Pudacuo National Park (1,295 sq. km)
Established in 1997, Pudacuo National Park is the only park in China that meets the International Union for Conservation of Nature standards. Located outside Shangri-La, the park’s main attraction is Bita Lake, situated 3,500m above sea level. The park also features many minority villages and dense deciduous forest. If Yunnan as a province has the highest level of biodiversity in China, this feature is magnified in Pudacuo National Park. While relatively small in size, the Park contains 1/5 of the country’s plant species, 1/3 of its plant and mammal species and almost 100 endangered species, including the Black-necked Crane.
Shilin National Scenic Area (UNESCO World Heritage Site, 350 sq. km)
The Shilin National Scenic Area (also known as the Stone Forest), south of Kunming is believed to be over 270 million years old, and features stunning karst stone formations that emanate from the ground, resembling a forest.
While most buses and tour agencies will take travellers to the main gate, those wishing to avoid the crowds and overdevelopment should visit the Naigu Stone Forest located a short ride away, which was included as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for South China Karst, described as “unrivalled in terms of the diversity of its karst features and landscapes.”
Yuanyang is a unique town populated by Hani and Yi people, built high in the Ailao Mountains in southern Yunnan. This unassuming place possesses one of China’s most underappreciated wonders in the form of terraced fields carved into the mountainside. Few people in the world have shaped the earth so amazingly around them in the way the Hani people have along the steep facades of the Ailao Mountains. Their unique terrace system allows the plentiful rainfall of southern Yunnan to filter down the mountainside from terrace to terrace, amply filling each rice paddy to capacity. Every spring, the lush scenery expands into the distance and can be seen from many points.
Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area
Yunnan’s definite natural assets are best exemplified by the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area, UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers the northwestern region of the province surrounding the Mekong, Yangtze and Salween Rivers. It is considered by UNESCO as “maybe the most biologically diverse temperate region on earth,” boasting around 6,000 species of plants, 173 species of mammals, and 417 species of birds.
The Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area actually covers several individually important parks and sites, including Meili Xue Shan, Gong Shan Scenic Area, Gaoligongshan Scenic Area, Pudacuo National Park and Laojunshan Scenic Area.
Xishuangbanna in the south is also a hotbed of plant and animal life. Its jungle contains wild tigers, leopards, elephants and golden-haired monkeys.