The Copper Canyon is Mexico’s version of the US Grand Canyon except its 4 times bigger and forested. A wonderful little train runs from the canyon rim at 8,000 feet down to the desert floor – twice a day. The ride includes many switchbacks and even a 360 degree tunnel (dug by hand!) inside the mountain. Little towns and villages dot the landscape and natives come out to wave at the train. This was a real eye opening experience!
Most of the time, when I find an interesting place and say “This would be a great trip” my husband just rolls his eyes. But if I say there’s a train ride – he’s all over it. Well, it didn’t take long to talk him into a trip to the Copper Canyon!
We booked our adventure through Caravan Tours and flew to El Paso, Texas to meet our fellow passengers – 41 of us on a bus. Our guide met with us the night before we left to explain about the trip and how we would be travelling. We woke at the crack of dawn, ate quickly, and boarded the bus to take us across the US/Mexico border into Juarez. Now Juarez is one of the most dangerous cities in the world and we were making no stops or sightseeing until well outside the city.
The first day took us through an inspection spot where armed guards came on board the bus and asked several questions. They were looking for drug smugglers. After a six hour drive, we came to the town of Chihuahua, the capitol of this state with the same name.
This is a huge city with a Costco, Walmart, Home Depot, Office Max. There are also more than 300 manufacturing plants here; Coke, Nextel, Satturn, Ford. The Government built a massive industrial park and then built housing for workers. Thousands of small homes – maybe 800 square feet – were painted all colors and sold to the workers at the bargain price of $15 a month for 30 years. Everyone is driving newer cars and the town is thriving.
We passed huge farmlands owned by the Mennonite Church who came down in the 1920’s at the end of the Mexican Revolution. Mexico needed farmers and they have done quite well. Many communities still speak German and there is no TV, Internet, or radio. The women rarely go to town.
The trip took us up into the mountains to Creel where it had recently snowed at the 8,000 foot level. We had an excellent dinner and stayed at a simple clean motel.
In the morning, we spent some time in the little town while waiting for the train to come up the canyon. The local women and children were selling baskets, jewelry and home-made crafts. The little museum in town was a fun visit as well.
Finally, we boarded the train to head down the canyon. Pine trees lined both sides of the track and we were surprised to find so much vegetation all the way down. I was expecting something like the Grand Canyon in Arizona! We passed a huge lake and several small communities.
We were in the first class passenger car, accompanied by our guide and two armed guards who sat in the back. The guide told us there would be no bandido’s robbing this train!
A quick stop at Divisidero lookout was a welcome break where I bought a basket and an intricately woven copper bracelet.
We made it to our final destination of El Fuerte at 7 PM and rode a bus into town. We stayed at Hotel Del Hidalgo with courtyards, palm trees and huge ficus trees. All the rooms have 15 foot ceilings, tile floors, painted sinks and beautiful murals. Three old haciendas were connected to make the resort – the oldest was over 400 years old. A five star hotel in the middle of the desert!
The weather was gorgeous – 80 degrees in the day, but still cold at night in February. The tour took us 8 miles upstream for a nature float down the Rio Fuerte where we saw egrets, falcons and blue heron nesting in trees. Upon our return, we were taken to an old fort, built in 1630 that is still used today.
We spent the next day in town walking around and enjoying the warm weather. Perfect place for an afternoon siesta. The Hummingbird Café at the hotel is open air and dozens of hummingbirds joined us for dinner. Our entertainment was an appearance by Zorro! The town claims to be his birthplace and they had a wonderful evening show planned for us with dancers and singers in colorful costumes.
The next day, we rode the train back up the canyon and made our way home. The best part of this trip was that the Guide spent the entire time on the bus and train telling us about Mexican culture and history and we learned so much! Did you know that Mexican children go to school until the 8th grade and then go to a trade school? After that, they can go to college or go to work with a trade diploma in hand. The graduate actually ready to work!
The other remarkable thing I remember was that the canyon is completely sheltered at night from any light so the stars are magnificent! We took our margarita’s out on the deck and let the sky entertain us.
At the end of our trip, we stopped to spend the night in Chihuahua. We were taken to a pottery factory and to Pancho Villa’s home. We were encouraged to walk around town and make an attempt to buy something although not one of us spoke Spanish. I ended up in a fabric store and through sign language and a lot of laughing, managed to buy 3 meters of fabric to bring home.
The copper canyon trip was one of my favorites. It was a fascinating educational and entertaining peek into another culture, right across our border. Being on a Caravan Tour insured that we were well cared for, informed and safe. Put this on your bucket list!