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Barranca del Cobre: Exploring Mexico’s Stunning Copper Canyon

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Did you know that Mexico is home to one of the deepest canyons in the world? Most of us only know of the Grand Canyon regarding deep canyons. But Barranca del Cobre offers even more amazing features. Read on to see what I mean.

Are you ready to explore North America’s most extensive, deepest canyon system? If so, you’re not going to the Grand Canyon. Instead, you’re heading south to the Mexican state of Chihuahua! There, where six rivers converge into the powerful Rio Fuerte, the rugged Barranca del Cobre is your destination.

What’s Special About Barrancas del Cobre?

Barranca del Cobre Panoramic Train View
JoseAntonio / Adobe Stock

Also known as Mexico’s Copper Canyon, it’s made of six massive canyons and is the best place to start exploring Sierra Tarahumara. The main canyon, Urique Canyon, is the deepest and most famous of the six.

Spanning a mind-blowing 37,000 miles, the stunning, winding Barranca del Cobre’s signature green canyon walls enclose challenging hikes and dramatic vistas, two distinctly separate ecosystems, and the ancestors of ancient civilizations.

The region can be explored on foot, horseback, or donkey, and by train — an amazing journey that climbs to plateaus 8,000 feet high and drops into the deepest reaches of the canyon.

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Features

Besides being larger than the Grand Canyon area, what other features make Mexico’s Copper Canyon area unique? Well, here you go!

El Fuerte

Copper Canyon in Mexico

Situated at the entry point to the canyon, the small town of El Fuerte is some 50 miles from the Pacific Ocean, with an elevation of just 600 feet above sea level.

Three lakes provide world-class bass fishing and cruises on the El Fuerte River. There’s also a verdant tropical forest, home to various rare and exotic birds. These amazing birds include the tiger, heron, great black hawk, chachalaca, russet-crowned motmot, and white-fronted parrot.

Steeped in the indigenous and Spanish conquistador traditions, El Fuerte is also the starting place for the world-famous Copper Canyon train.

This marvel of architecture and engineering covers 390 miles in a 14-hour trip. The journey crosses 39 bridges, passes through 86 tunnels, and climbs 8,000 feet to the canyon rim. It’s a spectacular journey providing overnight stops and hiking opportunities in and around the canyon.

Into the Copper Canyon

Barranca del Cobre Photo: Lance Fisher

Intrepid campers, hikers, and climbers will find plenty of opportunities for adventure inside Barranca del Cobre’s walls. Because of the canyon’s dramatic elevation changes, it contains two completely different ecosystems. 

The alpine plateaus are heavily forested at heights ranging from 4,000 to 8,000 feet. This region boasts more than 20 species of oak trees and 15 varieties of pine, along with alder, juniper, poplar, and madrone.

Six thousand feet down, in the canyon’s depths, you’ll find a semi-tropical environment that can become semi-arid, depending on seasonal rainfall. Huge palm and fig trees grow alongside various cacti at the canyon’s bottom.

Hikers making the descent will encounter a number of challenges, including rock climbing and rappelling, wood and rope suspension bridges, and one giant “Tarzan leap.”

The town of Divisidero offers some of the best canyon views and is also a major access point to hiking trails into the canyon. Recent developments, however, have added a heart-pumping zipline and cable car trip over the canyon walls.

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Rich Copper Canyon Heritage

Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuaha
Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuaha by Adrian – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Tucked away on remote canyon cliffs are the villages of the Tarahumara Indians, an indigenous people who sought refuge from the Spanish invaders hundreds of years ago. Famous for their long-distance vertical running, the Tarahumara still speak a language that evolved from the ancient Aztecs.

Today, you can experience the Copper Canyon on foot, as the Tarahumara do, or choose any exciting alternatives, such as horseback riding. Seven times larger than the Grand Canyon, spectacularly beautiful, and host to a unique and diverse ecology, the Copper Canyon offers adventurers an unforgettable journey.

For instance, it is home to various amazing plants and animals, including the black bear, cougar, deer, eagles, jaguars, ocelots, and pumas. This canyon is a nature lover’s paradise with its deep canyons, high cliffs, and waterfalls!

Stunning Landscape and Climate

Copper Canyon Landscape
Copper Canyon landscape by Jesus Alejandro Guer…, CC BY 3.0,

Copper Canyon offers the best starting point for exploring the Sierra Madre Occidental region. And with six stunning canyons sitting southwest of the popular Chihuahua, you’ll certainly have more than you can take in.

