Nantou (南投) is Taiwan’s only landlocked county and the geographical center of Taiwan.
This mostly mountainous county is home to several of the country’s highest peaks (more than 40 of them are over 3000 meters!) and most popular tourist attractions. These include Sun Moon Lake (the country’s largest lake), Cingjing Farm (a high mountain European-style farm), Hehuan Mountain (the best place in Taiwan to see snow) and Yushan (the country’s tallest mountain).
Nantou also has some of Taiwan’s best oolong teas, including dongding tea from Lugu region and Shanlinxi tea from Sun Link Sea area, as well as (unique for Taiwan) black tea in the Sun Moon Lake region.
In this guide, I’ll cover all the complicated logistics for visiting Nantou, including the top and lesser-known attractions, how to get to them, where to stay, the best tours, what to eat there, and more. All this info comes from multiple visits in my many years of living in Taiwan.
Long before the Chinese arrived, Taiwanese aboriginal tribes like the Atayal, Bunun, and Tsou were familiar with the mountains of Nantou. The name Nantou comes from the aboriginal name for the area, Ramtau.
In 1950, Nantou was made into its own county separate from Taichung, and Nantou City was named its capital. Travelers to Nantou are much more likely to pass through Puli city, which has some interesting attractions and is a gateway to Sun Moon Lake, Cingjing Farm, and Hehuan Mountain.
On September 21, 1999, the disastrous 921 Earthquake was centered at Jiji (集集) in Nantou. Causing 2415 deaths, it was the second worst in Taiwan’s history after an earthquake in 1935. Some of the most famous remains of the disaster are the Jiji Wuchang Temple in Nantou and the 921 Earthquake Museum in Taichung.
Today, Nantou’s economy is based on agriculture, including tea, bamboo products, and delicious high mountain cabbage (高麗菜). Tourism also plays an important role.
I used to have an American friend who was one of the only foreigners living in Puli at the time. I had a great time visiting her there, as she knew about several hidden waterfalls in the area. I’ve taken my kids to Sun Moon Lake several times, and most recently, I rented a car to drive up to Cingjing Farm and Hehuanshan.
Getting to Nantou
This section is going to be a little long because there is a lot to know about getting around Nantou.
Looking at a map, you might think it’s easy to get to Nantou from any of its neighboring counties, like Hualien, Kaohsiung, Chiayi, Yunlin, Changhua, or Taichung. In reality, it’s only really feasible to visit Nantou from Taichung.
Taichung is the main access point to most of the popular tourist places in Nantou. Start by taking the High Speed Rail or regular (TRA) train to Taichung. Also read: Tips for Buying Train Tickets in Taiwan.
Sun Moon Lake, Cingjing Farm, and Hehuanshan
The line for the bus to Sun Moon Lake can be very long, so it’s best to book your bus tickets to Sun Moon Lake online.
You may notice that Nantou county’s bus company is one of the few in Taiwan that publish reliable bus times in English on their website. Here’s the page for Cingjing Farm buses and Sun Moon Lake buses.
Buses from Taichung to both Sun Moon Lake and Cingjing Farm will pass through Puli on the way. Some people like to make a stop in Puli to see a few things on the way (I’ll cover those below). The bus to Sun Moon Lake passes by more of Puli’s attractions. If you’re traveling between Sun Moon Lake and Cingjing, you’ll drive through or change buses in Puli.
Because the bus to Cingjing Farm is infrequent, and some hotels are inconveniently located up steep hills there, some travelers take private transfers or rent a car to drive there.
If you rent a car, you will have more flexibility for exploring Sun Moon Lake, Cingjing Farm, Hehuanshan, and many other more difficult-to-reach destinations in the area (see more on this below). I recommend renting a car on Klook with pickup at Taichung HSR station.
You can also hire a private driver for exploring Nantou.
Hehuanshan, famous for its sunrises, hiking trails, and the chance to see snow in January or February, is further up the mountain highway from Cingjing Farm. The very limited (only 3 per day) bus 6658A goes from Cingjing Farm to Hehuanshan. Don’t miss the last one back!
For more, see my guide to getting from Taichung to Cingjing Farm/Hehuanshan.
After Wuling Pass (武嶺, the highest drivable pass in Taiwan, at 3275 meters) and Hehuanshan, Highway 14甲 meets Highway 8 (the Central Cross-Island Highway) which traverses Taiwan from Taichung to Taroko Gorge in Hualien (see next section below).
