Dali China

Exploring Dali: A Comprehensive Travel Guide to Must-Do Activities

Nestled in the breathtaking landscapes of southwestern China, Dali is a destination that beckons travelers with its serene beauty and rich cultural heritage. This ancient city, located in the Yunnan province, is renowned for its stunning views of the Cangshan Mountains and the enchanting Erhai Lake. Dali’s old town, with its traditional Bai architecture, narrow streets, and vibrant markets, offers a glimpse into the region’s rich history and cultural diversity.

But Dali is more than just a picturesque setting; it’s a place where you can immerse yourself in a myriad of experiences. From exploring ancient temples and pagodas to discovering local crafts and cuisines, Dali offers something for every traveler.

Come along on this journey as I uncover the numerous factors that make Dali a must-visit destination for your travel bucket list.

You might also be interested in:
11 Best Things to Do in Kunming 2023 (Plus a Food Guide!)

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🌟 Dali Travel Planning Guide

Considering a last-minute trip to Dali?

🇨🇳 Top Activities and Tours in Dali:

1. 1-Day Dali tour with the Daili old town, Xizhou Village and Three Pagodas
2. Dali Yunnan Local Market + Pottery Making Eco Tour
3. Private hiking and trekking tour to Cangshan Mountain from Dali
4. Eat Your Way Through Yunnan’s Tea & Horse Road, from Dali to Lijiang


🏨Top Hotels in Guangzhou:

Tinghua Island Garden Inn (⭐️ 4.9 luxury)
OASIS EAST VILLA (⭐️ 4.9 luxury)
Oasis The Secret Luxury Hotel (⭐️ 4.8 luxury)
Three Colour Chain Inn Dali Erhai (⭐️ 4.9 mid-range)
Dali Ancient Luchun Hotel (⭐️ 4.9 mid-range)

🌐Make sure to install ExpressVPN in advance for unrestricted internet access during your stay in China!

👑 Best things to do in Dali Old Town

Dali Old Town, situated between Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake, was built during the Ming Dynasty. Going uphill leads to Cangshan Mountain, while going downhill takes you to Erhai Lake. Despite its small size, this town harmoniously accommodates Buddhist temples, mosques, and Catholic churches, embracing different beliefs.

Like many ancient towns in China, Dali Old Town has been somewhat commercialized. However, fortunately, many indigenous people have not moved away, so you can still immerse yourself in the alleys and markets, experiencing a bit of local life.

Additionally, you can fully enjoy the benefits of commercialization, such as quiet and comfortable inns, street stalls, whether it’s daytime or nighttime, whether you prefer strong liquor or coffee, you can always find a cozy place.

1. Confucian Temple

The Bai people, who value culture, had a tradition in ancient times: when a new life was born, they would take the newborn to the Confucian Temple, scoop up some soil from the temple, and place it in the baby’s swaddle. They would then go to the Martial Temple, scoop up some soil, and also place it in the swaddle, praying for the child to excel in both literary and military skills in the future.

Today, the Confucian Temple seems to serve more as a landmark of the ancient town. It is the busiest area in the ancient town, where Foreigner Street, Renmin Road, and Fuxing Road intersect. During the Spring Festival, camellias in the courtyard bloom one after another, decorating the spring of the old town.

🎫Admission ticket: free
⏰Opening hours: 8:00 AM – 6:30 PM

2. Dali Old Town Catholic Church

The essence of Renmin Road is hidden in the branching alleys. In the alley at the intersection of Renmin Road and Xinmin Road, there is a Catholic church with a blend of Chinese and Western styles. Built in 1927 by French missionary Father Yè Měi Zhāng, was once the only Catholic church in Dali Old Town.

Unlike other churches with Western styles, this Catholic church fully adopts the local “Bai” architectural style. With carved beams and painted rafters, as well as traditional Chinese paintings, it is incredibly magnificent.

🎫Admission ticket: free
⏰Mass Time: Weekdays 07:00 (Monday to Saturday); Sunday 09:30.

3. Foreigner Street

Foreigner Street is not the formal name of a street, but a small section of the ancient city’s Huguo Road. Initially, this area was designated by the local government as a specific residence for foreign tourists, so foreign visitors gathered here throughout the year, leading to its later renaming as “Foreigner Street.” Nowadays, with gradual opening up, it’s difficult to find traces of foreigners on Foreigner Street, but it remains lively.

On the over 1000-meter-long Foreigner Street, there are many Western-style shops, as well as a place to enjoy Western cuisine. In the evening, the bars on the street start operating, making it particularly lively.

