Shangri-La is a special place to visit. Tucked far away from the mass tourism crowds associated with much of China, this destination is a (not so) hidden treasure. Read on to find out why you should visit Shangri-La and what to do while you’re there.
- Where is Shangri-La?
- Why should you visit Shangri-La?
- Things to see and do in Shangri-La
- What you need when visiting the area
- Places to stay in Shangri-La
Where is Shangri-La?
Otherwise known as Xianggelila, Shangri-La City is a city in China’s north-western Yunnan Province. It borders Sichuan to the north-west, north and east. In Tibetan, the name Shangri-La means ‘sun and moon in heart’ – the area has always been referred to as an eden of sorts, full of magic, mystique and more. The area was previously known as Zhongdian, but took the name ‘Shangri-La’ in 2001. Ever since 1933, when James Hilton imagined the stunning area of Shangri-La in his bestselling novel Lost Horizon, various Himalayan areas have tried to lay claim to the name. But this stunning part of the Yunnan Province came out on top. The name change was an effort to promote tourism in the area!
Shangri-La is around 410 miles from Kunming (approx. 1 hour by air) and around 120 miles from Lijiang – you can drive from here in around 3.5 hours. There are 5 towns in Shangri-La, as well as a national park, an airport and easy access to Tibet.
Why should you visit Shangri-La?
From the azure lakes to the snowy mountains, rolling grasslands and incredible gorges, Shangri-La has a little bit of everything. Its beauty is unrivalled, and the warmth of the people who live there will make you feel so welcome. This mountain paradise has so much to offer, and is an amazing way to experience the Tibetan lifestyle, culture and religion with venturing into Tibet itself. It also makes for a great gateway to Tibet, if your trip is a bit of a longer one and you have time to do both.
GOOD TO KNOW: the city pretty much shuts down in the winter, as there are heavy snow storms which can hinder transportation. It is recommended that you plan your visit between March and October, though remember to pack a jacket year round as it can get cold in the early and late hours!
If you want a holiday that strays away from Western ideals, Shangri-La is a great option. Don’t go there expecting the levels of service you’d expect from elsewhere, but do go knowing that the locals will do everything they can to ensure you enjoy your stay.
Things to see and do in Shangri-La
There are plenty of things to see and do in Shangri-La. It is a beautiful area with a rich culture, and plenty of scenic spots as well as iconic monuments…
Tiger Leaping Gorge
This is one of the world’s deepest gorges. It is often labelled as China’s top hiking route, and if you are interested in hiking and walking then this can’t be missed on a visit to Shangri-La. It is an incredible scenic canyon on the Jinsha River, and you can hike the entire length of the gorge. The high road, maintained and used daily by the Naxi, a local tribe, is a hiking path with varied views and guesthouses for the trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge. With waterfalls and micro-ecosystems, you are advised not to use this trail during rainy season!
Meili Snow Mountains
None of the major peaks of this mountain range have veer been summited, because there are a lot of avalanche risks and various restrictions, but they are beautiful to look at. The mountains are sacred to Tibetan Buddhists, who encircle the mountain t worship in the winter – this gives the mountain range a bit of added magic.
Songzanlin Lamasery (Monastery)
This is the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple complex in the whole Yunnan Province. Also known as the Potala Palace, it was listed as a Key Provincial Protection Unit of Cultural Relics by the government of the Yunnan Province in 1993. You can find it at the foot of Fopingshan Mountain which is around 3.1 miles north of Shangri-La itself. The main hall fits 1,500 people inside; there are two main temple buildings, Zhacang and Jikang, as well as several smaller buildings. There are Chinese-style houses for monks to live in, too. It is a beautiful place that offers an incredible insight into Tibetan Buddhism.
Pudacuo National Park
Also known as Potatso National Park, this was the very first national park in China to meet the International Union for Conservation of Nature standards. Located in Shangri-La, it is so beautiful that every corner you turn feels like looking at another oil painting. With the Bita Lake Nature Reserve and the Duhu Scenic Area, be sure to pack your camera so you can take home some lasting memories of this incredible park. Around 20% of the country’s plant species can be found here, as well as around 1/3 of China’s mammal and bird species. There are around 100 endangered species here too. From are orchids to Black-necked cranes there is so much to see at Pudacuo National Park.
GOOD TO KNOW: there is a visitor centre, and from here a bus will transport you to Shudu Lake to start your park exploration.
What you need when visiting the area
- Green health code
- Passport and most recent China entry stamps
- Record of travel itinerary
- Nucleic acid test results (required by some hotels)
Places to stay in Shangri-La
There are various places to stay in Shangri-La. Many are top-class hotels, but there are guesthouses, homestays and hostels to be found in the area too. As previously mentioned, the locals are incredible friendly and no matter where you stay, you’ll be made to feel at home in this beautiful part of China.
Songstam Linka Shangri-La
If you want world-class customer service and an amazing luxury experience, Songstam Linka Shangri-La is perfect for you. Just 25 minutes from Diqing Airport, the hotel offers free WiFi, bathroom toiletries and parking. With the Songzanlin Monastery just 5 minutes away, you’re in an ideal location here. Enjoy Tibetan yoga classes or go hiking, experience the stunning Linka Spa by L’Occitane, or simply sit in the stunning grounds of the hotel and soak up the view. There is a bar and multiple restaurants here, daily housekeeping and so much more to ensure your stay is perfect.
Hilton Garden Inn Shangri-La
Another luxurious option, the Hilton Garden Inn Shangri-La is just 15 minutes from the airport and 10 minutes from the monastery. Elegantly decorated, there are plenty of facilities here to ensure your stay goes without a hitch. With free WiFi, a bar, restaurant, free printing parking and a fitness centre, you’ll find everything you need on site. You know what you’re getting with the Hilton, and this hotel is no exception. It’s clean, friendly and comfortable – a great choice for accommodation in Shangri-La.
Banyan Tree Ringha
If you want Tibetan-style accommodation in Shangri-La, Banyan Tree Ringha is perfect. In the most breathtaking setting, the hotel offers free internet and parking as well as car hire, a business centre and a spa. With 32 suites and lodges it isn’t a huge hotel, but each one has its own fire, balcony and lovely wooden bath. They were originally Tibetan farmhouses, so you know you’re getting a really traditional place to stay if you opt for Banyan Tree Ringha. There is a library, gift shop, beautiful garden, two restaurants and plenty of wellness services.
Home Away From Home
A clean and comfortable hostel, Home Away From Home has free WiFi, a 24-hour front desk, airport shuttle services and so much more. There is an on-site restaurant, and the hostel is really more like a hotel – private bathrooms, a coffee-house, BBQ facilities, a garden area and so much more make for a brilliant place to stay in Shangri-La. It is beautifully decorated and extremely welcoming! What’s better is that pets are allowed here – so if you’re travelling from within China you can bring your furry friend with you. And overseas visitors can enjoy plenty of pet cuddles during their stay…
Another hostel, this is a great option for those travelling on a budget. Still clean, comfortable and welcoming, the hostel offers an airport shuttle service, a tour desk, free WiFi, free parking and more. There is a bar, a shared kitchen, laundry services and more. It’s perfect for travellers who need somewhere to rest as part of a longer trip! Yi’s Hostel is great, and the staff speak a variety of languages too.