The Stunning East Coast of Taiwan Part 1: Yilan to Hualien and Taroko Gorge

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Where should you go if only visiting Taiwan for 1-2 weeks? Most say that if you like history and culture, stick to the west coast. If you like scenery and nature, head to the east coast of Taiwan.

While this is a simplistic breakdown of Taiwan’s diverse and abundant attractions, but there’s no denying that Taiwan’s east coast boasts a vast, sparsely populated coastline of unparalleled beauty, making it the ideal place for a Taiwan road trip.

In Part 1 of this, 2-part Taiwan east coast guide, I’m going to cover the northern half of the east coast of Taiwan, from Yilan County to Hualien City (or you could follow it in reverse, from Hualien to Yilan).

I’m going to cover all the sights along the coast from Yilan to Hualien, though in reality the vast majority of people visit the two separately: Yilan as day trips from Taipei, then taking the train from Taipei straight to Hualien City for visiting the region’s most famous sight, Taroko Gorge.

In Part 2 of this guide, I cover how to continue south along the east coast from Hualien City through southern Hualien County to Taitung County in the southeastern corner of Taiwan, and finally reaching Kenting National Park at the southern tip of Taiwan.

The tips and photos I present below come from multiple visits over many years. It is my hope that this guide shall provide everything you need to know about planning the ultimate Taiwan east coast road trip, though you’ll also have options for doing it by public transportation.

2024 Update: On April 3, 2024, a massive earthquake struck the Hualien region. The Suhua highway (Yilan to Hualien, as described in this article) is heavily damaged and only open three times per day at this exact spot (open to small cars on weekdays 10 to 10:20 AM, 12-1 PM, 3-3:20 PM, 5 PM to 8 AM, and weekends open all day), so it is more difficult but not impossible to drive from Yilan to Hualien.

Trains from Taipei to Hualien and onward to Taitung are running again. Hualien city has suffered moderate damage, while Taroko Gorge National Park is heavily damaged and closed until further notice. It is still possible to drive from Hualien to Taitung, as described in Part 2 of this article.

See my newest guide to the best things to do in Hualien which are still open.

East Coast Essentials 

How Much Time Is Needed for the East Coast of Taiwan?

Qingshui Cliffs, Hualian, Taiwan
The death-defying Suao to Hualien (Su-Ao) Highway

At the absolute minimum, you need one full day just to see Taroko Gorge, and make that 2-3 days if you also want to check out the sights in Hualien City or do some activities in and around the city, such as whale watching, sea kayaking, or taking an aboriginal cooking course.

For many visitors to Taiwan, this is the extent of their east coast trip. See my detailed Hualien itinerary for more information on how to plan such a trip, with 40+ ideas for things to do in Hualien City.

But if you want to follow the east coast trip I’m going to describe below, you’ll need more time, as well as your own wheels. In fact, few people actually travel along the coast from Yilan to Hualien because the cliff-hugging road has a tendency to be destroyed once in while by landslides, and some consider it unsafe during or after heavy rain or typhoons. This is also why there are no public buses that cover this route.

Having said that, the highway from Suao in Yilan to Hualien (called the Suhua Highway) is gorgeous to drive or bike ride. It’s a two-hour journey, but with stops you can easily make a half or full day of it.

Therefore, I’d recommend one day for getting from Yilan to Hualien, one day for Taroko Gorge, and 1-2 days for further exploring Hualien City and the area around it. That means you’ll need 3-4 days to see and do everything I mention in this article. If you’re living in Taiwan, then you could consider making multiple weekend trips to the area instead of doing it all as one road trip.

For Part 2, traveling from Hualien City south to Taitung and/or Kenting, you’ll need another 1-4 days, depending on how you go about it. Besides the places introduced in this guide, you can find more things to do in Hualien and things to do in Taitung in these articles.

What Are the Best East Coast Tours?

Coastal scenery in Fengbin, Hualien County, Taiwan

For Taroko Gorge tour, I recommend this day tour from Island Life Tours. They have English speaking guides, hit all the best spots in Taroko Gorge, and an aboriginal lunch is included.

For tours running down the coast from Hualien to Taitung, try this one.

Why is Taiwan’s East Coast so beautiful?

Taiwan is a geologically active island nation that sits on a convergent boundary between multiple tectonic plates. The subduction of the Yangtze Subplate of the Eurasian Plate beneath the Philippine Sea Plate has produced the Central Mountain Range, the highest mountains in Northeast Asia.

