If you want to get a true idea of the sierra's size, a trip to isolated BATOPILAS is all but compulsory. Located 140km south of Creel, the town is accessible only via a nerve-wrenching six-hour drive on primitive dirt roads. The route rises and falls through four of the sierra's six canyons before commencing a final, convoluted descent to the floor of Batopilas canyon. Founded in 1632, the town emerged as a prosperous silver-mining centre, with production peaking in the nineteenth century under the auspices of the Batopilas Mining Company. By the early twentieth century, the surrounding mineral reserves were exhausted and the population had plummeted. For many years Batopilas was forgotten by the outside world – the town only received road connections in the 1970s and electricity in 1988. Today it's a peaceful, subtropical place with a population of about 800. Resplendent with bougainvillea, palm and citrus trees and strung along a single two-kilometre road by the Río Batopilas, it's a world away from the fresh pine forests of Creel. There are several worthwhile hikes here, leading to everything from Rarámuri villages to abandoned mines and waterfalls. The best of these go to the "Lost Cathedral", a huge mission church 7km away at Satevo that stands beautifully isolated in a desolate landscape of cacti and dust. A longer, two-day trek leads to the town of Urique, and can be easily organized with an operator in Creel (see "The Sierra Tarahumara").
Buses and vans leave Creel six times a week from Hotel Los Pinos on López Mateos (buses: Tues, Thurs & Sat 7.30am; vans: Mon, Wed & Fri 9.30am; both M$175). Tickets are available from the El Towi artesanía shop, next to the hotel. Return buses leave from outside the church in Batopilas at 5am, but always check for changes in the schedule. There is no official tourist office in Batopilas – Three Amigos in Creel (see "The Sierra Tarahumara") can supply you with a map and other useful information. Telephones and a post office can be found on the main plaza in Batopilas, though public Internet facilities do not seem to have reached the town yet. Most importantly, there is no bank here, so be sure to bring enough pesos for your stay.
The cheapest lodgings are found at Hotel Batopilas (no phone; Price: M$150-200), two blocks north of the plaza. Casa Monse (Tel:649/456-9027; Price: M$200-250), on the plaza itself, also has cheap rooms in a courtyard overflowing with plants, and an artesanía store attached. Next door you'll find Juanita's (Tel:649/456-9043; Price: M$250-350), which has large, clean rooms, and many quiet enclaves in which to relax. The best mid-range option is Casa Real de Minas Aranasaina (Tel:649/456-9045; Price: M$500-750), which has bright, beautifully decorated rooms around a central courtyard. The exquisite and very secluded Copper Canyon Riverside (Tel:1-800-776-3942, Web: www.coppercanyonlodges ; Price: M$1100-1500) is the best place in town and only accepts advance bookings. Dining in Batopilas is fairly simple. Restaurant Carolina at the small Plaza de la Constitución, does decent and affordable home-cooked Mexican staples, as does Casa Doña Mica opposite. The Swinging Bridge, just off the main plaza, is the place for a cold beer, and also serves wine, steaks and seafood. Quinto Patio, inside Hotel Mary's near the church, serves standard economical fare including breakfasts.
If you decide to make the drive down the canyon on your own, be sure to leave early enough to arrive by sundown and make certain that the brakes on your vehicle are in top shape – you'll be using them for much of the descent. A more novel way of reaching Batopilas is by bicycle. Three Amigos in Creel (see "The Sierra Tarahumara") offer a unique cycling tour where a pick-up truck follows you down with your luggage and a picnic.