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Mexico's Copper Canyon: On A Budget
In a long exchange of emails, Carl describes how to make the most of your Copper Canyon trip, on a limited budget. Includes itinerary suggestions, guides in Batopilas and much more.

Mexico's Copper Canyon: On A Budget
Batopilas overlook. A steep hike!

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By Carl Franz
Posted Monday, January 15, 2001

Dear Carl & Lorena

I am a devoted reader of the Peoples Guide - I have given away 15 copies of your book and replaced mine 3 times. I urge booksellers to order it when they don't have it and have returned to find all copies already sold - it warms my heart. Your book has offered me much assistance in my few forays into Mexico; where I have not yet left the beach.

In early November I am planning a last minute trip to Copper Canyon, with a Mexico newbie. We are both hardy outdoor types from New Mexico/Colorado. We cannot afford your tour, but understand we will need a guide. We are taking the train, starting in Chihuahua. I'd like to hit the Falls and also Batopilas.

My question is this; will it be relatively easy to find guides for day hiking, perhaps one overnight in Batopilas -- and is camping easily procured? We have all our own gear and are independent types. If we are tired and worn, will hotels/hostels be easily obtainable in November? The hotels/lodges available on the web are fairly pricey -- I'm looking to scale that down and make this trip affordable. We have 9 days.

Any advice or direction you could point me in would be heartily accepted and greatly appreciated -

thank you!


Carl replies:

Whenever I'm asked to comment on the rather remarkable longevity of the People's Guide, I simply point to letters such as yours. Without readers and supporters such as you, I'd be probably be plucking chickens in Arkansas by now. Thanks, Sheri... we really do appreciate what you've done for the "PG".

Having said that, we are obviously in your debt in a deep way, so I want to give more than quick answers to your questions about the Copper Canyon. To do that, however, I could use some more information:

What dates will you be travelling? (Some of my guide friends will be busy.)

You say that you'd like to "hit the Falls". Basaseachic is quite a way from the train route, and might be more of a detour than your time will allow. Please tell me how much you can spend for both guides and hotels, and I will work out a plan for you.

Last, how will you get there, from where?

As it happens, I'll also be in the Canyons in November... perhaps our trails will cross?



Thank you for your quick response! This is an amazingly helpful service you are offering me, here, I feel better already.

Our travel dates are early November. There are two of us. We live in Silver City, NM, so we will drive to El Paso (a short 2 1/2 hr drive). I am still working out whether to head over the border that afternoon (bus) and catch a bus to Chihuahua, arriving in the evening, spend the night there and then catch the train to Creel the next morning.

This is flexible. I was thinking of spending a couple days in La Bufa or Batopilas, and then going to Basaseachic Falls. Other than hearing the train trip is awesome, I have no goals other than a train trip for Justin (a train virgin), being outside, experiencing the Canyons, and moving fairly slowly (not usually a problem in Mexico...).

Therefore, any itinerary you should suggest would be followed...and it would be great to meet you, should our trails cross!

We have a total budget of about $900 to spend once we cross the border. This includes transport, guides, hotels and food, for both of us. We are quite open to backpacking, burro travel, whatever -- and will be travelling with all appropriate gear. 

In short, we are very flexible, short on cash, hardy, and excited about a short Canyon vacation...hopefully Justin will get hooked on Mexico...

I look forward to your advice!

Carl again:

I've been mulling over possible itineraries for you and have come to the conclusion that we need to bat this back and forth a little more, as there are so many good possibilities. Your budget sounds fine and your proximity to the border is enviable. With any luck, you and Justin will become serious canyon aficionados, because there's far more than anyone can see in less than several months -- and even years.

First of all, giving Justin a memorable train experience seems to be a priority, correct? I'm going to assume "yes", and plan from there.

Second, Basaseachic is a great place, but I suggest that you save it for your next trip. It is out of the way and visiting it this time will force you to travel at a faster pace. As you suggest, going slow is going to make a better trip, especially for Justin's initiation into Mexico.

As an aside, and a thought for the future: there is a wonderful, virtually unknown route into the canyon country from Columbus, NM. It goes like this:

-- Columbus to Janos to Nuevo Casas Grandes (the ruins and museum at Paquime are great; closed Monday). If you're driving and are interested in fine pottery, visit the village of Mata Ortiz.

-- Nuevo Casas Grandes to Buenaventura; turn onto Mex 10, continue to Gomez Farias, and from there to Madera (the maps get a little vague, but locals can point the way. Good roads, beautiful country.)

