Must see attractions in Copper Canyon & Northern Mexico

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northeast Mexico

    Área de Protección de Flora y Fauna Cuatrociénegas

    With hundreds of shimmering cerulean pozas (pools) and streams in the middle of the Desierto Chihuahuense (Chihuahuan Desert), this 843-sq-km nature reserve is a surreal sight. Fed by more than 500 underground springs, it's a desert habitat of extraordinary biological diversity, often compared to the Galapagos Islands. It's home to over 70 endemic species, including three kinds of turtles and 11 kinds of fish, as well as primitive organisms called estromatolitos (stromatolites), which are linked to the creation of Earth's oxygen-rich atmosphere. Some pools and the nearby river have been set aside for recreational activities, including swimming. Much of the area is off-limits to the public, as it's being studied by researchers from organizations as diverse as NASA and UNAM. The main gateway to the park is Poza Azul. Here you'll find a visitor center, with displays in Spanish and English on the area's flora and fauna. The Poza Las Tortugas, a good turtle-spotting pool, is right behind here, while 1.5km further back is the aptly named Poza Azul (Blue Pond), one of the reserve’s most photographed sites. Licensed guides can be hired here (there's no fee, you'll just pay admission for the individual sites). In town the tourist information office has a list of recommended guides, all of which can provide transport if you don't have a car. Located about 9km southwest of town.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sonora

    Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar

    About 30km from Puerto Peñasco are the lunar landscapes of El Pinacate, one of the driest places on earth. This remote, spectacular 7145-sq-km reserve is a Unesco World Heritage site and contains ancient eroded volcanoes, giant craters, petrified lava flows, 400-plus ash cones and the continent's largest concentration of active sand dunes. Wildlife includes pronghorn antelope (the fastest land mammal in the Americas), bighorn sheep, pumas, reptiles and bountiful birdlife. There's an excellent, highly informative, solar-powered visitor center, interpretive hiking trails and two campgrounds. The extraordinary landscapes here are so unusual that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin used this region in the 1960s to prepare themselves for their Apollo 11 moon landing. Today over 70km of dirt roads (4WD only in parts) penetrate the reserve. Visitors must register to climb the 1190m Cerro del Pinacate volcano. The visitor center is about 8km west of Km 72 on Hwy 8 (27km from Puerto Peñasco). The craters are accessed by a separate turnoff further north at Km 52 on Hwy 8. CEDO in Puerto Peñasco organizes excellent tours to the reserve: good walking shoes are recommended, and note that there's no water or electricity available anywhere in the reserve, except at the visitor center.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Monterrey

    Parque Ecológico Chipinque

    This stunning mountainside reserve is just 12km from downtown Monterrey. There's great hiking and mountain-biking on over 60km of well-marked trails through dense forest and up rocky peaks, including up soaring Copete de Águilas (2200m). The tiny visitor center has snacks and permits for those heading to the summits. Mountain bike rentals (M$200 per hour) and three-hour bike excursions (M$650 per person, including bike) can also be arranged at the kiosk behind the visitor center. A taxi from downtown costs about M$150 (more if you want a lift to the higher trails); ask the driver to return at an agreed-upon time to be sure you have a ride back to town. If self-driving, you'll pay M$65 if only going to the visitor centre; it costs M$125 to drive further uphill to the more scenic trails and lookouts.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Chihuahua & Central North Mexico

    Paquimé

    These ruins, in a broad valley with panoramas to distant mountains, contain the mazelike adobe remnants of northern Mexico’s most important trading settlement. Paquimé was the center of the Mogollón or Casas Grandes culture, which extended north into New Mexico and Arizona and over most of Chihuahua. The site’s impressive, meticulously detailed Museo de las Culturas del Norte has displays about Paquimé and the linked indigenous cultures of northern Mexico and the southwest USA. The site was sacked, perhaps by Apaches, around 1340. Excavation and restoration began in the 1950s; Unesco declared it a World Heritage site in 1998. Plaques, in Spanish and English, discuss Paquimé culture while giving fascinating details on the sites like the ceremonial ball court, pit ovens used to make mezcal for important festivals, the dwelling of a curandero (healer) and rituals performed using birds that were bred in the plaza, and a house of skulls with a mobile of skulls hanging from the ceiling of an upper floor. There was also an elaborate canal system that brought water to the community from a spring located 5km to the north. The Paquimé people were great potters and produced striking cream-colored earthenware with red, brown or black geometric designs; some amazing original examples are on display in the museum, and modern reproductions are for sale.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Monterrey

