There’s a lot to focus on when you travel from the U.S. to China, and often it’s the cities that rise to the top of one’s list. Indeed we’ve talked about major Chinese cities before, and there are certainly more than enough of them to fill up an itinerary. But the country is also home to beautiful landscapes chocked full of fascinating wildlife, one of the most prominent being the rare giant panda.
Giant Pandas are adored and treasured all over the world, and most zoos take great pride even in only having a few. In nature, though, pandas hail only from China, and that makes a visit to this country one of the best opportunities you’ll ever have to see and possibly even interact with these magnificent beasts. Here are four places you’ll want to keep in mind if you plan on witnessing a Giant Panda in China.
Dujiangyan Panda Base
The 5.12-magnitude earthquake China suffered in 2008 was disastrous for pandas and their habitats. The earthquake devastated areas that were of great importance to the panda population, and was a legitimate setback in the ongoing effort to preserve these wonderful creatures and keep them happy in the most natural way possible. If there was a silver lining, however, it’s that the earthquake led to the creation of places like the Dujiangyan Panda Base (as well as the Wolong Panda Center, which is next on this list).
Located on the outskirts of Chengdu, this is not a zoo but rather a sort of sanctuary for pandas – of which there are about 20. Visiting, you don’t merely get the opportunity to see the pandas, but rather work with the staff to take care of the pandas and their enclosures yourself. Some of the cleaning work isn’t ideal, of course, but it’s one of your best chances to get up close with the animals.
Wolong Panda Center
When we think of seeing pandas in nature, our vision of what to expect is understandably clouded. Pandas, after all, are popularly regarded as very cute animals and thus make good material for fictional characters. So for instance the famous Kung Fu Panda movies take place in an idyllic version of Chinese mountains and forests. An online game called “100 Pandas” specifically invites players to relax to the soothing sounds of the Chinese jungle, when in fact the country doesn’t really have a “jungle” in the traditional sense (though there are rainforests). The point is, we imagine seeing pandas in lush, untouched natural expanses.
That’s not something you really get the chance to do, but Wolong Panda Center is the closest thing to that experience. It’s a massive natural reserve west of the city of Chengdu, and it’s home to a few dozen pandas. Here you get to observe these wonderful creatures very much as if they were out and about in nature, and you can even participate in taking care of them for a day.
Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center
Once again we’re talking about Chengdu with this option, which is essentially the main base for anyone with an interest in giant panda tourism. This is a little bit different than the two options listed above, however, as it’s an experience more about observation than full immersion. Still, that may be just what a lot of tourists are looking for.
There are dozens of pandas at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center, and though it’s more enclosed than the other places we’ve mentioned, it’s also designed to imitate a natural habit. Visiting, you’ll be able to watch the pandas getting along with their day for a few hours, and you may even get the opportunity to hug a young bear.
If you’re looking for a more conventional viewing experience or you simply aren’t able to make it to Chengdu on your trip, the Beijing Zoo is a fine option. Yes, the idea of a zoo sounds a little less authentic or less exotic than the other choices, and certainly there are pandas in zoos all over the world. But it should go without saying that the zoo in Beijing highlights these animals a little more than most other zoos around the world. The pandas even gained some extra fame earlier this year when one of them photobombed the United States first lady!