You'll pack an incredible week with the highlights of China's Yunnan province. After arriving in the city of Kunming, you'll transfer to Dali and visit the Stone Forest, a natural marvel of towering limestone rocks. Then you'll tour other historic towns and cities that were once fixtures on the ancient tea trading routes while also visiting incredible natural wonders like Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Black Dragon Pool.

Highlights

  • See the incredible limestone formations at Stone Forest
  • Tour the historic building's of Dali's Old Town
  • Travel to Shaxi and visit the postcard Black Dragon Pool
  • Take a day trip to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and view its 13 peaks

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Kunming - Day Tour - Transfer to Dali Dali
Day 2 Dali Day Tour: Erhai Lake & Old Town Dali
Day 3 Dali to Shaxi - Tour Ancient Town Shaxi
Day 4 Shaxi to Lijiang - Tour Ancient Town & Black Dragon Pool Lijiang
Day 5 Day Trip to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Lijiang
Day 6 Day Trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge Lijiang
Day 7 Fly from Lijiang to Beijing/Shanghai - Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Kunming - Day Tour - Transfer to Dali

The Stone Forest, in Yunnan province
The Stone Forest, in Yunnan province

Welcome to China and its southern Yunnan province!

You'll arrive in the provincial capital of Kunming. Unlike the historic towns and villages in the region, Kunming is a modern metropolis and major transport hub in China. Upon arrival at the train station, a driver will pick you up and you'll immediately embark on a tour.

The destination is about 75 miles (120 km) east of the city. Here you'll find Stone Forest, an area of 150 square miles (388 square km) comprised of a series of limestone rock formations that jut into the air like giant fingers reaching for the sky. These incredible natural landmarks have been referred to by the Chinese as the "first wonder of the world" ever since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 ACE). 

You'll then return to the city and visit Yuantong Temple. Located on Yuantong Hill, this building dates back more than 1,200 years, making it the oldest Buddhist temple in Kunming. After the temple, you'll head to the railway station and catch a train two hours west to Dali, where you'll overnight. This city lies on the shores of Erhai Lake and has a rich history, as it was once the capital of the Bai kingdom of Nanzhao all the way back in the 8th century.

Upon arrival in Dali you'll transfer to your hotel and will have the evening free to relax.

Day 2: Dali Day Tour: Erhai Lake & Old Town

Dali Old Town
Dali Old Town

Get up early and head just outside of Dali to Xizhou Town. This collection of well-preserved ancient villages is populated mostly by the Bai people, a regional ethnic minority. To see this culture in action, you'll stop in at the large outdoor street market. It's always a hotbed of activity as locals haggle over the price of fresh produce and other goods. 

You'll then hop on a horse-drawn carriage for a brisk ride to nearby Erhai Lake, which is dotted with beautiful islets and surrounded by mountain peaks. It's also a food source for the Bai people. Over centuries, they've developed a unique fishing method that involves flocks of trained cormorants. Rings are placed around the birds' necks to prevent them from swallowing the catch, and once they scoop up a fish in the lake, they bring it back to the boat. 

After spending time the lake, you'll return to Daily and tour its Old Town. This time-capsule of an enclave is situated between the Cang Mountains and Erhai Lake, and it's one of the real gems of Yunnan Province. There's a long historical legacy here, which you'll feel as you stroll its tranquil pedestrian streets and see in its historic architecture.

Not only was Dali's historic Old Town the capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom from the 8th to the 9th centuries, but it was also the capital of the Kingdom of Dali until the mid-13th century. Then, after the Mongolian conquest of China and the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty, much of Dali was destroyed. However, after the Ming Dynasty defeated the Yuan forces in 1368, the city was rebuilt. This is why most of the well-preserved buildings you'll see in Dali's Old Town date to the 14th century. 

And there are some stunning architectural landmarks here. One of the city's most iconic examples is the Three Pagodas. This impressive temple complex has survived over 1,000 years completely intact. Moreover, the highest of the pagodas in the complex tops out at 229 feet (70 meters), making it the largest Chinese pagoda leftover from the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 ACE). 

You'll cap the day with more Bai culture as you sit down for the local Three Courses Tea Ceremony. This ancient ceremony has been practiced by the Bai people since the Ming Dynasty, and it's typically reserved for special occasions or to welcome distinguished guests. The ceremony is just what it sounds like: a formal tea service. It consists of three tea courses, each with different flavors (bitter, sweet, and mixed) and poured by a "master" from a clay pot to the guests' cups. 