There are many small shops such as jewelry stores, antique shops, Tie-dyeing workshops, galleries, etc., selling Bai ethnic snacks and souvenirs. You can stroll and shop along the way, but prices are on the higher side.

4. Wuhua Tower

Wuhua Tower, once used for official gatherings and hosting honored guests, is now a prominent feature of Dali Old Town. Despite its tumultuous history of being built and destroyed three times, what stands today is a reconstruction from the 1990s, designed to resemble the Ming Dynasty Wuhua Tower.

While there may not be much to see from the ground, ascending the tower to overlook the ancient town offers a captivating view. Of particular note, the top floor houses an affordable café, allowing visitors to enjoy a relaxed afternoon at the highest point in the ancient city for a modest fee of CNY 10-20.

5. Grand Marshal’s Mansion (Dali Museum)

The Grand Marshal’s Mansion, originally the Dali Governor’s Mansion in the Ming and Qing dynasties, is now the Dali Museum.

From ancient times to the Ming and Qing dynasties, the history of Dali can be glimpsed here. The courtyard’s collection of steles from various dynasties is the museum’s most valuable treasure, with over 120 ancient steles from the Song Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, providing detailed descriptions that serve as the best historical guide to Dali.

The museum is open from 08:30 to 17:30 daily from April 1 to October 31, and from 09:00 to 17:00 on other dates, closed on Mondays.

6. Dali Art Factory

This area was once an old factory in the old town that has been transformed into an art district. It’s situated at the end of a deep alley, making it challenging for most tourists to find.

Despite the presence of old factory buildings and signs from the 1990s, the area is now filled with trendy tea houses, small theaters, vintage clothing stores, bookshops, galleries, coffee shops, photography studios and more.

It’s known as the “most artistic area in Dali,” yet it’s relatively small, serving as a hub for young artists and photographers in the area. Visiting here provides a unique opportunity to experience an industrial atmosphere that’s rare within the old town.

7. North Gate Market

North Gate Market is the largest market in the old town, with various stalls lining both sides of the small road. Local residents bring their own products and set up stalls randomly, simply laying out a piece of cloth or placing a basket on the ground to create a stall.

This market offers a range of products including locally pickled rose sugar, fresh local vegetables, and various mushrooms, all at reasonable prices. Local residents typically navigate the market with bamboo baskets, which are convenient for carrying their purchases.

More than 90% of travelers heading to Dali will definitely visit Erhai Lake. It complements Cangshan Mountain, forming the ultimate business card for the most splendid scenery in Dali.

Circling around Erhai Lake, you’ll encounter islands, sandbars, forests, villages, and more, gathering various must-visit destinations in Dali, including the ancient city, Xizhou village, Shuanglang Town, Little Putuo Island, and the urban area.

Erhai Lake is vast, and if you have ample time, circumnavigating it is the most suitable and representative way to explore. A tour around Erhai Lake typically starts from Dali Old Town and takes 1 to 2 days. Whether by car, self-driving, or biking, this itinerary can connect several must-visit destinations around the lake.

However, for a more immersive experience, it’s recommended to allocate two days. It’s suggested to travel clockwise from west to east, allowing you to catch the mesmerizing sunset over Erhai Lake in the east.

🌞For a one-day trip: Starting from Dali Old Town in the morning, you can follow the route of Xizhou Village – Haishe Ecological Park – Shuanglang Town – Wase Village – city area – Longkan Wharf, and return to Dali Old Town in the evening. Renting a car is recommended for a one-day tour to complete the circuit around Erhai Lake in one go, while biking would cover only half the distance. You can plan the itinerary according to your preferences.

8. Majiuyi Village

Majiuyi is a Bai village in the middle section of the western shore of Erhai Lake. Near the village, there are some oddly shaped trees growing by the lakeside, which gives an artistic feel. Since 2013, the village has rapidly built rows of hotels and inns along the lakeshore, gradually forming a linear hotel cluster.

Apart from the coastal houses developed into hotels, the rest of the village remains intact. There are wide asphalt roads, old ladies in Bai costumes, and white-walled and grey-tiled houses, and if you look closely, you’ll find almost every household grows flowers.

However, the most spectacular scenery in Majiuyi is the metasequoia forest that gradually turns red from November onwards. This metasequoia forest is quite extensive, and when the autumn wind blows, the leaves flutter in the breeze, as if the red clouds have spilled all over the ground.

9. Panxi Village

Panxi Village is a quiet little village by the side of Erhai Lake. Only some inns are built on the side facing Erhai Lake, while the rest of the village maintains the local way of life without being completely commercialized.

