Zhangjiajie has some of the most epic scenic views I've seen in my lifetime. It is a city in the north-western part of Hunan province, China and is widely known for its dense forests, incredible mountains, limestone caves, and towering sandstone-quartz pillars. The Wulingyuan scenic area that's found here is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is comprised of several points of interest and national parks, including the famous Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
This past April, I traveled to China for a week and a half to see the sights of Zhangjiajie (with a quick visit to Shanghai as well). Normally, we like to explore cities and places on our own but this time around, we went with a Mandarin-speaking tour for this leg of our journey. It may be possible to travel here alone and there are certain limitations and time constraints when traveling with a tour group to consider, but overall, I'm glad we chose to go with a tour in Zhangjiajie.
China isn't the easiest place to travel around and with the language barrier and cultural differences to factor in (I've had my fair share of terrible travel tales here and the fact that there is no concept of queueing for many of the mainland Chinese tourists is beyond me), I find it much more convenient to have a guide navigating the places for you and showing you the best sights.
01 // Tianmen Mountain
We spent our first day in Zhangjiajie visiting TianmenShan (Tianmen Mountain), and it was actually photos of this place that convinced me to go on this trip. I was really looking forward to the beautiful and unique views here, especially the 99-turns road nestled in the mountains that I had heard so much about.
Unfortunately, the morning started with pouring rain. While it tapered off in the afternoon, it was still incredibly foggy when we reached the peak of the mountain. There was some initially disappointment in the group because we couldn't see much at the top, but I actually loved the fog - it made the place look so mystical.
There is a glass walkway built along one of the edges of the mountains and while some people were terrified of it, it wasn't really scary since the fog obscured much of our view when looking down. Yes, we had to wear shoe covers while walking on the glass.
The fog did eventually clear and we were rewarded with beautiful views of the mountains like this one.
02 // Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
On our next day, we visited the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. This is the most famous place in Zhangjiajie and internationally, this area became more well known in the recent years as the location that inspired the Hallelujiah Mountains of Pandora in James Cameron's 2009 film Avatar. We were lucky that the weather had cleared up today as it was quite sunny and warm up in the mountains. Though people can easily spend two or three days in this national forest, we only had a day exploring the highlights. Like I said, time constraints when being on tour!
It's hard to capture and translate these views into photos and I don't think these pictures do the place justice. The landscape up here is just incredible and I was in complete awe of the towering pillars of limestone-quartz that formed naturally through weather and erosion.
Let's keep things real. As beautiful as this place was, it wasn't a calm and relaxing trip to the mountains. There were certain scenic areas that were jam packed with tourists and we had to literally squeeze ourselves to the edge of the railings for better views of the places. And we apparently went on a 'good day' and this was considered less tourists than normal. Crazy. This was one of the reasons why I was glad we had a guide leading us around.
03 // Baofeng Lake + Huanglong Cave
One of the other attractions we went to in Zhangjiajie was Baofeng Lake, a jade-colored lake that is surrounded by beautiful mountains and steep cliffs. It was a really picturesque area and we spent an hour or two here, riding a boat and exploring the area. It was one of the more relaxing things we did, so it was really enjoyable and a nice break from the crowds.
In the afternoon, we also visited one of the largest caverns in China. What makes Huanglong Cave unique is that there are underground rivers in the cave, so it is possible to ride a boat inside to admire the limestone rock formations. I thought that was pretty cool!
As I mentioned, these are simply some of the highlights of the area since we went with a tour. I know there are lots of other places to explore and even more beautiful scenic spots in Zhangjiajie. I'm glad to have gone to this place but I probably wouldn't return in the future, ha. Once is enough - too many crowds to endure! This wraps up my Zhangjiajie travelogue; happy Tuesday! xo.