Taiwan’s abundant natural attractions used to fly under the radar, but more and more people are discovering the joys of the Ilha Formosa, or ‘beautiful island’. Its lofty mountains, marble-walled hot springs, lunar badlands and butterfly-thronged forests all appear to have come straight from a Chinese scroll painting. And then there’s the human drama, from the fashionable denizens of pulsating Taipei to the indigenous tribes who keep ancient traditions alive and the people performing poignant rituals at exquisite folk shrines up and down the land. Here are just a few of our favourite reasons to visit this lovely island.
Hike up Snow Mountain
Hiking up Snow Mountain is far too good an experience to be considered a consolation prize; in terms of scenic and ecological variety – not to mention pleasurable exertion – it’s every bit as good as its taller compatriot. By Taiwan’s standards it does snow fairly often here but that’s not how the mountain got its name. The Atayal named it Sekoan, meaning ‘broken cliffs’; it’s a toponym you’ll understand if you get close to the summit.
Climbing to and returning from the peak can be done in two days if you get an early start, but spending three days on the mountain is usual and advisable.
Taiwan’s number two peak in terms of height is a world-class three-day hike offering stunning vistas © Rich Matheson
Soak up the atmosphere of the Ten Drum Art Percussion Group
Lauded in Taiwan for the way in which it has lifted zhentou culture to a new level, the Grammy-nominated Ten Drum Art Percussion Group has won a reputation overseas for electrifying performances that feature flutes, gongs and martial-arts moves as well as sensational drumming. The parent organisation is now based at this former sugar refinery where troupe full timers give at least four performances every weekend. Drum groups from around Asia are invited to play here every summer. Also onsite is a workshop where an artisan makes buffalo-hide drums using the traditional method.
The Ten Drum Art Percussion Group has toured the world giving acclaimed performances © Rich Matheson
The top attraction in East Taiwan is Taroko Gorge, a stunning natural composition of immovable rock and rushing water. Ecotourists will find it easy to spend three days in the gorge hiking and trying to spot resident bird species such as the little forktail (Enicurus scouleri) and green-backed tit (Parus monticolus).
Come to east Taiwan to explore the stunning scenery and geological formations of Taroko Gorge © Taiwan Tourism
Explore the exquisite Baoan Temple
In artistic terms, this 200-year-old temple is undoubetdly one of Taiwan’s finest places of worship. The quality of its 1995–2002 restoration received international recognition in the form of an honourable mention in the 2003 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Conservation. Come at dusk if you can, and spend time appreciating the door gods, the fabulously ornate carved screens and the large murals on the outside of the central shrine painted by Pan Li-shui.
The fabulously ornate painted murals on the outside of the main shrine are a highlight of any visit to Baoan Temple © topimages, Shutterstock
Little Liuqiu is a jewel among the minor islands situated off the coast of the main island of Taiwan. A visit here means a tranquil stay surrounded by the sounds of nature: waves, wind and birdsong. It’s the perfect place for a get-away-from-it-all weekend, so why not come and soak up some of the genuinely relaxing vibes.
Some of the not-to-be-missed highlights of the island include taking ecotours of the rocky platforms exposed when the tide goes out, strolling to Meiren Cave, a perfect spot for hide-and-seek with the kids, and visiting Shanshan Fuan Temple.
This coral chunk is near enough to Kaohsiung to make an excellent day trip © Richie Chan, Shutterstock
Want to find out more about the highlights of this beautiful country? Check out our comprehensive guide: