How to buy Copper Canyon train tickets

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.

Andrew and I travelled on the Copper Canyon railway in October 2016, from El Fuerte to Creel. Here’s how we managed to get Primera tickets in advance, and some pitfalls to avoid.

copper canyon railway tickets - all aboard!

All aboard!

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!

copper canyon railway tickets - boarding the train at El Fuerte

Glad, very glad!

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.

Our bed in El Fuerte was at the rather lovely and very reasonably priced Hotel la Choza. It’s very centrally located, with a tasty restaurant menu to boot. If you use this link to book the hotel, I receive a small commission and a big smile, at no extra cost to you. Thank you 🙂
copper canyon railway tickets - El Fuerte

Pretty El Fuerte – literally “The Strong!”

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.

March 2018 update: A reader rode the Copper Canyon railway this February. They travelled Economico (aka Regional), but said they spoken to passengers in Primera who had been able to buy tickets on board because it was low season AND the train wasn’t fully booked. If you are 100% set on travelling Primera and would be upset at being moved to Economico, you may decide this isn’t worth the risk. If any reader tries this option, please do let me know how you get on in the comments below so I can amend the article and keep future travellers updated. Thank you 🙂

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?

Primera Class on the Copper Canyon Railway

Primera Class

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!

taking pictures from the Copper Canyon railway

Takin’ a picture takin’ a picture of the world outside the train

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 🙂

Mentioned in this post
  1. El Fuerte
    City in Mexico

    El Fuerte Mexico
  2. Creel
    City in Mexico

    Creel Mexico
  3. Los Mochis
    City in Mexico

    Los Mochis Mexico
  4. Mazatlán
    Metro Area in Mazatlán Mexico

    Mazatlán Mexico

Go on, check these out too ...

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22 Responses to How to buy Copper Canyon train tickets

  1. Daniele J. Ermes 28 March 2018 at 11:19 am #

    Hi

    I just returned from a 10 days trip in Copper Canyon and i found out that actually you can sometimes buy primera class tickets onboard, depending on the season.

    I wrote a complete guide about the Copper Canyon and tickets information

    https://ermes.blog/2018/02/26/guida-copper-canyon-chepe/

    altought is in italian you can use the google translator tool on the left sidebar and it will show a decent english.

    Hope it can help
    cheers

    • Julie 28 March 2018 at 6:19 pm #

      Thanks Daniele,
      Really good to hear that in the low season it’s sometimes now possible to buy Primera tickets on Board. I see you travelled in Economy, I don’t suppose you spoke to anyone who bought Primera tickets on board? I get quite a few questions on this blog and – as the Chepe website isn’t very helpful – it’s always good to get someone’s more recent first-hand experience.
      Thanks for the article – looks like you had a great trip 🙂
      Kind regards
      Julie

      • Daniele J. Ermes 28 March 2018 at 6:56 pm #

        Hi Julie, yes i travelled in second class but i asked to different people traveling in first and of course to conductors because i wanted to verify the whole thing after reading your helpful article.

        So it’s confirmed: you can buy first class onboard in low season. My suggestion is: travel in Clase conomica, really no need to spend more (except for schedules issues).

        • Julie 29 March 2018 at 10:02 am #

          Thanks Daniele, that’s good to know. Do you know how they classify low season, by any chance? January (after new year) and February? (we had to buy tickets in advance for a journey in late October). Thanks, this is really helpful 🙂

        • Daniele J. Ermes 29 March 2018 at 10:15 am #

          Low season is supposed to be any period outside:
          – Holy week, i.e. Easter (worst time ever!)
          – Christmas time holidays (tourists and locals all around)
          – Summer holidays (a lot of students around)

          hope this can help

        • Julie 29 March 2018 at 4:06 pm #

          Thanks Daniele. I’ll change the article slightly to mention what you found. It still seems difficult to say for certain: your February was low season, my October wasn’t 🙂 Thanks again for all your help and info.

  2. tanyakorteling 9 March 2018 at 3:15 pm #

    I’m currently trying to book tickets for 22nd to the 26th/ 27th March and am facing the same challenges, I cant even get an answer by phone! We only want economy tickets but being s close to Semana Santa I
    wanted to reserve them as I hear it gets very busy. Does anyone that’s commented here know if it’s likely to be too busy to get economy tickets on the day of the journey from Chihuhua to Creel, I really hope so as we’ve got flights booked already!

  3. Maryhelen Chavez 25 January 2018 at 2:42 am #

    Thanks for the train information, we will be traveling on it March 2018, very helpful. I will post information about our trip.
    Maryhelen

    • Julie 25 January 2018 at 12:21 pm #

      Thanks Maryhelen, have a brilliant trip! Look forward to hearing about it 🙂

      • Tricia 26 February 2018 at 3:19 pm #

        Hi can you buy tickets from Chihuahua train station?