Most families in the village are well-off, with square courtyards, three-story small buildings, and yards full of fruits and vegetables, and poultry, living a carefree life.

However, the most famous attraction in Panxi Village is the “Erhai S-shaped Bend,” which is the widest part of Erhai Lake and provides a special viewpoint for admiring the lake, making it a wonderful place to view the lake.

Panxi Village is only a 20-minute drive from Dali Old Town. If you are not driving, there is no need to worry about the inconvenience of getting in and out of the village, as there are many private cars nearby that provide 24-hour shuttle services for tourists. Also, you can ask the hotel owner to call a familiar driver to pick you up.

10. Xizhou Village

If any town embodies the history of Dali, it is Xizhou Village. With over 80% of its residents being Bai people, Xizhou has preserved a large number of residential buildings dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties, making it the best-preserved cluster of Bai ethnic dwellings in Dali. Compared to Dali Old Town, Xizhou has a richer cultural atmosphere.

Bai architecture is characterized by its predominant white color, with white walls and grey tiles. The town boasts hundreds of Bai residential buildings from the Ming, Qing, Republic of China, and contemporary periods, such as the Yan Family Compound, Yang Family Compound, and Mansion of General Yin, symbolizing the Bai people’s pure and simple way of life.

Many murals can be found throughout the town, and elderly people often dress in Bai tie-dye jackets and wear Bai ethnic accessories, showcasing the ethnic charm.

In Xizhou Village, every street and alley has its own unique features, all clean and tidy, without an overwhelming number of tourists. There are many shops renting ethnic costumes and selling tie-dye fabrics, which are a must-try experience!

Xizhou’s Posu Baba (“喜洲破酥粑粑”) is a must-try local snack when visiting Dali! It’s a kind of crispy pancake made mainly from flour, similar to a Western pizza. It comes in sweet and savory flavors. The savory version is sprinkled with green onions, Sichuan peppercorns, and minced pork, while the sweet one is flavored with ham and rose sugar, making it deliciously crispy and fragrant.

P.S. Xizhou is a bit far from the shore of Erhai Lake. If you’re just wandering around the town, you’ll need about 1-2 hours to explore.

11. Haishe Ecological Park

Haishe Ecological Park is a lush, pristine wetland park. The park sits on a long, narrow sandbar, extending into the sea on three sides.

Entry to Haishe Ecological Park is free, and the island retains its original beauty with almost no facilities, except for a gate at the entrance prohibiting motor vehicles. You can see vast stretches of trees and tall grass, with the clear, blue waters of Erhai Lake in the distance.

The park is not very large, featuring many oddly shaped trees reflecting in the water, which is a major characteristic of Haishe Wetland Park. Aside from the submerged dead trees, abandoned boats, and a derelict coffee house, there is also a large tree at the end of the park known as the “couple tree,” which is a must-see sight.

📍Location: Haishe Ecological Park is 3 kilometers from Xizhou Village and can be reached by bike in about 15 minutes.

12. Zhoucheng Village

Zhoucheng Village is the largest Bai ethnic village in Dali, renowned for its tie-dye fabrics and embroidery, earning it the title “the hometown of Bai tie-dye.”

As you enter the village, you’ll pass by an ancient opera stage and two large green trees. Despite ongoing renovations in the village, it still retains a unique sense of simplicity and authenticity. The lively market, various local snacks, and locals dressed in ethnic attire carrying bamboo baskets.

One of the highlights is experiencing traditional tie-dye, as Zhoucheng is the home of Bai tie-dye art. Every household along the road is a tie-dye workshop, with blue and white patchwork hanging along the street. Even if you’re just wandering around aimlessly, you’ll likely be greeted by one or two Bai grandmothers inviting you to visit their dyeing workshops.

13. Shuanglang

Shuanglang, once a small fishing village and a crucial stop on the Southern Silk Road, boasts some of the best lakeside views in Dali. As a relatively new and popular destination, it attracts travelers from all over China.

The town of Shuanglang has developed a vibrant commercial atmosphere, with various bars, guesthouses, and souvenir shops. If you choose to stay in Shuanglang, opt for a room with a view of the lake. From the balcony, facing Erhai Lake, one can witness stunning sunrises and sunsets with just a window open.

There are two places in Shuanglang where you need to buy tickets: Nanzhao Island and Yuji Island. Nanzhao Island features a resort, a statue of Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy), and a small beach. While Yuji Island boasts two unique villas, the Sun Palace and the Moon Palace, both with avant-garde designs, making them upscale accommodations. Personally, if you’re looking to explore, Yuji Island is worth the visit.

