Historical Botanical garden tour
Bird Island and Dolphin Encounter tour
Free time to relax at Marviri’s Beach
Special Mariscada Lunch (special seafood lunch)
Soft Drinks and snacks
Hotel night in Los Mochis
Private transfer to or from El Fuerte with bilingual guide
$290 Per person, double occupancy
*Note: Prices subject to change without notice.
Los Mochis is a city founded in 1893 by the American pioneer Benjamin F. Johnston, who started planting sugar cane and building a sugar empire. Over the years this area has become the most productive agricultural region in Mexico and the final western destination of the Chihuahua-Pacific Railroad (El Chepe), better known as The Copper Canyon Train.
The Historical Botanical Gardens were part of Johnson’s mansion, La Casa Grande. Formerly private, the Sinaloa Botanical Garden is full of both native plants and specimens from abroad, plus a large variety of bird species.
Topolobampo Bay, on the Gulf of California is about a 20 minute drive from Los Mochis. Its beaches with calm waves are ideal for aquatic sports. Nearby, Playa el Maviry is a super spot for swimming and home to a bat cave. Visiting Playa el Maviri is an experience in itself as this is where the locals dine, a seafood lovers paradise.
On our cruise in Topolobampo Bay you will visit Bird Island, see many species of birds, sea lions and dolphins in their natural habitat and enjoy the clear blue waters of the Sea of Cortez.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Mary Fitzgerald, from Malibu, CA, wrote us this short letter about her adventure with us in the Copper Canyon:
As a veteran traveler I have worked with many tour guides, some more adept than others, but none more earnest and attentive than [The California Native guide] Rob. Being far the oldest member of our travel group I had some concern about keeping up with the rest. Rob was always there to be of support when needed, but never offensively obvious.
This young man has an astounding fund of knowledge about almost everything, and he had a thorough answer for the endless questions our group posed. In addition, when situations arose that might provoke anxiety, Rob had a quiet way of taking charge to reassure us. This is the art of leadership.
Tour leading is not an easy task. One must be all things to all travelers, and relentlessly pleasant, no matter how trying. Rob did an excellent job. I found him to be very well qualified, and would travel with him again.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Bob & Ginnie Thurler, from Brooklyn Park, MN, wrote us this short letter about their adventure with us in the Copper Canyon:
We recently returned from your Ultimate 11-Day tour of the Copper Canyon. We both agree that this was by far the greatest vacation we have been on. Everything about the tour was first class and much more than we had expected it to be. This was the first guided trip we have ever been on. The guide did everything he could so that we were always informed of the days events, times and places, which we liked. We now have so much knowledge about the history of this area especially the people. As I stated before, this was our first guided tour and we both agree that it would be pretty difficult for anyone to top.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Phyllis and Arnold Aho, from Marquette, MI, wrote us this short letter about their adventure in the Copper Canyon:
Thanks for (arranging) our recent trip to the Copper Canyon as independent travelers. The train was excellent and the scenery was spectacular! Our side trips to the villages of Batopilas, Cerocahui and Creel were interesting and exciting. Our overnight in Divisadero was unique. It was a great experience!
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Recently, Ted McGrath who lives in Vancouver, Canada, returned from our California Native adventure in Copper Canyon and wrote:
California Native sent Rob Aikins from San Diego as our guide, Rob was excellent. Great personality, loaded with local knowledge, an awesome wit and ability to deal calmly and politely with any off the wall situations. Rob spoke perfect Spanish and at every stop knew just about everyone we met. He worked diligently to make our trip a seamless time where all we had to do was enjoy the experience while he attended to the detail of herding cats. He left nothing to chance!
El Fuerte Hotel Torres del Fuerte has big rooms, high ceilings, air conditioning, bottled water, wi-fi in the hotel lobby area. Each of the 25 rooms decorated uniquely. Nice large inner courtyard. Lets call the place “charming”.
El Fuerte to Divisadero
The train ride from El Fuerte to Divisdearo was as awesome a train ride as one can find. The ride through the canyon has to be seen to be appreciated. 86 tunnels, 36 bridges with interesting rock formations. The train was great. Air conditioned, good seating and the meal at lunch very tasty.
The Hotel Mirador at Divisadero sits right on the edge of Urique Canyon and the view is stunning. We took a gondola ride across the canyon where three of the main Copper Canyon complex of canyons join – cool!
Divisadero to Creel
From Divisadero, the train on to Creel is not as scenic. The hotel (Best Western Creel) has nice rustic western themed public space. One could think you were on vacation in Montana–western themed rooms too.
