Last Updated on June 5, 2023 by Nellie Huang
El Chepe train is lauded as one of the world’s most exciting rail trips. Here’s the ultimate Copper Canyon guide including the train route, schedule and more!
Copper Canyon in northern Mexico is one of the wildest and most ruggedly beautiful regions in the country. Located in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains, Copper Canyon (also known as Barrancas del Cobre in Spanish) is actually a group of six distinct canyons that together make up a system that is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States.
The best way to traverse the Copper Canyon is on the scenic Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacífico, also known as “el Chepe train“. Considered one of the greatest rail journeys in the world, El Chepe weaves through the ragged canyons, revealing stunning views of waterfalls, towering cliffs, and rugged ridges of the Sierra Madre Occidental.
As part of my research/writing work for Lonely Planet, I went on an epic Chepe train journey recently and took a deep dive into this largely under-explored part of Mexico. Any trip to Copper Canyon is an adventure, and one that I highly recommend to those who love veering off the beaten trail.
Table of Contents
- About El Chepe Train
- Best Time to Visit Copper Canyon
- How to Get to the Copper Canyon
- The New Copper Canyon Airport
- El Chepe Train Route
- Mexico Travel Requirements
- How Long is the Chepe Train Journey?
- Is the Copper Canyon Train Safe?
- Who Travels on El Chepe Train?
- Best Copper Canyon Train Tours
- Which Copper Canyon Train to Take?
- El Chepe Train Prices
- How are the TRains Like?
- Which Direction of El Chepe Train to Take?
- El Chepe Train Schedule 2023
- How to Book El ChepeTrain Tickets
- My Copper Canyon Train Itinerary
- Highlights of the Chepe Train Journey
- Best Copper Canyon Train Stops
- What Can You Skip?
- What to Eat on El Chepe Train
- What to Pack for El Chepe Train
- Final Tips for Taking el Chepe Train
- Enjoy Your Chepe Train Trip!
About El Chepe Train
Traversing the high-atltitude mountains of northern Mexico, El Chepe train offers the opportunity to feast on some of the most dramatic landscapes in Mexico. Climbing from the Pacific Coast to the high Sierra Madre mountains, it snakes through the vast, rugged landscapes of Mexico’s largest state, Chihuahua.
This 656km track is a true engineering feat, boasting 37 bridges and 86 tunnels, and was completed after 60 years of construction in 1961. Not only is the railway impressive for its engineering prowess, but it also provides breathtaking views of the stunning canyons along the way.
Planning a trip on the Copper Canyon train can be tricky — it requires lots of research. In this article, I share details on which Copper Canyon train to choose, how to book the Copper Canyon train etc.
Best Time to Visit Copper Canyon
Overall, the best time to visit the Copper Canyon 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 to Get to the Copper Canyon
The nearest major airports to the Copper Canyon are located in Chihuahua and Los Mochis. It depends on which direction of the Copper Canyon train you decide to travel; if you’re going eastwards, fly to Chihuahua; if you’re going westwards, start your trip in Los Mochis.
Both cities have international airports and are well connected to other major cities in Mexico and the United States. A round-trip flight from New York to Chihuahua costs around US$500 while domestic flights from Mexico City to Chihuahua or los Mochis cost no more than $100 return.
Search for Flights to Chihuahua.
TIP: I recommend starting your journey from Chihuahua (like I did) as the cowboy town is a lot more pleasant than Los Mochis and there are plenty of things to do in Chihuahua. Los Mochis on the other hand is an uninteresting, modern city with nothing worth seeing.
The New Copper Canyon Airport
The US$65-million Creel International Airport has been under construction for years and is set to open in 2023. It was supposed to be completed in 2016, but disputes with local Tarahumara ejido owners have caused major delays.
While the Copper Canyon is the most roadless region in Mexico, the roads here are generally well-maintained and easy to navigate. But as the cartels control some areas here, it is important to exercise caution and take common-sense safety precautions while driving in Mexico.
