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How to Plan a Dali Tour | Ultimate Dali Trip Planning Guide

Dali (大理) is well located on the west tourist route of Yunnan as the middle stop of Kunming - Dali - Lijiang - Shangri-La line. It is about 260 kilometers from Kunming and 140 kilometers from Lijiang. “Romantic” and “Beautiful” are the common words to describe Dali. “The wind in Xiaguan blows those flowers in Shangguan, the moonlight in the Erhai Lake shines over the snow in Cangshan Mountain” - how poetic the city is! Besides, Dali used to the ancient capital of Nanzhao Kingdom and Dali Kingdom in 9th and 10th century and it is the most concentrated place (80 percent live in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture) to experience Bai ethnic group’s stunning culture and festivals!

So, how to plan a tour to Dali? Doing detailed research before your Dali Yunnan tour will make you travel smoothly and in a well-organized way. In our latest Dali trip planning guide, we have listed some essential travel information, like best time to visit, how to get to Dali, best attractions to see and top things to do, how long to spend and itineraries suggestions, where to stay and more for your Dali trip. Just take some time to read and make a perfect Dali travel plan for yourselves in 2020/2021!

Dali Weather & Best Time to Visit Dali

Dali is located in the west of Yunnan Province, with an average altitude of 2090 meters. It belongs to plateau monsoon climate with very distinct dry and wet season, and small seasonal temperature differences. The annual average temperature of the year is around 15.5℃. Dali, just like Kunming, can be described as each season is like spring all throughout the year. From the late May to the late November, it enters into the rainy season; and from early December to the next May, it belongs to the dry season.

Season Average Temperature What to Wear
Spring (March ~ May) 7℃ ~ 20℃ thin coat, T-shirt, jeans and other comfortable clothes
Summer (June ~ August) 15℃ ~ 25℃ blouse, thin T-shirt, skirt, short trousers
Autumn (September ~ November) 14℃ ~ 23℃ thin coat, T-shirt, jeans and other comfortable clothes
Winter (December ~ February) 4℃ ~ 17℃ Wind coat, jacket, thin sweater, pants...

For the warm and comfortable weather in four seasons, Dali can be visited all year round and the most recommended period is from March to November. In March to April, the lively Third Month Fair is holding in Dali Old Town and the beautiful flowers are blooming around Erhai Lake. From May to August, Dali becomes the summer resort to escape heat that the cool Cangshan Mountain brings you some refreshment. From September to November, the weather is super comfortable which is suitable for many outdoor activities like boating on Erhai Lake. (Useful Tip: Sunblock Stream, sunglasses, hat are highly recommended to bring to prevent the ultraviolet ray and heat.)

▶ Learn more about: Dali Weather, Temperature & Best Time to Visit

Dali Ancient City in Spring Visit Dali Ancient City in Spring

How to Get to Dali? Flights & Trains to Dali

Usually, Dali is served as a middle stop for a Yunnan trip since most travelers would like to do 6~11 days tour in Yunnan. Dali itself has an airport and a railway station to well connect with other cities in Yunnan and China. Travelers can take flights or high speed trains to Dali.

Flights to Dali

Dali Airport (IATA:DLU) has flights well linking with 21 cities in China, including Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Xian, Guilin, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Guiyang, Nanjing, Wuhan, Changsha, Xishuangbanna and more cities. Among all the cities, Chengdu (about 1.5 hours), Beijing (about 4 hours) and Guangzhou (about 2.5 hours) have frequent daily schedules to Dali. Dali Airport is located in the southeast of Dali Ancient Town, about 25 kilometers away.

High Speed Trains to Dali

Taking high speed trains to Dali is the popular choice for most travelers. Dali has high speed trains linking with Kunming (about 2-2.5 hours), Puzhehei (about 3.5-4 hours), Guilin (about 10 hours), Guangzhou (about 10.5-11 hours), and more destinations. All the trains will arrive at Dali Railway Station which is about 17 kilometers from Dali Ancient Town (about 45 mins’ transfer).

Travelers who take Kunming-Dali tour, Kunming-Dali-Lijiang tour, or Kunming-Dali-Lijiang-Shangri-La tour, would take high speed trains from Kunming to Dali. The two sections have over 20 daily schedules running from Kunming Railway Station to Dali Railway Station, only taking 2-2.5 hours. Learn more about Kunming to Dali High Speed Train Real-time Schedules >>

4 Days Kunming & Dali Highlights Tour by High Speed Train

Dali Airport Dali Airport
Dali Railway Station Dali Railway Station

Get Around Dali - Travel to Dali Ancient Town & around

After arriving at Dali Airport or Dali Railway Station, you can either take taxi, bus or airport shuttle to Dali Ancient Town. From Dali Airport to Dali Ancient Town, it takes about 35 mins to 1 hour by private car, about 50 mins to 1 hour by airport shuttle. From Dali Railway Station to Dali Ancient Town, it takes about 30mins-45mins by private car, or about 1 hour by local bus No.8.

