Explore the beauty of Yunnan Province on this week-long trip, starting in the capital city of Kunming with hikes through karst landscapes and a visit to Yuantong Temple. Then transfer to the old walled city of Dali and explore the ancient old towns of Shaxi where you'll learn about the local Bai population. End your trip in Lijiang with hikes up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and through Tiger Leaping Gorge, stopping to admire the famous scene at Black Dragon Pool.

Highlights

  • Explore the karst landscape of the Stone Forest in Kunming
  • Ride around Erhai Lake in a horse-drawn carriage
  • Discover the ancient old towns of Dali, Shaxi, and Lijiang
  • Hike the slopes and meadows of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
  • Walk along the steep rocks of Tiger Leaping Gorge

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Kunming - Explore the city Kunming
Day 2 Hike in the Stone Forest and visit Yuantong Temple - Transfer to Dali Dali
Day 3 Tour Dali and ride a horse-drawn carriage around Erhai Lake Dali
Day 4 Explore the ancient towns of Shaxi and Lijiang Lijiang
Day 5 Discover scenic meadows on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Lijiang
Day 6 Hike along Tiger Leaping Gorge - Visit Black Dragon Pool Lijiang
Day 7 Depart China via Kunming or Shanghai  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Kunming - Explore the city

Downtown Kunming City
Downtown Kunming City

Welcome to China!

Your tour of the southwestern province of Yunnan begins in its capital city of Kunming. Upon arriving at the airport, you'll transfer you to your hotel and settle into your accommodation. Although you'll enjoy a walking tour of Kunming tomorrow morning, your guide will help you spend your first few hours in this bustling city.

You'll start with a visit to Green Lake Park, a sprawling lagoon in the center of the city. Enjoy walking along the paths and through the trees while taking in the city views and visiting the Luhan Residence villa. You can also rent a boat and row along the lake. Then make your way to the famous Nanping Street, a pedestrian walkway set above a highway tunnel, lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. There are plenty of options for dinner along this street or near the park.

Day 2: Hike in the Stone Forest and visit Yuantong Temple - Transfer to Dali

Yuantong Temple, Kunming
Yuantong Temple, Kunming

In the morning, you'll enjoy a quick tour of Kunming with your guide. Afterward, you'll drive east of the city to the sprawling Stone Forest Scenic Area which features sets of limestone formations and dense forests. The tall rocks resemble petrified trees, creating the illusion of a forest made of stone. But as you get closer, you'll see that the rocks seem to rise up from the ground in the manner of upsidedown stalagmites. You'll enjoy hiking in the karst landscape, visiting caves, lakes, and scenic viewpoints.

In the afternoon, you'll transfer to Yuantong Temple, which is the largest and most active temple in Kunming. As an ancient Buddhist temple, its history dates back more than 1,200 years. Located on the south side of Yuantong Hill, it's a pilgrimage destination for travelers across the globe.

After visiting the temple you'll transfer to the train station to catch your departure to Dali. This old walled city sits on the shores of Erhai Lake and hails from the Ming Dynasty. After settling into your hotel, enjoy dinner at one of the traditional restaurants in the city center.

Day 3: Tour Dali and ride a horse-drawn carriage around Erhai Lake

Wuhan Tower in Dali Ancient City
Wuhan Tower in Dali Ancient City

After breakfast at your hotel, you'll transfer to the Dali Ancient City, where you'll find traditional Bai folk houses. These homes were built by the area's Bai ethnic minority, which gives the city a distinctive feel unlike any other city in China. You'll then visit the ancient landmark, the Three Pagodas. This trio of pagodas are a part of a Buddhist temple and stand facing a reflection pool.

In the afternoon, you'll enjoy a pleasant trip along the shores of Erhai Lake in a horse-drawn carriage. The tranquil settling creates wonderful photo opportunities with its clean water and surrounding green mountains as a backdrop.

Afterward, you'll drive to Zhoucheng where you can enjoy typical Bai architecture and participate in a tie-dyeing workshop led by locals. In the evening, you'll return to your hotel and enjoy free time in Dali Ancient Town.

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Day 4: Explore the ancient towns of Shaxi and Lijiang

Watermill in Lijiang's Old Town
Watermill in Lijiang's Old Town

Today's adventure takes you to the city of Lijiang. Along the way, you'll stop at Shaxi Ancient Town for a walking tour. Compared to other commercialized ancient towns in China, the undeveloped village of Shaxi allows you to experience the quaint lives of the local Bai population. Many of the historical sites have been preserved, including Sifang Street, Xingjiao Temple, Yuxi Bridge, and the Ancient Opera Stage.

Afterward, you'll continue to Lijiang. Upon arriving in the city, you'll have plenty of free time to stroll through Lijiang Ancient City. Here you'll find traditional Naxi courtyards lining stone paths and gurgling streams. With exquisite bridges, blooming flowers, and verdant plants as finishing touches, the town offers great scenery from any angle.

At the end of the day, you'll settle into your accommodation and enjoy dinner out in the city.

Day 5: Discover scenic meadows on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Scenery of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
The scenery of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

The city of Lijiang is well known for its incredible backdrop of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the most sacred place in the local Naxi culture. Today you'll explore the mountain and learn more about its cultural and historical significance, all while enjoying a full view of its peak at Ganhaizi Meadow. Afterward, you'll climb uphill to the Spruce Meadow with the help of a ropeway. As you take in the views from the meadow, you'll understand why the scene is worth the trek.

In the afternoon, you'll visit Yufeng Temple. The entire temple complex showcases a distinctive and conjunct architecture style of Han Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism, and the local Naxi Dongba Religion. You'll explore the temple's three courtyards, as well as its famous 500-year-old Camellia tree.

As you return to Lijiang, you'll stop to admire the Baisha Mural, which is the cradle of the Naxi culture and was once the ancient capital of the Naxi Kingdom. In the evening, you'll have free time to enjoy Lijiang Ancient City.

Day 6: Hike along Tiger Leaping Gorge - Visit Black Dragon Pool

Scenes of Tiger Leaping Gorge
Scenes of Tiger Leaping Gorge

Your final day in Yunnan will involve a visit to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a massive canyon on the Jinsha River. The gorge is one of the deepest valleys in the world, divided into three parts that stretch over 15 miles (25 km). The canyon gets its name thanks to those who believed a tiger could easily jump over its narrowest part at just under 100 feet (30 m) wide.

Today you'll explore all three sections (upper, middle, and lower), starting at the top and hiking down to the wooden pathways that line the riverbed.

As you make your way back to Lijiang, you'll stop to visit Black Dragon Pool, a famous vista with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain reflecting in the pond. Enjoy your final evening in Lijiang's old town.

Day 7: Depart China via Kunming or Shanghai

Square Street in Lijiang Old Town
Square Street in Lijiang Old Town

It's time to say goodbye to China. Enjoy your final morning in Yunnan with one last stroll through Lijang Ancient City. When you're ready, you'll transfer to the city's airport and fly to Kunming or Shanghai for your connecting flight home.

Alice
Written by Alice Fu, updated Feb 16, 2020