Heading to the Copper Canyon? Here’s our guide to Creel, Chihuahua, the gateway to the Copper Canyon.
Backdropped by the dramatic Sierra Tarahumara in northern Mexico, the pueblo mágico (magic town) of Creel Chihuahua beckons with its rugged, otherworldly landscapes. As if plucked from a postcard, Creel’s town center exudes a quaint, timeless appeal, with its adobe buildings, vibrant colors, and a bustling Zócalo.
But Creel is more than just a charming town; it’s the launchpad for extraordinary adventures. Creel is surrounded by a patchwork of rugged canyons, dense pine forests, and sheer cliffs that define the majestic Copper Canyon. Whether you’re embarking on a journey into Mexico’s highest mountains aboard the Copper Canyon Chepe Train or hiking the ancient trails of the Rarámuri indigenous people, Creel offers a peek into the beautiful backcountry of northern Mexico.
As the author of Lonely Planet’s new Mexico guidebook, I went on assignment to Copper Canyon and spent a few days in the town of Creel Chihuahua. Here’s a detailed guide to Creel, including how to get there, things to do and where to stay.
Table of Contents
- My Guide to Creel Chihuahua
- Where is Creel Chihuahua?
- How to Get to Creel
- From Chihuahua to Creel
- How to Get around Creel Chihuahua
- Best Time to Visit Creel Chihuahua
- How Many days in creel Chihuahua?
- Is it Safe to Travel to Creel?
- Things to Do in Creel Chihuahua
- Wander through the Town Center
- Visit the Museo Tarahumara
- See the View from the Jesus Christ Statue
- Explore the San Sebastian Cave
- See the Valley of the Frogs and Mushrooms
- Visit the San Ignacio Mission Church
- Explore the Valley of the Monks
- Stroll around Lake Arareko
- Admire the Cusárare Waterfall
- Soak in Rekowata Thermal Pools
- Take a Day Trip to Basaseachi Falls
- Continuing Your Journey from Creel
- Where to Stay in Creel Chihuahua
- Where to eat in Creel Chihuahua
- How to Get Travel Insurance
- Is Creel Chihuahua Worth Visiting?
My Guide to Creel Chihuahua
Where is Creel Chihuahua?
Creel is located in the state of Chihuahua, in the northern part of Mexico, close to the border with the US. Tucked high in the Sierra Tarahumara region of the Copper Canyon, Creel is known for its stunning natural landscapes, including canyons, waterfalls, and pine forests. It serves as a popular base for tourists exploring the Copper Canyon and the surrounding area.
Thanks to its myriad of natural attractions, Creel earned the status of pueblo mágico (magic town). Pueblo Mágico is a title given by Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism to specific towns in Mexico for their rich history, folklore or unique flair.
How to Get to Creel
Chihuahua International Airport (CUU) is the closest airport to Creel, and it’s about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Creel. It’s a well-connected airport that mostly serves major cities in Mexico such as Mexico City and Monterrey; the only US cities it serves are Dallas and Denver.
From Chihuahua to Creel
To get to Creel, catch the Chepe Regional train which leaves from Chihuahua every Wednesday and Saturday at 7am and will reach Creel at 12.47pm. Read my Chepe train guide for full details on prices, schedules and itinerary.
Alternatively, if the schedule doesn’t fit you, buses to Creel leave regularly from Chihuahua’s main bus station 7km east of the center. This first leg of the train is not quite as exciting scenic wise and you won’t be traversing the Copper Canyon just yet; so it’s ok to skip it. Book your bus ticket here.
How to Get around Creel Chihuahua
Creel’s town center is relatively compact and pedestrian-friendly, making it easy to explore on foot. You can wander through the town’s charming streets, visit local shops, and dine at restaurants within walking distance of each other.
Renting a bicycle is a popular and eco-friendly way to explore Creel and its surroundings. Many rental shops in town offer bikes for daily or hourly rates, allowing you to cover more ground and visit nearby attractions like the Valley of the Monks at your own pace. Amigos3 rents out quality bikes for US$10 per hour or US$30 per day.
While Creel is relatively small and walkable, it’s surrounded by rugged mountains, forests, and canyons — which are best explored by car. Renting a car is a viable option, but you will need to hire the car from Chihuahua city. Car rentals are cheap though, hiring a Chevrolet for 3 days only cost US$39. Search for car rentals.
Alternatively, you can hire local taxi drivers to drive you around, like I did. It costs around 800 MXN (US$40) for a day, which is affordable especially if you’re traveling in a group. But note that taxis aren’t always readily available in a small town like Creel.
