By Anita Draycott
It's been a long but very worthwhile journey. You've reached the heart of the Tarahumara Mountains in the northeast corner of Chihuahua state and find yourself standing atop the majestic heights known as Las Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon), a name that derives from the stunning greenish copper hue of the canyon walls.
Spanning a total length of 59,545 km (37,000 miles), these canyons are longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Their mighty walls conceal remarkable legends, traditions and surprises.
One such surprise awaits you in the vibrant community of the Raramuris or Tarahumaras where indigenous people have made the canyons their home for centuries and their lives are intertwined with the mountains. Living in this remote region, their way of life has largely been preserved. Quite understandably they are famous for their endurance in long-distance running. They are known to travel long vertical distances, often running nonstop for hours. Some of these communities receive government funding to build roads, restaurants and accommodation and are happy to welcome visitors; others prefer to live in isolated areas as far as possible from urban life.
The Copper Canyon train journey runs between Chihuahua, the state capital and Los Mochis in the neighboring state of Sinaloa, passing through tunnels and traversing the mighty Sierra along the way. The Chihuahua al Pacifico (Chepe for short) took about 90 years to complete. Opened in 1961, the route is 628 km (390 miles) long and crosses 39 bridges and 86 tunnels. The scenery along the winding 14-hour journey is nothing short of breathtaking. The train's 64 carriages offer comfortable seats, a full service dining area with fast food options, a bar, air conditioning, heating and eco-friendly restrooms.
The vast and colorful biodiversity you'll encounter in this legendary part of Chihuahua state makes it ideal for nature lovers and eco-tourists. You might choose to take a hike in the woods, go camping, enjoy some bird watching or simply admire at the contrasting vegetation along the way. The climate varies depending on the time of year, ranging from arid and desert-like to lush and tropical. The ever-changing hues and shapes of mountain range seem to melt into the horizon.
Located just five hours by road from the state capital Chihuahua, you'll find plenty of accommodation on offer, whether you’re looking to stay in a rural hotel with all the amenities or embark on a camping adventure.
The best way for you to really explore the area is by taking a Copper Canyon tour. Popular activities include horseback rides through indigenous villages and visits to lakes and waterfalls. One of the most tempting attractions is the awe-inspiring Basaseachi Waterfalls on the Basaseachi River, the second-highest waterfall in Mexico at a staggering 245 meters (807 feet) tall.
For a great day out and some fascinating cultural insight, arrange for a tour of an indigenous village community where you'll learn about their customs first-hand.
Come prepared as the climates in the Canyon vary greatly, with very low temperatures in the highlands and much higher temperatures along the banks of rivers and down in ravines during summer. Pack clothing for a variety of weather extremes. Most importantly, don’t forget to bring your camera!