Creel has a population of around 7,000 always loads of tourists although they never outnumber the locals. The town was previously a logging town but now, because of its proximity to the Copper Canyon and its own surrounding natural beauty, it’s a popular tourist destination and a Pueblo Magico in its own right.
Most people seem to spend just a couple of days here but if you can, I’d highly recommend taking the time and exploring Creel more fully as it’s a cute little place with enough day trip opportunities to keep you occupied for a week.
Tarahumara / Raramuri
This isn’t the place for a lecture about the local indigenous people, mainly because I wouldn’t want to pretend to know more than I do about a whole group of people. What I know is that the Raramuri are an indigenous people who
are primarily known to the rest of the world for their long-distance running abilities. While their own name for themselves is the Raramuri, they are also often known as the Tarahumara, which is what the Spanish named them when arriving in Mexico in the sixteenth century. Prior to the Spanish arrival, they had lived across much of the state of Chihuahua but they retreated to the canyons and hills rather than get too involved with the invaders.
While I very much enjoyed the read, I now realise that I wound up with a naive and romanticised view of the Raramuri people. The impression one gets from this book is of a people who live simply, deliberately eschew modern consumerism and live to run. While I don’t doubt there are people like that, it left me surprised to see Raramuri people begging on the streets of Chihuahua. A taxi driver we met whose wife teaches in a school for Raramuri kids, said that for most, coming to Chihuahua hadn’t been a success as there’s little there for them. Another person we spoke with in Creel, who was originally from a Raramuri community, told us that so often those who head to Chihuahua end up using drink and drugs and losing their traditional way of life. He also told us that many do still deliberately live a simple life and it’s easy to spot their small homes as you head out of town: they’re small so they are easy to heat in the cold winter months.
In Creel, there are many Raramuri people, some begging (“regalo me un peso” is the precise phrase we heard a lot, it means ‘present me a peso’), some selling handicrafts and some there when there is work or help from the government. A child we were chatting with (all in broken Spanish) said she and her mum come in from their small home regularly but she didn’t know why they were in town that day. Most couldn’t give a damn about the tourists milling around and taking photos of them in their beautifully colourful dresses (the men, by the way, are rarely seen in town, they’re busy working, according to our guide). We found that out of town, when we were exploring the hills around Creel, people were much more likely to respond to a hello (in Spanish or the Raramuri language – kuiraba) and a wave than they were in town.
Naturally, we saw no suggestion of anyone running particularly well – why would we? The people we did see in Creel were as representatively mixed between being large and lithe as any other Mexican community. We enjoyed exchanging grins over kids being ridiculous when one of mine had a strop on the square, and when the little girl behind us in the supermarket queue kept sneaking unhealthy cereal into her dad’s basket, but otherwise, they did their thing and we did ours except the one six-year-old girl who marched right up to us and started playing with my kids and asking me questions all about us and our lives in her broken Spanish. That was a treat. She was a really brave little kid and we had a lovely time playing and chatting with her.
Things To Do In Creel
Personally, I’d say part of Creel’s attraction is the day trips and tours you can take from here, whether under your own steam or with a guide. Some bits and pieces will definitely be doable on foot or on bikes but others require a vehicle for sure. We used a guide for two days, a taxi for two days and spent other days just pottering around town exploring walks nearby. Everyone offering day tours has pretty much the same list. Again, to do something off-piste you’d need to talk to the more bespoke tour companies.
We happened to find a guy with a four-by-four so we used him. We saw plenty of others being driven in larger groups on refurbished US school buses. Our driver and guide told us the tour prices don’t vary much no matter how you choose to move around but there’s more freedom, obviously, if you get a private guide and car.
If you’re the type of person who likes to book tours in advance then you’ll need to be using Three Amigos. I’m sure the tours are stupendous but you’ll pay through the nose and in USD. If you’re willing to show up and assume you will find tours (you will) then you will pay far less and you’ll pay in pesos. You’ll also potentially be in a position to bargain and make a personalised plan depending on the number of tourists in town.