From the peak of Yushan (Jade Mountain) (3952m), the Pacific Ocean to the east is so near that it can be seen on a clear day. The drop from Yushan down to the east coast of Taiwan (50 kilometers) continues below the sea at the same rate, so that another 50 kilometers out from the coast it drops another 4000 meters, constituting one of the most dramatic overall drops in the world.

This explains the rugged seaside cliffs at Qingshui (see below) just north of Hualien, as well as the breathtakingly immense scale of Taroko Gorge, Taiwan’s premier scenic attraction.

South of Hualien City, a smaller and geologically more recent chain of mountains, the Coastal Range, runs parallel to the coast. The coast here is rocky and pretty, with a few surfing beaches such as Dulan, but the real highlight in southern Hualien County and Taitung County is the East Rift Valley. This visually stunning valley sits between the Coastal Range and the Central Mountain Range of Taiwan. It is a vast area rural scenery and rice paddies flaked by mountains on either side, and is considered the rice basket of Taiwan.

South of Taitung, the scenery remains rocky and dramatic on the coast, but then transforms to sand dunes and open, dry expanses as you approach Kenting National Park, occupying the southern tip of the country and home to the best beach resorts on the Taiwanese mainland. See my Kenting guide and list of Kenting’s best beaches and other attractions for more info.

The Route of this East Coast Guide

I’ve decided to start my guide from the first point on the east coast (excluding the far north) where the mountains meet the sea, at the southern end of the rice-paddy-filled Yilan plains.

This winding coastal route from Suao township in Yilan County to Hualien City is called the Suao-Hualien/Suhua Highway, or Provincial Highway #9.

Route covered in parts 1 and 2 of this guide

This map shows the total distance covered by my two east coast guides (in blue), spanning Yilan, Hualien, Taitung, and Pingtung counties.

Map of Taiwan Suao to Kenting
Total route covered by this guide (PARTS 1 and 2) in blue

Route covered in this article only

As you can see, there isn’t a whole lot of ground to cover in part 1, but the road between Suao and Hualien is a rough one, and is not covered by public transportation. Also, you’ll need several days for this part of the east coast, because there is just so much to see and do, including Taroko Gorge.

Map of Taiwan Yilan to Hualian
Total route covered by this guide (PART 1), the Suao-Hualien Highway from Yilan to Hualien

Route covered in part 2

This map shows the two options covered in part 2: coastal highway 11 (in blue) and inland highway 9 (in gray) through the East Rift Valley.

Map of Taiwan Hualian to Kenting
Total route covered by this guide (PART 2) with highway 9 in grey and 11 in blue

When to Do this Trip

You can do this road trip at any time of the year. In winter in Taiwan, the northern east coast, including Yilan and Hualien, can be chilly and windy, but in Taitung and the far south, it can still be warm enough to swim or surf in the sea.

Spring and autumn are probably ideal, but heads up that the Plum Monsoon can bring more rains in June, while in July through October typhoons can strike, especially in August and September. If a typhoon hits, avoid traveling or being anywhere near the coast. Summer in Taiwan can also be extremely hot, so make sure to protect your skin and avoid the midday.

See more information in my guide to the best months to visit Taiwan.

Getting from Taipei to the East Coast

Taking the train from Taipei to Hualien
My sister and daughter on the Puyuma express train from Taipei to Hualien. See my complete article on traveling around Taiwan with kids.

If you’re coming from Taipei, be sure to check out my recommended Taipei hotels, Taipei 4-day itinerary and Taipei traveling guide.

For the majority of visitors, they don’t do the Yilan section of my below guide. They take the train directly to Hualien to see Taroko Gorge and perhaps travel south down the east coast of Taiwan from there. Still, I include the Yilan section below for those who really want to to do it!

Use a Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass to save money while traveling around Taipei. In this Taipei Unlimited Fun Pass article, I explain how the pass works and who should get one.

Getting to Suao in Yilan

If you follow my below guide, you’ll see that it begins in Suao, where Highway 9 along the coast of Yilan and Hualien starts. While you can reach Suao on the slow local train from Taipei, or by taking a faster train to Luodong in Yilan then transferring to a bus, there’s no public transportation from Suao on to Hualien.

Therefore, if you really want to cover this section of my guide, you’ll have to bring a bike on the train, rent a scooter in Yilan, or rent a car in Taipei and drive there yourself.

You could also do my below guide in reverse. Take the train to Hualien City first, then rent a scooter or car there, and drive north up the coast to Yilan and back.

If you hire a driver to take you from Taipei to Hualien, the vehicle will actually drive along this route and stop at a few of the most scenic spots on the Suhua (Yilan and Hualien) coast, so you can kill two birds with one stone (get to Hualien, and see the coast along the way).

Flying from Taipei to Hualien

The fastest and most convenient way to reach the east coast is to book this flight from Taipei to Hualien, departing from Taipei’s Songshan airport in the city center. However, if you add the time needed for getting to the airport on either side, it’s barely faster than taking the train.

Taking the train from Taipei to Hualien

The Taipei to Hualien train route is one of the most popular in the country, so it almost always sells out. This is why it is essential to book your train tickets in advance. You can book TRA (Taiwan’s regular) trains up to 28 days in advance. Try to do it the moment they go on sale if you’re hoping to travel on a weekend or holiday. They can sell out in minutes! Also keep in mind that they go on sale at midnight, so you’ll actually want to book it on the night of 29 days before your trip (Taiwan time, of course).

The express (Puyuma/Taroko Express) trains from Taipei to Hualien only take 2 hours 15 minutes, but they sell out especially fast, and standing tickets are not allowed. Non-express trains take 2.5 to 3.5 hours, but even if their seats sell out, you can still always buy a standing ticket and just stand or sit on the floor between train cars. It’s not ideal, but at least you’ll still get there.

When booking your train ticket, you need to first decide whether you’ll get off at Xincheng (Sincheng/Taroko Gorge) Station or Hualien Station. Xincheng is a small town very close to the entrance of Taroko Gorge. There are few hotels or amenities there, but if you’re going directly to Taroko Gorge or staying at a hotel inside Taroko Gorge, it makes sense to get off there. You can also rent a scooter at Xincheng station and drive to the entrance of Taroko Gorge in less than 10 minutes.

If you continue on to Hualien Station in Hualien City, the county capital, there are loads of amenities, hotels, hostels, and attractions there, but it’s about a 40-minute drive to reach Taroko Gorge. Most Taroko Gorge tours take off from Hualien City, but should be able to pick you up from Xincheng as well.

Taking the bus from Taipei to Hualien

It is impossible to travel all the way from Taipei to Hualien by bus because no buses do the Suao to Hualien coastal highway, and there are no highways through the mountains; only the train goes through tunnels in the mountains.

Many locals do have a trick for slightly shortening their trip from Taipei to Hualien by taking a bus from Taipei to Luodong in Yilan, then transferring onto train from there (or the same thing in reverse). It doesn’t save much time, but getting a seat on a bus for part of one’s trip can be more comfortable at times when trains are packed and only standing tickets are available.

Cycling from Taipei to Hualien

For cyclists, you can actually cycle all the way around Taiwan, including to and from Hualien. See this super detailed guide to cycling around Taiwan for all the details.

Riding a Scooter to Taroko Gorge

It is possible to rent scooters at Hualien or Xincheng (Sincheng/Taroko Gorge). You’ll need a local or international driver’s ID.

Note that riding scooters or even bicycles in Taroko Gorge is a risk. Several people have been injured or died in landslides, and some local tour companies no longer recommend it. If you do decide to do it, definitely avoid going after or during any kind of heavy rain or typhoons, and drive carefully. Also watch out for those big tour buses hogging the narrow road.

Riding a scooter in Taroko Gorge, Taiwan
Riding scooters in Taroko Gorge, an unforgettable experience

Where to Stay on the East Coast

Pool backed by mountains at Silks Place, the best hotel in Hualien
Silks Place, the most luxurious hotel in Taroko Gorge

One of the toughest choices you need to make when visiting the east coast of Taiwan is where to stay. Hualien City is the most obvious choices, with loads of accomodation options and some of the best hostels in the country.

However, it’s also possible to stay in Xincheng, closer to the entrance of Taroko Gorge, or right in Taroko Gorge.

Hostels in Hualien City

There is a high concentration of hostels in Hualien, and their quality and value for money is better than anywhere else in Taiwan. It is a 40-minute ride by scooter from Hualien City to Taroko Gorge.

Some top rated hostels include Just Walk Backpacker Hostel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) and View Hostel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor).    

