Founded in the sixteenth century, El Fuerte is a tranquil, verdant town full of handsome colonial architecture and lush mango trees. In the 1800s it became rich from mining, and was made a city in 1906; the Revolution devastated the place and it’s been a backwater ever since. In 2009 the town became the latest addition to Mexico’s burgeoning Pueblos Mágicos programme, and a frenzy of publicly funded restoration and regeneration has engulfed the centre. Located 75km east of Los Mochis on the rail line (2hr 50min by train), El Fuerte makes a pleasant alternative start (or end) to the Copper Canyon train ride, and is a far more appealing place to stay than Los Mochis.
Aside from being “the gateway to the canyons”, the town is an attractive destination in itself, rich in historical and natural diversions. El Fuerte grew up around a Spanish fort (from which it takes its name) completed in 1615 to suppress the local rebellious tribes. Though the original has been lost, a reasonably authentic replica was completed in 2001 on its possible location, supplying commanding views of the streets and surrounding countryside. It houses the El Fuerte Mirador Museum, where you’ll find an array of historical artefacts and old photos of the town, with mostly English labelling.
Over 150 species of birds are supported by El Fuerte’s green surroundings, best seen by boat at dawn when their activity is most intense. The region is also home to several indigenous Yoreme (Mayo) villages, where it is possible to witness traditional dances or purchase pottery and other crafts. Ancient Indian petroglyphs depicting geometric and anthropomorphic shapes are scattered throughout the area, most notably at the Cerro de la Máscara. Most hotels offer tours to any or all of these attractions; ask at the popular Posada del Hidalgo or Hotel Río Vista, or enquire at 3 Amigos Too.