Backpacking & Canyon Train Ride: Copper Canyon, Mexico

By the time we got to Creel, we were exhausted from 20+ hours of non-stop buses. Luckily, we found a great little place to stay called Huespedes De Margarita. And as soon as we got into our room, we hit the bed for a much deserved nap.
20h on the airplane, almost 20h on the bus and I’m in the middle of Mexico on the top of the copper canyon, rushing to set up the tent before the storm hits us…

After we rested, we went out to explore the town – cute – not much to tell about though. Next we set out to figure out how we would explore the canyon. It seemed everyone in town had a different answer for us (typical in Mexico), and after asking just about everyone, we decided we would head for Batopilas & from there we would hopefully take a 3 day expedition across the Canyon to Urique (supposedly the most beautiful route).

That night the ladies at Margarita’s served us an incredible dinner – probably our BEST meal so far – but I’m a real sucker for home-style cooking. Later on, we heard singing from the main plaza, so we walked over to check out what the fiesta was all about.

When we got there, we saw a big group of people all singing & dancing together. We watched from the side, not really trying to join in, but after a few minutes, they all said, “Nuevas, nuevas” and started chanting for us to dance in the middle. They wouldn’t take no for an answer, and once we started dancing, they all shouted, “Beso, beso, beso,” meaning they wanted us to kiss. Again, no was not an option, so I pulled Vasilisa in and gave her a big kiss & they all cheered.

Now, whoever says Mexico is dangerous, we still haven’t seen the least bit of danger – just kind-hearted, genuine people like this. Yes, the border towns may be dangerous, but the rest is just fine by me!

This story had begun in a small town called Creel which was our start point to explore the Cooper canyon. We wondered around the town for a while. It appeared to be very nice and everything seemed different and new. I was still suffering from the time difference in 10h with my motherland so I spend the rest of the day napping in our hotel. A short promenade in the evening ended up 200m from the hotel at the main square, where a group of Mexican tourists was dancing. They immediately noticed “not from here couple”, they surrounded us yelling “Nuevo, nuevo!” so there was no other choice but to join their dancing. It was fun and a nice Mexico welcome!

Next morning we got on the “bus” that took us to the bottom of the Cooper canyon – to the village called Batopilas. The bus was somewhat close to the Russian “marshrutka” (a small shuttle buses that runs around Moscow). The road “marshrutka” was taking us was stunning. The views from the windows wee amazing. The road itself was scary. It was one vehicle road just enough for our “marshrutka” to fall off the cliff. Besides that it crossed few waterfalls that were running just in the middle of the road and somehow managed to pass few coming the other way cars. All this didn’t stop Josh from falling asleep – I knew that he is falling asleep every time in a moving vehicle but I couldn’t imagine that this one would as easy.

Vasilisa on the luggage rack to Batopilas

Vasilisa on the luggage rack to Batopilas!

The next morning, we had another great meal at Margaritas and were off to Batopilas. The ride was shaky & uncomfortable, yet beautiful – with breathtaking views of the canyon from the windy rode above.

Once we got to Batopilas, we were starved, so we ate lunch at pretty much the only place in town. We asked someone at another table about getting a guide to Urique, and in such a small town, it took no more than 10 minutes for an elderly man to walk up to our table, introduce himself as the town guide, and offer his services.

He wanted 4,500 pesos (like 400 bucks) to guide us all the way to Urique, but we told him we couldn’t afford that. He wouldn’t negotiate at all (unusual in Mexico), but eventually we convinced him to take us for just one day for the most difficult part and then draw us a map for the rest of the way to Urique. We gave him a 100 peso down payment and he said he’d see us at 6:00 the next morning. I tried my best not to show my surprise at the early start time as I said, “Si, si, muy bien” – yeah right!

I cringed as our alarm sounded off at 5:30, and went to wash up and pound some food before our expedition. As if 6 o’clock wasn’t early enough, our guide Librado showed up 20 minutes early! And once we were ready, he took our packs & water (weighing about 100 pounds) and loaded them up on the mule. I felt sorry for the poor mule, as he did not look the least bit happy, and I was convinced he might topple over.

