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: Chengdu
Everyone should arrive at Chengdu Airport for the start of the tour. You will be transfered to our hotel in Chengdu and meet all participants for a welcome dinner in the very comfortable hotel we selected.
Day 2 - 3: pandas!
We start the tour with a visit two different panda research centers. The first one is located 1,5 hours drive from our hotel in Chengdu, which is also nicknamed the "panda capital" of the world.
In both research facilities they usually have adult and sub-adult pandas. 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.
Apart from photographing Giant pandas, we will also visit and photograph red pandas.
The red panda doesn't really look like a panda.
Day 4: Chengdu to Golden snub-nosed monkeys
Today, we take a high-speed train to the location where we will be photographing the Golden snub-nosed monkey. The climate is humid and quite cold in Spring and Winter, it’s rainy and cool in Summer and Autumn.
Day 5-7: Golden snub-nosed monkeys
We will spend three full days photographing the golden monkey. There will be two sessions per day. Both in the morning and in the afternoon we will follow the monkeys, as they forage in the forest. It's the perfect time of year to have yearlings playing with one another, but also to photograph some new born babies.
If you don't like baby golden snub-nosed monkeys, this is not the trip for you.
Day 8: Chengdu to Shangri-La
After another early morning visit to the monkeys, we take the high speed train back to Chengdu and fly to Shangri-La, where we arrive in the 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 4 hours to the region where the snub-nosed monkeys live, which is high up in the mountains (approx. 2,800 - 3,100 meters above sea level).
We have lunch in the hotel and in the afternoon there is the option to explore some of the scenery around the village.
Day 10-12: Snub-nosed monkeys
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
We spend 3 mornings in the park, where we will photograph the black snub-nosed monkeys, while they forage in the forest.
After our last morning photo session on day 12, we drive back to Shangri-La.
Day 13: Shangri-La to Chengdu
Early morning we will photograph a beautiful temple and have a few hours to stroll around Shangri-la before hopping on to our plane and 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.
29 March - 11 April 2019 (14 days)
Tour leaders: Marsel van Oosten, Daniella Sibbing, and local guides
Fee: 7,600 USD from Chengdu, China. 750 USD single supplement.
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.
- domestic flights, including airport tax
- English speaking local guides
- 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