The 653km, fifteen-hour train journey along the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico (Copper Canyon railway), which starts on the sweaty Pacific coast at Los Mochis, fights its way up to cross the Continental Divide amid the peaks of the Sierra Madre Occidental, then drifts down across the high plains of Chihuahua, is one of the world’s most extraordinary rail journeys. Mesmerizing views come thick and fast as the line hangs over the vast canyons of the Río Urique and its tributaries, with jagged peaks smothered in dense forest, and narrow, precipitous gorges falling away on both sides.
From Los Mochis or El Fuerte, the start of the journey is an inauspicious grind across the humid coastal plain. As the line breaks into the mountains the train zigzags dizzily upwards for six hours, clinging to the canyon wall, rocketing across bridges and 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. There are a couple of 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, that after Divisadero the scenery is far less scintillating). This is the place to stop if you seriously want 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, and at the time of research one of the proposed El Chepe changes was to cut this section entirely. In any case, there’s a regular bus service from Creel to Chihuahua: it’s cheaper than even the second-class train fare, is quicker and covers much the same ground.