A trip to Yunnan isn’t necessarily the first place you’d include in a China tour itinerary. However, with a deeper understanding of this beautiful China destination, you may want to rethink that.
Yunnan province, located in China’s south-west, interweaves naturally beautiful landscapes, ancient history, and religious and ethnic cultures in ways other parts of China don’t. Unique and picturesque, a trip to Yunnan is worth considering if an enriching China tour is what you want.
Planning a trip to Yunnan
Earning itself the nickname, “South of the Clouds”, Yunnan offers rich diversity in its landscapes too. Characterized by altitude extremes – more than 6000 meters at its highest – the natural vistas are extreme and changeable. A clear day will reveal expansive views across snow-capped peaks, seemingly endless grasslands, steep gorges, and lush forests.
Locals speak many different languages and dialects. This makes travel with a local guide, who lives in a particular China destination, the ideal solution for western travelers who want to plan a trip to Yunnan.
Looking for more tips to plan your Yunnan tour? Read on.
Climate and the best time to plan a trip to Yunnan
Across Yunnan province, the climate is as changeable as the landscape. With its distinctive dry and rainy seasons, it pays to know the best time to plan a trip to Yunnan. The wet season runs from May to October (mainly in June to August), while the dry season extends from November to April.
Although Yunnan is characterized by a subtropical monsoon climate, a surprising fact is many destinations, including Lijiang and Dali experience snow during winter months. The rain is also known for bringing cooler weather, so if a Yunnan tour is on your travel itinerary, come prepared.
Yunnan’s hottest month is July. Average temperatures range between 19 – 22°C (66.2 to 71.6 ℉). Love the cold? Then schedule your trip to Yunnan during the coldest month, January. With its lows of 6 – 8°C (42.8 to 46.4℉).
Our local guides tell us the ideal time to take in all the best Yunnan has to offer is March to June and September to November. If the Yuanyang Terraced Fields are on your bucket list, aim for a November arrival, but keep in mind most parts of Yunnan experience mild weather fluctuations year round.
As with anywhere in China, avoid traveling in Yunnan during national holidays. China’s domestic tourism market is booming and you’ll find it hard making your way around during the Spring Festival holiday ( late January to early February), May Day holiday (May 1–3), and the China National Day holiday (October 1–7).
Best highlights to visit in Yunnan
Kunming, Dali, and Lijiang are a must-see for travelers planning a first trip to Yunnan. Considered the classic destinations, look for tours incorporating highlights from these places. And our big Yunnan tip? Add a visit Shangri-La. It’s bucket list material.
A private China tour usually conjures up big city sights, but operators wanting to give western travelers an experience of real China, get up close and personal with more off-the-beaten-track destinations.
Trekking enthusiasts will love Yunnan hiking trails, considered some of the best in the world. Included in the rich choice are the Northwest Yunnan trekking trail from Lijiang to Meili Snow Mountain, Yubeng Village, Shangri-La, and Tiger Leaping Gorge. Witness breathtaking nature, hidden villages and sacred Buddhist sites on a truly memorable intrepid journey.
What’s to see in Kunming
Situated in the temperate monsoon climate zone, Yunnan Province’s capital, Kunming enjoys the reputation as The Spring City. Why? Kunming’s year-round pleasant climate boasts warm and comfortable weather and a temperature of 15 degrees.
On a visit to Kunming during your trip to Yunnan, immerse yourself in the fragrance of flowers at the Bird-Flower Market, discover the peculiar glamor of the Paleozoic karst landform in Stone Forest, and admire the unique garden-style layout at Yuantong Temple.
Glorious views of Dongchuan Red Earth Scenic Area can be had too, making it a great location for photography buffs. One thing to remember drawing on the wisdom of an ancient proverb, “the city turns to winter in a second when it rains”. Pack a coat or sweater if you’re traveling in the rainy season.
Spend a day or two in Dali ancient town
Dali, the autonomous prefecture of the Bai minority in Yunnan. Ideal for a visit in March and April, Dali weather is pleasant and many Bai minority festivals and events are in full swing in spring.
Stroll through Bai’s historical Xizhou Town, soak in the enchanting landscape of Erhai Lake cloistered by the Cangshan Mountain, or marvel at the magnificence of the Three Pagodas in Chongsheng Temple. It’s all part of daily local life in Dali ancient town.