We began hiking up the river, constantly crossing back and forth over the water. I thought I was so smart & well prepared wearing my new Vasque, gortex, heavy duty hiking boots, in stark contrast to Vasilisa’s flip-flop sandals. And as we hiked up, we discovered that our “guide” Librado did little more than to guide us with his persistent hacking cough & his annoyance with any stops we wanted to take. He offered no explanation of the area or the ecology – so basically he was just an old guy with a pack mule. We stopped every once in a while anyways to take in the amazing views of Batopilas valley & the surrounding canyon.

Now by the time we were about 2/3 up the ascent, Vasilisa was happily trotting ahead in her light-weight sandals, which I had secretly mocked earlier in the hike. And in my heavy hiking boots, I was barely moving forward as I huffed and puffed with each step. The only thing louder than me was Librado’s 100 year-old smoker’s cough.

Vasilisa finally convinced me to trade up my heavy hiking boots for light-weight sneakers. The sneakers were definitely better, but I was already exhausted from my ill-fitted ascent, and on top of it all, the sun was beating down at 100 degrees, and I had failed to wear a hat. By the time we reached the top, I nearly passed out from, and Vasilisa got me a hat & poured water all over me.

No longer feeling bad for the mule, I put my lightweight backpack on top of him & continued on after a long & well-deserved break/lunch. I would have taken an even longer break, but Librado kept saying vamanos, so we continued on.

Despite the sun stroke & Librado’s cough, the scenery was amazing & I did enjoy the hike. And a few hours later, we made it to the ridge overlooking both Batopilas & Urique valleys. The view was stunning (see pictures)!

At this point, Librado told us we would camp here and took our packs off the mule. We were a both stunned, as there was NO water, & in my training I’ve always been taught not to camp on high ridges to avoid heavy wind & lightning storms, but he was the “guide” after all, and I wasn’t about to hike any further with my now 60 pound backpack. So Librado pointed out Urique for us, gave us very vague directions for the rest of the hike (he had previously promised to draw us a map), and we paid him, took some pictures, and said goodbye.

I was exhausted, so I took a nice long nap while Vasilisa went to look for a better place to camp with a river & shade, hopefully. I told her I wasn’t walking any more today pretty much no matter what she found, but she wanted to scout ahead anyway, and all I wanted to do was to sleep!

Just was she made it back from her little scouting trip, the clouds were approaching along with thunder & lightning, so we set up camp as quickly as we could & took cover inside the tent just as the storm hit us. We were both scared to death from the loud bursts of thunder & lightning, especially since we were so high up and there were few things higher than us (meaning we were prime candidates for the lightning!). But we were lucky as the storm passed quickly. Some “guide” Librado was though – he’s definitely not getting any recommendations from me!

Overall we had a fantastic experience and finally got safely to Batopilas, where with the help of “Lonely Planet” we easily found a place so spend the night. At the lunch we asked if anybody knows a guide who can take us to hike the canyon. The only information we had was that it is a 3-day hike from Batopilas to Urique, hot having a map we just had a broad idea of where we were going to. We didn’t have a chance to finish our lunch as the guide named Librado appeared to offer his service. He started at 4000 pesos (~$313) that was a bit of our budget. Our negotiations ended up at 1000 pesos (~$78) and it was just enough to cover guidance for the first day and a map plus further instructions for the rest of the hike.

At 6 am next morning our backpacks we placed on the back of the mule and we started. It was a beautiful way up from 500m to 2200m that overlooks the canyon. The more we went up the better views we got. The way up was exhausting, the sun was stronger than ever and the pass was very steep. To be honest I do not think I’ll be able to do this way with my 15kl backpack on. We reached the top around 3 p.m. – that made it about 9h of walking for the first day.

Vasilisa hiking Copper Canyon.

Vasilisa hiking Copper Canyon.

Joshua hiking Copper Canyon.

Joshua hiking Copper Canyon.

“You will sleep here” – said the guide, then he pointed to the village far down at the bottom of the other canyon and his further instructions sounded more or less like: “the village down there is where you want to go. Once you reach the big river – turn left and follow it until the road where you can catch a car. It will take 1-2 days to get there.” He didn’t left any map for us and left us shortly as the storm was coming soon.

Our "guide" Librado and his pack mule.

Our “guide” Librado and his pack mule.

At this point we were left at the very top of the mountain chain – it was a flat Plateau with a few cactus and dwarf trees growing around. No water, no shade, strong wind. I made a short detour down looking for a better place to stay or at least water, as we had just 5 liters left.