If you love adventure, this is among the most adventurous places you can be. You can explore the amazing pine and oak forests on foot with a professional guide.

Or, if you’re up for something more extreme, you can go rock climbing or rappel down the canyon walls! There are even ziplines that will take you flying over the magnificent landscapes.

As for the climate, the Copper Canyon region enjoys a subtropical climate with average temperatures ranging from 18-22 degrees Celsius. However, it’s important to note that the temperature can drop significantly at night, so ensure you pack accordingly.

The temperature is usually warm and humid all year round at the foot of the canyons. However, April to June is the hottest period in the area. These months experience chronic drought, which ends in July at the start of the rainy season.

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What to do in Barranca del Cobre

Now, even with all these stunning features and attractions that the Copper Canyon offers, where do you start? What are the best things to do in and around Copper Canyon?

1. Tour Barrancas de Sinforosa

Rock formation in Barrancas de la Sinforosa
Alejandro Vega Rdz. / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Located in Guachochi, just 16km from Chihuahua, Barrancas de Sinforosa (aka Barrancas de la Sinforosa) is a great place to visit to provoke your adrenaline to the max. This place consists of natural volcanic stones estimated to have been formed around 20-30 million years ago.

The area extends around 80 miles along the vast Sierra Madre Occidental and can be seen from a plane to Chihuahua. A journey to this place will take you around one and a half hours on a dirt road, leading you to the famous Cumbres de la Sinforosa” viewpoint.

From here, you’ll have the best view of the landscape and Chihuahua City, which is over 1km deep from where you stand.

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2. National Park Basaseachi Waterfall

National Park Basaseachi Waterfall
National Park Basaseachi Waterfall by Armando185 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

If you want the best connection with nature, this natural paradise offers exactly that. It is the 2nd deepest waterfall in the country and 20th globally. As such, it offers some of the most stunning sights in Copper Canyon.

The waterfall also offers more than just its impressive height. Numerous tree species exist, such as pine, oak, agaves, sotol, and acacia. And if you are lucky, you might taste sotol, a native liquor produced from the “Desert Spoon” plant native to the Chihuahua state.

There’s a 1-mile-deep viewpoint on this waterfall, which gives you an even better view of the landscape. There is also another waterfall nearby, Piedra Volada waterfall, which also offers stunning views. So, while you visit Copper Canyon, make a point of visiting these two waterfalls.

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3. Ride the El Chepe Train

The El Chepe train
The El Chepe train by Cocojorgemedina – Own work, Public Domain,

The El Chepe train line is one of the best ways to get around and explore the vast landscape of Copper Canyon. This puts it among the most popular attractions in the area.

The journey aboard this train will take you through some of the most stunning scenery in Mexico, including bridges, tunnels, and gorges. As you sit back and enjoy the views, your knowledgeable guide will tell you about the region’s history and culture.

The railway line has been operational for over half a century. The carriages of the Chepe Express have undergone recent remodeling and adjustments to provide tourists and travelers with the ultimate comfort.

The journey is more than 400 miles, giving you the most extensive tour to absorb stunning views of cliffs, bridges, tunnels, and the natural beauty of the flora. All you need to do is stay awake to take in the breathtaking view of the vast Copper Canyon area.

However, one crucial thing to note is that the journey from Los Mochis through Chihuahua takes 14 hours. For this reason, it’s good to book a ticket that allows you to make stops in some of the connecting towns. This way, the journey won’t be too tiring for you.

4. Barrancas del Cobre Adventure Park

Barrancas del Cobre Adventure Park
Barranca del Cobre Photo by Comisión Mexicana de Filmaciones licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

This is one of the most popular adventure parks in Copper Canyon. It’s located near Creel, where several hotels and restaurants will be found. The park contains some of the longest ziplines that take you over one of the most exciting canyon landscapes in the world.

These ziplines have a stunning 2,400-meter start point and take you down almost to the canyon’s floor at 80 miles an hour. The descent also includes several heart-in-mouth hanging bridges that make your cross-canyon adventure thrilling.

The park covers an area of around 30 acres and offers travelers a chance to explore even more exciting activities besides ziplining. For example, it offers the best landscape for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Your time here will certainly be worth it.

