Tengger Desert, as its name in Mongolian language implies, is a boundless desert as broad as the sky. Different from other deserts you may know, Tengger desert is not located in merely one city or one province of China, but across three areas, including the central Gansu Province, northern the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and southwestern Alxa Left Banner of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The desert is about 180 kilometers wide from east to west and about 242 kilometers long from south to north, covering a total area of 36,700 square kilometers, which entitles it the reputation of the 4th Largest Desert in China! Numerous sand dunes, mountains and plains intersect each other in this large desert region, forming breathtaking desert landscapes and creating wonderful possibilities to do adventurous desert hiking, camping and camel riding. Besides, being the desert in China with the largest amount of lakes, Tengger Desert also boasts over 420 lakes, which are the favorite transfer stops of the birds migrated from Siberia. By the lakeside there are also high-end resorts guaranteeing you perfect desert tours!
The dreaming Tengger Desert attracts visitors so much mostly because of its magnificent desert scenery formed by the endless sands, rolling sand dunes, pearl-like lakes, ever-changing rays and shadows of the sunshine, and the awe-inspiring adventurous feeling of sand surfing and desert crossing. Every corner of the desert is stunning, it is difficult to divide the vast desert with no sign or road into parts, however, there are several landmarks that will help you to guide your way. Those highlights in Tengger Desert include Shapotou, Moon Lake, Swan Lake, Tonghu Grassland, etc.
Shapotou is settled on the southeastern edge of Tengger Desert. Here, the rolling desert comes from the west and north, but be stopped by the surging Yellow River, upholding a great sand mountain more than a hundred meters high, hence the name Shapotou. Shapo means "sand slopes" and tou means "head" in Chinese. The Shapotou Scenic Area is located in Zhongwei City of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Therefore, it is also known as Zhongwei Shapotou.
This scenic area is the most popular, the busiest area of Tengger Desert and One of the Five Most Beautiful Deserts in China. It is also here that Wang Wei, a famous poet in Tang Dynasty, created his immortal poem, "From wastes of sand one smoke plume rises sheer, past the long river, the round sun sinks low".
Nowadays in Shapotou, you will find China's largest natural sand skating ground, one of China's four Sounding Sands, the 820-meter-long "No.1 cable car" to fly across the Yellow River, the world's first desert railway, and the oldest transport means on the Yangtze River - the sheepskin raft. Camel riding, desert hiking, crossing and sand surfing are also popular here! There is also a Desert Museum near the entrance of Shapotou, where you can learn how the desert is formed and developed. In the hinterland of Zhongwei Shapotou, there is a unique high-end Desert Star Hotel, which is designed in special five-pointed star shapes. Around the biggest star are the 177 rooms, swimming pools, bars, restaurants, etc. Not very far from the star clusters is a big round theater. The hotel and theater group is an amazing choice for those looking for a luxury and unique stay in the desert and also for those who want to photograph the starry sky after night falls.
The Golden Sand Sea Tourist Resort (Jinshahai Tourist Resort) is only a 17.5-kilometer drive northeast of Shapotou Scenic Area, which takes about half an hour by car. It is a comprehensive desert game base with plenty of desert entertainments like desert football, beach volleyball, shuttlecock, surfers, camels, go-karts, jeeps, sand scooters, etc. In the day, visitors can indulge themselves in abundant kinds of desert games, such as enjoying the gallop with friends to feel the speed and passion or riding a camel to wander along the dunes and feast the eyes with the vastness of the desert. This area also has a three-layer-tall Sea View House (观海楼), from the top of the building you can take a 360-degree broad view of the surrounding desert.
Besides, the world's first hotel themed in steam train rests comfortably in the arms of the desert here. The train has 17 carriages, and is the steam locomotive used on the globe's first desert railway that put into operation in 1958. Nowadays, the train has fulfilled its mission being a traffic train and has be reopened to the public as a themed hotel. Several hundred meters west of the stream-train-themed hotel is the only desert-themed Star Tent Hotel in China, namely Silk Road Star Tent Hotel (丝路星辰帐篷酒店). This special hotel has 16 separate tents of high grade, each of which stands hundreds meters away from each other, allowing every guest to fully immerse themselves in the wilderness.
