china travel hainan yunan guizhou
China is full of nature's beauty if you know where to look. (Photo: Zhaoliang70/Shutterstock)

Where Should I Go to See China’s Natural Beauty?

I travel to China twice a year for work, but never escape the sprawling cities. I’d like to extend my stay next time, and go hiking, or snorkeling, or mountain climbing—something outdoorsy. Where should I go?

china travel hainan yunan guizhou
Greg Melville

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You don’t read much about adventure trips outside of China’s urban areas because tourism is still in its relative infancy. And that’s a good thing for ambitious travelers like you, Derrick, if you’re looking for unspoiled destinations. Here are my top adventure travel suggestions for three categories: beaches, mountains, and rivers.


China’s Natural Beauty: Beaches

china travel hainan beaches
Hainan has some of the best beaches in Asia. (Aleksander Karpenko/Shutterstock)

Yes, China boasts its own tropical paradise on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. So far, the only foreigners who seem to be in on the secret are fun-seekers from Russia. The city of Sanya stretches across a crescent of sand in a protected bay and is one of the country’s southernmost population centers. About twice the size of Honolulu, it serves as the focal point for beach-going adventure among the growing clusters of resorts within an hour of the city’s airport.

WHERE TO STAY: The cozy and well-kept Captain’s House Hostel in nearby Dadonghai Bay is the backpacker haven of the Sanya area. Rates start at $17 a night. For more of a more traditional resort stay, try the Sanya Resort—complete with swimming pool, steakhouse, and its own private stretch of beach. Rates start at $225.

China’s Natural Beauty: Mountains

china travel tibet shangrila
Tibet has its own unique culture, architecture and geography. (Muellek Josef/Shutterstock)

Expansive, magnificent Yunnan Province in the southeast—containing half of the country’s plant and animal species—is known for its diversity of landscape, ranging from rainforests to sprawling plains. But its greatest beauty arises from its Himalayan peaks, feeding the three great rivers—the Yangtze, Mekong, and Salween—that run through it. The village of Shangrila in the Diqing Autonomous Prefecture is embedded into the mountains at 10,000 feet, near Tibet.

WHERE TO STAY: Kevin’s Trekker Inn guesthouse above Old Town is clean, inexpensive, and will help arrange hikes in the outlying countryside. Rates start at $10 a night. For high-end luxury, stay in one of the remodeled Tibetan mountainside farmhouses that make up the world-class Banyan Tree Ringha resort. Rates start at $431 a night.

China’s Natural Beauty: Rivers

china travel huanggoushou waterfalls rivers
A park specifically dedicated to waterfalls? Awesome, China! (Krajomfire/Shutterstock)

Guizhou is the country’s watery summer resort, marbled with lakes and rivers among its hilly and mountainous terrain. The surprisingly sprawling city of Anshun, with a population of two million in the metro area, is the jumping-off point for outdoor exploration, given its proximity to the cascade-filled Huanggoushou Waterfall National Park and the maze of glittering water passages in the Long Gong Dragon Caves.

WHERE TO STAY: At the Grand Waterfall Hotel, business-class and affordable rooms begin at $65 a night.

Lead Photo: Zhaoliang70/Shutterstock