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

Yunnan is located in the southern China, bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam as well as Chinese provinces and regions of Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and Tibet. It is the most diverse province in all China, both in its extraordinary mix of peoples and in the splendor of its landscape.

Knowing Yunnan is an amazing place to visit but still have many questions to plan your Yunnan tour? Doing detailed research before your Yunnan tour will make you travel smoothly and in a well-organized way. We have listed some essential travel information, like best to go, how to get to and within Yunnan, top places to visit, brilliant ethnic culture, festivals & traditional handcraft to experience, where to stay, for your Yunnan trip. Hope to help you make a more reasonable and useful trip plan. Check now!

Yunnan Weather & Best Time to Go

Yunnan generally belongs to subtropical plateau monsoon climate. The highest temperature is in July with an average around 19°C~22°C and the lowest temperature is in January around 6°C~8°C. It is cool in the morning and at night; and warm or hot at noon.

To travel in Yunnan, you should make clear the best time in different regions - Northwestern Yunnan and Southwestern/Southern Yunnan. (a) Come during May to October to Northwestern Yunnan is highly recommended when various kinds of flowers are in blossom on the plateau and other natural scenery could be breathtaking. (b) To visit Southwestern or Southern Yunnan, it is better to come during October to next April when sky is azure and weather is cool.

Below are the recommended best time to visit the popular destinations in Yunnan and you can check for reference.

  • Kunming (altitude: 1895 meters): It can be visited all year round.
  • Lijiang (altitude: 2418 meters): The best time to travel is March ~ November.
  • Shangri-La (altitude: 3300 meters): The best time to travel is May ~ October.
  • Dali (altitude: 2052 meters): The best time to visit is March to May, and September to November.
  • Yuanyang (altitude: 255 meters): The best time for photography is in Late November to Early March.
  • Xishuangbanna (altitude: 1700 meters): It is recommended to visit during November ~ Next April.

To know more info about Yunnan Climate and Weather, please check our Yunnan Weather, Seasons & Best Time to Go in 2020.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Summer

How to Go to & within Yunnan?

How to get to Yunnan and transfer within this amazing vast land? You can take direct flights, high speed trains, normal trains, coaches, and so forth making your travel there without any blocks no matter from the famous domestic cities, places in other countries and regions, or the famous destinations in Yunnan.

Travel to Yunnan by Air & Train

  • Flights to / off Yunnan: Travelers can take flights from/to Chengdu, Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Chongqing, Lhasa, Guilin, Wuhan, and Nanjing to/from Kunming Changshui International Airport, or Lijiang Sanyi International Airport, Dali Huangcaoba Airport, Shangri-La Diqing Airport, Xishuangbanna Saga International Airport.
  • Train to / off Yunnan: There are not only trains, but also the advanced and awesome high speed trains from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Guilin, Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, Changsha, Zhengzhou, Guilin, etc. to Kunming so far. >> Check more about Kunming High Speed Trains
  • Travel within Yunnan Province:

    After landing in Yunnan, how to transfer between the top favored destinations, like Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-La, Yuanyang, Lugu Lake, etc.? Within this province, convenient flights, distance coaches and trains would escort you among them with great efficiency.

    • Kunming - Lijiang (distance: 490 kilometers): Air, Train and Bus are available. Travel by air only takes about 1 hour. If you by high speed train, it will take about about 3-3.5 hours. Most travelers travelers would choose the high speed train to Lijiang. For budget travelers, we recommend you take overnight train from Kunming to Lijiang.
    • Lijiang - Shangri-La (distance: about 180 kilometers): Distance coaches are the most frequent transfer method to go between Lijiang and Shangri-La. From about 07:30 to 17:10, there are comfortable coaches departing from Lijang Bus Terminal (丽江客运站) to Shangri-La Bus Terminal (香格里拉客运站), which needs about 4 hours.
    • Kunming - Dali (distance: about 332 kilometers): Travelers can transfer by air (about 50 minutes), high speed train (about about 2-2.5 hours, most recommended) and bus (about 4 hours, recommended for budget travelers).
    • Kunming - Shangri-La (distance: about 659 kilometers): Travelers can transfer by air (about 80-90 minutes, highly recommended), and bus (about 9.5-15.5 hours, time-consuming and not recommended).
    • Kunming - Yuanyang (distance: about 320 kilometers): From Kunming to Yuanyang (元阳), the most recommended way is to take a distance coach or by private car. It takes about 6 hours.

    To have more detailed transportation plan or travel to other places, please read our Yunnan Transportation Guide.