    Horno3

    Blast Furnace No 3 in the former industrial site of the Parque Fundidora has been converted into Horno3, an exceptionally impressive high-tech, hands-on museum devoted to Mexico’s steel industry. No expense has been spared here, from the steaming rocks at the entrance to the metal, open-air elevator that climbs to the summit for dramatic bird's-eye views of Monterrey (included in admission). The entire process of steel-making is explained (with some English translations) along with its vital relevance to Monterrey and Mexico. Don’t miss the dramatic furnace show, beamed from the bulk of Horno3 itself. On weekends, there's a combo zip-lining-rappelling tour (adult/child M$490/290) from the top of the metal tower; book ahead with Ibo Adventures (www.ibo.com.mx/tours/urban). The excellent cafe-restaurant, El Lingote, serves creative fare and craft beers to views over the park. After the museum closes, you can take the open-air elevator to the summit for evening views over the city (M$60), with rides continuing until 10pm.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Chihuahua & Central North Mexico

    Casa Chihuahua

    Chihuahua’s former Palacio Federal (built 1908–10) has been used as a mint, a monastery, a military hospital and a post office, but is now a beautifully restored cultural center full of excellent exhibits, with most explanations in English and Spanish. Modern displays concentrate on the culture and history of Chihuahua state with features on Mormons, Mennonites and the Rarámuri people. The most famous gallery is the Calabozo de Hidalgo, the subterranean dungeon where Miguel Hidalgo was held prior to his execution. The historic dungeon and the church towering above it were preserved within the later buildings erected on the site. A short audiovisual presentation (in Spanish) heightens the mournful atmosphere of the dungeon, which contains Hidalgo’s bible and crucifix. A plaque outside recalls the verses the revolutionary priest wrote in charcoal on his cell wall in his final hours thanking his captors for their kindness.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Copper Canyon & Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico

    Bosque Secreto

    Five hundred years ago, over 550,000 sq km of dry tropical forest stretched down the coast from northern Mexico to Panama. Today only 2% of virgin forest remains, including a breathtaking swath of greenery just outside of El Fuerte, in an area known as Bosque Secreto. The delightful Río Fuerte, which is incredibly rich in birdlife (including herons, osprey, kingfishers and flycatchers), winds through much of the forest. The area is also home to over 1800 species of native plants. Turismo Fuerte, Hotel Río Vista and Posada del Hidalgo lead sustainable boat trips along the river, taking in plenty of bird-watching and some 2000-year-old petroglyphs along the way.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Monterrey

    Paseo Santa Lucía

    The stunning 2.3km promenade of Paseo Santa Lucía is a world-class example of urban regeneration. This (artificial) river forms a turquoise ribbon through the heart of industrial Monterrey. Take a stroll down this delightful leafy pathway, or hop in one of the regular river boats (adult/child return M$70/40; 10am to 9pm). The landscaping is amazing, with lighting illuminating the water at night plus the 24 striking bridges and 13 fountains spanning the river. There's 24-hour security, a few bars and restaurants at its western end and the whole promenade has free public wi-fi. Boats leave from a dock on Plaza 400 Años.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Monterrey

    Museo de Historia Mexicana

    This sleek modernist museum on the Plaza 400 Años presents an extensive but easily manageable chronological history of Mexico. In the heart of the museum there’s an Earth section, full of mounted animals and realistic-looking landscapes, representing Mexico's remarkable biodiversity. Signage is mostly in Spanish, though there are strategically placed screens with overviews in English. Free tours – in either language – can be arranged by phoning in advance. Entry is free on Tuesdays and Sundays. Admission also covers the Museo del Noreste, to which it's attached via a glass-enclosed bridge.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Chihuahua & Central North Mexico

    Museo de la Ciudad 450

    This impressive city museum features an interesting collection of interactive exhibits, from pre-Hispanic times through colonization to the present day, and deals with Durango's economy, mining, traditions and culture. The museum has an entire section dedicated to the film industry, highlighting the more than 130 films that have been made in and near the city, including The Wild Bunch (1968), Zorro (1997) and Texas Rising (2014). Don't miss the alacraneo, a black-light-lit tank filled with scorpions. The museum is housed in a majestic structure dating to 1901, once used for government offices.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northeast Mexico

