At the very southern tip of Taiwan is Kenting (墾丁). A national park with stunning white sand beaches, beautiful forested areas, scenic mountains, and not to mention a wonderfully tropical climate, it is without doubt one of the very best places to visit in all Taiwan. A world away from the hustle and bustle of Taipei and even nearest big city Kaohsiung, the park is located on the Hengchun Peninsula in Pingtung county and its combination of sunshine, incredible natural scenery and chill vibes results in it being one of the island’s most popular tourist destinations; annually attracting people by the million. From soaking up the sun on the beach, to hiking through the park’s forest recreation area, to speeding over to its famous lighthouse by scooter, here is what to do on your next trip to Kenting National Park. (Read more: Pingtung: Expect the Unexpected (Part one of two))
Hit the beach
A paradise for lovers of sun, sand, and sea, Kenting is the perfect coastal escape. With 152 square kilometers of sea around the park, its beaches and bays are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Taiwan Straight and the Luzon Straight, making it a great place for watersports, boat rides and diving.
– Baishawan/White Sand Bay (白沙灣)
A quiet, peaceful bay, Baishawan’s main attraction is a wonderful white sand beach (hence the name White Sand Bay in Chinese), which stretches along the coach for about 400m. The water is clean and clear and great for swimming and snorkeling (best in summer and autumn), but do be wary of the occasional medium-sized wave popping up every now and then. You can rent beach umbrellas, snorkeling equipment and buy towels, while there are food vendors to the western side of the beach, as well as a tiki bar where you can grab a drink and really get into tropical beach mode while you sip by the sea. (Read also: Go Deeper: a guide to diving in Taiwan)
– Dawan/Big Bay Beach (大灣)
Dawan Beach, translating to Big Bay Beach, is within walking distance of Kenting’s main tourist strip and night market street/Kenting Avenue (墾丁大街). Rip currents result in swimming being prohibited here, but surfing is allowed as long as you know what you’re doing. Not as lively or vibrant as the likes of Baishawan, Dawan still has wonderful sand which is soft beneath your feet and is a great place to enjoy the sea air.
– Xiaowan/Little Bay Beach (小灣)
Little Bay Beach, just off Kenting’s main strip near the Caesar Park Hotel, is yet another popular beach. Clean, soft sand and pleasant waters, there are few waves here due to a natural barrier formed by a small peninsula to the west of the beach, making Xiaowan a great place to take a dip and enjoy some time in the sea. You can rent beach umbrellas and have a few drinks at the beachside bar, while the is also the opportunity for jet ski and banana boat rides, as well as kayaking. The clear waters here also make it a great option for snorkeling.
– Nanwan/South Bay (南灣)
The first beach you’ll see as you drive into Kenting, the area here is big and often busy. Around the beach you’ll find cafes, bars, restaurants and places to rent umbrellas and surfboards, as well as a 7-Eleven. Nanwan is a great spot for surfing when the waves are right, but don’t expect any joy if you want to snorkel.
Other seaside places of interest you should definitely visit are Maobitou Cape (貓鼻頭), known for a unique piece of coral sticking out of the sea resembling a crouching cat (Maobitou translates to cat’s nose and head), and Eluanbi Lighthouse (鵝鑾鼻) at Cape Euanbi, the southernmost tip of Taiwan. Open to the public all year round, the lighthouse was rebuilt in 1947 and was once designated as one of the “8 Views of Taiwan” (台灣八景) during Japanese occupation.
Head into Nature
Kenting isn’t just about relaxing by the beach. There are also some fantastic natural landscapes and mountains and a whole load of flora and fauna to see during your time here. Sheding Park (社頂公園) is a former settlement of Taiwan’s indigenous Paiwanese people and is home to in excess of 300 species of plants and animals, including Formosan Sika Deers (台灣梅花鹿) and more than 50 varieties of butterfly. The park also features a dozen stalactite caves to be explored across its 128.7 hectares. There are also the grasslands and coral limestone tableland of Longpan Park (龍磐公園), a great location to enjoy the sunrise and sunset. However, we want to concentrate on Kenting’s forest recreation area. (Read more: Pingtung: Expect the Unexpected (Part two of two))
– Kenting National Forest Recreation Area (墾丁森林遊樂園區)
A truly stunning part of Taiwan, a drive along the winding roads up to Kenting National Forest Recreation Area is the perfect juxtaposition to those lazy afternoons spent lounging on Kenting’s sandy beaches. Home to more than 1,000 species of plants, including a variety of tree species, the park has 17 scenic spots to visit, all linked by designated walkways. There’s the 400-plus years old Looking-glass Tree and its fascinatingly formed buttress roots, and also the charming Fairy Cave, an underground cave of stalactites and stalagmites where it’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop. A unique forest ecosystem rich in ecology, the park boasts monsoon rainforest, uplifted coral reef forest and banyan trees. A stunning recreation area complete with the freshest air, no visit to Kenting is complete without a trip into the forest.
Take in Some Culture and History
Kenting isn’t just about relaxing by the beach and getting lost in the forest. Nearby Hengchun (恆春) gives you a firsthand glimpse into Taiwan’s past. A national historical site, the city walls and gates here were built in the mid-to-late 1870s by the Qing government to strengthen the area’s coastal defenses, in particular against the Japanese (following the Mudan incident in 1874) and other colonizing nationalities. Hengchun is also a great place to try the traditional Taiwanese snack Lu Dou Suan (綠豆蒜), a type of mung bean soup.
If you happen to find yourself in Hengchun on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month, you’ll witness the township’s Ghost Festival, including several customs such as a traditional pudu (passage ceremony), a raffle ticket grab, and an amazing tower climbing race where competitors race to pluck a flag from atop a tall tower. Nowadays, this is a friendly sporting competition and folk custom, while in the past it was a much more violent affair where competitors races to get food. (Read also: Traveling to Taipei During Ghost Month)
How to get to Kenting
Most people heading to Kenting head there via Kaohsiung. There is the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle bus from the HSR station (NT$401 one way; NT$650 roundtrip) as well as a bus from Kaohsiung’s TSA station (NT$341 one way). You can also drive yourself, taking exit 424 off National Freeway 3 (國道3號).
Getting around Kenting
While buses do run between popular tourist spots, renting a scooter is by far the easiest way to get around Kenting. The main tourist street (墾丁大街) has several very affordable rental shops and there is ample scooter parking at places of interest. (Read more: Riding a scooter in Taiwan: Best places to explore by scooter)