Death Drive (sort of) to Batopilas – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico

This post is part 6 of 9 in the series Copper Canyon, Mexico

People talk about the drive down to the town of Batopilas, deep in the Copper Canyon, as a “white knuckle” trip invoking phrases like “death road” as their eyes widen. This is because of the narrow and bumpy condition of the steep and mostly-dirt road that descends 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) in six miles (nine km). The conspicuous lack of guard rails (or guard anything) between you and the sheer drop-offs into the abyss that exist all along the way do nothing to help the road’s reputation.

Of course, we had to do it.

The first half of the drive from Creel to Batopilas is a paved road with beautiful vistas.

The first half of the drive from Creel to Batopilas was on a paved road with beautiful vistas.

Driving the “Death Road” to Batopilas

Our journey started off pleasantly enough with good pavement and even better views heading out of Creel. Then we traveled over a stretch of road on which our biggest challenges were the workers and huge trucks frantically widening, grading and prepping the surface for impending pavement. So far, so good.

However, the second half is a VERY interesting unpaved road that drops over 6,000 feet. At one point, a big valley opens up. From here we see the Batopilas River and the road nearly 4,000 feet below.

Once the pavement ended, things got VERY interesting as we began a 6,000 foot drop to the canyon floor. From this vista point you can see the Batopilas River and the “road” still nearly 4,000 feet below us.

The way down over 4,000 feet in only 6 miles... switchbacks, many switchbacks.

Switchbacks are the best (ie, the only) way to drop 4,000 feet in just a few miles.

Once the real descent started, however, the road narrowed to about 1.5 car widths in most places. Throw in increasingly tight turns around blind corners eventually culminating in an epic multi-mile stretch of switchbacks, the likes of which we haven’t seen since India and Nepal, and you’ve pretty much got the picture.

Random goats, donkeys and cows were also on the road taking up valuable space but, thankfully, there weren’t a lot of other cars. We only encountered two other vehicles and both times we were lucky enough to be on a section of road that was wide enough to allow us to just squeeze past each other.

A view of the road down (straight down) to the Batopilas River supposedly taken from a helicopter. (not my photo, found online)

This aerial photo (not ours) dramatically shows the road down to the Batopilas River.

Our truck heading down the seemingly never ending switchbacks down to the river.

Negotiating the seemingly never-ending switchbacks down to the Batopilas River.

Batopilas was the only area of the Copper Canyon where we saw Tarahumara/Raramuri men (not just women and girls) in traditional clothes.

Batopilas was the only area of the Copper Canyon where we saw Tarahumara/Raramuri men (not just women and girls) in traditional clothes.

As the road nears the river, the road changes from switchbacks to a more reasonable slope.

As the road neared the river it eased out of switchback mode and adopted gentler turns and inclines.

After a few hours of extremely careful driving we reached the Batopilas River, crossed it and began a much more reasonable gentle ascent on a wider road on the other flank of the canyon. Another hour or so on and we finally reached the town of Batopilas.

The ever present Virgin of Guadalupe watching over travelers onthe rickity bridge.

The ever-present Virgin of Guadalupe watched over us on the creaky wooden bridge over the Batopilas River.

Once the bottom is reaches, it's time to climb up on the other side.

Not there yet: Once we reached the bottom and crossed the river we immediately started climbing up the other flank of the valley to the town of Batopilas.

Arriving in Batopilas

The town of Batopilas is a former silver mining town largely founded and furthered by Alexander Shepherd who was once the mayor of Washington D.C. The richness of the area’s mines made Batopilas an extremely important and powerful place despite its remoteness–so much so that Batopilas was the second city in Mexico to get electricity, after Mexico City.

Today it’s a sleepy long and narrow town stretched out between the Batoplisa River on one side and rocky once-silver-laden cliffs and hills on the other. Batopilas manages to cram in not one but two plazas. Don’t miss the surprisingly compelling (and free) museum off the main square. The young guide on duty the night we went in read his explanations in English from a notebook with a “script” in it.

Oh, and don’t miss meals on the open-air patio at Dona Mica. There’s no sign but its right across from Carolina’s restaurant which we found less delicious and more expensive than Dona Mica. The food isn’t fast at Dona Mica, but it is home made and delicious. We had one of the best Mexican breakfasts here. It took half an hour to get our plates but there was plenty of strong freshly brewed coffee (not Nescafe!) to ease the wait.



Nearing Batopilas, the road follows the river into town.

The road followed the river into the town of Batopilas.

Besides the drive down, another major draw of Batopilas is the Lost  Church of Satevo about eight miles (12 km) out of town. Romantic pictures of this beautiful falling-down domed church appear on many official Chihuahua tourism posters and brochures and we had been looking forward to seeing it. We hurried over a road so bad it made the road down from Creel seem like a superhighway just in time to catch sunset light.

Imagine our disappointment when what we found was not the crumbling exposed brick and vibrant domes shown in the tourism publications but an ugly, boring mono-chromatic church being used as a battleground by village kids playing loudly inside and a garbage dump by everyone else.

We later learned that a “restoration” in 2007 was responsible for erasing the charm and the life from the structure. Even Batopilas locals hate what was done and don’t even get professional architects and renovation experts started on the subject. If you ask us, this is one church would have been much better off if it had remained lost.

20 minutes past the town of Batopilas along a rough road lies the tiny village of Satevo with its famous 'Lost Church' that is evocativly shown on Chihuahua tourist posters throghout Mexico. However, when we arrived we were incredibly disappointed to find a poorly resored and dirty church. Above is a photo found online (not mine), of the church before restorations. Below is my photo of the generic 'Lost Church'.

The famous Lost Church of Satevo is a sad example of “renovation” gone horribly wrong. Above is a photo found online (not ours), of the picturesque church as it used to look. Below is our photo of the church as it looks today.

The Mexican government is nearing completion of a new dirt road that will connect Batopilas with the town of Urique in the neighboring Urique Canyon, creating a spectacular driving loop. But for now, the only way out of Batopilas was back the way up the road we’d come in on–to Eric’s delight and Karen’s resignation.

Read more about travel in Mexico

Series Navigation:<< Going Deep in the Sinforosa – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, MexicoGoing Down – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico >>

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2 comments on “Death Drive (sort of) to Batopilas – Copper Canyon, Chihuahua, Mexico

  1. Pingback: Batopilas Trip

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