Jiuzhaigou has been likened to a land from a fairytale. The scenery is breathtaking with its lakes, waterfalls and, above all, the plants, trees and waterscape which, in their many hues and forms, provide the landscape with a truly magical quality. One of the most popular tourist destinations in all China and one of its most photographed scenic areas, it is hard to believe the images of the area are real and not the product of some bizarre artistic imagination. However, the area is extensive and so, if you only have a few days in which to visit, how should you organize your time? Here is a recommended two-day schedule which takes in some of the more extraordinary sights Jiuzhaigou has to offer.
In order to maximize the time available, book your flight to Jiuzhaigou Huanglong Airport to arrive before midday, with a return flight the following evening. Pre-book your hotel and the chartered bus to save yourself some additional time. There's a lot to see here, and you want to waste as little time as possible on trip administration once you arrive.
Your pre-booked chartered bus should take you to the Huanglong Scenic Area, a journey time of just over an hour, (50 km). To do the area justice, you will require four to five hours at least; time may be saved if you use the cable car. Once you have finished your exploration of the area, take a taxi back to Jiuzhaigou and your hotel. Once again, remember to book this in advance and to have the name handy to show the taxi driver. The travel time to Jiuzhaigou is some two-and-a-half hours.
Once you arrive, take the cable car to the top of the peak. From there you will have an easy walk down through the scenic area — some three to four hours to do the area justice. If you decide to do the whole trip on foot, forgetting the cable car, then allow yourself five or six hours for a slow hike up while you take in the scenery and a faster walk back down again.
Head out to Jiuzhaigou Valley around 7:00 in the morning. It will be a long day if you want to see everything, so try to book your return flight late enough that you don't leave the scenic area before 5.00 in the evening. It's some 90 minutes' drive back to the airport (90 km), so make sure you leave yourself adequate time.
The scenic spot not to be missed on your itinerary is Mirror Lake, one of the best-known and most spectacular sites in all of Jiuzhaigou. The reflections of the surrounding scenery on the still waters give the lake its name. A camera is essential. However, it's best to get there as early as possible in your day. The popularity of the lake is such that it is besieged with tourists from mid-morning onwards, and tour parties do rather tend to mar the view, not to mention the tranquility.
It is perhaps best to book a bus to the Primeval Forest, stopping off at Mirror Lake along the way. Continuing on from there, the Primeval Forest itself is best visited on foot, stopping off for lunch around noon at the Nourilang Restaurant. From there, continue on to Zechawa Valley. The longest valley in the Jiuzhaigou area at 18 km it is worth spending some time here exploring what you can before moving on to Shuzheng Valley. Known as the Gateway to Jiuzhaigou, this is another extensive valley some 14 km long. Given the extent of the area and the limited time available to you, it is perhaps best to take these two valleys with a combination of hiking and bus rides if you are to take in the best scenery the area has to offer.
Along the way, keep an eye out for some of the other scenery you will not have time, unfortunately, to visit, so try and get a window seat on the bus.Minjiang Yuan, the source of the Minjiiang River, is open wetland. In contrast to this, there is a small prairie you will pass known as the Dry Sea. Both are worth keeping your eyes open for, so don't give in to the desire to sleep on the bus.
Given you will be spending the night in the area; don't miss out on the entertainment and experiences Jiuzhaigou has to offer. Small villages nearby welcome visitors and are used to providing for them.
The area's local minorities, Tibetans and Qiang people, have their own culture and architecture, so these towns are well worth a visit. Traditional Tibetan architecture makes for a pleasant backdrop to the song-and-dance parties often held in these villages, so don't miss out on them if you are not too tired from your day's hiking.
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Check out our video of some of the spectacular scenery you can expect to see in Jiuzhaigou to whet your appetite for your own visit. For more of the sights on offer, see our photos of the area. You may also want to check out our travel information on the area for further details.