The best of Yunnan: China’s most remote province stands out for its diversity and varied landscapes
Here is a list of the best of Yunnan; 8 essential places to visit if you are planning a trip to Yunnan. Yunnan is a province in southwestern China that is known to be the most diverse in the whole country. Every year, more and more people are coming to Yunnan to learn about its ethnic minorities and to see its varied landscapes.
In this Chinese province, we can find mountainous landscapes with peaks up to 5500 meters high. Small karst mountains surrounded by lakes and flowers. Thousand-year-old rice terraces and, in addition, ancient villages that have managed to preserve much of traditional Chinese architecture.
If you’re thinking of taking a trip through these lands, you can also take a look at our two-week organized trip to Yunnan. But beware, many of those who come here later don’t want to leave, so… You’re warned!
The best of Yunnan: Must see places
1. Kunming, Yunnan’s capital
The capital of Yunnan province is known as “The Spring City” for its good climate. It is estimated to have about 6 million inhabitants and is at an altitude of 1890 meters above sea level. In Kunming it is recommended to visit:
- Temple of Yuantong; the largest Buddhist temple in the city dating from the eighth century. Chinese characters: 圆通寺
- Green Lake; lake in the center of the city where locals come to stroll and dance. In winter, hundreds of Siberian seagulls migrate to the lake and it becomes an ideal place to take photos. 翠湖 (Cuihu). (Video about Green Lake)
- Golden Temple; is a Taoist temple 12km from Kunming that was built in 1902 during the Ming Dynasty. It is surrounded by gardens where you can take a nice walk. 金殿 (Jin Dian).
- Pagodas of the East and West; they are two pagodas of the Tang dynasty located one opposite the other separated by about 200m of distance. 东寺塔 – 西寺塔 (Dongsi Ta – Xisi Ta).
- Golden Horse Gate Square; Golden Horse Gate and Jade Rooster Gate are two giant gates in the style of traditional Chinese architecture, resembling an arch. They were built 400 years ago during the Ming dynasty. 金马坊(Jin Ma Fang).
- Dianchi Lake; is the largest lake in Yunnan province with 298 km². It is advisable to climb the Xishan mountain to appreciate the lake from above. 滇池湖 (Dianchi Hu).
- Shilin Limestone Forest, 86Km from Kunming, is a park surrounded by high rocks that emerge from the ground and create a kind of stone forest. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007. 石林 (Shi Lin).
2. Luoping and the Waterfall of the Nine Dragons
Luoping (罗平) is 228 kilometers northeast of Kunming, near the border between Yunnan province and Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. The best time to visit Luoping is in early spring (February-March) when the fields are covered in gold by the flowering of the rapeseed flower.
Jinji village is the most famous place to go to see these splendid views and can be easily reached by bus or taxi. The village is surrounded by small karst mountains (Golden Rooster Hills) that make the whole a scenery worth seeing.
Near Jinji we find the Nine Dragons Waterfall, a set of waterfalls where the largest is 56 meters high and 112 meters of lake. Last but not least, if you are going to Luoping, a visit to the Hundred Thousand Hills (Shi Wan Da Shan) is a must. From there you can see a horizon completely covered with mountains.
3. The karst mountains of Puzhehei
After Luoping, if you haven’t had enough, you can always visit Puzhehei (普者黑) which is only 150 km south. Puzhehei covers an area of 165 km² of karst mountains, natural lakes, caves and rivers.
In this area, we find five ethnic minorities living together; the Yi, Zhuang, Miao, Yao and Sani. Precisely the meaning of the name given to this territory came from the language of the Yi ethnicity and means Lake full of fish and lobsters.
Apart from the abundant nature, the best thing about this place is that there is almost no tourism. It is a place to enjoy with calm and serenity. You can rent a bicycle and spend the day visiting villages and getting lost between lakes and mountains. Finally, if you feel like it, for a small fee, you can take a boat ride on the lake.
