You don't realize how large and deep is the Copper Canyon until you see it from the air. A good option for doing it, reasonably priced for international standards, is to take a helicopter tour. Travel agencies in Creel offer helicopter tours and booking one is likely a good idea. I was lucky enough that my driver in Divisadero (see my Tip on Getting Around Divisadero), whom I asked information when I saw an helicopter in the air, knew where the tours departed from (in one of the hotels in the village of Areponápuchi, few Kms off Divisadero) and got me there to take one on the spot without advance booking and reservation fees. The tour I took was fifteen-minute long and could accommodate up to four people at the time. Tours were run in back-to-back so if there was a line you would just have to wait for your turn. I enjoyed view from above of the Copper Canyon and the Urique Canyon for a price of 70 US$.
The best way to get around and enjoy different views of the canyon at Divisadero is to hire a local driver to drive you around. I am not sure there is any taxi stands, and I think there is not, but you will easily find someone to hire just inquiring or spreading the voice at the food and handicraft market at the train stop.
This is how I worked it out: I just asked one of the lady at the stalls if she knew where to find someone to drive me around and she told me she would call her husband and he would do it. Her husband was not available at that time but he spread the voice among his buddies and eventually he connected me to José. José and I agreed on the fare and he started driving me around on his truck getting me exploring the loveliest spots of the area. I was interested in taking photos and then he took me in his own property that, he said and I saw, afforded particularly lovely view of the canyon. He also took me at the place where helicopter tours departed and I could have the tour on the spot without early reservation and booking service fee. In the end I was that pleased with his kindliness and the service that I paid him double the price we had agreed upon.
Bottom line, to get around Divisadero, just ask around the local people at the train station and you will surely find someone available to drive you for a price. If you would like to look out for José, he and his wife run a tienda de artesania (handicrafts stall) in the small handicraft market next to the train platform. Ask for the tienda de José and check out if he is available.
A must-see for visitors to Creel is the view from the lookout point at Divisadero, about one and a half hour distance from Creel, affording terrific views into the canyon.
Because of the view, Divisadero is arguably one of the most famous stops of the Chihuahua train: the train stops here for about 15 minutes to give passengers chance to hop off and enjoy the landscape. In my opinion the beautiful view is worth more than a glance on the run and I recommend spending here more time, a couple of hours at least. Other than the terrace across the train station, there are few other lookout points, few of them reachable with a short walk, providing views into the canyon from different angles, that are well worth exploring as well. You may also hire a driver on-site who will take you to other remarkable spots in the area (see my Tip on this subject).
Divisadero is also a great place for a bite at one of the many hawkers on the train-stop platform as well as for some shopping at the small Tarahumaran handicrafts market.
At time of my visit in March 2008 there were three buses from Creel per day, otherwise you can take the train (two per day) or hire a taxi or private tour. I got to Divisadero from Creel with the bus and got back with the train and worked pretty well.
Creel is a small town and a perfect base for exploring the Copper Canyon. There isn't much to do in the town itself and you will likely use it as base for excursions in the Canyon. Those are some excursions I recommend, further details in my other tips on each specific subject:
1.- To the mining town Batopilas: a deep dive into the canyon, from 2,300 meters down to 500 meters elevation. The drive through winding roads, beautiful views of the Canyon and indian Tarahumara establishments is a big part of the attraction. A must-do excursion, minimum of two full days required.
2.- View of the Canyon at Divisadero: arguably the most spectacular stop of the Chihuahua train for the views of the canyon from its miradores (viewpoints). Good option for some shopping at the Tarahumara handicraft market.
3.- Take a helicopter tour for as low as 70 US$ and enjoy the view of the canyon from the sky.
These three excursions will give you a good understanding of the Copper Canyon. If you have spare time you can invest it to explore the other natural attractions around Creel such as waterfalls, lakes and hot springs.
There is plenty of tourist agencies in Creel offering tours to all these destinations. Your hotel will also help you out in organizing your excursions. In my experience, other than booking the First Class train (usually sold out to tourist agencies for guided tours), if you are planning to ride the train in First Class, there is no need of much of pre-planning or advanced booking.
A traditional tourist destination, Cascada Cusárare (Cusárare Waterfall), a 30-minute drive from Creel, is a nice place to spend few hours or half a day. At time of my visit the 30 meter-high waterfall did not have much water (the best period is in summer) and was not impressive altogether, but the trail to get to the waterfall is enjoyable and fun. Plenty of Indians Tarahumara gather here to sell their merchandise, so the place is also a good spot for some Tarahumara people-watching and some handicraft shopping.