By the time I got back from my small expedition that ended up with nothing it was about to rain. We sat up the tent in about 5 minutes including putting everything we had and ourselves inside. The storm was more than scary. Thunder and lightning seemed to surround us. We were sitting next to each other in the tent exactly as in the Russian cartoon below:



Once the storm passed, I collected firewood from around the ridge, tore out some useless pages from our Mexican camping book, and started a nice fire/oven for keeping warm, scaring off bugs & roasting sausages. I was so hungry after the days hike that the sausages & crushed up bread from our packs tasted like a 5 star meal. And even though my pad was ripped from the mule & couldn’t blow up, I slept like a baby.

Finally the storm was gone, the view from the top was something increadble, something I have never seen before. We made the fire thanks to the “Camping in Mexico” book. Josh was choosing the pages very carefully.

Sausages and cheese, toasts and backed potatoes – for dinner, mmm.

Joshua fireman on peak overlooking Urique Canyon.

Joshua fireman on peak overlooking Urique Canyon.

Sunrise overlooking Urique Canyon.

Sunrise overlooking Urique Canyon.

The next day, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise over Urique canyon & made ourselves oatmeal with sweetened condensed milk & coffee (our favorite camping breakfast). Our water supply was down to about a liter & a half though, and the heat was intense as we walked with our loaded packs for what seemed to be forever. But we used our instincts & only got a little lost once when we wandered off route towards what was most likely a pot plantation (you have to watch out for this in Copper Canyon).

Towards the end, the river was in our site for probably 3 hours, and it seemed to remain just as far away from us even though we kept on descending towards it. Vasilisa finally gave out towards the end & snuck water from a stream I never would have considered – it was more like a trickle of water falling down the mountain side. And about 30 minutes later, after walking all day through the canyon with little water at all, hardly able to walk another step, we reached the river.

I t felt so good to swim in the water, and I drank at least a liter of water immediately. We swam, and drank, and bathed, and it felt like we were in paradise. We camped by the river that night & we ate a huge feast courtesy of Vasilisa – pasta with sausages & salsa fresca. I ate my entire portion and half of Vasilisa’s too, along with a couple more liters of water. Bloated and happy, we slept like babies next to the river.

When I woke up the next morning, I met a local kid who helped me start a fire to roast up our remaining sausages. I tried to make our remaining oatmeal to go along with the meal, but I burnt it. We seemed to be getting low on food, but we weren’t worried because this day should be our last.

We shared a sausage with the boy, and then we got our things together to leave. As we packed up, more and more locals gathered near us & watched – girls on one side, guys on the other. We felt like we were in a zoo, and we were the main attraction.

We finally left around mid-day, and we hiked towards the river as Librado had said to do. The entire day was a river hike, crossing back & worth. I t was beautiful – butterflies, donkeys, cows, snakes, lots of plant life, small waterfalls & birds. But by dark, we had still not reached the big river & would have to camp another night.

All we had left for dinner was rice, and I ate a little bit and saved the rest for the morning. The next morning we ate the rice along with a can of tuna – a sort of hiker’s sushi – and we packed up & left quickly, thinking we must only have an hour more max until we’d be done.

To make a long story short, we had an entire days hike left, and Librado’s directions were not working out. We reached the main river, and then we met a guy who told us we had to backtrack up the river 30 minutes (meaning 2 hours for us!). Then we had to cross over a different small ridge, and finally make it within site of the nearest town.

Luckily, we met a nice guy with a mule, who carried our packs for the last 2 hours (which would have been at least 6 otherwise!). And finally, after 4 long days of hiking, we were done.

From the little town, we found a guy with a car who offered to take us. At first he wanted like 50 bucks, trying to rip us off for as much as he could, but I negotiated him down to like 20 dollars. Then he lied down to wait for the sun to get lower.

After an hour of waiting, he got up to go, but before we left, he strangely siphoned out some of his gas, fixed one of his tires, etc. etc. And then, when he had finally finished and we had no other options, he started telling me we would have to pay more or start walking. Angry, I negotiated with him again to 30 bucks, and we left.

After bouncing around in his old beaten up truck for about 20 minutes, he luckily ran out of gas (like I said he had siphoned most of his gas before we left). At this point I was pissed and got a weird feeling about this prick, so I jumped out and flagged down the next truck, paid him 10 bucks & caught a ride all the way to Urique – this time – for FREE!

