Every now and then, you find yourself in a place that even after many years later, you would look back and still couldn’t believe yourself when you say, “Damn, I was there?”
To me, other than the screening of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening — I can’t still believe I paid for that — that place is the city of Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province, China. But for Zhangjiajie, I mean that in the best possible way.
There are just so many things unbelievable and surreal about Zhangjiajie that it has inspired countless fantastic tales. Take for example the towering quartz-sandstone pillars of Wulingyuan. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how these columns have served as inspiration for the floating mountains of the Hollywood blockbuster AVATAR. The sea of clouds rolling in between the mountains majestically paints a picture of a world alien but absolutely breathtaking. It’s one of those sights that leaves an imprint on the heart of the beholder. It’s the kind of experience that can change your life.
How I ended up in Zhangjiajie was a twist of fate. I was supposed to spend all the time my visa allowed in Guilin. But while I was planning the trip, I stumbled upon a viral post about places that are hard to believe exist on earth. The mountains of Wulingyuan made it to that list, and I completely forced it into my itinerary. Here’s a summary of my unforgettable sojourn in Zhangjiajie.
WHAT'S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
How to Get to Zhangjiajie
By plane. Zhangjiajie has an airport — Zhangjiajie Hehua Airport (DYG) — but is used by a limited number of airlines. Other than Taiwan (Taipei) and Korea (Busan), no other country flies directly to Hehua. You will have to connect to another Chinese city, which is most likely Beijing, Shanghai, or Xi’an. China Southern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, and Sichuan Airlines offer the most flights.
By train. If you’re coming from another part of China and you don’t want to fly, consider the rail system. Check out China Travel Guide to check if there are trains to Zhangjiajie from your point of origin.
My experience is a lot more complicated. Since I would be coming from Guilin, I had to take either the train or the bus. (I was told there are no regular bus trips. I tried looking, but I couldn’t find one.) Thing is, there is no direct line from Guilin to Zhangjiajie. I had to connect in Changsha City or Liuzhou.
For more information on this route, check out this post: How to Get to Zhangjiajie from Guilin.
How to Get to Wulingyuan
Wulingyuan is a district of Zhangjiajie, just a bus ride away from the city center. To get there from the city proper, simply go to the Zhangjiajie Central Bus Terminal, and take the mini-bus going to Wulingyuan.
Travel time is 40 minutes to an hour. Fare is CNY 12.
The mini-bus will drop you off at the center of a village that many simply refer to as “Wulingyuan.” From here, almost everything is within walking distance. It’s a small village.
One of the entrance gates to the park can be found along the border of this settlement.
Where to Stay in Zhangjiajie or Wulingyuan
Check Rates Here: Zhangjiajie City | Wulingyuan
There are three areas where you can stay: Zhangjiajie City, Wulingyuan (just outside the park), or inside the park.
Zhangjiajie city center or Wulingyuan village has plenty of accommodations to offer, from hotels to the more convenient youth hostels. But if you’re going to spend more than one day exploring Wulingyuan Scenic Area (remember, it has four zones and more), it’s best to stay in Wulingyuan.
There are small hostels inside the park, too, offering simple rooms with basic amenities. But I decided against it because I wanted to explore Wulingyuan and its stores at night.
Find a good one here: Zhangjiajie Hotels
Since I am concerned with budget, I chose to stay at Wulingyuan Zhongtian International Youth Hostel along Baofeng Road. We booked a Private Twin Room for CNY 138 (CNY 69 per person). If you’re alone, beds in their dorm rooms start at CNY 45.
When to Visit
Zhangjiajie’s peak season is from May to October. However, avoid the summer holiday (July to August) because it is where most sites get extremely crowded with tourists. If you can avoid it, do not travel on the following holidays: May 1-3 (Labor Day) and October 1-7 (National Day).
Early autumn (September-October) is the most ideal time to visit. The weather during this period is pleasant and cool. You also get to see the vibrant and fiery autumn foliage.
Spring (April-June) is a good time, too. It is when fog would usually flood the mountains. However, there are higher chances of rain. Other than that, the season is comfortable.
Places to Visit
The Wulingyuan Mountains (more formally known as Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area) is a 397-square-kilometer UNESCO World Heritage Site inscribed in 1992 and UNESCO Global Geopark listed in 2004. It is divided into four zones: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve, Suoxiyu Natural Resource Reserve, and Yangjiajie Scenic Area. The entire Wulingyuan area is part of Zhangjiajie.
Other interesting sites include: Baofeng Lake, Yellow Dragon Cave, and Golden Whip Stream.
Wulingyuan isn’t the only attraction here. Just as stunning is Tianmen Mountain, which takes pride in Tianmen Cave, a giant hole in the wall romantically called Gateway to Heaven; Tongtian Avenue, one of China’s mindblowing roads with 99 turns; and a glass walkway perched atop a dizzying peak.
The number of days you plan to spend in Zhangjiajie will dictate how hectic your itinerary is going to be. Remember, Wulingyuan park is vast, and there’s so much to see in its four zones. Even Tianmen Mountain would be difficult to be fully explored in just a day.