Tengger Wetland Park is also called Golden Sand Island Scenic Area (金沙岛旅游区). It lies about 13 kilometers east of the Golden Sand Sea Tourist Resort (about half an hour by car) and about 20 kilometers (about half an hour by car) northeast of Shapotou Scenic Area. It is reputed as the "Pearl of Tengger Desert". The golden sands of the desert disappear here, while an ideal wetland park with lush grasses, trees and flowers, lovely birds and tranquil rivers open in from your eyes. After days of your desert tour, the blue sky, clear water, green wetland will certainly shock you a lot and give you a strong contrast.
Tonghu Grassland, "The Back Garden of Shapotou" and "The Garden of Eden in the Desert", is also located at the southeastern part of Tengger Desert. Tonghu, as its Chinese means implies, is a place with lakes and water. As legends says, the water here is connected with the Sun Lake about 60 kilometers away.
Tonghu Grassland was once a vital fortress of the North Road of the Ancient Silk Road, and thus it has numerous ancient stories and legends to explore. Standing atop a sand dune there, you may vaguely see the camel caravans, which may come from the legend of Ancient Silk Road, walking farther and farther and finally disappear in the endless golden sand world. Besides the Silk Road stories, Tonghu Grassland shows the visitors a collection of views of desert, salt lake, wetland grassland, sand springs, oases, pastoral village, rock painting and so forth. Large groups of Mongolian yurts and colorful camping tents there also make it an ideal place to get a strong Mongolian flavor. Visitors coming here will be warmly welcomed with Hada (a piece of silk used as a greeting gift) and dismounted wine (a cup of blessing wine).
To get to Tonghu Grassland, you can drive from Zhongwei City or ride a camel from Shapotou and then travel north to get there.
Desert is not only majestic and desolate, while, it may be also gentle and magnificent. The blue Moon Lake arched in the hinterland of Tengger Desert is the best evidence. Local herdsman calls the lake "Moon Lake" and "China Lake", because when looking from the east side the lake is just like a curved moon and from the west side it is in a unique shape of China Map. The lake is just like a dazzling emerald shining in the epic desert. The lake also nourishes groups of wild ducks, gray cranes, red geese, and mandarin ducks. Such fairytale life and scenery endow Moon Lake the reputation of "The Shangri-La in the Deep Desert".
The Moon Lake Scenic Area is also a popular place to do desert adventures. You can run freely up and down the sand dunes and let the wheel tracks imprint on various shapes of sand ripples. Camel riding and camping barbecue, of course, are also available there. By the side of the lake is the famous Moon Lake Resort, which once won awards like One of China's Top 10 Chinese Resort Hotels and The Best Original Ecological Resort Hotel in China.
Swan Lake is located on the eastern edge of Tengger Desert. It spans for about 1,500 meters from south to north and 500 meters or so from east to west, covering an area of 3.2 square kilometers. Every year from the end of March to April and from the end of September to October, flocks of swans will make a stop here, hence the name. Months from April to September are the most beautiful time of the Swan Lake. Standing by the side of the lake are the thousands of blooming magnolias flowers, and outside the flowers are lush grasses and jujube trees.
The desert near Swan Lake is far away from the modern city and has no light pollution, giving perfect condition to admire the starry sky at night. After night falls, the sprinkling stars are like diamonds on the blue and black velvet-like sky.
Tengger Desert, together with Badain Jaran Desert and Ulan Buhe Desert, is collectively known as Alxa Desert. It spans central Gansu, northern Ningxia and southwestern Alxa Left Banner of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Visitors usually visit it from Zhongwei City near Yinchuan City on Ningxia side.
Zhongwei City has its own airport and bullet train station. You can get there by flight or train. If you coming from the nearby Yinchuan City, Alxa Left Banner, etc., you can also get there by car.
Zhongwei Shapotou Airport (中卫沙坡头机场) has flights to/from Beijing (2 hours), Shanghai (4.5 hours), Kunming (2.5 hours), Hangzhou (3 hours), Wuhan (2 hours), Chongqing (2 hours), etc.
