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Insider's Guide: How to Plan a Yunnan Tour

Shangri-La in YunnanShangri-La in Yunnan

If you are no longer content with the internationally well-known tourist cities like Beijing and Shanghai, Yunnan can be your next destination.

Yunnan, a province located in southwest China, is characterized by diverse minority cultures, historic sites, and beautiful natural scenery.

If you are planning a tour of Yunnan, read on to get the best from your time and some tips on planning the itinerary.

The Best Times to Go

Generally speaking, the weather in most areas of Yunnan is mild in winter and cool in summer. It is suitable to visit Yunnan all year round. Each season in Yunnan offers visitors plenty of reasons to visit.

If you want to experience the most beautiful scenery, spring and summer are the best times to arrive in Yunnan while winter is a good time to see the snowcapped mountains.

The popular time to go to Yunnan is from March to October.

Inconvenient and Expensive Periods

  • Chinese New Year (usually in January or February)
  • International Labor Day (May 1–7)
  • National Day (October 1–7)

If you arrive in the above periods, be prepared for huge crowds at the airports, tourist sites, shopping areas, restaurants, and hotels.

Lijiang Ancient TownLijiang Ancient Town

Read more about Yunnan weather.

How to Get to Yunnan?

Yunnan is easily accessible by air or train from the main cities in China.

Major tourist cities, such as Kunming, Lijiang, and Shangri-La, are all equipped with airports. Bullet trains from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou are available to Kunming.

Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, serves as a transport hub. If there are no direct flights or trains from your departure city to your destination in Yunnan, check the transportation to Kunming from which you can transfer to your destination.

Read more information about Yunnan transportation.

how to get to Yunnan

Top Cities to Visit

Kunming

Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, is known as “Spring City” because of its pleasant climate all year round.

There, you can lose yourself in a vast sea of jagged rock formations in the Stone Forest Geological Park, and capture a postcard-perfect photo at Dongchuan Red Land, which is praised as "God's palette".

Stone Forest in KunmingStone Forest in Kunming

Dali

Famous for its beautiful natural scenery and the well-preserved Bai minority culture, Dali is a great place to relax.

You can take a boat ride or bike ride at Erhai Lake, meander through the Bai people's residential housing area in historical Xizhou Village, or find a café to enjoy some leisure time in Dali Ancient City.

Lijiang

Lijiang is a great blend of historical sites, captivating landscapes, and ethnic minority cultures. You can wander around the ancient town to see the best-preserved traditional architectures, hike along the roaring Tiger Leaping Gorge, and take a cable car up to the holy Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Shangri-La

If you have no chance to visit Tibet, pay a visit to Shangri-La. It is a place with continuous snowy mountains, mysterious lamaseries, and Tibetan culture.

You should not miss the highlights, such as Songzanlin Monastery, the Meili Snow Mountains, and Pudacuo National Park.

Yuanyang

If you are a photography enthusiast, you should not miss Yuanyang, which is famed for its rice terraces. You will see thousands of mirrors glittering in the sunlight when the paddies are filled with water.

Yunnan Top Attractions

How Long to Spend in Yunnan?

Yunnan is a destination full of natural sceneries, historical heritages, and ethnic customs. Tourists usually plan a trip of 6–9 days there.

Yuanyang Rice TerracesYuanyang Rice Terraces

Here are some popular routes for inspiration:

  • Kunming – Dali – Lijiang – Shangri-La: 7–9 days
  • Kunming – Dali – Lijiang: 6–7 days
  • Kunming – Jiangshui – Yuanyang: 6–7 days

If your time is limited, a short trip in a single city is recommended, usually for 3 or 4 days.

Read about more Yunnan tours with detailed itineraries.

Where to Stay

The major tourist cities in Yunnan offer visitors a full range of accommodation options from international 5-star hotels to adorable inns.

In some remote counties, such as Shangri-La, the hotel rooms meet normal Chinese standards, but the general standard of service may be lower than in big cities.

For example, the hotels usually serve more Chinese food and less Western food for breakfast, and fewer hotel employees speak English.

In the ancient cities of Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La, boutique inns are welcomed among tourists, especially young people. The inns are always reconstructed based on traditional houses and feature delicate decorations.

Due to the mild climate in Yunnan, it is common to find that many hostels and inns are not equipped with air-conditioning.

Yunnan ethnic minorityA ethnic minority in Yunnan

Travel Individually or Tour with a Travel Company?

For foreign tourists, Yunnan is a complex destination considering its diverse destination options, traffic connections, and the low level of English.

There are many tourist sites in Yunnan, and many things to do. It is a skill to design an itinerary which covers the highlights, maximizes your time, and cuts corners.

The signs in English are limited in many spots and at train/bus stations. You may encounter the language barrier and get lost.

If you don't want any hassles, we recommend you travel with a professional travel company, such as China Highlights. We will take care of everything. All you need to do is arrive.

Good to Know

  • 1. Respect local customs and traditions. Many inhabitants of Yunnan are minority peoples with a wide variety of beliefs and traditional rules.
  • 2. Some places in Yunnan, such as Shangri-La, are at an altitude of over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). Prepare well for high-altitude sickness. Have a good rest, drink plenty of water, and avoid taking a shower on the first day of your arrival.
  • 3. Temperatures vary widely from daytime to nighttime so you’d better dress in layers. The ultraviolet radiation is very strong so wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.

Touring Yunnan with China Highlights

Yunnan tourOur guest in Dali

Based on years of experience and customer feedback, we have developed many Yunnan tours. Here are some popular tours, for inspiration:

The above tours can be customized to suit your requirements and interests. Please feel free to contact us for help.

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