This post was last updated on April 24th, 2020 at 07:46 am
Hainan is the best-known island in China with the most beautiful beaches. It is also the largest tropical island. Where you don’t immediately think of tropical islands in China, Hainan has all the characteristics with its wonderful climate, coconut palm trees, golden sandy beaches, and clear blue water. It is not a typical get-away-from-it-all island, but an island with luxury resorts and flashy boulevards. Still, a lot of work is being done on the appearance given the emerging surf scene and bamboo huts.
The island is located in the South China Sea near Vietnam. It has not always been such a commercial and busy island. Tucked away behind the mountains of the mainland, this island has long been hidden from tourism. Han Chinese already built villages here around 200 AD. However, the Li population was only discovered in the 1930s.
Hainan is also called “Tail of the Dragon“. Money is not the problem here, like many popular areas in China. The developments here go with the speed of light. The island has a “speed rail” that you can use to move around although we think cycling is still the best option.
TIP – In Hainan, you can do many cycling trips; a nice way to explore parts of the island.
If you are tired of the luxury beaches and boulevards you can retreat to the cooler mountain area in the interior region. The spectacular views here together with the Li and Miao population (the first inhabitants of Hainan) make the island diverse and unique.
The main reason people come here is to escape the busy life on the mainland. However, do not expect attractive beach locations. The capital of Hainan, Haikou, is not particularly atmospheric and the Han villages along the coast do their best to look characteristic.
However, if you spend more time here and don’t just come for the beautiful beaches, you’ll find interesting things. In the highlands around the city of Tongshi or Wuzhi Shan Shi, you will find the original Li population and culture. The southwest also houses beautiful nature reserves, which, unfortunately, are threatened by the rapid developments on the island.
The Most Beautiful Beaches in Hainan
The most important beach is Sanya, here you will find not only the most resorts but also an extensive boulevard and, of course, many tourists and locals. The area around Sanya is surrounded by beautiful white beaches and palm trees. However, if you want to visit the most beautiful beach, you better head to Yalong Bay.
This is located in the east of the island. With 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) of white sand, it is by far the most beautiful beach in the area. If you prefer a quiet beach and want to recover from the bustle around Sanya, you better head to the Luhuitou Peninsula.
TIP – Visit the Sanya Market, a nice market with a variety of (local) products.
15 Best Things to Do in Hainan
Hainan is a popular island. That is also noticeable on the island today. As a result of the commercialization and exploitation of the island, nature is no longer the way it was. Large-scale forest clearing and destruction of flora and fauna were “necessary” to make the island what it is today. They did all of this to make the island attractive for both the Chinese and international tourists.
1. Explore the City of Sanya
The city of Sanya is famous for its tropical climate and relaxed atmosphere. The city, which is located on the southern tip of the island, attracts many visitors. Visit the large Buddhist Guanyin Statue, relax in the beautiful Yalong Bay or take a trip to Wuzhizhou Island. You will also find shops and cafes around Yalongwan Central Square. Cultural sights include the Nanshan Temple and the Mazu Temple of Sanya.
From Sanya, you can easily go to Monkey Island, Nanshan Temple, and Betel-Nat Ethno Park. Here you can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities:
In the center of the capital, there is also a lot of entertainment, numerous old buildings, and historical monuments. Many of them are dedicated to the famous Ming Dynasty. Here you can find an amazing observation deck, located on the edge of the crater of the dormant volcano Ma’ashan.
2. Visit Luhuitou
Luhuitou (鹿回头) is a hilly peninsula four kilometers south of the city of Sanya. On the 280-meter high hill of Luhuitou, you can find a viewpoint with a statue of a deer, goddess, and a hunter. Here you have a gorgeous view of the city.
Luhuitou literally means “Deer that turns his head”. A local legend tells how this name came about: there was once a young man from the Li minority chasing a deer with his bow and arrow. He followed the animal all the way from Wuzhishan to the southernmost bay. When the deer saw it was trapped, it looked back and turned into a beautiful Li woman who smiled at the young man. The two then married and lived happily ever after.
Luhuitou Beach is rocky and less suitable for sunbathing and/or swimming than Dadonghai Beach, but it is a very pleasant walking area. A walk from the city to Luhuitou takes about an hour.
