Multi-Day Tour | Escorted, Group

The Wild Side of China Photo Adventure (12 days)

Natural Habitat Adventures

Chengdu, China To Chengdu, China

Itinerary

DAY LOCATION(S) HOTEL MEALS DESCRIPTION
Day 1
Chengdu, China
Shangri-La Hotel Dinner

Chengdu, China

Arrive in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, famous for its silk brocade, piquant cuisine and giant pandas. The low-lying Sichuan Basin in southwestern China enjoys a subtropical climate, often cloaked in heavy mist, with lush vegetation. After checking into our sleek high-rise hotel in the center of lively Chengdu, we'll walk to a local restaurant along the banks of the Brocade River that winds through the heart of downtown, admiring the glittering skyline of Sichuan's provincial capital. Enjoy our first chance to savor a Sichuan-style meal at a welcome dinner this evening.

Day 2
Chengdu, China
Shangri-La Hotel Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

Dujiangyan Panda Valley / Dujiangyan Panda Base / Chengdu

Few experiences offer more delight for the wildlife photographer than today's close-up observations of China's celebrated giant pandas at two locations in Dujiangyan, outside Chengdu. This morning, visit Dujiangyan Panda Valley, a new facility that is both a panda research and breeding base and a center for conservation education. In natural environs, pandas are gradually habituated and returned to the wild. Reintroduction training experts from around the globe gather here for collaborative research. We may see pandas in transitional concrete-block “dens” that are learning to live on their own in the natural surroundings.

This afternoon, we visit Dujiangyan Panda Base. Opened in 2013 with the arrival of 10 pandas, this site focuses on rescue, disease control and prevention, and rehabilitation of injured and ill wild pandas. It has expanded its mission, and its numbers, to encompass care for senior and disabled pandas as well as healthy pandas that are part of the preventive research program. You may have a chance to have your photo taken with a young panda for an additional cash charge on site, though we cannot guarantee this on every visit. Return to Chengdu for a Sichuan hot pot dinner. A Chinese "face-changing" show featuring music and drama is an included option for evening entertainment.

Day 3
Xian, China
Westin Xi'an Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

Chengdu Panda Base / Xi'an

More delightful panda photos are in store at Chengdu's renowned Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, a world-class research facility, conservation center and international educational tourism destination. The base is home to approximately 100 pandas that live in a manmade environment built to reflect elements of their natural habitat. We'll learn about their diet and mating habits and how they have survived despite increasing threats to their existence. If we're lucky, there may be infants to see in the nursery. The park's lush environs also include habitat for red pandas, which we'll have a good chance to photograph.

This afternoon, ride the new high-speed train to the ancient imperial city of Xi’an. One of China's earliest regions to be settled, Xi'an is where its first emperor united the disparate warring tribes of the vast realm in the 3rd century B.C. to launch one of the world's most extraordinary civilizations. The capital of 13 dynasties, Xi'an's walled city and photogenic narrow streets hark back to a time when it was a center for cultural, religious and economic interactions between East and West at the eastern end of the Silk Road. This evening, feast on a classic Chinese dumpling banquet at the city’s most famous dumpling house—Xi'an is where these popular filled dough pillows were invented. From the square outside, capture photos of the illuminated Bell Tower, Drum Tower and Wild Goose Pagoda. After dinner, we’ll wander through the Muslim Quarter, settled by Persian and Arab traders who traveled the Silk Road 1,300 years ago.

Day 4
Xian, China
Golden Monkey Forest Hotel Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

Xi'an—Terracotta Warriors / Golden Monkey Nature Reserve

Depart early this morning for Xi'an's most famous sight, the Terracotta Warriors. Unearthed in 1974 in the suburbs outside the walled city, the stone army is one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries in history. Consisting of 8,000 life-size soldiers, 100 chariots and 600 horses, none of which is identical, the army was built to guard the remains and massive mausoleum complex of Qin Shihuang (259-210 B.C.), the pivotal leader who became the China's first emperor. After a noodle lunch, get photos of Xi'an's well-preserved city wall before taking the bullet train to the Golden Monkey Nature Reserve. From the station, we drive to our hotel located in a forested mountain area. If time permits, we may take a short nature walk with our Expedition Leader before dinner.
Day 5
Qingchuan, China
Wild Panda Reserve Hotel Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

