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Ultimate Yunnan Itineraries: 6 Top Tours Options and Side Trips

Written by Mike HoUpdated Mar. 4, 2024

As home to 26 officially-recognized ethnic minority groups, Yunnan is renowned for its picturesque landscapes and diverse ethnic culture. But, where should you start your trip in Yunnan? How many days are needed to explore Yunnan's top attractions? This article will help you plan a great trip in Yunnan.

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How Many Days to Spend in Yunnan

To deeply appreciate and experience all that Yunnan has to offer, it's recommended to spend at least 7 days to explore its different regions and discover its many unique charms.

However, if you have limited time, 3 to 5 days can give you a quick overview of Yunnan's highlights, such as the UNESCO-listed Lijiang Old Town, Dali Old Town, and Yuanyang Rice Terraces, and Tiger Leaping Gorge and the majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Ultimately, the ideal duration of your stay in Yunnan will depend on your interests, budget, and schedule, but with its wealth of attractions, this beautiful province is definitely worth exploring. The following are some of the sample tour Itineraries. 

1. An 8-Day Classic Yunnan Highlights Tour (Most Chosen)

If you are visiting Yunnan for the first time, then Kunming, Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La should be on your list. In this 8-day tour itinerary, you would see the iconic limestone "forest" formations, one of the world's deepest canyons, UNESCO-listed ancient towns, beautiful snowy mountains, and colorful minority cultures. With the help of our guide, you would get some real interaction with the local cultures and peoples.

Days 1–2: Kunming

Kunming Stone Forest

When in Kunming, visiting the spectacular Stone Forest is a must. It is a natural wonder listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You would see various spectacular limestone shapes formed wholly by natural processes. Yunnan cuisine is known for its unique flavors and ingredients. Make sure to try some of the local dishes while you are in Kunming, such as Yunnan hot pot, across-the-bridge noodles, and steam pot chicken.

Days 3–4: Dali

Dali travel

In Dali, the top attractions are the Erhai Lake, Cangshan Mountains and Dali Old Town. To help you get a deeper experience of Dali, our guide would take you to visit local houses of the Bai minority people in Xizhou Village, where you would see typical Bai traditions and try on their traditional clothes for memorable photos. Then hop in a horse-drawn carriage to enjoy a relaxing tour along the Erhai lakeshore, which is blessed with a mild climate and stunning scenery.

Days 5–6: Lijiang

 Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Lijiang Old Town is a must-visited attraction in Lijiang. Follow our guide to explore the well-preserved Naxi minority city, meet local Naxi people, and see many of them still making a living by making handicrafts of silver, leather, textiles, and local snacks.

Another top attraction in Lijiang is Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Take a cable car up to overlook stunning and varied natural beauty, including spruces, meadows, pines, and clouds seen from above. To help you get a close encounter with local life, our guide would accompany you to visit a local Naxi family, where you would make your own Naxi pancake (Naxi baba) as the main dish for your lunch.

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Days 7–8: Shangri-La

Shangri-La is renowned for its breathtaking natural beauty and holy religious atmosphere full of Tibetan Buddhist culture. Visit Songzanlin Lamasery, which houses lots of Buddhist statues and many precious cultural treasures. With the help of our guide, you would be able to talk with lamas in their study room to learn more about their lifestyle, religious beliefs, and disciplines. Other top attractions in Shangri-La include Pudacuo National Park, which is a well-preserved ecosystem with the virgin forests, Lake Bita, and Lake Shudu.

2. A 6-Day Lijiang to Shangri-La Adventure Tour (Good for Hiking Lovers)

If you want to experience the atmosphere of adventure that the great explorer Joseph Rock pioneered, this itinerary would be good for you. You would have the chance to see awesome landscapes and old and mysterious cultures, which make up the stuff of adventures for most travelers.

Days 1–3: Lijiang

In Lijiang, besides the Ancient Town, our guide would arrange a hike of about 12.5 km (8 miles) through the mountainside bushes, where you would wade across a little stream and enjoy exclusive views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain that only hikers can. You would see the traditional stone houses of the Naxi people and villagers in their traditional dress on their way to their farms or fields. Pay a visit to Rock's former residence and listen to his adventure stories.

Days 4–6: Shangri-La Adventure

On the way to Shangri-La, you would journey through Tiger Leaping Gorge and discover a best-kept secret of Haba Snow Mountain, where you would take a 2-hour hike on an alpine meadow, which offers exclusive views of Haba Snow Mountain and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Spend a day visiting the largest Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery in Yunnan — Songzanlin, and visit the dormitory of a lama. With the help of our guide, you would talk face to face with the lama about their lifestyle, religious beliefs, practices, and discipline. If you are interested in ethnic life, then visit Nixi Tibetan village and a Tibetan family's house. Sit and chat with the host and enjoy some traditional Tibetan snacks.