If you don’t intend to take the Copper Canyon train, it’s best to rent a car from either Chihuahua or Los Mochis. The drive from Chihuahua is approximately 6 hours, and the drive from Los Mochis is approximately 4 hours. I recommend option for a 4WD if you plan to drive down to the canyon floor.
I always book my car rental from Discover Cars as they offer the best prices and excellent customer service. An economy rental car in Chihuahua costs around $325 for a whole week, which is less than $50 a day.
There are several bus companies that operate regular services to the Copper Canyon from Chihuahua and Los Mochis. Search for buses here. Buses are cheaper, faster and more frequent than the Copper Canyon train — but you’ll be missing out one of the world’s coolest train journeys!
To explore the canyon-bottom villages like Urique and Batopilas, buses are the best way to go. The train only traverses on the canyon rim and not to the bottom, so you’ll need to catch the dusty, shared colectivos or buses to get there. They usually meet the trains when they arrive and leave only when full.
It is possible to reach the Copper Canyon from Baja California. There is a ferry service that crosses the Sea of Cortez to and from La Paz to Los Mochis (the nearby ferry terminal Topolobambo is just 30 minutes away). The ferry to/from Los Mochis (Topolobambo) takes around 8 hours and does not sail daily. Check the ferry’s web site for details of routes, schedules, prices and contact details.
El Chepe Train Route
The Copper Canyon train essentially runs between Creel and Los Mochis (and in the other direction). Creel is located in the Chihuahua highlands, while Los Mochis is on the Pacific Coast. You’ll be traversing the high-altitude mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, with every twist and turn of the train revealing dramatic landscapes.
It is important to know that there are actually two trains that run the Copper Canyon route:
- Chepe Express Train – This train is specifically for tourists making the Copper Canyon train tour. It runs from Creel to Los Mochis (and the other way).
- Chepe Regional Train – This train is more catered to commuters and locals, although tourists can also take it. It goes from Chihuahua to Los Mochis (vice versa).
El Chepe Express runs a more direct route from Creel to Los Mochis (or vice versa), making just 4 stops along the way. El Chepe Regional starts in Chihuahua, before heading to Creel and ending in Los Mochis. It makes 15 stops so the whole journey is much longer. I will go into details about each train later on.
Mexico Travel Requirements
- Mexico has no travel restrictions, and there’s no need for proof of vaccine or PCR tests on the plane. Anyone is welcomed to travel to Mexico.
- However, I always recommend travelers to buy travel insurance, whether you’re traveling for a year or a week. These days, it is particularly important to have travel insurance that covers COVID-19. Read my travel insurance guide.
- 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.
How Long is the Chepe Train Journey?
You can actually take the train right through from Chihuahua to Los Mochis (or the other direction) in 10 hours — but the Copper Canyon is worth so much more of your time!
I spent a week on the Copper Canyon train, stopping at various points for 1-2 nights and then hopping back on again. It was a fantastic way to venture deep into the canyon, do some hiking, and get to know the indigenous Tarahumara people living here. (See my Copper Canyon itinerary.)
If you only have 2 days, I suggest stopping a night at Divisadero station and hopping back on the next day. Most people spend 5 days on the Copper Canyon train, making two stops (Divisadero and El Fuerte). I’ll talk in detail about what to do at each stop below.
Is the Copper Canyon Train Safe?
The Copper Canyon train itself has a good safety record, with no major accidents or incidents reported in recent years. The train is operated by Ferromex, one of Mexico’s largest railroad companies, and undergoes regular safety inspections.
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 Raramuri lands, driving out or killing anyone who opposed them. At least a half dozen Raramuri environmental activists have been killed in Copper Canyon. The most recent incident happened in June 2022: two Jesuit priests and a tour guide were murdered in Cerocahui by the cartels.
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.
Who Travels on El Chepe Train?
