Europe may have been the birthplace of Surrealism but China boasts more fantastical landscapes than the likes of surreal artist Salvador Dali could shake a paintbrush at.
A gravity-defying landscape that inspired the creation of an alien world, glistening rice terraces that form a stairway to heaven or a place that appears as if it’s been lifted straight from the canvas. Welcome to China, a country home to scenery that will push the limits of your imagination.
Blue skinned aliens, living in harmony with nature among floating mist-wreathed pillars of rock – this is (reputedly) what the director of blockbuster movie Avatar imagined when he first saw Zhangjiajie in central China’s Hunan Province.
Daybreak offers the most wondrous scenes, as morning mists play about the park’s 3,000 sandstone pillars, giving them a gravity-defying appeal.
Hiking through canyons brings visitors close to the park’s macaques, deer and leopards. Rafting and exploring its many caves gives visitors a sense of just how wonderfully unique this place really is.
No stranger to superlatives, Zhangjiajie hosts the highest outdoor elevator in the world, alongside the world’s highest and longest glass bridge, strung a whopping 360 meters over a gorge.
Easily enjoyed in two days, consider China’s Avatar Mountains for an otherworldly weekend adventure.
The unique pork-stripe ridges of Danxia in northwest China’s Gansu are guaranteed to mesmerize, cooked to perfection under the cloudless skies of Gansu province.
Made from layers of sandstone that once lay upon an ocean floor, several million years of geological upheaval and exposure to Gansu’s arid climate have carved out what the Guardian calls “China’s rainbow mountains”.
Source: via Wikimedia Commons
Visiting during summertime is recommended, as the geo-park’s rich hues stand out against yellow fields of rapeseed, green mountains and blue skies.
A visit before sunrise or sunset sees the peaks burst into flame, a dazzling kaleidoscope of color, texture and tone.
We’re not blaming you if you mistake Jiuzhaigou for the European Alps or American Rockies – the likeness is uncanny.
Here you can find rushing falls emptying into crystal-clear turquoise lakes, backed by hillsides coated in tall, proud evergreens and framed by snowcapped peaks. Jiuzhaigou offers untouched, natural China at its very best.
Unsurprisingly, these hills and mountains are home to China’s richest spread of flora and fauna, from snub-nosed monkeys to the recently reintroduced giant panda, making this a relative Garden of Eden for David Attenborough types.
During autumn, the park’s evergreen trees burn bright orange in their last dance to the summer sun. Hiking trails, horse treks and camping offer ample opportunities to enjoy the season’s greatest spectacle.
Now that the Ritz Carlton hotel chain has opened up a new location in the park, China’s answer to the Alps can be enjoyed in luxury. Join us on our Sichuan’s Natural Wonders tour.
Yuanyang Rice Terraces, Yunnan
Situated in remote southwest China, Yuanyang may be off the beaten path, but it should be on everybody’s itinerary. Here’s why.
During winter, the region’s thousands of rice paddies fill up with water, creating awe-inspiring reflections; resembling a shimmering stairway to heaven.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
This spellbinding landscape can be explored easily on foot, where wallowing water buffalo and rice farmers still go about business in time-forgotten fashion.
Visitors can stay the night in a local minority village, before getting up to see the sunrise and mists dance over this unmistakably Chinese vista.
What’s more, Yunnan Province is now better-connected to the rest of China, thanks to a new high-speed rail link from Shanghai, which has reduced journeys to just ten hours.
Li River, Guilin
We challenge you not to fall in love with Guilin’s postcard-perfect scenery; regarded in China as “the finest under heaven”.
Meandering down the Li River aboard a bamboo raft, past dreamy jade green peaks or seeing locals fish at dusk near Xingping offer some of the most idyllic and romantic scenes in all of China.
Riding a bike is the perfect way to get into gear with Guilin’s laid-back tempo, while hiking up onto the backs of the region’s green giants provides a unique perspective from above, rather than below – as most visitors see them.
Furthermore, nearby Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces offers sublime trekking through China’s agrarian past.
See for yourself with our Old Country Living tour, ranked by National Geographic Travel as “Tour of a Lifetime”. You won’t be able to keep your hands off your camera.
Want to see these surreal landscapes come to life? Speak to us to start planning an unforgettable trip into China’s most surreal landscapes.