The principal airports for the region are Los Mochis and Chihuahua, the two terminal points of the railroad. Connecting flights are available out of both cities, which makes entry into the region fairly easy. But once you arrive, you have to take precautions. Los Mochis is in the state of Sinaloa, home to two violent drug cartels. Chihuahua is the capital of the most violent state in the country, home to one cartel, and disputed territory in the drug wars. Carjackings are not uncommon in both places, making it much safer to fly into this area and move around town by taxi and in daylight. Taking the train through the Copper Canyon is still relatively safe, but getting off and hiking through the area is now a bit more iffy.
It used to be the case that going in high season meant planning an itinerary well in advance, including reserving both train tickets and hotel rooms. Now, with the decrease in travel to the region, limited hotel space is less of a problem. You can make arrangements on your own or go through a travel agent or tour operator. It's possible to buy train tickets as you need them and make last-minute reservations or no reservations at all. There is a small risk that you might run into a large group that has taken all the hotel rooms, but in most locations now, somebody usually has an inexpensive cabin for rent. The most plentiful lodging is to be found in Creel.
Troubled Times In Chihuahua & Sinaloa
Conflicts between drug gangs, and the Mexican government's attempts to eradicate them, have led to increased violence in parts of the states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa. The violence has taken the form of killings, kidnappings, and carjackings. The U.S. Department of State (www.travel.state.gov) has issued a travel warning for the Mexican border area that specifically mentions Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua City, and the Copper Canyon. It doesn't say not to go to the area, but it urges travelers to practice caution and avoid traveling at night. The Mexican government has sent in the military to aid federal and local police. Checkpoints can now be found on many area roads. If you decide to go to the Copper Canyon, be prepared to find added security in and around the cities and on the highways. Don't travel in a way that will make you a target. That means don't drive a personal vehicle, especially a pickup or SUV, which are highly desired by gangs, and don't travel alone into areas of the canyon that are too far off the beaten path.
The canyon lands are prime growing areas for marijuana. This didn't used to be a source of anxiety for tour operators. And travelers driving or hiking through the canyons didn't used to be a concern for the local growers. But violence in the region has escalated, there have been shootings in some of the small towns, and everyone's nerves are on edge. Travelers through the canyon should consider limiting their outings to areas that are seen primarily as tourist destinations.
Going Solo On Foot: Not A Good Idea
If you're planning to hike in the Copper Canyon, it's a good idea to have company, especially someone who knows the area and speaks Spanish. To be on the safe side, don't go too far from the main parts of the canyon.