Considering how close the Copper Canyon is to the US border, I was surprised to see very few American travelers. Sadly many foreigners are deterred from traveling around northern Mexico because of the narcos-related crime that plague the region. Most of the violence is still concentrated around the border areas; I personally didn’t feel unsafe at all here.
You will find many Mexican tourists exploring the area (mostly in tour groups). There are a good mix of seniors, multi-generational families and friends. Mexicans in general are so friendly and outgoing; I met many incredible people on the journey — like the trio of ladies from Mexico City who warmly invited me to join them for dinner; the group of older gentlemen whom I watched the sunrise with; and the family who shared with me plenty of tips from Durango.
Best Copper Canyon Train Tours
I’m a travel writer and seasoned traveler — but planning out the Copper Canyon train trip was tricky even for me. Because different trains run on different days and times, and there are over 15 stations in the route (which one to pick?!), it takes time and effort to draw out a plan and itinerary.
That’s why so many people prefer to travel on a Copper Canyon tour where all the logistics are taken care of. I traveled independently so I don’t have any personal experience to speak of here; these are what I’ve found from research.
- Mexico Copper Canyon Tours runs well-priced tours that include all your train tickets, meals, tours and accommodation. They have pretty good reviews. Prices start at US$678 for a 5-day trip.
- Copper Canyon Adventures seem to be a more established tour operator with a wide range of tours to choose from, though their tours are more expensive. They also do custom, private tours.
- Chepe Explora is an in-house agency from El Chepe who can draw up itineraries for you and offer a full package that include train tickets and hotels.
Which Copper Canyon Train to Take?
The main differences between the two trains are the onboard facilities, the stations they service, the schedule, and of course the price. The best way to make the most of your time in Copper Canyon is to take a combination of different trains.
Most foreign tourists take the Chepe Express as it’s the much easier to book Express tickets online. It’s also faster than Chepe Regional as it doesn’t stop as often. Chepe Express stops at most of the must-sees, so you won’t be missing out if you just take the Express.
They run on different days, so essentially you should decide which train to take based on your schedule. But in terms of comfort level and amenities, there really isn’t that much of a difference between the two. I found both to be comfortable and well designed.
Here are the main differences:
El Chepe Express
Duration – A direct journey takes 10 hours, without stopping.
Stops – There are 4 stops on this route and you can stop at any, and book and pay for individual legs.
Booking – Tickets can be easily booked online, on the Chepe website. It’s best to book in advance as they do fill up.
Facilities – This high-end train has the Urike restaurant cabin, with a menu designed by renowned chef Daniel Ovadía. Try local delicacies such as chile relleno (stuffed pepper), the tamale de chayote, or the poblano chili soup. Meals are surprisingly not too expensive (around 200-300 MXN or $10-15 per dish).
El Chepe Regional
The Regional train takes longer as it makes more stop. It is also cheaper, but you can only buy tickets either by email/phone or in person at the train station. The train itself is still comfortable and well-equipped with a restaurant and rest rooms.
Duration – A direct journey takes 16 hours, but the trains are often delayed and can take much longer.
Stops – There are 15 stops along the journey and you can hop off and on, but you need to book for individual legs.
Booking – Regional tickets can only be booked by email ([email protected]) or from the ticket counter at either Chihuahua or Los Mochis station (in advance is recommended).
Facilities – The tourist class cabins have a dining room, while the economy class has a canteen; both serve simple food and snacks.
El Chepe Train Prices
In general, it’s not cheap to ride the Copper Canyon train; but it can be done on a budget if you plan well. While the prices are high, the trains are just as comfortable as those in the US and Europe. However, they aren’t quite as punctual and reliable and both trains often experience delays.
I took the Chepe Express (tourist class) mainly and the Chepe Regional (tourist class) twice, and honestly didn’t see a lot of differences between the two in terms of comfort level — the main difference was the price. For instance, to go from Creel to Divisadero, it costs 1,063 MXN (US$60) on the Chepe Express, and 662 MXN (US$38).
El Chepe Express Prices
There are three different classes on the Chepe Express. These are prices for each leg (from one stop to the next) and straight-through from the first to the last stop.
