Located in southwestern China, Yunnan is one of the most diverse and charming destinations in the country. It is home to over 25 ethnic minorities, boasting many ancient towns, cultural attractions, and authentic ethnic culture experiences. Meanwhile, the region is proud of its rich natural landscapes and abundant outdoor activities.
Yunnan is always ready to wow its visitors with breathtaking views, such as Jade Dragon Snow Mountains, Meili Snow Mountains, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Stone Forest, and magnificent rice terraces. It also invites visitors to the unique cultural experiences of Bai, Naxi, Dai, and Tibetan ethnic groups. Plus, you won’t be short on outdoor activities. Yunnan’s diverse landscapes allow you to practice a variety of activities, including hiking, photography, biking, boating, cycling, or relaxing.
Listed below are our top recommended things to do in Yunnan, aiming to help you experience its charm and beauty to the fullest.
Explore the Natural Beauty of Yunnan
Yunnan is a charming land of diversity and wonder where varied natural heritage can be found at every corner. It will satisfy tourists of all kinds with a diverse range of natural gems, from snow-capped mountains to tropical rainforests, deep gorges, crystal-clear lakes, unique karst formation and red earth. Below are some of top places to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Yunnan:
1. Visit the Stone Forest
A popular UNESCO World Heritage Site, Stone Forest (aka Shilin) is a remarkable karst landscape with thousands of limestone pillars of all shapes and sizes rising from the ground. Wander through these limestone columns, you may feel like walking into a surreal forest of stone, and be captivated by the many naturally formed pillars resembling animals, architecture, plants, etc. The Stone Forest is also home to Sani ethnic people who have lived here for centuries, offering a great chance to delve into their unique culture and legends.
2. Explore Wonders of Mt. Cangshan and Erhai Lake Scenic Resort
Cangshan Mountain is a majestic mountain range with 19 peaks and 18 streams. A hiking trip here will give you some of the most spectacular views with temples, waterfalls, wildflowers, forests, and many rare plants and animals. Or you can take a cable car to admire the stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
Erhai Lake is the second largest lake in Yunnan with its shape resembling an ear, hence its name. The lake is dotted with many beautiful islands and ethnic villages, offering both stunning natural scenery and diverse cultural experiences. A leisure boat ride will take you to discover the islands and villages on the lake. Cycling around the lake is also a popular way to admire the lake scenery and look into local life. Plus, the lake is also a great place for birdwatching as it is a gathering place of black-headed gulls from Siberia, egrets, herons, cormorants, ducks, geese, and kingfishers.
3. See the Diversity of Napa Hai Nature Reserve
Napa Hai Nature Reserve is a seasonal lake in Shangri-La County, which means the lake shows different apperances in different seasons. In late summer and early autumn, it shows an extensive lake surface thanks to the frequent rainfall and inflow from nearby rivers. While after November, the significant reduction in water levels leads to a substantial shrinkage of the lake surface. Then, it serves as a swamp meadow, welcoming rare birds such as black-necked cranes and bar-headed geese migrate to spend the winter.
4. Indulge in the tranquility of the Puzhehei Scenic Area
A national AAAAA level site in Wenshan Zhuang and the Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Puzhehei boasts numerous scenic spots, including the soaring peaks, wetlands, karst caves, pastures, and decades of connected lakes. Puzhehei literally means “a lake teeming with fish and shrimps” in Yi ethnic language. Currently, there are ethnic Yi, Zhuang, Miao, Yao and Sani peoples live in this area and well-preserve their unique folk-customs and cultures.
In each summer, this area will turn into a fairyland as the lakes are teemed with lotus flowers. Tourists can take a canoe to immerse themselves into the tranquil environment and beautiful scenery.
5. Marvel at the Magnificent Yuanyang Rice Terraces
Yuanyang Rice Terraces, a part of the UNESCO-listed Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, were carved along the slopes of Ailao Mountains by Hani people over 1,300 years ago. With the thousands of terraces following the natural contours of the mountainside, it shows a great example of harmonious coexistence between human ingenuity and nature.
The fields will be filled with water in winter and early spring, looking like numerous mirrors that reflect the sunlight in different colors. The scenery is especially spectacular from January to March when seas of clouds are frequent, creating many great photo opportunities.
Experience Outdoor Adventures in Yunnan
Yunnan is never short of thrilling outdoor adventures to delight both adrenaline junkies and nature lovers. Its many snow-capped mountains, picturesque valleys and gorges, serene and remote ethnic villages promise a rich tapestry of outdoor experiences. Below are some of the top outdoor adventures in Yunnan:
6. Discover the Majestic Beauty of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
An always-snowcovered mountain range, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is a scared mountain for local Naxi people. It consists of 13 towring peaks, looking like a flying dragon from afar, hence its name. A landmark in Lijiang, the mountain boasts majestic snow-capped mountains, stunning glaciers, meadows, forests, and rich biodiversity, making it a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and botanists.
Visitors can explore the highlights of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain by challenging hiking and trekking. Or take a cable car to delve into the panoramic view of the snow peaks and glacier park.
7. Test Your Limits at the Tiger Leaping Gorge
One of the most spectacular hiking routes and deepest gorges in China and even the world, Tiger Leaping Gorge is the ideal place that will test your limits and reward you with unforgettable memories. It is nestled between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain, stretching about 23 kilometers and with a drop of over 210 meters from the Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge to the lower section. Jinsha River winds its way in the gorge, and due to the significant drop in this stretch, the river’s dynamics are ever-changing, creating a remarkable mountainous and river landscape.
Visitors can either spend half a day hiking the Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge section, or spend 2-3 days to explore the entire gorge. The hiking will reward you with stunning views of snow mountains, dynamic river, lush rice terraced fields and cultural discovery in local Naxi ethnic villages.
