After exploring Yehliu Geopark and Jiufen, I hopped on the last train from Taipei’s Main Station and made my way to Hualien, a beautiful town surrounded by nature and the ocean on the east coast of Taiwan. My main destination here was Taroko National Park, arguably the most beautiful park in the country with its marble cliffs and gorges. The gorgeous blue color of the water reminded me a lot of the ocean that surrounds the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand. Though Taroko Gorge is more of a hiking spot than a place to swim, my tour guide allowed us to go swimming at the base of the Shakadang Trail! Even in January, the water felt surprisingly warm and refreshing. This place is truly unlike anywhere else in Taiwan and I definitely recommend people visit.
Due to its massive size Taroko is very difficult to cover in a day, but with a lot of online research, I managed to find The Better Taroko Gorge Tour which not only lets you pay in cash, but also accepts solo travelers (most tours to Taroko are extremely expensive and require group reservations). It is also one of the few tours that includes lunch, so I was extremely fortunate that I chose it or else I would have been starving! My excellent tour guide, Alan, took our group of seven people through the Swallow Grotto, two suspension bridges, the newly opened Tunnel Of Nine Turns that was previously closed due to an earthquake, and scenic the Bell Tower Padoga. We unfortunately were unable to hike up to the Eternal Spring Shrine due to road conditions, but we were able to see all of the highlights of the park on this tour in one day.
The tour started early at 7:30am, but we managed to avoid the crowds and I had a lot of time to capture photos and video with my newly purchased GoPro:
Most articles you read online recommend spending 2-3 days in this park if you are a hiking enthusiast, but one was enough for me because I was planning on seeing all of the major cities in Taiwan and also meeting up with friends. I was extremely satisfied with the challenge of the hike (it really wasn’t hard at all, minus some stairs) and also with all of the shrines I got to see. I would DEFINITELY recommend coming here with a tour guide, because riding in a van will save you a lot of time on the roads, and the guides know exactly where all the scenic spots here are. Coming alone is possible, but I think it would take much longer and be difficult to navigate and know which paths are safe to hike on. This park is not dangerous, but some of the slopes are affected by the weather so you need to be cautious while climbing them.
The Official Taroko Gorge Website has a list of trails that are currently available. Shakadang Trail, Changchun Trail, Swallow Grotto, and the Tunnel of Nine Turns are the paths I recommend taking (you can see all in a day if you have a car or skilled tour guide). We managed to see waterfalls and many temples too! Throughout the park you will see signs that say you need a permit to enter, but we were informed that such permits do not exist–this is just to warn tourists of potentially dangerous areas so the park does not get sued in case of injury. Enter these parts at your own risk (I hiked through one part, but it was literally nothing but green forest so I turned around as to not lose my way). In the middle of the day, we had a delicious course lunch at a restaurant in the mountains, and I had the chance to try Taiwanese mochi too:
At the end of the day, our tour guide took us to a nearby beach in Hualien where we could relax after a successful day of sightseeing. We were all amazed with the creative rock stacks (called cairns) here. The beach was literally full of them:
At the end of the day, I was completely exhausted and wanted to return to Taipei, so Alan kindly drove me to my hostel (called Cave) to get my luggage, and then back to the main Hualien Station where I could take the train back. I made an extremely kind friend on this trip who is currently working in Okinawa, so I was very happy with my experience. Island Life Taiwan is one of the best local guides for Taroko Gorge, and I would happily book them again if I decided to come back here in the future! The total cost was only 2000 Taiwan Dollars, which is much cheaper than most advertised tour packages. This was one of the best days that I had in Taiwan, and I will not forget the beautiful unspoiled paradise that is Taroko Gorge!