Dive into the cultural and natural landscapes of China's Yunnan province on this immersive eight-day tour. You'll visit ancient towns, explore Buddhist temples, and wander through karst forests, all while connecting with the local people's customs and beliefs. Discover the legends and dance of the Yi in Kunming, mingle with the Bai in Xizhou, make a Naxi baba pancake with a family in Lijiang, learn to write characters from a dongba (shaman) in Baisha, and sit down with a Buddhist lama in Shangri-La.


  • Wander through the legendary Stone Forest near Kunming
  • Ride a horse-drawn carriage around beautiful Lake Erhai in Dali
  • See the snowy mountains reflected in the Black Dragon Pool in Lijiang
  • Take in the views from Spruce Meadow on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
  • Hike through the dramatic Tiger Leaping Gorge on your way to Shangri-La

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Kunming, Explore the City at Your Own Pace Kunming
Day 2 Tour the Stone Forest Scenic Area & Yuantong Temple Kunming
Day 3 Train to Dali, Tour Xizhou & Dali Ancient Towns Dali
Day 4 Transfer to Lijiang, Explore Lijiang Ancient Town & Black Dragon Pool Lijiang
Day 5 Day Trip to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain & Baisha Village Lijiang
Day 6 Transfer to Shangri-La via Tiger Leaping Gorge Shangri-La
Day 7 Songzanlin Lamasery & Pudacuo National Park Tour Shangri-La
Day 8 Depart Shangri-La  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Kunming, Explore the City at Your Own Pace

Discover Yunnan's beautiful capital, Kunming, the City of Eternal Spring

Welcome to China! Your tour of the southwestern province of Yunnan begins in its capital, Kunming, known as the "City of Eternal Spring" due to its year-round warm weather and mild climate. Your driver will be waiting at the airport to whisk you to the city center. Check into your hotel, then head out to explore the city.

Immerse yourself in local life by visiting Cui Hu Park (Green Lake Park), a sprawling lagoon in the city's center. Enjoy walking along the paths and over the charming bridges while taking in the city views above the trees. Visit islands such as Bamboo Forest Island and wander through the numerous temples and architectural gems that adorn this centuries-old gathering place. End the day at the Flower and Bird Market, which sells beautiful specimens of local flora and exotic birds. While you wander, you can also purchase locally made artwork, handicrafts, and souvenirs.

Day 2: Tour the Stone Forest Scenic Area & Yuanto

Watch the traditional dance of the Yi people in their colorful dress

Take a guided day trip away from Kunming today to one of Yunnan's most famous natural wonders, the sprawling Stone Forest Scenic Area. About an hour's drive east of Kunming, this UNESCO-listed site features diverse landscapes, from limestone formations to dense forests. The Stone Forest is the focal point of the entire area, which spans approximately 425 square miles (1,100 sq km).

Marvel at the tall rocks resembling petrified trees, creating the illusion of a stone-made forest, while your guide shares the legend of Ashima, a beautiful girl of the Yi people who was forbidden from marrying her true love. Instead, she turned to stone in the forest. Hike through the otherworldly karst landscape and visit caves, lakes, underground rivers, waterfalls, and scenic viewpoints, including Bushao Hill and the Eternal Mushroom. You'll also see the mesmerizing dances of the local Yi people wearing bright and colorfully embroidered traditional costumes.

Then, head to the nearby Yuantong Temple, one of Yunnan's most important Buddhist sites. This ancient temple has many halls and pavilions, intricate artwork, and paths lined with cypress. Walk through the peaceful grounds and learn the history of this beautiful, sacred site before returning to Kunming for the night. 

Day 3: Train to Dali, Tour Xizhou & Dali Ancient Towns

Dali Ancient Town
Wander the streets of picturesque Dali Ancient Town

This morning, catch a train for a 2.5-hour transfer from Kunming to Dali, where your guide will be waiting to meet you and take you to your hotel in the center of this Ming-era, walled city on the shores of Erhai Lake. After you settle in, join a guided tour beginning at nearby Xizhou Ancient Town. This well-preserved village is populated mainly by the Bai people, a regional ethnic minority. Visit the Museum of Bai Architecture, which showcases the magnificent, intricate Bai design details, and taste local dishes such as xizhou baba (sweet or salty flavored bread rounds). 

Then, hop on a horse-drawn carriage for a leisurely ride along the scenic shores of nearby Erhai Lake, dotted with beautiful islets and surrounded by mountain peaks. Enjoy a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, then continue with your guide to Dali Ancient Town.

Explore this time capsule of an enclave between the lake and the Cang Mountains. You'll feel its long historical legacy as you stroll the tranquil pedestrian streets and admire its historic architecture. One must-see is the iconic Three Pagodas, an impressive temple complex that has survived over 1,000 years completely intact. At the end of the day, visit one of the charming restaurants for dinner before enjoying an overnight stay in the ancient town. 

