon Train Mexico

Another option is to catch the train from the next town along, El Fuerte. It’s a pretty Pueblo Magico and of course doesn’t leave as early.

However, by the time the train reached there on our trip it was already quite full and the only seats available were on the left of the train. For the best views you want to nab seats on the right side of the train.

mountain-view

We started our Copper Canyon train ride in Los Mochis and went through to Creel where we stayed for a few nights to explore the region further. Then continued onto Chihuahua by bus.

You can get back on the train. But you will have already seen the best views and the buses are more frequent, cheaper and quicker.

You can also of course start in the east in Chihuahua and come through El Fuerte or Los Mochis in that direction. In which case you’ll want to be seated on the left side for the good views.

Between Los Moschis and Chihuahua, the Copper Canyon train stops at El Fuerte, Témoris, Bahuichivo, San Rafael, Areponápuchi, Divisadero, Creel and Cuauhtémoc.

But unless you are permanently disembarking you can only get off and have a look at one stop, Divisadero.

train

Travelling from Los Mochis into Barrancas del Cobre on the Copper Canyon railway you’ll arrive there somewhere between 2pm and 3pm.

Get ready because you only have 20 minutes.

You’ll know when you’re there in economy because everyone will start getting up and queuing to get off. In first class I expect they tell you.

Head straight down to the right for the viewing spots of the Copper Canyon.

Then on your way back grab a snack from one of their oil drum street food stalls. We had Gorditas and Chilli Rellenos, they were delicious and only $25MXN each.

street-foods

We took our small backpacks with us but left our big lockable bags on the train.

The train is safe. But don’t be one of those wallys that leave their valuable stuff on their seat and wonder why someone less fortunate than you has taken an opportunity you have invited.

How To Buy Copper Canyon Train Tickets

Unfortunately it’s not possible to purchase Copper Canyon train tickets online. You have to either buy them from a station or try and call to book over the phone.

We just went to the station in Los Mochis when we arrived and bought them then for in 2 days time. There is an ATM in Los Mochis station. But it would only take our Barclays card, not our HSBC one so don’t rely on it.

James-at-the-train

Likewise, if you are travelling from Chihuahua on your Copper Canyon train tour you can just buy your ticket from the train station at that end too.

There are also ticket offices at El Fuerte and Cuauhtémoc.

If you’re boarding at any of the other stops you just have pay on board. This should ordinarily be okay but bear in mind you run the risk of there not being space during peak times.

Where To Stay In Los Mochis

As I say in our post about how to get from La Paz to Los Mochis by ferry, if you are travelling that route Monday-Friday you will arrive in Los Mochis around 10pm. So you can actually just head straight to Los Mochis train station and kip there overnight.

Well, until around 5am when people start arriving to catch the 6am Copper Canyon train. There are toilets, a few plug sockets and a security guard.

Sarah-at-the-train

But if you are wanting to get some proper rest before you board the Copper Canyon railway, which we would recommend, you need to book an overnight somewhere.

Airbnb is one of the best options and the hosts are used to people arriving late and leaving early. We stayed at a place just a few hundred meters from Los Mochis train station. So there was no faffing about finding a taxi in the early hours which was really handy.

The hosts really look after us. They made us hot chocolate when we arrived, cooked breakfast and snacks for us, practised Spanish with us, gave us lots of helpful information about Los Mochis and the Copper Canyon and were generally just awesome.

room-with-double-beds

The room they have is separate to the house and has two double beds so can accommodate four people with an ensuite bathroom. There is wifi but it only works in the house.

The price we paid was £18 per night and you can find the accommodation on Airbnb here. If you don’t already have an account sign up for a £20 discount on your first stay.

If this place is booked you can also find some great deals through Booking.com. Search here now.

Copper Canyon Train Ride

When you get onto the Copper Canyon railway train you will be assigned seats by the train conductor.

If you are travelling from the West (Los Moschis and El Fuerte) request a seat on the right of the carriage and if travelling from the East (Chihuahua) request them on the left for the best scenery viewpoints.

In Spanish ‘right please’ = ‘a la derecha por favor’ and ‘left please’ = ‘a la izquierda por favor’.

view-from-the-window-of-the-train

Aside from the price, the other reason we opted to take the ecomonica option for our Copper Canyon train tour was because we wanted to take our own food onto the train.

You can’t do this on the Primera train, you have to purchase food from their onboard restaurant. There was a small restaurant on the economica train too but it was more just for drinks and snacks.

As their other business, our airbnb hosts (another reason to stay at the same place we did) actually sold breakfasts at the station on the ‘economica days’. So we loaded up on delicious burritos from them. Having purchased some fruit and nuts the day before from the markets.

There were also people on board the train selling tamales, fruit and other snacks. Drinks on board were $25MXN.

Obviously we didn’t travel on the Primera Copper Canyon train so we can’t tell you what it’s like first hand but it must be exceptional because it was superb in Economica.

The seats are really spacious, the carriages are air-conditioned and train conductors are regularly coming through sweeping the floors, collecting rubbish and cleaning the toilets.

inside-the-train

There are luggage racks overhead and larger storage spaces at the end of the carriages for your bags.

People smoke in between carriages where the windows open, but if you can put up with the smell, these are also awesome photograph spots. Just make sure you don’t poke your eye out on a passing twig or worse.

And if you are travelling west to east wrap up warm as it gets much colder over that way.

If you are travelling to Creel like we did, you’ll drive at around 4pm. If you’re going all the way through to Chihuahua it will be more like 7pm.

James-and-Sarah-at-the-top-of-the-mountain

Do You Speak Spanish?

One thing to be aware outside of Mexico’s main tourism hotspots, is that not many people speak English.

Unless you are staying at an international hotel chain or hire an English speaking guide, it’s rare. And as for taxi drivers and market stall holders, forget it.

You can of course usually get by, but since we started learning Spanish we found that it has hugely enhanced our travel experiences. Not to mention enabled us to travel around Spanish speaking countries more confidently.

Which is why we’d like to recommend this Travel Spanish Confidence course we took recently. It enabled us move beyond a basic level to being able to communicate effectively in Spanish.

If you don’t know a word of Spanish however, this won’t be for you yet. Better to get started with Duolingo or some basic language classes first.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

We never go anywhere without travel insurance – and neither should you.

This particularly goes if you’re planning to do any of the more adventurous activities above. World Nomads is our preferred choice for great cover and a no bullshit approach.

Grab yourself a quick quote below:

And that’s it, all there is left for you to do is sit back and enjoy the ride on the Copper Canyon railway through the Barrancas del Cobre. One of Mexico’s most beautiful and fascinating landscapes.

Let us know in the comments if you found this article useful. Or if you took the Primera Copper Canyon train what your experience was like?

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