Cananea, Sonora, Mexico

The historic Sonoran mining community of Cananea, located in Northeastern Sonora about a one-hour drive from Naco, Arizona, is the city located at the northernmost end of Sonora highway 8 (or 89), commonly known as the Route of the Rio Sonora.

The region was originally inhabited by native Pima and Opata peoples, and Spanish explorers and Jesuit missionaries arrived in the area in the 1760’s. The city is located in the mountainous region known as the Sierra Madre Occidental of Sonora, at an altitude of 4900 feet (1500 meters).

Officially known as the Heroica Ciudad de Cananea (the heroic city of Cananea), the city derives its name from the Apache words meaning “horse meat.” The city is also the administrative seat of the Sonoran municipality (similar to a county in the United States) with the same name, which was established in 1901.

The 2010 census counted nearly 36,000 residents of the municipality, of which approximately 31,560 lived in the city of Cananea.


Mining plays a large part in the history and modern-day economy of Cananea.

Also known as “the city of copper (la ciudad de cobre),” Cananea has one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world, and a storied history of the extraction of minerals and metals.

Mining began in the area as early as the 1600’s, when Jesuit missionaries had local Indians mine for gold and silver. And in 1820, José Pérez de Arizpe attempted to establish a mine in the area. However, both efforts to establish mining were thwarted by constant raids by Apaches.

In the mid-1800’s, former Sonora governor General Ignacio Pesquiera retired to the area, which involved his leading battles against the Apaches. After one raid, while following the Apaches away from Cananea, Pesquiera found the abandoned Spanish mines and by 1868 had resumed mining in the area.

In 1889, Pesquiera sold the mines to American William Cornell Greene, who founded the Cananea Consolidated Copper Company, based in Nogales, Sonora.

In 1906, the largest miners’ strike in Mexico history, “La Huelga de Cananea,” was against the American-owned mining company that ran the copper mine and was put down by forces from north of the border, causing the deaths of 23 strikers. The strike was one of the friction points that led to the Mexican Revolution (1910 – 1920).


Cananea has a variety of interesting and historic places to visit. In addition to taking a mine tour, visitors can see the Greene mansion, the historic Cananea jail and downtown district and the Cnanea Nature Park and Reserve.

Ambos Tours of Arizona routinely provides enriching and entertaining tours from Nogales and Sierra Vista to the city of Cananea. Read more about Ambos Tours of Arizona.

Photos courtesy of Ambos Tours of Arizona.

The William Greene mansion - photo courtesy of
Cananea copper mine - photo courtesy of