Mexican name: Barrancas del Cobre
If you explore* Mexico you will undoubtedly come across the natural splendour of Copper Canyon. The canyon, which is actually not a single canyon, but rather a series of more than 20 canyons, runs through the Sierra Madre mountain range in the northern region of Mexico. The canyon covers over 20,000 square miles and is therefore four times longer than the Grand Canyon in the USA. The locals tried to convince me that the canyon is also deeper (in its deepest gorge) than the Grand Canyon. However, I have been told this is untrue. Having never seen the Grand Canyon I would not know.
The best way to get to see the canyon is via rail. There is only one railroad through the canyon, but there are 2 train services that operate on the route. The Chihuahua al Pacifico is the standard (second class) train and the more lavish South Orient Express (first class) is the more expensive option. The main difference between the 2 lines is the time it takes for each of them to make the journey through the canyons, from Chihuahua to Los Mochis. I took the Chihuahua al Pacifico and it took just over 17 hours from start to finish. I am told the South Orient Express does the journey in 11 hours. During winter months, the difference in time means that you may pass some of the most dramatic views in the dark on the second class train. The first class train also has a dining car and is air conditioned. I can imagine that during summer the air conditioners will be lifesavers. Don't worry about food on the second class train: every time the train stops at a station, a million shouting Mexican food sellers will be on hand to peddle you a steaming tamale or a bag of potato crisps. I was told to expect to have to share my seat with a goat or chicken or some other item of livestock on the second class train, but not an animal was in sight, and the train was rather comfortable. A good alternative to the first class train and 50% of the price.
The train makes quite a few stops on its route through the mountains. Creel is the most famous and popular stop, especially among backpacking types, who flock to Casa de Margarita in droves. Creel itself is a rustic and historic silver and copper mining town, and the large numbers of eccentric hippie types and bikers around lend the place a real charm.
The highlight of the train ride is Divisadero, a really small town along the way. At this point, the canyon is at its deepest and there is a great lookout point where one can stand and admire the beauty of this magnificent crevice. The train will stop for 15 minutes and allow passengers to walk around, admire the view and stock up on tamales. Dont worry if the train starts to move before the 15 minutes are up, its just moving off the station track :) But don't miss the train, you will be stuck in Divisadero for 24 hours until the train passes going back to Chihuahua the following day! Other notable stops along the way are El Fuerte and Posada Barrancas.
Copper Canyon is breathtaking in its beauty and size and the train trip through the canyons is full of precarious bridges, tunnels, daring mountainside tracks and awesome views. I highly recommend it.
* :- By exploring Mexico, I mean going to mainland Mexico as well, not just taking your SUV into Baja California from San Diego and having a few Buds while watching the football game in an American bar. Even though the waiter may call you Amigo, this is not Mexico. This is Amerixico.