        • Julie 26 February 2018 at 11:22 pm #

          Hi Tricia, I would like to say yes, but in all honesty I don’t know for definitive as I didn’t get my tickets from Chihuahua. Probably best to call them and check (or buy over the phone, which I’m told works!) – their contact numbers, including one for international calls, are at the bottom of this page: https://chepe.mx/english/index.html

          Happy travels,
          Julie

        • Tricia 27 February 2018 at 7:21 am #

          Hi thanks for the reply, after further reading have decided the best way is to start at El Fuerte. So can you buy tickets from the ticket office, and is it easy enough to book accommodation and tours etc?

        • Julie 27 February 2018 at 10:12 am #

          Hi Tricia
          El Fuerte is where we started our journey too. You can’t buy tickets at the station – but you can at Los Mochis (which you’ll no doubt pass through) or via phone – details of both options in the article. Accommodation we just sorted as we went, booking about a day in advance. Tours we sorted out once we arrived, though we mostly travel independently so were only organising hiring bikes/where to hike. There were plenty of mini bus/Quad bike tours from Creel, though. Hope that helps – have a fabulous trip 🙂

        • Tricia 27 February 2018 at 10:37 am #

          Thank you so much. Cant wait to go now.

  4. Anu Gummaraju 27 September 2017 at 8:41 am #

    Julie, so helpful! Especially the ticking information. We want to do the whole ride from Los Mochis to Chihuahua.

    Do you know if we can break journey overnight for a couple of nights at Divisadero and Creel, and hop back on the train the days after with the same ticket? I’ve been looking and can’t seem to find any information on this, except one site that says you can do this with a first class ticket, not on an Economic ticket!

    • Julie 27 September 2017 at 9:08 pm #

      Glad it’s of use 🙂 It’s a wonderful train journey – I’ve just looked back at the notes I made at the time to try and answer your question the best I can. Here were the the options available when we travelled:
      1. Buy separate tickets for all your Primera class journeys at Los Mochis station. You can do this, even if you want to go between – say – Divisadero and Creel.
      2. Don’t buy tickets in advance, just hop on the Economico train to do your extra journeys. You can buy Economico tickets on board.
      3. Get the bus for your extra journeys (which is what we did, between Creel and Divisadero and also Creel to Chihuahua). You’ve already done the prettiest part of the train journey by Divisadero, and the bus is more frequent and cheaper 🙂 There are two bus companies in Creel located just behind the train station next to each other – their times and fares are posted on boards and you get tickets inside at the counter. In Divisadero the bus stops by the road (there’s only one road so you can’t miss it – your accommodation should know the schedule). It’s an hour on the bus between Divisadero and Creel, and about 4-5 hours Creel to Chihuahua. Chihuahua is worthy of a day or two: it has some good museums and a very cool mural of a chihuahua 🙂
      Hope this helps. Have a fabulous trip, it’s a stunning part of Mexico.
      Happy travels, Julie

      • Frenchie La Chance 25 February 2018 at 1:40 am #

        Thank you for posting. The information should help people to get on the train. In April 2017 I had a group of 11 people and we bought tickets on the Express First class train from the conductor. I had no problems the year earlier (2016). This year I have been working on getting the tickets for 12 people for this April 2018. I have finally got a phone response from them today (2-23-18), followed with a email. My wife found this post just before I got a hold of them on the phone. Your post conformed the problems I was having in the 2 days. It is a pain in the backside getting the tickets. I have ridden the train many times in the last 30 years. With the online buying tickets outside of Mexico it was a pain. To get the tickets in Mexico is a lot easier. With the economical train it is much better and the views are the same. It is also about half the cost of the first class.

        Thank you for your posting!

        • Julie 25 February 2018 at 7:31 pm #

          Thanks so much for taking the time to comment – it’s really helpful for readers to know that it’s still a pain to get tickets and requires phone-call persistence when booking them outside the country. It’s such a wonderful trip to take, I don’t know why they’ve made it so hard, especially when everything else about Mexican public transport is so easy. Like you say, the economical train is a good option too. Thanks again, and hope you and your group have a wonderful trip. At least you know it’s worth the effort 🙂

        • Toey 7 March 2018 at 5:37 pm #

          All the posts had some helpful information but I would like to hear more from Maryhelen Chavez who is travelling this month. We are thinking of trevelling on the train March 23-26 so possibly Maryhelen may have finished her trip. Also Julie, I have read that there is no longer a first class train and that tickets can not be purchased on board. Thanks for any infomation.

        • Julie 8 March 2018 at 9:20 am #

          Hi, thanks for your message. I’d not heard or found anything about the first class train not running? If you want first class tickets you need to buy them before you board – either at Los Mochis or by phone in advance. Full details are in the article. Have a fabulous trip 🙂

  5. rodderzuk 6 July 2017 at 10:34 am #

    Thank you! This was really helpful. My girlfriend and I want to travel in August. I wanted to book a hotel along the way but I didn’t want to book the hotel without booking the train first. Now I’m thinking we might just wait until we’re in Mexico and we have a better feel for the place. I think I might have been a bit too organised! Your post has helped me out, thanks!

    • Julie 6 July 2017 at 7:46 pm #

      You’re very welcome – really pleased it was helpful. It’s an incredible journey and a gorgeous part of Mexico and can definitely be done without too much advance planning. I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time 🙂

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