Going back to the top of the zipline is also exciting. You’ll get an even better landscape view and take pictures as you scale the canyons on a cable car. The whole adventure is simply heart-throbbing. So, if you are visiting Mexico, this is one place you don’t want to miss.

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How to Get There

Copper Canyon El Chepe Train
Elisa Locci / Adobe Stock

There are several ways to get to Copper Canyon. The most common is flying into the Chihuahua International Airport, about two hours from Barrancas del Cobre Park.

You can take a bus or a taxi to your destination from here. Alternatively, you can fly to the Los Mochis International Airport and take the El Chepe train. This will give you a chance to explore even more of the stunning scenery that Mexico has to offer.

However, traveling by car between the cities is not always recommended. This is because you might encounter cartel activities along the road.

Best Time to Visit

Barranca del Cobre Cable
Barranca del Cobre Cable Photo by Adrián Cerón – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Pick between October and November. These months are the best period to visit Copper Canyon in terms of weather and visible scenery.

The weather is generally relatively cooler during this period, making it ideal for outdoor activities. However, the temperature can get quite hot during the summer, reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which can be uncomfortable for some people.

However, you should also note that this period is the busiest in the area. As such, you might encounter large crowds in popular tourist destinations.

If you want a more secluded experience, you can visit Copper Canyon between December and February. The weather is still relatively cool during this period, and the crowds are minimal.

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Where to Stay in Copper Canyon

There are several accommodation options in Copper Canyon, ranging from hotels and hostels to camping sites. For those on a budget, several hostels are located in Creel town, the gateway to the canyon. Some of the best hotels here include;

1. One Chihuahua Norte Hotel

One Chihuahua Norte Hotel building exterior
One Chihuahua Norte Hotel / Booking.com

The hotel is located in Chihuahua, one of the best budget-friendly hotels. It offers numerous features to ensure your comfortable stay here, including;

  • Free WiFi
  • Flat-screen TV
  • Desk
  • Huge beds
  • linen beddings
  • Towels

In addition, the hotel has a free shuttle service and express check-ins and check-outs. Room service is exceptional if you need to order or request anything from the room. It is also just 17 km from General Roberto Fierro Villalobos International Airport and offers free parking.

2. City Plus Hotel Chihuahua

City Plus Hotel Chihuahua room interior
City Plus Hotel Chihuahua / Booking.com

This 4-star hotel is just 5 kilometers from Catedral de Chihuahua in Chihuahua. And it’s also among the best hotels to book a room in the area. So, if you plan to visit the Copper Canyon, you won’t have to worry too much about where to stay.

One reason why many tourists choose this hotel is its location. It offers some of the best views of the city. Additionally, they provide luggage storage, a fitness center, and free WiFi and room service. That feels like a good place to spend a night or two. Other features include:

  • A safety-deposit box
  • Private bathroom
  • Television
  • Desk
  • Wardrobe

It also serves breakfast buffet in the morning. The place is a favorite for couples.

3. Hotel en la Naturaleza

Hotel en la Naturaleza pool amenity
Hotel en la Naturaleza / Booking.com

For those who love privacy, this hotel is located in a secluded area in Almos, offering just the right atmosphere for you. Additionally, it’s surrounded by beautiful landscapes that you can explore during your free time, especially if you’re an avid hiker or love nature walks.

Some of the features and services offered at El Pedregal – Hotel en la Naturaleza include;

  • An outdoor pool
  • Garden
  • Terrace
  • Lounge area
  • Room service
  • Free WiFi throughout the property

Guests can also enjoy breakfast in the morning while admiring the views of the surrounding landscape. If you want to explore Copper Canyon at your own pace, this is always a great place to start.

4. Hotel Entronque Barrancas

Hotel Entronque Barrancas exterior
Hotel Entronque Barrancas / Booking.com

This hotel is one of the best places to stay if you want to be close to all the action. It’s situated just a few-minutes-walk from some of the most popular tourist destinations in Copper Canyon, such as;

  • The Tarahumara caves
  • The canyon itself
  • The Barrancas del Cobre train station

Some of the features and services offered at Hotel Entronque Barrancas include;

  • A 24-hour front desk
  • Free airport shuttle service
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Free WiFi throughout the property
  • Luggage storage space

Guests can enjoy a continental breakfast in the morning before exploring Copper Canyon. If you’re looking for a central place to stay, this is the place.

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