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Copper Canyon: Ancient Culture and Nature’s Grandeur

Program No. 24571RJ
Experience Copper Canyon — a natural wonder in Mexico four times larger than the Grand Canyon — and the culture of the indigenous people that call this region their home.

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At a Glance

In the grandeur of Copper Canyon, nature dominates — four times larger than the Grand Canyon, this series of eleven canyons is a land of sharp drops, abundant vegetation, amazing geology and rock formations. As you explore several of these outstanding canyons, you’ll learn that Copper Canyon is more than a natural wonder — it is home to the Tarahumara people, who have lived in the Sierra Madre Mountains for over 2,000 years resisting outside intrusion. Experience nature and culture as your experts take you through the history, landscapes and villages of a part of Mexico that lies off the beaten path.
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
Moderate walks on uneven terrain, narrow paths with ups and downs. Optional hikes during free time. Must be able to climb one flight of stairs, walk through cars on a moving train and ascend and descend high train steps independently carrying hand luggage.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 13 to 24 participants.

What You'll Learn

  • Ride a gondola into Urique Canyon and descend into stunning Batopilas Canyon.
  • Experience the “Ride in the Sky” train journey or explore a stunning waterfall in Basaseachi Canyon.
  • Gain insight into the indigenous culture of the Tarahumara people and their past and present traditions through discussions and local music and dance performances.
Featured Expert
All trip experts
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Isabel Sanchez
Isabel Sanchez was born in Ensenada Baja California, Mexico. She began working as a group leader at a young age in the mid 1980s in her hometown. In 1998, she moved to Southern California where she continued her career as a successful group leader specializing in the Sonoran Desert as well as the Mojave Desert. In the fall of 2004, Isabel began leading groups through San Diego, Calif., the peninsula of Baja California, and the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of Isabel Sanchez
Isabel Sanchez View biography
Isabel Sanchez was born in Ensenada Baja California, Mexico. She began working as a group leader at a young age in the mid 1980s in her hometown. In 1998, she moved to Southern California where she continued her career as a successful group leader specializing in the Sonoran Desert as well as the Mojave Desert. In the fall of 2004, Isabel began leading groups through San Diego, Calif., the peninsula of Baja California, and the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico.
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While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of our published materials, programs are typically advertised more than a year prior to their start date. As a result, some program activities, schedules, accommodations, personnel, and other logistics occasionally change due to local conditions or circumstances. Should a major change occur, we will make every effort to alert you. For less significant changes, we will update you during orientation. Thank you for your understanding.
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10 days
9 nights
26 meals
9 B 8 L 9 D
Check-in, Orientation, Welcome Dinner
El Paso, Texas
Courtyard by Marriott El Paso Airport

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m. Remember to bring your nametag (sent previously).

Afternoon: After you check in and have your room assignment, take some time to freshen up and relax before our Orientation session. Orientation: 5:30 p.m. in the meeting room. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We’ll review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet at the hotel front desk when you check in and locate your Group Leader to let them know you have arrived. Our knowledgeable Group Leader will also serve as our Study Leader for most field trips and deliver educational content unless specified otherwise. Transportation will be via private motorcoach and minibuses, ChePe train, and one local flight. When the group is divided and in minibuses, the Group Leader will provide information at gatherings during stops. For meals that offer a choice of dishes, we’ll circulate a form in advance to note each person’s preferences and save time ordering. While in Mexico, purified water will always be available on the motorcoach and minibuses, at the hotels, and in restaurants. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances / conditions. In the event of changes, we’ll alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Border Crossing into Mexico, To Chihuahua
Chihuahua, Chihuahua
Quality Inn, Chihuahua

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 240 miles, approximately 4 hours riding time. Walking about 1/2 mile throughout the day. Standing and walking at a slow pace for up to 1 hour per activity. Must carry all belongings across the border and walk 200 feet. Keep passports on hand for border crossing. No fruits, vegetables, cheese, meats, nor plants are permitted into Mexico.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We’ll check out of the hotel, board the motorcoach, and drive to Santa Teresa, a convenient port of entry for easy border crossing into Mexico. Together with the Group Leader, we must walk across the border (approximately 200 feet) carrying our all our belongings as we go through Mexican immigration and customs. You will need to present your passport and complete a form on site to receive the required personal permit. The Group Leader will be on hand to assist as needed. Keep this permit with you; you may be asked to present it when leaving Mexico. We’ll board our Mexican motorcoach and continue the drive to Ciudad Chihuahua. The State of Chihuahua is Mexico’s largest, known for its wide-open deserts, rugged forested mountains and deep canyons. We’ll cross scenic desert landscapes and drive through Chihuahua’s famous cattle grazing lands. As we ride, the Group Leader will lecture on the state of Chihuahua providing an overview of its natural and cultural wonders. A lunch stop is in Villa Ahumada to taste the local specialties.