Creel to Batopilas
After one night in Creel we departed to Batopilas. Along the way we stopped at a Tarahumara cave home, and then two stops at unique rock formations. One with “mushroom” like outcroppings and one (the valley of the monks) with a proliferation of tall (really tall!) rounded rocks. About noon we stopped at a roadside home for a classy picnic lunch.
In Batopilas we walked to Mision Del Sataveo. On the way to the mision we stopped at a Tarahumara school and handed out school supplies and visited the nearby cemetery. We also visited the local museum in Batopilas and the crumbling previous property (Hacienda) of a silver mining company.
Batopilas to Creel
On the return trip to Creel we stopped again at the roadside home for lunch and went to the waterfall near Cusarare. Nice diversion, neat waterfall.
Creel to Chihuahua
After leaving Creel for Chihuahua we stopped at a Mennonite home for lunch. There’s a huge Mennonite presence in Chihuahua state, they are very successful farmers and it shows in their opulent homes and ample modern farm implements. On the drive into Chihuahua we passed many fields of apple orchards. The state is the major apple growing region in Mexico. Arrived in Chihuahua around 2:30 pm, checked into the lovely Holiday Inn & Suites in Centro. Next we were given an introductory tour of the city centre–the Zocalo, cathedral and drive by Hidalgo’s museum and a gorgeous early 20th century home now belonging to the University of Chihuahua (Mansion ‘Quinta Gameros’). This was the end of the California Native tour except for a farewell dinner at a Centro restaurant, El Retablo.
At the bottom of the deepest canyon in the vast complex of mountains and canyons known collectively as Copper Canyon is the sleepy little village of Batopilas. Sitting next to the bougainvilleas in the town square you might see a cowboy riding his horse down the sunbaked-earth main street, or a group of brightly clad Indians packing their burros for the long journey back to their remote village. It is hard to believe that this quiet village was once one of the richest silver mining cities in the world.
The Spaniards first mined ore here in 1632. Over the centuries more than three hundred mines were worked, but it took a most unusual American to bring real wealth to the area. The man was Alexander Shepherd and the story starts, not in this remote section of Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, but in Washington D.C.
In 1871, Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd headed the D.C. Board of Public works and two years later became territorial governor of the District of Columbia. At that time Washington was a city with muddy streets and unpaved sidewalks. During his three years in office Shepherd constructed 157 miles of roads, 123 miles of sewers, 39 miles of gas mains and 30 miles of water mains, leading some historians to refer to him as the “Father of Modern Washington.” Instead of being heralded as a hero, however, he was ungraciously chased out of office after Congress discovered that he had overspent the cities budget by $16 million with a disproportionate share of the benefits going to neighborhoods in which he had financial interests.
Shepherd declared bankruptcy and, in 1880, moved his family to Batopilas, where he had purchased a silver mine from another American, John Robinson, for $600,000. Thirteen years earlier, Robinson bought two old supposedly worked out mines where he discovered a rich vein of ore, but then ran into a major obstacle—because of the remoteness of the area his transportation and processing costs were far too high to make the operation profitable.
Shepherd, who always thought on a grand scale, applied the same organizing skills he had used in Washington to his new mining venture.
He began by filing more than 300 additional mining claims and consolidating his holdings into the Batopilas Mining Company. Then, instead of shipping out raw ore to be processed at some distant location, he constructed a complete processing facility in Batopilas. The processed silver was cast into bars, loaded two bars per mule, and taken by monthly mule trains of up to 100 mules to Chihuahua.
Between 1880 and 1906, 20 million ounces of silver were extracted from the mines—ranking the Batopilas mines among the richest silver mines in the world. At their peak the mines employed 1500 workers, and the total length of tunnels exceeded 70 miles.
Shepherd’s innovations included the construction of the Porfirio Diaz tunnel—a tunnel bored through the base of a mountain, where a train hauled out ore, which was dropped down shafts from the tunnels above. The train had to be dismantled and hauled in almost 200 miles by burro and human labor. The tunnel is still there, now deserted except by bats.
Shepherd did much to improve the town of Batopilas, building bridges, aqueducts, and a hydroelectric plant, which made Batopilas the second city in Mexico to have electricity—second only to Mexico City itself. By the time Shepherd died in 1902, the town’s population had grown from 400 to around 5000 (it is now around 1000). The hydroelectric facility he built was restored in 1988 and once again powers the town, and his original aqueduct still provides the local water supply.
Today there is no large-scale mining in Batopilas, though a few old prospectors still pan gold and silver from the river or extract small quantities of ore from the abandoned workings.
