Taroko National Park is one of several most famous natural sights in Taiwan. Bordered by Pacific ocean from one side and 3500 metres high summits from the other, it provides unforgettable variety of different scenic landscapes: coastal cliffs, large canyons, high elevated forests, rivers, waterfalls, old manmade pathways on the edge of the cliffs and some abandoned monasteries. This all made Taroko National park one of the main bucket list of places to visit while in Taiwan. In this article i will share my experience and tips how to visit it and get the best!
Taroko National park is generally very accessible as it became a park only in late 80’s and the main reason to turn it into National park was to protect it. But still there are lots of roads there, lots of tunnels in the hills and generally the roads are in good conditions. The only thing that is worth to mention is that there are no lights on the roads after dark, so it is not recommended to drive there at night as even local taxis don’t like it very much.
Taroko is really a big place and it’s important to plan your journey here in advance especially if you want to do some hiking, which requires some advanced permissions. Don’t expect to see a lot of it simply walking, you definitely need a transport to see this place as it’s really huge.
How to explore Taroko National Park
Taroko National park is pretty touristy place with lots of visitors. It feels a bit of tourist trap, which is hard to avoid, so it’s hardly recommended to plan it in advance.
Here are some of the main options with cons and pros:
1. Hop-on-hop-off-busses are probably the cheapest way to explore the park. They usually start from Hualien train station, got stops along main points and cost around 10$ per person. The main problem is that busses are very limited and there are maybe just 7-10 busses per day with the gaps around hour between them. If they are gone, then you will wait till the next one. If you miss the last one – you are in trouble. Usually you don’t need an hour at each spot and mostly everyone who use it simply go to the next stop during this hour, but still it’s a bit risky and limited. Also i have heard that at the weekends this busses are very crowded and there is chance that there will be no space.
2. Group bus tours are the worst choice: usually they cost around 50-60$, most of them show you only main spots and bring you to some pushy stores and expensive restaurants along the way. Also there are no western tourists there, so I hardly recommend to avoid them as they are made to take your money, you wouldn’t see a lot of nature.
3. Small group tours or private tours are probably the most interesting options, though the most expensive. There are several companies, who know that there are people, who want to see the park itself and they bring you to 7-8 good places with the promise not to bring you to the shops. Also they choose the places to visit as it’a really confusing where to go as online pictures for most of them looks a bit similar. It’s probably the best and safest option and i choose it at the end. The main downside is that it’s about 100$ per person. I couldn’t recommend the company i used as i wasn’t very happy with what they. There were some mistakes along the way (like they replied to my enquiry before the journey with huge delay, so i missed getting the pass to one of the hiking trail and during the trip they have made obligatory lunch stop at the tourist office with high prices), but the main goal was completed and i saw a lot during the day.
4. Hiring a car is a good option if you feel yourself comfortable with driving and also have enough time to plan your route by yourself.
5. Hiking is one of the main things to do in Taroko National Park. You can easily do several small hikes during the day as most of them are not hard and only few kilometres long, so it’s more like a very nice walk. There are some routes which requires a bit more: Zhuilu Old Trail is the most famous hike in Taroko and you need to get a special permission to go there. This trail goes pretty high on the manmade road on the edge of the cliff without no rails, so it could feel little scary if you are afraid of heights.
How to get to Taroko National park
Hualien is usually the main base city to explore Taroko. It is one of the largest city in this part of Taiwan and it got a train station and an airport inside the city. You can get here from Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung and Hong Kong. Taxi to the city centre is around 200TWD.
Getting to Taroko National park from Taipei is relatively easy as there are regular direct trains including speed trains. It takes from 1,5 (for speed trains) to 3-4 hours (for regular trains) to get here from Taipei main station an usually it’s the main way to do it. The main trouble is that this route is very popular and tickets are sold out very quickly. You can buy then online 14 days in advance and usually speed train tickets are sold out during first hours. Buying these tickets in advance is little tricky as web site is not very user-friendly, but after some confusions it is fine.
If you couldn’t buy ticket, there is another option: bus to Luodong + Train to Taroko (usually Hualien). There are combo tickets on sale and it is possible to buy them at Taipei bus station.
How long to plan for Taroko National park
It is possible to spend several full days in Taroko exploring the nature and doing some hikes, but generally to have a good time you need at least 1 full day to see the main sights. I would add 1 more day if you want also to do the hike.
It is doable to visit it as a day trip with from Taipei, but it will be very rush visit and mostly will be simply checking few most famous views surrounded by groups of chineese tourists in busses. It definitely worth planning to stay here 1 full day (2 nights).
Where to stay to explore Taroko National park
WOW Hostel Hualien is one of the best choices for everyone as it got an option to stay for everyone.
Hualien is the main base to explore Taroko. This city is of largest in the area and it’s easy accessible. Taroko national park is located around 30-40 minutes drive from the city centre. WOW Hostel is the type of hostel called Poshtel, which is upscale modern version of hostel and one of the biggest trend in travel as more and more people tend to become budget-wise during travel, but don’t want to sleep in dorms and still have the comfortables like private nice-looking space or room, good amenities and nice design. That’s all is about WOW Hostel in Hualien.
There are several floors of separate rooms with good design and private bathroom, which feels more like boutique hotel and absolutely got no feeling of hostel. Also there are some shared dorm rooms and very good common area with kitchen, good tables and nice spaces to stay and chill. Apart from room and common area, they have a kitchen, provide self service breakfast with some sandwiches and eggs and also have a laundry machines for extra charge (around 4-5$ per wash incl. powder).
Right next to the WOW Hostel there are some places to have a coffee (i will choose 7-11 as their coffee is reliable and costs a bit more than 1$) and have a dinner literally 20 metres from the hotel door. Train station is 5 minutes walk and airport in Hualien is 10-15 minutes drive (around 200 TWD for a taxi, unfortunately no other options).
Taroko National Park is definitely worth to include in your itinerary while your journey in Taiwan. Nature will surprise you with variety and still there is no need to go to the wilderness as the place is very accessible. Just make sure to plan in advance to see this beautiful place and get the best of it!