Day 3: Dali to Shaxi - Tour Ancient Town

Shaxi Ancient Town
Shaxi Ancient Town

After breakfast, you'll leave Dali on a 2.5-hour drive north to Shaxi. This historic market village makes a nice stopover point on the way to more high-profile Lijiang. The biggest draw here is Ancient Town, Shaxi's historic commercial center, which dates back to the founding of the city in 700 ACE during the Tang Dynasty. In its heyday, Shaxi Ancient Town was a major trading center on the Tea Horse Road caravan route in ancient China.

The drive up to Shaxi is a scenic one, and along the way you'll stop at Shibao Mountain. This forested mountain is well known for its breathtaking landscapes as well as its temples and cave grottoes. These excavations were created by the ancient Bai people during Tan and Song Dynasties (850-1179 ACE).

You'll then continue on to Shaxi and head straight to your hotel in Ancient Town. After checking in, you can head out and tour the highlight sights of Ancient Town like the old market square theater, Xinjiao Temple, which dates to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and cap the day with a visit to nearby villages.

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Day 4: Shaxi to Lijiang - Tour Ancient Town & Black Dragon Pool

Black Dragon Pool
Black Dragon Pool

In the morning you'll leave from Shaxi on a two-hour drive north to Lijiang, a city located near the border with Tibet. The populace of Lijiang is mostly comprised of ethnic minority cultures of the Himalayan foothills like the Bai, Yi, and Naxi people. This has been the case throughout the city's history, which is a long one. During the 1300s, in fact, Lijiang was one of China's major commercial centers. 

Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your hotel for check-in. Afterward, you'll head out on a tour of Lijiang's Ancient Town. This historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to the Naxi people, whose culture goes back 1,000 years to when Dyan was a stop on the ancient Tea Horse Road trading route. Even today this neighborhood is filled with Naxi homes built the traditional way out of timber and mud bricks.

Outside of Leijing is an incredible natural landmark: Heilongtan Park (Black Dragon Pool). This 99-acre (40-hectare) public space is located just north of Ancient Town at the foot of Elephant Hill. Beyond the park's namesake glassy pond, there are many historic landmarks here like Deyue Pavilion, which was built in 1601 and mixes Tibetan, Bai, and Han architectural styles. Then there's the arched Suocui Bridge and Longshen Temple, which was built in 1737 and was the site of sacrifice rituals to the gods.

Day 5: Day Trip to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Today you'll head about 9 miles (15 km) outside of Lijiang to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Consisting of 13 craggy peaks, the highest of these, Shanzidou, tops out at (18,360 feet (‎5,596 meters). As seen from Lijiang's old town, these peaks, often appearing above the mist, resemble a dragon resting in the clouds. 

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is also a biological reserve. The area is home to 400 types of trees and 30 kinds of animals, all of which are protected. You'll see this glory of nature firsthand on a scenic cable car ride to the mountain plateau and spruce woodland area of Yunshanping.

Back at the foot of the mountain, you'll visit Yufeng Temple. Dating to 1756, this monastery was built by the Scarlet Sect of lamas from Lijiang. After visiting the temple, you'll see more local culture on a visit to the Yuhu and Baisha villages where you'll meet the Naxi residents and see their daily routine.

Day 6: Day Trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge
Tiger Leaping Gorge

After breakfast at the hotel, you'll hop in the car and drive south to the outskirts of Lijiang and a locale known as The First Bend of the Yangtze River. Naturally, this isn't the very first bend in China's famous river, but it is the most pronounced. It's at this point that the river takes a dramatic 90° turn from south to east, curving around a pyramid-shaped mountain.

You'll then continue to Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This massive canyon is located just north of Linjiang on the Jinsha River, a tributary of the Yangtze. At a staggering 12,434 feet (3,790 meters) from peak to river, this is one of the deepest gorges in the world. Needless to say, the mountain views in the area are stunning, and there are many scenic hiking trails here. 

Day 7: Fly from Lijiang to Beijing/Shanghai - Departure

Farewell, China
Farewell, China

After breakfast at the hotel, you'll transfer to the airport in Lijiang for your flight to either Beijing or Shanghai, where you'll connect with your international flight home. See you soon!

Map

Map of Explore the Yunnan Province - 7 Days
Map of Explore the Yunnan Province - 7 Days
Alice
Written by Alice Fu, updated Feb 11, 2020