To get around Dali Ancient Town to Xizhou Ancient Town, Zhoucheng, travelers can the buses at Cangshan Gate Parking Lot to those places. Also, you can hire battery car or rent a bike to travel around.

▶ Learn more about: How to Get to & around Dali | How to Get from Dali to Shaxi Ancient Town

Taxi in Dali Yunnan Taxi in Dali

Top Attractions & Best Things to See in Dali

Dali is a heavenly paradise well combined with breathtaking natural scenery, time-honored old towns, unique Bai ethnic folk culture.

For most travelers, the exploration in Dali is mainly concentrated on Dali Ancient Town, Cangshan Mountain, Three Pagodas and the surrounding sites around Erhai Lake. If you want in-depth discovery or relaxation, you are suggested to head to the North of Dali (Shaxi Ancient Town, or Shibao Mountain), South of Dali (Weishan Ancient City, Weibao Mountain, East Lotus Village) and East of Dali (such as Jizu Mountain). If your time is limited, traveling to Dali Ancient Town and around Erhai Lake will be enough to catch most essence of Dali.

Dali Ancient City

Dali Ancient City, known as Dali Old Town, is a 1200-year-old historic town with rich culture located between Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake. It was used to be the ancient capital of Nanzhao Kingdom and Dali Kingdom. Compared with Lijiang Old Town, Dali Old Town is less crowded and less commercialized where you can experience Bai ethnic group’s culture and customs. Wander in the old town to have leisure exploration about city gates, old towers, old streets, temples, churches, museums, shops and bars...
Recommended Visiting Time: about 2 hours

Three Pagodas and Chongsheng Temple

Three Pagodas is the symbol of Dali, which was first built in the time of Nanzhao Kingdom and Dali Kingdom in 9th and 10th century. The Three Pagodas are made of one big pagoda and two small pagodas, forming a symmetric triangle. Looking them from a distance, the pagodas are like three giant ballpoint pens erecting in front of Cangshan Mountains. Your visit also covers Chongsheng Temple and catch graceful reflections of Three Pagodas at Reflection Pond.
Recommended Visiting Time: about 2-2.5 hours
Distance from Dali Ancient City: in the northwest about 2.3 kilometers away, about 10 minutes’ driving

Cangshan Mountain

Cangshan Mountain, situated magnificently in the west of Dali Ancient City, is composed of 19 peaks with average altitude over 3500 meters and the highest peak called Malong Peak at elevation over 4000 meters. Cangshan Mountain belongs to world geopark and the snow is covered the peaks of Cangshan Mountain all year round. Travelers usually take Gantong cableway up to the hillside to walk round Jade Belt Road and have panoramic view of Dali Old Town and Erhai Lake.
Recommended Visiting Time: about 2-3 hours
Distance from Dali Ancient City: in the west about 1.9 kilometers away, about 10 minutes’ driving

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake (Ear-shaped Sea), the mother lake of Bai people, is the second largest plateau freshwater lake in Yunnan situated in the east of Dali Ancient City. Erhai Lake spans 40 kilometers in length and roughly 9 kilometers in width. Taking a cruise is the most popular to appreciate the beauty of Erhai Lake. You’ll have a chance to visit one of its three islands - Nanshao Folk Island, Puto Island and Jinsuo Island. Caicun Pier is the most used pier to take the cruise.
Recommended Visiting Time: about 2-4 hours
Distance from Dali Ancient City: 4 km from Erhai Gate, about 10-15mins’ driving

Xizhou Village (Xizhou Ancient Town)

Xizhou Village, with a profound history over 1000 years, is the most concentrated ancient town for local Bai people and becomes the best old town to experience Bai people’s ethnic culture. Spend one morning to Xizhou Village attending its morning market, appreciating the Bai’s featured architecture by visiting Yan Family Compound, trying Three-Course Tea and savor the various life phenomenons, or visiting a local dye house or learn to make a tie-dye by yourself... A visit to Xizhou Village makes you have a full understanding about Bai ethnic group.
Recommended Visiting Time: about half day
Distance from Dali Ancient City: 30 km, about 30mins’ driving

