Partial exams are about to begin, so what is the best way to procrastinate? By planning some new travels! Whilst scrolling through Skyscanner and Hostelworld and begging my bank account to forgive me for all the money I’m about to lose, it’s made me reminisce on one of my favourite adventures yet in Mexico.
Going to Mexico, I knew very well that Mexico boasts an array of incredible beaches and some of the clearest oceans in the world. But I had no idea of the extent of beauty that awaited me in this country. El Chepe opened up to a side of Mexico I had no idea existed.
One train, two states and a four and a half hour hike later, here we have a travel guide to El Chepe…
*All the information in this blog about El Chepe has been taken from their official website.
What is El Chepe?
Poetically, El Chepe is a train that allows you to escape from the hustle a bustle
and contamination that comes with the big city life by transporting you into the biodiversity that Mexico provides.
Realistically, El Chepe is a train that travels 653km (or 405.75 miles) across the northern states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa through the incredible Barrancas del Cobre or Copper Canyon. It is the last remaining long-distance passenger railway service in Mexico, and if you’re reading this you need to go there.
From start to finish, the whole journey (on Chepe Regional) is 16 hours, whereas the journey on Chepe Express is 9 hours, but which stops you choose to get off at is up to you.
I travelled with some friends and we began our journey in Culiacán, a coastal city in Sinaloa and took a bus to Los Mochis, where our journey on the train began.
Which ticket to buy?
There are 2 main types of tickets you can choose on an adventure on the train.
- Chepe Express
Within Chepe Express, there are 2 categories and 2 sub categories:
- Chepe Express Executive: this can be a one way or round trip ticket.
- Chepe Express Tourist: this can be one way or round trip ticket.
Regardless of whether you choose a Chepe Express Executive or Express Tourist, you will be on the same train as others with different tickets to you, just sitting in a different part of the train.
When taking the Chepe Express one has the ability to get off the train at: Creel, Divasdero (for Barrancas del Cobre), El Fuerte or Los Mochis.
- Chepe Regional
Within the Chepe Regional, there are 2 categories:
- Chepe Regional Tourist
- Chepe Regional Economy
This options allows you to travel to a larger number of stations, including: Chihuahua, Cuahutemoc, San Juanito, Creel, Pitorreal, Divasadero, Posada Barrancas (for Barrancas del Cobre), San Rafael, Cuiteco, Bahuichivo, Témoris, El Fuerte and Los Mochis.
With this option you’re permitted to leave the train at 3 different stations, at no extra cost. But YOU have to accommodate your journey accordingly to the frequency of the trains. For example, if you get the train from Los Mochis to El Fuerte on a Friday, you will have to stay at least 2 nights in El Fuerte and leave for your next stop on Sunday at the earliest because the next train won’t arrive until Sunday.
Important to note:
Depending on the direction in which you’re traveling to, will depend on the day and time the train will arrive. Chepe Express departs from Creel at 07:35 and arrives at Los Mochis at 16:35 every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
Or you can get the train in the other direction which departs from Los Mochis at 07:30 and arrives at Creel at 17:14 on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
From these options you’re only allowed to get off the train at 2 different stations for no extra cost. For example, lets say you get the train at Los Mochis to Divasadero on a Saturday you’ll stay in Divasadero until Monday (unless you choose to stay longer) because that’s when the next train is.
Where did we go?
Our journey on El Chepe was nothing short of fantastic. As a Brit, I’ve been on a train a lot of times, but you’ll never get an experience like El Chepe in England. We chose to use take Chepe Regional Economy route. Why? A couple of reasons.
- Ya girl is coda!
Yes, I am an international student but I’m still a student so I wanted to keep things as affordable and as good value for money as possible.
- We knew where we wanted to go
Through research – thank God for Youtube – we already had a good sense of what stations we wanted to get off at and where to explore. This worked out perfectly because we were most enthusiastic about 3 stops.
What to do?
Although Culiacán isn’t a stop on El Chepe, it is easy to fly to from Monterrey and is a good starting point as well.
We got a wonderful tour of the town from our AirBnb host Paco, who showed us what this cute little town had to offer. Unfortunately for us the rain got in the way shortly after this photo was taken and forced us to retreat back to the safety of our AirBnb.
Other things to do:
- Spend an afternoon in the Zoológico de Culiacán .
- Explore the Jardín Botánico de Culiacán.
‘El Fuerte’ in Spanish means fortress in English, so it’s only fitting for there to be an immaculate fortress located in this town!
- Whilst it’s only a replica of the original 18th century fortress, you need to take photos of it!
- Cycle beside or kayak on the lake for all the active folk, or get cosy with a good Spotify playlist like us and relax.
- As with all pueblos magicós that you visit in Mexico, it’s customary to get a photo taken by the sign.
Without a shadow of a doubt this remains my favourite stop on our El Chepe journey because this is where we got off to visit Las Barrancas del Cobre, or the Copper Canyon. As a whole, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is split into separate canyons by 6 rivers and overs over 25,000 square miles.
