Mexico’s sole passenger train whisks you into an eternal landscape four times the size of the Grand Canyon. Chihuahua, Mexico’s largest and U.S bordering state, is revered within the national community but escapes attention from all except the most determined international travellers. The opportunity to climb rock faces hundreds of feet in the air, or to ride the world’s second longest zipline, all sound like reasons enough for visiting. But really, the Copper Canyon Railway is an ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience in itself. It doesn’t matter if you’re boarding the economical Regional service or the Express in First Class; you’ll still feel awe-inspired by the North of Mexico’s craggy and captivating scenery.
What is the Copper Canyon Route? 💫
The Copper Canyon railway, also known as El Chepe, offers two services: the Express and the Regional. While both trains operate within the same area, the experiences differ quite substantially.
The term ‘Express’ may be a little deceiving, as even the shorter journey is still well over nine hours. But while the El Chepe Regional — a 16 hour expedition — has 15 stops along the way, the El Chepe Express has five.
The Express line takes you from Sinaloa staples Los Mochis and El Fuerte, through to the Chihuahuan attractions of Bahuichivo, Divisadero, and Creel. These five stops were cherry-picked as they’ve been historically the most popular among tourists; so you’re not missing out if you choose the Express line over the Regional. And no need to worry about how you’ll get back, as the Express line is also available in the reverse direction.
If you’re planning on travelling from Los Mochis, the train leaves at 7am on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It should get to Creel by 5:30pm — but train delays are quite common so expect a later arrival. Meanwhile, the Express line leaves from Creel at 8am on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
The El Chepe Regional provides you with a slower-paced and more detailed perspective of Northern Mexico. While the Express line was specifically designed for tourists, the Regional is open to internationals but is more popular among the locals. The Regional service operates daily and travels from Chihuahua to Los Mochis and back.
Inside the Trains ⭐
Since El Chepe Regional is the more traditional mode of transport out of the two services, it’s hardly surprising that its amenities are more laidback. You’ll find an A La Carte restaurant perfect for grazing and comfortable seats which recline, in addition to more practical services like separate luggage storage and toilets for each car. Unlike the El Chepe Express, the El Chepe Regional only has two classes: Tourist ($117) and Economy ($62).
Created in 2018, the El Chepe Express gives tourists a speedier and more luxurious taster of this part of the world. You can ride in one of three classes: Tourist ($153), Executive ($199), and First Class ($287). All three services provide access to the restaurant, and opportunities to snap outstanding photographs of the outdoor scenery. But if you really want to dial up the excitement, the Executive and First Class services are worth the splurge.
The Executive Class gains access to the panoramic bar on-board, luxury restrooms, HD screens and reclining seats (… in case you ever grow tired of staring out into the wild). Meanwhile, the First Class packs an extra punch with a meal included, exclusive access to a terrace bar, and on-board service.
Journey Highlights ✨
While the amenities on-board make this train journey a memorable one, the real reason you’ve come all this way is for a taster of the magnificent nature surrounding you.
Since the Copper Canyon National Park is so vast, the best way to take in the terrain is by hanging sky-high. Each activity scales up the difficulty level, with the cable car requiring almost no effort, while the via ferrata experience is an exhausting feat. If you still want to try a Tarzan-like swing but without the climbing, you’ve got to ride the zipline. Over 8000 feet long, the Copper Copper ZipRider® was the world’s longest zipline for four years — today, its status has only been fractionally topped by the United Arab Emirates’ Jais Flight.
The people who dismiss Divisadero as just a train stop are missing out, because just a minute away from the stalls, you’ll find an astonishing viewpoint overlooking the copper-green canyons. If you want to extend your trip, consider staying at Divisadero’s sole accommodation: Hotel Divisadero Barrancas. Aside from the ridiculously beautiful view, the hotel staff can point you in the right direction for any hiking trails.
If there’s one place to get out and explore while on this train journey, it’s Divisadero. Especially since it’s a relatively short distance away from where all the action happens.
With that said, you’ll still want to take your time at the stalls in Divisadero. The street food is an exciting opportunity to see how the flavours change throughout Mexico, as well as chatting to the friendly locals.
El Chepe Express ends on a sweet note in Creel, as this small town is one of the few Pueblo Magicos you’ll find scattered about in Mexico. Its photogenic main street is a chance to buy souvenirs and handicrafts from Tarahumara locals, but beyond this, it’s a popular hub for tourism expeditions.
Keep in mind, however, that Creel is a good distance away from the Copper Canyon itself — and so you’ll be spending a few hours travelling each day if you base yourself here. Other than trips to the Copper Canyon, the biggest highlight out of all these trips would be Mexico’s second largest waterfall: the mesmerising Cascada de Basaseachi.