The Danxia Rainbow Mountains in Zhangye, China.

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Zhangye Danxia National Geopark


The swirling orange, yellow, white and brown lunar landscape of this national park is the result of sandstone and mineral deposits that have eroded into odd shapes over the course of millennia. Infrastructure was installed inside the park after it was named a national geopark in 2011, making it – for better or worse – very accessible to tourists. Wooden stairs and platforms allow visitors to reach the tops of the hills without damaging the delicate landscape and offer views over the coloured strata.

There are five observation stops, reached by hop-on, hop-off tourist bus from either the west or north entrance; you can spend as long as you wish at each stop. Stop No 4 is the best-looking, with iridescent hills rolling off in a long panorama. Some advice: choose a clear day for your visit, otherwise it could be a bit of a let-down. The park opens early and shuts late for a reason: the best time to visit (and photograph) the landscape is at sunrise or sunset.

The wooden walkways channel visitors into confined areas, so there is little opportunity to explore the park and its full possibilities and it is also hard to get close-ups of the landscape and its colours, unless you have a telephoto lens. Take water with you and don a sunhat on a hot day (there is no shade).

From Zhangye, a taxi to both Mǎtí Sì and Danxia will cost around ¥350 to ¥400, or a taxi to just the geopark will cost about ¥150 to ¥200 (depending on your bargaining skills). If you speak Chinese, you can try local travel agents who run tours to the geopark for around ¥120.

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