We used Oscar from Tarahumara Tours. We also spoke to Gilberto from the same company. They both operate out of a small booth in front of the Creel sign on the main square. Gilberto speaks perfect English (my parents used him as their tour guide when they visited in November 2018 and found him to be excellent). Oscar speaks a little English but clearly prefers Spanish. We only spoke Spanish with him, which leads me to assume our Spanish is better than his English. He was full of magic tricks to entertain the kids and was very tolerant of the kids in general. I’d happily recommend both as truly nice guys who did their best to ensure we could do what we wanted and in a way that worked for us as a family with small kids. He was also full of great local information and was more than happy to make changes to the itinerary whenever we had wild and crazy ideas of what we wanted to do.
I highly recommend taking a few minutes to check out the Museo de Arte Popular, on the other side of the railway tracks from the Creel city sign. It costs $10 pesos per person and is small yet interesting.
The Most Common Places To See On Day Trips From Creel
Of course, there are in-depth tours from Creel that head off into the countryside but we didn’t have the funds to take more bespoke tours. And because our kids are still small, we decided they might not appreciate them yet either. But, the most commonly offered options of tours from Creel are:
Valle de Hongos y Ranas – Valley of Mushrooms and Frogs
This is basically a stunningly beautiful valley where the rock formations bear a striking resemblance to mushrooms and frogs…possibly, maybe, sort of. I’d forget the shapes and just marvel in the stunning beauty of the place. We had a wonderful time exploring here and picking up some fun souvenirs. There was a massive storm rolling around the edges of the valley when we were there. It was fascinating, especially as we were lucky that the rain only arrived as we were leaving! I’ve seen other blogs suggesting this isn’t an interesting place to check out and I’d disagree entirely. It might not be as spectacular as scenery in the true Copper Canyon (remember, you’re still on the outskirts here) but it truly is beautiful in its own right.
Cueva de Tarahumara – Tarahumara Cave
It’s a cave where people still live…and sell you souvenirs.
Mision San Ignacio – San Ignacio Church
It’s a small, old church. We didn’t go in because it was full of other tourists, the guide didn’t think it was particularly worth our time and we aren’t that fussed by small, old churches.
Piedra del Elefante – Elephant Rock
It’s a rock on the side of the road that looks like an elephant. And people are there to sell you souvenirs.
Lago de Arareko – Lake Arareko
The lake is calm and beautiful. The twenty minutes we spent there on a tour wasn’t enough so we headed back with a cab later. You can grab a small snack there ….and souvenirs.
If, like me, you’re a lot in love with small Mexican towns, then I highly recommend you put Tequila, Jalisco on your list of places to visit.
Cascada de Cusarare – Cusarare Waterfall
This is a stunningly beautiful waterfall, particularly if you go in the rainy season, which we did. We loved the drive there, the walk to it, the viewpoint and the chance to clamber all over the rocks at the bottom. You can buy snacks and souvenirs all along the walk. This was a completely magical day and probably the kids’ favourite thing to do in Creel. There were plenty of other visitors there when we went as July is high season.
My parents visited in the dry season and found the waterfall much smaller. They still had a fabulous time and still thought it was worth a visit. They told me that it was possible to walk across the top of the waterfall at this time of year.
This is another valley, also stunningly beautiful and good for hiking around. It’s about 15km outside of Creel. We got here by hiring a cab to drive us there, wait an hour and drive us back. This trip cost $360 pesos. Quite honestly we wished we asked him to wait longer than one hour as we had so much fun exploring and climbing. You can also hire quad bikes to get here, or go by normal bike. The valley is accessed through the Valley of the Frogs and Mushrooms. It costs $15 pesos an adult to enter. Don’t pay the $25 pesos to enter the other valleys as you don’t have to pay both entrance fees.
This area was apparently called ‘Penis Valley’ by the local people until the conquistadors arrived and decided this name wouldn’t do at all. They changed it to the much duller ‘Monks’ Valley’. You could just sit and enjoy the very large ‘penis’ monoliths, or if you’re feeling adventurous keep walking up and up, following the white arrows.