About thirty years ago I first became aware of Copper Canyon when a travel writer friend of mine returned from a journey to Northern Mexico.
“Lee, you have to see Copper Canyon,” he insisted. “It’s magnificent!!” After viewing his slides I became excited and traveled to the Sierra Madre mountains of Northern Mexico to explore this remote area. Since then, over the last thirty years, we have introduced thousands of people to this fascinating area of mountains, rivers and canyons, and to the Tarahumara, the indigenous people who make this rugged land their home.
Long ago, about a hundred million years, a huge plateau arose in an area that is now part of northern Mexico. Seventy million years passed before volcanoes erupted and flooded the plateau with molten rock. Rivers then sliced this lava-covered plateau into deep twisting canyons—the largest area of canyons in North America.
Between the volcanic layers and the old plateau are rich mineral deposits. The depth of the canyons exposes these layers, making the gold, silver, and copper accessible for mining. It is from the abundant copper ore that the area derives its name—Copper Canyon.
The first people to mine the ore were the Spaniards, in 1632. Over the centuries, hundreds of mines were worked, peaking at the end of the 19th century when 20 million ounces of silver were extracted from the mines at Batopilas, making Copper Canyon one of the richest silver mining areas in the world.
The longest term residents of Copper Canyon are the Tarahumara Indians. No one knows how long they have lived here, but archaeologists have found artifacts of people living in the area 3000 years ago.
Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition, which passed through the Sierra Madres in 1540, in search of the legendary Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, may have been the first contact between the Tarahumara and Europeans.
In 1607 the Jesuits established the first of their 29 missions to be built in the canyons and introduced the Tarahumara to Catholicism, domestic animals and the plow.
When the Spaniards discovered the rich mineral wealth in the canyons, they forced the Indians to work as slaves in the mines. This led to many bloody revolts throughout the 17th century.
The influence of the Jesuits came to a halt in 1767 when the King of Spain expelled their order from the New World. In the canyons there are legends of treasure hidden by the Jesuits during their rapid departure). The Franciscans took over from the Jesuits, but the Indians were pretty much left alone until the Jesuits returned in 1900.
The Tarahumara Today
Today the Tarahumara number around 60,000. They live in caves and small cabins and practice subsistence farming. The majority practice a form of Catholicism liberally intermixed with their traditional beliefs and ceremonies. Among the peoples of North America, they are considered to be the least touched by modern civilization and the most unmixed of any of the Indian tribes of Mexico.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last month, Carman Cunningham and Lucile Griffiths, from San Rafael, California, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 9-day Independent Tour to the Bottom and had this to report:
My friend, Lucile Griffiths, and I traveled to Copper Canyon, Mexico from December 23 to 31. We flew to Phoenix, Hermosillo, Los Mochis, then by taxi two hours to El Fuerte, Sinaloa. One of the few disappointments of the trip was that we arrived in El Fuerte after dark, and left before sunrise to catch the train. From the little we could see, El Fuerte is a beautiful colonial town and we wanted to see much more of it. Our hotel was a traditional hacienda with courtyards and gardens open to the sky, furnished with Persian rugs and antique furniture. Modern plumbing, though.
Our early morning train quickly climbed from farm land surrounding El Fuerte up into the mountains. By noon we were in the canyon lands, pine forests, ice and snow on canyon rims and mountain peaks. We had gone through 86 tunnels and crossed 37 bridges.
We got off the train at a little town called Bahuichivo and were met by a enthusiastic American, proprietor of the lodge where we stayed two nights. Although simple, the lodge was comfortable and the hospitality outstanding. We were swept into Christmas preparations and rituals. A pinata was stuffed, bags of sweets prepared for the area children who were expected, and a toy selected for each one. Doug’s family members (his wife is Mexican from the area) and Tarahumara Indians came and went, all excited.
In the late afternoon, we set off for the small village called Cerocahui, about 20 minutes drive from the lodge. Doug stopped to pick up all the people, most Indians, he met along the road. They overflowed the SUV, sat stacked on one another, smiling and silent. When we reached the village, we all congregated in the church.
When mass was over, the crowd walked around the central plaza stopping along the way to sing the song that asks for lodging (the posada) for Mary and Joseph. The householders sang back that there was “no room at the inn” until the last house where they were welcomed to the manger. After a pinata was battered open by the children and the sweets distributed (they made sure the only foreigners, Lucile and me, received a share) we went back to the lodge.
