With its vast forests, soaring mountains and deep canyons, Taiwan is far more than just the skyscrapers and humming traffic that most people typically associate it with. Home to some of the highest summits in northeast Asia, Taiwan is also known as Ilha Formosa, which aptly means “beautiful island”. Here, the rugged wilderness offers huge adventure-sports potential, all easily accessible from major cities along the coast.
Only a 30-minute drive from Taipei City, Yangmingshan National Park has hiking trails that involve anything from around 2 to 8 hours of hiking, catering to every level of fitness. From flat paved paths to remove waterfalls and volcanic craters, Yangmingshan is good for a scenic hike.
There’s Qingtiangang (2.4km), an easy hike with great views; Qixingshan (5.7km), a hike up the highest peak in the park; and Alibang Waterfall (5-6km), covering some of the park’s more rugged terrain. The volcanic nature of Yangmingshan also means that there are a number of natural hot springs, such as Lengshuikeng, which are perfect for soaking weary legs.
Just a 15-minute walk from Taipei 101, the Four Beast Mountain (Si-Shou Shan Public Forest) is a good mix of both a scenic and challenging hike.
The 4 mountains resemble an elephant, tiger, leopard, and lion, with the tiger and elephant mountains being the most famous with the most developed trails, and the lion and leopard being more challenging with hidden gems that require a good level of fitness. Most trails start either on Xinyi Road or just off Songren Road and can be completed in loops. The main trails are also lit at night. Hikes typically take up to 4-6 hours and can get very steep, with fixed ropes to help on the steepest stretches depending on the trail you take.
A must-do hike in Taipei for adventure seekers, Wuliaojian (in Sanxia District) is a touch climb through the lush forest up to a craggy ridge that is only a few feet wide in places. Highlights include the 20m near-vertical cliff face that hikers will have to descend on a rope, and throughout the hike you will be scrambling up rock faces, pulling yourself up rope ladders and balancing on the knife-edge ridge, with support rope provided. The trail involves 5-6 hours of hiking and requires a very good level of fitness.
Other major cities notable hiking areas nearby include Hualien (Taroko Gorge), Kaosiung (Beidawu Mountain), and Taichung (Dakeng).
Situated on the coast, at the entrance of the world famous Taroko Gorge, Hualien boasta some of the best river tracing in Taiwan. There are several rivers in Hualien, each with its own level of difficulty, ranging from easy to advanced. The best way to enjoy river tracing is to join a guided tour from companies like Hualien Outdoors or Taiwan Adventures, where prices can range from NT$3,000-5,000.
Alternatively, Jiajiuliao in Wulai is more accessible, situated a mere 40-minute bus ride from Taipei. Featuring jungle canopies, natural waterslides and a deep pool large enough to swim in, the stream has no steep inclines and flows relatively gently, making it an easy but fun trail. You can reach the big swimming hole in less than an hour’s walk.
White Water Rafting
By far the most popular spot in Taiwan, Xiuguluan is the only river that cuts through the Coastal Mountain Range. A 2-hour drive away from Hualien City, the rafting course is 24km long, starting from Ruisui on the East Rift Valley, cutting through a gorge in the Coastal Mountain Range to finish at Changhong Bridge.
With more than 20 sets of rapids, it takes about 3-4 hours to complete. Tours can be booked from Hualien City via the Xiuguluan River Raftinig Visitor Centre (from NT$750) and other rafting outfitters.
Only a 40-minute drive from Taipei, Jinshan is a great surfing spot for beginners. Here, the waves tend to be 1m or less, and surf shops for rentals and lessons can be found just off the beach, such as Johnny Rose Surf Club and The Tube Factory.
For more experienced surfers, just a 30-minute drive away from Taipei is a surfing beach at Wushi Harbour in Yilan. From September to May, waves range from 1-3m with relatively strong rips, while between June and August, the typhoon brings swells that can create triple overhead waves, and even the occasional, short barrel.
When it comes to kitesurfing, the Penghu Islands win hands down as the best place in Taiwan.
However, it isn’t as accessible as Tainan’s Golden Beach, one of the best places on the Taiwanese mainland. At just a 30-minute drive from downtown Tainan, it is an expansive 4km long, 50m wide stretch of sea with consistently strong, shoreside winds of 7-14 knots, and is home to the Taiwan Kitesurfing Centre.
Other notable kitesurfing spots include Guanyin District in Taoyuan (1-hour drive from Taipei) and Miaoli in Hsinchu (1.5-hour drive from Taipei).
Kenting Marine Park, on the southernmost tip of Taiwan, boasts some of Taiwan’s best diving. Covering over 15,000 hectares of ocean and containing over 60% of the world’s coral species and 1,100 species of fish (in addition to hawksbill turtles, blue-spotted stingrays, and swordfishes), Kenting has a wide range of shore-based as well as boat dives.
Some of the most popular sites include the turtle breeding areas on Sand Island, while the area around Eluanbi Lighthouse has small caves and unusual rock formations, and Maupitou peninsula is home to some of the best coral gardens in Asia.
Visibility is generally good (averaging 15m) with strong currents and rocks. Most dive shops located in the vicinity offer gear hire and guided trips.
If travelling from Kaohsiung, visitors can take a bus from Zuoying Station or Kenting Main Station to the Kenting area (1.5-2 hours, around NT$300)
With beautiful scenery and an extensive road network, Taiwan is ideal for bicycle touring; it’s even possible to cover the whole of Taiwan in just 10 days, while overnighting in major cities.
Visitors can start their ride in Kaohsiung on the west coast and then travel south to Kenting, before riding north to Hualien along the popular east coast route.
Alternatively, those who are looking for a challenge can try the Northern Cross-Island Highway (131.3km) that goes over the Central Mountain Range, an extremely rewarding route that offers alpine scenery – that starts in Daxi (a 50-minute drive from Taipei) and ends in Yilan.
Campgrounds, hotels and hostels can be found easily along the route, and bikes and other gear can be rented from Giant at a reasonable rate (NT$10 per 30 minutes) from their rental stations found in most cities.
Even within Taipei, there are numerous riverside bike lanes that you can explore on a YouBike, which you can from kiosks all over Taipei City. If you have an EasyCard, rental is free for the first 30 minutes.
Within Hualien City is another excellent cycling trail – the 15km-long Hualien Coastal Bikeway which hugs the coastline, so you get the city on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Bikes can be rented from NT$100 per day.
Given its hilly terrain with several mountains within the city limits, Taipei is an outdoorsy city that’s great for mountain biking, especially in the Beitou District and Yangmingshan National Park.
Websites like ww.formosanfattire.com have excellent information about trails around Taiwan, such as the Beitou Hills, Beitou Speed Trap, Gas Plant (near a gas plant above Hsin-hai Road Tunnel), Ski Lift (near Yangmingshan) and Wulai #2.
Bikes can be rented from shops such as Alan’s Mountain Bike (NT$800 – 1,000 per day) in Taipei, and companies like In Motion Asia and Grasshopper Adventures organise bicycle tours and provide bike rental services as well. Some rail services allow you to bring your bike onboard, giving you more options to explore trails outside the city limits.
There are multiple direct flight options from Singapore to Taipei, as well as to Kaosiung, with a flight time of just under 5 hours. For more on Taiwan, visit eng.taiwan.net.tw.