Luhuitou is also known as the Li Culture Tourist Zone (鹿回头 黎族 文化 旅游 区), where especially Han Chinese tourists can get acquainted with a romanticized image of the Li people.
3. Stroll Through Phoenix Park
On a hill on the east side of Sanya lies the Phoenix Park (三亚 凤凰 岭 海誓山盟 景区). There is a cable car and from the top, you have a nice view of the city and the bay.
4. Dadonghai Beach
Southeast of Sanya lies a beach called Dadonghai (大 东海) with a view over the Great Eastern Sea. This is located 2-3 km from Sanya and this beautiful sandy beach is very clean. There are treacherous undercurrents here for which you should be very wary. According to the instructions at the beach, you should only swim here if you have done exercises in advance to prevent cramps.
Near Dadonghai there are several hotels and bars (the Dolphin Sports Bar and Grill is popular with foreigners) and there is a large shopping center, the Summer Mall.
5. Visit Yalong Bay
Yalong Bay (亚龙湾) is located about 20 km east of Sanya. It has a beautiful beach which is 50-100 meters wide and 7 km long. The water is clear, usually calm, and has a pleasant temperature. Yalong Bay has become the most popular recreation center, with a marina, swimming pool, horse racing track, and golf course.
The Underwater World (亚龙湾 海底 世界) is a place to discover marine life. Enjoy the coral reefs, take a trip in a glass-bottom boat, or take a submarine ride or dive and enjoy the magical scenery.
The Yalong Bay Rose Valley (亚龙湾 国际 玫瑰 谷) is the place to see many varieties of roses, and other flowers.
At Yalong Bay, you can also find the Yalong Bay Love Cube Coastal Paradise (亚龙湾 爱 立方 滨海 乐园), a leisure park where you can climb, enjoy various water sports, watch butterflies and eat in an underwater restaurant.
6. Visit Haitang Bay
Haitang Bay (海棠 湾) is located 30 km east of Sanya. It is beautiful but quieter than the bays closer to the city.
Just off the coast lies Wuzhizhou Island (蜈支洲岛), with beautiful beaches and a Matsu Temple. The 1.5 km² island is a hotspot for diving. The boats to Wuzhizhou leave from the fishing village of Houhai (后 海), known for the delicious fresh fish that you can eat there, and it takes about 10 minutes to get there.
7. Go to the End of the World
About 24 km west of Sanya you can find Tianya Haijiao (天涯海角), a.k.a. the “End of the World”. It is a large bay, famous for its beautiful view of the beach, the rocks, and the endless sea. Tianya Haijiao literally means “The End of Heaven and the Corner of the Sea”. The name recalls that in earlier centuries, disgraced administrators were exiled to this part of Hainan.
On the beach of Tianya Haijiao there are some large rocks with inscriptions (follow the Chinese tourists who take many pictures there). They recall local romantic stories. Tianya Haijiao is considered a place of love and, therefore, attracts many bridal couples.
TIP – Tianya Haijiu also has a Li village, where you can get acquainted with the Li people and the Li culture.
You can go there by bus or taxi, but it is also nice to ride a bike to Tianya Haijiu, passing villages along the way. In Yanglan (羊栏), one of those villages, you can visit the Jiuli Mosque. This is because there’s been a small Hui settlement of about 6000 people here for 5 centuries. They are said to be the descendants of the crew of an Arab merchant ship that ran aground on the beach.
8. Nanshan Temple
The Nanshan Temple (南山 寺) is located on the south coast, 40 km west of Sanya, at the foot of the Nanshan (South Mountain). The temple was built in 1998, the year that was commemorated when Buddhism came to China 2,000 years earlier. On a large site, you can find several buildings in the architectural style of the Tang (619-907).
Via the Renwang Gate, you come to the Doushuai Hall with the Maitreya Buddha. Sakyamuni is located in the Daxiong Baodian. But the most striking statue is that of Guanyin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy. The 108-meter high copper statue, covered with gold and silver, stands on a terrace in the sea and is accessible by a pier. At the Nanshan Temple, there’s a well-known Buddhist vegetarian restaurant.
