If you are in China, you have GOT to go see the Avatar mountains in Zhangjiajie! I know, it’s tricky to say but the views are absolutely incredible…and the park is absolutely gigantic. So don’t waste your time figuring out where to go; we’ve done all that research for you.
Do giant pinnacle mountains swirled with mist come to mind when you think of China? Maybe not — you probably are thinking of busy cities and the Great Wall. China has that too, but so much more; you can wander mountain villages, bridge jump in tropical rivers, and lounge on the beach, all in the same country (there is so much to see).
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One place you cannot miss is Zhangjiajie but it would be helpful to know a few things before you go.
First Things First — Zhangjiajie is HUGE.
Huge isn't an understatement. You can get a tourist map from the park or your hostel and you’ll see what I mean when you start unfolding it; the map is gigantic and keeps going and going and going. If you see this map in the picture, buy one! It's super helpful, not expensive at 5 yuan and makes a great souvenir.
How To Get Around
- Use The Wulingyuan Entrance
- Use The Free Shuttles
- Get A Map + Ask For Help
In such a huge park, we've pulled together tips you'll want to make sure you don't get lost (or don't 'get lost for that long). I'm normally not one to get a map, but you'll definitely want one for Zhangjiajie. We'll dive into more detail about getting around once you know all the top spots to see.
What You Should See
After you get your hands on a map, you'll see that the park is separated into areas with names that are hard to pronounce (like the ones below). Just keep these places in mind and when you open your map you'll know exactly where to head for first. There is more to see in this park, but we suggest visiting these three areas.
- Wulingyuan Scenic Area
- Tianzi Mountains
What You Should See
Wulingyuan Scenic Area
So, Zhangjiajie is actually a city and a National Park (which is about an hour away from the actual city) which is confusing. The city is cool but what you want to visit is the Wulingyuan Scenic Area — this is where you see it all, from the monkeys to the gorgeous mountains.
Wulingyuan is a cute little town about 40 minutes away from Zhangjiajie city, so plan on staying in Wulingyuan itself unless you want to drive back and forth into town every day (which you don’t!) This post explains all this in more detail.
And because China is awesome and confusing, there is also a park entrance called Wulingyuan, but we will get to that later.
If You Want To See Monkeys ...
You can find them all over the Golden Whip Stream area. Watch out for monkeys as you cross stone bridges, dense forests and of course, the stream itself right here — These monkeys will grab any sort of snacks right out of your hand, so be careful when you stop for a snack break here.
I’ve also heard you can find monkeys hanging around the base of the Bailong Elevator; This elevator is pretty cool, but you should know that the lines are long (plan on at least an hour maybe two) and it’s pretty pricey (about $16) for an elevator ride that takes just a few seconds. Those seconds are really cool and get you up to or off the mountain quickly, just so you know.
You have to take the cable car ride up to Tianzi Mountain! It is breathtakingly beautiful. The view on the way is stunning from above and will help you save your energy for the hike down (or you can also ride the car back down). There’s also a McDonalds up on the very top of this mountain, so you can get a McFlurry while you take in the view. Yummmmmm.
This area is in the east, closer to Wulingyuan so it's a perfect spot to start off with since it's so close to that entrance.
So, we’ve already talked about how Tianzi Mountains are in the Tianzi section (makes sense, right?) but there are some spectacular views in the Yuanjiajie sections, like the Avatar Hallelujah Mountains.
This is where you can find the Avatar Mountains you probably came here for. This website gives you a pretty helpful visualization on all the park’s sections, if it helps. Oh, and it's a popular tourist attraction so be ready for some crowds.
How To Get Around
Because this park is so gigantic it has tons of entrances. We think the best entrance is Wulingyuan, because it’s pretty close to the Tianzi cable car and the surrounding sites. Also, you'll probably stay at a hostel in Wulingyuan town. There is also an entrance near the Golden Whip Stream if you want to go directly there for a day (Golden Whip Stream is pictured below).
Use The Free Shuttles
You'll purchase a 3-day park pass to enter, but once you're inside there is a free shuttle system within the park. There are also longer park passes if you want to be here longer, but 3 days lets you see the main sections.
From your hostel or hotel, take the public bus or a taxi to the park entrance. Once you are inside, there are free shuttles to take you to the iconic sites and hiking trails. These shuttles are just little buses that you can jump on and off of at main locations.
There are signs around, but it can get a bit confusing. This is where a map comes in handy: you can see that the shuttle routes are black and white, while the hiking trails are marked in orange and green.
Get A Map + Ask For Help
Really the very best way to get around is to get a map! It has all of the free shuttle routes mapped out so that you can see where a shuttle goes, where it doesn't, etc.
If you're not sure if you're getting on the right shuttle, just show your map to the bus driver and he'll nod yes or no. This is how you get around the park without speaking any Mandarin! And trust us, it's going to be tricky to find any English speakers here - which is kind of the best part because not many Westerners know about this incredible place yet.
Where To Stay + Get Some Help
Especially if you are staying at a hostel in Wulingyuan or in the park itself, the staff there are going to be your best assets to getting around the park. I stayed at the Wulingyuan ZhongtianYouth Hostel and Victor was SO helpful; it was going to be rainy and cloudy our first full day in the park, so he mapped out a trail to explore along the Golden Whip Stream so we wouldn’t hike all the way up to the top of Tianzi to not see anything because of the clouds.
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ILP is a USA based non-profit who sends volunteers to China to teach English. You're set up with a group of fellow volunteers who all live, teaching, and travel together... because you're only teaching part time, you have lots of free time to see the rest of China!