Hotels in Hualien

Near the Hualien train station, Нарріnеѕѕ іѕ Му Ноmе (ѕее оn Вооkіng) lіvеѕ uр tо іtѕ nаmе – thе оwnеrѕ оf thіѕ guеѕthоuѕе аrе ѕuреr wеlсоmіng аnd hеlрful. Аnоthеr ехсеllеnt сhоісе nеаr Нuаlіеn nіght mаrkеt іѕ 1999 В&В (ѕее оn Вооkіng / Аgоdа / TripAdvisor).

Hualien Farglory Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is the best resort in Hualien, complete with pool and a gorgeous seaside location. It is a short drive out of town.

Xincheng (Taroko Train Station)

Staying near Xincheng (Taroko Gorge) train station is very convenient for accessing Taroko Gorge. Most hotels are only a few minutes by car to the entrance of Taroko Gorge.

Taroko Liiko Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is the best hotel in Xincheng. Liwu Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is the closest you can get to Taroko Gorge without actually being in the gorge.

In Taroko Gorge

Silks Place Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is the most luxurious hotel in Taroko Gorge and all of Hualien, while the wood cabins at Taroko Village Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) offer a more down-to-earth experience in Taroko Gorge.

Budget travelers who want to stay right in Taroko Gorge can try Tienhsiang Youth Activity Center (see on Agoda / TripAdvisor) at Tianxiang village in Taroko Gorge.

Find more information in my Taroko Gorge article.

Camping in Taroko Gorge

This is your cheapest option. Heliu Campground is first-come-first serve, with a dozen wooden platforms (NT200 per tent) 16.5 kilometers up the valley. I stayed here several years ago with my family; the facilities are very basic but the setting is awesome. There’s a self-pay system, and some even more basic overflow sites nearby at Lushui campground.


Sanzhan (Sanjhan), Hualien, Taiwan, starting point of the Golden Grotto river trace
The incredible backdrop to Sanzhan, an aboriginal village near the entrance to Taroko Gorge

If you want to get off-the-beaten track, you can stay at Songyue Guesthouse (see on Booking) in Sanzhan (Sanjhan). Sanzhan is a small aboriginal village 10-minutes south of the Xincheng train station, in the direction of Hualien City. You can rent scooters in Xincheng to get there (IPD needed).

The relaxed one-street town of Sanzhan sits on a lovely stretch of the scenic Sanzhan River with a stunning mountainous backdrop, with many good spots for jumping into blue-green pools of water. It is a 15 minute ride by scooter from Sanzhan to the entrance of Taroko Gorge. It is also the starting point of the famous river trek to Golden Grotto (see the end of the article).

There are only a few tiny shops and informal restaurant-slash-KTV joints with limited hours in Sanzhan, so you may want to pick up supplies at the 7-11 on the highway just south of Xincheng train station.

They don’t speak much English and the hotel is basic but clean. I love it for its location and the town’s non-touristy atmosphere. I’ve never seen other guests staying there, but do be aware that it can sometimes be filled with river tracing groups, so advance reservations are strongly recommended in summer.

East Coast Road Trip: Yilan to Hualien

Dongao Bay in Yilan County between Suao and Hualien
Beautiful Dong Ao Bay between Suao and Hualien

Now, let the road trip begin! We set out from Suao in southern Yilan County, following Highway 9, the Suhua (Suao to Hualien) Highway. The following are the sights you’ll encounter in order.

Suao (Su-Ao) Cold Springs

Su'ao Cold Spring, Yilan
Suao Cold Spring (image from Taiwan tourism)

Starting in Yilan County, at the point where the northeastern plains meet the coastal mountain range, Suao Cold Springs (蘇澳冷泉) is Taiwan’s most famous cold spring town. The town looks very similar to hot spring towns found all over the island, with multiple hotels and spas offering a full range of experiences, from cheap and gritty to posh and upscale, but the natural spring water itself in this case is cold.

Obviously, the town is only popular in summer, and attracts many families with kids. I’ve never stopped Suao Cold Springs because I like the natural setting of Dongao Cold Spring south of Suao (see below), but if you want a convenient place to cool down in summer on the way to Hualien, Suao may be for you!

You can get from Taipei to Suao slow local train, by taking a faster train to Luodong then transferring to a bus, or as a stop if you charter a private car from Taipei.

If you have more time in Yilan before traveling down the coast, don’t miss Jiaoxi Hot Spring, or see my 40+ tips for other things to do in Yilan.

