Jiuzhaigou, literally “Nine Village Valley,” is a UNESCO World Heritage park in China on the Tibetan Plateau and is a nature playground for visitors from China and abroad.
If you look at a map of China below, you can see it’s kind of a place where the roads end, at the western end of where most people live, before you get onto the sparsely populated Tibetan area. So if you want to tour Jiuzhaigou, you may be better off signing up with an organizer rather than trying to do it all yourself. As one of my contributors for Perceptive Travel found out, it’s easy to get stranded in Tibetan Sichuan.
The big draw of this area is the range of natural beauty—not an easy thing to find in more urbanized parts of the country which most tourists see. Pristine lakes, waterfalls, and hiking trails wind through a massive park of 72,000 hectares (278 square miles) filled with wildlife. China’s top national park is home to some of its largest mountains, with the area ranging in elevation from 1,990 meters (6,529 feet) to 4,764 meters (15,630 feet)
Some people do live here, but only the ones in nine villages that were grandfathered in. They’re of Tibetan origin and since they had to stop farming, they’re more than happy to mix with the tourists and live off their cash.
Getting to Jiuzhaigou Valley Park
The quickest way to get to the region is to fly, but demand often outstrips supply in high season of summer through early October. The cheapest flight is from Xian, which averages around $120 one way. It’s a lot more pricey from the other airports serving this Sichuan region, close to $200 from Beijing and $260 from Shanghai. All flights are direct except the Shanghai one.
You can also reach the area by bus, which is naturally more economical. Chengdu has the most frequent departures, leaving a couple times early in the morning for the long 950 km ride. Prices are in the range of $38 to $45 round trip. You could break up this trip by making some stops along the way (which a tour company will do as part of their program.) The most popular stops are the Dujiangyan Irrigation System (also a UNESCO World Heritage site), the Yingxiu 512 Earthquake Relics Park, and Songpan Ancient Town.
It’s half the distance if you go from Chandianzi or Xinnanmen, with prices more in the $20 to $23 range round trip.
Prices for organized tours are reasonable though, which also eliminates the formidable language barrier you can run into trying to get around rural China on your own. It may still be a splurge if you’re a backpacker, but for mid-range travelers the going rates of less than $100 per day is a good value, including meals and 4-star lodging.
To see what you can expect on a tour of this region, see Jiuzhaigou section of Third Pole Tour’s website.