Vira Natura

Across the Shans - China

4-20 June 2024
From €6,500.00 per person

An exciting journey across the spectacular shans and vast flowery grasslands of western China, from Yunnan to Sichuan. The floral mix is dazzling with slipper orchids, primulas, lilies and blue poppies alongside multi-coloured Tibetan monasteries and fluttering prayer flags. Beginning in Yunnan and the botanically rich Cangshan, we progress north through Yunnan to the fabulous floral wealth of Zhongdian and Baima Shan, to the granitic lakeland wilderness of Haizi Shan and on across vast grasslands to finish at another botanical hotspot, Balang Shan, near Wolong.

PLEASE NOTE: There is still great uncertainty as to when China will relax its COVID restrictions to permit free travel around the country. The dates given are liable to change or be postponed to a later date.

Day 1    Arrive Dali (4 June)

The long but necessary flight sees us arriving at Dali airport in the afternoon on the 7 June and transferring to our hotel (1500 metres). Overnight Dali.

Day 2        Cangshan

The Cangshan rise directly behind the city and a cable car takes us swiftly to the upper slopes where we’ll find an array of rhododendrons and primulas. We’ll walk down at least part of the way in search of many other alpine and woodland gems. Overnight Dali.

Day 3        Dali & to Lijiang

A cultural interlude sees us exploring the old city and lakeside pagodas before the drive north to Lijiang. In the afternoon we’ll drive reach Wenghai to find the lovely Thalictrum delavayiArisaema franchetianum and stunning sheets of pink Primula beesiana around the lake. Overnight Shuhe.

Day 4        Yulong Shan & Wenghai

Botanising begins with the florally rich limestone areas of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain where the pine forests are brimming with Roscoea cautleyoides, Cypripedium flavum and Cypripedium plectrochilon, Morina nepalensis and Iris colletii. Cliffs have the exotic Pleione bulbocodioides and pretty Primula yunnanensis as well as the last flowers on George Forrest’s beautiful Primula forrestii. Further into the park and we'll take a cablecar to a higher meadow with plenty of Stellera chamaejasme, Incarvillea mairei and maybe a few sky blue Meconopsis forrestii. Forest edges have apricot Primula bulleyana, Calanthe tricarinata and mixed colours of Salvia aerea. Overnight in Shuhe (2300 metres).

Day 5        To Zhongdian (Shangri-la)

From Lijiang the road meanders through pine forests and crosses the Yangtse River before climbing onto the Zhongdian Plateau - a botanical hotspot. The turf here will be full of colour with Incarvillea zhongdianensis, mingled with the remarkable near-black purple Thermopsis barbataAnemone demissa, Aster soulei and masses of Euphorbia jolkinii amongst which are orchids, gentians and louseworts. Overnight Zhongdian (3300 metres).

Day 6        Napa Hai

Close to the town is a small botanic garden that encloses an area of natural vegetation including a tract of old forest. Our first blue poppy Meconopsis prattiii grows here and along the roadsides nearby and within are the sumptuous pouches of Cypripedium tibeticum, growing alongside Cypripedium flavum, Cypripedium plectrochilon and Cypripedium guttatum as well as Greater Butterfly Orchids and Sword Helleborines. There will be many more of these exotic orchids in the afternoon growing among shrubberies of Rhododendron wardii and then a fifth species of slipper orchid Cypripedium yunnanense will round off the day. Overnight Zhongdian.

Day 7        Tianchi Hai

This remote high altitude lake and the surrounding area have many wonderful flowers. Stands of dozens of Cypripedium flavum jostle alongside the gorgeous pink discs of Nomocharis aperta, big clumps of Primula chionantha hint at the feast of primulas on offer today with swathes of Primula sikkimensis and Primula secundiflora mingled together around the lake, abundant bells of Primula amethystina and spires of Primula deflexa. Darkest purple bells of Lilium soulei pop up from the dwarf rhododendrons and the sinister spathes of Arisaema elephas emerge from clumps of Adonis davidii beside pale yellow Meconopsis pseudointegrifolia. Overnight Zhongdian.