Shaxi Ancient Town

Shaxi Ancient Town is well situated on the way between Dali and Lijiang. If you do Dali Lijiang tour in one trip, it is a good idea to add Shaxi Ancient Town into the itinerary. Shaxi is one of the well preserved ancient towns in Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road. It is very primitive and less crowded that you can explore Bai group’s culture in leisure pace. Highlights here include Sideng Street and vibrant Friday Market. The nearby Shibao Mountain is also worth your visit.
Recommended Visiting Time: about half day to one day
Distance: 148 km from Dali (about 2.5-3 hours’ driving), 107 km from Lijiang (about 2-2.5 hours’ driving)

▶ Learn more about: Top Attractions in Dali

Dali Old Town Dali Ancient City
Dali Three Pagodas Three Pagodas and Its Reflection
Cangshan Mountain in Dali Cangshan Mountain
Erhai Lake in Dali Erhai Lake (Little Putuo Island)
Xizhou Ancient Town in Dali Xizhou Ancient Town
Shaxi Ancient Town in Dali Shaxi Ancient Town

Awesome & Special Experiences in Dali, Yunnan

Besides the endless beauty of Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake, Dali is a ravishing destination giving you more. It is a lively place on plateau taking you truly involving in local ethnic group’s daily life and have in-depth experience about their stunning cultures.

Attend Bai’s Morning Markets to Feel Authentic Local Life

If you want to have a look at the local Bai people’s daily life, going to one of the old towns in the morning and visiting the local lively market is the authentic way. The locals are dressed in traditional costumes, either selling goods or buying daily staff. You can see many stuff only can be found in Yunnan. Among all the local market, Xizhou Ancient Town morning market is the most recommended for it will hold everyday and acted as the must-visited part when visiting Xizhou Village.

Places Opening Time Recommendation
Xizhou Village Everyday; 08:00-13:00 most recommended one
Zhoucheng Huanghun Market Everyday; 08:00-17:00 smaller than the one in Xizhou; alternative plan
Shaxi Ancient Town Friday; all day the only existing trading market on Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road. People come from nearby village to trade. Recommended to visit if you go to Shaxi.
Shaping Ancient Town Monday; 08:00-13:00 30km in the north of Dali Old Town; not recommended for regular visiting
Shaba Ancient Town Wednesday; 08:00-13:00 the largest market in Dali; 33km in the north of Dali Old Town; not recommended for regular visiting

(Note: To catch the most lively trading scene, you’d better visit in the morning. The real running time of the markets would make some adjustment based on the real situation.)

Taste Three-Course Tea of Bai & Experience Tea Ceremony

The genius Three-Course tea ceremony is a must try in Dali. Three-course tea, first cup is bitter, second cap is sweet and the third cup is for aftertaste, which indicating the pursuit of perfection of personality during the whole life. In ancient times, Bai nationality used it as a blessing to the younger generation when studying, learning skills, doing business and getting married. Now Three-course tea becomes a custom for Bai people when they are welcoming the guests. When tasting three-course tea, you can enjoy Bai group’s singing and dancing as well as know the tea ceremony and Bai’s culture. The recommended places to enjoy Three-Course Tea are Xizhou Village Yan Family Dwellings, and Zhoucheng Bai Family Dwellings.

Learn How Tie-Dye is Made in Zhoucheng & Make One in Person

In 2006, Tie-dye technique of Bai Minority was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage. Tie-dye can be used as a clothes, tablecloth, decoration, etc. If you are interested in the making process of tie-dye, you transfer to Zhoucheng Village - “Hometown of Bai People’s Tie-dye Art” and visit one the workshop to witness how cloth is tie-dyed. In Zhoucheng, the side walls of the houses are always hung with tie-dye of different colors and patterns, which is beautiful and enchanting. If you want to make one in person, it needs another 1-1.5 hours with extra fees (about CNY 50/pp).

7 Days Dali Lijiang Shangri-La Inspiring Tour with Ethnic Culture Seeking

Learn to Make Rushan in Local Bai Family House

In Xizhou Ancient Town, you’ll visit a local Bai family and learn how to make Yunnan Cheese called “Rushan”. Rushan is a cheese made out of goat milk, produced primarily by the Bai ethnic minority in Dali. Spend about 30 minutes involving in the whole process and taste the delicious cheese made by your own hands. As well, you can have a better understanding about local Bai people’s daily life and their eating habits. This experience needs extra fee about CNY 60/pp.

Enjoy Interesting Ethnic Festival of Bai Ethnic Group

Bai people are talented in singing and dancing. The annual Third Month Fair during every lunar March 15th - March 21st is one of the best times to appreciate their artistic talent. This historical festival can dates back to 1,000 years ago, during which in Tang dynasty, people gathered here in Dali to hear the Buddhist sermon and formed the large fair. Experiencing some changes and development, the Third Month Fair becomes more grand and joyous. On the occasion, people wearing featured ethnic costumes would dance, sing, and enjoy many kinds of sports, cultural and entertainment activities. If time is right, you can enjoy it at the West Gate of Dali Ancient Town.

