Explore The northwest and Copper Canyon
If you’re travelling clase económica, the train timetable more or less dictates that you tackle the journey eastbound from the coast to the mountains; otherwise, you may well find yourself travelling along the most dramatic stretch of the line in the dark. Travelling first class it doesn’t make a lot of difference. From Los Mochis or El Fuerte, the start of the journey is an inauspicious grind across the humid coastal plain, with passengers in the first-class, air-conditioned train settling back in their reclining seats while the economy train passengers just sweat. The first-class cosseting becomes less of a benefit as the line breaks into the mountains and you start climbing into ever-cooler air (at least in winter – summer days are still burning hot up here). It was this section of the route that defeated the original builders, and, from the passenger’s point of view, the bit you’ve been waiting for. For six hours, the train zigzags dizzily upwards, clinging to the canyon wall, rocketing across bridges, plunging into tunnels, only to find itself constantly just a few metres above the track it covered twenty minutes earlier. Eventually, you arrive at Divisadero, where there’s a halt of about fifteen minutes to marvel at the view of the Copper Canyon itself. At first it seems a perverse choice for a stop, with nothing around but the mountaintops and crowds of Rarámuri hawking their crafts and delicious gorditas. But walk a little way down the path and you’re suddenly standing on the edge of space, on the lip of a vast chasm. Below you are the depths of the Barranca del Cobre and, adjoining it, the Barranca de Urique and the Barranca de Tararecua. There are a couple of absurdly expensive places to stay here and a few bare-bones cheaper ones as well, but for most people it’s all too rapidly back on the train, which clanks on for an hour to Creel, just past the halfway stage and, at 2330m, close to the highest point of the line (note, though, after Divisadero the scenery is far less scintillating). This is the place to stop if you want seriously to explore the Sierra Tarahumara and the canyons.
From Creel, the train takes a further six hours to reach Chihuahua – though beautiful, it’s not a truly spectacular run. In fact, if the train timetable doesn’t suit, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take the bus from Creel to Chihuahua: it’s cheaper than even the second-class train fare, is quicker and covers much the same ground.