Bordered by Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Tibet, the northwestern Chinese province of Yunnan sees a varied collection of ethnic minorities among its residents. Its city of Shangri-La is still locally known by its former name of Zhongdian, but it was officially changed to Shangri-La in 2002 in an effort to promote tourism. Shangri-La remains relatively untouched despite its steady stream of domestic visitors, but its surrounding verdant valleys, majestic mountain ranges and gemlike lakes should place the city at the forefront of all nature lovers’ list of must visit destinations.
Travel on Two Wheels
Indulge in the natural landscapes and urban allure of this remote northwest region of Yunnan by bicycle. Begin your journey in Shangri-La and glide effortlessly into the tranquil contemplation and open countryside that envelops the city, traveling south to the bustling tourist hotspot of Li Jiang, 105 miles from Shangri-La. When the pretty canals and atmospheric cobbled streets lined with wooden buildings become saturated with tourists, continue on your bicycle through a series of sleepy villages and thick forests until you reach remote Haba Village. Refreshingly free of crowds, revel in the views of surrounding snow dusted peaks before you enter Tiger Leaping Gorge for a hike along its steep cliff faces. Cycle through rural areas and past Tibetan style farmhouses on return to Shangri-La, pausing at roadside stalls for savory mugs of butter tea - a blend of tea leaves, yak butter and salt in water to ease altitude sickness. Outdoor enthusiasts will bask in the natural splendor of this region of Yunnan.
Trek Haba Snow Mountain
Seventy five miles southeast of Shangri-La county lay the lofty peaks of Haba Snow Mountain, blanketed in snow year round due to its towering height of 17,700 feet. Despite its intimidating elevation, Haba Snow Mountain’s merciful slopes and well-established routes make this a beginner-friendly snow mountain to conquer. Base yourself in the Naxi minority village of Haba and acclimatize to the region’s high altitude in preparation for the two to five day trek. Advance to basecamp with a local guide, where simple wooden huts equipped with basic amenities provide respite from the cold and violent winds in the winter. In the warm summer months, opt to sleep outside in tents at basecamp. Nature lovers delight in sweeping vistas of clear blue skies and snow capped peaks that emerge before the horizon at the summit of Haba Snow Mountain.
Hike Tiger Leaping Gorge
With a valley floor of over 9,000 feet, the nation’s deepest gorge makes trekking through the Tiger Leaping Gorge, just over 65 miles south of Shangri-La, an unmissable Yunnan experience, highlighting the wild lands of this southwestern Chinese province. Hike along the golden brown Jinsha River, a tributary of the legendary Yangtze that courses through the Gorge, where local lore dictates a tiger leapt across to escape from hunters, lending the steep narrow valley its name. The length of the gorge runs roughly 10 miles, and a three day trek is recommended to fully immerse yourself in the experience, recharging in simple guest houses as evening falls. Flanked on either side by snow capped mountains, the trail begins in Qiaotou and terminates at Walnut Garden, though you can also travel in reverse. Clearly marked signs on this easily accessible trail lead you past tiny farming villages of the Naxi minority people and terraced farmlands, where you occasionally have to step aside to allow donkeys to pass before continuing on past fragrant pine forests and tumbling waterfalls. Visit Tiger Leaping Gorge in May and early June to witness its meadows carpeted in wildflowers.