4. The rice terraces of Yuanyang
The rice terraces of Yuanyang are another must-see if you are travelling to Yunnan. Yuanyang County (元阳) is located 300 km south of Kunming. It is famous for its rice terraces which are possibly among the most spectacular in all of China. If you’re coming to Yunnan, it’s a must see.
The Hani ethnic minority was the one who started cultivating these rice fields when they arrived more than 1300 years ago. The best time to visit the terraces is between December and March, when the rice terraces are full of water and the rice has not yet sprouted.
In 2013 the more than 16,000 hectares of rice terraces became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villages of Duoyishu and Laohuzui are some of the best known for their incredible views of the rice fields. In my opinión, the best of Yunnan!
5. The old city of Dali
The old city of Dali (大理) is 320 km west of Kunming. It is known for its old town enclosed by walls and large entrance gates. Home of the Bai ethnic minority, its interior has also managed to preserve the traditional Chinese architecture of all its buildings.
The old part is surrounded by mountains, temples, pagodas and right next to Lake Erhai. This beautiful lake is located at an altitude of 1972 meters above sea level and occupies an area of 250 km², which makes it the second largest lake in Yunnan after the Dianchi. You can enjoy Dali simply by wandering around the old city. You can also rent a bicycle for a ride on Lake Erhai.
6. The old part of Lijiang
Lijiang (丽江) is 200 km north of Dali. With more than a thousand years of history, Lijiang is one of the best preserved ancient cities in all of China. It is characterized by cobblestone streets, stone bridges, streams and architectural houses of the Naxi ethnic minority, the largest ethnic group in the area.
It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. However, the tourism and many shops for tourists make the city lose a lot of that charm it must have had. Another negative aspect is that for the last three years you have to pay entrance fees to visit the old town.
The Black Dragon Pool, the Mu Palace and the viewpoints of the city are worth a visit. You can also ride a horse on the Lashihai Lake on the outskirts of the city. However, if you prefer to avoid tourism on your trip to Yunnan and still enjoy the more traditional China, you can go to Shaxi village which is between Dali and Lijiang.
7. The canyons of the Tiger Leaping Gorge
Located 60 km from Lijiang, the canyons of the Yangtze River are the highest river canyons in the world, reaching up to 2000 meters in altitude. It is advisable to do two days of hiking between mountains, the Yangtze River and through Naxi villages to reach the lowest point of the river.
But if you don’t have time for so much, you can make a quick visit by car. First, you can visit Shigu village to enjoy the views of the river just as it curves into a U-shaped curve and then go down to see the rapids.
The name Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡) refers to the legend that tells how a tiger to escape its hunter jumped from one side to the other of the canyon at its narrowest point (25-30m). If you are a nature lover, this is an essential destination on your trip to Yunnan.
8. The Tibetan Shangri-La
Shangri-La (香格里拉) is located 3380 meters above sea level and 180 km north of Lijiang. In fact, the name of the city was Zhongdian. In 2001 the city was renamed Zhongdian to promote tourism in the area.
Shangri-La was a fictional place created by the British writer James Hilton in his novel Lost Horizons (1934). In the novel, it is described as a lost utopian place in the Himalayas where its inhabitants live happily and in harmony with nature.
Just next to the border with Tibet this city has a more Tibetan than Chinese atmosphere. Most of the inhabitants are ethnic Tibetans. Both houses and temples are Tibetan in style and its cobblestone streets are filled with prayer flags with Tibetan mantras.
Shangri-La has become one of the most visited cities in Yunnan. Although the old town may have lost some of its charm due to its total commercialization, a visit to the surrounding temples and nature parks will leave no one indifferent.
The best of Yunnan: More information or contact me
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News! During the next year, no visa fee will be required for a 15-day stay in China. For citizens of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia, from December 2023 to November 30, 2024, ordinary passport holders from these countries will be able to do business or travel to China without a visa for up to 15 days. Take advantage of the opportunity!
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