Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Copper Canyon

Well it was a while ago that we 'did' Copper Canyon (Xmas 2007 in fact). First, booking independently was hellish - we used a Mexican friend of ours to do it. Mexico likes to protect its tourist industry and it's very difficult to find exact prices/websites etc. (It's about aud250 per person each way August 2013).   I checked again -- and it's still difficult to make independent bookings, basically you have to phone. Mexico, yep phone.

We were living in New Mexico at the time so we bussed from Las Cruces - Greyhound bus trips are quite an adventure).  We caught the bus from El Paso to Chihuahua - Mexican buses are great ie they have videos and are clean and very comfortable and very cheap. Took about 5 hours.  

We booked at a very modest hotel for the night.  We were up at 3am to be at the station for departure at 6am. As we had pre-booked there was no need to be there sooo early. So my advise 5:30 is plenty of time.  The train left on time and that's the last time it was on time for the rest of the journey.  Here is the schedule so you can see the times and the stops.

Classic Package: Map
The Route

Typical view

The train journey is spectacular - The Chihuahua al Pacifico Railroad passenger service traverses 408 miles through some of the most scenic wilderness on Earth, from the Sonoran-Sinaloan transition tropical forest; it then climbs 8,000 ft. into the Western Sierra Madre and skirts the Copper Canyon, before terminating in the Chihuahuan Desert. This spectacular railway achievement required 37 principle bridges, the longest is 1,638 ft. and the highest is 335 ft. It bores through 87 tunnels, one tunnel is 5,965 ft. long and another tunnel has a 180 degree turn followed by a bridge with a 90 degree turn. The railway, with nearly 11 miles of tunneling and 2.25 miles of bridging, follows a serpentine route through some of the most biologically outstanding and diverse habitats on the planet, listed in the world’s 200 most crucial areas for conservation.

Image of Posada Mirador Hotel, Copper Canyon
Mirador is RIGHT on the canyon

We stayed at a modest hotel.  Slept through the first hour --awoke refreshed and to the dining car (my husband says the best Huevos Rancheros he's ever had). The menu is varied and the food is surprisingly good. Unfortunately, late in the morning, a trio of rambunctious males joined the journey and they proceeded to get quite drunk and to “stuff up” the toilets; my husband used the ladies’ loo from then on. The train was two hours late getting into Barrancas but we had thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Next stop was The Mirador - it is one of the few hotels right on the Canyon- all rooms have a view over the Canyon.  Sitting on the balcony at dusk sipping wine is a must! was marvelous but at nearly AUD$300 per night I would expect it to be--but that includes three meals so it really isn't that expensive.
Image of Posada Mirador Hotel, Copper Canyon
Not me -- ALL rooms have this type of view

We stayed three days but honestly there wasn't that much to do except enjoy the worlds best scenery). The food wasn’t bad and the service and attention to detail great- the rooms are equivalent of a 4 star hotel. We did a walking tour (one of the hotel staff) and a donkey tour (2 hours) both excellent introductions to the area.

After two days we regretfully took off for Los Mochis—we waited, and waited and waited, in feezing cold weather, for the train. Four hours late the train arrived– there was no lights and no dining car which I found VERY disappointing so later I realized it might have been a second-class train (I was glad I’d tucked away a small chocolate bar for emergencies)—so in the dark we crept to Los Mochis missing the most spectacular part of the journey. All in all a bery disappointing aspect of the journey - but what can u do?  Three am the train pulled in at Los Mochis - although we had organised it, there was no one from the Hotel Plaza Inn to collect us. Luckily there were plenty of taxi touts and for an outrageous sum we were deposited at the front desk. 

Unfortunately the guy at the front desk of Hotel Plaza Inn was much more interested in talking with his friends than in checking us in; finally he turned his attention to us (well sort of, he kept chatting to his friends the rest of the time). Luckily the loud disco finished as we crept into bed; and after much door slamming and chatting fr disco patrons, we could sleep. When we checked out, hubby left his sunglasses- we went straight back but they'd already disappeared.  They were prescription sunnies so of limited use - but left a bad impression.

Our return through the Copper Canyon was marvelous. Up at 5am to get the 7am train-the train left on time. It was Xmas day and we had a not so festive but most enjoyable breakfast—watching the gun-toting guards devour their b’fast was entertaining. The trip through the canyon was spectacular but one had to fight for a position at the doors to get some decent photos/videos. It seems that everyone (all seemed to be over the age of 50) boarded at El Fuentes. And they were quite rude about hogging space (darned Americans). Three hours late (5pm) we arrived in Creel—the hotel was wonderful and there’d been a touch of snow. The restaurant at the Lodge was awful (though hubby highly praised the French fries) my Chef’s Salad was ordinary and it was Xmas night! We had hoped for a special Xmas meal. The rooms were great and well heated. There’s not too much to do in Creel other than street crawl. As it was Christmas most of the places were closed but I like wandering streets - and its a pretty small town.  As it turned out we could’ve done the day tour and still caught the three-hour late train. (I feel uncomfortable gawking at the shy Indians and thus refrained from signing up for various tours, I find them a little culturally insensitive and intrusive) . We arrived in Chihuahua at 1am.

Overall it was a great experience, the scenery matched the Grand Canyon's (AZ, USA) the train journey was comfortable and it was an unusual Xmas. Take plenty of books (game boy, puzzles, knitting) to keep you amused cos the journey is long and if it’s dark there isn’t too much to see but it is wonderfully relaxing. I would give it 7/10 as a vacation. 

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