Floating in the Pacific Ocean, between the East and South China Seas, the Republic of China, or Taiwan as it is commonly known, is a jewel in the crown of magnificent Asian islands. This 36,000 square-kilometre island is home to 23 million inhabitants, making it one of the most densely populated countries on the planet.
Though not traditionally as popular among backpackers as famous East Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam and the nearby Philippines, Taiwan has heaps to offer intrepid travellers. The most popular attraction is the modern capital Taipei, where you could spend a whole holiday. However, the many other buzzing cities and ancient temples of Taiwan are also bound to impress. And let’s not forget the amazing scenery and stunning national parks the country boasts. If you want to experience Taiwan in its full splendour, you’re best to do a tour around the island. Below, we’ll advise you which route is the best to take you on your journey.
If you travel to Taiwan by plane, you will likely touch down in Taipei, the capital city. Located in the north of the island, Taipei is an ideal starting point for a trip through the country. Set out southbound on the open road!
You’ll doubtless want to spend at least a few days soaking up the atmosphere in Taipei, though. Fusing old and new, Taipei is the cultural hub of the island. The city boasts awesome architecture; Taipei is characterised by immense skyscrapers. In fact, it was home to the tallest building in the world before the construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The towering Taipei 101 – named after its 101 floors – truly does scrape the clouds at a staggering height of 508 metres. In contrast to these modern wonders, ancient Chinese temples are interwoven in the architecture of the city. We recommend a visit to Hsing Tian Kong, or take a trip to the National Palace Museum to immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of the country.
Of course, the lively restaurants, bars, and shops are perfect for getting to know the city. But did you know Taipei is also famous for its night markets? Raohe Street, Shi Lin, and Shida are brimming with traditional delicacies and Chinese street food.
Just south of Taipei, you will find the small town of Wulai and its abundance of hot springs. After a busy trip to bustling Taipei, slipping into the welcoming warm water is good for the body and soul. The mountainous backdrop only adds to the experience. All you have to is sit back and enjoy the gorgeous view.
Wulai is also a perfect spot for outdoor activities. Plan a hiking trip through the enchanting forests or pitch up in the wilderness. There are plenty of public campsites, plus wild camping is allowed on some trails. Remember it is always better to check first!
Wuali is also home to Taiwanese natives, the Atayal. This indigenous group gave the island its name, as they call it Tayowan. Portuguese seafarers had named the principal island Formosa, coming from beautiful island when they first came here.Today, many names are in use, with Formosa (福爾摩沙) still typically referring to the main island. Did you know the Taiwanese territory consists of over 150 islands?
Taoko National Park
Our next stop is just one of the many awesome national parks in Taiwan. Named after the Taroko Gorge that runs through it, Taroko National Park is not to be missed. The gorge was formed over hundreds of years by constant pressure from the river Liwu which runs through the area. This true natural wonder will surely be a highlight when exploring the park. Known for its steep, mountainous terrain, Taoko is sure to offer exciting hiking routes. Seemingly at every turn, you can come face-to-face with mesmerising waterfalls or peer into deep valleys. Our highlights are the Eternal Spring Shrine and the Cave of Water Curtain. If you are visiting Taiwan in October, you can’t miss the annual Taroko Music Festival. This joyous celebration brings together a wonderful harmony of local and international artists, marrying the magics of music and nature.
Sun Moon Lake
Next up is Sun Moon Lake. This is the largest body of water on the island and attracts locals and tourists alike. The mild climate and variety of restaurants and hotels around the lake also make it a popular destination.
Take a stroll through the rolling hills that surround Sun Moon or explore the area with a mountain bike. Alternatively, take a boat trip across the calm, inviting water of the lake itself. A ferry service can take you to the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway. This scenic cable car service is not to be missed! Get comfy in the red, yellow and blue cable cars which take inspiration from the Aboriginal culture with red for happiness, yellow for a healthy lifestyle, and blue for nature and ecology. From there, just sit back and drink in the otherworldly views of the sapphire lake and emerald hills.
While exploring the lake, youll no doubt come across countless temples. Taiwan is considered to be the most religious region in the Chinese-speaking world and freedom of relgioin is enshrined in the country’s constitution. Most people practice Buddhism or Taoism. Dedicated to a Taoist god, Guan Yu, the Wen Wu Temple stands on the north bank of Sun Moon Lake. Though construction finished in 1938, the temple suffered damage in 1999 when an earthquake struck the area. Since then, this beautiful building has been fully restored. Over on the south bank you will find the impressive Buddhist Xuanzang Temple.
The most famous landmark around the lake is the Ci En Pagoda. Constructed in traditional Chinese architectural style, the pagoda stands proudly above the south peak. In fact, it towers high over the lake, with its highest point at exactly 1,000 metres above sea-level. From here, you can enjoy a phenomenal view of the whole lake and surrounding mountains.
Lukang on the west coast of the island is one of the oldest cities in Taiwan. With stunning architecture and delicious local cuisine, Lukang is bound to impress. In its heyday, the township was an important commercial harbour. However, you’ll still find numerous historical buildings here. With more than 200 temples to explore, make sure to check out the Bangka Lungshan and the Grand Matsu temples.
Next up is one of the most stunning places in all of Taiwan. The marvellous mountain landscape of Alishan boasts an abundance of high peaks, reaching heights of over 2,000 metres. The area is also home to a multitude of gorgeous valleys, epic woods, and dazzling waterfalls.
A large area of the protected reserve is accessible by the Alishan Forest Railway. A trip through the mountains on this winding track running to Fenqihu may just be the highlight of your Taiwan holiday. When you arrive in Fenqihu, you can explore the ruins of the ancient Shinto temple.
We are slowly reaching the end of our Taiwan trip. The second-to-last stop is Tainan, the former capital of imperial Taiwan. This city is especially worth a visit thanks to its fascinating attractions and rich culture.
Numerous ancient temples await you here. The 17th-century Fort Zeelandia, built by the Dutch, is a spectacular site that you just have to see in real life. There are also several museums simply waiting to be explored.
The surrounding area is also well worth a visit. For example, a day trip to the Nanhua Reservoir or exploring the Taijian National Park will wow you.
Kenting National Park
The last destination on our island tour is the sublime Kenting National Park. Located on the Hengchun peninsula in the south of the island, this park is one of the most popular areas in Taiwan. The stunning beaches and tropical climate all contribute to the park’s great reputation. Thousands of music lovers flock to Kenting every year for its inspiring annual music festival, “Spring Scream”. Brimming with fantastic flora and fauna, as well as Insta-worthy spots like the Eluanbi Lighthouse, Kenting will leave you awe-struck no matter what time of year you come.
Taiwan is a spectacular country that offers a unique and varied backpacking trip. We recommend a trip around the whole island, but you can also take your pick from the enticing array of sights and cities. For bustling urban scenes, visist Taipei, Tainan and Lukang. Escape to the country and more chill ways of life in Wulai or Alishan, or take a trip into stunning nature at Taroko, Kenting or Sun Moon Lake. Travelling Taiwan is a trip you’ll never forget!