Taiwan’s waters have treacherous currents and undertows not far offshore. Some sound advice is to go no deeper than where your feet can still touch the sand.
Kenting Beach is the longest swimming beach in the area.
The beach across from the Caesar Hotel is smaller but set in picture-perfect Little Bay (小灣; Xiǎowān). It has a beach bar and showers (free for Caesar Hotel guests, a nominal fee for others). This beach is very family-oriented.
The vibe at Nanwan (南灣; Nánwān; South Bay) is young and brash. The beach has been cleaned up a lot but expect tractors on the beach, and jet-ski heroes making runs at the sand with complete disregard for whoever might be in their way.
The sweet little crescent beach at Baisha Bay (白砂灣; Báishā Wān) is a little further afield but has been in the limelight after Ang Lee shot parts of Life of Pi here. Still, it’s the least crowded beach around.
Jumping off the chin (and other protuberances) of Sail Rock (船帆石; Chuánfán Shí), aka Nixon Rock, and swimming round the landmark is also a popular swimming option.
Surfing, Snorkelling & Diving
The waters around Jialeshui and the nuclear power plant at Nanwan have the best surfing waves. Jialeshui is by far the more laid-back and less crowded of the two. You can hire surfboards (NT$800 per day) almost everywhere.
For snorkelling, check out the coral formations near Sail Rock. You can hire gear across the road.
With 310 species of birds, Kenting is a twitchers’ paradise, and the National Park HQ has several good birdwatching brochures. Eluanbi (鵝鑾鼻; Éluánbí), Sheding Nature Park and Manzhou are prime spots. Longluan Lake (龍鑾潭; Lóngluántán) has an educational visitor centre and observation area.
The Hengchun Peninsula is one of the most important sites for raptor migration in East Asia and is one of the top 20 raptor-migration sites worldwide. In a single autumn day, over 50,000 raptors have been recorded flying overhead. Among the more famous to sail the Kenting skies are the Chinese goshawks and grey-faced buzzards. Goshawks start arriving early to mid-September on their journey south to Indochina. The best time and place to see them is morning in Sheding Nature Park.
Around 10 October, grey-faced buzzards pass through the park, also on their way to Indochina. The best times and places to see these 'National Day Birds' are Sheding in the mornings, and Manzhou between 3pm and 6pm.
With 39 species representing seven families, Kenting National Park has the highest diversity of land crabs in the world. The crustaceans that leave their solitary burrows in the inland areas for the coast, normally between August and October, are driven by a clear purpose: to breed and spawn.
You can easily spot them between Sail Rock and Eluanbi on Hwy 26 during the spawning season and, needless to say, crushed crabs are a common sight. The park now closes parts of the road in the evenings when the spawning season is at its peak (usually during the Mid-Autumn Festival, ie the full moon in September or October) and volunteers are recruited to help escort the crabs cross the highway. During other times, drive slowly to help protect this declining population.
Twitchers will be happy to know that during the land-crab migration, they can see hawks take off en masse at dawn.
Hengchun Peninsula is one of Taiwan's best cycling destinations, but it's important to choose the right route to avoid the pollution in the industrial area. Hwy 26 from Checheng to Kenting is congested and best avoided.
The 100km-long Kenting coastal loop is a popular and scenic cycling route. From Checheng, take County Rd 153 along the coast down to Nanwan; from there, switch to Hwy 26 and head east to Jialeshui. The roads are usually not busy and run through a beautiful landscape of beaches and coastal bluffs. From Jialeshui, the 200 takes you back to Hengchun via beautiful Manzhou.
At Checheng, another good alternative is to head east on the County Rd 199, one of the sweetest rural roads in the south.