|Our Copper Canyon tour was arranged by Bill Trimble, email@example.com, who lives in El Fuerte and at one time had the El Fuerte RV Park in town, which is now closed. He does, however, still set up tours and came highly recommended by some folks we met in San Blas. We communicated by email and no money exchanged hands until he visited us the day before our scheduled departure. His method of doing business is very casual and laid back but the arrangements, from a driver picking us up the next morning for the train station, to hotel accommodations at the Mansion Tarahumara Hotel near Divisadero with all meals included and our personal guide, were spot on!
The train trip aboard El Chepe, the Chihuahua Pacfic Railway, began for us just outside the town of El Fuerte, where we left our motorhome, and took approximately 6 hours to our destination at Posada Barrancas. The views were breathtaking as we climbed to an elevation of almost 8,000 feet at the top of the Sierra Madre, crossing long, high bridges, with many tunnels, the longest being over a mile in length. The railway is an engineering marvel that took over 90 years and $90 million to complete. The tracks start at sea level at Topolobampo on the Sea of Cortes and continue for 390 miles to the city of Chihuahua, crossing some of the most rugged terrain in Mexico, hugging the edge of mountains and crossing deep ravines.
A bus was waiting to take us the short distance to our hotel and a good thing as the altitude would have made even a simple walk, much less one with steep driveways, arduous at best! Bill Trimble had everything arranged perfectly so our check-in with owner, Maria, was fast and simple and our room, though several steps up (whew!), was very nice. After a brief look around and stowing our stuff, we met up with Victor, our personal tour guide for the next two days, for a hike to the edge of Copper Canyon and along the rim to see the Tarahumara Indians in their cliff-dwelling settlements. Women and children, in their bright, colorful costumes, were situated along the path selling their hand-woven baskets, jewelry and local trinkets.
Our first reaction to Copper Canyon, other than a collective "Wow" was it's resemblance to the Grand Canyon. Copper Canyon is a group of canyons consisting of 6 distinct canyons in the Sierra Tarahumara in the southwestern part of the state of Chihuahua. The overall canyon system is larger and portions are deeper than the Grand Canyon. The canyons were formed by six rivers which drain the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara into the Rio Fuerte and empty into the Sea of Cortes. The walls of the canyon are a copper/green color which is where the name originates.
Our second day was spent with Victor sight-seeing in the town of Creel and the surrounding areas. Creel was historically a logging town, although tourism has become the primary job source over the last 20 years. There are many hotels, restaurants and a number of tour opportunities. Other than a great museum showcasing the Tarahumara Indian culture and a major train stop, the town was not overly appealing and does not have a "canyon" location.
A note about the indigenous Tarahumara or Rarámuri people: With no official census, the population of the Tarahumara people ranges between 35,000 to 70,000. The Tarahumara reside in the cooler, mountainous regions during the hot summer months and migrate to the canyons in the cooler winter, months. Their survival strategies have been to occupy undesirable lands to remain isolated. Their diet is largely vegetarian with only small amounts of goat, freshwater fish, sheep and beef, which they hunt themselves. They cultivate crops of vegetables to supplement their diet between hunting and gathering fruit, berries and seeds. Maize represents 85% of the Tarahumara’s diet. The Tarahumara people are known for their endurance. Living in the canyons, they are forced to travel great vertical distances, which they often do by running nonstop for hours. The Tarahumara people are also hunters and often bag their kill by tapping into their own sheer stamina. They literally chase their prey until it drops from exhaustion. A popular Tarahumara community race called “rarahipa,” is played by kicking a wooden ball along the paths of the steep canyons. All players must run nonstop until the finish. It is not uncommon for a game to last for days and continue without breaks, even through the dark of night.
Next, we drove out to an area that featured huge rock formations referred to as "Valley of the Mushrooms" and "Valley of the Frogs". As in all our stops, the local kids were aggressively selling their wares. We had a short hike to another cave home where we were allowed to walk around inside and view life "up close", which also featured large displays of woven baskets and jewelry. By now its time for lunch, and Victor took us to Lake Arareco, situated in a beautiful alpine setting, where we enjoyed great burritos prepared by the hotel, drinks and bananas. Of course, we were joined by a native family who shared our lunch and managed a few more of our pesos in return for trinkets.
Our third and final day was spent along the canyon rims in Divisadero, a key vista point and popular train stop along El Chepe, with amazing views down into three of the canyons (del Cobre, Urique, Tararecua). As you can see from the pictures several photo shots required a certain amount of "intestinal fortitude" from yours truly, who happens to be a tad challenged by heights. Beautiful displays of native art were once again in abundance in this bustling mountaintop location.
We returned to our hotel to pack up and settle tips and alcoholic beverages which were not included in our "all inclusive" package. All of our six meals were incredibly good, the service and ambiance, fantastic! Our only complaints....it was cold, especially at nights where temps dropped to the mid-20s and our little propane heater just couldn't keep up; secondly, one evening meal and breakfast the next morning was served at the canyon-rim restaurant at the very top which involved a serious, steep hike up at least 10 stories of steps, with many stops to catch our breath. You can be driven up but, hey, we need the exercise!
Our train left at 1 p.m. and we arrived at the station in El Fuerte about 6:30 where our same driver was there to pick us up and deliver us back to the motorhome at the Hotel Bugambilias, where everything was just the way we left it. This was indeed a "trip of a lifetime" and one that we have wanted to do for many years. The total cost for everything was less than $1000; $640 for hotel, meals and tours, and cab transportation to and from the train station; $284 round-trip train fare.
Of further note: There are threats to the indigenous Tarahumara Indians including the cultivation of opium and marijuana. Armed drug cultivators, buyers and distributors are a danger to the local people, tourists, and scientists. The local people have been forced to work cultivating and harvesting drug crops. The drug lords employ violent measures if they fail to cooperate. The day we left 7 people were found dead in Creel.