Lunch: At a local restaurant in Villa Ahumada.

Afternoon: We’ll move on to Chihuahua City, the state capital, while the Group Leader continues the introductory lecture focusing on the historical events that shaped Northern Mexico as well as the state’s economic activities. As we arrive in the city, we’ll visit the former home – now a museum – of famed Pancho Villa, the colorful controversial hero of the Mexican Revolution. We’ll settle into the centrally located hotel then regroup for a walking exploration of the city’s historical center led by our Group Leader. The Plaza de Armas is dominated by the imposing baroque Cathedral constructed from the profits of the rich silver mines exploited in the past throughout the state. The Cathedral boasts marble brought from Carrara and Murano glass chandeliers. In the center of the plaza, the wrought iron gazebo was brought over from France. We will continue the walk through a market, lively and colorful, ending at an elegant restaurant located in a mansion for our dinner.

Dinner: In an ex-colonial mansion restaurant.

Evening: At leisure. The city offers a true Mexican atmosphere. You may stroll through the plaza or along the shopping streets displaying western wear before returning to the hotel. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Historic Murals, Mennonites, The Sierra Madre
Divisadero, Chihuahua
Posada Mirador

Activity note: Getting on/off minibuses; driving about 180 miles, approximately 4.5 hours riding time, partly on mountain roads. Short walks throughout the day, standing up to 1 hour at the Government Palace.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We will check out of the hotel in the morning. Due to the narrow and steep mountain roads, we will continue the land travel by private Sprinter-type minibuses. Driving times are to enjoy the views while the information will be shared by the Group Leader at gatherings. Chihuahua prides in its handsome Government Palace, lined by fine murals. While visiting the building, the Group Leader will interpret the murals that describe the importance of the city and the state throughout Mexican history, especially during the Revolution. An altar dedicated to Hidalgo, considered the “Father of Mexico,” reminds us of his execution behind the palace. We will then depart for Divisadero, taking a short detour into a Mennonite colony to learn about the complex history and to witness the rigid lifestyle of these hard-working migrant German farmers.

Lunch: In the home of a Mennonite family to taste an array of homemade products.

Afternoon: We’ll now venture into the imposing Sierra Tarahumara, the section of the Sierra Madre inhabited by the Tarahumara indigenous people and crisscrossed by a system of eleven canyons, deeper and four times bigger than the Grand Canyon. The canyon exploration begins in Divisadero on the canyon rim. The hotel for the next two nights is located on a cliff at an altitude of 7,200 feet with a spectacular view of three canyons: Copper, Urique, and Tararequa.

Dinner: At the hotel, we’ll meet in the panoramic dining room for happy hour and dinner.

Evening: At leisure. You might like to gather with new Road Scholar friends in the bar or sit on the balcony to soak in the silence and the magnitude of the canyon.

Canyon Rim, The Tarahumaras
Divisadero, Chihuahua
Posada Mirador

Activity note: Getting in/out of minibuses; short drive on graded road; walking with stops for approximately 1 hour on paved paths mostly flat but uneven. Getting on/off a gondola. Elective walk on short but steep path.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: The day is dedicated to the majestic canyon and its native inhabitants, the Tarahumaras. With our Group Leader, we’ll hop on our minibuses for a short drive along the rim to reach its most scenic stretch. We’ll then continue by foot along a path leading to spectacular viewpoints to fully appreciate the beauty and grandeur of the canyons, a perfect setting for a brief talk on geology imparted by our Group Leader. We will see the famed Piedra Volada (hanging rock), then take a gondola ride to a peak in the middle of a canyon. Meet the Tarahumaras. There are about 50,000 Tarahumara living throughout the Copper Canyon still clinging to their native traditions. Some of the women in their colorful dresses quietly gather in the tourist areas and offer their crafts at the same time as they are making them. We’ll see them working while attending to their little ones, and spot their simple homes and home-caves spread throughout the canyon walls and plateaus. Tarahumaras are known for their extraordinary running abilities, as we will witness in a demonstration of a favorite Tarahumara running game accompanied by some simple dances. We’ll then return to the hotel for lunch.

Lunch: At the hotel.

