Shangri-La, called Zhongdian before 2001, is the capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture at Yunnan Province's border with Sichuan Province and Tibet. Featuring clear blue sky, mysterious and remote Tibetan Buddhist temples, and holy snow-capped mountains, Shangri-La was aptly renamed via the famous James Hilton novel "Lost Horizon".
A hidden gem, Shangri-La is a dream destination for travelers. But how do you plan a Shangri-La trip? In this Shangri-La trip-planning guide, you can discover the top things to do, when the best times to visit are, how to get to Shangri-La, where to stay and eat, and what a Shangri-La tour usually includes.
1. Choose from the Top Things to Do in Shangri-La
- Experience mysterious Tibetan Buddhism at Songzanlin Monastery
- Seek Shambhala — 'place of peace' in Buddhist scriptures — in Dukezong Ancient Town
- Admire the sunrise on the Holy Meili Snow Mountains
- Trek like the pilgrims around mysterious Yubeng Village
- Appreciate amazing Tibetan plateau scenery in Napahai Nature Reserve
2. Consider Extending Your Shangri-La Trip
Usually 2–3 days is suggested to visit Shangri-La city attractions and those nearby, such as Napahai Nature Reserve and Nixi Tibetan Village.
If you want to go further, you should go to Deqin County to see the Meili Snow Mountains and maybe Cizhong Village Church, or perhaps to Tacheng to see the golden monkeys.
- Recommended: 6-Day Shangri-La and Meili Snow Mountain Tour
Shangri-La is often visited in a 7–8-day Yunnan Province trip together with Kunming, Dali, and Lijiang. Taking a private transfer from Lijiang to Shangri-La is best.
You can go from Shangri-La to Yading and Daocheng in Sichuan by road with 6 hours' driving. After a Shangri-La trip, you could fly to Chengdu, Tibet, or many other destinations around China. Just contact us for a customized China trip!
3. Know Shangri-La's Weather and Best Times to Go
With an average altitude of 3,450 meters (11,300 feet), sunshine is abundant in Shangri-La, especially outside the summer rainy season. Temperatures are mild at best in summer and dip well below freezing in winter.
Because of the strong sunshine, the temperature in Shangri-La increases sharply in the daytime, but decreases rapidly at night. The best time to visit Shangri-La is from May to October, when the weather is not so cold. However, you can visit Shangri-la at any time of year. It presents different sceneries in different seasons.
- Spring (April to May): Enjoy wild flowers blossom in Pudacuo National Forest Park or Little Zhongdian Flower Town.
- Summer (June to August): Enjoy flowers in full bloom and local festivals, such as Horse Racing Festival.
- Autumn (September to October): See birds at Napa Lake or hike to Yubeng Village.
- Winter (November to March): Get the clearest and snowiest views of the Meili Snow Mountains and more chances to see an awesome sunrise.
What to Bring for a Shangri-La Tour
The daily temperature difference is big in Shangri-La, so wearing layers is practical if they are easy to take on and off. Lightweight, warm, rainproof, and breathable coats or down jackets and other technical mountain clothing, as well as comfortable walking shoes are always suggested for Shangri-La, especially if you plan to go hiking.
As the sunshine is strong in Shangri-La, sunblock, sunglasses, and hats are recommended year-round.
Tell us when you want to go and we will customize a Shangri-La trip for you. Or you can start from our recommended Shangri-La tours:
- 4-Day Shangri-La Exploration Tour
- 6-Day Shangri-La and Meili Snow Mountain Tour
- 8-Day Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La Highlights Tour
4. How to Get to Shangri-La
A) Private Transfer from Lijiang — Most Recommended
Shangri-La is often the last and most remote stop on a Yunnan trip, and the best way to Shangri-La is by taking a private transfer from Lijiang by road after a Lijiang tour. It is about a 4-hour drive, and on the way you will have the chance to visit the amazing Tiger Leaping Gorge.
What's more, it is also easier for you to adapt to the altitude of Shangri-La by gradually traveling from Lijiang. The altitude of Lijiang is 2,400 meters, and it is 3,400 meters in Shangri-La, and you can go from low altitude to high altitude slowly by road, especially if you stop along the way, making the acclimatization easier.
