Vigorously uplifted during the last fifty million years as the Indian subcontinent buckled up against China, northwestern Yunnan is a geologically unsettled region of subtropical forests, thin pasture, alpine lakes and shattered peaks painted crisply in blue, white and grey. Xiaguan is the regional hub, springboard for the route north via a string of old towns, once staging posts on the chama dao, the “Tea-Horse Road” trade routes between China and Tibet, along which goods were transported on horseback. The lakeshore town of Dali is the first, home to the Bai nationality and backed by a long mountain range; but picturesque Lijiang, a few hours up the road at the base of Yulong Xue Shan, pulls in the biggest crowds as the former capital of the Naxi kingdom. Hikers can organize themselves here for a two-day trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge, where a youthful Yangzi River cuts through the deepest chasm on Earth. Nearby is Lugu Lake, lakeside home to the matrilineal Mosuo, while north again is the Tibetan monastery town of Shangri-La. By now you’re barely in Yunnan, and a day’s further travel will carry you up to Deqin, where a spectacular string of peaks marks the Tibetan borderlands.

If possible, it’s probably best to head up this way in autumn: winters are extremely cold, and while early spring is often sunny, summers – though fairly mild – can also be very wet, leading to landslides. Also be aware that the border regions around Shangri-La and Deqin might be closed off during March, historically a time of political unrest in Tibet.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

China features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

7 Chinese street foods you need to try

7 Chinese street foods you need to try

Thanks to China’s sheer enormity, travelling through the country is as much a tastebud odyssey as it is a history lesson. And eating your way around the stre…

16 Feb 2018 • Aimee White insert_drive_file Article
20 picturesque Christmas destinations

20 picturesque Christmas destinations

Dreaming of a trip this Christmas? We're here to help. From glittering cities to a few snowy escapes, here are 20 classic destinations for a festive break. …

12 Dec 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
An expert's guide: where to stay in Shanghai

An expert's guide: where to stay in Shanghai

Shanghai has to be a contender for the buzziest city in Asia, a thriving business hub that's brashly modern yet wears its history on its sleeve. Dense with glit…

23 Oct 2017 • Simon Lewis insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right