Creel is a city of 5,000 people (2010) in the Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua state. Tourism is the primary industry because it is close to the Copper Canyon and to Basaseachic Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in Mexico. There are many hotels, restaurants and a number of tours down into the canyons and throughout the surrounding area.
Creel has a cool subtropical highland climate, characterised by mild days and cold nights with frost occurring most mornings from October to April, though daytime temperatures in those months remain comfortable. Precipitation during the winter is not infrequent, but snowfalls are not particularly common, occurring on average only four days per year (more frequently on the nearby mountain peaks).
It is 175 km (109 mi) southwest of the state capital, Chihuahua City.
Estrella Blanca buses run about every other hour from Chihuahua City for about US$20 one way. These are local (non-express) buses that make many stops along the way. So, they aren't real fast but are comfortable and convenient nonetheless. The train also leaves from Chihuahua City twice a day (once for 1st class service, another for 2nd class).
Second class train from Chihuahua to Creel costs US$33, 1st class is double that. The scenery between Chihuahua and Creel is mostly unimpressive so many recommend taking a cheaper, faster, and more frequent bus ride instead. Scenery after Creel is very impressive so switch to the train in Creel (second class train is supposed to leave town at 13:20) and ride to Bahuichivo, disembark there and catch the bus (which will be waiting for the train) for a ride down into the canyon. Fare from Creel to Bahuichivo for 2nd class is about US$12.
Horseback is certainly the best way to see the Copper Canyon area (Sierra Tarahumara). They can be hired from a number of people in Creel. If your Spanish is good you can negotiate pretty good rates from non-commercial rancheros. If you can't afford horses (or are afraid of them) mountain biking, ATVs, dirtbikes can also be hired in town. Or a good pair of hiking boots and strong legs will take you to many beautiful sites not far from town.
The scenery to the east, south, and west of Creel is breathtaking. The easiest area to access is probably the Mesa to the immediate east of town. This is the location of Lago Arareko, the Rio Conchas canyon, and the Valley of the Frogs and the Monks (Valle de las Ranas, Valle de los Monques).
A good canyon hike is to make your way to Lago Arareko then follow the stream that flows out of the lake (gradually forming Tarahueca canyon) down to the Recohuata Hot Springs area. Plan to camp a night or two down in the canyon, before walking the cobblestone road back up to the rim and the highway where it's easy to hitch a ride back into Creel. If hitching fails it's downhill all the way along the highway until you reach town so walking is easy.
Mountain biking, horseback riding, and rock climbing are all easy to arrange in Creel. During Semana Santa, helicopter flights through the surrounding canyons are also available (note: Creel is very crowded with Mexican tourists from the large southern cities during the week preceding Easter Sunday).
Mountain bikes can be rented for M$200 (pesos) a day at the 3 Amigos Adventure Tours which is on the main street. This includes helmet, map, tool kit and pump. There are a few easily navigable routes, suitable for riding solo as well.
The Tarahumara Mission store next to the Catholic Church on the town's main plaza is a good source for maps, guidebooks, and locally produced crafts. Some of the employees are also good for area information. Lots of small souvenir shops on the town's main street (Indian blankets, sandals or huaraches, shirts etc). Proceeds from the mission store support Tarahumara schools and medical clinics.
Tio Molca's on the town's main street is perhaps the best place in town. There are many other restaurants but they all have essentially the same menu. The food is good in most of them, but one wishes there was a little more variety available. The hangover hospital (el tuncar) next to the railroad station is something of a local institution and should be given a try. Also at night there are food carts downtown selling tasty hot dogs and burgers (nothing fancy but delicious all the same). During the day there's usually a few grills going near the town's small market area.
- Pizza del Rey, Av. Lopez Mateos 5, 635. 456 0538.
- Tio Molcas, Av. Lopez Mateos 35, 635. 456 0033. Probably the most popular eating establishment in Creel. There is also a popular but cozy bar that is attached. Regional Mexican food and drinks are good and reasonably priced. Bar has a good mix of locals and tourists. It's a good place to meet guides as well as travelling partners. The bar also has a fireplace which is very nice as Creel often gets cold at night. Open late on weekend nights.
Creel is experiencing a building boom. Each year several new hotels/guesthouses are constructed. The standbys are the same as ever.
Margarita's is the most well known of the bunch. It holds the reputation of being the backpacker center of Copper Canyon, though in 2013 it seemed to be 'upgrading' to a regular hotel. The place is under renovation and dorms are no longer available. While Margarita's used to be a cheapie, private rooms now start at M$500 (US$38), though this can be bargained down somewhat. Free dinner and breakfast is included in the price, though while this used to be served in a common room, you now have to get this at a nearby affiliated hotel.
- Casa Maria, Lopez Mateos 11, 635 456 0022.
There are numerous guide services available in Creel. Uramike's Expeditions run by a friendly Mexican man and his Welsh wife are often recommended. Even if you don't hire him, he is generous with information and area advice. But there are lots of others (Margarita's and many of the other hotels offer guided excursions) so don't hesitate to shop around.
Take the bus to Guachochi, the cultural center of the Tarahumara as well as the jumping off point for Sinforosa Canyon (the queen of the canyons).