Yunnan Cities Location Map Yunnan Cities Location Map
Lijiang Shangri-La Travel Map Lijiang Shangri-La Travel Map
Lijiang Yuanyang Travel Map Kunming Yuanyang Travel Map

Where to Start or End your Yunnan Tour?

You have already made clear how to get to and transfer within Yunnan province. To plan your trip well and travel smoothly, it is recommended to start or end your Yunnan tour in Kunming or Lijiang.

Kunming is served as the gateway cities to many destinations, like heading to Dongchuan Red Land, visiting Yuanyang Rice Terraces or Jinahsui Old City, viewing lotus flowers in Puzhehei and Xanadu Bamei, or even getting to Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-La from many domestic cities and international countries and regions. While, if you choose Kunming to start your tour, you can select Lijiang as your last stop. It also connects many cities in China and international cities/regions by flight.

That’s to say, you can do Kunming - Dali - Shangri-La - Lijiang route, Lijiang - Shangri-La - Kunming route, or extend longer to do Kunming - Dongchuan - Dali - Shangri-La - Lijiang route, or Kunming - Yuanyang - Jianhsui - Kunming - Dali - Shangri-La - Lijiang route. To see more possibilities of traveling in Yunnan, please check our Top Yunnan Tours.

Kunming Green Lake Kunming Green Lake Winter Scene

Top Places to Visit in Yunnan

Yunnan is an earthly paradise with many stunning places to visit. Its beauty lies in the high mountains, emerald lakes, thrilling gorges, red fields, rice paddies, Ancient Tea-Horse Road, ancient towns, old streets, exquisite pagodas, traditional folk houses, featured inns, brilliant ethnic minority culture…Actually, it is more than these, every step on this land will surprise you to the most even travel on the road. After the trip, you can say “I have been to a place better than a paradise”.

Top 1: Lijiang

Someone said Lijiang has been commercialized recent years, but, it still should be listed as the top one destination in Yunnan. You can fully feel its charm in the morning or at midnight when Lijiang Old Town becomes quiet. Besides, different kinds of experience are offered, from the traditional Naxi ancient music to exotic cafe’ and bars; from challenging Jade Dragon Snow Mountain climbing to relaxing horse riding…life is romantic, slow-paced and cultural enlightening.

Learn more about: How to Plan a Lijiang Tour | Lijiang Travel Guide | Top Things to Do in Lijiang

Top 2: Kunming

With the convenient transportation network, Kunming is the gateway city for reaching different places. To have one or two days more, you can feel the true charm of “City of Eternal Spring” by visiting Western Hills aside Dianchi Lake, Green Lake, Birds & Flowers Market, as well learn colorful ethnic culture in Yunnan Nationalities Museum and of course, you won’t miss Stone Forest which is 90 kilometers away.

Learn more about: How to Plan a Kunming Tour | Kunming Travel Guide | Top Things to Do in Kunming

Top 3: Shangri-La

Some other places are called themselves the Last Shangri-La, but, Shangri-La in Yunnan is the real one which is depicted in James Hilton’s novel “Lost Horizon”. Snow mountains, beautiful lakes, meadow, Buddhist temples and hospitable Tibetan people…are the highlights for your coming. All the sites are within 1 hour transfer. It is recommended to go with Lijiang and you can travel via Tiger Leaping Gorge where you can appreciate breathtaking gorge view located between Haba Snow Mountain and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Learn more about: How to Plan a Shangri-La Tour | Shangri-La Travel Guide | Top Things to Do in Shangri-La

Top 4: Dali

The time-honored old towns sandwiched between Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake, enchanting weather with azure sky and white clouds, historical sites with profound history and legendary stories…these are the reasons to Dali. Spend one to three days relaxing on the banks Erhai Lake and exploring the interesting Bai culture. If you like, you can enter an ancient trading town on the Ancient Tea-Horse Road between Dali and Lijiang, to witness the living scene of trading when attending the Friday Market in Shaxi Ancient Town.

Learn more about: How to Plan a Dali Tour | Dali Travel Guide | Top Things to Do in Dali

Top 5: Yuanyang

Yuanyang Rice Terrace is the masterpiece of god as well as the local industrious and intelligent Hani ethnic minority. You are going to love this beautiful land with fulfilled with spirituality and mystery. It is marked by spectacular terraces that cascade down the slopes of towering Aliao Mountain to the banks of the Hong River. Over the past 1300 years, the Hani people have developed a complex system of channels to bring water from the forested mountaintops to terraces. The rice terrace is a testimonial to demonstrate extraordinary harmony between Hani people and their environment. Yuanyang Rice Terrace is wildly scattered, mainly composed of Bada Scenic Spot, Duoyishu Scenic Spot and Laohuzui Scenic Spot.

