In a nutshell
Hainan is the go-to destination for those who want a slow, relaxing tropical paradise in which to unwind. It’s world famous beaches are in pristine condition, making it an ideal destination for beach goers, water sports enthusiasts and all lovers of seafood!
Where to go
Yalong Bay, Sanya
Arguably Sanya’s number one beach. It’s an incredibly popular attraction for the local Chinese tourists (take that as a warning). Take a swim in the bay to see vibrantly coloured corals, beautiful reef fish and white sand beaches. The visibility is up to 10 meters. It’s a large area that’s home to a host of attractions-golf courses, seaside water parks and great shopping. Go up to the 360 degree platform for a stunning view, and snap a photo your friends will envy for years to come!
Mangrove Forest, Haikou
A truly unique destination in the harbour of Dongzhai. The mangroves cover a huge area of over 4000 square km, and are intertwined by 6 rivers. It goes without saying that the diversity of the fauna and flora here is absolutely jaw dropping- it’s home to a thousands of birds, butterflies and other mammals.
Haikou Old Town, Haikou
For a fascinating glimpse into the French history of the area, take a walk down Zhongshan Lu. You’ll see the beautiful French colonial houses that have been expertly restored to their former glory. Although the government intends to turn the area into a bustling shopping area, for now come here to see how the quaint locals go about their business.
Get cultural in Wenchang, Wenchang
Here you will find the oldest existing structure on the entire island in the form of the Confucius Temple. It was first built in the 11th century, and his since been a great source of pride for the locals, who have renovated and restored the magnificent building whilst maintaining all it’s ancient charm. The traditional village of Gu Song Cun gives visitors a glimpse into the ancient traditions and ways of life of the Hainan people. You can also visit the former space test centre.
Tianya Haijiao, Sanya
Another beach paradise in Sanya, the translation is “edge of the sky, rim of the sea”. There is of course the pristine ocean to explore- rent some snorkelling gear or hop on a jet ski, there’s also paragliding available. You can visit the Li Ethnic Cultural Village, or go eat some delicious seafood snacks sold on the walkways. There are a number of great places to do some shopping and pick up a memento.
When to go
Hainan is a year-round holiday destination, with temperatures remaining moderate throughout the year. Summer (June-August) sees frequent typhoons, so if you’re worried about these avoid this time. Autumn is very warm, and outside of the typhoon season so it’s a safe bet.
Where to stay
The cities with the best infrastructure for overseas tourists are Haikou and Sanya. Staff at the top hotels will generally speak English (don’t expect this at youth hostels or many 3 star hotels). The accommodations in these popular tourist cities are naturally more expensive than the rest of the island, but they are still very affordable. Over Chinese New Year (February) Chinese tourists flock to the island, so if crowds aren’t your thing give it a miss. Backpackers and youth hostels are very cheap (50RMB), but if you’re travelling with your family opt for one of the great mid-range hotels that are plentiful.
What to eat
Hainan is the seafood capital of China, and for good reason. Local tourists flock here to sample the freshest, tastiest seafood delicacies you can imagine. A common beach side snack is the coconuts- you’ll find them prepared a million ways, but the best kind is simple one with a straw down the middle!
Lobsters, squid, clams and oysters are all locally caught and they’re absolutely mouth-watering! A popular dish is the Hainan hotpot- a sumptuous mixture of the seafood of your choice, served up spicy or mild.
How to get around Hainan
Hainan being a small island, there are no local flights.
Without a doubt the fastest way to travel between cities is the high speed train. The D train from Haikou in the far north end of the island to Sanya in the southern corner takes just 1 h 36 m and costs only 100 RMB.
There are a number of convenient busses to choose from that will ferry you from city to city. Busses are clean, neat and very affordable (pay only about 30 RMB for an hour long trip).
Taxis are also an option. Be aware that they are faster for a reason- the drivers can be extremely reckless, so it’s better to use a Didi, which is China’s Uber. A private taxi is a much safer option.
How to get in and from Hainan
The most obvious route for an island is by plane. There are currently two airports in Hainan, one in Haikou and one in Sanya.
Sanya Phoenix International Airport has international flights (Hong Kong, Seoul, Moscow) but these flights only run twice a week. Domestic flights run regularly between most of China’s bigger cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou.
The Haikou Meilan Airport is 15 km southeast of Haikou city. Hainan currently offers a “visa on arrival” for 59 registered countries, which is very convenient because it allows hassle free travel around the island. You can catch a train to the main city (most convenient) or take a bus or taxi.
Both these airports offer convenient transport links via bus and taxi to other parts of the island so travel to and from the airports is fast and easy. Remember taxis will be more expensive than busses.
Unbelievably, you can even catch a train to the island! The Yuehai Railway is China’s very first cross-seas railway line. Through this marvel of construction, mainland China and Hainan are seamlessly linked together. The mainland station is at Zhanjiang in Guangdong province. Trains from Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Zhengzhou, Harbin and Changchun all go to Hainan. As long as the train won’t be too long, it’s usually the best way to get in and from Hainan. A special “train ferry” has been designed. If anything, taking the train is absolutely worth it, just for the awesome experience!
There’s also a luxury boat that leaves from Guangzhou to Haikou, if you’d like to travel in style!
Is Hainan safe?
There are very few issues with crime. The only thing you need to worry about are typhoons in the summer (although they are rare), and reckless taxi drivers.