I stopped by the Cusárare Waterfall on the way back from Batopilas. You may combine the visit to the waterfall with some other attractions in the area (for instance Lago Arareko and the Valle de los Monjes) to fill the day. You need private transportation to get here. Every tourist agency organizes tours to the Cusárare Waterfall, otherwise hire a taxi.
In my view the best excursion out of Creel is the one to the old mining town of Batopilas, at the bottom of the canyon, 140 Km afar and 1,800 meters elevation below Creel. The attraction here is not only the lively town, one of Mexican hidden gems, but also, and especially, the drive to get there, affording terrific views of three different canyons (Copper, Urique and Batopilas canyons).
It takes a many-hour drive to get to Batopilas, part of which on dirty, narrow, and winding roads. I joined a guided tour from Creel and took me about seven hours including many stops for enjoying the panoramic views, for meals (you shall bring your own food with you) and biobreaks. There is also a daily bus departing early in the morning from Creel that I can't figure how it can make it through that steep and crooked road.
In the heyday of silver mining in XIX century Batopilas reached as many as 10,000 inhabitants; today there are only about 1,000 but the town is still lively with a pretty central square and some well-preserved colonial architecture. Batopilas also provide great chance for camping, along the banks of the river that flows through the village and the valley.
You will need to account at least two full days for an excursion to Batopilas; travel agencies offer two and three-day tours. I did the two-day tour and I wish I have had more time to spend here. I recommend you don't drive through Batopilas (see my Warning Tip) and hire a local driver instead.
A must-see sight for those who make it to Batopilas is the Catedral Perdida (Lost Cathedral) at Satepó. The Cathedral, a former Jesuit Mission originally built in late XVIII century, is well preserved but not impressive in itself; the setting, with the Cathedral nestled in the valley in the middle of nowhere, is beautiful and is the reason why you want to come here. Photos attached provide visual representation of what you will find. There are few homes around the Cathedral inhabited by indigenous Tarahumara.
The Lost Cathedral is located 8 Km (5 miles) outside Batopilas center. The hike, along the river, is pretty easy. As an alternative, a pick up truck or an SUV will get you there with a 30 minute off-road drive.
The lookout point on the mountain can be reached in 30 mins from the railway station. The street (Yermo Y Parres) leading to Mirador Cristo Rey is on the same side of the railway tracks as the two bus stations. There's even a bakery in the vicinity where you can pick up freshly baked buns, etc. (actually it's the only bakery we saw while in Creel).
If you want to visit Sinforosa Canyon as well as Batopilas, plan on spending two days, most of it on the road.
Sinforosa Canyon is well worth the visit, and it is a breathtaking sight to be so high up on the viewing platform and looking down the canyon. No pictures can do justice to these sights since they tend to turn out flat.
We arrived late at the Sinforosa park gate, paid admission (10 pesos? I forget...) and our truck was let in. By the time we got to the viewpoint it was almost getting dark. It was chilly as well. After taking in the view, we chanced it and drove down a crazy steep zig-zag trail to reach the Roslinda (or similar name) waterfall.......no really worth the danger involved but we had missed out on the two major waterfalls we had planned to see.
The public restroom in the park is weird (see pic).....no partition or doors between the toilets.
We rented a truck from the Three Amigos in Creel and drove to Batopilas. The drive through the highest and lowest points of the Copper Canyon was an adventure in its own right. Some parts of the dirt/gravel road hugged the cliffs and we were lucky our Kiwi driver was excellent in negotiating some hair-raising turns.
The canyon scenery was beautiful and majestic, and we saw lots of animals, esp goats.
We also visited "the Lost Cathedral" in Satevo, about an hour's drive(also on dirt road) from Batopilas along the river.
We took numerous excursions where we were driven in vans with a group to see amazing views, go hiking and enjoy hot springs. I would defnitely suggest this if you get to Copper Canyon.
I most suggest a big, multi-day hike with your tent, sleeping bag and supplies as these are always so rewarding but if you can't or don't want to do that you have to at least see some of the beauty by going on a group tour of a day hike and hot springs visit.
You pile into a van and go riding through the winding mountains (if you get car sick, you will get sick on this ride - have dramamine!). The driver will usually stop periodically to let y ou check out the viewpoints along the way and take photos. If it is a really long ride, you will stop somewhere along the way to have a meal at a cafe.
You will be dropped off at a hiking route and then will hike into the forested mountains for a a good long hike. Even thouhg it is very cold in the winter, once you start hiking you are not cold at all. I think in the summer it would be extrememly hot.
You hike in to find a hot springs to swim in. The springs areas were always amazing with huge rocks to climb over and a very scenic view up the thickly forested hills to where we had entered the hike.
The hike back up the hill can be very steep and difficult. Wear hiking boots! My calves were throbbing for the first few days we were hiking due to the hike back up each time.
Enjoy the spectacular natural scenery!!