There are some amazing places in China that foreign tourists like to go to, but altitude sickness makes it hard. China's 10 top high-altitude areas for tourism are on the Tibetan Plateau, averaging 4,500 meters in elevation, or in its bordering mountain ranges.
Altitude sickness may be be a little frightening if you have not experienced it before. You may feel sick and find yourself having headaches and trouble breathing and sleeping. Some people should avoid these high altitude areas. See information and tips on traveling in high-altitude areas.
The locations in this article are all over 2,400 meters (7,900 feet). At this altitude people can get a bad case of altitude sickness, but above 3,500 meters most people get altitude sickness. Read on for why tourists brave the risks and go, and altitude advice.
1. Jiuzhaigou — China's First National Park (Averages 2,500 m, 8,200 ft)
It is one of the rare beautiful places in the world with alpine scenery and many colorful pools. The multi-hued pools range in color from yellow green to deep blue. The valley with high mountain glacier scenery, wildlife, and waterfalls lies at an elevation between 2,000 and 3,000 meters.
Huanglong: Nearby is a smaller sister park with even more colorful karst ponds that range in color from white to yellow to deep blue depending on the light. It is higher than Jiuzhaigou, and the elevation ranges from 3,200 to 3,600 meters (10,500 to 11,800 feet).
Very high altitude: At either park, unless you are fit and well acclimated, avoid a climb up. Walking down is more advisable. Huanglong is much higher, so take it easy. Elderly people and those with pulmonary and cardiovascular problems should avoid especially Huanglong. There is a drive over a 4,000-meter (13,100-foot) pass to get to Huanglong. More on Jiuzhaigou>>.
2. Lhasa — The Ancient Capital of a Large Empire (3,750 m, 12,300 ft)
Once capital of the Tibetan Empire, there are numerous sites of interest around the city, but the Potala Palace is the tourist highlight that stands high on a hill and draws much attention. Tourists enjoy the scenery around the huge palace.
Very high altitude: This city is better avoided by many elderly people and those with pulmonary and cardiovascular problems, etc. More about Lhasa>>
- Potala facts: Thirteen stories, 1000 rooms, 32 acres.
- Other highlights: Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street
3. Lijiang — The Ancient Naxi Homeland (2,400 m, 7,900 ft)
This popular UNESCO Heritage cited city is interesting for the layout and architecture of the Naxi areas. They also have a unique culture, language and culinary style. These people were skilled traders and merchants, and grew they wealthy during the Qing Empire era and afterwards.
Lijiang touring: Though this is the lowest of the high altitude areas listed here, lowlanders beware! Strolling and sightseeing along the narrow alleys of the old towns may seem inviting, but the exertion often gives people bad symptoms of altitude sickness. So take it easy the first two days.
On a lower plateau: Unlike the other 9 places, Lijiang is said to be located where the Qinghai Tibet Plateau converges with another lower plateau. More on Lijiang>>
4. Tiger Leaping Gorge — Breathtaking (2,700 m, 8,800 ft)
The favorite hiking area on the Yangtze River near the city of Lijiang has the distinction of being one of the deepest canyons in the world. Much of the trail is at an elevation of about 2,700 meters.
The canyon is 16 kilometers (10 miles) long and 4 kilometers (13,000 feet) deep and is one of China's premier hiking areas with convenient ethnic inns along the trail.
5. Namtso Lake — Deep Blue Near Lhasa (4,718 m, 15,480 ft)
The startling blue color often against a equally startling blue sky with floating white clouds is a scene that makes most tourists say a visit is worth it.
It is a four hour drive from Lhasa. A sunset view can be spectacular.
Very high altitude: We suggest that unless you are well acclimated to the extreme altitude that you avoid visiting for more than three or four hours.
6. Yamdrok Lake — Fresh Water Changing Colors (4,441 m, 14,570 ft)
The startling blue color often stuns sightseers as well. But this fresh water lake changes moods and attitudes: With the changes in the angle of the sun's rays, the lake reflects different degrees of blue, light blue, and sapphire. Those close to the lake shore see different colors than those at a distance or higher up.
7. Shigatse — Step Off for Everest (3,800 m, 12,500 ft)
Several temples can be visited, and it is about 5 or 6 hours from Lhasa.
8. Everest Base Camp — See the World's Highest Peak (5,150 m, 16,900 ft)
For many tourists, just the chance to see the high peak from the Mount Everest Base at its foot is enough. There is epic scenery. Others enjoying seeing the area around the base camp on foot.
It is a twelve hour drive from Shigatse. When it is clear enough, you can see the peak, but generally it is clouded.
Very high altitude: We suggest you first acclimate in Lhasa or Shigatse for several days or a week of rest and exercise doing local walks. Don't over stress. More on Everest>>
9. Qinghai Lake — Huge High Lake (3,205 m, 10,515 ft)
Qinghai Lake is China's largest and is seen along the route of the Qinghai Tibet train that many tourists catch in Xining. It is also called Lake Kokonor. It is known for an island where migrating birds roost. People enjoy boating in it and seeing the green pastures around it.
10. Gyantse — Less Visited and Less Crowded (4,000 m, 13,120 ft)
The main draw of Gyantse is that it is still primarily a Tibetan town, and big tour groups don't have it on their itinerary (it's a detour of several hours off the Lhasa-Shigatse road). Like the more popular cities, this also has an old monastery, called Palcho, but there are less crowds there.
Very high altitude: Be aware that this town is higher than Lhasa.
Personalized Tours of Tibet
China Highlights stands out in China as a big company that specializes in personalized, private tours for individuals, families, and groups. Our expertise is tailoring our tours to suit the interests and needs of our clients, and we know how to find good prices, accommodations, and transportation. Our experienced guides can help with altitude sickness.
- One Golden Week in Tibet — includes Lhasa, Yamdrok Lake, and the Tsangpo Grand Canyon
- 5-Day Lhasa and Yamdrok Tour — the Potala, other Lhasa attractions, and Yamdrok Lake.