Bounded by the densely populated cities of the north, and the lush tropical plains of the south, central Taiwan is a region principally defined by mountains: the mighty central ranges contain a vast array of tantalizing landscapes, from the mesmerizing beauty of Sun Moon Lake to the awe-inspiring peak of Yushan, northeast Asia’s tallest mountain.
Taichung is one of the most dynamic cities in the country and gateway to the region, noted for its innovative teahouses and vibrant nightlife. To the south, the flat river plains sandwiched between the hills and the sea are rich in traditional Chinese culture; worship of Taoist deity Mazu, known as Goddess of the Sea and often regarded as the country’s patron saint, is more intense here than any other part of Taiwan. The towns of Beigang and Dajia are home to the most important Mazu temples on the island, and the annual Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage is Taiwan’s largest religious festival. Lugang is one of Taiwan’s oldest towns, a living museum of master craftsmen, narrow streets and temples, while the Great Buddha Statue in Changhua is one of Asia’s biggest. The geographical centre of the island, Puli, is home to the mind-boggling Chung Tai Chan Monastery, a staggering monument to contemporary architecture and Zen Buddhist philosophy.
Further south, the narrow valleys and traditional Tsou villages of Alishan National Scenic Area lie to the east of Chiayi, an area best explored on foot or with your own transport. The Scenic Area’s appeal is compounded by an array of attractive and highly individual homestays, while aboriginal culture is particularly strong here. Alishan borders the Yushan National Park, offering a more challenging hiking experience, though the stunning path up its main peak is tackled by hundreds of visitors every year.
Top image: Lion statue in Chung Tai Chan Monastery © hobbyarm/Shutterstock