My journey began in Baja California, the long narrow finger of land extending south from Mexico’s border with the USA that has become a playground for the rich and famous with its uber-luxury resorts.
I had the exacting task of familiarising myself with one of these, One&Only Palmilla, an exclusive hideaway at Los Cabos where you are treated like a celebrity by your personal butler. Service here is discreet but absolutely impeccable, the food out of this world and the free foot massages by the pool pure bliss! If you want to escape and be pampered, then this is the place to head for.
There is though more to Baja California than free foot massages, however, and I found time to explore the 18th Century Spanish town of San Jose del Cabo and the magical ‘pueblo’ of Todos Santos, with their art galleries, quirky boutique hotels and restaurants; snorkel with barking sea lions and dolphins at Isla Los Islotes; kayak and paddle board in the calm waters off Espiritu Santo Island; and even explore the Sea of Cortez aboard a Turkish gulet.
A 45-minute flight from La Paz to Los Mochis and a 2-hour drive inland then brought me the charming colonial town of El Fuerte. Following a night at Pousada de Hidalgo, a beautiful period mansion built on what is believed to be the site of El Zorro’s house, I boarded the iconic Chihuahua al Pacifico, or El Chepe as it is fondly known, for a spectacular 2-day, 400-mile train journey. Climbing to over 8,000 feet, El Chepenegotiates narrow forested gorges, countless bridges and seemingly impossible mountain tunnels as it skirts the magnificent mile-deep canyons of the Sierra Madre that are home to the Tarahumara Indians, Mexico’s least westernised indigenous tribe.
The train is the perfect way to experience and to enjoy the grandeur of the Madre, and is very comfortable with two or three air conditioned passenger cars, reclining seats and a restaurant that serves delicious local cuisine. Stops are also made en route at the picturesque villages of Cerocahui and Creel, where you can explore the beautiful Valley of the Monks, and at Divisadero for views of the six main canyons or ‘barrancas’ that are known collectively as the Copper Canyon and form an area more than four times the size of the Grand Canyon. The scenery is breathtaking beyond words, especially so from the gondola and zip line that have recently been installed here and are an amazing experience, although concerns have been rightly raised for the well-being and culture of the Tarahumara.
This was my second visit to Mexico and, as I alighted from the train at the city of Chihuahua, I promised myself it would not be the last. To experience what must be one of the world’s great engineering feats was a real privilege, but more importantly the journey aboard El Chepe was the perfect showcase for the warmth of Mexico’s people and the beauty of its natural landscapes…and I was left wanting more.