Afternoon: We’ll have some time to take advantage of the hotel’s strategic location to relax and delight in the majestic views. If desired, you can join a walk to Tarahumara home-caves located on the cliffs below the hotel. In the late afternoon, gather in a private room to delve on the essence of the Tarahumaras. We will be joined by Tarahumara women who will be making their famous baskets using pine needles and sotol (bush spoon) leaves. We’ll try our hand at making our own while the Group Leader discusses the Tarahumaras’ nomadic lifestyle, strict social structure, rich complex inner life, and ancient traditions that are maintained untouched. Due to their isolation and their deep rooted beliefs, the Raramuri (as the Tarahumaras call themselves) are considered the least accultured of the Indigenous groups of America, yet the richest in human relations based on sharing and mutual assistance.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure. You may enjoy the “sobremesa” — lingering at the table to chat after dinner — as is customary in Mexico. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Waterfall & Lake, Steep Descent, Canyon Floor
Batopilas, Chihuahua
Riverside Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off minibuses; driving 110 miles, approximately 4.5 hours riding time on winding steep mountain roads. Walking up to 1 mile on mostly flat but uneven gravel path.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Today we depart by minibuses for an adventurous field trip led by the Group Leader to tropical Batopilas. From the canyon top we’ll descend to the very bottom of Batopilas Canyon, one of the deepest and most spectacular. The drive is memorable, a descent of over 6,700 feet. Immerse yourself in the spectacular views during the drive while the information is shared by the Group Leader at the stops. The first stop along the way is to admire tranquil Lake Arareko surrounded by boulders and a pine forest. At Ejido Cusarare, a communal tract of land, we’ll detour along a riverbed then continue by foot through a rich pine and oak forest to reach the 100-foot Cusarare Fall. Simple Tarahumara homes and caves each with a “milpa,” a small family plot of farmland, dot the area.

Lunch: At a local restaurant.

Afternoon: A series of switchbacks takes us down along canyon walls where every turn reveals a breathtaking scenery. As we ride, observe the changes from oak and pine forest to lush sub-tropical flora with papayas, mangos, oranges, and avocados. We’ll stretch our legs and delight our senses at La Bufa overlook before the final descent into Batopilas, 4,265 feet in 22 miles. Reserved Tarahumaras can be spotted living and working throughout the area, including some of the men still wearing the traditional clothing. The climate and vegetation changes as we arrive in tropical Batopilas. We’ll then settle into the restored 19th-century Hacienda, a peculiar quaint hotel, with time to freshen up before departing for dinner.

Dinner: At a local family restaurant.

Evening: After returning to the hotel, the evening is at leisure.

Tropical Canyon Floor
Batopilas, Chihuahua
Riverside Lodge

Activity note: Getting in/out of minibuses, driving about 10 miles, under 1 hour total riding time. Walking up to 1 mile mostly on cobblestone streets.

Breakfast: In a private home

Morning: Batopilas was established by silver miners and Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century. Nicknamed “the town that glitters like a jewel”, it is considered the “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” because of its mining days, as we learn in a lecture from our Group Leader. Silver made the town rich and famous, the second Mexican town to have electricity. The 300 exploited veins of La Bufa reached world fame, giving a total yield of 300 million ounces. Silver bars were transported to the canyon top on trains of up to 100 mules. Step into the past as we stroll by mansions practically unchanged, along cobblestone streets and through “plazuelas”. A ride in our minibus along the Batopilas River takes us to the Jesuit mission of Satevó, known as the “lost mission” because there are no records of its existence.

Lunch: At a local family restaurant.

Afternoon: We’ll visit the remains of the once grand Shepherd’s Mansion. Ousted from the U.S., Alexander Shepherd found refuge in Batopilas, establishing the prosperous Batopilas Mining Company and becoming “The Silver Magnate”. We’ll continue the walk by the old aqueduct, still in use today. The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure to explore on your own. Before dinner, we’ll regroup at a local restaurant and learn about the history and process of agave-based Mexican beverages such as Tequila and Mezcal during a presentation by our Group Leader, then taste them to distinguish flavors. Salud!

Dinner: At a local family restaurant.

Evening: At leisure. Enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of the remote setting. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

The High Plateau, Pastoral Life, Trading & Logging Town
Creel, Chihuahua
Lodge at Creel

Activity note: Getting in/out of minibuses; driving 80 miles, approximately 3.5 hours riding time on winding steep mountain roads. Walking up to 1 mile on mostly flat but uneven terrain and on sidewalks.

Breakfast: In a private home.