Here’s a sample high-level 5-day itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in Zhangjiajie, travel to Wulingyuan, explore Xibu street
Day 2: Zhangjiajie Natural Forest Park
Day 3: Tianzi Mountain
Day 4: Explore the rest of Wulingyuan (your pick)
Day 5: Tianmen Mountain (day), departure (night)
If you’re able to book a ride out of the city in the evening, you can explore Tianmen Mountain on the same day of your departure. For example, what I did was this: since my train back to Guilin was scheduled at night and I had no hotel booking in the city, I took an early minibus to the city, checked in my bags at a luggage storage counter at the train station, explored Tianmen Mountain the entire day, and then boarded the train at night.
You may also book a hotel in Zhangjiajie City if you don’t want to rush your Tianmen Mountain experience. This way, you’ll also get to see the other things the city has to offer.
Here are some important figures to remember:
Wulingyan Park 4-Day Pass: CNY 248
This also covers cable car rides and bus rides inside the park. Insurance also included.
Tianmen Mountain admission ticket: CNY 258
This includes the cableway ride and green cars. Valid for one day only.
Minibus ride from Zhangjiajie City to Wulingyuan: CNY 12
Twin room per night: CNY 138
At the Wulingyuan Zhongtian International Youth Hostel
That’s it for now. Will update this post again very soon.
Would love to… Plano na..
i really love your articles..please keep it up !! you’re an angel. a source of good deeds. KUDOS ka TPT. kayo ni the solo backpacker.
[…] The Budget Travel Guide to Wulingyuan and Zhangjiajie … https://www.thepoortraveler.net/China Southern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, and Sichuan Airlines offer the most flights. By train. If you're coming from another part of China and you don't want to fly, consider the rail system. Check out China Travel Guide to … […]
Zhang jia jie is one of the top places to go on my bucketlist!
Hi, what month did you go? It seems fall foliage is in full swing.
Thanks for such great details on this area! I will be living in Zhangjiajie for a whole year at the local middle school and am so excited to hike in this whole area!!
[…] Related topic: Wulingyuan and Zhangjiajie, China: Budget Travel Guide […]
Hello, zhangjiaje is one in my bucket list and bringing along my 4 member family. Though you do not recommend thrifty travelling, may i ask if its ok to have this tour on our own or for first timers you recommend a tour guide at least for our stay there. Also, we plan to leave November, there is a promo tour to Guangzhou and then proceed to Zhangjiaje, any tips? Its a 4 day vacation trip. Thank you.
Hi! A guide isn’t really necessary. It would be great to have one but if money is a problem, you can definitely get by without one. At Wulingyuan sites, most informative signs have English translations. It is when dealing with locals that communication becomes problematic, so I suggest you have a translator app with you.
I haven’t tried traveling from Guangzhou, but I believe it’s okay. If you’re taking the train, just be prepared. It’s not the cleanest and smoking is allowed inside, which can be nauseating if you’re not used to it. It can be crowded too.
glad to know that we can do it on our own!
Hi Bella! thanks for your comment and your email too! We’re so excited for you! :D
hey there! just want to share, i definitely agree; been to both Zhangjiajie and Biri Island. Both gave me a majestic feeling, an aweness of its beauty, of its mysteriousness… basta ang ganda!
Btw, thanks for sharing your travels, enjoying it very much
Thanks, Rissa! It remains the most breathtaking place I’ve seen in my life.
Hi. Yoshke. Your post helped me a lot on planning for my trip. However may i know how to obtain the tickets/entrance pass for ZJJ (online if possible) as im afraid i might not be able to secure a spot due to limitation of tourist.
Do i need to go through a tour company?
Hello! I didn’t book in advance. I just went to the entrance gate really early. But I visited in October, so it wasn’t crowded.
Hi Yoshke. I really like your article, thanks for sharing! Im going to travel alone and I don’t want to spend a lot of money on tours. How was the transportation between the four zones/different sites? Is it easy to go without a car/taxi? After Zhangjiajie I’m going to Guilin, but i’m traveling with a suitcase. Is there enough space in the train to leave your suitcase? Also is it necessary to get a tour in Guilin? Sorry I have a lot of questions. I hope you can help me. Thank you very much, your article is really helpful!
How was the transportation between the four zones/different sites?
— Yep, it was easy. Just board the bus from one zone to another.
After Zhangjiajie I’m going to Guilin, but i’m traveling with a suitcase. Is there enough space in the train to leave your suitcase?
— In our experience, the trains were very crowded. If I remember correctly, there is an overhead ledge where you can put your luggage. But you need to board early because they get full fast. In another occasion, I didn’t have a seat, so I just stood by the door with my luggage.
Also is it necessary to get a tour in Guilin?
— It’s not really necessary but it will make your life easier. Most people in Guilin don’t speak or understand English. Language barrier is very real here, so it’s pretty hard to pull a DIY. But it is possible. I did Zhangjiajie DIY.