The Copper Canyon Railroad, also known as the Ferrocarril Barrancas del Cobre, the Ferrocarril Chihuahua-Pacifíco and El Chepe, is one of Mexico’s coolest attractions. While the train is far from the biggest attraction in this Mexican canyon system, it’s still a fabulous part of the experience. Here are the things you need to know before hopping aboard.
El Chepe Regional train is the original train, that continues to offer both first and second class options and a route that runs from Los Mochis, Sinaloa to Chihuahua City, Chihuahua and vice versa. The El Chepe Express only goes from Los Mochis, Sinaloa to Creel, Chihuahua and back, but is been hailed as the ‘luxury tourist train’, hence why it only goes as far as tourist hotspot Creel. As far as direction of travel goes, if you’re already on the west coast of Mexico or the Baja Peninsula, starting in Los Mochis makes sense, but if you find cheap flights into Chihuahua, that route is just as good. However…
While there are attractions the full length of the railroad route, the majority of the spectacular and dramatic scenery you can spot from the train itself is over on the Los Mochis end. This means that if you travel from the Chihuahua direction, the sun might set and obscure your view of the fabulous scenery (especially in winter). Keep that in mind if you’re only planning on taking the train one way.
If you travel on the Chepe Express (Los Mochis to Creel and vice versa), your journey time will be nine hours, with the train leaving from Los Mochis at either 6am or 3.50pm. On the Chepe Regional (Los Mochis to Chihuahua and vice versa), the journey is around 16 hours from start to finish and the train leaves either Los Mochis or Chihuahua at 6am. (This latter train also offers more stops)
We’ve already noted that there are two trains, the Chepe Regional and Chepe Express. Well, both trains offer two ticket types—first class and second class, a.k.a. primera and económica. The price for first class tickets is almost double the economy class. It’s also worth noting that on the Chepe Regional (which goes to Chihuahua) there is no return ticket available, nor is there a discount for buying tickets for both directions of travel in one go. However, the Chepe Express does offer the option to buy return tickets at the time of writing.
Booking in advance isn’t truly necessary (except maybe at peak holiday times like Christmas and Easter), but it is recommended. Why? Because by booking in advance you can rest assured that you reserve the seat that you want and, crucially, you can secure your spot on the correct side of the train, a.k.a. the side with all the best views. (For travel from Los Mochis you want to sit on the right-hand side, and from Chihuahua you’ll want the left-hand side.)
While many people report having trouble booking online, there is a way to beat the system. Many travellers report having been able to send their preferred seats and dates to email@example.com in order to secure the booking. Make sure you get confirmation before booking other parts of the trip, like hotels and flights though. Alternative ways to book your tickets for El Chepe include in person (at the Los Mochis and Chihuahua train stations) and over the phone, but make sure you have decent enough Spanish if you go for the latter option. And check the most up to date prices for the Chepe Express and the Chepe Regional before booking.
If travelling on a Chepe Express ticket, you can make two stops for no additional cost, but you must advise the company of these stops beforehand and plan to get back on the train at least one day later (e.g. you can’t get off at a stop and then try and hop on another train that same day—you must stay at least one night). The same applies for the Chepe Regional tickets, except you can make three (not two) stops at no extra cost. Also, if you’re not exploring the spectacular Barrancas del Cobre while taking the train, why are you even there?
Many people choose to ride the Copper Canyon Railroad during July and August, according to the official El Chepe website. There is also a surge in ticket sales for Easter and Christmas. If you plan on travelling around those times, they do recommend booking in advance to secure seats. However, many people consider post-rainy season (autumn) to be the best time to visit Chihuahua and the Copper Canyon. Check out this post for more info.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with information and stressed about planning, there are tour options available for those who don’t want to arrange their own trip or would rather just have everything taken care of for them. Keep in mind that this isn’t the greatest option for budget travellers though, as you’ll likely pay two or three times more than you would going it alone.
As with most transport that has access to air conditioning in Mexico, El Chepe puts it to good work. While some people might be happy with the level of air conditioning on the train, others might find their toes going a bit numb towards the end of the route. So, plan accordingly and maybe shove some extra socks and a sweater in your rucksack?