Taroko, in the local 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 three times ... surely we'll come back again and again, for as long as we remain in Taiwan
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 Philippines oceanic plate to the east.
So, in the last few million of years, Liwu River (River of the 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 ...
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.
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 established by the Japanese and then again in 1986.
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.
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 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.
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 here at the Shrine. You can reach a Zen monastery with a short but strenuous walk, to be avoided when it rains (1.3 km - 1 hour).
Eternal Spring Shrine (Chang Chun Shrine)
To reach Buluowan, you will have to follow a branch on the left (good roadsigns) and drive/walk 2 kms uphill to reach two large terraces, quite high above the valley.
Buluowan was a main settlement of Truku aboriginals. Japanese forced them away about 100 years ago.
The Truku are back to their homeland and now they run a visitor center on the lower terrace.
Here 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, managed 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.
Lower terrace in Buluowan
The most dramatic and beautiful stretch of Taroko Gorge starts here.
The main road goes straight into a new dug 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 the swallows were nesting in the potholes on the cliff face.
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!
Swallow Grotto - Yanzihkou
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 the river bed is polished and free of vegetation. The water level during a typhoon can reach heights of tens of meters!
Here's how Taroko Gorge has been - and still is - dug..
Liufang Bridge - the deeply incised Liwu riverbed.
One more section not to be missed ...
Nine Turns Tunnel is another stretch of the old road, about two kilometers long.
The whole part is pedestrian, the new road runs into a different tunnel sideways.
The parking lot is upstream, after the tunnel. Unfortunately this part is quite subject to rock falls, so it is often closed when it is raining.
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 is by far one of the major attractions in Taiwan, so there are always other tourists around.
Luckily, most tourists are traveling 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.
Tourists have been killed by falling rocks. 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.
There are several express trains each day from Taipei to Hsincheng and Hualien. The travel takes 3-4 hours.
To have your own car or scooter is probably 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. In both cases, of course, you must have an international driving license.
Taxis are plentiful 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.
I guess the cost has not changed much.
At least the two major hotels, Silks Place (former Grand Formosa Taroko) in Tiansiang e 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.
Crossing the Central Range is one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had in Taiwan.
From Taichung, you have to go to Puli and then climb to Chingjing Farm and Hehuanshan.
Hehuanshan Pass in Taroko National Park
The road reaches 3275 meters of altitude in Hehuanshan, this is the highest pass across Taiwan.
In winter, after a snowfall, Taiwanese flock here to see the snow!
After Hehuanshan the road is normally deserted. It reaches Taroko amid mountain sceneries that look - and are - very remote.
Further informations about public transportation on this route can be found here
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.