-- Madera is a prosperous timber/ranch town that may one day become another tourism gateway into the canyons. I've yet to thoroughly explore this area, but what little I've seen and read really fires me up. There are many unvisited Indian cave dwellings in the region, hotsprings, rivers, etc. Just to the north, the cliff dwellings of Cuarenta Casas are very impressive (no camping). There is a campground just north of Madera, on the right side of the highwayby a small lake.

-- From Madera, continue south toward Ciudad Cuauhtemoc on Mex 16 via Temosachic... or maybe you cut over to Pena Blanca... I can't remember, but Lorena has our road log so when you're ready, just ask :)

The route above is almost entirely on good paved 2 lane through mixed grasslands and highland forest, with few people and virtually no traffic. The kind of country that makes you want to saddle up Trigger and ride west.

I'm digressing.... For your trip, take the bus from Juarez to Chihuahua City (4.5 hours) and overnight there. If you want a cheap hotel downtown, there's the San Juan, a serious cowboy experience best avoided on weekends, or my favorite, the Posada Aida, on the edge of the honky tonk district. Calle 10a #105 between Juarez and Doblado. Very cheap, very clean, noisy and safe. I don't have a current guidebook, but more comfortable rooms are in the $35 range and up, such as Hotel Campanero.

The train leaves at the crack of dawn... I believe it is 6 a.m. It has been refurbished, and now has a decent dining car. Shouldn't take more than 15 20 minutes to get there from your hotel. If you need any last minute supplies, or want a croissant for breakfast, there's a huge Soriana supermarket a few blocks from the central plaza.

Okay, once you get into the high sierra, you have two major choices:

1) Get off the train in Creel , chose from many inexpensive hotels, take local dayhikes and fine mountain bike rides (ask for Arturo at Expediciones Umarike), then continue by hair-raising bus to Batopilas for your major canyon experience, further dayhikes, etc.

2) Ride the train past Creel (or get off, spend a night or two, then get back on the train... no extra charge) and continue on to Bahuichivo . A bus will take you from Bahuichivo to the mountain village of Cerocahui (cheap hotels, day hikes, horses) and/or on to the bottom of the Urique canyon and the small town of Urique (campground, cheap hotels, day hikes, etc.).

Return via bus to the train, and via train to Creel, or Areponapuchic (described below) or all the way back to Chihuahua, or... train to Creel, then transfer to the bus to Ciudad Cuauhtemoc and bus from there directly to Juarez (faster).

Are you still with me?

3) If so, here's another option, a rather impressive loop trip: train to Creel (explore locally), bus to Batopilas... hire local guide with burro or mule and hike to Urique (2-3 days), explore Urique, bus to Bahuichivo, train to Creel, etc.

4) Yet another option: The expensive hotels that sit on the canyon rim at Divisadero and Estacion Barrancas/Areponapuchic are no longer the only lodging available. In the last couple of years, locals have built small hotel-like lodges that charge about $25 a day, double. One of these is owned by a friend's family, Dolores ("Lola") and Guillermo Gonsalez: Cabanas Areponapuchic Barrancas. It is located 4 km from Divisadero train stop, on the edge of the village of Areponapuchic. Lola sells food at the train station in Divisadero, and drives a van with "Turismo Barrancas Tours" on the side. Everyone knows everyone there, so just ask. She will take you to their hotel. Or, walk there from Divisadero, or get off the train at Estacion Posada Barrancas -- it is less than a mile to their place.

The Gonzales family offers horses and burro packing, serve good meals (about $4 each), and generally do a very nice job of hosting. I not only like these folks, but their little lodge is ideally located to hike the rim, or even to hike down to the bottom of the Urique canyon itself. You could do this on your own, or better yet, overnight with burro support.

Creel: a small town of perhaps 5,000 with lots of hotels. The food choices aren't great, but in my opinion and that of the locals it's a "no brainer": eat at the Tungar, also know as the Hangover Hospital (Hospital de Crudos. This small cafe is right next to the train tracks, between the Mission Store and train depot. If you eat meat, be sure to try their burritos de barbacoa. The seafood is also excellent (comes directly from Mochis on the train). My second choice is Veronica's, on main street.

As for the Batopilas option, I'll let you mull the ideas above before I expand on that.

Sheri again:

We chewed on your suggestions last night, and, after cleaning up all the drool, decided that the loop you came up with sounds quite intriguing. A fine combination of contemplation and trekking. The suggestion was train to Creel (mountain biking...hmmmm), bus to Batopilas (explore), hire local guide w/ burro and hike to Urique, hang in Urique, bus to Bahuichivo, train to Creel, bus to Juarez. This loop feels bendable enough (time wise) to allow for life to do its thing unimpeded. 

