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Mexico Guru

All Aboard the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway

The most popular way to visit the Copper Canyon, indeed the only route many people consider, is aboard the Chihuahua al Pacifico. Traversing switchbacks as well as more than a hundred tunnels and bridges, the narrow-gauge train journey is great fun for people of all ages. There’s a dining car and a bar, and in the passenger cars, swivel chairs are plush and comfortable. Windows might not always be as clean as you’d like, but they are large.

The 645-kilometer (400-mile) trip can be done in one shot (beginning either in Chihuahua, Chihuahua or Los Mochis, Sinaloa), although taking this 17-hour-long approach you’ll miss many wonderful experiences. Along the route are log-cabin lodges at Divisadero and Creel with massive stone fireplaces and incredible canyon vistas. Spend a night or two here, where the flat blue sky punctuated with fat white clouds looks straight out of a Simpsons cartoon. Before continuing the journey, ride a horse or take a walk or van tour lead to simple Tarahumara homes where women in flower-print skirts cook meals over wood-burning stoves and little kids tend goats in rock-strewn meadows.

It doesn’t cost extra to make stopovers along the train route, but you should book them in advance. Although the journey can be taken in either direction, heading west to east promises the most spectacular canyon scenery. Rich fields of rice and cotton, alfalfa, tomatoes, and sugar cane near the coast give way to forests of scrub oak and aromatic mesquite, and soon the first glimpses of the magnificent canyons. Then the railway gains nearly 1,067 meters (3,500 feet) in elevation in just 137 km (85 miles), so it’s no surprise that this stretch---between Temoris and Creel stations---boasts the most astonishing scenery and feats of engineering.