Golden Monkey Nature Reserve / Qing Xi / Wild Panda Nature Reserve

Just beyond our secluded hotel is China’s best place to see and photograph golden snub-nosed monkeys. We'll walk uphill for about 30 minutes on a trail leading into the nature reserve where the monkeys reside, with rest stops en route. The reserve covers 140 square miles of wild terrain that contains exceptional biodiversity, including 52 nationally protected animal species. It is also the most northerly habitat for giant pandas in China, though we will not be in an area to look for them. We’ll expect to get excellent photos of endangered golden monkeys, however, which have been habituated to humans and are unfazed by our presence. The monkeys live in highly social bands, and their interactions delight us. Covered with a mantle of long, shaggy fur, they are hardy creatures, tolerating winter snow and colder temperatures than any other non-human primate.After lunch, we board the train to Qingchuan, where we meet our bus and drive to the Wild Panda Nature Reserve. Along the way, we stop in the Gansu Muslim village of Qing Xi, with time to wander and photograph scenes of relaxed street life amid the 300-year-old wooden buildings that date from the Qing dynasty. Just beyond the village lies a secret slice of Chinese wilderness, a chain of nature reserves little known to outsiders and visited by a mere handful of Westerners. As dusk falls, we drive up a narrow valley to enter one of the parks, looking for nocturnal wildlife en route to our hotel on the banks of a rushing river.
Day 6
Qingchuan, China
Wild Panda Reserve Hotel Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

Days 6 & 7: Exploring the Wild Panda Nature Reserve

Our photography focus for two exciting days is a 100,000-acre sanctuary encompassing a densely forested ecosystem that is among the most diverse and intact in Asia. This national reserve, rated Grade I by WWF as a global biodiversity hotspot, is home to healthy populations of some of the world's most endangered and vulnerable wildlife, including at least 60 giant pandas. The reserve also harbors more than 1,200 takin among its 430 different mammal species, as well as more than 2,400 different kinds of plants.Look for animals on morning and evening excursions, stopping to enjoy nature trails and photograph stunning vistas of waterfalls, boulder-strewn gorges and mist-shrouded limestone peaks. Though sightings are extremely rare, our hope is to spy the elusive giant panda: this is prime panda habitat, and our exclusive permits allow us into the core areas of the reserve where they freely live and breed, affording us the best possible opportunity to see signs of them in the wild. Even if we are unlikely to spot them in the heavy bamboo understory, just knowing we could is exhilarating.

Bring your longest lens for possible photos of Tibetan and rhesus macaques, golden and Sichuan takin, musk deer, muntjac, serow, wild boar, blue sheep, and, more rarely, endangered moon bears and red pandas. Bird photography opportunities are superb with more than 150 species in the reserve—the elegant golden pheasant is a prize. Night walks may reveal nocturnal creatures such as leopard cat, civet and hog-nosed badger. Many of the animals lack a fear of humans due to nearly a half-century of protection from hunting, and we can often obtain photographs from the many remote roads and trails we explore, though dense vegetation and weather may affect our sightings.

Day 7
Qingchuan, China
Wild Panda Reserve Hotel Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

See Day 6 for full intinerary.

Day 8
Longnan, China
Sheraton Jiuzhaigou Resort Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

Pingwu / Jiuzhai Valley

As we depart the reserve this morning, scour the hillsides for wildlife along the way. Driving on amid verdant scenery, pass timeless images of rural Chinese life en route to the town of Pingwu, where we have lunch and visit Bao'en Temple, one of China's best-preserved 15th-century Buddhist monasteries. Enshrined among the frescoes and carvings inside the temple is a thousand-armed wooden statue of a female Bodhisattva, an impressive piece of Ming dynasty Buddhist art.Continuing overland on a spectacular winding drive through rugged mountains, we crest 12,000-foot Rhododendron Pass. We'll stop for photos on the summit, then descend into the Jiuzhai Valley on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Tibetan culture is dominant here, evidenced by the colorful villages, prayer wheels and chortens that dot the landscape. We pause periodically to photograph the dramatic landscape and cultural sights as we traverse the ethnic Baima Tibetan region en route to Jiuzhaigou. Arriving at our hotel in the heart of the valley, we enjoy a buffet dinner of diverse specialties.
Day 9
Longnan, China
Sheraton Jiuzhaigou Resort Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

Nature Photography in Jiuzhaigou National Park

Spend a full day photographing the natural beauty of Jiuzhaigou National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and UN Biosphere Reserve. China's most renowned national park, Jiuzhaigou offers scenic boardwalk hikes through a high valley deep in the Minshan Mountains, against a backdrop of steep peaks, ravines, forest, meadows, marshes, wildflowers, and numerous lakes and waterfalls that provide endless photo opportunities. Supreme among these scenes is a series of terraced limestone pools filled with aquamarine water, which flows over ledges in crystalline cascades. The park's karst geology has created one of the best places on Earth to photograph waterfalls, and we’ll practice long exposure techniques to capture the motion of the water.