    Museo de las Aves de México

    Mexico ranks 10th in the world in terms of avian diversity, and this fascinating museum displays more than 3000 stuffed and mounted species, many in convincing dioramas of their natural habitat. Exhibits are divided by ecosystem: desert, ocean, rain forest, mangrove etc. There are special sections featuring multimedia exhibits on feathers, beaks and migration. The museum also explores the evolution of birds, with some impressive, life-size models of prehistoric ancestors. Signage in Spanish and English. Guided tours available from 12:30pm onward.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northeast Mexico

    Dunas de Yeso

    Located within the Cuatrociénegas Reserve, these blinding-white gypsum sand dunes – the second largest in North America – contrast superbly with the six rocky mountain ranges that ring the valley. To visit you’ll need your own transportation and a guide. (The gate to the dunes is locked and only guides have access to the key.) A licensed guide can be hired at the Poza Azul Visitors Center. The dunes are located 18km southwest of town, at the end of a sand road.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northeast Mexico

    Museo del Desierto

    Saltillo's top attraction, this no-expense-spared natural history museum is highly enjoyable and informative (even if you don’t speak Spanish). Exhibits explore the Chihuahuense Desert (the largest desert is North America), reveal why sea currents can create deserts and how sand dunes are formed. Children will love the dinosaurs, particularly the Tyrannosaurus rex. There’s also a reptile house, prairie dogs, gray wolves and a botanical garden with more than 400 cactus species.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sonora

    Isla San Jorge

    Also known as Bird Island, Isla San Jorge is one of the best boat excursions in northern Mexico. This rocky island 40km southeast of Peñasco is home to nesting seabirds and also a large community of sea lions (which are curious by nature and will swim alongside boats). Dolphins are often spotted en route, while whales (fin, gray, killer and pilot) are sometimes encountered between January and April. Full-day cruises are offered by Del Mar Charters.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sonora

    Playa Los Algodones

    Named for the cotton-ball-like dunes on the south end of the beach, Playa Los Algodones is arguably the most beautiful beach in northern Mexico. The sand is fine and white, the water blue and calm, and the view is of dramatic mountains. High season can bring crowds and traveling oompah bands – join the party or head north along the sand for a patch of peace. There's a parking fee on Saturday and Sunday (M$30). On other days, access is free.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Copper Canyon & Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico

    Valle de los Monjes

    Around 7km east of San Ignacio's town center, through verdant farmland, is the Valle de los Monjes. A spectacular outcrop of vertical red rock formations that inspire its Rarámuri name Bisabírachi, meaning ‘Valley of the Erect Penises,’ it is well worth exploring and is less visited than the Valle de las Ranas y los Hongos. Admission (M$15) is occasionally charged.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northwest Mexico

    Trapiche

    This fabulous hands-on museum is a must if you're traveling with kids. There are areas and activities for all ages, including virtual reality games, giant bubble-making, TV and radio broadcasting, building block stations, funhouse mirrors and a tiny train that goes around the property. There's even a bed of nails you can lie on. Enthusiastic, English-speaking docents happily guide visitors through the museum.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sonora

    Parque la Colorada

    Created by an eco-minded group of residents back in 2014, this lush reserve encompasses some 112 hectares of pristine tropical deciduous forest. Well-marked trails wind through the reserve, including a 1.5km hike up to the top of El Tecolote, which offers sweeping views over the countryside. To find the park, follow signs to El Pedregal. Trails begin near this lodge on the outskirts of Álamos.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Chihuahua & Central North Mexico

    Museo Francisco Villa

    Housed in a spectacular colonial mansion, this well-conceived museum pays deep homage to the Mexican revolutionary hero Pancho Villa. Sixteen rooms worth of multimedia displays, films and personal effects tell the story of Durango's most famous native son. Be sure to leave some time to check out the gorgeous murals, which depict the history of the country and state. Signage is mostly in Spanish.

  • Sights in The Copper Canyon & Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico

    Mirador La Bufa

    Along the scenic drive to Batopilas, about 100km south of Creel, is one of the region's most spectacular views: La Bufa canyon. Dropping 1800m, it's deep and verdant, with the Batopilas river rushing through its middle, a stunning set of roadway switchbacks leading to the bottom, and a spectacular rock formation that, squinting, looks like a massive seven-layer cake. Look for the parking area, teetering on the canyon rim, with a handful of stands with Tarahumara crafts for sale.