Shangri-La City, formerly known as Zhongdian County, 3300 m above sea level, is located at the intersection of Tibet, Sichuan, and Yunnan and is administered by Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. As the southern extension of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the terrain is complex and diverse, so Shangri-La has majestic snow-capped mountains, steep canyons, winding rivers, secluded lakes, well-preserved primitive forests, and numerous plateau pastures. Today’s Shangri-La is not only a gateway to Tibet, Sichuan, and India but also a holy place for explorers and tourists.
The term Shangri-La came from the novel “Lost Horizon” written by British novelist James Hilton. The book described a paradise, which the locals called “Shangri-La”. As the novel was published in 1933 and later in the movie, “Shangri-La” gained a worldwide reputation. Shangri-La is derived from the ancient Tibetan language in the Zhongdian dialect. In the minds of local Tibetans, “Shangri-La” means “the sun and the moon in their hearts”, which is the praise to Sunshine City (Songzanlin Monastery) and Moonlight City (Dukezong Ancient City), and it is also the ideal life of Tibetans: existed in harmony with nature, which is indeed a paradise.
ABC’s of Shangri-La
Area: 11 613 km2 Average annual temperature: 5.8 degrees Geography: Located on a plateau in the north of Yunnan, 3000 m above sea level. Population: 186,412 (2021) Ethnic minorities account for 89.08% of the total population Elevation: 3160 m Ethnic minorities: Tibetan Economy: Tourism, Yak breeding
Shangri-La is a great destination to visit withoutapplying for a permit if you want to experience Tibetan culture but have no time to visit Tibet.
Travelers who like religious culture can visit Sumtseling Monastery, Ringha Temple, Baiji Temple, and a little further away, Dongzhulin Monastery. Baiji Temple is the closest to the ancient town. It is best to visit in the morning, so you can see the locals burning incense and sincere praying, and you also have a sweeping panoramic view of the Shangri-La town.
Cycling to visit the Napa Lake Nature Reserve, strolling in Patatso Park, exploring Golden Monkey National Park, and discovering Baishuitai are good choices for naturalists.
Cooperating with people to spin the giant heavy pray-wheel in a clockwise direction, joining the dancing in the Dukezong square, visiting native Tibetan families, or learning black pottery making in Nixi Village will make tourists closer to local life.
There is plenty to explore in the Shangri-La and its surrounding, would recommend two days and one night here at the minimum, but if you have extra time, could extend other nights in Tacheng and Benzilan.
Shangri-La Airport is located in the southwest of Shangri-La City, 5 kilometers away from the downtown, and you can take a taxi to reach the city. Currently, 7 domestic regular routes have been opened, and the navigable cities are Kunming, Chengdu, Lhasa, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Beijing.
You can take a bus from Lijiang to Shangri-La.
A more convenient way is by private vehicle because you could not miss the Tiger Leaping Gorge on the way, where you could stay in the local village for 1 or 2 nights to hike inside the gorge rather than rush in the crowded spot.
Shangri-La is about 3,300 meters above sea level. The climate is changeable in four seasons. Like all plateaus, the temperature difference between morning and evening is large and the wind is strong. If the sun shines during the day, the temperature can reach 25 degrees or more. At night, there is a feeling of cold wind. No matter what season, you should prepare a jacket and sun protection items.
It’s best to start the journey at a lower elevation such as Kunming or Dali and transfer slowly towards higher altitudes. Although oxygen and medicines for anti-altitude sickness have been used, there are still uncomfortable, travelers had better leave the highland as soon as possible. For guests with heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, and other physical diseases, Shangri-La is not suitable for them to visit.
The best seasons to visit Shangri-La and its region are from Mid-April to the end of June and fromSeptember to early November, for not only is the temperature suitable, but the scenery is also the most beautiful.
For lovers of snow and winter vacations and provided that the roads are not blocked by snow, a stay in winter thanks to the superb panoramas offered by the snow-covered landscapes can also prove to be an interesting experience but it is necessary to make sure that the selected hotel has heating. This will be an opportunity to take advantage of the Tibetan New Year (Laqishi) festivities which take place on the same date as in China. The Gedong ceremony which takes place on the 29th day of the 11th lunar month (December) in the monasteries of Songzanlin and Dongszhulin consists of a large gathering of lamas accompanied by masked dances embodying the deities of the Tibetan pantheon. For information about Shangri-La climate and weather.
Zhongdian, called “Jiantang” in Tibetan, is said a fief given to one son by the Tibetan king and was renamed Shangri-La in 2001 for here is the portrayed paradise in a novel” Lost Horizon” created in 1933 by James Hilton, the famous British writer.
The history of Zhongdian is as old as the Tibetan script, and they were all founded in the 7th century AD.
From the Ming Dynasty to the peaceful liberation of 1950, Zhongdian was under the jurisdiction of Lijiang.
In the Kangxi period of the Qing Dynasty, Wu Sangui gave the Dalai Lama the land of Zhongdian later returned to Lijiang.
In 1957, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture was officially established, and Zhongdian was the capital.
Tibetans still represent 33% of the population of Shangri-La followed by the Naxi, Mosuo, and Lisu minorities.
The main religion in Tibet has been Buddhism since its introduction in the 7th century AD. Before the arrival of Buddhism, the main religion was primitive (Animism). This religion, although constituting a minority later influenced the formation of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetans have many unique ways to pray such as prayer flags and prayer wheels. Prayer flags are small pieces of colored and printed rectangular fabrics, hanging on top of mountains, at crossroads, on the roofs of houses, on bridges, or outside of temples in the Tibetan region. It is said when the wind blows the prayer flag, it spread goodwill and positive energy wherever they go.
Tibetan prayer flags are bright and beautiful, but their colors aren’t just for show. Each hue signifies an element — and the flags are always arranged in a specific order, from left to right: blue, represents the sky; white, represents the air; red, symbolizes fire; green, symbolizes water and yellow symbolizes earth. All five colors together signify balance.
1. Karma Cafe 卡玛聚
The restaurant is rebuilt by a 250-year-old house, and the decoration and building are traditional Tibetan. It was a nice place to laid back for a few hours after a hard day’s sightseeing. Very small and cozy restaurant but has good service and serves the best Yak steaks in the old town.
2. Flying Tiger Cafe 飞虎咖啡
Authentic French and local specialties restaurant with an English menu, The Flying Tigers Cafe is a perfect place in the old town with a harmonious atmosphere and exquisite food quality, using mainly local products.
3. Akedunba 阿珂顿巴餐厅
The owner is a local Tibetan, so the decoration of the restaurant is full of Tibetan flavor. The ingredients are fresh, and the Yak hot-pot and secret sauce are features of the restaurant.
The hotels in Shangri-La are full of Tibetan characteristics. The Karma Cafe Guesthouse and the Zinc Journey Arro Khampa are in the old town. The Songtsam Lvgu hotel and the Songtsam Linka Hotel are the most beautiful references in the city. They are both located a few steps from the Songzanlin Monastery and some rooms offer a magnificent view of the small Potala illuminated each evening with its mountain landscape in the background.
Discover our selection of the best charming hotels located in Shangri-La and its region, meeting a wide range of comfort and prices on the dedicated page of our site.
This selection is the result of our long experience and the positive feedback from our customers. Please take into consideration that in some more remote destinations, the choice of infrastructure and range of comfort is sometimes limited. In this case, we do our best to retain the best establishments.