9. Daxiao Dongtian
Just west of the Nanshan Temple is the Daoist Daxiao Dongtian (南山 大小 洞天). As early as the Song Dynasty, 8 centuries ago, several inscriptions on the rocks here indicated that this was where the fairies lived. In recent decades it has become an attraction, with a cliff full of Chinese characters, a Dragon King Temple, Eternal Life trees, and the Dongtian Fairy Park. There is also a small fossil museum.
10. Xidao & Dongdao Coral Islands
These are two coral islands southwest of Sanya, the West Island (西 岛, Xidao) and the East Island (东 瑁, Dongdao). You can snorkel and dive very well near these islands, especially at West Island. If the sea at the islands is too restless, you can still dive along the coast and also see coral, tropical fish, anemones, and oysters.
Para-sailing, jet skiing, and quad-crosses are also offered here. Or you can relax on the beach or enjoy a fish meal in one of the restaurants. Fast boats regularly depart from the harbor 18 km west of Sanya to West Island.
11. Huang Daopo Tomb
In the village of Shuinan (东 瑁), west of Sanya lies the tomb of Huang Daopo (黄道婆). She was from Shanghai but was married and sent away to Hainan 7 centuries ago, at the age of eight. She fled her husband and found refuge in Shuinan with the Li people for 30 years. The Li people taught her the art of textile weaving. She eventually returned to Shanghai and laid the foundation for the Chinese textile industry there.
12. Go to the National Parks of Haikou
The Haikou National Parks are a famous place in Hainan. The volcanic cluster within the Haikou Shishan Geological Park, which has around 40 volcanoes and 30 lava-shaped caves, is very popular. In Dongjiao Coconut Plantation you will find half a million coconut palm trees (!) and some great restaurants and water sports. Be sure not to forget about the Dongzhai Harbor Mangrovenite.
TIP – Entrance to the park is 60 Chinese Yuan (US$8.50) per person.
13. Take in the Culture in Wenchang
For an authentic cultural experience, you must visit Wenchang, a town on the northeastern coast of Hainan. It is the home of the oldest building on the island; the Confucius Temple. The temple was built in the 11th century and has since been regularly renovated. For a beautiful panoramic view of Wenchang, you have to go to Tonggu Ridge. Also, explore the old traditional Hainanese village of Gu Song Cun.
14. Learn to Surf in Wanning
Wanning is located in southeast Hainan and is popular with surfers, beach lovers, and nature lovers. The best spot for surfing is at Shimei Bay. If you have a preference for tropical islands you can also go to islands such as Jiajing Island, Dazhou Island, and Coconut Island.
15. Go to the Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest
Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park is located in the Yalong Bay National Resort in Sanya. This is a typical Chinese structure. First, they demolished half the island, including forests and wildlife, and then built an “ecological” park including beautiful treehouses.
This tropical maritime city in China is certainly unique. This park is not only the first forest park in the city of Sanya but also the first forest park for ecological tourism. You will find more than 1,500 species of tropical plants, 142 villa rooms, a number of dining rooms with impressive views, and more than 190 species of wildlife.
TIP – Entrance to the park is 170 Chinese Yuan (US$24) per person.
How to Get to Hainan
Hainan is easily accessible. Both Haikou and Sanya have an airport with connecting flights between other major cities in China. You can even fly internationally.
Trains from Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai to Hainan also run daily. Trains stop in Haiko, Sanya, and Dongfang. They cross the water with the ferry (buses can also go on the ferry).
Best Time to Visit Hainan
Hainan is the only tropical island in China, where you can enjoy the sun and clear weather for three hundred days a year. This island can be visited all year round but the best time to visit Hainan is from December to April. During these months the temperature averages 25°C (77°F). The water is a bit warmer at 26°C (79°F). In the rainy season, which runs from June to October, it gets very hot and humid.
If you arrive on the island towards the end of summer, you can cope with the rainy season. Mid-spring is suitable for those who prefer to relax at a moderate temperature. During this period, the water is already warm and the air temperature is comfortable.