If time allows, consider taking a boat tour around the islands. Operated by local villagers, these tours last about 25 minutes, offering panoramic views of each island along with the chance to dip your toes in Erhai Lake and enjoy the breeze—a truly relaxing experience.

14. Wase Village

Compared to the well-known Shuanglang, Wase Village is much quieter and more off the beaten path. However, to photographers, it is considered the best spot along the Dali Erhai Lake circuit for taking pictures.

Little Putuo Island, built during the Ming Dynasty, is a pavilion-style two-story building constructed in the middle of the sea. Visitors can take a boat to the island for sightseeing. Every winter, the island is filled with a large number of red-billed seagulls, attracting many bird watchers. If time is limited, it’s still worth driving by to admire from a distance.

At the Wase Pier, there is a platform that extends directly into the water, offering a perfect vantage point for admiring Cangshan Mountain and enjoying the sunset glow.

Luwo Mountain Relic Site is a hidden gem located 1 kilometer from Wase towards Shuanglang along the coastal road. It features a small cliff by the sea with extensive dry grasslands, solitary trees extending into the sea, and a beach below covered in rocks. However, when descending the mountain for photography, safety should be a top priority.

15. Cangshan Mountain

Cangshan Mountain is an integral part of tourism in Dali. In recent years, it seems that Erhai Lake tourism has become more popular, but I believe that the scenery of Cangshan Mountain is just as impressive as Erhai Lake. Dali has become even more spiritually rich because of these mountains and waters.

The most common way to visit Cangshan Mountain is to take the cable car directly up the mountain. The entire Cangshan Mountain spans over 40 kilometers from north to south, with complex routes within the mountain. Hiking requires a good level of physical fitness and familiarity with the routes.

Among them, the Xima Pool Cableway is the best way to appreciate Cangshan Mountain. Taking the Xima Pool Cableway to the top of Cangshan Mountain takes about 40 minutes, with a transfer station midway. Finally, you reach an altitude of about 3900 meters.

From the clear sky at the beginning to the misty fog on the mountaintop, you can experience the most mysterious and enticing scenery of Cangshan Mountain, including the glacier relics, azalea forests, and fir forests. This cableway is also the longest one on Cangshan Mountain.

Yudai Rd (Jade Belt Rd) is a stone path that crosses Cangshan Mountain, resembling a jade belt hanging between the six peaks and five streams of Cangshan Mountain. Yudai Rd is 16.2 kilometers long, and it takes about 6 hours to complete the entire route.

This is a route designed specifically for walkers, with a relatively gentle stone path that passes through many important attractions of Cangshan Mountain and offers views of Dali Valley. As Yudai Rd connects with three cable cars, some people choose to hike the Yudai Rd while using different cable cars for ascent and descent.

The best time to visit Cangshan Mountain is during the spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) seasons. Spring showcases the mountains draped in vibrant red azaleas, a breathtaking spectacle. In winter, visitors can witness the Cangshan Snow, one of the Four Wonders of Dali. Sometimes, the cableway may close due to weather conditions.

Personally, I find winter less beautiful than spring because Cangshan’s vegetation is lush and vibrant during that time. Without the adornment of flowers and trees, it would be somewhat regrettable.

🎫Xima Pool Cableway round-trip ticket:
Peak Season (Apr. – Oct.): CNY 335
Off-Peak Season (Nov. – Mar.): CNY 275

👉 Book Cangshan Mountain Hiking Tour on VIATOR

16. Three Pagodas

Chongsheng Temple, a royal temple from the time of the Nanzhao Kingdom, was the largest and grandest temple in Dali’s history. Although the temple has been abandoned and rebuilt, its most striking feature, the Three Pagodas, has stood tall here for over a thousand years.

The Three Pagodas consist of one large pagoda, known as the Qianxun Pagoda, and two smaller pagodas. The Qianxun Pagoda, at 69.13 meters tall, boasts a simple and majestic exterior with unique eaves, reflecting the Tang Dynasty architectural style.

The two smaller pagodas are adorned with Buddha statues, lotus flowers, and treasure vases, and their charming shapes contrast with the more solemn Qianxun Pagoda.

For a better view of the Three Pagodas, visitors can climb to the higher buildings in the Chongsheng Temple complex. The temple area is constructed along a central axis, with main buildings such as the Daxiong Hall and Yutong Guanyin Hall aligned on this axis. Walking along the central axis, visitors are greeted by the solemnity of the temple.

