After the spectacular views from Divisadero, I really didn’t think the canyon get could get any better. I was wrong. The road to Batopilas is even more impressive.
We left at 7.30am on the public bus (in true Mexican fashion, it was blaring frantic Mexican pop music out of all its speakers even at this early hour). The road starts in Creel, at 2,338m above sea level, and drops down nearly 2km to Batopilas in the course of the five hour journey. What this means is a huge variation in climate.
Being so high up, Creel has more alpine vegetation, with most of the surrounding hills being covered in pine trees, and as left there was a frost on the ground. As you descend, and the climate gets warmer and the pines gradually give way to warmer weather plants, such as agave and prickly pear cacti. By the time you get to the bottom, the climate is tropical, with huge, straight-armed seguaro cacti on all the exposed slopes, and concentrations of lush green trees wherever there is water and shade.
But anyway, back to the journey. The first section is on a paved road that winds its way along the undulating hills and valleys at the top of the Canyon. That alone was pretty stunning. After two hours, the main road branches off out of the canyon, and the remainder of the journey to Batopilas is on a bumpy, dusty single track dirt road that winds its way down to the canyon floor.
If Divisadero was breathtaking, then I don’t have adjectives to describe quite how awe-inspiring this road is. After another half hour of winding through the hills, the road rounds a corner and reaches the Mirador de la Bufa, a viewpoint that looks all the way down to the village of La Bufa at the bottom.
At that point the road clings to the cliff-like wall of the canyon and slowly descends via a series of tight hairpins all the way down, each hair-raising turn revealing views across the canyon. At every point, the canyon wall falls away almost vertically from the edge of the narrow road, and there’s only just room for the bus to fit, making it not a journey for the faint-hearted, especially as the driver has to contend with goats and cows wandering onto the road at regular intervals.
Eventually the road reaches the river, and follows it along the canyon to the village of Batopilas. For such a remote place, it’s quite an impressive sight. Formerly a rich silver-mining town, it was rather improbably the second place in Mexico to get mains electricity, and is small but beautiful, its centre packed with pretty colonial buildings, and two charming squares each with a lovely cast-iron bandstand.
Now that the silver is gone, not much happens in town, although the modern world has left one impact: I’ve never seen quite so many brand new American SUVs in one small village before. Rumour has it that these are all stolen from the southern US and driven down here to be used by the local drug cartels that hide out down here, away from the eyes of authority.
I travelled down with a Czech couple and an English girl I’d met in Creel, and the next day we hiked along deeper into the canyon to an abandoned Spanish mission church from the 1600s, in the even smaller village of Setuvo. The mission is in the process of being restored, and the local workmen happily let us climb the rickety ladders all the way onto the roof of the mission, which was quite an experience, and gave yet more great views of the canyon.
Sadly we had to leave the next day, after just two nights, as we needed to catch the second class train down to the coast (as the next one wasn’t until three days later). It may have taken quite an effort to get there – ten hours on the bus to Chihuahua, another 5 to Creel, and a further 5 to Batopilas – but boy was it worth it.
(You can see more or my photos of Batopilas here