Creel and around

Creel is the commercial centre of the Tarahumara region and is named after Enrique Creel (1854-1931), economist and entrepreneur, and governor of Chihuahua state in 1907. He initiated the building of the railway and planned to improve the Tarahumara's lives by establishing a colony here.

Tourism is becoming dominant in this sleepy, pine-scented mountain town, the starting point for most planned forays into the wilderness, including the Barranca del Urique and the Barranca del Cobre. It is also the place to take an unforgettable bus ride to the even sleepier village of Batópilas .

There's not much to actually do in town, but it's worth checking out the
Museo de la Casa Artesanías
 which has interesting exhibitions on Rarámuri culture, including a fascinating collection of documentary photographs.

San Ignacio and rock formations

The San Ignacio ejido, a land-owning co-operative just on the edge of town, is a great spot for easy hikes or bike rides. Dominated by open fields, vast grey cliffs, diminutive farming communities and lonely wooden houses, the landscape here offers a tentative taste of canyon country. Most interesting are the eerie rock formations, which suggest everything from human faces to brooding giants. The rocks are made from rayolite, a soft stone that easily eroded by the elements.

As you descend from the
ejido
entrance, the first site you'll reach, around 1 km away, is the
Valley of the Mushrooms
, with formations reminiscent of giant toadstools. Rarárumi women or children may be selling crafts or colourful trinkets. Continue downhill and you'll soon reach the
San Ignacio Mission
, built by Jesuits in the early 18th century.

Nearby is a school and a path heading 5 km east to the
Bisabirachi Valley
('Valley of the Monks', also known locally as the Valley of Erect Penises), where tall, phallus-like structures rise up against a back-drop of pine trees and smooth cliffs. The Rarámuri revere this site for its associations with fertility. As you're walking towards the valley, the track rises and falls with many branch roads, so keep heading in the same rough direction. As you near the entrance, you'll arrive at a small dwelling and a signed access path.

From Bisabirachi Valley, it is possible to make a circuit that takes in Lago Arareko before heading back to Creel. Return up the access path and head back in the direction of the San Ignacio Mission. Very soon you will reach a branch road to the left, follow this through a cattle gate (shut it behind you) and continue for 5 km through the pine trees. Keep your eye out for a distant white patch, which is the highway back to Creel. Once you reach Lago Arareko, you have the option of taking a path north to the San Ignacio Mission, or following the highway itself. Allow half a day for this circuit.

Lago Arareko

The horseshoe-shaped Lago Arareko is a tranquil expanse of water where you can simply unwind or enjoy a scenic picnic. It was created in the 1950s to serve as reservoir for Creel, but has never been used as such. There are a handful of simple lodgings dotted around the shores, managed by the Complejo Ecoturístico Arareko in town. It's possible to rent rowing boats, and the lake is populated by large-mouth bass, mojarra and other fish; no fishing licence required. To get there from Creel, follow the highway south of town, 8 km, or hike south from the school next to the San Ignacio Mission.

Rekowata Aguas Termales

The hot springs of Rekowata are 22 km outside Creel, requiring a bike, horse or own transport to reach them. Popular with locals and tourists, the springs have been siphoned into what is essential a large public swimming pool. The waters are at body temperature, so don't expect steaming therapeutic experiences.

Cusárare

Twenty kilometres south of Lake Arareko, is Cusárare ('place of the eagles'), with a Jesuit church dating back to 1741. Painted by indigenous craftsmen, it is one of the most beautiful and interesting missions in the area. The nearby Museo Loyola contains religious paintings and Rarámuri crafts. Cusárare waterfallis 3 km from the village entrance on the road to Creel. The falls are best July to September; at other times of the year they can diminish to a sad trickle. There is very good hiking around Cusárare, but a guide may be necessary (Señor Reyes Ramírez and his son have been recommended). The hot springs at Basirecota are four hours away, requiring an overnight stay in Cusárare.

You can reach Cusaráre from Creel by public bus to Batópilas or Guachochi, although these run only a few times a day and you may find yourself stuck; check schedules before setting out. Cycling can be moderate to tough.

Creel to Batópilas

The road south out of Cusárare leads eventually to Batópilas. This is one of the most scenic and inspirational roads in northern Mexico, winding precariously through the mountains, trees and immense canyon systems. If you want to experience the true scale of the region, then this trip is obligatory. Ramshackle buses depart Monday to Saturday from Creel (five to six hours), requiring an overnight stay in Batópilas.

Heading south from Cusárare, you will pass turn-offs to:
El Tejabán
, above the Barranca del Cobre (claimed to be the 'real' Copper Canyon);
Basíhuare
('Sash') village, surrounded by pink and white rock formations; and the
Puente del Río Urique
, spanning the Urique Canyon. The area is ideal for camping.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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