- Tourist Class: each leg 1,063 MXN (US$60) or end-to-end for 2,598 MXN (US$148)
- Executive Class: each leg 1,306 MXN ($74) or end-to-end 3,374 MXN ($192)
- First Class*: each leg 1,700 MXN ($97) or 4,820 pesos ($274) [First Class passengers have access to an open-air viewing carriage with panoramic views.]
TIP: Although the cost of each leg is around US$60-100, if you book 3/4 legs, the total will come up to be around the same price as an end-to-end journey.
El Chepe Regional Prices
There are two classes on the Chepe Regional, though technically tourists are only allowed on the tourist class. These are prices for the entire, direct journey with no stops. [You can see the price for each leg in the photo below.]
- Tourist Class: 1,970 pesos ($112)
- Economy Class: 1,034 pesos ($59)
How are the TRains Like?
Both the Chepe Express and Regional trains are relatively comfortable (thou dated), with air-conditioning and proper cushion, reclinable seats. There’s plenty of luggage storage space in each cabin, as well as overhead compartments for your daypack. Both trains have restrooms in each cabin, and restaurant cabins.
If you opt for the first class seats on the Chepe Express, you’ll have access to a bar carriage with panoramic views. One thing to note: the Express train doesn’t allow passengers to walk from one cabin to another; while the Regional train allows you to stand in the open area between carriages (great spot for photography).
Which Direction of El Chepe Train to Take?
You can choose to go either westwards (Creel to Los Mochis) or eastwards (Los Mochis to Creel) — honestly the views you see are the same. I traveled westwards, Creel to Los Mochis, using a combination of Chepe Express and Regional trains.
Most people choose to travel eastwards, from Los Mochis to Creel, as the train schedule allows you to see the most scenic leg of the journey – between El Fuerte and Bahuichivo – in daylight. I planned my Copper Canyon itinerary such a way that I still managed to see that gorgeous leg in daylight.
I liked going in this direction as the train goes from the Chihuahua highlands up into the high-altitude mountains before descending to the Pacific coast. In the first leg, you’re basically trundling through pine forests and higher into the mountains. Once you’re past Divisadero, the train is teetering on the cusp of the Copper Canyon. There’s an exciting build-up before the train whizzes past the most dramatic landscapes a few hours after passing Bahuichivo.
TIP: If you choose the westbound train, make sure to book a seat on the LEFT side for the best views. Similarly, book the right side on the eastbound train.
El Chepe Train Schedule 2023
The Chepe Express runs from Creel – Los Mochis on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays (leaving at 8am); from Los Mochis to Creel on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (leaving at 8am). During the low season, the train doesn’t run Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The Chepe Regional train runs Chihuahua – Los Mochis on Wednesdays and Saturdays (leaving at 7am); and Los Mochis – Chihuahua on Thursdays and Sundays (leaving at 6am).
It’s important to know that El Chepe trains change their schedule often, so please check on the official site before planning your trip. The low season runs from Jan 11- March 1, May 1 – June 30, and Sept 1 and Nov 30.
Chepe Express Schedule
|CREEL – LOS MOCHIS|
Tues, Thurs, Sunday
|LOS MOCHIS – CREEL|
Mon, Wed, Friday
Chepe Regional Schedule
|CHIHUAHUA – LOS MOCHIS |
Wed & Sat
|LOS MOCHIS – CHIHUAHUA|
Thurs & Sun
|LEAVE FROM:||ARRIVE AT:|
|La Junta||10.24||El Fuerte||8:19|
|Posada Barrancas||14:52||San Rafael||13:28|
|San Rafael||15:16||Posada Barrancas||13:46|
|El Fuerte||20:19||La Junta||18:12|
TIP: It’s important to know you cannot buy an “open” ticket. You must specify what dates and times you intend to travel. The sale of tickets is tightly controlled to ensure safety for all passengers, so work out your itinerary and stick with it.