For a quieter and more serene place to admire the Three Pagodas, the Reflection Park is a good choice. Located outside Chongsheng Temple, this small park has fewer visitors and offers the best angles to capture the reflection of the pagodas in the water.

17. Wuwei Temple

Wuwei Temple, a royal temple built during the Nanzhao Kingdom, is located at the foot of Cangshan Mountain. The temple follows the tradition of Chan Buddhism and has been home to many eminent monks throughout history.

Wuwei Temple is ideal for those who enjoy a quiet atmosphere. While not grandiose, it holds the status of a royal sanctuary from the Nanzhao Kingdom era, with exceptionally fresh air in the mountains. The temple is often bustling with incense offerings, as it is a place of regular worship for the locals.

In front of the temple, there is a small open space where people often practice morning exercises. Visitors may also encounter scenes of Buddhist ceremonies or foreign monks practicing martial arts. It’s truly a place where you can feel the devoutness of those practicing here.

Note: Wuwei Temple is hidden deep in the mountains, and the road conditions are very poor, consisting of dirt roads. It can be quite tiring to walk, so be prepared if you choose to visit on foot.

Xizhou’s Posu Baba (喜洲破酥粑粑)

Xizhou’s Posu Baba is a famous snack from the historical town of Xizhou, made mainly from flour. It comes in two flavors, sweet and salty. During preparation, a two-tier charcoal fire is used, with intense heat on the top and gentle heat on the bottom. After brushing the prepared dough with lard, it is baked in a pan. During the baking process, the dough is brushed several times with oil to make it crispy and fragrant.

Xizhou’s Posu Baba has a crispy outer shell and a soft interior, earning it the nickname “Eastern Pizza” and making it very popular.

Shengpi (Raw Pork Skin)

During festivals or casual gatherings, the Bai people always showcase their signature dish and specialty, Shengpi, a cold salad made from raw pork.

Shengpi literally means “raw skin,” where an entire pig is roasted over straw fire to remove the hair, and while still fresh, the roasted pork is thinly sliced or shredded.

There are two main ways to enjoy Shengpi: one is to eat the raw skin and condiments separately, dipping the skin in the condiments before eating; the other is to mix the condiments with the raw skin directly, creating a cold salad. Each method has its own unique flavors and textures.

Nuodeng Ham

Nuodeng Ham is a high-quality Yunnan ham, known for its superior taste. It is made using high-quality well salt from Nuodeng, and each ham is cured for three years. The meat near the bone can be eaten raw and is delicious; other parts are excellent when fried, stewed, or steamed.

Nuodeng well salt does not contain iodine but is rich in potassium, which is beneficial for health. It has excellent penetration, making it an excellent choice for curing meat.

Rushan (乳扇)

Rushan is a fan-shaped curd made from milk through a special process, with high nutritional value. It can be eaten raw, but it is best enjoyed when grilled. Eating it raw may have a slightly milky taste, which some people may not like. Grilled Rushan, when paired with condensed milk, rose jam, peanut butter, or chili sauce, is very delicious.

Dali Hot and Sour Fish

Dali Hot and Sour Fish is a traditional dish originating from Shuanglang. People living by Erhai Lake catch fresh fish from the lake, which is then cooked with sour ingredients like green plum or papaya, along with dried chili powder and pickled chili for spiciness. Tofu, potatoes, and other ingredients are added to enhance the flavor, creating a delicious and popular dish that never fails to satisfy.

Cold Chicken Rice Noodles

Cold Chicken Rice Noodles are extremely popular in Dali due to their perfectly balanced sweet and sour flavor. Locals who enjoy spicy and sour flavors love it, and even those with different tastes can appreciate it.

The rice noodles are placed in a bowl and topped with various condiments and braised chicken, then drizzled with homemade sauce, chili oil, Sichuan peppercorn oil, walnut sauce, and more, making it incredibly appetizing!

Yongping Yellow Braised Chicken

Yongping Yellow Braised Chicken uses high-quality local chicken, and while the cooking method is simple, getting the timing right is crucial.

The yellow braised chicken has a great texture and is chewy. Experienced chefs can usually make a plate of fragrant yellow braised chicken in about ten minutes. The spiciness of the dish can vary between restaurants, so if you can’t handle too much spice, it’s best to let the chef know. Most restaurants in Dali make delicious yellow braised chicken.

Braised Pork with Carved Plum

Carved Plum is a traditional specialty of the Bai ethnic group in Dali, and is one of the most delicious snacks in Dali.