Day 4: Transfer to Lijiang, Explore Lijiang Ancient Town & Black Dragon Pool

 Black Dragon Pool Park
See one of the most beautiful sites in Yunnan, the Black Dragon Pool
Plan your trip to China
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

This morning, pack your bags and transfer with your driver and guide on a two-hour journey to Lijiang, a city near Tibet's border and one of China's major commercial centers during the 1300s. Grab a bite to eat, then head out on a tour of the UNESCO-listed Lijiang Ancient Town. This historic center is home to the Naxi people, whose culture goes back 1,000 years to when the town was a stop on the ancient Tea Horse Road trading route. Even today, this neighborhood is filled with Naxi homes built from timber and mud bricks in the traditional style with colorful facades and intricately carved wooden doors and windows.

Next, you'll travel outside of Lijiang to visit the incredible Heilongtan Park (Black Dragon Pool), a 99-acre (40 ha) green space located just north of town at the foot of Elephant Hill. Beyond the park's namesake glassy pond, you'll visit several other historic landmarks, like the 15th-century Deyue Pavilion, the arched Suocui Bridge, and the 16th-century Longshen Temple, once the site of sacrificial rituals to the gods. Wander along the crystal-clear streams, take in the snow-tipped mountain views, and walk the winding paths leading to charming bridges.

Day 5: Day Trip to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain & Baisha Village

Lijiang Day Tour: Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Baisha Murals
Take a day trip to the incredible Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Dress warmly this morning for a guided day trip to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, about 9 miles (15 km) outside Lijiang. Consisting of 13 craggy peaks, the highest of these, Shanzidou, tops at 18,360 feet (‎5,596 m). As seen from Lijiang's old town, the peaks often appear above the mist, resembling a dragon resting in the clouds. You'll travel up the mountain on a scenic cable car to the Spruce Meadow plateau at nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 m). As you glide above, witness the glory of nature in this biological reserve, home to 400 types of trees and 30 animal species, all of which are protected. 

Once you descend the mountain, visit a nearby restaurant owned by a local Naxi family, where you'll learn to make your very own Naxi baba (pancake) and enjoy a feast of Naxi dishes. Then, visit Baisha Village to meet a dongba (shaman), learn a few dongba characters, and discover the music, history, and culture of the Naxi people. Before you leave, admire the Baisha Murals, millennium-old masterpieces that showcase stories from China's major religions, such as Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, before returning to your hotel in Lijiang for a cozy evening. 

Day 6: Transfer to Shangri-La via Tiger Leaping Gorge

Lijiang to Shangri-La: Tiger Leaping Gorge
Visit the beautiful Tiger Leaping Gorge on the way to Shangri-La

After breakfast, check out of your hotel and meet your guide and driver for a transfer to Shangri-La, stopping after 1.5 hours for a hike through the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge, a massive canyon located just north of Lijiang on the Jinsha River, a tributary of the Yangtze. At a staggering 12,434 feet (3,790 m) from peak to river, this is one of the deepest gorges in the world. Breathe in the crisp mountain air as you hike along the walkway, which includes about 1,000 steps from the start to the Tiger Leaping Rock in the middle of the river.

Enjoy hearing the legend of the tiger (who jumped across the river here) from your guide, then cover your ears as the mighty river furiously forces its way through the narrow gap. Afterward, return to the gorge entrance and, after stopping for a delightful lunch, continue the scenic drive to Shangri-La, once known as Zhongdian, renamed in 2001 after the mythical valley and utopia at the center of James Hilton's 1933 CE novel "Lost Horizon." Once there, rest and acclimatize to the high altitude of 10,499 feet (3,200 m) in the comfort of your hotel.

Day 7: Songzanlin Lamasery & Pudacuo National Park Tour

Songzanlin Lamasery
 See the famous Songzanlin Lamasery in Shangri-La

Spend a full day exploring the beauty of Shangri-La and witnessing its rich mix of cultures today. While officially part of China, it's also the largest city of the Tibetan prefecture of Diqing. Shangri-La sits on the doorstep of Tibet, and thus, its culture is predominantly Tibetan, as evidenced by its impressive Buddhist lamasery, Songzanlin, built in 1679 CE. Marvel at the grand architecture and the cultural artifacts housed inside, then visit the community of resident lamas (Buddhist spiritual leaders) to connect, engage, and gain insight into their way of life.

Besides touring Songzanlin, you'll also venture into the countryside to explore Pudacuo National Park, a protected area home to the beautiful lakes Bita, surrounded by dense oak forests, and Shudu, a glassy body of water on a scenic mountain plateau at 12,155 feet (3,705 m). Look for squirrels, golden cats, and pheasants, then end the day strolling the well-preserved historic center of Shangri-La, filled with traditional, whitewashed Tibetan homes featuring hand-carved roof tiles, for your final night in China. 

Day 8: Depart Shangri-La

Say farewell to charming Shangri-La today

Enjoy breakfast at your hotel or in a nearby café on your last morning in China. Then, meet your driver at your hotel for a transfer to the Shangri-La airport, where you'll board a flight to either Shanghai or Beijing. From there, you can catch your departing flight home or to other destinations. Safe travels! 

More Great China Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to China? Check out these other China itineraries, explore different ways to spend eight days in China, or discover the best time to visit China.


Map of Culture & Nature Tour of China's Yunnan Province - 8 Days
Map of Culture & Nature Tour of China's Yunnan Province - 8 Days