You can also connect nearby to Highway 7甲, which cuts north pass Lishan and Wuling Farm (a famous cherry blossom viewing place) in Taichung to Taipingshan (another popular mountain resort) in Yilan county.
Driving from Nantou to Hualien
Looking at the map, many travelers are tempted to take Highway 8 from Hehuanshan area east down into Taroko Gorge in Hualien county. Except there is a major problem with this route. In 2022, three sections of Highway 8 above Taroko Gorge were severely damaged by landslides and are still being repaired.
Currently, these sections are only open for a few hours every day, making travel along this route very difficult or impossible. Most local drivers will be unwilling to try, and if you try by yourself, you could end up getting stuck for many hours of having to turn back the way you came. What’s more, it will only take one big typhoon or heavy rainstorm to further destroy any of these highways.
For these reasons, I do not recommend trying to drive from Nantou to Hualien or vice versa. Unfortunately, the most risk free (and probably fastest way) is to drive back to Taichung, then on to Hualien via Taipei. The same thing goes for public transportation. Always check the current conditions for driving any of these high mountain highways.
The latest updates about road conditions and closure times are here, for Highway 8 as well as other high mountain roads in the area. Click on the small arrow beside Highway 8 and the other highways around there. Also note that all of these are very slow, winding, narrow, high mountain highways.
They can take much longer to drive than you might think, with steep cliffs at the side of the road, and it is common for passengers to feel carsick.
Going from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan
Since many travelers include Sun Moon Lake in Nantou and Alishan in Chiayi on their Taiwan itinerary, it only makes sense to travel directly between them.
Minibus 6739 only travels once per day from this stop in Shuishe village at Sun Moon Lake to Alishan. It departs at 8 AM – swipe your EasyCard to board the bus. From Alishan bus station, the minibus departs for Sun Moon Lake at 1 PM. The ride takes about 3 hours.
If these times are not convenient for you, you can also go from Sun Moon Lake to Taichung HSR or TRA station by bus (90 minutes), ride the HSR or TRA to Chiayi, then catch the bus from Chiayi HSR or TRA station to Alishan.
Other Places in Nantou
For Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area (奧萬大國家森林遊樂區), famous for its autumn foliage, you’ll need to drive to get there or take this Aowanda day tour.
For Xitou Nature Education Area (溪頭自然教育園區) and Xitou Monster Village (妖怪村), bus 6801 goes six times per day from Sun Moon Lake and bus 6883 goes about a dozen times per day from Taichung. It takes about 1.5 hours from either one.
The same bus (from Taichung to Xitou) also continues on to Sun Link Sea (衫林溪 or “Shan Lin Xi”) Forest Recreation Area only once per day, departing Taichung HSR station at 10:30, getting there at 12:15 and departing at 2:50, giving you 2 hours and 35 minutes to explore the park.
Although Yushan (玉山), Taiwan’s tallest mountain, is in Nantou, hikers are more likely to get there via Alishan in Chiayi. A permit is required – book here for assistance, but getting a spot is not guaranteed.
Where to Stay in Nantou
At Sun Moon Lake, Shuishe Village is more convenient because buses to Taichung and Alishan depart/arrive there.
I recommend Blue Sky Bay B&B (see on Booking / Agoda) for mid-range accommodation. The Lalu (see on Klook / Agoda) is one of the best resorts in Taiwan, with incredible views from the rooms. For a cheap dorm room, try Deer Traveler Hostel (see on Booking / Agoda).
Personally, I prefer Ita Thao Village for its more local feel, aboriginal food street, and proximity to Sun Moon Lake Ropeway.
In Ita Thao, we love staying at these Cabins (see on Booking) on the edge of town. Shuiyang Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda) has great lake views while perBed (see on Booking / Agoda) is the only hostel in town.
At Qingjing Farm, Abin Minshuku (see on Booking / Agoda) is great for families, Iris Guesthouse (see on Booking / Agoda) is a super friendly local guesthouse with nice views, and The Old England Manor (see on Booking / Agoda) is a fancy choice with high tea.
In Xitou Monster Village, you can stay in a Monster-themed hotel (see on Booking / Agoda) right in the village. There are also some great cabins in the area like this one, or guesthouses like this one and this one.
In Yushan National Park area, try this hot spring hotel.