Morning: We’ll check out of the hotel for the return drive to the high Sierra, delighting on the majestic scenery now viewed driving uphill. On the return drive we’ll explore the indigenous Ejido San Ignacio, a scenic valley enclosed by cliffs. Tarahumara dwellings, caves and simple wooden homes are dispersed throughout the valley; women in brightly colored dresses can be spotted throughout. A quaint mission serves as a social center where Tarahumaras gather for their traditional celebrations. The Group Leader will discuss the unique manner in which Catholicism is practiced among the Tarahumaras adapting it to their nature-based beliefs. We will then visit the adjacent indigenous boarding school teaching in Spanish and Raramuri, the native language. We’ll enter a home-cave and meet its reserved inhabitants, then walk though amusing rock formations in the shape of frogs and mushrooms that adorn the valley. Choose a rock to sit on for your box lunch.

Lunch: Box lunch.

Afternoon: We’ll continue to Creel and check in at the hotel. Creel is the largest town in the canyon area. Established in the 1900s as a logging center, Creel is now a picturesque town where Tarahumaras from far and near come to trade their crafts for supplies using an exchange system, although cash was recently introduced. The Group Leader will lead a visit to the small Tarahumara museum. The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to visit the mission store featuring Tarahumara handcrafts. We’ll then gather at the hotel for happy hour before dinner.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Chepe Train, Farewell to the Sierra, Colonial Town
El Fuerte, Sinaloa
Posada Hidalgo

Activity note: Getting on/off a train and walking through train cars while in motion; train time approximately 7.5 hours. Minimal walking on sidewalks. Please note that in case the train is cancelled – occasionally due to extreme weather conditions or maintenance – we have an alternate plan that will take us to a spectacular canyon and waterfall. We will try to provide as much advanced notice as possible in case the change is necessary. Getting in/out of vans.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After check-out, we will transfer to the train station to board the train for what has been described as “the ride in the sky.” The Chihuahua-Pacifico (ChePe) railroad line is a major engineering feat passing through 85 tunnels and 37 bridges. The project began as Albert Owen’s dream to build a railroad connecting the sugar cane paradise of Los Mochis with the central United States, taking almost 80 years to be completed! With the morning sun shining on the cliffs, we’ll enjoy the most striking portion of the line in which the train descends almost 8,000 feet in the 170-mile stretch between Creel and El Fuerte. The Group Leader will be sharing information on the sights along the route as the train twists and turns down the Septentrion Canyon, over bridges and through tunnels.

Lunch: In the restaurant on the train.

Afternoon: Our train ride continues. Upon arrival, we will transfer by van to the charming historic hotel in El Fuerte covered with subtropical vegetation. The colonial town was a leading commercial and agricultural center for Mexico’s northwest for three centuries. A fort (El Fuerte) sits on a hilltop overlooking the rushing El Fuerte river. The Group Leader will lead us on a walk-through town, interpret the murals in the City Hall, share important historical events, and search for birdlife along the El Fuerte river.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At leisure. You may wander through our historic hotel, declared a colonial monument and reputed for its many famous guests. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

Indigenous People, Los Mochis, Flight to TIJ, To San Diego
San Diego, California
Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Mission Valley/Hotel Circle

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving 90 miles, approximately 2 hours riding time. Boarding/deboarding a plane; flight lasts approximately 2 hours. Walking about 400 feet with luggage across the International Bridge (carts available).

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We’ll check out of the hotel after breakfast. Mayo indigenous people inhabit the area. We will enter one of their communities – a little changed through time – and get to know a local family. The Group Leader will point out their simple living arrangements: the separate sleeping quarters made of adobe and mesquite branches, while the living areas are outdoors consisting of a kitchen with a wood cooking stove, a sink, and a dining table. We’ll roll up our sleeves with our host to make tortillas, then learn their history and traditions expressed through songs and dances, especially the famed Deer dance. We will then drive to the shores of Topolobampo Bay for lunch.

Lunch: At a local restaurant along the Topolobampo shore, we’ll enjoy a traditional fish and seafood farewell meal. Share favorite experiences and enjoy camaraderie with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell lunch.

Afternoon: We will spend some time to enjoy the scenery, spot birds, and share favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends before departing for the Los Mochis Airport. We’ll board the flight to Tijuana then cross the CBX International Bridge into the United States. Private transportation will be waiting for us at the exit of the Tijuana U.S. Terminal to transfer us to the San Diego hotel for the final overnight stay.

Dinner: Upon arrival at the airport, we’ll receive box meals which we can enjoy either at the gate or on the plane.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

Program Concludes
San Diego, California

Activity note: Hotel check-out by 11:00 a.m.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: The Group Leader will be present for farewells and to help us with departures from the hotel. This concludes our program. If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!

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