Updated June 2020. 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.
Andrew and I travelled on Mexico’s Copper Canyon railway in October 2016, from El Fuerte to Creel. We travelled in Business (then known as First/Primera).
Since then, new First Class carriages have been added to the train. That means there are now three classes of ticket on El Chepe, the name given to the Copper Canyon train. They are Economico, Business and First. You should buy Business and First Class tickets in advance.
How we bought our tickets in advance
After some faffing (see more on that below), we bought our Copper Canyon train tickets in person from Los Mochis train station.
To get there, we found a super-helpful 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 you can be bothered to bargain. I couldn’t – it had been a long day!).
You’re 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 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.
A full timetable and list of prices in Mexican pesos can be found here.
You can also buy tickets in person at the other end of the line at Chihuahua station.
We started our Copper Canyon train journey from El Fuerte. You can get there by bus from Los Mochis 2nd class bus station – it’s a 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, although the El Chepe website recommends buying tickets up to six months in advance. According to the train conductor, and another couple we spoke to, the phone 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. If you want to pay USD$100 extra per reservation, however, there are tour agencies who can help you out.
By email – as described later on in this post – 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 Business 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. It’s best to take enough cash to pay for on-board tickets.
The Chepe website only talks about buying in advance – up to six months beforehand in high season. The relevant page for the small print is here.
First, Business and Economico classes are often part of the same train. However, on some days (here’s a schedule) the Economico carriages are a completely different Regional train that runs an hour or more behind the Express (Business/First) train. You may have a fair wait if you get kicked off!
What’s the difference between First, Business and Economico classes?
You can see pictures of the different classes of train carriage here.
First Class gives you access to a rather fabulous observation terrace. No matter which class of carriage you’re in, though, the views are still spectacular. Although the terrace means those views will be less interrupted. However, 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!
The restaurant options have been upgraded since we travelled. In First Class a meal is included, and Business Class you have access to the dining car.
When we used it, the dining car prices for food were inflated, but not stupidly so. Breakfast dishes were around MXN$100-130 pesos, coffee MXN$30. I can recommend the breakfast chilaquiles.
The downside of Business/First 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.
And Economico Copper Canyon train tickets are just over half the price of those in First Class.
Can’t I buy First Class or Business Class Copper Canyon train tickets on the train?
According to our train conductor, the rules changed in March 2016. Previously, you could buy all tickets on board and advanced purchase was only really seen as necessary during the high seasons of Christmas, Easter and during the Summer. Since March 2016, however, you can only buy Economico class tickets on board the Copper Canyon train.
How not to buy tickets for 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 we wanted tickets in our hot and sweaty palms to avoid any unexpected birthday surprises!
How not to buy Copper Canyon train tickets #1 – Email
One week before our trip: I emailed the address on the El Chepe website 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. Therefore I don’t recommend this option.
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, as the then-current Lonely Planet guidebook said they sold tickets.
Arriving (slightly sweatily), we were told they no longer sold them. Ah! Apparently the only place to get them was at Los Mochis train station, a few miles out of town. So that’s where we went …
After all that effort, is the Copper Canyon railway worth it?
Absolutely! It’s a wonderful experience. I would go back and do it again in a heartbeat.
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 🙂