Tag Archives: Barranca Del Cobre

Highlights of Latin America

I had such an awesome time in Latin America it’s pretty hard to pick out favourite moments. But I’m going to give it a go anyway. Here are the best things I’ve seen and done over the past six and a half months, along with links to what I originally wrote about them.

Favourite City: Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso

Runner-up: Guanajuato, Mexico
Hilly cities with lots of colourful houses are clearly the way to keep me happy.

Favourite Capital City: Mexico City

Mexico City Cathedral

Runner-up: Santiago de Chile
Quite a contrast here between enormous, chaotic, slightly crazy Mexico City vs Clean, calm, orderly Santiago. But I could live in ’em both, I reckon.

 

Favourite Food: Mexico
Runner-up: Peru
Best street food in Latin America from the Mexicans, whereas the restaurants were at their finest in Peru.

Best course: Learning Spanish in Guatemala
Runner-up: Learning to Dive in Honduras
Who knew learning could be such fun? Learning Spanish enriched my whole experience in the continent, and diving was way more fun (and way easier) than I ever thought it could be.

Favourite activity: Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru
Runner-up: Cycling tour of the wineries, Mendoza, Argentina

Favourite Hike: The Huayhuash Circuit, Peru

The Cordillera Huayhuash

Runner-up: The Lost City, Colombia
Again, quite a contrast. The Huayhuash took me to the most stunning mountain scenery I’ve ever come across, and was the toughest walk I’ve ever done. The Lost City was less visually appealling and easier on the legs, but made up for it by being with the best group of people I’ve me on the whole trip.

 

Favourite Natural Wonder: The Copper Canyon, Mexico

The road to Batopilas, Copper Canyon

Runner-up: The Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Sorry Colca Canyon, you may be deeper but Mexico’s is way better. It also gave me my favourite journey, along the Copper Canyon railway. Meanwhile, Uyuni was like a trip to another planet.

 

Favourite off the beaten track place: Mexcaltitan

Calle Venezia, Mexcaltitan

I feel like a bad traveller. I was pretty firmly on the gringo trail the entire time. Except in Mexcaltitan, tough to get to, not a lot to see, but one of my favourite stops so far.

 

Best Night out: Sargento Pimientas, Lima, Peru
Runner-up: Mazatlan, Mexico
My last night in Lima was a chance to say goodbye to two good friends I’d been travelling with on and off since Colombia, accompanied by the best music I’ve heard in ages. Mazatlan on the other hand was an entirely random night out with three Mexican women who I was introduced to by a clown.

Favourite Beach: Tayrona National Park, Colombia

Tayrona National Park

Runner-up: Mazunte, Mexico
Sleeping in a hammock on the beach in Colombia was pretty close to paradise. Meanwhile the waves in Mazunte kept me entertained for hours.

 

Favourite Market: San Francisco El Alto, Guatemala
Runner-up: Oaxaca, Mexico
A pretty small hill town in Guatemala with the biggest, most sprawling market I’ve ever seen. Oaxaca was my favourite of the Mexican markets, especially for the crammed, smokey food section.

Favourite weird religious spectacle: Semana Santa in Guanajuato, Mexico

Semana Santa in Guanajuato

Runner-up: Meeting Maximon in Santiago de Atitlan, Guatemala
Catholicism may have its heart in Europe, but the way they do it in Latin America makes our version look pretty tame.

 

Favourite Country: Mexico
Runner-up: Peru
I’ve probably bored everyone I’ve met on this trip to death by going on and on about Mexico. But I don’t care. I love it.

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The Copper Canyon railway

As well as the natural wonders, the other reason the Copper Canyon is famous is for the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico (CHEPE for short), better known in English as the Copper Canyon railway.

The Sierra Madre Occidental is the huge mountain range that runs down the western side of Mexico, dividing the central plain from the coast. With its jagged mountains and deep canyons, it’s pretty impassable, with only two routes making it all the way across. One is the highway from Durango to Mazatlan, and the other is the CHEPE.

Tarahumara girls waiting for the train in Creel

Tarahumara girls waiting for the train in Creel

Completed in 1961, it starts in Los Mochis, near the Pacific coast and heads inland to El Fuerte, from where it runs alongside a river into canyon country. It follows the river as the canyon walls grow higher and higher, winding its way steadily upwards until it hits the top of the canyon near to Posada Barrancas, eventually making its only stop on the canyon rim itself at Divisadero (where it kindly stops for fifteen minutes, allowing tourists to jump off, grab a taco, buy some artesanias, and then take in the view). From there, it then heads across the plain to Chihuahua, taking nearly fourteen hours to make the full journey.

