In this guide, we will discover some of the best things to do in Sanya, China’s tropical answer to Hawaii! From pristine beaches to lush jungle, Sanya is packed with fun attractions to suit any interest and budget!
Some of the top Sanya attractions include the hip Dadonghai area with its city beach and a plethora of watersports, bars, cafes and restaurants. The city is filled with beautiful parks with stunning views across Sanya Bay and the South China Sea.
Nearby Houhai is China’s premier surfing beach with the best nightlife on Hainan Island and the Hotel Atlantis is home to a large aquarium and world-class fine dining, including Gordan Ramsey’s Bread Street Kitchen.
I lived in Sanya for six months in 2021 and it was one of the best places I’ve ever stayed. Check out my vlog below, and continue reading to discover what to do in Sanya!
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Where is Sanya
The city is located on Hainan Island which is China’s southernmost province. Sanya is only 493km from Hanoi in Vietnam, whereas Beijing is 2,500km away.
Sanya has a tropical climate and is warm and sunny year-round. Winter is the best time to visit when it’s not so hot and humid. The monsoon season lasts from July to September when rainfall is highest.
December to March is the best time to visit before the heat of the summer. It can get very busy around Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) so if you don’t like crowds, avoid this time.
Getting to Sanya!
Sanya is easily reachable from mainland China by plane, boat and even train! Flight time from Beijing is 4 to 4.5 hours and costs from ¥1,500 ($230). You can book cheap flights through Trip.com.
There is a direct train from Beijing and two trains per day from Guangzhou. Journey time is 40 hours from Beijing and 12 hours from Guangzhou. You can book tickets directly through Trip.com.
Top Things to do in Sanya!
Sanya is famed for its many beaches including Sanya Bay, Dadonghai, Yalong Bay, Houhai and Haitang Bay. There are many activities available from swimming, kayaking and snorkelling to diving and boat trips. There are plenty of great things to do in Sanya so you will not be bored!
The Best Beaches in Sanya
Sanya Bay is 22km of palm-tree-lined sandy beach located in the heart of the city. The farther west you travel along the beach, the nicer and quieter it becomes.
Dadonghai is a thriving suburb of the city with a smaller beach lined with bars, restaurants and clubs. This is where you will find the young and fashionable crowd as well as many Russian tourists. The best nightlife in Sanya can be found here at places such as Dolphin Bar & Grill and Manhattan.
Dadonghai’s quieter neighbour around the headland with a beautiful stretch of beach lined by some (expensive) bars and restaurants as part of the Intercontinental Resort (you don’t need to be a guest to use the beach or restaurants). Definitely something of a “hidden gem” as it is rarely very busy.
This “hidden gem” is one of the best places to visit in Sanya if you want to escape the crowds of Dadonghai!
Tianya Haijiao Scenic Area
A tacky and overpriced tourist beach 15km west of the city. Some interesting rock formations in the sea, but not worth the steep entrance fee of over ¥100. Instead, head to the nearby village of Tianja (see below). Take buses 14, 16, 25, 55 or 57.
Tianya, sometimes known locally as “fake Greece” for its whitewashed buildings with blue roofs and window-frames, is a pleasant small village next to a stretch of sandy beach. Bars and restaurants line the beach, some of which have small infinity swimming pools you can use if you buy a beer! Easily reachable by bus from downtown Sanya. Take buses 14, 16, 25, 55 or 57.
Yalong Bay is another popular beach 16km east of downtown Sanya. Plenty of shops and restaurants and it can get quite busy during holidays. Easily reachable by buses 15, 24 and 25 from Sanya. If you have your own transport, follow Longxi Road to the west for a stunning stretch of coastal highway (that culminates in a dead-end after a few kilometres).
Houhai is the surfing capital of China and has a laid back, bohemian vibe. Here you will find the hippest people hitting the waves before attending barbeques and dance parties on the beach until the small hours. There are lots of bars and restaurants lining the beach.
A resort area 40km east of Sanya, Lingsui Bay can make a nice escape from the city.
Haitang Bay is home to many expensive hotels and resorts, including the famous Hotel Atlantis with its large indoor aquarium. A good selection of restaurants, including one where you can dine alongside the fishes, rays and turtles of another aquarium.
Another surfers’ paradise, Riyue Bay has a nice stretch of coastline 75km east of the city.
There are many small islands around the Sanya area including Xi (West) Island, Wuzhizhou Island and more. These islands offer more activities than the beaches.
Coconut Island is a small island and lagoon to the north of Haitang Bay. It is an area popular with hikers and outdoors enthusiasts. You will need to take a taxi from the city the 30km as it is not served by public transport. Just off the main G98 road at Haitangwan.