Nanfang Ao Harbor

Nanfang Ao Harbor
Boats in Nanfang Ao Harbor

Nanfang Ao (南方澳) harbor is located just south of Suao, where the largest isthmus on the east coast of Taiwan provides a perfect natural harbor, which just happens to be adjacent to a stretch of coastal water rich in migratory fish. The harbor is abuzz with activity, especially around the main fish market in the morning.

The market caters to tourists, especially domestic ones; you can buy sample packs of extremely fresh sashimi, or buy a whole fish or any other kind of seafood and have one of the adjacent quick fry shops cook it up for you for only TWD100 per dish.

The rickety-looking boats bobbing about in the teal waters of the harbor make for great photos, and for the best vantage point of the entire harbor and adjoining Suao port, there is a lookout point when you continue south along the highway, which ascends steeply above the harbor.

Nanfangao made international headlines on October 1, 2019, when the steel arched Nanfangao Bridge collapsed, killing six fishermen in boats below. The bridge is visible on the far left of the image below, which I shot several years before the bridge collapsed.

If you only want to visit Nanfangao, you can get there by public transportation. Take a bus or train from Taipei to Luodong (famous for Luodong Night Market), then transfer to a local bus to reach it. You can also get there as a stop along the way if you charter a private car from Taipei.

Nanfang Ao Harbor from above, Taiwan
Nanfang Ao Harbor from the viewpoint on the Suao-Hualien highway
Seafood Market at Nanfang Ao, Taiwan
TWD100 to fry up any fish or seafood item purchased from the market!

Dongyue (Dong’ao) Cold Spring

Dong Ao Cold Spring, Yilan, Taiwan
My son Sage in crystal clear Dong Yue Cold Spring

After the turnoff for Nanfagao, the highway winds upward for some time and reaches its crescendo, upon which you will suddenly be rewarded with an incredible view of the wide Dong Ao Bay to the south. After you descend and reach the small aboriginal town of Dong Ao, watch for a small sign (or ask around if you can’t find it) to the rustic Dongyue Cold Spring (東岳湧泉) sometimes called Dong Ao Cold Spring (東澳冷泉).

Here a small cold spring stream has been dammed up to create a pool of chilly, crystal clear water that provides a much-needed cool-down on a scorching, Taiwanese summer day. Kids love it, evidenced by the mobs of children splashing around in the water. Many local aboriginal families come here to picnic, and don’t be surprised if they call you over and offer you a chilled can of beer from the water like they did to me.

The pool sits below a train overpass, causing the kids to scream every time a train passes overhead. Beside the pool there is a large grassy field, and at peak times, vendors set up, selling cold beer, sausages, and other snacks. Strangely, the spring was packed with people and food stalls the first time I went, about three years ago (photos below), and nearly deserted when I went last year (photo above). Both visits were on summer weekend days.

It is only possible to visit Dongyue Cold Spring with your own transportation.

Dong Ao Cold Spring, Yilan, Taiwan
Train passing over Dong Yue Cold Spring
Dong Ao Cold Spring, Yilan, Taiwan
Dong Yue Cold Spring on a hot summer day

Continuing south from here, you can visit remote Nan’ao Beach Waterfall (南澳滴水坑瀑布) and Aohua Waterfall (澳花瀑布) before reaching the border of Hualien County.

Qingshui Cliffs, Hualien County

Qingshui Cliffs, Hualian, Taiwan
Vertical Qingshui Cliffs

The Qingshui Cliffs (清水斷崖) have been designated as one of Taiwan’s “Eight Wonders”, and stretch for more than 21 kilometers along the coast of northern Hualien County. Some of the best views are only a 10 to 15-minute drive north of the entrance to Taroko Gorge and are often included on Taroko Gorge day tours, so you don’t have to drive all the way down the coast from Yilan to see them.

There are multiple lookout points and places where you can park at the side of the road or follow stairs down toward the sea. Just be careful for passing traffic, since many drivers’ eyes are on the sea and not the road. Another magnificent experience is to visit the cliffs while sea kayaking below them.

If you are visiting Taroko Gorge by van tour or on this private tour, the Qingshui Cliffs are included. The cliffs are best seen in the early morning, when the rising sun casts softer rays on them, but you may also be rushed to get into Taroko early to beat the crowds. Some tours only visit them at the end of the day, if there’s still time.

Qingshui Cliffs, Hualian, Taiwan
The Qingshui cliffs offer some of Taiwan’s most dramatic scenery

Taroko Gorge: The East Coast’s Most Famous Attraction

Taroko Gorge, Hualien, Taiwan
If you’ve never been to Taroko Gorge before, this is the kind of scenery you can expect.

Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s most famous scenic attractions. It is the star attraction of Hualien and the east coast, and many visitors travel to the east coast just to visit it. There’s a lot to see and do in Taroko Gorge, so you’ll definitely want to set aside a whole day for it. For more information on how to plan your visit, where to stay, and how to get there, see my detailed Taroko Gorge itinerary.

Taroko Gorge is even doable with young kids. Whether you take the local bus and just visit one or two spots, or hire a car or scooters like we did, there are plenty of easy, kid-friendly trails to enjoy in Taroko Gorge.

To make planning easier, here is a highly recommended Taroko Gorge tour.

Riding a scooter in Taroko Gorge Taiwan with toddlers
My wife and kids on one of our many visits.

Funny side note: There is one more place in Taiwan that claims to have the “Grand Canyon of Taiwan”, although it is much smaller and few people know about it. Find out where it is in my article on day trips from Taichung.

Eternal Spring Shrine, Taroko Gorge, Hualian, Taiwan
Eternal Springs Shrine, one of the top sights in Taroko Gorge

Wenshan Hot Spring

Wenshan hot spring Taiwan
Taroko Gorge’s secret hot spring

For those who love to get off the beaten track, there’s a secret wild hot spring that used to be popular many years ago, before it was mostly destroyed in a landslide. There are still some rock pools you can bathe in, and it’s an adventure to find it. To find out exactly how to get there, read my guide to Wenshan Hot Spring.

Hualien City

Famous steamed dumplings at Dongdamen Night Market (Hualien night market)
Hualien Night Market

Hualien City, the capital of Hualien County and largest city on the east coast of Taiwan, is located about 35 minutes south of the entrance to Taroko Gorge by car. As the region’s main city, most visitors base themselves here for visiting Taroko Gorge and other scenic attractions and outdoor activities in the area. Most tours in the area take off from Hualien City.

There are enough things to do in and around Hualien City to warrant staying here for 1-2 days after you visit Taroko Gorge. Most people reach Hualien by direct train from Taipei City.

Qixingtan Beach

Qixingtan Beach, Hualian, Taiwan
Visiting the beautiful pebble beach at Qixingtan is a must!

“Seven Star Lake” (七星潭) is not a lake but a picture-postcard pebble beach on the northern edge of Hualien City, with incredible views of mountains looming over the sea looking north along the coast.

There are a dozen or so food stalls set up here and it’s a great place to lie on the beach and gaze at the sea, but note there is no swimming permitted due to strong tides, and yes, they will stop you.

As it is a short detour off the Hualien City to Taroko Gorge highway, most day tours to Taroko Gorge include a stop at Qixingtan. You can also rent bikes at Qixingtan and ride them to Hualien City, where someone will pick them up for you (or the same in reverse).

The Taroko Gorge van tour from Hualien includes Qixingtan.

If you’re looking for sandier beaches on the east coast of Taiwan, check out my articles on the best beaches on the Northeast Coast of Taiwan or Dulan Surfing beach in the far south.

Other things to Do in Hualien City

People dining in the Hualien Shipping Container Store, one of the coolest Starbucks in Taiwan
Hualien City’s famous Starbucks container store

Hualien City (花蓮市) is a convenient base for exploring the area and has some of the best hostels in all of Taiwan. There are several fascinating cultural, artistic, and historical sights in Hualien City, so many people opt to stay here for an extra day after visiting Taroko Gorge. Here’s my detailed guide to the best places to visit in Hualien City.

Some of the best things to do in Hualien City include:

Also see my suggested Hualien itinerary for the finer details of planning your trip.

River Tracing in Hualien

River tracing the Golden Grotto in Sanzhan, Hualian, Taiwan
End point of the Golden Grotto. We made it!

River tracing (aka river trekking) is a very popular summertime activity in Taiwan. Basically, you walk up a river, jumping in various spots, playing in the water, sliding down rock slides, and more. It’s really fun and a great way to cool off in summer.

If you are a first timer, you can consider trying this river trekking in Hualien guided adventure.

The small aboriginal village of Sanzhan/Sanjhan (三棧), which I will mentoned above as my favorite place to stay in the Taroko Gorge area, is also the starting point for one of Taiwan’s most renowned river traces: the Golden Grotto (黃金峽谷), but this is not recommended for beginners, and as times it is illegal to visit.