Top Things to Do in Nantou
I’ll separate the below attractions into Sun Moon Lake, Puli, Cingjing Farm, Hehuanshan, and Other Places in Nantou.
Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake is the most popular place in Nantou county and one of Taiwan’s top tourist attractions. This pretty lake has a few temples with beautiful views, a gondola, Taiwanese aboriginal culture, and both CNNGo and Skyscanner have called it one of the best cycling destinations in the world.
There are two main villages on Sun Moon Lake. Shuishe (水社) is the main one, where buses from Taichung and Alishan arrive and depart.
On the other side of the lake, Ita Thao (伊達邵) is an aboriginal village with a great food street in the afternoon and early evening. It has has a small but very authentic aboriginal center called Kalapaw (鹿臺教室), with performances at 11 and 5 (weekdays, but closed Mon/Tues) and 11, 3, and 5 (weekends).
Sun Moon Lake Ropeway is walking distance from Ita Thao village. The first gondola goes up to a viewpoint of the lake.
From there, a second one descends into Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village, a theme park + (less authentic) aboriginal museum and performance center, which is also one of the best places to see cherry blossoms in Taiwan in February.
Buses run part way around the lake, from Shuishe to Wenwu Temple to Sun Moon Lake Ropeway to Ita Thao to Ci En Pagoda to Xuanzang Temple and back. There are also boats (TWD 100 per ride or discounted day pass here) between Shuishe, Ita Thao, and Xuanguang Temple.
Cycling around the lake is very popular. You can rent bikes here in Shuishe village and it’s possible to take them on boats for an extra fee. Electric bikes are also available. Swimming is not allowed in the lake (except once per year, see “Nantou events” section at the end), but SUPing is a popular activity.
There are several Sun Moon Lake Passes, deals, and tour options, which I’ll cover in different sections below.
Puli is the city you’re most likely to pass through in Nantou. If you’re heading to Cingjing Farm, the bus will make a short stop at Puli Station but won’t pass any of Puli’s famous places.
Buses from Taichung to Sun Moon Lake will also stop at Puli Station, but then they’ll pass by a few tempting attractions where you might want to get off.
Closer to Sun Moon Lake, you may also want to stop at Antique Assam TeaFarm (日月老茶廠), a tea farm and former processing factory, where you can learn about and taste Sun Moon Lake region’s unique and very delicious Ruby Red #18 tea (紅玉紅茶). It is rare in a country that mostly produces oolong and some green teas.
Other attractions worth mentioning in Puli are the huge Chung Tai Chan Monastery and Buddhist Museum (中台禪寺), the headquarters of one of Taiwan’s four major Buddhist sects and tallest Buddhist monastery in the world. The monastery is a little north of town.
There’s also the Geographical Center of Taiwan Monument (臺灣地理中心碑, nothing so special, but just cool to know it’s there) and several waterfalls on the drive up to Cingjing Farm.
Cingjing Farm (清境農場 or Qingjing Nongchang) is Nantou’s second most popular attraction. See more more detailed Cingjing Farm guide here.
The farm has some interesting history. When China’s KMT army fled to Taiwan, thousands of soldiers were placed around the island. A group of soldiers from Yunnan province were given this remote, high mountain farmland.
Over time, they developed this into a European-styled tourist leisure farm. Tourists flock there to see sheep shearing shows and Mongolian horsemanship performances. The farm has stunning mountain views, a long Skywalk for admiring those views, a Swiss Garden, and a restaurant mostly made of paper called Carton King.
Cingjing Farm is quite large, so it requires several hours to visit. There’s an aging official accommodation plus dozens of great guesthouses in the area.
It’s important to note that the area is hilly, so getting from your hotel to the farm could involve some steep uphill or downhill walking. This is why some people choose to drive or take private shuttles to Cingjing (see “Getting to Nantou” section above).
There’s also a Cingjing Farm Pass and several tour options for Cingjing Farm, which I’ll cover in sections below. Cinging Farm also has cherry blossoms in February.
Hehuanshan (合歡山 or Hehuan Mountain) is one of Taiwan’s most famous and accessible high mountains. See my Hehuanshan guide here.
The mountain actually consists of four peaks, with the highest being 3422 meters. You can drive as high as Wuling Pass (3275 meters), the highest navigable pass in Taiwan, from where it only takes 1-4 hours to hike to any of the summits.
Hehuanshan is famous for its sunrises, so many people visit on a sunrise viewing tour from Cingjing Farm.