One of the more popular tourist islands, Wuzhizou has much to offer including white, sandy beaches, hiking, snorkelling, diving and other water sports. Boats leave from Wuzhizou Wharf at Houhai village every 20 minutes from 08:00 to 16:00 (crossing takes around 20 minutes).
Xi (West) Island
West Island is quieter than Wuzhizou and is home to some of Hainan’s ethnic peoples. There are similar activities such as snorkelling, diving and hiking on offer. The ferry sets off from close to Tianja Haijou 13km west of the city on Hai Yu West Road. Take bus 25, 26 or 57.
Parks & Nature
Sanya is home to many large parks and nature areas. There are two large rivers running through the centre of the city with mangroves on either side. For a real taste of jungle wilderness, one of the best things to do in Sanya is to take a short ride out into the jungle surrounding the city is a must!
An underwhelming “park” that mostly consists of a paved road, a very small park area and a couple of cafes at the top of a hill. Not worth the entrance fee as better views can be had elsewhere for free.
Location: Luling Road (between Dadonghai and Xiaodonghai)
Entrance Fee: ¥35
Opening Hours: 07:30 – 21:00
Time needed for visit: Under one hour
Linchunling Forest Park
A large park 3km east of Sanya Bay includes forest-covered hills with a large pavilion at the top offering stunning views of the city and surrounding areas. There are around 3,000 steps on the round-trip hike, which doesn’t have much shade. Beware of cobras!
Location: Luling Road Fenghuang Road. The entrance is across from the large tree-shaped apartment buildings.
Entrance Fee: Free
Opening Hours: 24hr
Time needed for visit: 2 hours
Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park
If you’re looking for untouched rainforest, then you won’t find it at this busy amusement type park, but Yalong Bay Tropical Forest Park is a pleasant place with landscaped gardens, lush jungle and great views and restaurants/shops. You can also try the rope bridge or glass-bottomed bridge.
Location: Yalong Wan Lu, Yalong Bay
Entrance Fee: ¥50
Time needed for visit: 2 hours
Yanoda Rainforest Tropical Park
A typical Chinese attraction where nature isn’t deemed impressive enough so needs to add pointless extras like a small zoo, shooting range and plastic dinosaurs hiding in the bushes.
The hiking trails become a little more interesting the farther from the main tourist attractions you get. There is also a glass walkway, zip-line and death-defying swing ride.
Location: Yanoda, Highway G224
Entrance Fee: ¥136
Time needed for visit: 3 hours
Jiangfeng Ridge National Forest Park
Ranked one of China’s top 10 most beautiful forests by National Geographic, Jiangfeng Ridge is around 90km west of the city.
You need a vehicle to reach the different sites in the park such as the hiking trail to the 1,600m ridge, lake and river walkway. Highly recommended for the pristine and almost unspoilt nature, but difficult (almost impossible) without your own hire car.
Location: Off Highway G98 near Jianfeng
Entrance Fee: ¥40
Opening Hours: 07:00 – 22:00
Time needed for visit: At least 1 day
Sanya Paddy Fields
You will find paddy fields and rice terraces all over Hainan Island and around Sanya. There is a designated tourist “Paddy Field National Park” near Yalong Bay which has a tacky light show at night, but you are better off just visiting one of the authentic ones on your own (easily reachable by E-bike or bus from the city).
Places to stay in Sanya
I have stayed in the following hotels, apartments and hostels and can personally recommend each one. Check out my complete guide to hotels in Sanya for the best options.
Sanya Backpackers Hostel (Dadonghai)
A lively hostel in the centre of Dadonghai a few hundred metres from the beach. Includes outdoor bar and pool table. Dorms from ¥70 ($11) per night and singles from ¥200 ($30). Reserve your bed.
Wanghaisu Seaview Guesthouse (Sanya Bay)
Slightly down-at-heel apartments right across from the beach and with a nice onsite pool. ¥200 ($30) per night.
Yuejia Sea Apartment Phoenix Island (Sanya Bay)
Excellent serviced apartments with stunning views across Sanya Bay. Onsite restaurants, bars and a free shuttle on and off the island. Highly recommended! ¥300 ($46) per night. Reserve your room.
Lingshui Coral Palace (Lingshui Bay)
Very pleasant serviced apartments right on the beach. Large garden with swimming pools. From ¥200 ($30) per night. Reserve your room.
There are many great things to do in Sanya and it is one of the best places to visit in China if you are looking for that tropical beach holiday! It’s so nice in fact that after my first visit in January 2021, I packed up my things and moved there for the next six months! So, what are you waiting for, book your trip today?!
About the author:
Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has travelled to over 60 countries, lived in China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.
Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of Europe and Asia by train, bus and boat.
Where I am now: Armenia 🇦🇲