If you're looking for hustle and bustle, head to Taipei. If you're looking for fresh air and the prettiest town by the sea, Hualien is the place to be. With many national parks to explore, cliffs and mountains to climb and beaches to get some rest and relaxation, there's plenty to do, especially for nature lovers and those who crave peace and quiet, away from the bigger cities in Taiwan.
Hualien's weather is generally mild year-round with winter lows in the 50s in January and summer highs in the 90s in July. There is no dry season here, so it's best to travel during autumn, from September through November, when there is less rain. However, travelers should be aware that rainfall is variable, but inevitable year-round.
The Syuentzang Temple, Hualien, Taiwan
Hualien offers a plethora of opportunities to explore natural and scenic areas.
Trek, take a tour bus or if you're brave and patient with tourist traffic, rent a scooter to visit the Taroko Gorge where you'll see why it's known as "the marble gorge," Shakadang Trail, perfect for an easy walk or if you're traveling with children, and Swallow's Grotto, home to swallows and butterflies over the river, all located in Taroko National Park. One-day bus passes are available for purchase at the Hualien Bus Station, but if you don't want to rush, consider purchasing a two-day pass.
The view of the Pacific Ocean is amazing at Qing-Shui Cliff, which is the only coastal road in Taroko National Park, also deemed one of the 8 wonders of Taiwan in 1953.
Zhuilu Old Trail is one of the most beautiful and highest hikes in the park with a 500-meter drop down to the river below. Be sure to set aside 3-4 hours aside for this trek alone. Plan a couple of days in advance ahead as you'll need a permit for access. Guides are also available for hire and beware of monkeys!
Take in the crashing waves and rugged coastline, as you climb up the stone steps of Shihtiping for a beautiful panoramic ocean view where the water meets the mountains.
Bring an umbrella and wear waterproof shoes as you are sure to get wet if you visit the Cave of Water Curtain at the end of the Baiyang Trail. Flashlights are encouraged as the trail is a dark and slippery one.
Cross the suspension bridge and hike toward the Tower Bell above the Eternal Spring Shrine and its flowing waterfall.
For a less strenuous activity, rent a bike around the Chishingtan Scenic Area, where you'll find both pebble beaches and fine sand beaches along a flat bike trail great for travelers of all ages.
Those who wish to take a day trip out of Hualien can visit Mukumugi Valley to take in crystal waters along the river. Be sure to have some Taroko aboriginal food like fatty pork and bamboo rice with mushrooms and sweet potatoes while you're there. On the way back, enjoy the serenity of Luyi Lake, where paddleboats are available for rent.
Check out the strangling fig trees on the upper terrace in Bulowan or the Formosa lilies if you're visiting from April to mid-May. The lower terrace allows you to walk down to the river valley, service station and exhibition halls to see the arts and crafts of the Taroko Tribe.
Sixty Rock Mountain is also the perfect place for stunning views of flowers, though it is not easily accessible and a rental car is recommended.
Those who want to stay within Hualien can visit the Hualien Cultural and Creative Industries Park to visit art galleries, enjoy restaurants and shops, watch street performances on the weekends and simply absorb local culture. Those traveling with children will enjoy the Ruisui Ranch, where entrance is free, kids can observe cows and ostriches and everyone can enjoy excellent milk, cheese and other dairy products.
Food and Dining
Hualien has a surprisingly eclectic offering when it comes to food.
Salt Lick serves classic hearty barbecued American fare of pork sandwiches, gumbo and apple pie. Prices are higher than local Taiwanese restaurants, but are worth what you pay considering the excellent service and giant portions.
If you're feeling adventurous, try Bony-Lee Foods & Drinks from the Ivory Coast. The couscous and warm service is the highlight of this spot.
Dos Tacos offers Mexican cuisine and the nachos and fried ice cream are the stars of the show for a price that's friendly on your wallet.
For the best Dutch pancakes in town, Holland Yani Pancakes is the place to be. The owner Jany uses only the freshest and highest quality ingredients and even offers vegetarian options.
For more traditional Taiwanese and Chinese food at local budget costs, there is a reason why there's always a long line at for the noodles, dumplings and bready, chewy baozi at Gongzheng Baozi. Dai's Dumplings is well-known for its wonton soups, fast service and cheaper-than-cheap prices.
Try a local favorite at a friendly cost, cold goose with ginger slices, fresh local vegetables and fried fish at Mr. Goose, but be prepared for a long line.
If all else fails, stroll through one of the two night markets, ZiQiang or Nanbin Night Market to snack at several different stalls, eating your way through the aisles. Tiramisu and muaji (or "mochi"), Japanese glutinous rice cake, are regional specialties.
Fly from Taipei to Hualien as both cities have their own airports and it takes just 40 minutes. This is the fastest, but most expensive way to get to Hualien.
From Taipei, the Tze Chiang express trains to Hualien take about 2.5 hours as they are the most comfortable and expensive trains. The Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) trains, which are considered the normal or slow trains. The west route is said to be more popular and faster, while the east route is known to be longer, but more picturesque. However, the TRA trains are often said to be booked up on weekends and holidays.
If you can't book 2 weeks in advance, another option is to break up your trip and purchase partial way tickets or buy combo tickets, with the option to use both the train and the bus to get there. This means, instead of trying to buy a direct ticket from Taipei to Hualien, buy a ticket Taipei to Luodong, which is a town around the halfway point, and from there, buy your ticket to Hualien.
If you want to take a road trip, be prepared for up to a 5-hour drive depending on the time and traffic.
It's easy to walk Hualien, but you can also rent a scooter to get around, which is one of the best ways to see the gorge, since you can avoid traffic and see the park at your own pace.
Another option is to take a bus from the Main Bus Station or hire a taxi to get out of the city,since Hualien does not have an extensive public transport system.
Within the town, bicycles are also available for rent and if you enjoy road trips,car rentals are another flexible option to explore at your own schedule and take your time.