Since March 2016, you can no longer buy Primera (first) class tickets on Mexico’s Copper Canyon train – boo! This post gives details on how to buy your Copper Canyon railway tickets before you travel, without having to pay a USD $100 tour operator premium.
Do you mean I can’t buy Primera Class Copper Canyon train tickets on the train any more?
That’s right, you can’t. According to our train conductor, the rules changed in March 2016. Previously, you could buy your Copper Canyon railway Primera tickets at the Viajes Flamingo office in Los Mochis, or purchase them on board the train. Advanced purchase was only really seen as necessary during the high seasons of Christmas, Easter and during the Summer.
All of that is no more. Since March 2016, you can only buy Economico class tickets on board the Copper Canyon train.
How not to buy tickets on the Copper Canyon train
Andrew and I journeyed on the Copper Canyon railway (aka El Chepe) from El Fuerte to Creel in October 2016. It was Andrew’s birthday on the day of our trip, and – despite our belief at the time that we didn’t need tickets in advance – we none-the-less wanted them in our hot and sweaty palms to avoid any unexpected birthday surprises!
Oh, how glad we were we made that decision!
How not to buy Copper Canyon train tickets #1 – Email
One week to go: I emailed the address on the El Chepe website (this link is to their new website, which launched in April 2018) in my best patchy Spanish, to ask if you could buy tickets at El Fuerte station or if we could only get them on board. I never got an answer.
How not to buy Copper Canyon train tickets #2 – Turn up at the Viajes Flamingo office in Los Mochis
One day to go: After six hours travel from Mazatlán on an early morning bus, we stumbled with our backpacks through the near 40oC heat from Los Mochis bus station to the town’s Viajes Flamingo (travel agent) office.
Arriving (slightly sweatily), we were told they no longer sold tickets. Ah! Apparently the only place to get them was at Los Mochis train station, a few miles out of town.
How we (finally) bought our tickets in advance
We found a man with a taxi, who did us a round trip from Los Mochis town centre to the train station for MXN$200 (you could probably knock MXN$20-$40 off that if – by that point – you could be bothered to bargain. I couldn’t. Plus, the taxi driver was very helpful!).
You’re then at the mercy of Los Mochis train station’s opening times (not all day every day and slightly random, from what we could piece together – best to call and check!).
If the ticket office is open, buying them in person at Los Mochis station is easy. You will need to show photo ID, and you can buy tickets for any start/end point station on the Copper Canyon railway.
Two Primera class train tickets one-way from El Fuerte to Creel cost MXN$2509 (about £100 as at February 2017).
Relieved, we got our taxi to drop us off at Los Mochis 2nd class bus station to hop on a bus to El Fuerte for the 2 hour MXN$50 journey. The Copper Canyon train departs from Los Mochis at 6am and from El Fuerte at around 8am, so this option gives you an extra 2 hours in bed! Plus, El Fuerte is really pretty.
Other ways to buy your Copper Canyon railway tickets before you travel
By phone – here’s the page with the numbers. You need to call at least two days before your journey. According to the train conductor, and another couple we spoke to, this option works! If we were to travel again, this is what we would do.
By internet – not really. There’s (currently) no online booking facility on El Chepe’s website (yes, their new website says there is, but … where?). If you want to pay USD$100 extra per reservation, however, there are tour agencies who can help you out.
By email – as described earlier – don’t bother!
What if I haven’t bought my Copper Canyon train ticket in advance? Can I blag it?
The short answer: Maybe. But don’t count on it!
The longer answer: If you sweet-talk the conductor they MAY let you buy a Primera ticket on board. This is more likely during low season – see the info box below. However (having seen a couple negotiate to do this over more than an hour during our October trip), this was only because the rules had recently changed and hadn’t / still haven’t been well publicised. Now more time has passed, the helpful conductors may not have the latitude to be this accommodating.
If you fail, you’ll be moved to Economico class.
The newly relaunched Chepe website (April 2018) only talks about buying in advance – up to four months beforehand in high season for both Primera and Economico. The relevant pages for the small print are here and here.
The day we travelled, Primera and Economico classes were two parts of the same train, so you could try your luck blagging a Primera ticket and then move to Economico if you aren’t able to buy one on board.
However, on other days (here’s a schedule) the Economico train is a completely different train that runs an hour or more behind the Primera train. You may have a fair wait if you get kicked off!
What’s the difference between Primera and Economico classes?
In Primera you get a bit of commentary from the bilingual conductor. You also get more leg room.
Primera has a dining car serving breakfast and lunch (I can recommend the breakfast chilaquiles). Prices for food are inflated, but not stupidly so. Breakfast dishes were around MXN$100-130 pesos, coffee MXN$30.
The downside of Primera is that you’re not allowed to take your own food on to the train. However, you can grab a quick late lunch snack in the short stop from the food vendors at Divisadero station. In Economico you can bring your own food on board.
An advantage of Economico is that locals using the train for public transport purposes aren’t so fussed about stunning views – they’ve seen them all before! It’s therefore easier to grab an inter-car vestibule and snap those all-important out-of-window-train-moving pics!
And … Copper Canyon train tickets are about half the price in Economico.
After all that effort, is the Copper Canyon railway worth it?
Absolutely! It’s a wonderful experience. And stunning! But that’s a story for another post …
Have you travelled on the Copper Canyon railway recently? How did you buy your ticket? If you know of any updates on ticketing, do share your tips in the comments below 🙂