Taroko, in the local Truku aboriginal language, means “magnificent and beautiful“.
And truly Taroko is a splendid place with massive marble cliffs mottled with tropical vegetation, blue streams and pagodas surrounded by green forests.
There are still magic places in the world. Taroko is one of them.
So far I’ve been there four times … surely we’ll come back again and again, for as long as we remain in Taiwan.
What is Taroko Gorge?
Taroko Gorge is located in Eastern Taiwan, Hualien County, not far from the Pacific Ocean.
According to geologists, this part of Taiwan is rising because of the subduction of the Philippines oceanic plate to the east.
So, in the last few million of years, Liwu River (River of Mist) had to cut trough a massive marble and gneiss body, slowly but continuously uplifting.
Just as a saw wire that cuts a slab of marble that is pushed against it …
Taroko Gorge was so created: one of the most spectacular canyons in the world, 20 kilometers of vertical cliffs, in some parts over 1000 meters high.
An extraordinary road
Until the ’50s only a trail ran through the gorge.
Chiang Kai-shek decided to build a road to cross Taiwan from west to east through the Central Range.
The Nationalist Army soldiers built the road, called Central Cross-Island Highway, in just 4 years, from 1956 to 1960.
Built at the cost of enormous efforts and lives this spectacular road runs through the whole Taroko Gorge.
Despite its name, the Central Cross-Island Highway is a narrow and winding mountain road. It is not a 4 lanes highway. Recently, a few more tunnels have been dug to make the road safer for vehicles and to leave the most amazing sights just for the tourists.
Taroko National Park was established by the Japanese and then again in 1986.
Places to see
Taroko Gorge attractions are listed as they will be encountered driving along the road from the eastern entrance of Taroko National Park, close to Hualien. This by far the easiest and most popular access to Taroko National Park.
I also have a different page with a description of easy trails in the whole area of Taroko National Park.
0.0 km – Taroko National Park Main Visitor Center
The National Park Visitor Center is located on a terrace on the left side of the river, just at the beginning of the valley.
Here you can find a small museum, updated informations about the park (in English too), books and a cafeteria. If you don’t have a vehicle, from here you can easily walk, in about 15 minutes, to the start of Shakadang Trail.
The Visitor Center is closed on the second Monday of each month. Opening hours are from 8:45am to 16:45 pm.
2.5 km – Eternal Spring Shrine (Chang Chun Shrine)
Dedicated to the 450 soldiers-workers that lost their lives building the Central Cross-Island Highway, the Shrine is one of Taroko landmarks.
This small temple is built right on top of a mighty perennial spring.
Just follow the signs to the left pointing to an old diversion from the main road. From the car park walk across the suspension bridge.
Most people stop at the Eternal Spring Shrine. But you can reach a Zen monastery with a short but strenuous walk, to be avoided when it rains (1.3 km – 1 hour).
10.2 km – Buluowan
To get to Buluowan, you will have to follow a branch on the left (good road signs) and drive/walk 2 kms uphill, to reach two large terraces, quite elevated above the valley.
Buluowan was a main settlement of Truku aboriginals. Japanese forced them away about 100 years ago.
Recently, the Truku returned to their homeland. Now they are running a visitor center, on the lower terrace.
There you can find a museum, live exhibitions of their traditional arts, such as weaving, and a handcrafts shop.
The upper terrace houses the Leader Village Hotel, which is managed and staffed by Aboriginal people too.
Buluowan’s bucolic setting is not as dramatic as the rest of Taroko Gorge. Anyway we found Buluowan a great place, where to lodge our next time in Taroko.
13.8 km – Swallow Grotto – Yanzihkou
The most dramatic and beautiful stretch of Taroko Gorge starts here.
The main road goes straight into a new gallery on the left. Turn on the right, following the old road, that is carved into the rock for about 1.5 km. This part of the road is one way, you can both drive (slowly) or walk.
The place is so called because of the swallows were nesting on the cliff.
Swallows deserted Yanzihkou some time ago. Now that most of the traffic is diverted in the new tunnel they will hopefully come back.
The vertical cliffs are absolutely amazing, it is a terrific place!
Just after Swallow Grotto, you can have a stop at Liufang bridge. Here Jhuilu Cliff reaches an height of 1100 meters. It is the highest cliff of the whole gorge.
Have a look at how polished is the river bed. The water level during a typhoon can reach heights of tens of meters!