This 6 to 7-hour return trace requires some experience and equipment, and it is at times technic fally illegal to the visit due to the very real danger of falling rocks, especially after heavy rainfall. Here is a guide to river tracing to the Golden Grotto.     

If you’re visiting the area just to go river tracing, it makes most sense to stay at Moon River Guesthouse, from where it’s a short walk to the river.

Cliff jumping at Sanzhan (Sanjhan), Hualien, Taiwan
Jumping in the river in Sanzhan (Sanjhan), my favorite place to stay in Hualien

But if all you want to do is jump into some cold water, Sanzhan is also a great place to do so. The Sanzhan Riverside (三棧溪戲水區) has several spots where you can jump into the water. You can also walk from Sanzhan Village upstream for about 10 minutes in the direction of the Golden Grotto, to find more great spots to jump into the water. This part of the river is popular for Taiwanese river tracing groups, so you may see lots of them.

Sanzhan village is only a 10-minute drive from the entrance to Taroko Gorge, and just off Highway 9 between Hualien City and Taroko Gorge.

River tracing the Golden Grotto in Sanjan, Hualien, Taiwan
Climbing waterfalls up to the Golden Grotto
Taiwan Golden Grotto Hualian, Taiwan
Cliff jumping in the Golden Grotto
Golden Grotto, Hualian, Taiwan
Crystal clear pool of water outside the Golden Grotto

Other Outdoor Activities in Hualien

Dolphins jumping out of sea on a whale and dolphin watching tour in Hualien
Spotting sea mammals from a boat off the coast of Hualien

There are loads of other outdoor activities to enjoy in Hualien County. Many activity tours take off from Hualien City, making it the most convenient base. Here are some popular choices:

Cycling is extremely popular in the area. For more detailed info I would recommend searching cycling blogs online, of which there are many, or checking Lonely Planet Taiwan.

For a more leisurely ride, you can cycle along the coast from Qixingtan beach (see below) to Hualien City. You can hire your bikes at one end and drop them off at the other.

Aboriginal Culture on the East Coast of Taiwan

Taiwanese aboriginals, aboriginal festival in Hualian, Taiwan
Aboriginal festival in Hualien

Nearly 30% of the population of Hualien county is aboriginal, including the Amis (Taiwan’s largest tribe), Atayal, Bunun, Truku or “Taroko”, Sakizaya, and Kavalan. As such, many aboriginal festivals take place on the east coast of Taiwan, including the most famous, the week-long Ami Harvest Festival in summer.

Dates of festivals can change, so if you want to see if anything is coming up, you can try contacting the Hualien County government. All of my photos above and below were taken at the Hualien County Joint Aboriginal Festival in Hualien City in 2014. At any authentic aboriginal festival, you can expect song and dance performances, curious smiles, and profuse consumption of millet wine (小米酒 or xiaomi jiu).

The best way to experience aboriginal culture on the east coast is to take this aboriginal cooking course. The class includes visiting an aboriginal garden maintained an Amis tribe, learning how to cook wild herbs, and tasting millet wine.

You can visit a small aboriginal museum or enjoy an aboriginal buffet feast at Buluowan Visitor Center (布洛灣管理站) in Taroko Gorge, on the site of a former aboriginal village of the Truku (Taroko) tribe. You can even spend the night there at Taroko Village Hotel (see reviews / check prices). Finally, you can also meet aboriginal people if you visit Sanzhan village (三棧) near the entrance to Taroko Gorge (see the river tracing section above).

Taiwanese aboriginals, aboriginal festival in Hualian, Taiwan
Aboriginal dance performance

Other great places to experience aboriginal culture in Taiwan include Orchid Island and Sun Moon Lake.

Aboriginal leader, aboriginal festival in Hualian, Taiwan
Aboriginal tribe leader, Hualien
Taiwanese aboriginals, aboriginal festival in Hualian, Taiwan
Taiwanese aboriginals in costume at a festival in Hualien

Well, I hope that the information here helped you to plan your Taiwan East Coast trip. Enjoy your Taiwan road trip! Please continue on to Part 2 of this guide for Hualien to Taitung and Taitung to Kenting National Park!

