Of all the things to see and do in northwest Mexico, none compare in awe and wonder to the dramatic Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon). It’s a series of more than 20 spectacular canyons that altogether comprise a region that’s four times larger than the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and in several parts it’s much deeper. Imagine for a moment if a jagged key the size of the Florida panhandle was scraped across a car the size of North Carolina – the resulting damage would be akin to Copper Canyon’s stunning chasms.
The best part about the region is that you can travel right up, over and through some of the steepest areas on the Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico (Chihuahua-Pacific Railway, also known as the Copper Canyon Railway), which takes passengers on a scenic journey over 655km of impressively laid rails. The train, which travels between Los Mochis at its western terminus and Chihuahua in the Midwest, is the most popular way to see the canyons.
The name Copper Canyon, which was misleadingly named by the Spanish (they mistook the greenish-glow of lichen for copper as they traipsed through the area), refers specifically to the stunning Barranca de Urique – which, at an altitude of only 500m (but 1879m deep), is the canyon’s deepest point.
The Barranca de Urique has a subtropical climate, while the peaks high above are 2300m above sea level, and are home to conifers and evergreens. The entire region is also home to one of Mexico’s largest groups of indigenous people, the Rarámuri.
Though many people simply ride the train all the way through and then stop overnight before returning, this is an injustice: the best way to truly experience the Barranca del Cobre region is to make a few stops along the way. Creel, approximately eight hours from Los Mochis, is where most people (especially backpackers) choose to break the journey, as it’s near plenty of good spots for exploring, and is a town full of traveler amenities. Overnight stays are also possible at Cerocahui, Urique, Posada Barrancas and Divisadero, each allowing you 24 hours before the train passes by again – time enough to get a closer look and explore the canyons.
Many travelers prefer to visit the area in spring or autumn, when the temperatures are not too hot at the bottom of the canyon (as in summer), or too cold at the top (as in winter). A particularly good time to come is late September and October (after the summer rains), when the vegetation is still green. Things dry up from February to June, but you can still glimpse some wildflowers.