8. Trek to the Hidden Paradise of Yubeng Village
Hidden in the Meili Snow Mountains, the hiking to Yubeng Village is the great way to experience the breathtaking scenery of Meili Snow Mountains firsthand. Several hiking trails are availabe around the village to lead you to many hidden natural wonders, including Glacial Lake, the Sacred Waterfall, and the Meditation Cave.
The village is divided into the Upper Yubeng Village and the Lower Yubeng Village, each showing unique scenery and offering a chance to touch the life and culture of local Tibetan villagers.
Immerse Yourself in the Rich Culture of Yunnan
Yunnan is home to a diverse range of ethnic groups, each with its own unique traditions and customs. Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Yunnan by exploring the following:
9. Visit the Ancient Town of Lijiang
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ancient Town of Lijiang can date back to the late Song Dynasty and once served as an important commercial hub along the Ancient Tea and Horse Road. The town is known for its distinctive architecture and splendid cultural elements of many ethnic groups.
The town consists of Dayan Ancient Town, Baisha Ancient Town, and Shuhe Ancient Town, each with its unique charm. Dayan Ancient Town features wooden houses, ancient stone bridges, and canals. Baisha Ancient Town is the place to experience authentic Dongba culture and witness ancient murals depicting diverse culture and religious in this region. In Shuhe Town, you’ll get a chance to enjoy the stunning view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and well-preserved customs of Naxi people.
10. Visit Dali Ancient Town
Dali Ancient Town is located on the shores of Erhai Lake, offering the essence of the Bai ethnic minority’s culture. The town was once the capital of Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms and can be date back to over 1,300 years ago. Standing out from other ancient towns in Yunnan, Dali Ancient Town is known for its exquisite Bai architecture which is usually decorated with elegant carvings and colorful paintings. The Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple, the four gates of the ancient city wall, and the traditional mansions are all representitive Bai style architecture in this region.
The Bai paintings is another highlight of the town which is frequently seen on many traditional Bai architecture. Most of the paintings depict landscapes, flowers, plants and animals, showcasing the influence of different cultures in this regions and locals’ values and beliefs.
11. Sample Yunnan’s Culinary Delights
Yunnan is endowed with diverse and delicious cuisines thanks to its rich cultural and natural heritages. The region’s cuisine combines food features of Han Chinese and foolocal Bai, Yi, Dai, Naxi and Haxi ethnic groups, featuring fresh and wild ingredients, sour and spicy flavors, and multic ethnic tastes. Some of the most popular food you should try in Yunnan include Steam Pot Chicken, Fried Rice-Flour Cake, Crossing-the-Bridge Noodles, Pu’er Tea, Wild Mushroom Hot Pot.
12. Experience Tibetan culture at Songzanlin Lamasery
Songzanlin Lamasery, aka Little Potala Palace, is a can’t miss if you want to experience the mysterious Tibetan Buddhism culture. The monastery is the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist temple complex in Yunnan, consisting of two main lamaseries which are surrounded by many sub-lamaseries, dormitories, and other structures. Like many Tibetan monasteries, Songzanlin Lamasery features Tibetan watchtower style, golden roofs, and colorful murals.
The monastery belongs to the Gelug sect, housing many precious cultural and religious relics, such as gilded statues of Sakyamuni, palm-leaf manuscripts, thangka paintings, and golden lamps. Today, there are about 700 monks live and study here, offering great chances to learn about their daily life and closely contact with them.
Not only a worship place, Songzanlin Monastery also offers harmony and beauty, with a scenic lake in front of it reflecting the monastery and the surrounding mountain landscape.
13. Visit Dukezong Ancient Town in Shangri-La
Dukezong Ancient Town, a Tibetan town in Shangri-La County, is a former stopping point on the ancient Tea Horse Road. With a history of over 1,300 years, it is the place where you will look into the authentic view of Tibetan culture and escape from hustle and bustle of the big city. In the town, what impresses the tourists most are the lines of antique Tibetan houses, ancient temples and pagodas, and Tibetan prayer flags of various colors.
To gain insights into local culture and life, you can leisurely walk around the winding alleyways, visit shops and markets selling tangka paintings and local souvenirs, walk into a teahouse or authentic restaurant, or join locals to spin the gilded prayer wheel standing on the submit of Guishan Park.
Top Recommended Yunnan Tours
- 5 Days Classic Shangri-La Tour with Meili Snow Mountain
- 8 Days Classic Yunnan Minority Tour of Kunming-Dali-Lijiang-Shangri-La
- 6 days Yunnan In-depth Minority Tour in Kunming – Jianshui – Yuanyang – Kunming
- 5 Days Yunnan Tour of Lijiang and Shangri-La
- 11 Days Yunnan Tour Covering Kunming – Jianshui – Yuanyang – Kunming – Dali – Lijiang – Shangri-La
FAQs about Yunnan Travel
1. Is Yunnan a safe travel destination?
Yes, sure. Yunnan is a safe travel destination. However, it is always recommended to take necessary precautions and follow local guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. For example, it is always recommended to respect local culture and customs, especially when visiting ethnic villages, religious places. The altitude sickness may occur when visiting some high-altitude areas, such as Shangri-La, Deqing, and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
2. What is the best time to visit Yunnan?
The best time to visit Yunnan is during spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) when the weather is pleasant, and the landscapes are at their most vibrant.
3. Are there any altitude-related concerns in Yunnan?
Some parts of Yunnan, such as Shangri-La and Lijiang, are located at high altitudes. Travelers should be aware of the potential effects of altitude sickness and take appropriate measures, such as acclimatization and staying hydrated.