Hehuanshan is one of the easiest places to see snow in Taiwan, but even then, you need a bit of luck. Snow only falls sometimes in January or February. And when it does, the highway often becomes clogged with locals trying to see it. Chains may be required on car tires for safety reasons.
The only hotel at Hehuanshan is Songsyue Lodge (松雪樓), which used to be a ski resort. Its rooms and hikers dorms are notoriously hard to book (click the link to read how I did it).
You can even see the remains of a ski lift if you hike from the ski lodge to Hehuanshan East Peak.
Other Places in Nantou
Lushan Hot Spring (盧山溫泉) is a hot spring village with many hot spring resorts near Qingjing Farm, while Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area (奧萬大國家森林遊樂區) is one of the best places to see autumn foliage in Taiwan – best in December. You’ll need a car to reach either one.
In the Sun Moon Lake area, but best visited by car, Shuiyuan Suspension Bridge (雙龍七彩吊橋) is one of Taiwan’s most beautiful suspension bridges. The whole bridge is painted in rainbow colors and has amazing views.
It takes some time and effort to visit. You’ll need to park in one of the lots on the road leading up to it, then ride a shuttle bus or walk up. Plan for at least 2 hours to visit, including hiking to the waterfalls on the other side.
From Shuili (水里鄉), south of Sun Moon Lake, the long and winding Highway 21 leads up to Yushan (玉山, Taiwan’s tallest mountain) and Alishan.
You can stop at Tataka Visitor Center (塔塔加遊客中心) and do some short hikes in the national park. You won’t easily be able to see Yushan, though. The Sun Moon Lake-to-Alishan bus goes this way, but there’s only one bus per day.
For any serious hiking in the park, including the famous hike to Yushan Peak, you’ll need a permit. These permits are limited and there’s a lottery system for getting them. It’s easiest to go through an organized tour.
There are a few hot spring hotels on the edge of the park, at Dongpu Hot Spring (東埔溫泉).
In Jiji (集集), the epicenter of the 921 Earthquake, Jiji Wuchang Temple (集集武昌宮) is the best reminder of this devastating event. The whole temple caved in and then has been left as is since then.
The Jiji Small Train Line, less famous than other ones in Taiwan like the Pingxi Railway Line and Alishan Forest Railway, runs from Ershui Station (on the main west coast train line) to Jiji, Shuli, and Checheng.
One more route worth noting in Nantou is Highway 151. The highway passes through the Lugu (鹿谷) tea growing region, famous for its dongding oolong tea (凍頂烏龍茶). If you’ve got a car and can handle a small mountain road, Dalunshan Tea Farm (大崙山觀光茶園) is very impressive. Dexing Waterfall (德興瀑布) is nearby.
After Lugu, the highway reaches Xitou Nature Education Area (溪頭自然教育園區), which features beautiful forest walks, ponds, and bridges.
Right next to it, Xitou Monster Village (溪頭妖怪村) is one of the more bizarre attractions in Taiwan – it’s a Japanese monster themed village with a cute story behind it. Click the link above to read all about it.
Even further past that, Sun Link Sea Forest and Nature Resort (杉林溪森林生態渡假園區 or Shanlinxi) is another forest park with more trails and waterfalls. It has cherry blossoms or autumn foliage in season.
You’re unlikely to visit Nantou City on your trip, but if you do, Babbuza Dreamfactory (半山夢工廠) is a top attraction in town, with cool architecture and kid’s activities like wall climbing. Nantou Theater (南投戲院) is a Japanese-era heritage theater that still shows films.
Lantian Academy (南投藍田書院) is a Confucian temple where students pray for good luck on exams.
Sun Moon Lake and Cingjing Farm Passes
Nantou Bus Company sells various passes for Sun Moon Lake and Cingjing Farm. Depending on the pass you choose, they may included bus rides to and from SML/Cingjing + different combinations of attractions.
The passes can be a little complicated and come with several options. To make sense of the passes, see my guides to Sun Moon Lake passes and Cingjing Farm passes.
The passes can be purchased at the Nantou Bus Window at Taichung HSR station (1F exit 5) or Nantou Bus Station near Taichung Station.
Best Nantou Tours
Because buses are limited and slow in Nantou, many visitors opt to take a tour or hire a private driver.
