Welcome to Jiuzhaigou
Jiuzhaigou is a mystical ecological wonderland in central China. The beautiful mountain valley is situated on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau in northern Sichuan Province. As a result, the villages located in the valley are of Tibetan origin. Therefore, when you are finished touring the lakes and waterfalls in the valley, relax with a hot cup of wholesome yak butter tea in the village.
Before I had arrived in China I actually had not heard of the Jiuzhaigou Park. However, while I was in Xian visiting my friend she recommended that I go there. She had been there previously and said how to get to Jiuzhaigou was to visit Chengdu first. Therefore, I want to Chengdu first and stayed for a week and saw the pandas and Leshan Buddha. Then I arrived at Jiuzhaigou airport and stayed for 3 days and 2 nights in the Jiuzhai valley. As a result, I spent 2 full days exploring the ecological wonders the park has to offer.
The Jiuzhaigou Park Transportation System
Most western tourists will be in for a shock. My plan was to get a Jiuzhaigou map and spend a couple days hiking in the park. However, that is not how it works here! There is a system of roads in the park and you will ride a bus for transportation between the stops. As a result, use your map to figure out where you want to go and then ride the bus to the destination. Simple! After an hour or two it is a piece of cake and it feels normal.
Actually, because of the Jiuzhaigou weather I was happy to keep warm on the bus! It was freezing outside and the buses were well heated. This is a result of arriving at the park so early as part of the Jiuzhaigou tour. From the hotel, the shuttle departed about 7AM to get to the park entrance on time.
First Stop – Long Lake
I stayed on the bus as long as possible because it was so cold outside (unfortunately I was not well prepared for the Jiuzhaigou winter). That was perfect because according to my Jiuzhaigou map, the last stop was Long Lake. This gave me a 20-30 minute bus ride in order to warm up. As a result, I would work my way in from Long Lake stopping at the different attractions throughout the day. The lake was very still and the reflections on the water were astounding. I took advantage of the photo opportunities.
Due to the clarity and stillness of the water I was able to see the logs at the bottom and also still pick up the mirror reflection of the surrounding mountains. I am an avid backpacker, and I have never seen anything like this before!
Traveling in Jiuzhaigou
I had visited in late December and it was a lovely time to enjoy the winter scenery. However, the park is extremely popular in China year round. The number of park visitors was 1.2 million in 2004. Additionally, the park averages 7000 visitors per day with a maximum of 12,000 visitors per day permitted. The number of visitors let into the park at one time is regulated by park officials. The visitor cap is very welcome and it goes a long way to preserve this national treasure.
Not only is it a geological and geographical spectacle but there is also extremely rare fauna at the park. That is correct, the endangered giant panda and also the golden snub-nosed monkey still exist here. Unfortunately, I was not able to see any wild pandas in the park.
However, at the park the other visitors are very friendly and it is easy to meet some new comrades.
Next Stop – Sleeping Dragon Lake
The Jiuzhaigou winter if frigid! Fortunately, I had raided the hotel gift shop the night before and acquired some essentials such as a hat and leg warmers. However, this did not keep my face from getting numb. I briefly took the hat off for this photo….my face is frozen solid!
In close proximity to Sleeping Dragon Lake was this little emerald gem that had the most amazing turquoise water. Again as with Long Lake, the mountain reflections were amazing!
The alpine environment made for some excellent natural landscape photographs. Additionally, the park is situated high above sea level and that certainly contributes to the cold weather factor during the winter. The altitude in the park ranges from 2000-4000 meters. Although there was not heavy snowfall in the area the cold dry air increases the chill factor and also the higher elevation tends to be much colder in the winter!
Most definitely the main event of the Jiuzhaigou tour is Nuorilang Falls! I had no longer been following the map and was just following the crowd. As a result, I had randomly hiked into these falls so they came as a pleasant surprise. In addition, the Jiuzhaigou weather was beginning to warm up (slightly) in the late morning. This was a welcome development!
The falls are estimated to be over 300 meters long!
There was a nice wooden boardwalk along the base of the falls.
I visited a few other lakes after Nuorilang Falls but they were a bit lack luster compared to what I had just seen.
Therefore, I decided to stop by the one of the Tibetan Villages and have some of the yak butter tea I had read about.
Tibetan Village in Jiuzhaigou Park
Yak Butter Tea
The yak butter tea was perfect after spending the morning in the freezing winter weather. It is thick and rich and nice and hot. Perfect!
I ran into this kid in the village. Looks like his mom had definitely put a lot of effort into dressing him up.
By the way, panda hats are all the rage in China. Unfortunately, the hotel gift shop was all sold out when I was scrounging around for some warm clothing. Maybe I will buy one next time?
My Jiuzhaigou tour had turned out to be really awesome. At first I was a bit discombobulated because of the sub freezing weather (especially in the morning) and the crowds. The crowds were in stark contrast to the type of solitary wilderness adventures that I typically enjoy. However, after settling in and warming up on the bus it worked out fine. The best parts of the Jiuzhaigou tour were the Chinese tourists and of course the ecological phenomenon at the park.
If you are a photographer then this will make an extraordinary trip. The winter is a good time to visit due to the ice formations and also the cold weather will keep the crowds at bay. As a result, of the Jiuzhaigou winter I found some great photo opportunities involving ice formations.
Therefore, I would have to say for Jiuzhaigou the best time to visit is in winter. This is because of the ice and also having the crowds thinned out a bit. However, if I go again I would like to time it for the fall season when the leaves switched over to their fall colors.