How to Book El ChepeTrain Tickets
Since 2022, you can book Chepe Express train tickets online, make payment on their system, and get an immediate confirmation. Ignore what some outdated sites say – you no longer need to email and send your credit card details online.
Head straight to chepe.mx and click on ‘Book Train’. Choose the class of ticket you want and select your origin and destination, and date of travel. The system only shows dates when the train runs. You can add more legs by clicking ‘Add Stop’. Once you fill up the form with your name, email address etc and make payment, you’ll receive your ticket in your email.
You can only book Regional tickets by email ([email protected]) or from the ticket counter at either Chihuahua or Los Mochis station (in advance is recommended). I bought my Regional ticket in Chihuahua 2 days in advance of my trip.
TIP: I booked my Chepe Express tickets just 2 weeks before my trip started and many trains were full. I suggest booking earlier to make sure you get the train and the seats you want.
My Copper Canyon Train Itinerary
It can be tricky to plan out your Copper Canyon train itinerary due to the train schedule as both trains run on limited days. I suggest planning out your itinerary before booking your flights to your starting point.
At the start of my train journey, I spent 3 days in Chihuahua before taking the bus to Creel. I then boarded my first Chepe train in Creel, then I spent a night in Divisadero, 2 nights in Urique and 2 nights in El Fuerte, before ended the journey in Los Mochis.
Was my itinerary perfect? No, but it was the best plan I could have come up with considering the time constraint. I would have preferred to spend 1 more night in Divisadero and 1 less night in El Fuerte — but the train schedule didn’t allow for that. That said, 1 week on the Chepe train was the perfect amount of time to explore the Copper Canyon and experience the rail journey.
Read my Copper Canyon itinerary for full details. Here’s a summary of it:
Day 1 Saturday: Creel – Divisadero (Chepe Regional)
Day 2 Sunday: Divisadero – Bahuichivo (Chepe Express) + Bus to Urique
Day 3 Monday: Stay overnight in Urique
Day 4 Tuesday: Bahuichivo – El Fuerte (Chepe Express)
Day 5 Wednesday: Stay overnight in El Fuerte
Day 6 Thursday: El Fuerte – Los Mochis (Chepe Express)
Day 7 Friday: Stay overnight in Los Mochis
Highlights of the Chepe Train Journey
In my opinion, the most scenic leg of the train journey is from Bahuichivo to El Fuerte, as the train hugs the sides of the steep canyons and makes a spectacular zigzag descent into a tunnel above Témoris.
A must-stop along the entire Copper Canyon train is Divisadero, where the train halts for 15 minutes and allows you to hop off and stare into the actual Copper Canyon from a viewpoint next to the station. Stay overnight at a canyon-edge hotel at Divisadero so you can hike the canyon-rim trail to the nearby Parque de Aventura Barrancas del Cobre.
The next most exciting stop is Creel, a charming mountain town with a picturesque location and sprinkled with lots of interesting natural sights. There are many things to in Creel to keep you busy for two nights, so I highly recommend arriving a few days before your Copper Canyon train starts to have time to explore.
Best Copper Canyon Train Stops
As the main hub for Copper Canyon tours, Creel is a charming mountain town with lots of restaurants and stores. The town is home to several indigenous communities, including the Tarahumara people (known by Mexicans as Rarámuri, which means ‘those who run fast’), who have inhabited the region for centuries.
Most of the coolest attractions in Creel are in the surrounding mountains, which you can easily see in a loop day trip (starting at the Valley of the Frogs and ending at Lake Arareko). If you have more than a day here, make sure to do a day trip to Cascade de Basaseachi.
Best Things to Do in Creel:
- Museo Tarahumara — an excellent spot to learn about the Tarahumara culture and history.
- Valle de las Ranjas (Valley of the Frogs) and Valle de los Hongos (Valley of the Mushrooms) — groups of natural rock formations resembling frogs and mushrooms.
- Valley of the Monk — surreal rock formations that tower over the valley, resembling a group of hooded monks.
