Copper Canyon is a group of canyons consisting of six main canyons and several lesser ravines in the Sierra Tarahumara in the southwestern part of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The overall canyon system occupies an area of roughly 50,000 km² (19,300 mi²) and it is larger, and portions of it are deeper, than the Grand Canyon; making it one of the largest canyon systems in North America.The Canyons
The terrain is very rugged and a few numbers might illustrate this fact: the canyons drop down to 1,870 m (6,100 ft.) depth and in relation to the sea level the highest elevation reaches up to 3,300 m (10,800 ft.) above sea level while the lowest point is an elevation of just 240 m (790 ft.) above sea level.
The canyons were formed by six rivers which drain the western side of the Sierra Tarahumara (a part of the northern Sierra Madre Occidental). All six rivers merge into the Río Fuerte and empty into the Sea of Cortez. The walls of the canyon are a copper-green colour which is where the name originates.Chepe - Train
The canyon region is linked both with the Pacific coast and the northern highlands of Chihuahua by a 940 km (584 mi) long railroad called Chihuahua al Pacífico or abbreviated Chepe. It runs from the Pacific port of Topolobampo to Ojinaga on the US-border and its construction, which began in 1897 and was not completed until 1961, is a masterpiece of engineering considering the difficulty of the terrain. On standard tracks the train climbs from sea level to an altitude of little over 2,400 m (7,900 ft.), passing over 39 bridges and through 86 tunnels; several overlapping loops as well as a reversing tunnel were employed to overcome the great differences in height.
Today the Chepe runs between Los Mochis and Chihuahua being Mexico’s last passenger train, nevertheless equipped with modern First Class cars and all the amenities like air conditioning, restaurant and bar service. Without a doubt it is one of the great train rides of the world! We consider riding the Chepe train a must and an ideal way to travel the Copper Canyon not only because it provides comfortable access to the majestic canyon landscape but also because travelling this extraordinary railroad constitutes a major attraction by itself! Furthermore it is a great way to get in touch with local people and to learn about their way of life and culture. For these reasons all of our Copper Canyon tours include travel on the Chepe train; although in different configurations.The Raramuri
The fabric of Mexico’s society is highly multi-ethnic and among others, 56 indigenous peoples form part of this cultural mosaic. Those ethic groups sustain different degrees of interaction, integration and assimilation with bearers of other cultural heritage.
One of these indigenous First Nations, the Rarámuri ethnic group is considered to conserve and reproduce their millenary native culture autonomously to a very high degree since in general they are very reluctant to interact with people outside their ethnic community or with different cultural patterns. Even though today they face multiple challenges they conserve not only their own language, traditional attire, and form of government but also their traditional music and dances as well as many religious ceremonies that reflect a unique form of re-functionalization of the imposed Christian forms and rites.
They inhabit precisely the canyon regions of the Sierra Tarahumara that we will be visiting and while travelling the Copper Canyon you will meet them under diverse circumstances. However, achieving an effective - even nonverbal - intercultural communication remains a difficult challenge. Nevertheless sharing the same space where the Rarámuri live and deploy day by day their ancestral culture can be very interesting and on our tours we foster respectful contact as long as the locals feel comfortable about it.
In the following we provide you with a short historical review up to some aspects of their present situation: The Spanish arrived in the Copper Canyon area in the 17th century and encountered the indigenous locals throughout the territory of what today is Chihuahua. The Spanish named the people they encountered "Tarahumaras", a rather offensive name given by a neighbouring different ethnic group; the indigenous people call themselves “Rarámuri” which could be translated as “fleet-footed” or rather “the running people”. During the 17th century, silver was discovered by the Spaniards in the land of the Rarámuri nation. Some were enslaved for use in the mines.
