China’s Best Kept Secret
Jiuzhaigou Valley, (九寨溝 pinyin: Jiǔzhàigōu) is a stunning nature preserve located in the southwestern province of Sichuan China. Literally “Valley of Nine Villages”, Jiuzhaigou is known for its remarkably clear and Caribbean colored waters, and indigenous Tibetan tribes. As grand and impressive as the USA’s Yellowstone National Park, Jiuzhaigou is one of the few nature preserves in China that has really strived to keep the lands pristine and as untouched as possible.
Getting to Jiuzhaigou
Getting to Jiuzhaigou is not always a simple task. Being in a very remote area of the Min Shan mountain range on the edge of the Tibetan Himalayan Plateau, you will have to put a little effort into traveling out to see these beautiful valleys. The two most used options are by bus and by plane. Depending on how much time you have, taking the bus can be both interesting and culturally informative. Costing only in the neighborhood of 100RMB, the 9 to 10 hour ride will take you through the region of Sichuan that was torn apart by the massive 2008 earthquake. It’s a pretty humbling sight. You will see where the old highway was completely destroyed and covered by the falling mountainsides and the remnants of abandoned buildings.
More Transport Options
If time is precious you can take a plane from nearby Chengdu airport (other cities also provide the service) for anywhere from 600 – 1,000+ RMB, depending on the time and season. The flight takes just about an hour. When you arrive at the airport you can buy a ticket for a shuttle service that will take you into the hotel area around the valley. If you already have your hotel booked they will drop you off right at the door. Two of the best sites for booking tickets in China are eLong and Ctrip, these are nine times out of ten much cheaper than booking through Western sites.
Accommodation in Jiuzhaigou
Because there are numerous hotels just outside the entrance to the park, where you stay depends on what type of experience you want and the size of your budget. For those traveling cheaply there are several hostels in Jiuzhaigou that are both locally run and quite comfortable. A little travel tip, when you are booking hostels, make sure your hostel has heating/AC. You don’t want to get stuck there in winter without a heater or in the summer without AC, not fun at all, I promise. There are hotels of all calibers in the area but for those that are truly looking for a unique experience you can hike into the valley and stay in one of the indigenous villages. Lodging outside the valley can start from just under 100RMB a night and keep going up. Hostelworld, Ctrip, and Elong are all good sites for booking places to stay in China.
Exploring the Living Portrait
Most of the places to stay are within walking distance of the entrance to the park. Tickets will cost 80RMB for a day pass including bus fare. You have the option of either walking the park or riding a tour bus that will stop at each of the major photo attractions in the park and allow you a few minutes to walk around, take photos, and buy souvenirs. This is the best option for those traveling on a time schedule. The park is far too massive to see everything on foot in a single day; at best you would make it to three or four of the attractions. While there are several signs in English throughout the park, the bus tours are conducted in Chinese.
Hiking around Jiuzhaigou
For serious hikers there are tons of paths and beautiful sites to be seen. In addition to the road and very nicely kept walking paths for normal tourists, there are more difficult and scenic walking paths that wind through the mountains. These paths are not always open because of damage from the dry season’s fires or other things so a good tip would be to check in with information about their conditions before you walk ten miles and come to a dead end.
Best Time to travel to Jiuzhaigou
The best time of year to go to Jiuzhaigou is in the fall. During fall you will see some of the most spectacular foliage displays to be had, and their beauty is magnified by the reflections of the lakes. The weather is nice and cool, unlike the summer months, and there is still heat from the sun, unlike the winter months, hence the best of both worlds. However, for those who do not like crowds fall is not the time for you. Fall sees the highest volume of tourists, which in China is an unbelievable amount of people. Though winter is cold you will have the park mostly to yourself, and many of the trees still keep their leaves so the valley is very much alive. No matter when you travel, Jiuzhaigou is a breath-taking experience to be enjoyed.