How to Plan a Trip to Yunnan China

The highlands of Yunnan are nothing like any bustling cities in China and maybe everything you've always wanted for a "return to nature" trip. Travel to Yunnan and discover the best it has to offer by vehicle, cruise, canoe, cable car and on foot. Enjoy yourself for unfiltered sun light, holy snow mountains, pristine lakes, steep gorges, lush forests, and numerous old towns and remote villages, where many of the people are poor but truly happy.

Planning a trip to Yunnan can be very daunting, simply because it is not that developed. Some places that really interest the international travelers are hardly accessible by vehicle. Furthermore, you will find it a challenging destination because of the language barrier. The local people speak various languages that are even very different from Mandarin Chinese.

Therefore, Yunnan Discovery, right based in Yunnan, with a team of experienced local travel experts and guides provides the step-by-step guide on how to plan an incredible Yunnan tour.

Plan a trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge Yunnan

Where to Go & What to See in Yunnan

Best destinations to meet different interests

Kunming, Dali & Lijiang are the must for travelers planning on the first time Yunnan trip around 7 to 10 days. It is considered to be the most classic travel route of Yunnan. And if you have three more days, you are highly suggested to make an extension trip to Shangri-La.

If you are planning a Yunnan photography tour, there are four suggested travel routes: (1) the South Yunnan including Yuanyang Rice Terraces and Jianshui Old Town; (2) the West Yunnan with a tour from Kunming to Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La; (3) the Northeast Yunnan photo tour from Kunming to Dongchuan Red Land (a destination nearby Kunming), Zhuize, Dashanbao Nature Reserve and Zhaotong; 4) the East Yunan photo tour from Kunming to Luoping canola flower farms (best in spring). 

If you are intrepid hikers and trekkers and dreaming of venturing into the off-the-beaten-track destinations, Yunnan has several of the best hiking trails in the world, for instance, the Northwest Yunnan trekking trail from Lijiang to Meili Snow Mountain, Yubeng Village, Shangri-La and Tiger Leaping Gorge, with breathtaking nature, hidden villages and sacred Buddhist sites all along the road.

>> Check out Yunnan's top 10 destinations

Ancient towns – some of the best in China

Top of the list are Lijiang Ancient Town, Dali Ancient Town, Dukezong Ancient Town, Shaxi Ancient Town and Jianshui Ancient Town. All with a history of more than 1000 years, they offer fine introductions to Yunnan and its culture, history and folklores. In addition, numerous primitive villages with the very old traditions and dwellings are for explorers to discover the unfiltered Yunnan.

Trip to Lijiang Old Town Yunnan

UNESCO heritages

By far, there are five UNESCO heritage sites in Yunnan, including Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas (natural heritage), Lijiang Ancient Town (natural and cultural), Stone Forest (natural heritage), Honghe Hani Rice Terraces (cultural heritage), and Chengjiang Fossil (natural heritage).

Ethnic groups and various festivals

The soul of Yunnan is its 52 ethnic groups. Ethnic population is in one-third of the whole. Most of the ethnic groups inhabit the remote areas inaccessible by roads. Many locals haven't walked out of their mountains and villages for a lifetime, though they are very friendly to visitors.

The traditions, customs and languages of the ethnic groups are retained. And visitors can discover the most when the festivals are held and people dress in the beautiful traditional costumes singing and dancing.

There are dozens of ethnic festivals in Yunnan throughout the year. The grandest include the Torch Festival, Water-splashing Festival and March Street Festival.

Yunnan food

The Yunnan Cuisine, generally composed of 25 ethnic cuisines, also blends the essence of China's dominant cuisine.

To have a taste of Yunnan, you are encouraged to try the different local cuisines. In each place, local people make full use of the fresh materials, like the flowers, fruits, mushrooms, edible wild herbs, highland river fish and shrimp, and meat. The ancestral sauce and ingredients, and cooking methods in different areas are big surprises for travelers. With the introductions on the dishes from local guide, you will have in-depth understanding of Yunnan Cuisine.

If taking a unique Yunnan food discovery tour customized by Yunnan Discovery, you can even takecooking class in local familys.

Plan a food tour of Yunnan

Recommended Yunnan Tour Itineraries

How many days are needed for a Yunnan tour? It depends. According to our previous clients, generally 5 to 10 days tours are most selected.