Elevation map of the CHEPEs route

Elevation map of the CHEPE's route

It really is quite an impressive feat of engineering, especially the section as it heads up the canyon itself from El Fuerte to Posada Barrancas, clinging to the steep sides of the canyon, heading over numerous bridges and through 87 tunnels on its way.

The canyon & railway at Temoris

The canyon & railway at Temoris


Crossing the Temoris railway bridge

Crossing the Temoris railway bridge


One of the 87 tunnels

One of the 87 tunnels

The views throughout are awesome, and I spent most of the eight hours I was on the train leaning out of the window taking it all in. Even though I was looking forward to getting to the coast, by the time I arrived in El Fuerte, it was sad to leave the canyon behind after just five days. I really can’t recommend it highly enough, it really is the most spectacular place I’ve ever seen.

The road to Batopilas

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.

Cacti in the Batopilas canyon

Cacti in the Batopilas canyon


Canyon flower

Canyon flower

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.

Winding down the canyon walls

Winding down the canyon walls

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.

View down to La Bufa

View down to La Bufa


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.
Some of the many hairpin bends

Some of the many hairpin bends

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.

Mision de Setuvo

Mision de Setuvo

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

The Copper Canyon: Breathtaking

With the busy period of Easter safely out of the way, I was looking forward to being more spontaneous during my period in the Copper Canyon. I figured five days would give me enough time to see the canyon, and get to do a fair bit of hiking done. Turns out that was a mistake – a bit more forward planning on this occasion would have been quite handy.

Tarahumara in Creel, in their traditional dress

Tarahumara in Creel, in their traditional dress

The Copper Canyon (or Barrancas del Cobre in Spanish) is a huge system of five interlinked canyons, which at nearly two kilometres from top to bottom is actually deeper than the much more famous Grand Canyon. Before arriving in Mexico, it was the thing I was most looking forward to, so I was surprised when some of the other travellers I’d met further south said it was a bit disappointing (most memorably dismissed by one as ‘just rocks and stuff’). After staying in Creel, I can see why.

Creel is the biggest town in the Canyon area, and has the most hostels and tour companies, so that’s where most people choose to stay. The problem is, Creel is neither inside the canyon, or even on its rim: you have to drive quite a way to get to either. The things to around the town are nice, they’re just not really in the canyon. On my first day there I hired a bike and cycled a 20k circuit around the surrounding area, through the village of San Ignacio (with its Spanish mission) and on to some interesting rock formations nearby, each named by what the rocks supposedly look like.

Mision de San Ignacio

Mision de San Ignacio

First up was the Valley of the Frogs. Didn’t look anything like frogs to me. Next, the Valley of the mushrooms (much more accurate). Last, and most impressive, is Bisabirachi, which in the language of the local Tarahumara Indians means “Valley of the Erect Penises”. The rather more prudish Spanish renamed it Valle de los Monjes, or Valley of the Monks. I think it’s safe to say the Tarahumara have a more accurate view.

Erect penis or Monk?

Erect penis or Monk?

Missions and rock formations are very beautiful, but at the end of the day I was left pretty disappointed: I’d come to see the canyon, and this certainly wasn’t it. Chatting to other people at the hostel that evening revealed more disappointment, as other people had been to the nearby waterfalls, which turned out to be (a) not all that impressive and (b) nearly dry as well.

So the next day I decided that I needed to see the Canyon properly, and jumped on a bus to Divisadero. Divisadero sits right on the Canyon rim, directly opposite the point where the three biggest canyons converge, and therefore has the best views in the region. As soon as I got off the bus, all the previous day’s dissapointment fell away. The view is truly spectacular, words fail me when I try to describe quite how beautiful it is. The canyon rim falls right away beneath you in a sheer cliff, looking right out into the deepest point of the canyon system, and in parts there isn’t even a safety rail to block the views. I stayed for a few hours, looking down at the view from various points on the rim, and it truly is one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen.



(more photos from Creel, Divisadero & the Canyon here)

What I didn’t realise at that point, was that the next day was going to be even better.

(In case anyone reading this is planning a trip to the canyon – if you want views of the Canyon, get the train or bus to either Divisadero or Posada Barrancas, the only two villages that are right on the canyon rim. If you want to see the canyon from the bottom, you can either arrange a hike down from Posada Barrancas, or you can go to either Urique or Batopilas, both of which are accessible by bus from stations on the trainline. Batopilas is accessed from Creel, which in my opinion is about the only reason to stop there)