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The Copper Canyon Travel Guide

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Copper Canyon © NileGuide

The northwest of Mexico is the country's 'wild west', where it is possible to undertake one of the most remarkable train trips in the world, the Chihuahua al Pacifico (Chihuahua to the Pacific) railway, also known as the Copper Canyon railway, and one of the country's most remarkable tourist excursions. The canyon is in fact a maze of gorges that combine to form six massive interconnected canyons, covering an area four times larger and almost two times deeper than the Grand Canyon in North America. The name, Copper Canyon, incorporates all the canyons and gorges and refers to the colour of the lichen that clings to the canyon walls.

Acclaimed as an engineering marvel, the railroad travels from the Pacific coastal town of Los Mochis, climbing to 8,000 feet (2,400m) over the Sierra Madre mountain range, before dropping down to the city of Chihuahua, 393 miles (655km) away. Along the way it passes through 86 tunnels, crosses 39 bridges, and performs an unbelievable 360 degree loop, winding through some of the country's most magnificent scenery, between towering canyon walls and hugging the cliff face with intermittent views of the river far below.

The region is not only scenically splendid, but is rich in indigenous culture. The canyon cliffs are home to thousands of Tarahumara Indians, a semi-nomadic population of cave dwellers who eke out an existence from farming, cattle ranching and by selling their handicrafts. In stark contrast are the Mennonite settlements around Cuauhetmoc, where the people of this religious sect, of German descent, sell farm products such as cheese and sausages, but otherwise keep themselves completely separate from those around them. They are distinctive with their old-fashioned style of dress, own language and rigid community ways.

The train makes several stops along the way, brief opportunities to admire the view and buy food or crafts from the Tarahumara Indians. Several little towns or mountain villages are of interest, and many break the journey at Creel, a frontier-spirited mining town complete with horsemen in cowboy hats and tight jeans, and a good base to further explore the surrounds.

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