Sanya is the beach paradise you've never heard of
What started as a bunch of fishing villages has evolved into a sun-drenched beach playground on the South China Sea. Kick back and relax in luxurious Sanya.
- September 2018
In barely three decades, Sanya has grown from being a sprawling collection of fishing villages to China’s premier beach playground. Luxury resort hotels by many of the world’s top brands are liberally sprinkled on beautiful sandy bays lapped by the clear, warm waters of the South China Sea. Whether you want to fly in and then flop on the beach, or prefer to get a little sporty with a round or two of golf, Sanya opens in new window offers a wealth of possibilities – all under picture-perfect blue skies, thanks to a climate that enjoys about 300 sunny days a year.
Bays and beaches
Sanya’s opens in new window tourism originally centred around Dadonghai Beach and sweeping Sanya Bay. Today, however, it has spread about 35km eastward to encompass a series of bays with sugar-soft sand, each lined by sumptuous resorts.
Xiaodonghai Bay is more intimate than its popular neighbour, Dadonghai, being the playground of InterContinental Sanya opens in new window guests. But it’s the crescent-shaped Yalong Bay that spans 7km that is one of Sanya’s most established and popular holiday areas, incorporating a number of upscale resorts on its palm-fringed shore – although not so many that it feels crowded. It has a wide beach of golden sands (you can even ride a Segway along it at the Ritz-Carlton Sanya opens in new window) cradled by forested mountains.
Haitang Bay is a long, curving bay of beautiful sands edged by upscale resorts and coconut palms, with Wuzhizhou Island just offshore. Perhaps the best beach of all, though, is the 12km-long Clearwater Bay. Boasting only a handful of high-end resorts, it is named for the clarity of the sea. However, the unique attribute is its musical sand: it is one of just a few beaches in the world where walking on the sand produces a singing sound.
Golfers are spoilt for choice, with more than a dozen top-quality courses around Sanya. Several of these are by famous golf architects and all offer smiling caddies to help your game.
Yalong Bay Golf Club course, designed by noted golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr, features 98 bunkers and a river crossed by traditional Chinese bridges. Nearby Sun Valley Golf Resort has 27 holes at the foot of forest-clad hills, among them China’s only par-6 hole – measuring a huge 828 yards.
Hongtang Bay International Golf Club has a seaside course, also by Trent Jones Jr, while renowned American design duo Schmidt- Curley laid out the coastal Hainan Clearwater Bay Golf Club and inland Dragon Valley Golf Course.
Mystic Springs Golf Club has two 18-hole courses alongside the Nantian Hot Spring, and Sanya Forest Valley Golf Club has a spectacular mountain layout.
But the area’s star course is The Dunes, which is well worth the 90-minute drive to the wild and scenic Shenzhou Peninsula. Former PGA Tour star Tom Weiskopf has used the rugged coastal dunes, beach setting and natural boulders to dramatic effect, creating two 18-hole beauties alongside the Sheraton Shenzhou Peninsula and Four Points by Sheraton hotels. You’ll need your sand wedge to get through this challenging course.
Nanshan Cultural Tourism Zone
Lying 40km west of Sanya, Nanshan is a cultural theme park laid out across 50sqkm on the coast below Nanshan Mountain. Constructed to celebrate two millennia of Buddhism in China, it incorporates the Nanshan Buddhist Cultural Park, the highlight of which is the towering 108m-high Guanyin of the South Sea Buddha statue. The three-sided statue, completed in 2005, stands on a man-made island at the end of a causeway and is the fourth-tallest statue in the world, surpassing New York’s Statue of Liberty.
The park also includes a temple complex, with another feature being the 3.8m-high Golden Jade Guanyin statue containing more than 100kg of gold and precious gems, plus monuments and gardens. Once you’ve seen both breathtaking statues, escape the crowds by walking through the tropical gardens and along tree-lined paths above the beach.
Tianya Haijiao scenic area
A romantic spot on the south coast, around 20km west of Sanya, Tianya Haijiao means ‘the end of the Earth and the edge of the sky’ in Chinese – suggesting an unattainable place. Although it was believed to be the southernmost point of Hainan Island, that distinction actually goes to Jinmu Cape. Folklore tells the tale of two eloping lovers who jumped into the sea here and were turned into stone by lightning. This symbol of eternal love makes a popular place for weddings and romance.
There are plenty of water sports on offer on this beautiful coral island, reached by a 15-minute ferry ride from Haitang Bay. However, don’t expect to find an exclusive desert-island paradise, as this pretty spot gets very busy during Chinese holidays. White Beach in particular, the only beach where swimming is allowed, gets crowded at peak times.
However, Wuzhizhou is noted for its clear waters, coral reefs and abundant marine life, and diving is a big attraction. Whether you’re a first-time or an experienced diver, there are tours on offer to help you.
Nanwan Monkey Island
Also in Haitang Bay, Nanwan Monkey Island is actually part of the Nanwan Peninsula so you don’t need to take a boat there. Instead, you board a cable car and soar over trees in gondolas open to the breeze – an experience in itself.
A protected nature reserve, the island is home to more than 2,500 endangered macaque monkeys. It’s best to spot the monkeys around the reserve rather than visit circus-style shows where the monkeys may be chained or caged.
Nantian Hot Spring
China’s largest open-air hot springs complex lies around 50km north-east of Sanya, looking out to Wuzhizhou Island, and comprises 67 man-made pools fed by mineral-rich hot springs. Facilities include waterfall pools, perfumed pools where the water has been aromatically infused, screened lovers’ pools and a cold-water pool. Visit for the day or opt to stay on site at a resort hotel with a package that includes hot springs entry.
With so many luxury hotels boasting spas in Sanya, it’s easy to pamper yourself during your stay. The InterContinental Sanya Resort’s spa features Hainan’s first hydrotherapy dome using temperature and pressure to stimulate the nervous system and boost immunity. The Ritz-Carlton Sanya’s spa is one of the largest in the region with 12 treatment rooms and tai chi, yoga and Pilates classes at the fitness centre, while the Hilton Sanya Yalong Bay Resort & Spa was named China’s leading spa resort in the 2014 World Travel Awards. Indulge with treatments ranging from traditional Chinese massages to anti-ageing facials.
Set on a hill at the end of the Luhuitou Peninsula, Luhuitou Park provides panoramic views over nearby Sanya (just 5km away), Dadonghai Bay and the sea that surrounds the peninsula. At the top of the hill stands a 12m-high statue of a hunter standing alongside a deer that, according to Li Minority legend, transformed into a beautiful young girl when it turned to look at him as he was ready to draw his bow. Needless to say, he immediately fell in love with her. Today, the park is a popular spot for scenic walks.
Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park
Covering 1,500 hectares of mountain slopes, high above Yalong Bay, this ecological park includes verdant rainforest and tropical plants that are home to 190 species of birds and animals. The park incorporates a holiday resort with 210 wooden villa rooms on stilts, and restaurants and shops at the summit. Take a walking tour through the rainforest via scenic lookouts with stunning views and over a suspension bridge called Crossing Dragon Chain Bridge. Other attractions are a zip-line and Orchid Valley.