Two twenty five pound turkeys were put on to roast, but it became obvious that the American Christmas dinner tradition was unclear at best. And so it was that I made gravy for 120 people. The poor turkeys were not so much carved as torn apart and served with instant mashed potatoes and canned corn. The following day, I even introduced them to the old Dresden tradition, carcass soup. The children lined up for their presents, and the Indian women lined up to receive a blanket each. At this point Lucile I gave up and went to bed, but most people returned to the village for another mass and dancing. We were told they got to bed around 2:30 am.
The following (Christmas) day we boarded the train again and traveled to a town called Creel. Creel is 8000′ and pretty cold, patches of ice and snow crunched underfoot. The landscape was similar to the High Sierra, but I gather the biodiversity is much greater; more species of pine trees, oaks and other plants. Rock formations, caves and waterfalls are found all around the countryside. Some Tarahumara live in the caves. Many houses are built of logs and rock looking like the Lincoln log buildings we made as children. Men on horseback on unpaved roads add to the Far Western look of the area. The hotel is also built of rock and log. It could have been in Montana.
With the exception of one group of men in the bar one night, and one Canadian, we were the only foreigners we saw the whole trip. The hotel was full, but all the guests were Mexican. It was fun to see middle class Mexican families enjoying their Christmas holidays. And they were so polite and gracious with us. Perhaps the novelty of seeing two elderly American women traveling alone was the reason, perhaps they are just culturally different, but we were treated with utmost courtesy. I think the fact that I could speak (basic, I’ve forgotten a lot) Spanish had something to do with it, too. A lot of people remarked on my efforts.
From Creel, we were supposed to travel seven hours down to the canyon floor to spend a day in a town called Batopilas. However, about two days previously there had been a storm, the town was partially destroyed and the roads washed out. We were advised not to go. So, we missed Batopilas. Our driver had some ideas, and it turned out that we spent the next three days in the area and saw some interesting sights. The first day (which would have been the day of the descent) we saw the Valleys of the Mushrooms, the Frogs and the Monks (all rock formations), cave dwellers, and had a picnic by the side of a mountain stream.
The second day we went to a resort town called Divisadero and took a thrilling cable car–finicular-teleferique trip across a section of the canyon. We could see into the depths, thousands of feet below, sheer rock walls all around us. Copper Canyon is six times larger than the Grand Canyon! We had lunch in a market set up along the train track after that. I should tell you that neither of us had any stomach trouble at all on the trip. The third day (which would have been the ascent) we went to a very old village and as it was Sunday, attended mass in an attractive old church. We were amused when one of the “hymns” was Jingle Bells.
Prior to our departure on this trip several people expressed concern about our safety. We never saw any evidence of danger, nor sensed tension. As I mentioned previously, aside from the one group of men in a bar, and one Canadian, we did not see any people other than Mexicans. Surely tourism is suffering and it is too bad. The trains were guarded, that is, two armed soldiers walked up and down the aisles from time to time. We saw several armed vehicles on the road, filled with soldiers, presumably on patrol. That was all. No one looked the least bit intimidated, or even interested in them.
On the way up to Creel there were few passengers on the train. On the way down, the train was very crowded. In order to get from our seat to the dining car we had to go through the bar. It was packed with revelers, singing, dancing and drinking. They treated us like delicate eggs, as the train swayed and rocked and jumped, they handed us along, person to person, with welcoming smiles and greetings. When we got to the dining car, they put us at the head of the line to be seated.
We traveled home on the 31st the way we came: El Fuerte, Los Mochis, Hermosillo, Phoenix, San Francisco. Again the frustration at not seeing El Fuerte. Despite that, we had a wonderful time. To a future traveller, I would recommend stocking up on 5 and 10 peso pieces for tips and Indian children. Our 20 peso notes were too big.
A trip to Copper Canyon is one that I would recommend without hesitation. Beautiful scenery, friendly people, comfortable train and hotels. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The journey down from Creel to Batopilas was both hair-raising and amazing. Lovely day exploring Batopilas and walking up and down-stream from the village. Glorious drive back up to Creel. The rock formations of the “Valley of the Monks” were a wonderful surprise. I also very much enjoyed the trip to Urique with Doug Rhodes, a very interesting man. The view of the canyon from the hotel [at Divisadero], including the bedrooms, was magnificent.
I liked the balance between your organization and our freedom. The scenery [on the trip] was incredible and your arrangements were excellent.
We appreciate it when our guests share their stories with us and allow us to post them on our blog. Last month Jo Rawlins Gilbert, from Menlo Park, California, traveled with us on our Copper Canyon 10-day Independent Tour to the Bottom and had this to report:
Mexico’s Copper Canyon was the third choice for this year’s Holiday trip. Rejected was Ethiopia’s Afar Region and the Balkans (too dangerous or too cold!), so I was left scrambling. In a stack of possible excursions was a clip from the National Geographic about The California Native and the Copper Canyon.