Another important festival for Bai people is the Rao San Ling Festival in the late Lunar April (Lunar April 23rd - 25th). During the three days, Bai people would dress up in their unique costumes to walk along the Dali Ancient Town, Three Pagodas, Cangshan Mountain Wutai Peak, singing and dancing, worshiping for the King of the past Dali Kingdom, good harvest, peace of the world.

Take Battery Car or Cycle around Erhai Lake for More Fun

For travelers who are in good physical condition or want more leisure time to see the beautiful scenery along Erhai Lake, you can rent a battery car or a bike at Dali Ancient Town. It is recommended to start from the Erhai Gate of Dali Old Town and head north along Erhai Lake to Xizhou Ancient Town. The whole distance is about 18 kilometers. It needs about 1.5-2 hours’ riding or 1 hour by battery car. You’d better do it in the morning otherwise it would be hot.

Three Courses Tea Ceremony of Bai Group Three Courses Tea Ceremony of Bai Group
Tie Dye of Bai Minority in Zhoucheng, Dali Tie Dye of Bai Minority in Zhoucheng, Dali
Make Rushan in Bai People's House Make Rushan in Local Bai Family House in Xizhou
Dali Rao San Ling Festival Rao San Ling Festival in Lunar April
Cycling around Erhai Lake Cycling around Erhai Lake

How Many Days to Stay in Dali? Recommended Itineraries

Dali is suitable for about two days’ exploration. Many travelers would like to extend around Dali to Shaxi Ancient Town or other places, they usually spend about 3 days in and around Dali.

If you have 2 days, you can go like this:

Travel Plan Itinerary Features Recommended Tour
Plan A Day 1: Cangshan Mountain, Three Pagodas, Dali Ancient Town;
Day 2: Xizhou Ancient Town, Zhoucheng, Erhai Lake Cruise.
Stunning Essence of Dali 3 Days Dali Highlights Leisure Tour with Bai Culture Experience

(Note: the above travel plans exclude the arrival in Dali one day ahead. While, the recommended tours include the arrival day.)

If you have 3 days, you can go like this:

Travel Plan Itinerary Features Recommended Tour
Plan ADay 1: Cangshan Mountain, Three Pagodas, Dali Ancient Town;
Day 2: Erhai Lake Cruise, Zhoucheng, transfer to Shaxi Ancient Town;
Day 3: Shaxi Ancient Town, depart from Dali or Lijiang.
In-depth Visit to Shaxi Ancient Town 4 Days Tour with Shaxi Ancient Town Relaxation
Plan BDay 1: Three Pagodas, Erhai Lake Cruise, Dali Old Town;
Day 2: Cangshan Mountain In-depth Hiking;
Day 3: Xizhou Ancient Town, Zhoucheng; Dali departure.
In-depth tour with Cangshan Mountain Hiking 4 Days Dali Tour with Cangshan Mountain Hiking

(Note: the above travel plans exclude the arrival in Dali one day ahead. While, the recommended tours include the arrival day.)

▶ Learn more about: All Itineraries & Recommended Tours in Dali

Where to Stay in Dali? Recommended Areas & Hotels for Accommodation

Most travelers would spend one or two nights in Dali City. For those only spend one night, the top recommended area is in Dali Ancient Town. You can have an easy walk to discover the authentic historic flavor of this famous ancient city, no matter for architecture admiration in day time or leisure stroll at night along the lit up streets. Besides, Dali Ancient Town is close to Cangshan Mountain, Erhai Lake, Three Pagoda & Chongsheng Temple, which can be accessed with short driving time, usually within 0.5 hour. Staying here, lots of accommodation choices from luxury 5 star to budget 3 star, from boutique hotels to cost-efficient hostels are scattered around this area. Some famous international brands can also be found there, and the prices are usually better than those in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, etc.

Accommodation in Dali Old Town The One Hotel & Resort Dali (in Dali Old Town)
If you prefer a quieter place to feel the tranquility of an old town, you are recommended to live in Xizhou Ancient Town which is in the north of Dali Old Town, about 18 km away. You can closely touch the beautiful Bai ethnic dwellings and have a close look at the shimmering Erhai Lake from your window. 

For those who want to cover Shaxi Ancient Town into their Dali trip, you can stay one night there which is a very primitive old town. Although Shaxi does not offer so many hotels as Dali or Lijiang, some 3-5 star hotels, boutique hotels, budget hostels, etc. are also very easy to find. Some advanced boutique hotels also prepare exquisite design, fine facilities and bedclothes for your comfortable rest!