By Guided Tours
If you’re short on time or prefer to have a guide, there are many day tours you can do from Creel. Viator offers several day trips from Creel that have good reviews and are reasonably priced (around US$80/day). Amigos3 also organizes ATV tours and thrilling RZR off road tours from Creel.
Best Time to Visit Creel Chihuahua
Overall, the best time to visit Creel is during the spring (March-May) or fall (September-November) when the weather is mild, with comfortable daytime highs around 20-25°C (68-77°F). I traveled the Copper Canyon in mid-November and the weather was only slightly chilly and there was hardly any foreign tourist.
It can get pretty cold in the winter months (December-February) with temperatures ranging from 0-20°C (32-68°F). This is the only spot in Mexico when it actually snows. So if you’re looking to have a white Christmas, this is the place to go! Even though I was there close to winter, the weather was glorious – with sunny skies and comfortable temperatures.
The summer months (June-August) are the hottest, with temperatures ranging from 25-35°C (77-95°F). I’d avoid the Mexican holidays such as Semana Santa (Easter) and Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), as many Mexicans travel around then.
TIP: It hardly gets crowded in the Copper Canyon, many people seem to be deterred from this region due to the narcos-related crime (more on that later). I barely saw any foreign tourists on my trip! If you’re looking to go off the beaten path, this is it.
How Many days in creel Chihuahua?
To experience all the things to do in Creel, I recommend spending at least 3 nights in Creel. This will give you enough time to wander around town and see the nearby sights.
Most people come to Creel to hop on the Chepe Train; if you’re heading into Copper Canyon, it’s wise to stay 2-3 days in Creel before starting your train journey. It makes a great introduction to the area and it’s a great spot to stock up on supplies or gear before you head into the depths of the canyon.
Is it Safe to Travel to Creel?
The U.S. Department of State’s travel advisory for Mexico categorized Creel as a Level 3 destination, suggesting travelers should exercise increased caution. In recent years, there have been isolated incidents of violence in the Copper Canyon region, mostly related to drug trafficking. Drug cartels have long used the remote mountains to plant illicit crops of marijuana and opium poppies.
In the 2000s, the cartels expanded into illegal logging on Rarámuri (Tarahumara) lands, driving out or killing anyone who opposed them. At least a half dozen Rarámuri environmental activists have been killed in Copper Canyon.
To ensure the safety of tourists, the Mexican government and local tour operators have implemented a number of security measures, including increased police presence and surveillance along the train route. I personally felt safe on my Copper Canyon trip and didn’t encounter anything risky.
Things to Do in Creel Chihuahua
Wander through the Town Center
Creel’s town center features traditional Mexican and indigenous Rarámuri (Tarahumara) architecture. Buildings are often constructed with adobe or wood, showcasing vibrant colors such as reds, yellows, and blues. As a magic town, Creel has a small town charm, with proper tourism infrastructure and attractions nearby.
The heart of Creel is its central square, known as the Zócalo. Here, you’ll find a well-maintained park with benches and shade-providing trees. The Zócalo often serves as a gathering place for locals and tourists alike, and it’s not uncommon to find street vendors selling local crafts, food, and souvenirs. I noticed prices are lower here than in other parts of Copper Canyon, so it’s best to buy your souvenirs from the indigenous Rarámuri here.
Surrounding the Zócalo, you’ll discover an array of small shops, cafes, and restaurants. These establishments offer a taste of local cuisine, including dishes like gorditas (thick tortillas filled with various ingredients) and traditional Rarámuri foods.
Visit the Museo Tarahumara
Next to the train station, you’ll find Museo Tarahumara, an excellent spot to learn about the Tarahumara people who have inhabited the region for centuries. The Tarahumara (known locally as Rarámuri, which means ‘those who run fast’) have gained fame for their exceptional longstanding tradition of long-distance running.
Don’t miss the next-door Artesanías Misión, a non-profit craft store that sells locally-made Tarahumara arts and craft. All of the profit here goes towards the Santa Teresita clinic, which provides free medical care for the Tarahumara.
See the View from the Jesus Christ Statue
If you have some time, catch a taxi to the lookout point where a white Cristo Rey statue stands on a hill 2.3km north of town. Most taxi drivers are happy to wait for 10-15 minutes. Alternativel, you can take the stairs to the west of Gran Visíon all the way to the top. If you’re a solo traveler, avoid going alone.
Explore the San Sebastian Cave
Creel’s biggest appeal lie in the surrounding mountains, and you can easily see them in a day trip. You can hire a taxi driver to bring you around, like I did, but I paid 800 MXN (US$40) for just one person which was expensive. Taxis are also few and far between in a small town like this and I checked with travel agencies when I arrived but none had tours availale in such short notice. If you’re a solo traveler, I recommend booking a day tour in advance.