The airport is about 23 kilometers and half an hour away from Zhongwei Shapotou by car. From the airport, you can get to Zhongwei Shapotou by taxi or car. Booking a private car service is more recommended, as you will get rid of the transportation after tiring flight trip. If you are in need, please feel free to contact us!
Zhongwei South Railway Station (中卫南站), the newly built train station, has direct bullet trains to/from Yinchuan (1~1.5 hours), Hedong Airport (1 hour around), etc. And Yinchuan has bullet trains from Beijing, Xian, Zhengzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, etc. Therefore, you can also ride a bullet train to Yinchuan first, and then get to Zhongwei.
Upon arriving at Zhongwei South Railway Station, you can ask a taxi or private car to visit Zhongwei Shapotou. The driving distance is about 20 kilometers, which takes about 20 minutes by car and charges CNY 30~50. During the peak season and at night, it may be more expensive and a little bit hard to find a taxi. If you want to get rid of the hustle and bustle, you can also book a private car service in advance.
Shabaotou of Tengger Desert is located on the edge of the desert and is close to city. Therefore, you can ask a taxi or bus to get there. However, the lakes and other resorts are hidden in the hinterland of the desert that can be only reached by intrepid Jeeps or camels of nomads. The desert is vast and its scenic areas are separate, with a long driving distance to travel from one to another. Besides, there is no sign to guide your way in the desert, and thus it is very dangerous to go around with no help of professional local drivers. No matter where you are going to visit in Tengger Desert, you are high suggested to go with experienced travel agencies. We China Discovery provide amazing Jeep tours to visit Tengger Desert and can also help you to arrange camel riding there. If you are interested, please book a private tour package with us which covers sightseeing, dining and transfer. Our local tour guide and driver will take care of all the details!
Tengger Desert has significant temperate continental climate characteristics with rare rains but abundant sunshine and wind. The average temperature is usually about 7.8℃. Summer is the hottest time, winter is the coldest. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant, and thus it is considered to be a great time to visit Tengger Desert.
The best time to visit it is spring, summer and autumn, especially from April to June and September and October.
April-May: Sweat T-shirt and fleece jacket (or assault jacket) are required while hiking. Three layers, including inner perspiration T-shirt, middle fleece jacket and outer charge jacket, are suggested during the morning and night. Thin down jackets are also necessary for those who are afraid of cold. June-September: Sweat T-shirt (long or short) and quick dry pants or waterproof pants while hiking.
October-November: Sweat T-shirt and fleece jacket (or assault jacket) are required while hiking. Three layers, including inner perspiration T-shirt, middle fleece jacket and outer charge jacket, are suggested during the morning and night. Sweat long pants, waterproof pants or quick dry pants. Thin down jackets are also necessary for those who are afraid of cold.
December-March: Sweat T-shirt, fleece jacket, assault jacket, sweat long pants and waterproof pants are required while hiking. Down jackets are musts in the morning and at night.
The most popular hiking of Tengger Desert needs 4 days, which allows you to visit 5 lakes of Tengger Desert, and thus is called Five Lakes Hiking Route.
Day 1: Yinchuan Arrival (银川)
Day 2 (16km): Yinchuan (银川) - Alxa Left Banner - Tonggu Nur Sumu (通古淖尔苏木) - Little Swan Lake Camp (小天鹅湖营地)
Day 3 (27km): Little Swan Lake Camp (小天鹅湖营地) - Ulan Lake (乌兰湖) - Suhaitu lake (苏海图湖) - Sun Lake Camp (太阳湖营地)
Day 4 (10km): Sun Lake Camp (太阳湖营地) - Moon Lake (月亮湖) - Yinchuan
A classic Tengger Desert usually refers to Shabaotou, which needs about 1~2 days or so to have fun. During the tour, you can try sliding down from the a-hundred-meter-long sand slope, cruising the Yellow River by a sheepskin raft and flying over the Yellow River by cable car. Camel riding, of course, cannot be missed. At night, you can stay a hotel in the desert or enjoy camping with your friends or family. If you want a desert hiking there, it takes about 4 days.
No matter what kind of Tengger Desert Tour you like, we China Discovery can customize a tour for you with your interest, budget, group size, energy and every special need! If you are interested, please feel free to contact us!
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