The California Native had a a ten day independent tour to the bottom of the canyon, including train ride and accommodations. We paid extra for two trips into the canyon—one with Don Diego. the colorful American operating a lodge near Cerocahui and another via cable car from the canyon’s rim at Posada Barrancas. A slippery drive on a wet, partially completed road for a two day stay at Batopilas, a colorful. remote mining town, was included in the tour.
It turned out to be an excellent choice: a combination of walking and sightseeing in some of the most beautiful country in the world.
There were four of us, two Brits and two Americans, who had traveled together in various combinations over some five years. All ladies of a certain age. Last year it was Rajasthan and the year before, Oman. Three of us did a four day pretour stay in Mexico City—one had been there before and the other was conversant in Spanish.
We met our fourth member at the [Mexico City] airport where we all flew to Los Mochis, the jumping off point for the tour. We had arranged for an extra day in El Fuerte before boarding El Chepe, the Copper Canyon Railroad, famed for its twists and turns and tunnels as it winds up into the Sierra Madres. Our adventure began but without Walter Houston and Humphrey Bogart.
We were met at the first stop by Doug (Don Diego) Rhodes who could certainly qualify as a Readers Digest, Most Unforgettable Character. Ex-Army, ex-NASA, ex-cop, ex-tour guide, he settled in the area twenty-two years ago and now runs a lodge, Paraiso del Oso, for visitors such as us. Affable and knowledgeable, he provides social services for many of the local Tarahumara families in the area. As I found out, he is known from one end of the Canyon to the other. We stayed two nights, spending a day down the road to Urique.
On to Posada Barrancas, on the edge of the canyon, every room with a spectacular view. One of us hiked, two of us did the cable car and adjacent walks and the fourth stayed abed with a cold. So from there to Creel where there was a clinic. Medication helped but even more so, the descent to Batopilas.
There, as at other stops, the local Indians were selling their handicrafts. Colorful and peaceful, there was no pressure to buy. Their work was excellent and we bought bits and pieces.
Batopilas was the charmer. A remote, colorful, small, mining town located on what may have been a stream, but now with the rains, was a full sized river; it was a high point of the trip. We walked to the Lost Cathedral and to the ruin of Alexander Shepherd’s Hacienda. Shepherd, a runaway from Washington, DC, bought the mine in the eighteen-eighties and built bridges, viaducts and a hydroelectric plant. From a look at his crumbling hacienda, he lived high on the hog. All in all, I walked some 15K while the others, who also went along the wet and muddy aqueduct, totaled 20 K.
The ride between Creel and Batopilas was extraordinary: partly paved but often wet dirt. En route, we stopped at various scenic spots: waterfalls, lakes and volcanic eruptions of old. The Valley of the Monks was high on the outstanding sights of the trip. Back at Creel for a night, there was time to walk about the small Mexican cow town.
The train ride from Creel to Chihuahua was long and less scenic. Two of us took a included tour the next day, in and about Chihuahua while two others went about on their own—we met up for a mid afternoon meal, our final gathering as we all flew out the following morning. Chihuahua is a good sized city with mementos of both Indian and Spanish heritage. From the Cathedral to the Capital’s historical murals to Pancho Villa ‘s residence. Our guide took time and energy to make sure we appreciated Chihuahua’s past and present.
Accommodations: Ranged from Holiday Inn in Mexico City and Chihuahua and Best Western in Creel to the basic Paraiso del Oso near Bahuichivo and Hotel Juanita in Batopilas with Posada’s Hotel Mirador‘s spectactular views making up for its touristy ambiance. All different, a contrast with one another.
Food: Ah, that’s a different story. There were several really nice meals. This was not a gourmet’s journey—some of the meals were ok, some were suffered. But then, I avoid the nightshades which limits me. The cost of nearly half were included.
The tour: California Native did an excellent job of preparing and executing the tour. They rate an A+.
Comment: It is too bad that there were not more visitors. The local economy is suffering from lack of tourists. Apparently, fear of drug traffickers and personal safety issues keep people away. The Mexicans seem determined to keep the peace—cops of one kind or another were evident throughout. We certainly didn’t feel unsafe.
Cost: $1765 for the tour including the extra night at El Fuerte plus 190 Pesos apiece for trip to Urique. Approximately 200 Pesos for shared hotel room in Mexico City. Air fare San Francisco-Mexico City-Los Mochis; Chihuahua-SF was $856.47. Cat care: $650.