B) By Air
Diqing Shangri-La Airport is about 20 minutes' driving from Dukezong Ancient Town or Shangri-La city center. Air travel is the fastest way to Shangri-La, and right now there are flights from Kunming, Chengdu, Lhasa, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Beijing.
There is no airport shuttle bus between the airport and the Shangri-La city, so you can take a taxi or contact us to arrange a private transfer.
5. How to Travel around Shangri-La
You could take the public buses and taxis to travel around Shangri-La County. Walking is the best way to explore Dekuzong Old Town.
There is no direct bus from Shangri-La to the Meili Snow Mountains, so it is wise to have a private transfer to get there. You can also see the Jinsha River Big Bend, Dongzhulin Monastery, and Baima Snow Mountain on the way. Our private transfers are flexible, and you can stop wherever you want for pictures on the way. Contact us to arrange a private transfer.
6. Shangri-La Food and Where to Eat It
Shangri-La is a mainly Tibetan area, so the food is mainly Tibetan in flavor. Butter tea and zanba (tsampa i.e. roasted barley dough) are the main foods there. Tibetan cake, pipa meat (traditional Tibetan bacon), saimi lamb (cooked in egg, sugar, wine, canola oil, and butter), guoben (wild vegetable) hot pot, yogurt, and barley wine are also popular Tibetan fare in Shangri-La.
Shangri-La also produces a kind of delicious matsutake, which is a very popular mushroom in Japan and Southeast Asia. June to November is the best time to pick this mushroom in the wild.
In Shangri-La, you should take the chance to taste authentic Tibetan food. There are many good restaurants and we have listed some for you below.
Jingjing De Manishi Restaurant 静静的嘛呢石
Yak hot pot is super in 'Quiet Manishi' restaurant.
- Address: 3 Zuobari, Dukezong Ancient Town (near Sifang Street)
- Tel: 0887-8286627
Shejian Shang de Xiao Chushi (Lead Branch) 舌尖上的小厨师 (总店)
It is popular in 'Little Chef on the Tip of Your Tongue', and you can see much feedback left by the guests on notes on the restaurant walls as unique decoration.
- Address: 22 Yinuo Gallery, 2nd Street, Dukezong Ancient Town
Wucai Xueyu Zang Canguan 五彩雪域藏餐馆
The dishes are quite authentic at 'Five-Color Snowfield Tibetan Restaurant'. Curry potatoes, matsutake, pipa meat (Tibetan bacon), fried ribs, butter tea, and yak meat are all popular.
- Address: opposite Shangri-La Bus Station
- Tel: 1589-4867-314
Find out more about Shangri-La food.
7. Recommended Shangri-la Hotels
You may wonder where to stay during your trip. There are lots of hotel choices in Dukezong Ancient Town and the new downtown area of Shangri-La. International brand hotels, boutique hotels, and small local hostels are all available. We have listed five for your reference:
- Shangri-La Old Town Hotel (3*): good location in Dekezong Old Town
- The 5th Meteorite · Light-year Hotel (4*): near Dekezong Old Town
- Arro Khampa by Zinc Journey Shangri-La (5*): central location near Guishan Park
- Songtsam Lodge Shangri-La (Lvgu) (5*): 2 minutes' walking from Songzanlin Monastery
- Banyan Tree Ringa, Shangri-La (5*+): super-luxury experience, about 40 minutes' driving southeast from Dukezong Old Town
Check out more hotel recommendations in Shangri-la.
Or contact us with your own requirements, and we will help to choose the right hotel for you.
Arro Khampa by Zinc Journey Shangri-La
Discover Shangri-La with a Local Expert
Planning a hassle-free Shangri-La trip is not easy and time-consuming if do not know the area well. Why not let a professional travel advisor help you? We could book hotels and arrange attractions, meals, and all the transfers for you, as well as a local guide. All you'd need to do is enjoy the trip! For your own customized tour, please feel free to contact your one-to-one travel expert now.
Or maybe see our Shangri-La and Yunnan tours below for some inspiration and a place to start your tour plan.