23 thoughts on “The Stunning East Coast of Taiwan Part 1: Yilan to Hualien and Taroko Gorge”

  1. Hey Nick,
    I’m a Taiwanese tried to help my foreigner friend plan their trip. And your blog is so helpful even I have known most of the places and things you mentioned. Not just for the language is in English also the info is well organized and very detail. I appreciate all your writing for people who want to travel in Taiwan. I tried hard to search your part 2 for telling the rest part of east coast but I can’t find it, and also I can’t find others with the same quality as yours! Can you plz finish your part 2 for all of us? I crave for that!

  2. Thank you so much for your travel inspiring blogs of Taiwan east part. I myself also recommend my friends to visit these places since they are just amazing! Thank you and love to immerse into your next travel blogs!

  3. Enjoy reading your story very much.
    Easy to find the various places you named in your blog on Google map, only one place gave a small problem.
    It is called Dongyue (東岳)Cold Spring instead of DongAo CS.

  4. thank you for your reply, i am looki at 4-5 days, likely alone with low budget. i heard so much how stunning the scenery is. ( forests, hot spring, gorge)

    but i will be flexible with your suggestions as you are more experienced and I have none,

    i fall in love with taiwan, i think its going to be my favorite country. so far been to taipei only.

    not willing to go down all the way to southern tip. ( Taitung, kenting) or am i missing something?

  5. Hi. I’m reading almost every single article. Thank you so much for all this great information.
    I read your article about travelling with children but my question is. Is it doable to travel Tapei to Hualien and explore the area (Qingshui cliffs, gorge and Qixingtan beach) exclusively by public transportation with an 9 months old? Thank you so much!

    • Hi Aline,
      Thanks for you message and comments! To be honest, I think this would be tough to accomplish, even without a kid. Taroko Gorge only, then sure, you could do it. It’s just slower, and you won’t be able to see as much of the gorge because you’ll spend more time getting around and waiting for the bus. Qixingtan is also doable, since the local bus to Taroko stops there along the way.
      For Qingshui Cliffs, though, as far as I know, there is no bus that goes along that road because the road is considered a little dangerous. The only way you can see the cliffs is by driving on your own, taking a tour that includes them, or hiring a taxi.
      Even though the first two are doable, this is one day trip that, in my opinion, is worth paying a little more on to at least have a driver, especially if traveling with a kid. Then you can have more time and energy to focus on the sights in the gorge, instead of spending most of your time and energy just getting there and getting between the sights. The buses are not very frequent, too, so you really have to time it right to avoid long waits.
      I hope this helps!

  6. Hi Nick! Thanks for your very informative blog. Our 1st time to taiwan with 2 kids (14 and 10).
    Do you think renting a car and driving for most of our trip (outside Taipei) is a good idea, or trains should suffice. We are mainly doing the East Coast: Taipei (3nights)>> Wulai (2n) >>Jiaoxi(2n) >>Hualien (3n) >>Taipei (1n)>>fly out. do you think this plan is doable? We don’t want to rush, and prefer a more relaxing, flexible holiday. Planning to rent a car when we leave Taipei, to drive to Wulai. is this advisable, is it easy/expensive to drive there?

    On another note, would you know if the whale watching trips cause a lot of sea sickness? Would you recommend this for mid/end April?

    Thank you so much for your time

    • Driving on public transport would be both be good for your plan, so it boils down to a personal choice. To reach Wulai by public transport, it’s 1 hr bus ride from Xindian MRT station. Driving would be slightly faster. Some people don’t feel comfortable driving in Taipei city (myself included, but I’m fine outside of the city), so that depends on what’s your used to. Generally, taipei is much easier to explore by MRT. Parking anywhere is notoriously tough. Going to Jiaoxi, it’s a pretty easy 1 hr drive. The bus or train is easy too, usuallu 60-90 min. Jiaoxi to Hualien is also easy by train (you would want to book the tickets early though), but if you drive, it’s a scenic route. Having a car for Taroko Gorge would be very convenient, otherwise you’d need to hire a driver, take a tour, or take the very slow bus. Renting a car vs taking trains plus a taroko tour probably won’t be a big price difference. The boats can be a little rocky, so seasickness is possible for anyone who is prone to it. Usually peak whale viewing time is summer, and it’s considered possible to see them May to September. So you might be a hint too early, or maybe you’ll be lucky. Hope this helps!

  7. Hi Nick,
    Currently travelling in Taiwan. Your blogs have been an incredible source of information for my trip. Congratulations and many thanks.
    Having published a travel guide (Oman) and set up a website (Tunisia) I know how much time and effort it takes.
    BTW my “base camp” is Calgary.
    Cheers and many thanks


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