3. A 6-Day Yuanyang Terraced Fields Tour (Good for Countryside Views and Rice Terrace Vistas)

On this itinerary, you can admire classic Ming-era (14th-century) buildings in Jianshui and view the spectacular sight of the sprawling Yuanyang Rice Terraces.

Yuanyang Terraced Fields
  • Day 1: Kunming (visit the Stone Forest)
  • Days 2–3: Jianshui (visit the Confucian Temple and Zhu Family Garden)
  • Days 4–6: The Yuanyang Rice Terraces

The Confucian Temple is a must in Jianshui, where you can explore the various courtyards, halls, and gardens and gain insight into Confucian thought and philosophy.

Zhu Family Garden (a UNESCO World Heritage site), also in Jianshui, contains the residence of the wealthy Zhu family, which was built in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) and features ornate architecture. You should be impressed by this abode, which is truly a work of art!

In Yuanyang, the terraced fields are an attraction tht draws photographers from far and wide. Our private guide would take you to Duoyishu Village, where you can get awesome views of the rice terraces and then climb to Tiger Mouth Pass to overlook an extensive panorama of tiered fields. There you can experience the folk culture of Qingkou Hani Ethnic group.

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4. A 7-Day Yunnan Winter Tour (Good for Christmas and New Year Vacations)

If you are planning a trip to Yunnan in winter, this itinerary would be worth considering. You would find a relatively warm winter in Yunnan with sub-tropical sunshine, clear dry-season skies, and moderate temperatures. It is definitely recommended if you are planning a tour for the Christmas or New Year holiday.

  • Days 1: Kunming (visit the Stone Forest)
  • Days 2–4: Dali (Dali Ancient Town, Erhai Lake, Cangshan Mountain) and Shaxi
  • Days 5–7: Lijiang (Ancient Town, Jade Dragon Mountain)

Visit Dali and Shaxi Old Town, which was an important stop on the Tea-Horse Road. Attractions in Shaxi include Xingjiao Temple, Square Street, the ancient stage, and Yujing Bridge. To help you get a basic knowledge of the ancient Tea Horse Road, we would arrange a walking tour on the 14-centuries-old Tea Horse Road from Shaxi to a neighboring village, which is 4 km (2.5 miles). In Lijiang, you would explore the old town of Lijiang and have a walk around the Black Dragon Pool. Then visit Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the Baisha Murals, and a shaman's home.

5. 10-Day Yunnan Side Trip to Tibet (good for a Tibet bucket-list trip)

If Tibet is on your bucket list, then this itinerary could be good for you. We have added Lhasa to this Yunnan tour to fulfill your Tibet dreams.

  • Days 1–2: Kunming (visit the Stone Forest)
  • Days 3–4: Dali (Old Town, Cangshan, Erhai Lake)
  • Days 5–6: Lijiang (Old Town, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain)
  • Days 7–8: Shangri-La (Lamasery, national parks)
  • Days 9–10: Lhasa
Potala palace

In Lhasa, the Potala Place is a must-visit attraction. To help you find the best angles to take photos and have the best experience avoiding the crowds, our guide would use his experience to choose the best way for you to explore the Potala Palace.

Walk around Barkhor Street to explore its local market, admire traditional Tibetan architecture, and to see pilgrims doing their prostrating obeisance and Buddhists making a kora (sacred circuit) by turning the prayer wheels.

In the afternoon, enjoy your afternoon tea in peaceful Ani Tsangkhung Nunnery. Spend the final day visiting Lhasa's numerous temples, including Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery, to experience how Tibetan Buddhist culture influences local people's lives.

6. 10-Day Yunnan Side Trip to Chengdu (Good for Panda Lovers)

If seeing a many cute pandas in their hometown is something you really want to do, then this itinerary could be good for you. We have added two days a Yunnan itinerary to explore the hometown of Pandas — Chengdu.

  • Days 1–2: Kunming (the Stone Forest)
  • Days 3–4: Dali (Old Town, Cangshan, Erhai Lake)
  • Days 5–6: Lijiang (Ancient Town, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain)
  • Days 7–8: Shangri-La (Lamasery, national parks)
  • Days 9–10: Chengdu
Chengdu panda reserve

In Chengdu, we would arrange a one-day Panda Keeper Program tour to enable you to get a close encounter with these adorable animals in Chengdu Panda Reserve. In the program, with the help of our guide, you would have the chance to clean the panda enclosures, make their favorite cakes, and see how they are fed. It is the best way available to learn about these cute animals up-close.

For the other day, you are free to choose what else you would like to do in Chengdu. Maybe do some shopping at Jinli Street and taste delicious Sichuan cuisine (hot pot). If you are interested in Chinese cooking, we can arrange a food tour or cooking class in Chengdu to help you learn some basic skills and knowledge.

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All our tours are customized to your needs, interests, travel length, and other requirements. Our private tours are designed to be the most convenient and fulfilling option for your trip to Yunnan. We would create an itinerary according to your flight times, interests, and anything else you might need.

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