Wulingyuan (武陵源) is the main natural attraction of China. Despite the difficult access, there are a lot of tourists here. And with the development of infrastructure their number will increase every year.
Location became worldwide famous after the release of the movie Avatar in 2009. Management of the park immediately renamed one of the mountains to Avatar Hallelujah Mountain (阿凡 达 - 哈利路亚 山, Āfándá hālìlùyà shān). Now the entire park is called Avatar mountains.
Artists and designers of the movie confirmed that these mountains and Mount Huangshan were a source of inspiration.
Visiting the park is connected with certain difficulties. We will try to give the most comprehensive description. It makes no sense to come in the morning and leave in the evening without an overnight stay. Most of the tourists spend the night in the town of Wulingyuan (武陵源) and climb to the park in the morning. The town is actively growing.
Standard visit to the park in 1-2 days
Logistics in the park is very complex. Even after an investigation on the Internet we were a bit lost in many moments. This is the best map of Wulingyuan, which you can take in the hotel or buy on the spot. You'll need it to show to the bus drivers.
Nevertheless, even with this map you will get lost there. Therefore, be sure to install maps.me app and download map of China. The next map is printed from this app. White, broad lines in the center are roads on the mountain (those that are on the left - not). All the other lines are paths and steps.
Locations on the top of the mountain: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 22 Others: 1, 2, 20, 21
Prices: (from March to November, less in other months)
Entrance to the park - 248 yuan, $38 (2016), the ticket is valid for three days.
Bailong Elevaitor (白龙 电梯) - 72 yuan, $11 (2016), 18 on the map
Tianzi Cable Car (天子 索道) - 67 yuan, $10 (2016), 3 on the map
Ten-mile Gallery Tourist Train - 38 yuan / 52 return, $6 (2016) 23 on the map
Yangjiajie Cable Car - 76 yuan, $11 (2016), 10 on the map
Yellow Stone Village Cable Car - 67 yuan, $10 (2016), 22 on the map
Opening hours: from 7 (6:30 from May to October) to 18.
The park has two main entrances: 1 - Wulingyuan, east, in the town with hotels, used by 55% of tourists 21 - Zhangjiajie (sēnlín gōngyuán), west, used by 40% of tourists The remaining 5% of the tourists come through three other little-known entrances. They can be seen on a map with bus routes.
There are buses between entrances (10 yuan, 30 minutes). Show the map to bus drivers and find the correct bus.
Entrance 1 may be considered as a main one. From entrance 2 (21) you can go only to cable car 22 or walk along the stream 20 to Bailong elevator (18). After checking tickets and fingerprints you need to get on the bus. At the entrance 21 the bus goes to the cable car 22. At the entrance 1 there are two different buses: one goes to Bailong elevator (18) and tram (23), another to Tianzi Cable Car (3). Show your map and ask the driver about the direction. You can leave the bus at stop 2 and wait for the next bus.
Don't go to elevator in the morning as there will be too many people, and take the bus to the cable car. Although near the cable car there will be many tourists too. We came to the entrance before opening and there were about 300-400 people! So either come earlier or after 11am.
The main bus route on the mountain is from 3 to 18. Along these route you have to change bus few times, for example between the points 14 and 16, and near point 4. Bus stops near the signes "P" although you can ask for another stop "Please, stop!".
Main interesting places are near the points 4, 10, 15, 16, go there if you come only for half a day. They are always overcrowded. The most visited route is 14-15-16, around the Avatar mountain.
There is a McDonalds in point 4 and BurgerKing at 14, prices are usual, 5-6 euros for a menu.
If you come for two days, then visit a path along the stream 20, the second cable car 22 and a tram 23 (optional).
This is the maximum normal route for visiting the park. The problem of such visit will be the crowds. In the morning you wait 2 hours in a queue at the entrance, in the evening again 2 hours at the exit. And absolutely all the best viewing points will be crowded. Crowds spoil the impression of a beautiful place.
A visit to the park with an overnight stay on the mountain
If you are a photographer or do not want to stand in the queues, then you have to spend the night on the mountain, as the sunrises and sunsets can not be photographed during normal visit. Actually, we did so, although it was a little bit adventurous.
The best places to meet sunrise at Avatar mountains are: 6 (Cock Pecking), 7 (Laowuchang, 老屋 场) and 11 (One step to heaven, 一步登天), as well as in point 3, at the top station of the cable car, although here without beautiful mountains. The most difficult of these points is 7, this is a very beautiful place and the least visited. If you do not have the goal to photograph the sun itself, it is possible to meet a dawn an the points 4, 15, 16, 17.
The best places to meet sunset at Avatar mountains are: 7, 11 and point 10 (Tianbo Fu).
So, before coming to the park, we checked the weather and found that during the first two days there will be a great sunny weather which is very rare in April. There are no hotels at the top (2016) so we booked a Yuanjiajie Zhongtian International Youth Hostel (袁家界 中天 国际 青年旅舍). But later we found that its location (12) is absolutely wrong to meet the sunrise.
After arriving to Wulingyuan at 15:00, we settled in the hotel Qing Man Hotel (booking.com). This small homely hotel, opened in May 2015, is a 10-minute walk from the park entrance. Most importantly - the owners are English speakers and it's very important. Left big things in the hotel, we took backpacks, phone chargers, camera, water, food, and went to the park. In the evening there were no people at the entrance, so we quickly passed control, took a bus and went to the cable car Tianzi. But, as it turned out, we were wrong and the bus brought us to Bailong elevator.
There were no queue there as well, so we decided to go up. 330-meter lift in 2015 was included in the Guinness Book of Records as the highest open air lift.
At the top we reached the bus and got to the point 16, then by foot reached the point 14. Time is running out, so we decided to take a taxi. "Taxi" it's a car of the local resident. We agreed that for 60 yuan ($9) he will take us to a point 8, where located the only village on the mountain and find us a guesthouse.
Housing was quickly found for $18. Note that it can be very "basic" - without hot water, with a hole in the floor in the toilet and without heating.
At the morning we got up at 5 am and went to the observation deck using our small flashlight. 30-minute walk from the village is the best place for meeting dawn - Grand Sightseen Platform, here you need to descend the stairs. Don't go to the point 5, go to the point 6 (Cock Pecking). There were no other visitors this day although the weather was perfect.
Went down by the cable car. Despite a very busy day, we did not see some parts, such as 7, 10 and 22. However, as the weather was perfect, the park left only positive impressions. Most importantly, due to the well-planned route, we skipped the queues.
Getting there: By train from Shanghai to the nearest large city Zhangjiajie (张家界 市) in 20 hours. There is an airport connected to all major cities in China, which is much more convenient. From the airport the park can only be reached by taxi, although the taxi drivers at the airport refuse to use the meter and ask for $60 and more. We traveled by taxi from the city center and paid $18. But to get to the center (5 km), taxi drivers want $20, while the real price is $5. If your hotel speak English, you can ask them to call you a taxi to the airport. Normal price from Zhangjiajie to Wulingyuan is $23. Also from the airport you can get to the bus station Zhangjiajie (张家界 市中心 汽车站), for example by bus 4 until stop Guanliping Zhuanpan (官 黎 坪 转盘), then on foot. There are buses to the two main entrances to the park (12-20 yuan). Most tourists go to Wulingyuan town (武陵源).