Pictures from on board El Chepe as we traveled from Los Mochis, Sinoloa to Creel, Chihuahua, Mexico (the train terminates in the city of Chihuahua, Chihuahua).
El Chepe – From Los Mochis, Sinoloa to Creel, Chihuahua
The best way to access some of the towns in the Copper Canyon is to take El Chepe – more formally known as Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico (Chihuahua-Pacific Railway). The entire trip takes around 16 hours to complete. I disembarked in Creel, one of the small towns high in the mountains, which took about 12 hours. The entire trip is 673 km or 418 miles, mostly through the mountains.
El Chepe starts in Los Mochis, Sinoloa, a rough port town on the western coast of Mexico. If the name sounds familiar, it was the place that the notorious kingpin of the Sinoloa Cartel, El Chapo, was arrested in 2016. I didn’t know it at the time, but I booked a hotel in a bad part of town. My taxi driver warned me not to venture out after dark, which was difficult since I arrived at dusk. Thankfully, I was only there to sleep before boarding the train at 6 am.
Most tourists board in El Fuerte, a smaller city to the east of Los Mochis. It is safer and has some local attractions that may be of interest to travellers, such as hiking and petroglyphs. It also allows you to sleep in a bit since the train doesn’t arrive until 8 am. It’s a 6 am departure from Los Mochis.
Please note that this gallery is a bit slim. I can’t locate most of the photos I took from this part of my trip, including pictures of the train itself. There will be an update as soon as I figure out where those photos are!
Even if you don’t plan on visiting one of the towns in the Copper Canyon, taking El Chepe is worth it for the scenery alone. The first two or three hours are spent travelling through the desert near the coast, picking up passengers along the way. Watching the sunrise over the low foothills and desert was beautiful. After that, El Chepe begins it’s slow, methodical assent into the Copper Canyon. At its highest, the train reaches 2,400 metres or 7,900 feet above sea level.
Train Amenities & Price
The train itself is comfortable, certainly comparable to any train I’ve been on in Canada or the USA. Your day of travel will determine whether you take the first or second class. The trains alternate days now, rather than having both classes of the train every day. By coincidence, I ended up on the first class train both ways, which was comfortable, but more expensive than I had anticipated. Each way cost me around $100 CDN, significantly more than the $200 MXN that many travel sites advise.
There is a dining car which offers mediocre food at inflated prices – to be expected in any environment where you have a ‘captive audience’. The train has tight security. Two armed guards patrol the train throughout the trip. As a Canadian new to Mexico, the presence of these men with big, semi-automatic weapons was disturbing. They were very friendly though, smiling and greeting passengers, which helped put me at ease. I quickly got used to armed guards in Mexico.
One of the highlights of the trip was the stop at Divisadero. This is one of the highest points on the trip and has some amazing views. El Chepe stops for 15-20 minutes in Divisadero, long enough to grab a quick bite to eat from a local vendor and snap a few photos at the lookout point. You can buy all manner of souvenirs at the shops lining the road to the lookout, mostly typical fare for most of the country. There are many handicrafts, again, similar to what you find throughout Mexico, as well as peyote products, which I only saw during my time in the north.
The stop at Divisadero comes at 9 or 10 hours into the trip so it’s nice to stretch your legs. The market relies on the two trains per day for survival. Vendors are loud and can be pushy. It can be jarring for those unused to the hustle and bustle of a Mexican market.
To learn more about travel on El Chepe, check out the Ferrocarril Barrancas del Cobre website.
I came from San Carlos Nuevo Guaymas and continued on to Creel and the Copper Canyon