Learn more about: How to Plan a Yuanyang Tour | Yuanyang Travel Guide | Top Things to Do in Yuanyang

Besides, you can have nice exploration in Xishuangbanna, Puzheihei, Puer, Tengchong, Baoshan and more places. Want to know deeply? Check our Top 10 Places to Visit in Yunnan.

Lijiang Old Town Lijiang Old Town (Black Dragon Pool)
Stone Forest in Kunming Kunming Stone Forest
Songzanlin Monastery Songzanlin Monastery in Shangri-La
Three Pagodas in Dali Dali Three Pagodas
Yuanyang Rice Terraces Yuanyang Rice Terraces (Bada Scenic Area)

Brilliant Ethnic Minority Culture, Festivals & Traditional Handcraft

Local Ethnic Family Visiting

Seeing different ethnic minorities who work in the old towns or walk on the road, ethnic facts presented in the museum are not enough. Besides for basic understanding, you have the chance to deeply know them, talk with them and learn their lifestyle where they really live.

  • In Nuohei Village around Kunming, you will enter a primitive village with stone and pay a visit to local family to follow the Yi people to learn how to play Yi musical instrument, make Yi’s local food - Baba, or learn Yi embroidery.
  • In Xizhou Village of Dali, visit a local Bai family and spend half an hour making Yunnan Cheese, the specialty of Bai ethnic group.
  • Around Lijiang Old Town, you can visit a local Naxi family to learn Dongba writing and see their sacrificial dance.
  • While, in Shangri-La, pay a visit to local Tibetan family to experience their life on grassland, taste some local snack. And if you like, you can follow them to learn how to make Tibetan butter tea.
Nuohei Village around Kunming Kunming Nuohei Village Yi Minority Dance

Main Ethnic Festivals Held in Top Destinations

There are many festivals held in different regions of Yunnan. If time permits, you can experience their grand festivals and share jollification and happiness together.

>> Check more information about Ethnic Festival in Yunnan

  • Tibetan New Year Festival: This is the grandest festival in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The time of Tibetan New Festival is close to Chinese New Year Festival. It offers a chance to see the sacrificial and worship ceremony, as well as see the traditional Tibetan dance.
    >> 7 Days Shangri-La Tour with Meili Snow Mountain & Yubeng Village Hiking
  • Sanduo Festival: This Festival is the most important festival for Naxi ethnic minority with over 1200 years. It holds on the eighth day of the second month in Chinese lunar calendar. If you happen to travel in Lijiang on this day, you can enjoy Naxi people worship their god - Sanduo God, enjoy singing and dancing in Lijiang Old Town and its Sifang Square as well as appreciate Naxi ancient music.
    >> 3 Days Romantic Lijiang Tour with Visits to Naxi Kingdom
  • March Fair of Bai Ethnic Group: March Fair is the grandest festival for the Bai people who are living in Dali, Yunnan. It holds at the foot of Cangshan Mountain and Dali Old Town. Nowadays, it has developed into the largest market for commodity transaction in the west Yunnan. During the festival, businessmen and local people in and around Dali gather here to participate in the transaction. What’s more, horse-racing, folk dance and songs will be presented by the Bai, Yi, Naxi, Tibetan, and Hui minorities.
    >> 3 Days Dali Classic Tour
  • Water-Splashing Festival: It is the New Year Festival for the Dai and the most important and grandest festival of the year. It is held in mid-April usually from April 13 to April 15 in Jinghong city. Dai people dip branches into the river and sprinkle the water onto others as a way to express their best wishes. You can enjoy this festival at Dai Minority Park and Manting Park.
    >> 4 Days Xishuangbanna Tour with Tropical Flavor & Dai Culture
  • Torch Festival: This festival is the grandest festival of Yi Ethnic Minority which holds on the 24th day of sixth month in Chinese lunar calendar. Travelers can enjoy Torch Festival in Kunming, Chuxiong, Honghe. Also, Naxi, Bai people will light the torches in Lijiang or Dali.
    >> 4 Days Kunming Jianshui Tour by High Speed Train
  • Mosuo People Mountain Worship Festival: Known as Zhuanshan Jie, the Mountain Worship Festival is the grandest festival for Mosuo people held on every July 15 to July 25 of the lunar calendar. The Mosuo people will climb the Gemu Mountain to pay tribute to Goddess Gemu and worship nature. After the ceremony, people light bonfires and boil buttered tea. They eat and sing songs together. Young Mosuo men and women take the opportunity to look for a partner.
    >> 2 Days Magic Lugu Lake Tour with Mosuo Ethnic Culture
Xishuangbanna Water-Splashing Festival Xishuangbanna Water-Splashing Festival in April
Yi Minority Torch Festival in Yunnan Yi Minority Torch Festival
Naxi People in Traditional Costumes in Lijiang Old Town Naxi People in Traditional Costumes in Lijiang Old Town

Traditional Ethnic Culture Experience & Handcraft Learning

Yunnan can be called “A Cultural Museum of Human Being” and there are 13 items of traditional handcrafts listed as National Intangible Cultural Heritages. Slower your space when traveling in Yunnan, you can get under the skin and know better about its people with traditional skills on the amazing land.