Green plums harvested in spring are carved with patterns by local girls, gently pressed to form chrysanthemum shapes, and then shaped into serrated plum cakes. These cakes are placed in a basin of water, sprinkled with a little salt to remove the sourness, and then placed in a sand jar. They are soaked in high-quality brown sugar and honey for several months until the plum cakes turn golden yellow, indicating they are ready to be eaten.

The pork used for Braised Pork with Carved Plum is typically multi-layered pork belly, with alternating layers of fat and lean meat. It is steamed together with the carved plums for about 4 hours, allowing the pork to absorb the fragrant essence of the plums. The result is a dish that is rich but not greasy, with a delicious taste. Most restaurants in Dali serve this dish, and it is known for its authentic flavor.

🛫 How Do I Travel to Dali

By Plane

Dali Airport (DLU) is the only airport in Dali City, with direct flights to over 20 domestic destinations including Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming, Xishuangbanna, Tianjin, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guiyang, and Guangzhou.

Located about 13 kilometers from downtown Dali, 17 kilometers from Dali Old Town, and 3 kilometers from the shore of Erhai Lake.

By Train

Dali has only one train station, Dali Railway Station, which offers high-speed trains to and from Kunming, Guangzhou, Guilin, Lijiang, and Shangri-La.

The station is located in downtown Dali, about a 10-minute drive from the city center and 40-50 minutes from the Dali Old Town.

🚖 How to Get Around Dali

Bus

There are currently 30 bus routes within Dali City, with routes like Bus No.4 and No.8 directly connecting to Dali Old Town, with a journey of about 30 minutes (Note: Bus No.4 takes a longer route, while No.8 is shorter, so Bus No.8 is preferred). Bus fares range from CNY 2 to 3.

Additionally, there are many bus routes in Dali that take you from the city center to accommodations and various attractions such as Xizhou Village, Cangshan Mountain, Zhoucheng, and Shuanglang.

Taxi

Taxis are readily available in Dali and can be found at taxi stands or hailed on the street. It’s advisable to have your destination written down in Chinese characters, as many taxi drivers may not speak English. During the daytime, the first 3 kilometers cost CNY 8, while at night, the fare is CNY 10.

Bicycle

Renting a bicycle is a popular option for getting around Dali. Many guesthouses and rental shops offer bicycles for rent, allowing you to explore the city at your own pace.

☀️ Best Time to Visit Dali

Dali has a distinct dry and wet season, with mild winters and not-too-hot summers, making it suitable for travel throughout the year. However, there are some differences in the scenery in different seasons. Generally, the peak season for travel to Dali is from May to October.

For a unique experience, it is recommended to visit during special festivals.

Every April (15th day of the 3rd lunar month) is the “Third Month Fair” in Dali, a traditional ethnic festival with a history of thousands of years. The festival lasts for 7 days, from the 15th to the 21st of the 3rd lunar month.

Every July or August (around the 24th day of the 6th lunar month for the Bai ethnic group and the 25th day of the 6th lunar month for the Yi ethnic group) is the Torch Festival celebrated by the Yi and Bai ethnic groups in Dali.

🏨 Where to Stay in Dali

If you’re looking to have a room with a view of the sea, you can opt for hotels or guesthouses within the Erhai Lake Scenic Area or Shuanglang Scenic Area, but typically, prices are higher in these areas. If you prefer being close to the old town, there are many hotels and guesthouses within Dali Old Town, although prices may also be on the higher side. Additionally, the numerous guesthouses at the foot of Cangshan Mountain are also a good option, offering a relatively higher value for money and just a few stops away from the old town.

OASIS EAST VILLA
⭐️ Rating: 4.9/5 | 🤑 Cost: from $173 USD | 📷 Photos: Trip

This is a hotel that offers standard hotel services along with the personalized touch of a guesthouse. The stay experience is fantastic – breakfast, afternoon tea, and the mini bar are all complimentary; breakfast and afternoon tea can be enjoyed in the room; custom makeup bags and Hermès toiletries are provided; there’s butler service (very attentive but not overly intrusive).

The villa has 6 unbeatable sea-view rooms, each with a spacious layout, a plush and comfortable large bed facing the beautiful Erhai Lake outside the window, perfect for a honeymoon trip. Each room also has a bathtub, perfect for a relaxing soak at night.

Located in a villa area, the hotel offers free shuttle services to and from the airport/high-speed railway station for room bookings. The hotel is a bit far from attractions like Dali Old Town and Shuanglang, but they can arrange taxi services. A taxi to Dali Old Town costs around CNY 70.