We spent the night in Urique, a cute little town on the river, and the next day we headed for Bauchivo to take the Copper Canyon Train, recognized as the most beautiful train ride in the world.

And it was – curving around the canyon – through tunnels, over bridges, next to takes & waterfalls – it was beautiful. We spent most of our time outside the train between the cars watching the view from the side door – something they would never allow back home. It was an amazing way to end our trip – a train ride I’ll never forget!

The second day was supposed to be easy as we had to go down. At the start point we had 1,5 liters of water and our backpacks on. “There is only one track down – you can’t get lost” – Librado promised – and we got lost at least 3 times. The sun was as strong as the day before and as we continued to go down less water were left and no streams on the way. Sometime around 3:30pm we were out of water and a long way to go. An hour later I told Josh I can’t go any further and that I wanted to leave my backpack and run down until reach the river. Luckily we had a corn can and few seeps of the corn water brought me back to life and we moved on. Down, down and again down, the backpack was getting heavier every minute and the body temperature higher – I was done but we still had a way to go. I was lucky again as we passed a small creek! It was the best creek ever – nothing could be better at that moment (though it took us about 10-15 min. to feel up 1 liter bottle). We reached the river around 6pm, we couldn’t stop basing and drinking for about an hour – it was our small celebration. We pinched a tent next to the river and made pasta with salsa and sausages…mmm

View overlooking Urique Canyon & rivers.

View overlooking Urique Canyon & rivers.

our third day was to be the lust hiking day, so we were hoping to reach Urique (the village we saw from the top). The directions seemed to be simple as I figured that the small river goes down to the big one and once the connection is reached we are good. So we enjoyed the river, stopped for the lunch break, swam in the waterfall… We walked and walked and walked willing to reach the big river… at 8 p.m. we were still walking. It was getting dark and at this point we realized we are not reaching Urique that day=). As we set up the tent – I immediately fell asleep, not even having a dinner.

We woke up early, rice and tuna for breakfast (hiking sushi) – and we were almost out of food. We were not sure if we were to reach Urique by the end of the day, but we got lucky again. Even more then lucky as we turned left at the big river- we met a local guy. We expected him to tell us that Urique is somewhere very near, but no, he told us that the way we were going wasn’t the way to Urique at all. Instead he send up back up the small river pass the place we were camping the night before where after 30 minutes walk we had to find two rivers meeting each other and a pass going up the mountain range. 30min ended up to be about 2 hours for us, but we did find a track and more than that after climbing up the mountain we got lucky again! This time we met another local and that local not only knew where to go but also had a mule! 100pesos and our backpacks were fixed on the mule and 2hours later we reached the road. There was a small local store at the side of the road where one of the men promised to take us to the town. With curiosity we watched the driver taking all the gasoline out of the car with the flat tire. Then we watched him fixing the tire on the same car and next putting our bags in the same car. He started to rise up the price before going but the negotiations ended when he saw another car coming – so he started the car. In the middle of the road – our super shuttle run out of gas (which was not surprising, surprising was that our driver offered us to wait until he gets it. We paid him half the price and easily got a free ride to our final destination. At 8 we were in Urique!

Our transfer men at work preparing to take us to Urique.

Our transfer men at work preparing to take us to Urique.

The train we took next morning was as if from the fairy tale. It went all the way from 2200 down to the sea level most of the trip we spent standing in between the cars watching the head of the train taking us through the mountains, canyons, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, bridges and tunnels. We were on our way to the next adventure…

Copper Canyon Train Ride #1

Copper Canyon Train Ride #1

Copper Canyon Train Ride #2

Copper Canyon Train Ride #2

Copper Canyon Train Ride #5

Copper Canyon Train Ride #5

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This article has 3 comments so far!

  1. Ben Arnon says —

    Nice stuff!

  2. Julie says —

    WOW – Everything sounds amazing! I am so glad that I didn’t know that you hiked so far and long without a guide until now since I know you are safe and in Peru! Your writings are wonderful and it sounds like you truly had a great time at the Canyon and all throughout Mexico. Keep writing and please get us up to date as I know you were in Mexico a month ago plus you went to Guatamala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and now Peru. I love your writings and your stories and I can’t wait to read more. Take care of each other,
    Mom

  3. Julie says —

    P.S. Joslyn and Steve had a beautiful healthy baby girl today. So, your newest cousin is SIENNA GISELE CROWE. Love you,
    Mom

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