It is said that if there should be a paradise on earth, Jiuzhaigou must be one of them. According to Tibetans, there is no equal elsewhere that has overwhelming sceneries as this valley. It combines serene crystal clear lakes, thundering waterfalls, lush green forests, and snow-capped mountains.
Positioned on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau in northern Sichuan, Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟) is famous for its breathtaking landscape. The valley stretches over 72,000 ha from north to south and comprises a series of dramatic karst peaks. Wedged between these snow-covered pinnacles are dense forests, multi-tiered waterfalls, stunningly beautiful lakes, as well as diverse ecosystems.
For centuries, Tibetans and other mountain dwellers such as the Qiang people have habited in this remote corner. They form settlements along the jagged valley, hence the name “Jiuzhaigou” (literally Nine Settlements Valley). Yet the mountainous region has only been known to the outside world since 1992 when UNESCO inscribed it as a World Heritage Site. These days, Jiuzhaigou is one of China’s most popular natural wonders, attracting millions of visitors annually.
1. Huanglong Scenic Area
The first stop on my journey to Jiuzhaigou is the Huanglong Scenic Area (黄龙). Located 370 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital Chengdu, this valley is renowned for its magnificent travertine terraces. Eon of calcite deposits has formed these step-like geological structures. They stretch for more than three kilometers and create numerous turquoise-colored pools.
Due to these spectacular formations, UNESCO described the area as “unique in all of Asia” and declared it a World Heritage Site in 1992. The bizarre landscape is flanked by lush forests and the lofty Min mountain range. There is also an ancient temple located right next to the pools, giving the whole scenery a mystical feeling.
From Huanglong, it took several hours on the winding road to reach Jiuzhaigou. The trip is long but the fairytale landscape is definitely worth the effort. In this valley, towering alpine mountains soar above a carpet of green and yellow. They embrace mesmerizing lakes, majestic waterfalls, as well as other limestone structures. Unlike in Huanglong, the water here has an unusual peacock blue color. It is so clear that visitors can even see to the bottom.
Aside from the remarkable scenery, the myth surrounding Jiuzhaigou is no less intriguing. It began with a mountain deity named Dago who had a crush on the goddess Semo. In order to win her heart, Dago bestowed a mirror that was made of wind and cloud to her. However, unforeseen circumstances brought evils in the lovers’ path and the goddess dropped the mirror inadvertently. The mirror shattered into 118 pieces, which fell down to earth and became 118 sparkling gem-like lakes.
Tips for visiting Jiuzhaigou
- Having your own vehicle is probably the fastest and most convenient way to travel to Jiuzhaigou. The whole trip takes up to 11 hours, including a stop at Huanglong Scenic Area.
- There are regular buses running between Chengdu Bus Station and Jiuzhaigou, departing at 07:00 and 08:00. But you should ask your hotel receptionist to book the ticket in advance.
- Jiuzhaigou has a maximum capacity of tourists per day. So it is recommended to buy the ticket in advance from their website (only available in the Chinese version though) or show up at the ticket office early.