Urique, Chihuahua, Mexico is a Birding Paradise
By Keith Ramsay
Updated Nov 2018
Urique, an old mining town established by the Spanish more than 300 years ago, is the heart of Mexico’s world-famous Copper Canyon. Be aware that this part of Mexico is one of the highest drug-related crime centers of the country.
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The Copper Canyon is the deepest canyon in North America, and Urique is at its deepest point. It is a spectacular and exotic hiking and birding paradise.
Urique is not a tourist town. The people are not “burned out.” They tend to be friendly and every bit as curious about the tourists as the tourists are about them. The main source of income locally at present is probably marijuana farming.
WHEN TO GO
Mid-October through mid-April is considered the best months for camping and hiking. Even in the coldest months, January and February, the days are warm, and it never freezes at night. Rain is unusual during these months. May and June are always very hot and dry, but as soon as the rains start in late June or early July, Urique becomes a lush, green, and tropical place.
During July, August, and September, Urique is at its most beautiful, but this is not a good time to camp out because of the monsoon-style thunderstorms and insects such as chiggers.
Most people take the famous Copper Canyon train ride, starting either from Chihuahua or from Los Mochis.
They leave the train at Bahuichivo and either take the route bus or hire a truck to take them to Urique. People arriving from the Chihuahua side, however, have the choice of driving all the way to Urique via Creel. The road is paved all the way to San Rafael.
Beyond San Rafael, the road is a beautiful drive, but it not for vehicles with less clearance than a pick-up truck or SUV, and it is not recommended that you do it in a vehicle with automatic transmission. Do not drive at night, under any circumstances.
The town of Urique, and everything around it qualifies as an attraction. This is a truly exotic and spectacular location with “picture postcard” views in every direction. Enjoy the scenery.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION
Day hikes up and down the river and up several local arroyos offer beautiful places to swim; tropical vegetation; birds such as magpie jays, parrots, macaws, and trogons; Indigenous Tarahumara Indian settlements; world-class scenery.
BEST ACTIVITIES AND TOURS
Hiking, birding, swimming in the river, horseback riding and getting to know the local people all qualify as things worth doing.
- Columbus Copper Canyon Travel
Organizes birdwatching, hiking and village visits with native guides and ecolodges.
- La Coopertiva de los Guias Alta y Baja Tarahumara
Offers village homestays, pack trekking and canyoneering.
- Entre Amigos’ Urique School of Homestead Skills
Just upriver of the town and locally known as La Casa de Keith y Violeta. Learn the basics of rural homesteading with a couple that have built the entire compound themselves.
The best place to stay is at Entre Amigos’ Urique School of Homestead Skills. They have a campground shaded by ancient and very large mesquite trees as well as some very private and secluded sites. Hot showers for campers and for people staying in their bunkhouse. Cost for people camping or staying in the bunkhouse is the peso equivalent of $10 US per person per night.
They also have a guesthouse suitable for groups of as many as four and rooms in the house for rent on a bed and breakfast basis, about $50 per night and hostel beds for $15.
The best place to eat in Urique is at Tita’s Restaurant Plaza. The setting is in a garden off the street. The service is cheerful, the portions are generous, and the cost is modest.
Urique is technically “dry,” although there is a lot of drinking. The Plaza Restaurant has a permit to serve beer with meals, and there is almost always beer available on a “bootleg” basis. Accordingly, prices are high. The Tarahumaras and many other local folks drink a homebrew made from sprouted corn called Tesguino.
It is usually available if you ask around. If you like to have a drink of some particular hard liquor, you are best off bringing some with you and then keeping it to yourself.
Urique’s Patron Saint Day is September 7. It is a big all-night party with matachines, food, and a lot of drinking. During Semana Santa (Easter week), the Tarahumaras have their annual blow-out — a three-day party (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before Easter Sunday) in both Guadalupe Coronado and Guapalaina, two nearby (within walking distance) towns.
BEST LOCAL HAUNT
We have some ghost stories, but the town is not touristy enough to have hangouts. Kids hang out and play in the plaza and in the street in general, and many nights, the main street by the river amounts to a town-long public party. People play Mexican bingo in front of houses, and people gather in front of stores to watch card and domino games
The Central is the biggest and oldest store in town, but it is still at the stage where you go up to a counter and point out things you want to buy. They have the largest selection of things intended for Tarahumaras, and they also usually have some Tarahumara handicrafts for sale such as rugs and baskets.
There are various other small abarotes (general stores) and one subsidized food store (Liconsa) with the best prices for basics such as cornmeal, flour, beans, powdered milk.
VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
US citizens need only their driver’s license, birth certificate or passport to enter Mexico. All other nationalities should consult the Mexican embassy.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Normal south of the border precautions apply. Eat only hot cooked foods, peel fruits and vegetables and drink bottled or purified water. Take care not to dehydrate and wear sunscreen.
- Review the Crime and Safety Reports for Mexico.
MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Pesos work best in Urique. You can use American dollars in small denominations, but you won’t get a very good exchange rate. Traveler’s Checks are hard to use. The Mestizos speak Spanish; most of the Tarahumaras do, too. People are forgiving and won’t look down on you if you communicate mainly by waving your arms around.
International phone and email are possible, but a bit sketchy.
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