There were small uprisings by the Tarahumara, but to little avail. They were eventually forced off the more desirable lands and up into the canyon cliffs. The Rarámuri remain today the traditional inhabitants of the Copper Canyon area. Many Rarámuri reside in the cooler, mountainous regions during the hot summer months and migrate deeper into the canyons in the cooler winter months, where the climate is more temperate. Their survival strategies have been to occupy areas that are too remote for outsiders, way off the beaten path, to remain isolated and independent, so as to avoid losing their culture. Their diet is largely domestic agrarian, but does consist of meat from domesticated cows, chickens and goats, wild game, and freshwater fish. Corn (maize) is the most important staple of the Rarámuris’ diet.
The Rarámuri people are known for their endurance running. Living in the canyons, they travel great vertical distances, which they often do by running nonstop for hours. A popular Rarámuri community race called “rarahipa,” is played by kicking a wooden ball along the paths of the steep canyons. Tourism is a growing industry for the Copper Canyon, but the acceptance of it is debated in the local communities. Many groups of Rarámuri maintain their independence by living in areas that are as far away from other cultural influences as possible; in this way their form of life is protected by the mountainous landscape.Climate
The alpine climate of the mountainous regions of the Copper Canyon has moderate temperatures from October to November and March to April. The bottom of the canyons is humid and warm and remains that way throughout the year. During the warmest months, April through June, drought is a chronic problem with little rainfall until July when the rainy season begins.Flora and Fauna
Since the train ride starts out in the coastal lowlands, it will take you through all the different climate and vegetation zones until reaching the pine forests of the high Sierra Tarahumara. In the western outskirts of the mountain range dry forests, succulent vegetation such as cacti and agaves dominate; as altitude increases the low shrubs are replaced by the hardwood trees like different species of oak and pine as well as juniper and aspen trees, while fir and spruce forest characterizes the vegetation of the highest elevations. The Sierra Tarahumara region contains some twenty-three different species of pine and two hundred different species of oak trees. Mexican Douglas Fir trees cover the high plateaus in altitudes over 2,400 m (7,900 ft.), but due to deforestation in the area, many species of wildlife are endangered. Mexican Wolves and cougars live in the remotest regions and are rarely seen but coyotes, foxes and lynx are quite common. After the summer rainy season these upper regions blossom with wildflowers until October. From 1,200 - 1,400 m (3,900 - 4,600 ft.), oak trees grow in the huge forests as well as the more shade-tolerant types of trees. In the fall the forests become brilliant with colour from Andean Alder and poplar trees. Brushwood and scrubby trees grow on the canyon slopes, which can accommodate the dry season. Huge fig and palm trees thrive at the bottom where water is plentiful and the climate is tropical.Our Copper Canyon Tours
Travelling the Copper Canyon is a truly profound and enlightening experience and we sincerely invite you to join us on of one of our tours to yet another fascinating region of little known northern Mexico.
All of our Copper Canyon tours include all transfers, the journey by ferry from La Paz to Los Mochis or vice versa and of course travel on the famous Chepe First Class train.
Active Copper Canyon: You can choose our professionally guided tour with emphasis on walking and hiking (though without any technical difficulty) that begins in Los Mochis and, after visiting the canyon area and Creel, returns to Los Mochis. This tour includes a variety of activities both in the canyon area as in Creel.
Essential Copper Canyon: Another option is our self-guided tour where you’ll travel the entire Chepe route from Los Mochis all the way to Chihuahua and that also includes overnight stops right at the Urique Canyon’s edge and in Creel from where you’ll embark on an interesting excursion to the highlights of the region.
Adventures In The Copper Canyon: This spectacular trip only for adventurous souls takes you to Divisadero Barrancas in the heart of the Sierra Tarahumara, so you can take advantage of all the opportunities of the Copper Canyon’s Adventure Park, including a zip line and Via Ferrata high above the canyon, while exploring the amazing sights of the canyon landscape. The itinerary also includes travel on board the famous Chepe train from Chihuahua to El Fuerte. This tour is designed as a pre-program before your travel itinerary in Baja California.
Our Copper Canyon journeys are designed either as pre-programs or as extensions after having taken one of our travel packages in Baja California and for this reason they already include the fare for the ferry passage from La Paz to Los Mochis or vice versa. Nevertheless, if you wish to travel to the Copper Canyon only we are happy to adapt the itinerary and cost for you accordingly.