- Aguas Termales Rekowata Hike or bike to these glorious hot springs deep in the wilderness. Book your day trip here.
- Cascada de Basaseachi — Mexico’s highest full-time waterfall tumbles 246m to the azure pools below, where you can swim. Book your day trip.
Where to Stay in Creel
Budget: Hotel Ecologico 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: Hotel Colibri
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: The Lodge at Creel Hotel & Spa
The best hotel in town features cozy and spacious rooms with rustic decor, 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.
2. Divisadero/Posada Barrancas
If you only have time for one stop on your Chepe train journey, make it Divisadero, as it’s perfectly poised on the canyon rim, at an altitude of around 2,400 meters (7,800 feet). The trains stop here for at least 15 minutes, so even if you’re not spending a night here, you have time to hop off and walk to the viewpoint just steps from the train tracks.
The Parque de Aventuras Barrancas del Cobre is an easy 1.5km walk from the station (along a gorgeous canyon-rim trail). The adventure park plays host to the ZipRider, the world’s second-longest zip-line, spanning a remarkable 2.5km in length. With seven lines available, you can soar through the air from an altitude of 2400m down to Mesón de Bacajípare where you can catch a cable car.
Around 3.3km away from Divisadero is a small town called Areponápuchi (locals call it Arepo), where you’ll find more accommodation. Arepo is served by the Posada Barrancas station, but only the Chepe Regional train stops here. If you’re taking the Chepe Express, catch a local bus to Arepo from Divisadero station.
Where to Stay in Divisadero
Budget: Hostal Font’s
A spacious and sparkling clean hostel right by the Arepo station, Hostal Font’s is a great option for budget travelers looking to meet others. There’s a shared kitchen and lots of lounging space. Check rates.
Mid-range: Hotel Barrancas del Cobre
Located next door to Posada Barrancas station, this beautiful hacienda-style hotel has spacious, attractively decorated rooms and gorgeous green gardens. Prices are also surprisingly good. Check rates.
Luxury: Hotel Divisadero Barrancas
This is the ONLY hotel in Divisadero and it’s right outside the train station. I stayed here and found the rooms to be outdated and overpriced, but the spectacular views right outside my window was priceless. They run free guided hikes for guests, as well as other activities like quad-biking and horseback riding. Check rates.
The next stop on the Copper Canyon train route, Bahuichivo, is a small village consisting of just a few homes, hotels, and a church. From here, I suggest continuing onto Urique, a village located at the bottom of the deepest canyon and along the west bank of the Rio Urique. Tthe journey down the treacherous but scenic descent can take up to 3.5 hours on a local bus. To get the bus, make arrangements with your hotel in Urique.
Urique is an ideal base for hiking, with easy day hikes available along the riverside dirt road. Choose to walk 7km upriver to the next village of Guadalupe Coronado or hike 4km downstream to Guapalaina, where a beautiful trail leads to the azure natural pool, Charco Verde. Though swimming is not permitted as the water is consumed by the local communities, it is still a great trek past several Tarahumara homes and up the canyon walls.
Where to Stay in Urique
Budget: Entre Amigos
This budget-friendly hostel offers basic accommodation and camping surrounded by luscious farmland and beautiful outdoor space. I met a young backpacking couple who stayed here and loved the owners who run it. Check rates here.
Mid Range: Villa del Urike
I stayed at this newish, riverfront hotel and really enjoyed the pleasant location. It has a nice outdoor pool, and spacious brick-walled rooms with rustic decor and beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Check rates here.
4. El Fuerte
El Fuerte, where the legendary Zorro was born, is the second last stop on the Copper Canyon route and close to the Sinaloan coast. El Fuerte, meaning “the fort” in Spanish, was once a fort. While the original fort is no longer there, a replica has been built on the hill where it once stood. The replica also houses a museum showcasing the history of the city and offers good views of the town and river from the top.
