With the Great Wall’s 13,170 miles, Xi’an’s 8,000 terra-cotta warriors, the Forbidden City’s 800 palaces, China has a predisposition for grandeur. But the magic of the Middle Kingdom lies in personal encounters, whether its a rickshaw ride through old Beijing or a tai chi lesson on a riverboat. Get an insider’s take on this country of contrasts, meeting conservationists and archaeologists, navigating karst caves and misty gorges, and exploring the legacy of ancient empires and the futuristic momentum of Shanghai.
Spend a day interacting with giant pandas at a research center outside Chengdu, helping caretakers feed and care for the animals and learning about conservation efforts.
Meet National Geographic grantees across China and learn about the latest research efforts related to the environment, wildlife conservation, and geology.
Go behind the scenes at the Institute of Archaeology in Xi’an for an insider’s look at recent finds at the terra-cotta warrior site and other excavations.
Cruise two of China’s most legendary waterways, gliding through the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River and the karst landscapes of the Li River.
Itinerary - 15 Days
Day 1 — Beijing, China
Arrive in Beijing and transfer to our hotel in the heart of the capital. Enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure. The St. Regis Beijing
Day 2 — Beijing
Delve into imperial Beijing at the Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by gardens. Try tai chi with a master practitioner before heading to a traditional hutong neighborhood for a rickshaw tour. Stroll the vast and historic Tiananmen Square and then navigate the 900-some buildings and temples of the Forbidden City. Visit Friends of Nature, China’s oldest environmental organization, and meet with National Geographic grant recipient Boju Zhang to hear about his latest efforts to conserve air and water quality in the capital city. Tonight, feast on Peking duck with your fellow travelers.
The St. Regis Beijing (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Great Wall/Beijing
Step back in time at the less visited Simatai section of the Great Wall, which retains the fortification’s original character. Glimpse old China in Gubei Water Town, where centuries-old houses line quartzite streets and waterways. The St. Regis Beijing (B,L)
Days 4 & 5 — Xi’an
Ride first-class on the high-speed train to Xi’an, once the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and the capital of China. On a special behind-the-scenes visit to the Institute of Archaeology—normally closed to the public—learn about latest excavations and see the terra-cotta warriors up close. After breakfast the next day, view the legendary terra-cotta army, composed of thousands of soldiers, chariots, and horses that were buried around 210 b.c. at the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Later, walk or ride a bike atop the massive city wall. During free time, browse the maze of markets and sites in the Muslim Quarter. Sofitel Xi’an on Renmin Square (B,L,D; B,L)
Days 6 & 7 — Guilin and Yangshuo
Visit the Han Yang Ling Museum this morning, and take a behind-the-scenes tour of the renovation lab. Then fly to Guilin, set in a spectacular landscape of karst cliffs. Descend into the Reed Flute Cave, a subterranean spectacle of stalactites and stone pillars. The following day, embark on a cruise down the Li River. Glide beneath limestone pinnacles and terraced rice fields that have inspired Chinese artists for generations, and stop to browse antique and craft markets. Return to Guilin for an evening on your own. Shangri-La Hotel Guilin (B,L,D; B,L)
Days 8 & 9 — Chengdu
This morning, meet Dr. Zhang Hai at the Karst Institute to learn about a National Geographic-funded project creating 3-D surveys and models of China’s caves, and go for a short walk through the scenic forest around the Institute. Then fly to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. Learn the age-old Chinese game of mah-jongg and enjoy a cup of tea with locals in Wangjianglou Park. For dinner tonight, savor hot pot, a Sichuan favorite. Spend the next day at the Dujiangyan Giant Panda Base overseen by the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda. We’ll have the chance to prepare meals and feed the pandas, help clean the enclosures, and hear about conservation efforts. Return to Chengdu for dinner. The St. Regis Chengdu (B,L,D daily)
Days 10, 11, & 12 — Chongqing/Yangtze River
Visit the Dazu Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site where centuries-old rock carvings depict Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist themes as well as scenes of ordinary life during the Tang Dynasty. Then travel to Chongqing to board a riverboat for a three-night voyage on the Yangtze through the breathtaking Three Gorges region. On daily excursions, visit the ancient shrines of Fengdu, and venture into narrow tributaries by local sampan boat, taking in gorgeous scenery. Back on the ship, learn about traditional healing and local crafts, enjoy morning tai chi, and gaze at the dramatic gorges. Yangzi Explorer (B,L,D daily)
Day 13 — Yichang/Shanghai
Witness the world’s largest engineering project at the Three Gorges Dam, then disembark in Yichang. Fly to bustling Shanghai and settle into our hotel. Fairmont Peace Hotel (B,L)
Days 14 & 15 — Shanghai
Begin the day meandering among the
pavilions, ponds, and zigzag bridges of Yu Garden, Shanghai’s celebrated classical Chinese garden, dating to 1559. Peruse an intriguing range of antiques and goods at the Old Bazaar. Over lunch, meet with conservationist and wildlife photographer Jing Li, a National Geographic grantee working to conserve critically endangered birds in the greater Shanghai area. After lunch, zoom up to the observation deck of China’s tallest building, Shanghai Tower, for a superlative view of the skyline. Stroll neon-lit Nanjing Road and the historic Bund waterfront.Tonight, toast your Chinese adventure at a local restaurant. The following day, transfer to the airport for your return flight. Fairmont Peace Hotel (B,L,D; B)
Alexander "Alec" Murphy is Professor of Geography at the University of Oregon, a past president of the American Association of Geographers, and Senior Vice President of the American Geographical Society. He has lectured and traveled extensively in China. The Chinese translation of a U.S. National Academy of Sciences study he recently chaired on “Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences” is widely used throughout the country. Alec is also co-author of a leading textbook in human geography. In the late 1990s he led the effort to add geography to the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program. Drawing on his expertise in political, cultural, and environmental geography, Alec will offer his insights into the human and physical forces shaping the places we visit.
Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $2,400. Airfare to Beijing and return from Shanghai, as well as airfare within China, are not included in the expedition cost. The group flights within China are $560 per person (subject to change).
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives on bumpy roads, or easy hikes.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.