Jiuzhaigou is a UNESCO World Heritage Nature Reserve and National Park located in Sichuan Province 330 kilometers north of Chengdu on the edge of the Tibetan plateau in China. Characterized by crystal-clear turquoise lakes, stunning waterfalls and majestic mountain peaks, its name means “Valley of the Nine Villages” and refers to the nine Tibetan villages along the valley’s length, seven of which are still inhabited today.
Jiuzhaigou is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but that beauty can be easy to forget as you’re being pushed and shoved along the crowded walkways amidst thousands of loud and obnoxious domestic tourists. You can read about my visit to Jiuzhaigou if you like.
Best Time to Go
Each season brings with it different scenery. Autumn is generally considered the most beautiful with its multitude of colors. Winters are very cold, but much less crowded and when snow covers the valley it turns into a winter wonderland. Of course, snowfall might also make travel to and from the valley difficult or even impossible. In spring, the flowers bloom and the rivers swell, meaning waterfalls are at their most impressive. Jiuzhaigou in the summer is greener than ever. July and August are the rainy season, but some of the most beautiful pictures of the valley are taken directly after a downpour.
Getting to Jiuzhaigou
It is possible to fly into Jiuzhaigou from a few Chinese cities, but most people arrive by bus from Chengdu. Most Chinese tourists will travel to the valley as part of a tour, but there are also numerous public buses every day from both Xinnanmen and Chadianzi bus stations (¥110-145). Many people also arrive by bus from Chongqing, Lanzhou, or Xi’an as well as nearby Songpan and Huanglongsi National Park.
Visiting Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve
Entrance fees to the park are ¥220 in the peak season (¥80 in the off-peak season). Bus tickets cost ¥90 (¥80 in the off season). You do not need to buy a bus ticket, but the park is quite large (over 30 km from the entrance to the top), so most people do. If you want to save some money, you can enter without a bus ticket and just walk the first 10 km to the main tourist center. From that point on, conductors don’t bother checking for tickets.
Many people spend at least two days in the park, as it is impossible to see everything in one day. Two-day tickets are no longer available in the peak season and you’ll have to buy a second full-price ticket, but a second day can be purchased for ¥20 in the off season.
The park gets very crowded, especially during the peak season and the crowds can become quite a nuisance. If you find yourself getting annoyed with the constant shouting, pushing and general obnoxiousness, you can usually escape by walking between any two of the main sites that are a bit farther apart. Since most Chinese tourists will take the bus, there won’t be many around. You can also usually cross to the other side of the valley and find yourself almost alone.
To get around Jiuzhaigou town outside the park, you can walk or take taxis, which are everywhere. They will quote you all manner of prices, but you shouldn’t be paying more than 10 Yuan. Inside the park, people get around using a combination of their feet and the park bus system.
Staying in the park is illegal, but you may get offers to do a home-stay once inside. It could be a good way to avoid paying a second day of admission, but only if you don’t get caught. If you decide to stay in the park, don’t take any buses for the first few hours in the morning and stay out of sight until you begin seeing other tourists.
Outside the park, you’ll find the full range of accommodations. A number of cheap hostels are located to the west of the park entrance, including the Angelie Hotel, where I stayed. It was fine, but nothing special and probably about the same as all the other similarly priced hotels in the area. You’ll find rooms starting around 100 Yuan and dorm beds from 35. If you want to book ahead, Agoda’s Jiuzhaigou page has a good number of listings, as well as an excellent accommodation map that is helpful, even if you don’t book a room in advance.
The food inside the park is pretty bad and very expensive. You’d be best off bringing enough food with you to last you while you’re inside. Outside the park, the food is more reasonably priced, but most places have an English menu with prices significantly higher than the Chinese menu. Order off the Chinese menu if you can.
Altitude sickness could be a problem for some people. Dress warmly in winter, but the weather can change quickly in the mountains, so you should be prepared in all seasons.