Deep gorges and high mountains giving a home to a huge percentage of the planet’s remaining wild pandas, and verdant areas that are open to trek because they were made with the hope of seeing these adorable animals. The main attraction of the Wolong Nature Reserve is based upon the fact that you will have a close-up encounter with pandas in their breeding center.
Wolong is situated to the northwest of Chengdu, and we highly recommend you to explore the different Buddhist temples before you head out from the city, then you can go on and meet the giant pandas.
This journey will take you four or five hours driving in order to arrive at the breathtaking Pit Iao Valley. This valley is so small and the mountains so high that it’s almost impossible to see the tops of the surrounding peaks from your car window. In contrast to the natural beauty you have seen so far, Wolong itself is strangely rough, a simple strip of shops and restaurants strung out along the whole valley. As it takes time to appreciate the pandas and explore their habitat, many visitors just pass through the day, but the Wolong Nature Reserve is home of other animals like the giant red panda or the elusive snow leopard, which are also worth seeing.
The panda-breeding center is about 5 km down the valley from the town. We recommend you to get there early in the morning because that’s the moment when the pandas are more active. Into the lower slopes of the mountains, you will find the Pit Iao River, which features huge verdant areas that stretch up and down to the valley flanks. The center is really successful in breeding pandas and while you may take your time only for visiting the place, there is a volunteering programme in which you can assist the staff for the amount of time you wish. Joining this volunteering programme allows you to see areas that are normally closed to visitors and also you will get to be close to the giant pandas.
Different short trails lead up the slopes to the higher pens, where you will be able to appreciate the pandas’ agility to climb up tall trees in order to rest. There’s no doubt that the main attraction is the young pandas who play for hours, chasing, tumbling, climbing and sometimes falling from the trees. Once you have finished having fun watching how pandas behave at the breeding center, there is a huge variety of options for exploring the remote parts of the Wolong Nature Reserve, where you will even get to see the habitat of the wild pandas.
A captivating one-day hike will take you to the Hero Valley, which joins the Pit Iao Valley on the road towards Dongsheng. After passing an old water-wheel, the trail begins to ascend into a sky-scraping narrow gorge. From now on you will be walking through rock tunnels that get you through some difficult parts of the terrain, and the gorge is crossed by walking on rope bridges. If you take the longer trail, you will notice that eventually, you’re going back down to the tumultuous river on several occasions.
This trail was created in order to allow researchers to have access to the area, in that way they could study the giant pandas closely. After two or three hours walking, you will reach the researchers’ camp at Wu Yi Peng. In there you will see some old buildings that are a little broken-down, which is why a new visitor center with accommodation is being built. Immense enclosures have been erected on this part of the mountain and thanks to them, you have the opportunity to see the semi-wild pandas that have been released.
The search through the established trails can take around 20 minutes to a few hours. In fact, the amount of time it takes depends on where the animals are. Being so close to a panda in his natural habitat inspires a deep hope that these animals will survive, and also it’s an experience that you will never forget.
Just for you to know
Permits are required in order to hike in the Hero Valley and they can be arranged through the panda breeding center at Wolong or via a number of agencies that offer panda-tracking tours. There are around two hotels in Wolong so we recommend you to book ahead. Also, it’s important for you to know that there are many trails in the Wolong Nature Reserve and guides may be willing to lead you on some of them, but don’t try to go independently through them because some trails are not waymarked and you can get lost.
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