Our activities include forest walks among the lakes and streams, with an excursion to Long Lake at the head of the valley, surrounded by high mountains. Local legend holds that a Loch Ness-type monster inhabits its tranquil waters. Amid the exquisite scenery, more than 220 bird species live within the park, and lavish flora includes orchids and showy rhododendrons. Nine Tibetan villages are located within the park bounds, marked by fluttering prayer flags, and we’ll have a special lunch prepared by a local Tibetan family in their home. A Tibetan music and dance show is an option at our hotel this evening.

Day 10
Chengdu, China
Shangri-La Hotel Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

Tibetan Plateau / Chengdu

Another scenic drive is in store as we climb to the Tibetan Plateau, keeping an eye out for grazing yaks. We depart by jet from one of China's highest airports (above 11,000 feet!) for our flight back to Chengdu, arriving in time for a late lunch. Optional activities this afternoon, depending on flight times, may include a walk along pedestrian Jinli Street, a reconstruction of a 2,000-year-old Han dynasty marketplace where we have a chance to photograph the locals and shop for handicrafts. Or, you may wish to indulge in a traditional Asian massage at our hotel's elegant Chi Spa (additional cost).

Day 11
Chengdu, China
Shangri-La Hotel Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

Wolong Panda Center / Chengdu

Today we have one more chance to get close-up photos of China’s beloved giant pandas—plus an opportunity to volunteer in their care—on a visit to the Panda Center at Wolong. The research base has been completely rebuilt in a new location within China’s famous Wolong Nature Reserve following the devastating 2008 earthquake. Visitor education is a key component of Wolong’s outreach, and a special volunteer opportunity may be available (though it is not guaranteed and depends on the condition of the pandas at the time of our visit). Conditions permitting, we may have a chance to interact with pandas at close range as we help keepers care for them, including tasks like preparing their food and cleaning enclosures.

Back in Chengdu this afternoon, stroll through Bamboo Park, if time permits. Here in the city's green oasis, we’ll have wonderful opportunities to photograph the locals dancing, playing mahjongg and drinking tea. Harboring 140 species of bamboo, these gardens shelter a nesting rookery for night herons and egrets. This evening, our grand adventure comes to a close with a farewell dinner at one of China's most spectacularly located dining venues: a restaurant built on a footbridge spanning the Brocade River, with egrets flying beneath.

Day 12
Chengdu, China
None Breakfast

Chengdu / Depart

After a final sumptuous buffet breakfast at our luxury hotel, our photo safari concludes with a transfer to the airport to meet departing flights.

Tour Features

Experience(s)

  • Adventure
  • Sightseeing
  • Wildlife & Nature

Description

Photograph Giant Pandas, Golden Monkeys & Serene Landscapes in Remote Nature Reserves

Chinese nature has held an allure for artists for millennia, and not least for contemporary photographers. From its mystical landscapes to its enchanting pandas, China offers an amazing array of subjects. Great rivers and mountain ranges dissect its interior, and waterfalls pour from travertine terraces. Wild nature reserves are home to shaggy takin, Asiatic black bears, rare golden monkeys, exotic birds including the golden pheasant, and, of course, the giant panda. Leave the urban crush behind to photograph an angle on China rarely experienced by most travelers. Yet cultural highlights are captivating, too, and we'll visit ancient Xi'an where the Terracotta Warriors have guarded the tomb of China's first emperor for more than 2,200 years. Explore this diverse country's nature, wildlife and history as we capture rare images of wild and ancient China.

About Us

Natural Habitat Adventures has been a leader in responsible adventure travel & ecotourism since 1985. From our world-class polar bear tours in Churchill to our small-group Galapagos cruises, from Alaska grizzly bear adventures to African safaris, our professional guides reveal the world’s most extraordinary nature sites. As Conservation Travel Partner to World Wildlife Fund and the world's first 100% carbon neutral travel company, we offer eco-conscious expeditions from Antarctica to Zambia with a multitude of adventures in between!

Insider Tip

Contact your Virtuoso Travel Advisor for insider knowledge to help enhance your experience.

