TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Taroko Gorge (太魯閣) is one of Taiwan’s great natural wonders and the most visited tourist attractions in the country outside of Taipei. Sitting at the entrance of Taroko National Park, this 19 km long gorge has formed over millions of years and offers visitors a unique mix of stunning natural scenery, amazing panoramic views, and an insight into one of Taiwan’s most ambitious and deadly civil engineering projects; the Cross-Island Highway.
There is lots to see and do in Taroko Gorge, but visiting is not always a pleasant experience. The winding mountain roads get incredibly snarled up with the hundreds of tour buses and cars heading to the handful of sights that are listed in every tour guide. Don’t get me wrong, it is well worth visiting sites like the Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠), the Swallow Grotto (燕子口), and the Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖), but don’t expect a tranquil experience, but rather a battle for the best photo opportunity.
It is a shame because there is a lot more to Taroko than the handful of sightseeing spots that most tourists visit. And in this article, I will highlight five spots I have visited in and around Taroko Gorge which offer a little bit different experience from the typical Taroko Gorge tour.
- Buluowan (布洛灣)
Buluowan. (Image by Twitter user taiwancabtour)
Most visitors will spot the entrance to Buluowan from their coach windows thanks to the distinctive sign and totemic figures that mark it. But not that many actually make their way up to the village itself. They should. This flat plateau is a marked contrast to the steep cliffs of Taroko Gorge and offers a perfect spot for visitors to rest and recharge.
Buluowan was a tribal village originally occupied by the Atayal tribe and inhabited for many centuries until the Taroko Gorge Incident of 1914 and the Wu Sher Incident of 1930 led the Japanese to force them to resettle elsewhere. The site is an upper and lower terrace.
The Upper Terrace is the site of the Leader Village Taroko Hotel, which is also home to E-Das Restaurant, which offers fantastic and unique aboriginal-western fusion cooking. On the lower plateau, visitors will find various facilities including the Tourist Centre of Taroko National Park, the Atayal Cultural Centre(泰雅渡假村), which features exhibitions on the aboriginal tribes that used to live here and the Taroko Handicraft Museum, which offers an insight into the regions traditional arts and crafts.
But for the biggest highlight of Buluowan is the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the gorge for somewhere altogether more tranquil.
- Golden Canyon (黃金峽谷)
Golden Canyon. (Image by user u/_Lao_Why_ on Reddit)
To visit the Canyon(黃金峽谷), which is located close to Sanjhan (三棧) Village, you will need to go on a guided tour and a degree of physical fitness is also required. But it is well worth making the effort. From the Visitors Centre in the village, your guide will lead you down the route of Sanjhan South River for a couple of hours before you reach a gorge which is the mouth of the canyon. A little scrambling over rocks is required at this point before you enter the Canyon proper.
Inside, you will find series of incredibly beautiful waterfalls and to explore. You guide will show you the safe route to climb up through the gorge. It is not a tremendously difficult climb, but it is certainly not for any vertigo suffers. A little swimming is involved too although while you guide will provide life-jackets so most people should be OK.
The Golden Canyon offers a chance to see the unique natural beauty of this region up close and without the crowds of tourists. But there can be rock falls in the area too (it was closed for a spell in 2016 after big landslides in the area) as well as monkeys throwing rocks if you make too much noise in the wrong places. This isn’t one for the faint-hearted, but if you are up to the challenge, the rewards for getting there are plentiful.
- Hiking Trails
Hiking in Taroko. (Image by John Meckley on Youtube)
Many visitors to Taroko Gorge think of it as a day-trip from Hualien and this severely restricts the amount of time you have to explore there. But it is well worth staying in one of the hotels or campsites inside the gorge and taking the time to do some hiking. There are plenty of different trails within Taroko, some of which anyone can walk, while others are more challenging or require a permit.
Zhuilu Old Trail (錐麓古道)) is perhaps one of the best known. This one does require a permit (helmets are also recommended) as well as a head for heights as you will have to cross two suspension bridges, including the Chingxi Suspension Bridge (清溪吊橋) that most tourists stare at in awe from their coach window, as well as climb up some 500 m to walk the famous cliff path. But the rewards are some truly spectacular views as well as an insight into the history of the area as you can also see an abandoned aboriginal settlement along the way.
The Lushui Trail (綠水步道) is easier to walk and at 2 km in length, suitable for most visitors. It begins at the Lushui Geological Exhibition Centre and leads visitors through forests and along cliffs. Like the Zhuilu Old Trail, this one was also part of the Japanese era Old Cross-Hehuan Mountain Road, but this section is much lower down so involves less climbing. Hikers will see different plant and tree species as well as some remnants of the old Japanese road. Keen visitors can camp at the nearby Heliu campground (合流露營區) which faces the gorge and offers great views.
My other favourite is the Baiyang Trail (白楊步道), a stunning walk located just beyond Tianxiang (天祥) where many visitors will turn around to head back down the gorge. This walk takes in cliffs, tunnels, waterfalls, and a plentiful selection of flowers and trees. The highlights of the trail are undoubtedly the Baiyang Waterfall (白楊瀑布) which falls some 200m over two steps and the Water Curtain (水濂洞), a tunnel with spring water falling naturally from the roof. At the time of writing, this trail is closed owing to recent rock falls in the area, but it is expected to reopen soon.
- Wenshan Trail (and Hot Spring)
Wenshan. (Image from Trip Advisor)
The Wenshan Hot Spring (文山野溪溫泉) is currently not officially open to the public because of the risk of rockfall in the area, but the trail to it remains accessible for those of an adventurous disposition, although helmets are essential.
It winds downhill and over a suspension before reaching the hot spring. It is much trickier route than it looks and certainly not recommended for children or the elderly as it can get slippery and there are no fences along the way. But it does offer the opportunity to enjoy some spectacular scenery away from the crowds. The spring itself, should it officially reopen, is situated in a cave on the north bank of the Liwu River (立霧溪) and offers a natural hot spring experience which is increasingly hard to come by in Taiwan, where many hot springs have now been commercialised. Even when open, it is advisable to avoid this area after heavy rain.
- Datong and Dali Villages (大同大禮部落)
Datong. (Image by Jinny and Rachel at takeyoujor-taiwantour.blogspot.tw)
Datong and Dali Villages (大同大禮部落) are indigenous villages located within Taroko National Park which are far enough away from the tourist throngs to have retained much of their traditional identity. There are currently only a dozen or so families still living in the two villages, which are totally cut off the modern world. It is possible for tourists to enjoy a home-stay experience in these villages which allows them to trade stories and learn about the traditions and cultures of the locals.
Another real highlight of any stay is the chance to experience sunrise on Liwu Mountain (立霧山日出). A thirty-minute walk from the village (which requires a torch) will take you to a stunning spot 1,000 meters up, where you can enjoy the sun creeping up over the Pacific Ocean and spreading its rays over the spectacular Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖). It is one of the great views in Taiwan and something few visitors to Taroko will ever forget.