While it’s a little rushed, you can visit both Sun Moon Lake and Cingjing Farm in one day on this SML + Cingjing day tour from Taichung. Personally, I prefer to spend at least one night in each of those places to have enough time to properly explore them.
To make your own itinerary for Sun Moon Lake and/or Cingjing Farm, hire a private driver here.
For Monster Village and Sun Link Sea, here’s a day tour from Taichung.
How to Plan Your Nantou Itinerary
Consider Nantou as a side-trip from your journey down the West Coast of Taiwan.
If you’re only visiting Sun Moon Lake, get there to and from Taichung. I recommend a minimum of one night at Sun Moon Lake, but two nights is more relaxed.
If you plan to visit both Sun Moon Lake and Cingjing, it doesn’t matter which one you visit first, but transfer between the two at Puli. I also recommend a minimum of one night at Cingjing Farm, or two nights for a more relaxed visit.
Some people visit Sun Moon Lake or Cingjing Farm as a day trip from Taichung (don’t try to visit both in one day). This is fine, but you’ll miss out staying overnight at a lakeside hotel at SML, or witnessing the spectacular sunset and sunrise in Cingjing area or Hehuanshan.
If you’re visiting Alishan next, it would make sense to do Taichung to Cingjing Farm to Sun Moon Lake to Alishan, as there is a direct bus from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan (see “Getting to Nantou” section above). If you’re coming from Alishan, do the same thing but in reverse.
If you also plan to visit Xitou area, do that as a day trip or overnight trip from Taichung. You can also take the bus from Sun Moon Lake to Xitou, then back to Taichung after that.
What to Eat in Nantou
At Sun Moon Lake, the best food can be enjoyed on the food street in Ita Thao village, especially aboriginal foods like millet dumplings (小米粽), bamboo rice tubes (竹筒飯), roasted boar meat (烤山豬), and millet wine (小米酒). Most stalls are open in the afternoon but close around 7-8 in the evening.
Sun Moon Lake is also known for its tea eggs (茶葉蛋). The tea eggs at this stall at Xuanguang Temple are legendary.
The region is also known for its unique Ruby Red black tea (紅玉紅茶), which has a subtle mint and cinnamon flavor. Try or purchase it from shops in Shuishe or Ita Thao, or at Antique Assam Tea Farm.
One of the highlights of visiting Cingjing Farm is the collection of Yunnan food stalls at the Food Court in the farm. Also try the fried cabbage (高麗菜) there – Nantou’s high mountain cabbage is famously delicious. The food court is located at the lower entrance to the farm, which is in between the upper sheep shearing area and lower horsemanship pavilion.
You can also try Yunnan food at this restaurant just north of Cinging, on the way to Hehuanshan. The restaurant is in Bowang Village, where most of the descendents of the original Yunnan settlers still live today.
Dongding oolong tea (凍頂烏龍茶) is lightly roasted and nutty. You can buy it from shops along the highway in Lugu, on the drive up to Xitou or Sun Link Sea.
At Xitou Monster Village, there are some fun treats like severed witch finger cookies, eyeball chocolates, and poison ivy buns (with a real, but edible, poison ivy leaf on top).
If you love chocolate, don’t miss Nina Chocolate Dream Castle (Cona’s妮娜巧克力夢想城堡) in Puli or Nina Nina Chocolate Workshop (仁愛鄉清境創始店Cona’s 妮娜巧克力) at Cingjing.
Sunny Hills Nantou Store (微熱山丘南投三合院) is practically a place of pilgrimage for die-hard pineapple cake fans. This is the famous chain store’s original location. It’s set in a lovely old Taiwanese sanheyuan (courtyard house). It’s located here on Highway 139 west of Nantou city near the border with Changhua. The cakes made by Sunny Hills are less sweet and made with real pineapple.
Vegetarian options in Nantou may be limited. Learn how to say you are vegetarian or vegan here.
Here’s a map of other cherry blossoms spots around the lake. You can also see cherry blossoms at Cingjing Farm, Aowanda, and Sun Link Sea in February.
The annual Sun Moon Lake Mass Swim (日月潭國際萬人泳渡) is the only time that swimming is allowed in Sun Moon Lake. The event takes place in September and requires registration.
In October to November, the Sun Moon Lake Cycling, Music, and Fireworks Festival usually takes place, with various events at Shuishe Pier, usually on weekends.
In December, Aowanda and Sun Link Sea becomes hot spots for autumn foliage viewing.