The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, lit. "black and white cat-foot"), also known as panda bear or simply panda, is a bear native to south central China, and it is among the world's most adored and protected rare animals. It is easily recognized by the large, distinctive black patches around its eyes, over the ears, and across its round body. The name "giant panda" is sometimes used to distinguish it from the unrelated red panda. Though it officially belongs to the carnivores, the giant panda's diet is over 99% bamboo. Giant pandas in the wild will occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, or even meat in the form of birds, rodents or carrion. In captivity, they may receive honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges, or bananas along with specially prepared food.
The giant panda lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province. As a result of farming, deforestation, and other development, the giant panda has been driven out of the lowland areas where it once lived. The giant panda is an endangered species, threatened by continued habitat loss and habitat fragmentation, and by a very low birthrate, both in the wild and in captivity. The giant panda is a conservation reliant endangered species. Studies estimate that there are about 1,590 individuals living in the wild.
While the dragon has often served as China's national emblem, internationally the giant panda appears at least as commonly. As such, it is becoming widely used within China in international contexts, for example as one of the five mascots of the Beijing Olympics.
On this tour we will visit two different locations to photograph both the giant panda and the red panda.
Day to day program
Day 1: Xi'an
Everyone should arrive at Xi'an Airport for the start of the tour. We meet all participants for a welcome dinner in the very comfortable hotel we selected.
Xi’an is over 3,000 years old and has been the capital of 12 different dynasties. It has been known under various names, most notably as Chang’an. Xi’an used to be the starting point of the Silk Road, where camels were loaded for their long and perilous journey to Central Asia. Nowadays it is an important center for the central government’s drive to develop western china. As an economic center for the region, Xi’an is developing fast; aviation for instance is already an important industry for the city.
Day 2: Xian to Foping
Today, we drive 4 hours or take high-speed train to the location where we will be photographing the Golden snub-nosed monkey. We will already have our first shooting session with them in the afternoon. The climate is humid and quite cold in Spring and Winter, it’s rainy and cool in Summer and Autumn.
Day 3-4: Foping
We will spend two full days photographing the golden monkey. There will be two sessions per day. Both in the morning and in the afternoon we will go and follow the monkeys, as they forage in the forest.
If you don't like baby golden snub-nosed monkeys, this is not the trip for you.
Day 5: Foping to Chengdu
After another 2 hour photo session in the morning, we drive 4 hours (or alternatively, we take the high-speed train) back to Xi’an. From Xi'an we take a flight to Chengdu, "panda capital" of the world.
Day 6: Chengdu
This morning we drive to the panda research center.
In order to better preserve the giant panda, the Chengdu municipal government founded this research center in March 1987. There are around 80 giant pandas, red pandas, and some other animals.
We visit the center and photograph the Giant panda, as well as the red panda. They usually have adult and sub-adult pandas at this location.
The red panda doesn't really look like a panda.
Day 7: Pandas!
Today, we we have another opportunity to photograph the giant panda again, as well as the red panda. And if the breeding program is doing what it's supposed to be doing (make little big pandas), we hope to be able to photograph young giant pandas as well.
The giant panda is an endangered animal found only in western China. Because of human encroachment, the panda’s habitat is now reduced to six isolated patches mainly in Sichuan. They estimate that around 1,000-1,500 wild pandas still live in the mountains in the rim of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Day 8: Chengdu to Shangri-La
After the morning photo session with another giant panda, we drive to Chengdu airport and fly to Shangri-La, where we arrive in the early evening.
Shangri-La is located in the northwest of Yunnan Province, the border with Tibet and Sichuan Province. There are three rivers running through the area, all paralel to each other. The three rivers are Jinsha River, Nu River and Lancang River. Jinsha River is the upper section of Yangtze River. Nu River flows through Myanmar into the Indian Ocean. Lancang River flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, and is called Mekong River. Geographically, Shangri-La is on the Tibetan Plateau, and has the deepest gorges in China (Tiger Leaping Gorge), and lots of snowy mountains like Bama Snow Mountain. Elevation is between 1,503 meters to 5,309 meters above sea level. The elevation of Shangri-La Town is 3,280 meters above sea level. The majority of the population of Shangri-La is Tibetan.
Day 9: Shangri-La to black snub-nosed monkeys
After breakfast, we drive along the Mekong River for 7 hours to where the snub-nosed monkeys live, which is high up in the mountains (approx. 2,800 - 3,100 meters above sea level).
There are 8 different family groups, with around 90 monkeys per group. The monkeys are followed constantly by researchers, in order to learn more about their behaviour. Their main food source is the new bud of dragon spruce, bamboo shoots and Chinese Usnea. The male’s weight is around 30 kilogram.
Day 10-12: Snub-nosed monkeys
During these three days, we will photograph the black snub-nosed monkeys, while they forage in the forest.
Day 13: Shangri-La to Kunming
After morning photo session, we drive back to Shangri-La. Here we will catch a flight to Chengdu, which is the best international hub in the region. Yes, it's that time again - the end of the tour...
Day 14: Fly home
After breakfast, everyone is flying home.
Accommodation & Food
Some locations we go to on this tour are not used to catering for western tourists. This means that the restaurants will serve Chinese food. Not western Chinese, but Chinese Chinese. You will experience the traditional cuisine, and it won't resemble anything from your local take-away. No need to worry though, because we will make sure there will be no Chihuahua Stir Fry or Fried Bats with Black Bean Sauce. Some of the hotels we will stay at in the bigger cities will have an international menu.
Sorry, no panda dumplings.
The areas we go to for the monkeys on this tour are high up in the mountains, in a forest. At this time of year, temperatures are mild (10 to 15 degrees Celcius), but it can be quite humid. You can expect rainy days, but also have warm sunny days with 25C on this trip. This means that you will have to bring a rain coat, rain pants, and rain covers for your camera bag and equipment. But the weather being the weather, it's hard to predict what is going to happen exactly.
18 April - 1 May 2017 (14 days)
26 April - 9 May 2018 (14 days)
16 April - 29 April 2019 (14 days) new tour date!
Tour leaders: Marsel van Oosten, Daniella Sibbing, and local guide
Fee: 7,100 USD (single supplement 750 USD) from Xi'an, China. Tour fee for 2019 estimated at 7,600 USD.
Deposit: 1,500 USD
Group size: 12 participants
Photography level: all experience levels
Fitness level: moderate. We will be viewing the monkeys in a forest in the mountains. This means there is some hiking involved to reach them. The last location is at an altitude around 2500 meter.
- 3 domestic flights, including airport tax
- English speaking local guide
- all local transport
- all accommodation
- all meals
- drinking water, soft drinks
- all tips & gratuities
- daily briefings
- photographic instructions
- in the field tips & tricks
- image reviews
- loads of fun
And what's not
- international airfares
- expenses of personal nature
- alcoholic beverages
Come and join us!
We hope that you have enjoyed reading through this digital brochure and that you'll join us in China! If you want to book the Guilin extension as well, please add this to the comment field in the booking form.
Please note: Itinerary may be subject to change. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by our local guide.
All images ©Marsel van Oosten