Tips:
Two rooms have a constant-temperature soaking pool, which is very popular and needs to be reserved at least a month in advance.
Sea-view rooms cannot accommodate children, so travelers with children are advised to choose other room types.

👉Read more and check availability on Trip

Three Colour Chain Inn Dali Erhai
⭐️ Rating: 4.9/5 | 🤑 Cost: from $67 USD | 📷 Photos: Trip

This hotel is located right across from Erhai Lake, and it only takes a 2-minute walk to reach Shuanglang and the food street. The hotel features a popular spot for taking photos.

The rooms are decorated in a luxurious European style, with large floor-to-ceiling windows, electric curtains, and amenities such as a swimming pool and bathtub.

Guests can swing on a swing while overlooking Erhai Lake and Cangshan Mountain, or enjoy the sunset on the rooftop terrace. Every part of the hotel, including the restaurant, rooftop, rooms, small garden, and public areas, offers views of the sea and mountains. Guests can also wear local costumes provided by the hotel for photos.

The hotel also offers complimentary afternoon tea desserts and breakfast.

👉Read more and check availability on Trip

Tinghua Island Garden Inn
⭐️ Rating: 4.9/5 | 🤑 Cost: from $160 USD | 📷 Photos: Trip

Tinghua Island Garden Inn offers 22 sea-view rooms, all arranged in a U-shaped structure around a corner of Erhai Lake. The decor is simple and elegant, with a touch of Mediterranean style. Each room provides a wide view of the lake, offering a beautiful sight of Cang Er’s scenery right outside the window!

What sets this inn apart is the unique design of each room. Some feature swings and private baths, others have rooftop open-air swimming pools, and some even offer panoramic bubble houses!

By the Erhai Lake, there are white tables and chairs for relaxation under the swing, along with white daisies, flowing curtains, Turkish sofas, a variety of pillows, and woolen blankets, creating picture-perfect travel scenes!

Guests can enjoy personalized butler service in each room. The hotel also helps guests plan their travel routes and provides photography services for those who love taking photos, offering them exquisite clothing and props for their pictures!

👉Read more and check availability on Trip

Oasis The Secret Luxury Hotel
⭐️ Rating: 4.8/5 | 🤑 Cost: from $124 USD | 📷 Photos: Trip

The Oasis The Secret Luxury Hotel is ideally situated, right in the heart of Dali Old Town, offering easy access to shopping and dining. Despite its central location, the hotel provides a peaceful retreat, ensuring privacy and security.

Housed in a renovated old mansion, the hotel boasts a charming courtyard with flowing water, exuding a quaint, ancient charm. The rooms are elegantly styled, perfect for travelers seeking a serene and intimate atmosphere.

The hotel’s services are attentive, including complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, minibar, and turndown service. Guests can enjoy breakfast and afternoon tea in their rooms, catering to those who prefer a private dining experience. The afternoon tea desserts are exquisite and not for sale. Additionally, the butler serves a bowl of sweet soup every evening, regardless of the guest’s return time.

The rooms are equipped with top-notch amenities, with the bedding receiving high praise. Apart from standard toiletries, guests are provided with face masks and steam eye masks.

However, some rooms may have dim lighting and slightly inadequate soundproofing.

👉Read more and check availability on Trip

Dali Ancient Luchun Hotel
⭐️ Rating: 4.9/5 | 🤑 Cost: from $83 USD | 📷 Photos: Trip

The hotel is located at the foot of Cangshan Mountain. From a distance, its flying eaves, white walls, and gray tiles, along with the simple shadow walls and wooden corridors, almost become a microcosm of the architectural features of the entire city of Dali.

The hotel has a dedicated fleet that provides free airport shuttle services. Guests can also be transported to Dali Old Town or other destinations as needed, with transportation arranged by the hotel.

The design style of the hotel rooms is modern and minimalist, with retro-style wooden furniture. The rooms are spacious, with large panoramic windows that allow you to enjoy the magnificent view of Cangshan Mountain and the misty Erhai Lake, as well as the lingering charm of the sunset.

The hotel offers a rich and varied breakfast with excellent flavors. The restaurant is stylish, and there is also a café where guests can sit and enjoy the view outside.