Learn more about: Where to Stay in Dali | Top Recommended Hotel List in Dali

Extend Your Dali Tour

To More Destinations in Yunnan

Most visitors plan Dali as a part their exploration of the vast Yunnan Province and usually arrange it for a middle stop between Kunming and Lijiang. To enrich your travel experience, you are highly recommended to do as the others to enjoy a classic week long vacation in Yunnan. Since most travelers would land in Kunming first and it is a good idea to spend one or two days there visiting the incredible Stone Forest, overlooking Dian Lake from Dragon Gate of Western Hill, viewing local people’s daily life at Green Lake Park...then with a high speed train to Dali for about 1.5 days’ exploration to catch all the essences of Dali. Transfer to Lijiang to meet the famous Lijiang Old Town and learn the mysterious Dongba culture within 2 days. Following the exciting Tiger Leaping Gorge hiking, enjoy another 2 days in Shangri-La to immerse into the earthly paradise with nice visiting of the holy monasteries and lovely landscapes.

Besides, you can extend from Kunming to Yuanyang to marvel at the unbelievable magnificent Yuanyang Rice Terraces, to Puzhehei to relax at the pleasant wonderland of lotus blossoms, to Luoping to be fond of the golden sea of rapeseed flowers, to Xishuangbanna to feel the enthusiastic Dai ethnic people and the lush tropical forest, etc.

Most Popular Dali Yunnan Tour Packages:

8 Days Classic Yunnan Tour (Kunming / Dali / Lijiang / Shangri-La)

6 Days Yunnan Essence Tour (Kunming / Dali / Lijiang)

11 Days Amazing Yunnan Tour (Kunming / Yuanyang / Jianshui / Kunming / Dali / Lijiang / Shangri-La)

How to Plan a Trip to Kunming Yuanyang Rice Terraces
How to Plan a Trip to Kunming Lijiang Old Town

To More Destinations in China

Only a Yunnan tour is not complete for your visiting in China. It is a great idea to cover Yunnan with more places around China to savor more amazing landscape, culture, history, ethnic minority customs, food, etc. in one go, such as Guilin with Karst landform wonders, Guizhou with wonderful ethnic beauties, Chengdu with adorable giant pandas, Beijing with profound ancient royal Forbidden City, Shanghai with modern cityscape, Xian with impressing Terracotta Warriors, Zhangjiajie with incredible Avatar Mountains, and more like Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Yangtze River, Lhasa, etc. If you have any idea about planning your Dali China trip, please feel free to contact us for help!

Most Popular Dali China Tour Package:

10 Days Yunnan & Guizhou Amazing Minorities Tour (Lijiang / Dali / Kunming / Kaili / Guiyang)

Upper Langde Miao Village Upper Langde Miao Village

Travel with China Discovery

China Discovery has been the leading online travel agency for over 10 years and we are specialized in offering different tours in diverse Yunnan, including Kunming tours, Lijiang tours, Dali tours, Shangri-La tours, Yuanyang Rice Terraces tours, Dongchuan Red Land tours, Xishuangbanna tours...

No matter you want to put one simple destination into your trip or cover several destinations together or even extend your Yunnan tour all over China, China Discovery can provide you best tour guides and experienced drivers with comfortable private cars in any of the destinations. Our English-speaking tour guide will accompany you all the way, showing you the best traveling route and telling beautiful stories of the colorful Yunnan. The tour can be tailor-made according to your group size, time, physical condition, plan, interests, budget and other special need. Please feel free to contact us if you need any help or customize the tour with free quotation!

Recommended Dali Tours

Top 3 Dali tours chosen by most customers to explore Dali in the best way. Check the detailed itinerary, or tailor your own trip now with us.

Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Monastery
8 Days Classic Yunnan Tour

Kunming / Dali / Lijiang / Shangri-La

Qicai Slope Scenery in October ~ November
10 Days Beautiful Yunnan Tour with Dongchuan Red Land

Kunming / Dongchuan / Kunming / Stone Forest / Dali / Lijiang / Shangri-La

Black Dragon Pool Park
11 Days Amazing Yunnan Tour

Kunming / Stone Forest / Yuanyang / Jianshui / Kunming / Dali / Lijiang / Shangri-La

Start planning your tailor-made holiday to China by contacting one of our specialists. Once enquired, you’ll get a response within 0.5~23.5 hours.

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[Important] Travel News for Expats: China travel is reopening now! Travel with China Discovery and learn about where to visit & requirements for each destination! Read Details >