Average Temperature and Rainfall per Month
Best Accommodations in Hainan
On the island, most hotels have five stars. Local four-star hotels are strikingly different, even if you compare them to five stars from modest hotel chains. Here are some of the best hotels in Hainan:
- Neal Yat Seaview Apartment Haitang Bay Sanya: Our experience at this apartment complex is still unparalleled. It is very affordable for the level of comfort and luxury that you get. It is also connected to the Atlantis Hotel right beside it which has many awesome facilities, including a waterpark and an underwater aquarium. A great option for families! You can get to the beach in a 3-minutes’ walk and this section of the beach is very quiet with blue water and a clean coastline.
- The Shanhaitian Resort Sanya, Autograph Collection: It’s hard to find any faults in this hotel. We even got a free upgrade as someone in our group had a birthday! The whole room was amazing with an incredible view of the beach. The hotel is only a 2-minutes’ walk away from the Dadonghai boardwalk. It also has a pool on the roof (third floor) and it has an amazing view.
- Van-Pretty Residence Haitang Bay Sanya: The apartments here are clean and new, with a beautiful view and a great environment. The staff is also very helpful. This is a great option if you want great value for your money. It also has a very nice bar and restaurant in the Rosewood Hotel around the back.
- Sanya Wen Xin Hai Jing Apartement: Sanya Wen Xin Hai Jing Apartment is a great option in Sanya. It’s the perfect place with easy access to the most beautiful beach. There are also many amazing restaurants within walking distance. They even have a Duty-Free Shop which is only 800 meters away.
- The Sanya EDITION: Set within 50 acres of lush tropical greenery, The Sanya EDITION features a striking 20,000 square meter artificial saltwater pond. They offer various fun water sports. The hotel has 4 restaurants so you can choose whatever you want. The breakfast is a perfect combination of European and Chinese style.
All hotels in the Dadonghai resort region are spread along the coast. Numerous surfers stay in these hotels and the beaches here are often busy. One of the developing resort areas is Sanyavan Bay. The beach here is just across the road from the hotels.
All the local beaches belong to the city. At the same time, the hotel owners have provided them with everything they need:
- a shower;
Most tourists like to visit one of the four quiet bays in the south of the island. Here, the water is quite shallow and the water is warm. This area is very suitable for families with children. Access to the beaches is usually free but the lounger and umbrella cost around 20 to 50 Chinese Yuan (US$2.80 to $7). Popular entertainment trips on a boat cost around 150 Chinese Yuan (US$21). You can also go fishing from an authentic boat for 1000 Chinese Yuan (US$141).
Transportation On the Island
The island has well-developed transport connections and two airports. On the island, there are buses, rickshaws, trains, and taxis. Driving on a local road is a pleasure because they are smooth and wide. The main points are connected by a fast ring road. The high-speed train travels to every city on the island. The journey costs approximately 85 Chinese Yuan (US$12). The bus ride only costs 2 Chinese Yuan (US$0.30).
Tourists often prefer to take a taxi. There are no private cars on the island – this is prohibited. You will have to pay strictly according to the meter. You can stop the car directly on the street and there is a cash register in each of them. Taxi’s in the city cost on average 12 Chinese Yuan (US$1.70) per ride and for the first 4 km. Each following km is about 1-2 Chinese Yuan (US$0.15 to $0.30). You can agree on a fixed price with the driver for a long-distance ride.
Hainan Food & Drinks
In many restaurants and eateries on the island, they have dishes that are only prepared here. Among the locals, the Hainan noodles are especially popular. If you get the chance we definitely recommend trying some of the local foods. Fresh fruit is sold at every turn.
You can also try a wide variety of seafood which they prepare in many ways. One of the most famous crab dishes is Halé in garlic sauce. The most popular meat dish is Jiajing duck, and among desserts, fried ice cream comes in first place.
Almost every hotel has a restaurant. Dinner costs on average 135 Chinese Yuan (US$19). If you go to a private cafe you can get a good dish for about 50-70 CNY (US$7 to $10). A budget option is a small Chinese eatery, where you can eat for 20-30 Chinese Yuan (US$2.80 to $4.20). A snack will cost about 15 Chinese Yuan (US$2.10).
As in most places in Asia, street food is always cheap (and delicious!). Street food in Hainan consists of mainly bread, vegetables, meat, and seafood. You can also find Western-style food here in local pizzerias, McDonald’s, and KFC.