Just 1 km (0.6 miles) southeast of Creel lies the Tarahumara ejido (communal land), San Ignacio, home to a vibrant indigenous community of over 4000 people residing in caves and rustic huts amidst fertile farmlands. Near the ejido entrance, the San Sebastian Cave is open for visits and you’re encouraged to make donations to support the community. The cave is pretty small and quick to explore, but you to peek at how the Tarahumara live, cook and survive.
See the Valley of the Frogs and Mushrooms
Continuing down the road for another 2 kilometers, you’ll reach the mesmerizing Valle de las Ranas (Valley of the Frogs) and Valle de los Hongos (Valley of the Mushrooms), a geological wonderland adorned with large boulders resembling the shapes of frogs and mushrooms. Wander among these peculiar formations and hike up to the hilltop for a panoramic view of the rock-studded valley.
Visit the San Ignacio Mission Church
Nearby, you’ll find the 18th-century Misíon San Ignacio, a weathered stone-walled structure where the Tarahumara from the ejido congregate on Sundays. This historic church showcases architectural details reminiscent of pre-Hispanic Mexico — you can see ancient artwork on its walls.
Explore the Valley of the Monks
Venture approximately 7 kilometers east to discover the even more impressive Valle de los Monjes (Valley of the Monks), an awe-inspiring array of vertical rock formations that tower majestically above the adjacent pine forests. It’s easy to understand why the Tarahumara have named this area Bisabírachi, meaning ‘Valley of the Erect Penises.’
Stroll around Lake Arareko
While in the vicinity, take a short drive south to reach Lago Arareko, a U-shaped, serene lake reflecting the verdant coniferous trees and rocky outcrops that surround it. Paddleboats can be rented along the lakeshore (for around 100 MXN or US$5) for a leisurely exploration and to discover pristine swimming spots.
There are a few cabins and camping spots scattered around the lake as well in case you want to overnight here. Stargazing at Lake Arecaco is said to be amazing!
Admire the Cusárare Waterfall
Continuing 14 kilometers beyond Arareko, you’ll arrive at the Tarahumara village of Cusárare. Inside the 18th-century Misión Cusárare, originally built by Jesuits as a place of worship and education for the locals, you can explore the Museo Loyola, housing an exceptional collection of colonial paintings, although it’s accessible through guided tours only.
A pleasant 3-kilometer hike from the town takes you to Cascada Cusárare, a picturesque 30-meter waterfall nestled within a sweeping highland valley, offering an excellent shaded walk for those seeking a bit of nature.
Soak in Rekowata Thermal Pools
After hiking and exploring all valleys near Creel, you’ll probably appreciate a dip in the Aguas Termales Rekowata, located 35 km (22 miles) south of Creel. Here, you’ll find blissfully warm, bubbling waters channeled into inviting bathing pools nestled between the rugged gorges, with a refreshing river flowing beneath them.
To reach this serene spot, take a drive on a dirt road from the highway to the parking area, followed by a 3km (2mile) hike along a rugged cobblestone path to the hot springs. Alternatively, locals offer transportation in 4WD vehicles from the parking lot. You can also book a day tour in advance if you prefer to have your logistics covered.
Take a Day Trip to Basaseachi Falls
In my opinion, this is the absolute best thing to do in Creel. Make a day trip to Cascada Basaseachi, Mexico’s highest full-time waterfall which tumbles 800 feet (246m) to the azure pools below. Located approximately 134 kilometers northwest of Creel, this natural wonder is a 3-hour drive away (each way), so expect to spend a full day here. Rent a car like I did, or book a day tour with a local operator. The drive to Cascada Basaseachi isn’t difficult, just be prepared for some winding mountain roads.
There are well-marked trails that lead you to different viewpoints, allowing you to capture memorable photos and enjoy the power of nature. From the top of the falls, you’ll be treated to unparalleled views of the magnificent Candameña Canyon. To truly experience one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Mexico, you should hike down to the base (but this takes at least 1.5 hours each way).
The surrounding area is designated as a protected national park, providing a habitat for various wildlife species including cougars, white-tailed deer, and collared peccaries. Pack a picnic lunch so you can spend as much time as possible at the falls.
Continuing Your Journey from Creel
Coming to Creel and not hopping on the Chepe train is like going to Mexico City and not visiting Teotihuacan. It’s one of the most epic train journeys I’ve been on and the landscapes in Copper Canyon are mind-blowing. Those who like hiking will definitely love having the trails to yourself in this remote part of Mexico. Check out my Copper Canyon itinerary and Chepe train guide to plan your own rail adventure!