Fun fact: the Copper Canyon as a whole is over 4 times larger than the Grand Canyon
- Between El Fuerte and Posada Barrancas you HAVE TO take pictures. Get out of your seat, open one of the windows and get your camera ready because this is where we saw the most incredible views of the whole train journey. The train goes through a breathtaking part of the canyon, you cross bridges, go through tunnels, then see some of the rivers that divide the canyon.
- You have to visit the canyons, you can take the teleférico (cable car), cycle or hike like we did. It took us 4 and a half hours to hike through one of the canyons.
- If you’re feeling adventurous, this is the place to be!! Go zip lining, and climb bridges in the middle of one of the biggest canyons in the world with Parque de Aventuras en Las Barrancas del Cobre
- Bring your camera so you don’t miss the spectacular view points around the canyon, which give up incredible landscapes of the whole area!
- Visit the Cascada Cusárare. There were barely any people when we visited – thanks to the cold weather in December.
- Get to know the Tarahumara tribe who live in Creel, they gained international recognition for their long-distance running, whilst I personally am I big fan of their long, colourful skirts. We were taken by our AirBnb host to a cave where a Tarahumara family lived and learned that hundreds of years of generations of Tarahumara have lived in caves in the mountains of Chihuahua and it is a tradition that they’re proud of.
- Visit the rock valleys. Yes, I know it sounds strange, but these rocks in the shape of hongos mushrooms, ranas frogs, y monjes monks. Don’t believe me? Check them out yourself on a visit to Creel.
- We were fortunate enough to witness a true Mexican holiday, December 12, the birthday of the Virgin of Guadalupe. If you’re in Creel on this day head to the centre of the town and witness a parade of trucks as all the townspeople join in celebration of this day.
Our last stop on this journey was Chihuahua, the capital city of the state of Chihuahua. And I was very excited about this stop. Why? Because I’m a sucker for history.
- Spend the day in the Museo de la Revolución and visit Francisco “Pancho” Villa, one of the leading figures in the Mexican Revolution against the government of Porfirio Díaz.
- Walk around Plaza de Armas in the centre of the city where you can see the big chihuahua – the best meeting spot if you want to separate from your group.
- Explore Grutas Nombre de Dios, a really awesome and hidden cave just outside the city and accessible by Uber.
- Feel tranquility in La Catedral de Chihuahua located in the middle of Plaza de Armas, just walk right in.
Where we stayed
Finding somewhere to stay on a low budget between 3 people wasn’t the easiest thing to do at first, but thanks to AirBnb we got there. Whilst one of our stays was in a hotel – I wish it was a boujee hotel, but it wasn’t :'( – the rest of our stays were in AirBnbs. Most of stays were good, others weren’t exaaaactly recommendable. But here are some that I think you should definitely stay at along your trip.
Top tip: Book early!!
Summer is the high season in the Posada Barrancas area due to the popularity of the outdoors activities, but if you’re on a budget like we were, booking in advance gives you more options and will definitely help you save money in the long run.
Not signed up to AirBnb yet?
You can use my code below to sign up and save on your first trip!
How much did it cost?
(Flight) Monterrey to Culiacán: MXN$1,150.71 / £45.01*
(Bus) Culiacán to Los Mochis: MXN$135 / £5.28*
Los Mochis to El Fuerte: MXN$348 / £13.61*
El Fuerte to Posada Barrancas: MXN$617 / £24.13*
Posada Barrancas to Creel: MXN$348 / £13.61*
(Bus) Creel to Chihuahua: MXN$300 (roughly – I can’t remember exactly) / £11.73*
(Flight) Chihuahua to Monterrey: MXN$1,182.05 / £46.23*
Total cost: MXN$4,080.76 / £159.62*
*when the exchange rate is £1 = MXN$25.5647
This total cost only includes transportation – costs of accommodation, taxis, Ubers, food and tours have not been included and depend on the individual.
If I did it again…
If I were to go on El Chepe again there definitely would be things that I would change. Firstly, I would have taken the bus from Posada Barrancas (the stop for Barrancas del Cobre) to Creel. We were told by a couple who had been travelling in the opposite direction as us, whom we met in Posada Barrancas to expect ‘breathtaking’ views when going to Creel on the train – but they weren’t. So I would take a bus to Creel and save some pesos and maybe buy some handmade crafts (artesanías) with my extra money.
I would pack more warm clothes because boooy, there is no central heating or insulation in houses in Mexico. We were given heaters, but they weren’t very useful when the hot air didn’t stay in the house. But that is the luxury of living in a country that is predominantly warm throughout the year.
All in all, this was an incredible journey full of laughter, nature lots of Mexican history.
So what are you waiting for? Head down to Chihuahua and Sinaloa and tell me all about it!
Abrazos y besos
Subscribe below for more Ventures with Vimbai!