Is it Safe to Go to Copper Canyon in Mexico?

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Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre) is a haven for hiking, biking and adventure. But it's in the middle of drug cartel territory, so is it safe for travelers?


Copper Canyon at sunset in Mexico Photo © Getty Images/Arturo Peña Romano Med

Is Copper Canyon safe?

The Copper Canyon region in Northern Mexico is a transit area for drugs and associated drug crime. In 2016, the Mexican police established a new base in Sierra Tarahumara, to ensure law and order is upheld in the region.

Most crime and violence is between drug gangs and rarely aimed at tourists, but it's possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It's not in your best interests to drive through border areas, but if you choose to do so, all take necessary precautions.

  • Keep the vehicle doors locked and windows up
  • Avoid driving after dark
  • Stick to the main highways
  • Steer clear of isolated roads.

The towns along the way are relatively safe. Take caution when out at night and avoid withdrawing cash from an ATM. If you have had a bit of a rowdy night at a bar, don't walk back to your accommodation, grab a taxi instead.

The local authorities advise avoiding wandering outside in any of the towns at night, and definitely avoid getting involved with illegal activities, such as drugs. Some local guides also advise travelers to avoid taking photos of anyone carrying a gun.

Is it safe to hike Copper Canyon?

Hiking rim to rim in Copper Canyon (or a portion of it) is a popular activity and a great way to merge outdoor adventure with local culture. The best time to visit this alpine area is November to March. Summer (June to July) is hot as hell, and late summer is monsoon season (August to September).

The Copper Canyon region consists of a group of seven large canyons spanning 25,000mi² , and is approximately four times larger than the Grand Canyon in the USA.

Here are some handy safety tips:

  • Tell someone where you are going
  • Avoid hiking alone. Aside from potential criminal trouble, if you happen to have a medical mishap, someone is there to help you and seek further assistance. On 28 October 2018, a US man left his hotel in Urique to go for a walk which led to a large-scale land and air search by local authorities. Sadly, his body was found three weeks later a mile from where he was last seen. Local authorities reported that the man had been murdered by a member of the infamous Sinaloa drug cartel
  • Avoid traveling anywhere in Copper Canyon off the beaten path, without a trusted local guide. Some of the paths in the canyon aren't well signed or recognizable
  • It's a good idea to know some Spanish and, if you don't, take a guide
  • Make sure you have adequate food, water and clothing
  • Have a sleeping mat puncture kit in your bag. No one needs a crap night's sleep because your mat has gone flat
  • Pack your belongings in dry bags so they don't get wet while crossing rivers
  • Pack a travel first aid kit. Aside from getting gravel rash or a cut if you fall, Copper Canyon is home to rattlesnakes and Mexican bearded dragons
  • Wear plenty of sunscreen, light long-sleeved clothing, hat and sunglasses. The sun's rays are stronger at high altitudes.

Is the Copper Canyon train safe?

It is safe to catch the train through Copper Canyon, but take care of your belongings, and keep your luggage on you at all times. The El Chepe train has armed guards on both first and second class trains.

Safety for women in Copper Canyon

For women traveling alone, stick to the well traveled locations.

  • Travel by train and keep your valuables secure while on the train
  • Stay in tourist-orientated hotels along the main train line
  • Always use a trusted guide, especially if you want to venture off the beaten track.

Common sense usually prevails, so keep your wits about you and your trip should be trouble free.

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1 Comment

  • Ignatz said

    What the hell is a "Mexican bearded dragon"? Do you mean a Mexican beaded lizard? They're extremely rare in any case and your chance of encountering one is almost zero.

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