Here’s how Taroko Gorge has been – and still is – carved into the marble.
17.7 km – Tunnel of Nine Turns- Jiuqudong
Don’t miss this section too!
Nine Turns Tunnel is another stretch of the old road, about two kilometers long.
The whole section is reserved to pedestrian, the new road runs into a separate tunnel.
The parking lot is uphill, after the tunnel. Unfortunately this part is affected by rock falls, so it is often closed when it rains.
23.2 km – Tiansiang (Tienhshiang)
Located at the west end of the gorge, Tiansiang is a very tiny village.
Public buses stop here. 3 of the 4 hotels in Taroko Gorge are here too, including the only 5-stars one. Beside the hotels restaurants, small eateries provide basic food.
Some of the most interesting trails in Taroko Gorge can be easily reached from Tiansiang.
You will notice a beautiful pagoda and a temple nested on a green hill, overlooking Tiansiang, that can be reached easily crossing the suspension bridge.
Tiansiang is another beautiful place that I recommend. Twice we enjoied Tiansiang as the base camp of our explorations in Taroko Gorge.
Taroko Gorge Tips
Taroko Gorge is by far one of the major attractions in Taiwan, so there are always tourists around.
Luckily, most tourists travel with package tours. Hence, they do not leave the hotel before 8 am, they have lunch at a restaurant and, sometime in the afternoon, are brought in gift shops in Hualien.
So you just have to visit Taroko at certain times to enjoy the magic of the gorge in peace.
We had the chance to do in this way the last two times we were in Taroko (we had our car).
So, going around at 7 AM, we enjoyed not only the best parts of Taroko Gorge in complete solitude, but we also spotted monkeys lingering on the trees above the road.
In the late afternoon, just before the sunset, we wandered around the easy Lushui-Holiu trail without encountering anyone.
A word of caution.
Taroko Gorge marble is very strong but the most recent earthquakes made unstable some parts of the gorge.
Falling rocks killed unaware tourists several times. The most dangerous part is the Tunnel of Nine Curves. For this reason park authorities often close this part during and after heavy rains.
Often also it is compulsory to wear a helmet. The National Park has a certain number to lend to tourists but it is better if you have your own.
Taroko Gorge: Getting There & Getting Around
There are several express trains each day from Taipei to Hsincheng and Hualien. The travel takes 3-4 hours. There are also direct trains from Taichung to Hualien, via Taipei (4-5 hours) or via Kaohsiung-Taitung (about 8 hours on this much longer southern island route).
To have your own car or scooter is the best way to visit Taroko and Taiwan East Coast.
Cars can be rented at Hualien airport, scooters just outside the train station in Hualien (200 NTD per day). In both cases, of course, you must have an international driving license.
Taxis are plentiful and convenient in Taiwan, Hualien is no exception.
The driver will be more than happy to negotiate with you a very reasonable price to take you around Taroko.
The first time we came here (year 2002), we rented a taxi for the whole day for just NTD 2,000, but likely the price per day now is more about 3,000 NTD.
You may consider to hire a taxi recommended by your hotel.
At least the two major hotels inside Taroko, Silks Place (former Grand Formosa Taroko) in Tiansiang and Leader Hotel in Buluowan, can arrange to pick you up in Hualien or in Hsincheng-Taroko (a small station on Taipei-Hualien railroad)
Both the hotels provide their own shuttle bus service for reaching all the sights and trails in Taroko.
Regular bus lines connect Hualien and Hsincheng railway stations with the park entrance (Visitors Center) and Tiansiang. Click here for timetables and routes. This bus works as hop on-hop off line, but the schedule is not very frequent. Daily passes cost 250 NTD, two days 400 NTD.
Get to Taroko Gorge from the west
Crossing the Central Range is one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had in Taiwan.
The road reaches 3275 meters of altitude in Hehuanshan, which is the highest pass across Taiwan.
Hehuanshan is an amazing place. It is nested above the tree line, in the alpine grassland that, in Taiwan, is formed by dwarf bamboos. The air is thin and, when the sun is out, very dry.
After Hehuanshan the road is normally deserted. It gets down to Taroko amid mountain sceneries that look – and are – wild and remote.
Taroko National Park: a short introduction to the whole Taroko National Park with a description (and maps) of trails not to be missed.
Taroko Gorge Hotels: accomodations available in Taroko area.