Privatization is rapidly putting an end to most passenger train service in Mexico, with the exception of the Copper Canyon scenic route. One of the few remaining passenger train rides in Mexico typically begins with a bus trip or flight south to Chihuahua, where you board the Chihuahua-Pacific Railway train and ride west along the renowned Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre) route to the Pacific. Only finished during the early 1960s, this route traverses the spectacular canyonland home of the Tarahumara people. At times along the winding 406-mile (654-km) route, your rail car seems to teeter at the very edge of the labyrinthine Barranca del Cobre, a canyon so deep that its climate varies from Canadian at the top to tropical jungle at the bottom.
The railway-stop village of Creel, with a few stores and hotels and a Tarahumara mission, is the major jumping-off point for trips into the canyon. For a treat, reserve a stay en route to Puerto Vallarta at the Sierra Lodge (tel. 600/776-3942, www.coppercanyonlodges.com) in Creel. From there, the canyon beckons: Explore the village, enjoy panoramic views, observe mountain wildlife, and breathe pine-scented mountain air. Farther afield, you can hike to a hot spring or spend a few days exploring the canyon-bottom itself, with overnights at the Riverside Lodge in the rustic village of Batopilas.
Copper Canyon Tours
Some agencies arrange unusually good Copper Canyon rail tours. Among the best is Columbus Travel (900 Ridge Creek Lane, Bulverde, TX 78163-2872, tel. 830/885-2000 or 800/843-1060, www.canyontravel.com), which employs its own resident, ecologically sensitive guides. Trips range from small-group, rail-based sightseeing and birding/natural history tours to customized wilderness rail-jeep-backpacking adventures.
Elderhostel (11 Avenue de Lafayette, Boston MA 02111, tel. 877/426-8056 or 800/454-5768, www.elderhostel.org) has long provided some of the best-buy Copper Canyon options, designed for seniors. Participants customarily fly to Los Mochis on the Pacific Coast, then transfer to the first-class Mexican Chihuahua-Pacific train for a four-day canyonland adventure. Highlights include nature walks, visits to native missions, and cultural sites in Cerrocahui village and Creel, the frontier outpost in the Tarahumara heartland. The return includes a comfortable overnight at Posada Barranca, at the canyon’s dizzying edge.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition