Copper Canyon Train Guide: 7 Pointers for Traveling CHEPE
People who travel know travel and trains know this one–the great “CHEPE” of Chihuahua, Mexico. It stretches through the heart of the canyons which are more vast than our Grand Canyon. It is the only passenger train in Mexico, and is among the top seven train experiences in the world. As it snakes through northern Mexico it traverses 37 bridges and 86 tunnels.
But how is the best way to travel this great Mexican train? I have ridden the train end to end many times and we have groups there all the time. From our years of experience, here are seven essential pointers on getting the most from your trip:
1. Stop along the way. You can buy your ticket and then get off three times along the route. The train does not stop–actually just once for 15 minutes at Divisadero- except to load and unload passengers. And the real views ass well as the local charm of the communities can only be had if you get off and stay a night or two. One must stop is at Divisadero or Posada Barrancas. There are huge views here, great lodging, the adventure park, and local Raramuri craft sellers. Creel is another possibility as are Cerocahui (Bahuichivo stop), possibly Temoris and San Juanito, and El Fuerte.
2. Travel Creel to El Fuerte. Staring in Chihuahua, the ride before San Juanito or Creel and after El Fuerte is optional. It is not only early and late, but it also somewhat uneventful. Often our groups travel overland to one of these spots to start and the overland at the end as well. This makes the trip quicker and the schedule more restful.
3. Either way works. People often say the west to east route is the best. I disagree–but either way to travel the train is wonderful. I think the light is better on the big views to travel from Chihuahua to Los Mochis. I also think the access is better from the USA on the Chihuahua end. Another practical is that if you finish out west, you can cross to Baja for some great experiences as well as good air connections at Cabo (SJD). The trip can start at El Paso (ELP) or Chihuahua City (CUU).
4. Use a local guide. Local guides will add so much to your experience. They also can solve key problems which could ruin your trip- things like a missed train, sickness, etc. Beyond this they know the places to watch for along the train and they know the places and people along the route.
5. Watch times and schedules. The Copper Canyon train site is rarely up to date and does not reliably publish changes ahead of time. Beyond this it is impossible to order tickets on the site and they never answer the phone. Daylight savings time comes and goes on a different schedule than in the US, just to add to the confusion. There continue to be rumors that the train schedule will undergo a major change–but who knows when?
6. Have cash for tickets. If you get on at Chihuahua or Mochis you can get tickets for cash at the station. Arrive by 5:15 or 5:30 am. Usually there is no problem getting tickets. I you get on first at some other stop, have cash and they will usually take dollars.
7. Relax and take it in. Get to a window seat in the passenger areas or in the café and take it in. Better yet go to the open half doors between the cars and have your camera ready. Watch the map posted in the train for highlights–and ask your guide or watch out for which side the view is on–it often changes!