Terms & Conditions

Please visit our website: http://www.nathab.com/traveler-resources/terms-and-conditions/



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Reviews and Recommendations for Natural Habitat Adventures

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HIghly recommended

By: wh


Reviewed on: 12 Oct 2013

Fabulous, fabulous trip to the Galapagos. Every detail perfect. Guides exceptional. A trip we will never forget.
Travel Advisor:  Barbara Fallon

Belize

By: Bobbie


Reviewed on: 08 Mar 2014

We had a wonderful trip to Belize with NatHab.  We stayed in gorgeous places and had the best guide anyone could hope to have. We would definitely go with NatHab again.  Everyone in our group of 10 had been on many trips with them.  This was our first, but definitely not our last.
Travel Advisor:  Michelle Bemis

Well run operation!

By: CTAH


Reviewed on: 16 Nov 2015

We were very impressed at how NatHab ran the trip. All details were covered and everything went like clockwork. Our guide, Brad, was very knowledgeable and helpful to all. He made sure everyone was well taken care of and all needs were met. We would definitely recommend NatHab!
Travel Advisor:  Debbie Kellogg

Incredible Trip & Organization

By: Torie


Reviewed on: 20 Nov 2016

Both hotels we stayed in were great. I have some allergy restrictions and all of the food provided was outstanding and they took such great care of me. My expedition leader was fantastic. He was so passionate about his job, he was friendly and funny and always went out of his way to make sure everyone was happy and safe. The most important part, the trip itself, was everything I wanted it to be. Even though it was much warmer than it was suppose to be, between the 3 days on the rover, we saw 35 bears. We even saw 3 different kinds of fox and some snowy owls. It was quite the magical experience, especially for a Floridian. The lectures after each day were also very nice. The trip was organized and fun and I'd recommend it to everyone.
Travel Advisor:  Doria Gomez

Tanzania safari

By: Franz


Reviewed on: 18 Feb 2017

Actually we worked with East African Safari Ventures which was fantastic!
Travel Advisor:  Janie Bullard

Natural Habitat Adventure

By: Carla


Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2017

This is my 2nd or 3rd trip with NatHab and there will be many more. Professional staff, kind, knowledgeable and always there to please everyone on the trip. A great group.
Travel Advisor:  Barbi Lazarow

Greenland

By: Tammy


Reviewed on: 14 Sep 2017

I can't even begin to explain how amazing this trip was. Our guides were so knowledgeable, caring and fun. I loved the staff too! It's incredible that a basecamp was set up in such a remote area. Words can't describe the experience. All I can say is, "wow"!
Travel Advisor:  Honey Mistry

NatHab is top-notch at a reasonable price.

By: Al S


Reviewed on: 21 Sep 2017

Excellent. This was my eighth NatHab tour, and i have enjoyed them all. they carefully represent the physical level required, describe the food and accommodations accurately, all the while finding the best wildlife viewing opportunities.
Travel Advisor:  Anne Johnson

Greenland

By: greenland


Reviewed on: 21 Sep 2017

Excellent! I felt very taken care of.
Travel Advisor:  Terri Netzel

Polar Bears, Churchill Manitoba.

By: Vicki & Malcolm


Reviewed on: 13 Nov 2017

Amazing, above and beyond what we'd dreamed of or expected. Tour Guide Teresa Whipple, driver Lindsay and Rover driver Michael....excellent staff for NatHab. They all are people persons, and full of knowledge, caring and great fun.
Travel Advisor:  Coleen Noble

Exceptional tour

By: rb


Reviewed on: 28 Dec 2017

The tour leader was conscientious, thorough, pleasant to deal with, and provided a great tour experience.
Travel Advisor:  Paula Kay Eastham

Secluded Botswana

By: Cathey


Reviewed on: 28 May 2018

We were very pleased with Natural Habitat Adventures ( Nat Hab). We were met at the airport in Johannesburg. From that time on we were always met and ushered through each country's system. Our accommodations met or exceeded our expectations. The meals were very good. Our expedition leader Francis was very knowledgeable about both birds and animals. He could track wild life from the vehicle while driving along, and then go off road to find it. He was friendly and helpful. Our tour coordinator Olivia was wonderful. Her cheerfulness, helpfulness and kindness were greatly enjoyed. We saw lots of animals including everything we expected to see. It was great trip.
Travel Advisor:  Nancy Hough

Borneo

By: Borneo


Reviewed on: 11 Sep 2018

Natural Habitat does an amazing job taking clients into remote areas and educating them on conservation and nature. Their leaders are amazing.
Travel Advisor:  Terri Netzel

NatHab Could not have done a better job

By: Kdg


Reviewed on: 22 Sep 2018

Great guides, well paced itinerary, good value. Will do more with this company. Way exceeded my expectations.
Travel Advisor:  Meg Harrison