Once nothing more than a rough-and-ready backwater, Creel has rapidly transformed into full-blown mountain resort. Indeed, Creel is yet another “pueblo mágico” and has seen tourism all but replace logging as its main industry; on most days (but especially Sundays) you’ll be greeted by a weird juxtaposition of laid-back Western backpackers, smartly dressed locals, rich Mexican tourists in their 4WDs and ragged Rarámuri trinket sellers and their children, trying to make a buck or two. In July and August the town is invaded by Mexican tour groups – the best hotels often get completely booked up at this time. This is not to say that the town has become completely commercial; beneath the facade of development, Creel is still a rural mountain town at heart, and an ideal base from which to explore the area.
For anyone who wants to explore the Sierra Tarahumara independently, the ejido (a collectively owned community) of San Ignacio de Arareko, a Rarámuri land-owning cooperative on the edge of Creel, contains many of the attractions normally covered by tours. Get there by following López Mateos towards the highway, taking a left onto the dirt road and continuing past the cemetery and uphill into the pine forest. A few kilometres from the ejido entrance (M$15), you’ll encounter the eighteenth-century Misión de San Ignacio and a series of otherworldly rock formations, including the Valley of the Mushrooms, which contains surreal structures closely resembling giant toadstools, and the Valley of the Frogs, with its squat amphibian-like boulders. The Valley of the Monks lies 5km away (M$10 toll), and has tall upright stones revered by the Rarámuri as symbols of fertility. Serene Lago de Arareco, 7km from Creel on the main highway to Batopilas, is a beautiful spot for fishing (largemouth bass) and camping – you can stay in a cabin on the lake.