From Peaks to Pandas: A Journey Through China’s Stunning Natural Landscapes

Imagine standing amidst the towering sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie, which inspired the mesmerising floating mountains in the movie Avatar. Or navigating the winding paths of Wulong National Park, home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the awe-inspiring Three Natural Bridges. 

Or perhaps you dream of cruising down the serene waters of the Li and Yangtze Rivers, framed by breathtaking mountains and scenic beauty. If you long to venture beyond the hustle and bustle of China’s famed metropolises, our ‘Dreams of Nature’ tour is for you. Here are some of the tour’s incredible highlights – and when you’re ready for more, take a deep dive into the full itinerary here.

Guilin: a different kind of city 


You’ll begin your adventure in Guilin – China’s second-largest city, with its surprisingly relaxed and peaceful air. This could be something to do with its incredible natural beauty and surrounding karst landscapes – the perfect starting point for your off-the-beaten-track adventure. A relaxing cruise along the Li River offers an excellent preview of what’s to come –  marvel at the dramatic limestone cliffs, verdant bamboo groves and thriving river communities as you gently sail along this tranquil river. 

Aside from the Li River, Guilin is also home to the Reed Flute Cave. Named after the reed growing outside the cave traditionally used to make flutes, this is a natural limestone cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites and incredible rock formations. Whilst in Guilin, you’ll explore the cave alongside indulging in a spot of morning Tai Chi in the company of a Tai Chi master, and later, you’ll have the option of bamboo rafting along the picturesque Yulong River. 

Zhangjiajie: famously beautiful 

Next up, it’s a few days spent exploring the wonderous Zhangjiajie. Located in the northwest part of Hunan Province, Zhangjiajie is known worldwide for its unique and stunning natural beauty. The Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to thousands of giant sandstone pillars often covered in mist, creating an ethereal and other-worldly image. This landscape inspired the floating Hallelujah Mountains in James Cameron’s Avatar movie.

Another noteworthy spot is the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve, which provides stunning views of the peaks, which change their hues with the shifting sunlight and weather. For thrill-seekers, the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge is a must-visit.  Zhangjiajie is also home to Tianmen Mountain, accessible via one of the world’s longest cable car rides. At the top, visitors can walk along glass skywalks attached to the cliffside, providing heart-stopping views of the landscapes below. Zhangjiajie City is also home to the Tujia ethnic group, and visitors can explore their rich culture and traditions at the Tujia Folk Customs Park.

Yangtze River: a river of legends  

No trip to rural China would be complete without a few days spent cruising along the legendary Yangtze River.

Also known as Chang Jiang, the Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and the third-longest in the world, surpassed only by the Amazon and the Nile. It stretches approximately 6,300 kilometres (3,915 miles) from its source in the glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai Province to its mouth in the East China Sea, near Shanghai.

On our cruise, we’ll sail upstream away from the Three Gorges Dam – a remarkable feat of engineering. Sail through the famous Three Gorges themselves, with each offering stunning landscapes, towering cliffs, and peaks shrouded in mist. Spend the next few days taking in the relaxing day-to-day life along the river, looking out for wildlife and participating in fascinating shore excursions. 

Three Bridges and Wulong National Parks 

It’s time for more geological wonders, no less humbling and unusual than the previous. In Three Bridges National Park, marvel at the towering limestone bridges, a testament to the power of nature. As you descend into the gorge via a series of staircases and elevators, you can observe the bridges from various perspectives. 

In Wulong National Park, explore yet more stunning natural limestone scenery, including the extraordinary Furong Cave, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This remarkable limestone cave is adorned with an array of stalactites and stalagmites, illuminated to showcase their intricate details and impressive structures. 

Mount Emeishan: monks and macaques

Located in China’s Sichuan Province, near the city of Leshan. Mount Emeishan has been a centre of Buddhism since the religion first arrived in China. It is said to be where Samantabhadra, a Buddhist Bodhisattva, achieved enlightenment. The mountain, which stands at 3,099 metres (10,167 feet) tall, is dotted with monasteries and temples, offering visitors a rich cultural experience and stunning natural scenery.

The mountain is also home to a diverse range of plants and animals, with its different altitudes creating distinct ecological zones. The significant population of Tibetan macaques are a common sight, and less frequently spotted are Asiatic black bears, red pandas and leopards. There are over 230 recorded species of bird on the mountain – a real birdwatchers’ paradise. You can spend the day exploring the mountain’s cultural and natural wonders. 

Chengdu Panda Reserve

And how could we say goodbye to China’s natural wonders without meeting the country’s most famous furry residents? On our final tour day, we’ll spend the morning visiting the giant pandas at the Chengdu Panda Reserve. The reserve is a non-profit research and breeding facility for giant pandas and other rare animals.

Opened in 1987, the Chengdu Panda Base started with just six giant pandas rescued from the wild. Today, it’s home to more than 150 pandas and has remarkably successfully bred these notoriously difficult-to-breed animals. The base’s ultimate goal is to increase the panda population and eventually release some pandas into the wild.

Morning is feeding time and when the pandas are most active, so the best time to visit. You’ll have the opportunity to see adult pandas munching on bamboo, young pandas playfully interacting with each other, and, if you’re lucky, newborn pandas in the nursery.

If you’re ready to join us as we explore China’s remarkable natural and cultural wonders, head to our Dreams of Nature 2023 itinerary and secure your place on this life-changing adventure. 

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