The Chepe Express departs from Creel at 8am on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday in high season (the whole of April, July, August, December, and first two weeks of January). For the rest of the year, the train leaves Creel on Tuesday and Sunday. A straight-through journey takes about 10 hours.
The Chepe Regional leaves Creel at 12.47pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays. As the train makes its ascent into the canyon, the landscapes will start to get more and more dramatic. It’s allowed to walk between carriages on the Chepe Regional, so make use of the opportunity to snap pictures from the open gangway. A direct journey takes 15.5 hours but there are usually delays on this train so it might take longer.
Travel to Divisadero by Train
Even if you only have 1 day in Copper Canyon, you can jump on the Chepe train and stop at the next station. It only takes 2 hours to get from Creel to Divisadero. Divisadero is a highlight of any Copper Canyon itinerary, as it’s perfectly poised on the canyon rim, at an altitude of around 7,800 feet (2,400 meters). This stop doesn’t have a town, but there’s a bustling food market at the station.
Once you alight from the train and finish gawking at the mindblowing view, head straight to the Parque de Aventuras Barrancas del Cobre. It’s an easy 0.6 mile (1.5km) walk from the station along a gorgeous canyon-rim trail — or catch a taxi for just 100 MXN (US$5).
Head to the Parque Aventuras
The adventure park is a must-see in Copper Canyon; it plays host to the ZipRider, the world’s second-longest zip-line, spanning a remarkable 1.5 mile (2.5km) in length. With seven lines available, you can soar through the air from an altitude of 2400m down to Mesón de Bacajípare, the park’s halfway point from the canyon floor. Book your activities here.
You can also just take a gondola down to Mesón de Bacajipare to drink in an impressive panoramic view. The route is 3 km long and the round-trip gondola ride takes around 45 minutes. The gondola travel every 30 minutes between stations. Otherwise, just drink in the views from the park’s restaurant, which has a huge terrace and transparent glass floor.
Where to Stay in Creel Chihuahua
Budget: Hotel Temazcal
This hotel offers comfortable and affordable rooms with private bathrooms and free Wi-Fi. It is located in the center of Creel, within walking distance of the train station, restaurants, and shops. Check rates.
Mid-range: El Colibri Boutique Hotel & Spa
Located along the main highway, this hotel has new, spanking clean rooms with comfortable beds and modern amenities. The knowledgable owner is more than happy to arrange tours for you. I stayed here and highly recommend it! Check rates.
Luxury: Best Western Plus The Lodge at Creel Hotel & Spa
The best hotel in town features cozy and spacious rooms with a log cabin feel, a spa, and an on-site restaurant. It’s got a central location right in town, yet its rooms are tastefully designed in a rustic, elegant country style. Check rates.
Where to eat in Creel Chihuahua
Restaurante La Troje
La Troje offers a cozy ambiance and a diverse menu, featuring Mexican and international dishes. Try their Rarámuri-style gorditas for a taste of local cuisine, and enjoy the warm, welcoming atmosphere.
A popular coffee spot, Kino’s serves up delicious pastries, freshly brewed coffee, and hearty breakfast options. Its charming, rustic decor and friendly staff make it a favorite among travelers.
The state of Chihuahua is best known for its beef, and this old-time favorite is said to serve the best steak in town. I can attest to that! Read reviews.
Known for its huge portions, this local favorite specializes in el norteño, a beefy mess served in a hot iron skillet. Read reviews.
How to Get Travel Insurance
Whether you’re traveling for a week or a year, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. It is particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19.
Safety Wing is the most popular travel insurance company for COVID19-coverage. I use their Nomad Insurance plan, which covers COVID-19 as any other illness as long as it was not contracted before your coverage start date.
Is Creel Chihuahua Worth Visiting?
Yes! As you probably gathered, I absolutely loved Creel, Chihuahua, and had a great time exploring the area. It was one of my favorite stops along the Copper Canyon, with the myriad of natural sights surrounding the town and the opportunity to learn more about the Rarámuri (Tarahumara) indigenous people.
For those planning to take the Chepe train, I highly recommend starting your journey in Creel Chihuahua for the perfect introduction to the Copper Canyon region.
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- Copper Canyon 10-Day Itinerary
- El Chepe Train: My Complete Guide
- 10 Best Waterfalls in Mexico
- Pueblos Mágicos: Best Magic Towns in Mexico
- My Guide to Orizaba, Veracruz
- 5-Day Mexico City Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Mexico City
- 30 Best Museums in Mexico City
- Visiting Teotihuacan, Mexico City Pyramids
- Best Day Trips from Mexico City
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