Please check below five great itineraries, you may contact our travel advisors for a tailor-made Yunnan tour to meet your travel style, pace and interests:

  • Highlights of Yunnan: (suggested 8 - 12 days) Kunming - Dali - Lijiang - Shangri-La
  • Classic Yunnan: (suggested 6 - 8 days) Kunming - Dali - Lijiang
  • South Yunnan: (suggested 5 - 7 days) Kunming - Jianshui Old Town - Yuanyang Rice Terraces
  • Ethnic Yunnan: (suggested 6 - 8 days) Dali - Lijiang - Shangri-La
  • Hike through Yunnan: (suggested 7 - 12 days) Dali - Lijiang - Tiger Leaping Gorge -Shangri-La

Our most popular Yunnan tour packages:

When to Go

Yunnan climate

Generally, Yunnan is of the subtropical plateau monsoon climate, with small temperate differences in different seasons, but big temperature differences between day and night. Besides, the temperature varies greatly with the elevation.

The hottest month is July with annually temperature between 19 ~ 22°C (66.2 to 71.6℉). The coldest month is January, with annually temperature about 6 ~ 8°C (42.8 to 46.4℉).

>> Check more information of Yunnan climate and the best travel time to different destinations

Yunnan has distinctive dry and rainy seasons - the wet season is from May to October (mainly in June to August), while the dry season is from November to next April. Please be noted that many destinations of Yunnan (e.g. Lijiang, Dali) can suddenly become colder once it rains.

Therefore, you'd better check the weather forecast before take a trip to Yunnan, and pack adequate clothes in different months. Umbrella or rain gear is needed during rainy season.

The best time to visit Yunnan

By and large, March to June, and September to November are the best time to travel to Yunnan. But November to March is the best time to visit Yuanyang Terraced Fields. Besides, most parts of Yunnan are of mild weather all year round. And traveling to Yunnan in different seasons is rewarded with different natural beauties.

Avoid traveling in Yunnan during national holidays: Spring Festival holiday normally (between late January to early February), May Day holiday (May 1–3) and China National Day holiday (October 1–7). As you may see domestic tourist crowds everywhere around the sights and popular destinations.

Plan a trip to Yuanyang Rice Terraces Yunnan

How to Get to Yunnan – the Public Transportation

You can travel to Yunnan by plane, regular train, fast train, bus and coach.

Gateway city

The provincial capital Kunming is usually the entry city and transportation hub when taking a Yunnan tour. There are direct flights to Kunming from most other China cities and international cities of Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia. Non-stop flights also connect Kunming with Canada, France and Australia. From Kunming, you can take flight, train and coach to other travel destinations.

Nevertheless, there are increasing direct flights to Lijiang, Dali, Shangri-La, and Xishuangbanna. So you may fly to these places directly if flights available.

By air

By far, Yunnan's 13 airports, with hundreds of air routes, are connected with over 100 domestic and international cities. The below listed five airports are the biggest and most important for tourists.

Kunming Changshui International Airport is one of the national gateway airports in China, with over 220 domestic air routes and around 50 international air routes. Visitors can fly to Kunming directly from Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, Vancouver, Sydney, San Francisco, Dubai, Hanoi, Siem Reap, Mandalay, Calcutta, Bangkok, Chiengmai, etc.

Lijiang Sanyi International Airport is the third largest international airport in Yunnan, and connects Lijiang with 53 domestic cities (e.g. Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xian, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Chongqing, Changsha), and 5 international cities (Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, Singapore and Seoul).

Dali Airport is located to the west of Erhai Lake. There are direct flights to Dali from Kunming, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Changsha and Zhengzhou.

Diqing Shangri-la Airport connects Shangri-La with Lhasa, Chongqing, and Guangzhou.

Xishuangbanna Gasa International Airport (in Jinghong) is the second largest international airport in Yunnan, with direct flights from Shanghai, Chengdu and Chongqing.

By train

Visitors can get to Yunnan by train (with over 20+ hours train journey time).

The China HSR system is expanding in Yunnan. Currently, bullet trains to Kunming from Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Wuhan, Zhengzhou, Nanjing, and Jinan are available. From Kunming, you can travel by high bullet train to other destinations. 

Normally, we suggest our clients travel to Yunnan by bullet trains from the neighboring provinces (Guangxi & Guizhou), with travel time of within/around 5 hours. For instances the Guiyang-Kunming bullet train takes 2.5 hours, and the fastest Guilin-Kunming bullet train takes 5 hours.

>> Recommended 8 days Yunnan tour by high speed train  

By coach

There are long-distance terminals in Kunming. Through the highway, visitors can take long-distance buses to Yunnan from neighboring provinces and even neighboring countries of Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand.

For international travelers, you are highly suggested to preserve a private vehicle when traveling in Yunnan to move from one destination to another (air journey is surely more convenient).

72 Hours Visa Free in Kunming

Kunming began to implement the 72-hour Transit Visa Exemption policy in October 2014. Nationals from 51 countries and regions, including the United States, Austria, UK, Canada, Italy, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, can transit from Kunming Changshui International Airport to the third country by air, without a Chinese visa.

Therefore, with the 72 hours, qualified international travelers can travel to Yunnan without a visa, and plan a 3 days Kunming tour.

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