Hainan’s capital has all the makings of an unforgettable tropical getaway

In keeping with its historical role as a major transportation hub, the Haikou of today remains a revolving door for holidaymakers. A city of immigrants, Hainan’s capital is noticeably more freewheeling than its fellow provincial capitals, with a laid-back vibe that owes as much to its coconut tree-shaded streets and inviting array of outdoor bars and eateries as it does to its status as the gateway to the pristine beaches in the island’s south. Adding to Haikou’s appeal as a vacation spot is its proximity to nature-themed attractions like a geological park dotted with craters and caves, a coconut plantation, a mangrove reserve, remnants of the past such as Wugong Temple and Xiuying Ancient Cannon Fort, and a range of beaches and green spaces.

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Things to do: Haikou

  • Clear favourite

    Visitors curious about the lifestyles of China’s rich and famous would do well to begin their research on Wuzhizhou Island in Haitang Bay, about 30km north of Sanya, Hainan’s sun and surf capital on the island’s southern coast. At Wuzhizhou’s posh resorts, guests can play tennis and beach volleyball, try water-skiing and windsurfing and explore crystal-clear waters teeming with exotic sea life.

  • Fab four

    Hainan can boast of the creation of no less than four culinary specialities, spoken of in hushed tones across the country and all widely available in Haikou. Chunks of tender, boiled Wenchang chicken are enjoyed after dipping them in spices; black-skinned Dongshan mutton is typically served in a thick, savoury soup; steamed, full-flavoured Hele crab is renowned for its tender flesh and steamed Jiaji duck is prized for its fatty, flavourful meat. 

  • Lava life

    It's been about 13,000 years since the most recent eruption in Haikou’s Rocky Mountains but that doesn’t make the volcanic cluster that remains – about 36 conical craters, Fengdu Ridge the highest at 223m, several lava landscapes and 30 caves – any less impressive. Located 15km from the city centre, Haikou Shishan Crater Cluster National Geological Park offers a glimpse of the island’s geological past along with the chance to visit hot springs and bask in the surrounding greenery.

  • Tropic thunder

    For those wanting to experience all the wonders of the undersea realm without braving its depths, there’s Tropical Ocean World in western Haikou. The 30,000 colourful tropical fish inhabiting The Merry Ocean are sure to wow youngsters, as will waterpark stalwarts like bungee jumping, water slides, tube rides and the pendulum-like 'Flying Man'. For parents, a stroll through the Tropical Rain Forest Garden provides welcome respite from the watery onslaught.

  • Wet and see

    Dongzhai Harbor Mangrove Nature Reserve is the site of a huge metropolis that now lies unceremoniously beneath the waves. Legend has it that at midnight on 13 July, 1605, a major earthquake resulted in 72 villages disappearing into the sea, where their buildings can be seen to this day. Located about 20km from Haikou, the reserve is also a protected area for tens of thousands of birds representing at least 160 species, a wide array of sea creatures and mangrove trees whose green crowns are the only visible parts at high tide.

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Airport information

CBD 25km

Travel time 30 minutes

Taxi Approx CNY ¥50-80

Airport shuttle costs CNY ¥15 and the journey takes 35 minutes

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When to go

Though the climate is welcoming all year round, the golden period for visits to Haikou runs from October to April. In other words, when conditions are at their most Siberian up north, Hainan is at its balmy, flowering, sun-drenched peak.

May to October is the rainy season, though the bulk of the rainfall comes in September, and typhoon season hits between August and September. The annual average temperature is about 24°C. The Hainan International Coconut Festival with its colourful displays and activities takes place in April, the Junpo Festival commemorating a hero of the Li indigenous people and featuring fascinating traditional rituals happens in early March, and the Huanhua Festival centring on flowers and friendship is celebrated in January.

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Getting around

Haikou’s two sightseeing bus lines – known simply as Line 1 and Line 2 – offer twice-a-day circuits of major tourist sites for CNY ¥10. Starting points are Baishamen at 9am, Ever Green Park at 10am, Huashankou Park at 12.30pm and 2pm. City bus lines 14, 35 and 50 each take in a number of top attractions and fares can be as little as CNY ¥1. Taxi fares can be negotiated with drivers but the average is about CNY ¥15 in the downtown area. Avoid unlicenced taxis and insist that drivers use the meter. Other options include three-wheeled bicycles and three-wheeled motorcycles.

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