CHIHUAHUA CITY -- Mexico is becoming better known for its soft
adventure travel offerings, and the Copper Canyon is gaining more
ground as its most appealing destination both with veteran
travelers and novices wanting to explore its plummeting chasms and
The Copper Canyon always sounded daunting to me -- a canyon four
times larger than the Grand Canyon, the brochures claimed. Anything
bigger than a national treasure in the U.S. was worth
investigating, I decided.
Fiesta Inn offers a four-day tour that offers an introduction to
this natural wonder. The starting point of the trip was Chihuahua
City, which is known as a large industrial complex of northern
Mexico, but it also is the bastion of Pancho Villa lore.
It is here that the colorful, roughriding general of the Mexican
Revolution lived and was buried. His home, which was included in a
city tour, serves as a modern-day shrine to his larger-than-life
Lodging was at the Fiesta Inn, a four-star property with a
client mix of 80% business and 20% leisure. The 152-room hotel is
in the final phase of a renovation, which is expected to be
finished early next year. The property offers a four-day Copper
Canyon excursion, perfect for a long weekend.
Participants travel into the Copper Canyon by train, the chief
means of access to the region. The train pulled out of Chihuahua
before dawn, and breakfast was served in the dining car, a welcome
new addition to the newly privatized and newly refurbished
Chihuahua al Pacifico.
Sold by the government in 1998 to Grupo Mexico and Union
Pacific, Chepe, as the train is now called, also sports four clean,
air-conditioned cars with new carpeting and seats and a bar/smoking
lounge. The train was the first to open up the sierra in 1961 after
engineers managed to build through some of the most impenetrable
terrain in North America.
About eight hours into the ride, we arrived at Posada Barrancas,
situated at an elevation of 8,000 feet. We overnighted at the
Mansion Tarahumara hotel, set on a hillock with eccentric-looking
medieval towers. The property features rustic bungalows with all
the amenities of modern lodging except for telephones and
Each of the 50 guest units have fireplaces, handmade wooden
furniture and overhead fans, and some units have sleeping lofts.
Eight new suites equipped with kitchenettes, and a covered swimming
pool and Jacuzzi will be ready by Dec. 15.
Once settled in, we toured along the rim of the canyons with our
guide, Joel Quezada, who accompanied us from the Fiesta Inn in
Chihuahua City. After hiking for about an hour, we sat down in a
quiet spot overlooking monstrous granite cliffs.
The hotel's dining room is the popular refueling station after a
hard day's hike. Meals are embellished with good country cooking
served family style on long wooden tables from a set three-course
menu, which changes daily. A guitarist usually entertains with
Mexican songs at night.
The next day, we piled into a hotel van after breakfast and rode
a few miles to Divisadero, which has a natural lookout point with
sweeping views of three canyons -- Urique, Copper and
Although the entire canyon system is 25,000 square miles and
contains seven canyons, the Copper Canyon is the name commonly used
to the describe the region.
The area is home to the elusive Tarahumara Indians, who have
inhabited the high sierra for centuries. Although they guard their
traditions, many make a living selling handicrafts set out in neat
rows at most tour stops, including Divisadero.
The Tarahumara women love bright colors and wear swingy skirts
with white petticoats, which make a startling contrast against the
canvas of earth-toned mountains.
After Barrancas, we headed back toward Chihuahua City. The next
overnight stop, about two hours by train, was Creel, set at an
altitude of 7,400 feet. Creel is a rugged logging town with beat-up
old Ford pickups and farmers wearing white, broad-brimmed ranchero
The main street is clogged with small inns, hotels and a jumble
of crafts shops selling Tarahumara baskets, pine bark carvings and
In addition, visitors will see more Indian women and girls here
than elsewhere in the canyon as they promenade up and down the
streets selling bunches of slender woven yarn belts, later
disappearing into the sierra when night falls.
We checked into the Parador de la Montana, which has rooms set
back from the street along long open corridors.
Rubbing shoulders with legions of Tarahumara vendors is one
thing, but traveling into the sierra to see how they live is
another. The following morning, we headed through valleys formed by
dark, craggy volcanic rock to the Mision de San Ignacio caves,
shared by two Tarahumara brothers and their families. The primitive
enclosure also contained cultivated fields of their basic diet --
corn, squash and beans.
On the way to the mission church of the same name, we detoured
through the Valle de los Hongos (Valley of the Mushrooms), made up
of huge boulders perched on tiny rock stems, which makes them look
like petrified toadstools. The simple, white stucco St. Ignacio
church was founded by the Jesuits 300 years ago.
Later that afternoon, we boarded the train for the final leg of
the journey to Chihuahua City, where we overnighted before leaving
for home the next day.
The cost of the four-day Fiesta Break Copper Canyon tour, which
includes accommodations, meals, train tickets, excursions and a
guide is $460 per person, double, and $612 per person, single. The
cost for children under age 12 sharing a room with their parents is
$152 per person.
Phone: (800) FIESTA-1