Taroko Gorge should be at the top of the list for anyone visiting Taiwan. Just a two-hour train ride from Taipei, you have no excuse not to visit.
My advice is to head to Hualien the day before you plan on exploring the gorge and spend the night at a hostel. This way you can get an early start to your day. There is a main street in Hualien lined with hostels so you should have no trouble finding a place. You can ask to leave your bag at the hostel for the day or- you can do what I did- just pack extra light so that everything fits into a day bag.
The evening you arrive, check with your hostel or at the bus terminal (the big orange building next to the train station) the bus departure times for the next day. There is one around 6 a.m and it would be best to take one around this time since there is a lot to explore at the gorge and you don’t want to feel rushed.
The bus is a public transportation bus- not a tour bus. It drives it’s bus route around the gorge and so you just get off at the stops that you want. The bus depot will give you a map of the stops but the information about what is at each stop is very limited. Don’t fret though- that’s what you have me for!
At each stop you get off and go explore. Some stops even consist of real hikes- like eight hour hikes. Once again, I will guide you so that you don’t start out on an 8 hour hike by accident. The main downfall of the bus is that they only come around every hour so you have to make sure not to miss it or you will have a whole other hour to wait. This happened to my friend and I but- being the savvy travellers that we are- we just ended up hitchhiking. People in Taiwan are friendly so if you don’t want to stress about making the bus times you can try sticking out your thumb and flashing a big smile.
Another option it to take the bus just to the first stop and from there rent a scooter. To be honest, I was hesitant to rent a scooter because I heard that the roads were really windy. After seeing it though I thought that the roads looked nice and would have been awesome to drive a scooter on. If it’s raining or you are not confident driving a scooter than the bus is a good option.
Now that we have that covered let’s get into the good stuff!
Stop 1: Baiyang Waterfall Trail
First head to Baiyang, the very last stop on the list. It will be easier to manage your time if you start from the farthest point and then make your way back in. This point also has a couple of food stands and a 7/11. I recommend stopping at 7/11 to stock up on water and snacks for the day- like this beauty mineral drink my friend is modeling so well in this photo.
Once you have stocked up you can head to the path. Walk up the street past the post office. It will seem odd at first because you will literally just be waking on the road. Eventually you will hit a tunnel and continue walking. A bit into the tunnel you will find an opening on your left side. Go through the opening and it will lead you to the trail.
This is a bit of a hike but it’s pretty flat and the treat you get at the end is well worth the trek.
One moment you will be walking along a sunny and green path with butterflies fluttering around you. The next moment you will be in a dark cold tunnel. You will come across a few tunnels along the way. It is recommended to bring a head lamp but I was fine without one.
The trail is 4 km long in total. Make sure to go all the way to the end because this was the best part. At the end you will come across the Water Curtain Cave. This cave is so awesome and you have to go inside- just don’t bring any electronics. The cave has water pouring down into it. We went on a hot summer day so this fresh water was refreshing on our skin and helped us cool down for the walk back.
Before you jump back on the bus, check out the area behind the bathrooms/restaurants where there is a sign saying not to feed the monkeys. It was near this sign that we saw about four monkeys hanging around. There was even a mother monkey with her tiny baby. I grabbed my camera to quickly take a photo before they ran off-but they never did. In fact they came closer. I could see the baby monkeys small toes curl.
These monkeys are very comfortable around us and were just chilling on the branch right above us. Even so, remember that you are in their home and to be respectful of their space.
Stop 2: Yanzihkou (Swallow Grotto) Trail
We skipped the next couple of stops and headed to the Swallow Grotto. Here you will find a huge valley with holes in the sides of the rock. The holes are where swallows nest and so you can see a bunch of these little guys fluttering around… and the view is quite pretty too.
As for hiking it is really just a casual walk along the side of the road. We ended up walking through the bridge but honestly once you hit the bridge you can turn back around. You don’t need as much time and energy here as the Water Curtain Cave. Since we missed the bus here we ended up hitchhiking to our next destination.
Stop 3: Eternal Shrine
Now this spot was cool. If you have done any more research on the gorge than more than likely you have come across images of this place.
This shrine was built in memory of all the people who died building the highway through the gorge. The shrine is beautiful as it is built into the side of the rock with a waterfall flowing under it. You can view if from a distance and then take a small walk across the bridge and through a small cave up to it- but not into it.
There is also a coffee shop here- making it a nice spot to relax and take in the view.
Stop 4: Qixintan Beach
Since we had timed our day out really well and had an early start- we still had time for one more stop in the National Park. We decided to check out the beach. Holy cow am I glad that we decided to stop here!
The beach itself is just rocks so no soft sand but the water makes up for it. The water is crystal clear and turquoise. Not a single person was swimming. Everyone just came to the beach to take selfies and then left.
My friend thought that perhaps people weren’t swimming because the water was too dangerous. I had lived in Asia for a year at this point and had come to know that most Asians don’t know how to swim so don’t go in the water unless they have a swimming tube and a lifeguard- especially if there are waves.
I didn’t have a bathing suite so I didn’t plan on swimming anyway. But… after a long day of walking and feeling pretty sweaty the beautiful waters were luring me in. Eventually I couldn’t take the alluringly beautifully blue water staring at me any longer. I jumped in- clothes and all.
I was quite the scene for everyone at the beach but I didn’t care- I had the ocean to myself!
I looked down and could see down to the bottom of the ocean through the clear water. The bottom was spotless without even a speck of seaweed. So if you plan on coming to the National Park bring a swimsuit- you’ll thank me later.
Stop 5: Hualien Train Station
From the beach take the bus back to the Hualien train station. If you are hungry after your long day head to the night market in Hualien to chow down on some amazing food. The market is about a 40 minute walk from the train station or a cheap cab ride away.
We met some local girls while waiting for the bus at the beach. They were kind enough to show us around the market and explain each food stall to us. I tried a fresh fruit juice and some wonton soup. There is so much delicious food to try!
Note: You can also add the Tunnel of Nine turns to this Taroko Gorge itinerary after Baiyang Waterfall. Unfortunately it was under construction while I was there. It is a 2km trail so half the distance as the Baiyang Trail.