👉Read more and check availability on Trip

🌸Final Tips on Traveling to Dali

  • If you plan ahead and aren’t worried about language issues, traveling independently is totally fine!
  • External vehicles are not allowed in the Erhai Lake Ecological Corridor. You can only ride bicycles or take the sightseeing cars inside the corridor.
  • When renting an electric scooter, try to choose a high-power one. The cute small electric scooters are only good for their looks.
  • When hiring a car to travel around the lake, make sure to agree on the price, time, and route with the driver in advance to avoid being ripped off.
  • Don’t easily choose restaurants that pull customers on the roadside. There are many delicious foods you can choose online.
  • Do not buy fruits with strange colors on the roadside; they are dyed and not tasty or healthy.
  • Don’t easily be attracted to niche attractions; they may not be as good as they appear in photos.
  • There are many places in Dali suitable for taking photos; there is no need to visit artificially created attractions.
  • Choose the right time for seasonal attractions; for example, cherry blossoms and rapeseed flowers bloom in March.
  • Dali Ancient Town is suitable for night visits; it will be more atmospheric.
  • It is not advisable to buy silver jewelry or antiques in the ancient city; many are fake.
  • Dali’s specialties include fresh flower cakes and tea.
  • There are many attractions in Dali, suitable for slowing down and experiencing. Don’t try to visit all the attractions in one or two days.
  • The ultraviolet rays in Dali are strong throughout the year; be sure to use sunscreen. Dali is also very dry, so moisturize well.
  • Most ethnic clothing is of poor quality and similar. If you want to buy a skirt for photos, you might as well visit a clothing store in the ancient city.

China Travel Planning Guide&FAQ

🎫Do I need a visa for China?

Yes. Most visitors to China will need a visa to enter the country. The type of visa you need will depend on the purpose and duration of your trip, as well as your nationality. If you are a resident of the US, you must apply for a Chinese visa at the Consular Office in the country. On the other hand, inhabitants of countries like Japan, Canada, and the UK can request a visa through the Chinese Visa Application Service Center.

🤔Why is it necessary to install a VPN in China?

In China, the government has strict regulations on internet access, leading to the blocking of popular websites and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube. To access these sites, a VPN is suggested as a means of bypassing the restrictions. It is important to choose a reputable VPN provider and use caution while doing so. ExpressVPN has been historically deemed the most reliable VPN for this purpose, despite being heavily targeted by China’s censors. Nevertheless, it is still a widely preferred option owing to its ease of installation and user-friendliness.

📲Is it necessary to have a Chinese SIM card while in China?

Yes. It is crucial to acknowledge that accessing the internet in China may pose limitations due to certain websites being prohibited or filtered. To ensure uninterrupted connectivity while staying in China, purchasing a local SIM card is advisable. For optimum results, acquiring SIM cards from either China Unicom or China Mobile is recommended. While China Mobile has the most comprehensive coverage in China and is a market leader, China Unicom is more compatible with foreign phones, enabling 3G and 4G services. Or you can purchase a SIM card online.

🔮Should I buy China travel insurance?

Yes. Although China is generally a safe country for travel, it is still possible to encounter accidents or other unexpected occurrences. Therefore, obtaining travel insurance can provide a sense of security and financial protection. In my research, I have found that World Nomads is a reputable travel insurance provider that covers a wide range of activities and is recommended for the average traveler. Nevertheless, I advise you to compare insurance quotes from various providers before making a decision.

🚙Can you rent a car in China?

Unfeasible. Obtaining a Chinese driver’s license to rent a car and self-drive may seem like an option, but it is not a practical choice for most foreigners. Therefore, many prefer to opt for a driver or public transportation when navigating China, as it proves to be more convenient.

✈️What’s the best site to purchase flight tickets for China?

I suggest using Trip for affordable flights to China. As a China-based company, they often offer lower prices compared to foreign companies. Additionally, they offer English-speaking phone support in case of any issues.

🏡What is the best way to book hotels in China?

Not only does Trip offer a wider range of flight options, but it also provides a greater selection of hotels to choose from. Moreover, Agoda is a reliable resource for hotels throughout Asia.

🎒What do I pack for China?

Travel adapter and converter: China uses a different electrical system than many other countries, so it’s important to bring a travel adapter and converter if you plan to use electronic devices such as phones, cameras, and laptops.  
Sunscreen: The UV index in China can be high, particularly during the summer months, and prolonged exposure to the sun without protection can cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Deodorant: It should be noted that finding deodorant in China may not be a simple task.

📚Can a guidebook for traveling to China be useful?

Yes. If you’re planning to travel to China for the first time, a travel guidebook can be a valuable resource, and Lonely Planet is one of the most reputable guides available globally. Its comprehensive itineraries and recommendations take into account your personal preferences and can save you both time and money. The insider tips are also extremely helpful in navigating China’s unique cultural landscape like a local.

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