You get driven to the entrance (additional $25 pesos per adult and $15 per child) and your driver then waits for you as you walk the 30-45 minute trail to the thermal baths, have a splash about and walk back up. Be warned, it is extremely steep. Our kids managed it but the little one didn’t enjoy the walking that much. There are sometimes local drivers offering to take people back up for $60 pesos per person but they weren’t working the day we were there. You can’t take private cars down to the bottom as the road is too steep. There are chilling reminders of the dangers of the road in the markers for people who died going over the edge in the past 10 years.
There is nothing except the small pools and a changing room here so be sure to take supplies of water and snacks. We saw Mexican families with full picnics down there.
The small pueblo mágico Creel is the preferred entry point for most visitors into the beautiful Copper Canyon, and it’s easy to see why – within a 25km (15.5 mile) radius, there are tons of nearby attractions that can be easily accessed and explored. Here’s our pick of the top experiences in and around Creel.
If you’re interested in taking home some souvenirs and supporting the local economy while you’re in Creel, Artesanías Misión is widely recommended as the best place to pick up some artesanías at a reasonable price in the town centre. There you’ll find plenty of traditional handicrafts of the indigenous Rarámuri people.
Valle de los Monjes
Perhaps one of Creel’s most famous nearby attractions , the Valle de los Monjes (Valley of the Monks) is named after the intriguing rock formations that look like, you guessed it, monks. Situated 11km (6.8 miles) from Creel, it costs less than a dollar to access and makes for a dramatic photoshoot location, or the ideal spot to satisfy the geology nerd within you.
Valley of the Frogs and Valley of the Mushrooms
If you prefer your freaky rock formation a little closer to home, you can stop by both the Valle de las Ranas (Valley of the Frogs) and the Valle de los Hongos (Valley of the Mushrooms) just 5km (3.1 miles) outside of Creel As their names suggests, the towering stones bear some passing resemblance to both frogs and mushrooms.
San Ignacio Mission
While you’re in the vicinity of the Valleys of the Frogs and Mushrooms, stop by the San Ignacio Mission. Built by Jesuits in the 18th century, this petite church is still in use and draws congregations of indigenous people to worship on Sundays in particular.
Recohuata Hot Springs
There’s nothing more relaxing than hanging out in some hot springs, and you can do just that only 22km (13.7 miles) from Creel at the Recohuata Hot Springs (sometimes spelled Recowata). While they’re not entirely natural (read: they’re made of concrete), the surroundings are all the work of Mother Nature herself and the picturesque surroundings are unbeatable. However, you might have to work for your relaxation, by hiking into the Tararecua Canyon to access them.
A little closer to Creel, about 10km (6.2 miles) from the town itself, lies Lake Arareko, an intriguingly U-shaped body of water which sits at roughly the same altitude as Mexico City. Enjoy a picnic, the pine tree surrounds and the assorted animals that can be found there, before perhaps taking to the water in a rowing boat. This is a tranquil place to explore with children.
Cristo Rey Statue
Another option for visitors to Creel who want to contain their exploration to the town itself (although you absolutely shouldn’t, as the really good stuff lies outside of Creel) is the Cristo Rey statue. Hiking up to this monument is relatively quick and easy, and will give you both great views over the town below as well as a good photo opportunity.
Cascada de Cusárare
The Cascada de Cusárare, also known in English as the Cusárare Waterfall, is also the furthest away of Creel’s nearby attractions, situated some 25km (15.5 miles) out of town. However, the journey is worth it as this waterfall (and the nearby Cusárare town with its Jesuit Mission) are both must-visits for anyone exploring the Copper Canyon .The best time to stop by is post-rainy season when the water cascades dramatically down the 30 metre (98 feet)-high cliff face.
Museo Casa de las Artesanías
Finally, to learn more about the region’s local history and the story of the Tarahumara people, Creel’s well-conceived Museo Casa de las Artesanias is more than worth an hour of your time. There you’ll find photographs and some simple displays in both English and Spanish, as well as a great gift shop full of Tarahumara folk art.