An excellent day trip to do from El Fuerte is a boat trip along Río Fuerte, a top birding destination. You can easily spot kingfishers, ospreys, and flycatchers by the riverbank. I booked my boat tour that included a hike to Cerro de la Máscara (Hill of Mask), where over 300 petroglyphs are found. These 2000-year-old engravings were created by the ancient Yoremes (Mayos) natives.
Where to Stay in El Fuerte
Budget: Hotel El Fuerte
Located next to the fort museum, this colorful hacienda-style hotel has seen better days, but offers great value for money with its big rooms. The beautiful patio and lounge area definitely make this a great spot to stay. Check rates here.
Midrange: Mansion Serrano Hotel
This hotel is located just a few blocks from El Fuerte’s main square and it’s housed within a historical complex. Rooms are outdated but spacious and comfortable. I stayed here and wouldn’t mind staying here again. Check rates here.
Hotel Posada Del Hidalgo
This charming hotel is located in a historic building in the heart of El Fuerte’s colonial district. It offers comfortable, air-conditioned rooms with traditional Mexican decor. The hotel also has a courtyard with a swimming pool and a restaurant that serves regional cuisine. Check rates here.
What Can You Skip?
The terminus of the Copper Canyon train route, Los Mochis, is a sprawling modern city in Sinaloa. It’s honestly nothing to write home about, without many interesting historical attractions or sights. I spent 2 nights in Los Mochis and kinda wish I had left earlier. I would suggest skipping this town and catching your flight home from here right after the train.
What to Eat on El Chepe Train
Technically, no food is allowed on any of the Copper Canyon trains. But I have seen people snacking and chowing on tamales. All the trains have dining cabins or canteens with plenty of snacks and food. For the restaurant cabins, the waiters come around to take your order in advance. It’s pretty organized and prices are surprisingly affordable.
Only some stations have food options right at the platform. Divisadero actually has a big food market steps from the train tracks, with lots of vendors serving up chile relleno, enchiladas and tacos on their sizzling komal. Creel has an actual restaurant (Restaurante el Tungar) at the train station with great soups and quesadillas.
What to Pack for El Chepe Train
Regardless of when you visit Copper Canyon, pack lots of layers as it can get really sunny in the day and chilly at night. If you’re taking the Copper Canyon train in winter, you’ll definitely need a proper winter jacket with thermals and thick socks. Make sure you pack a wide-rimmed hat, lots of water, and sunscreen. I was there in November and kept warm with just my down jacket, fleece and hiking pants.
- Down jacket
- Merino tee or thermals
- Hiking pants
- Hiking shoes
- Hiking t-shirt
- Lightweight daypack
- Power bank
- Sunscreen – SFP50+ if possible
- Wide-rimmed hat
- Water bottle (2 liters)
Final Tips for Taking el Chepe Train
- I’ve said this many times: book your Chepe Express tickets well in advance if you want to get the best seats.
- If you’re planning to take the Chepe Regional, buy your tickets at the station as soon as you get to Chihuahua and Los Mochis.
- Be sure to get to the platform about 30 minutes early, but also be prepared for delays.
- Plan a stop in Divisadero and spend the night at the canyon-rim Hotel Divisaderos Barrancas for spectacular views.
- Schedule in a few days at Creel because it’s at the start (or end) of the Chepe train journey and there are plenty of things to do in Creel.
- Brush up on your Spanish; knowing some basic phrases can go a long way when interacting with Mexican travelers onboard the Copper Canyon train.
Enjoy Your Chepe Train Trip!
I hope this guide to el Chepe train has answered your question. Let me know if you have any questions on Copper Canyon train travel in the comments field below. I’d be more than happy to help you plan your trip!
Read my articles on Mexico below:
- 10-Day Copper Canyon Itinerary
- 5-Day Mexico City Itinerary
- Oaxaca Road Trip Itinerary
- 30 Best Things to Do in Oaxaca City
- Guanajuato Road Trip Itinerary
- Yucatan Road Trip Itinerary
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