(the driving route from Columbus, NM sounds wonderful and we have it filed for future exploration - thanks!)


1) How much can we expect to pay for a guide/burro, and what is the best method for procuring said services in Batopilas? 

2) For backpacking, should we be bringing in our food supplies for the trek to Urique or will we find supplies in Batopilas (we cook)? 

3) Will the guide have enough water containers for that length of time or should we bring water containment (as a backpacking New Mexican, hydration is a constant source of concern and weight - especially when there is 'always water this time of year')? We have water purification ability.

Also, you made reference to expounding on Batopilas -

I'm so excited...

We are truly appreciative of your time! Sheri

Carl replies:

Question #1) How much can we expect to pay for a guide/burro, and what is the best method for procuring said services in Batopilas? 

Answer: This is very negotiable, and depends a great deal on whether or not a guide has been getting work lately. My guess is that you'll pay about $30 a day for the guide and his mount, and maybe another $15 daily for a pack animal to carry your gear. Could be less, but don't try to drive a hard bargain; these are proud people and it will be counter-productive.

You also pay for the food.

Since you'll be doing a one-way trip, you'll negotiate a package that includes the guide's time to return (which should be about a day, or a day and a half).

I always recommend Trinidad "Trini" Rodriguez. He has good animals and is a serious, likeable fellow who shares our love of gardening! Trini used to live just upstream of the big bridge (as you enter Batopilas) but there's been some road construction in that area, so he may have had to move. Batopilas is a very tight community, however, so everyone knows everyone.

My second choices are "don" Juan Cruz (though he may have reached retirement, he will help you find someone) and Manuel Gil. Manuel didn't have animals when we were there, but he is a very fine foot guide, ex-constable, and will give you help.

I haven't done the route from Batopilas to Urique myself, but have interviewed many people, both gringos and guides, who have. My conclusion is that it is a good trip, but if you have more time and can afford it, there's also a longer, more scenic option via a highland trail. Trini knows this route well. I believe he told me it could be done comfortably in about 4 days, but my memory is vague. If you could do this, all the better.

Question # 2) For backpacking, should we be bringing in our food supplies for the trek to Urique or will we find supplies in Batopilas (we cook)?

Answer: Batopilas has basic staples, candy bars, Ramen soups and so forth, but it is a very small town, at the end of a very long road. You can ask Trini to provide the food, but it will run heavily to bean and potato burritos, breakfast/lunch/dinner!

Question # 3) Will the guide have enough water containers for that length of time or should we bring water containment? As a backpacking New Mexican, hydration is a constant source of concern and weight -- especially when there is 'always water this time of year.' We have water purification ability.

Answer: You won't always be close to water, nor will the guide usually carry much -- they are like lizards. I definitely recommend that you bring a couple of strong water bags -- lash them to the mule. Also, 1.5 liter plastic water jugs are sold in Creel and Batopilas. They make very good canteens and I now use them myself on my treks.

Do carry purification stuff.

Lorena reminds me that I have several articles on Batopilas that just need proofing before they go on the website, so I'll see if we can't get those up for you.

> >We are truly appreciative of your time!

Yes, you are most welcome. Answering your questions also inspires me to organize my notes, which are piled here-and-there around me. But, there's a "catch" -- you've asked very good questions and I'm hoping you'll make notes as you travel and share them with me. I simply can't keep up with all of this stuff on my own, and really depend on others to help. Unfortunately, many people promise but very few actually deliver. Anything you can gather, from bus schedules to guide prices, trail directions... you name it; I'd love to see it.

Which reminds me: I'm very pleased that you've chosen the Loop -- you'll also be the first people I know to actually do it as I describe. I'll be very interested, therefore, in how you adjust your travel arrangements -- bus, train, etc. For example, I know that you can buy your train ticket with stopovers, but if you don't use the portion between Creel and Bahuichivo on the outbound leg, do you still have to pay for it? (These are the kinds of niggling details that I like to nail down.)

One last thought: if you take alcohol on the hike, go easy. I don't think Trini is much of a drinker, but in general, booze causes more problems on hikes than anything else .

Sheri with a few final thoughts:

Thank you, Carl! I keep a journal and will be sure to get back to you with a full report...we will write down details for you. If you come up with anything else specifically you'd like us to pay attention to, please let me know. 

I also appreciate the alcohol advice - we were wondering about that. I have observed that issue many times in the past, notably in Alaska and Canada.

You are most kind to share all of this information with us - I'll watch the PG website for more on Batopilas.

Happy trails!!

Sheri did as promised and sent us a very nice trip report. If you are contemplating a budget vacation in the Copper Canyon, do read The Copper Canyon: Cheap & Easy.


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