  • In Xizhou Ancient Town of Dali, you have the chance to taste Three-Course Tea of Bai Ethnic Group and witness local life by attending a local morning market.
  • In Zhoucheng Tie-dye workshop of Dali, you can follow Bai people to know how to knot and view the process of dying.
  • In Shangri-La, there are featured schools to learn how to paint Tangka as well as Learn Tibetan language. If you want short time experience, you can attend the half day course.
  • In Nixi Pottery Village out of old town of Shangri-La, you can learn how to make a black pottery with the guidance of local Tibetan handicraftsman.

>> 7 Days Dali Lijiang Shangri-La Inspiring Tour with Ethnic Culture Seeking (Dali / Lijiang / Shangri-La)

Zhoucheng Tie-dye in Dali Zhoucheng Tie-dye Workshop in Dali

Decide your Travel Length & Suggested Route

For most travelers, they usually spend one to two weeks in Yunnan to cover the highlighted destinations. It takes around 4 days to visit two destinations, 6 days to visit three destinations, 8 days for four destinations, 10 days for five destinations and 11 days for six places.

Kunming Dali Lijiang Shangri-La route is regarded as the golden route in Yunnan, taking 8 days. You can add two days to extend to Dongchuan Red Land from Kunming and continue your trip northwest to Shangri-La. Or, turn to southern Yunnan to Yuanyang/Jianshui from Kunming for around 4 days and then get back to Kunming to finish the Golden route. Check the following sample itineraries for reference. Or, you can contact our professional travel consultant to customize your trip based on your time, date and likes.

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

>> 10 Days Beautiful Yunnan Tour with Dongchuan Red Land (Kunming / Dongchuan / Kunming / Dali / Lijiang / Shangri-La)

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

Dongchuan Red Land in Yunnan Dongchuan Red Land around Kunming

Where to Stay When Visiting Yunnan?

There is no need to worry your accommodation choices in Yunnan. In most of the destinations, you can choose from 3 star hotels to luxury hotels in good locations which are mostly close to downtown area or scenic spots. If you want to stay in a boutique hotel, or featured hostels, you will get an ideal choice. Please check different hotels in Kunming, Lijiang, Shangri-al, Dali and Yuanyang for a look.

>> Top Recommended Hotels in Kunming

>> Top Recommended Hotels in Lijiang

>> Top Recommended Hotels in Shangri-La

>> Top Recommended Hotels in Dali

>> Top Recommended Hotels in Yuanyang

>> Top Recommended Hotels in Jianshui

Have your own accommodation ideas? Please contact us for reservation and we will design a trip well matched with your likes.

Accommodation in Lijiang Featured Accommodation in Lijiang

Extended Destinations & Travel Beyond Yunnan Province

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.

10 Days Classic Sichuan & Yunnan Highlights Tour (Chengdu / Leshan / Mount Emei / Lijiang / Shangri-La / Kunming)

9 Days Guilin Karst Landscape & Diverse Yunnan Tour (Guilin / Lijiang / Shangri-La / Kunming)

8 Days Brilliant Yunnan & Zhangjiajie Avatar Mountains Tour (Lijiang / Shangri-La / Kunming / Zhangjiajie)

9 Days Meet Yunnan Nature & Culture from Hong Kong by Bullet Train (Hong Kong / Kunming / Lijiang / Shangri-La / Kunming)

14 Days Wild China Tours from Shanghai to Yunnan on Expresses (Shanghai / Zhangjiajie / Kaili / Kunming / Lijiang / Shangri-la / Kunming)

If you have other travel ideas or any questions, please feel free to contact us and our experienced travel consultants will customize a satisfactory for you.

Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet
Lush Guilin Li River Scenery Lush Guilin Li River Scenery

Recommended Yunnan Tours

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

Lijiang Old Town Full View from Wangu Tower
6 Days Best of Yunnan Tour (Lijiang, Shangri-La, Kunming)

Lijiang / Shangri-La / Kunming

Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Monastery
8 Days Classic Yunnan Tour

Kunming / 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 >