Day 8        To Baima Shan

An early departure sees us climbing onto the spectacular Baima Shan, where limestone cliffs hold Paraquilegia microphylla. Climbing onto higher slopes we’ll find the superb tight domes of blue Chionocharis hookeri amid magenta Chesneya purpurea, Primula dryadifolia, Primula calliantha and dwarf shrubs of deep pink Rhododendron calostrotum. Overnight Benzilan.

Day 9        Baima Shan and to Zhongdian

More time will be spent on Baima Shan, this time in search of the lovely Corydalis melanochlora, Lilium lophopohrum, fragrant Primula gemmifera amoena and the impressive gentian relative Megacodon stylophorum. In the afternoon we’ll return to Zhongdian via pinewoods full of the scarlet drumsticks of Androsace bulleyana and Daphne aurantiaca. Overnight Zhongdian.

Day 10         Daxue Shan

The dramatic limestone teeth of Big Snow Mountain rises from tracts of mixed conifer and rhododendron forest coloured by dense carpets of Androsace rigida. The high turf has purple Meconopsis lancifolium, Corydalis pachycentra and big domes of Arenaria polytrichoides, whilst a nearby valley has high screes with the imposing Rheum nobile and stunning Corydalis benecincta. All amid stunning mountain landscapes. Overnight Xiancheng.

Day 11         To Litang

Densely wooded valleys frame serene rural scenes of neat Tibetan houses in various styles and immaculately tended fields. High passes have peculiar Soroseris gillii and Saussurea medusa, alongside Solms-laubachia pulcherima, Iris dolichosiphon and Androsace wardii. As we descend there is Primula orbicularis and stands of Iris delavayi. Primula involucrata carpets marshy flushes and we’ll stop for flowery grasslands full of Incarvillea mairei and Iris goniocarpa and the intriguing black-purple Thermopsis barbata as we climb to a vast granite plateau that extends north. On the high plateau are many Meconopsis integrifolia, Aster himalaicus and tight cushions of Arenaria oreophila as well as Primula orbicularis and the creamy-spires of Rheum alexandrae that crowd marshy areas. The expansive lakeland climbs to over 4500 metres with snow-capped shans in the distance. Overnight Litang.

Day 12        To Yajiang

There will be a cultural diversion in the morning to visit the imposing Litang Monastery with it's vibrant colourful interiors. Heading east the roadsides slopes are full of colour with plentiful Lilium lophophorum, Incarvillea mairei, Ajuga lupulina, Meconopsis henrici and the peculiar rosettes of Pleurospermum surrounded by prayer flags. Overnight Yajiang.

Day 13        To Danba

Today we will experience the vast grasslands that stretch across this eastern fringe of the Tibetan Plateau. Roadside banks have the soft yellow of Primula prattii and blue spires of Meconopsis racemosa, whilst Paeonia anomala ssp veitchii crowd the shrubberies and we'll pass through several typical Tibetan villages with their distinctive houses. The pass near Danba has Corydalis conspersa, pretty mauve Primula violacea and Sinopodophyllum hexandrum. Then we find various colour forms of Salvia prattii and maybe a few early Lilium duchartriei as we descend into lusher woodlands. Overnight Danba.

Day 14        Siguniang Shan

Heading along the deep valley east of Danba we climb steadily seeing Eremurus chinensis and bushy plants of flowery Incarvillea arguta before a more serious ascent bring us onto the flower-rich turf of Siguniang Shan with new species of pedicularis, primula and corydalis. Overnight Rilong.

Day 15        Balang Shan

The incomparable Balang Shan is where we spend the whole day. The high turf is smothered in flowers with many drooping red Meconopsis punicea and various mauve poppywort species mingled with Cypripedium tibeticum, Fritillaria sichuanica, masses of wide-faced Omphalogramma vinciflora, Corydalis curviflora, many louseworts and primulas including Primula polyneura,  and both Veratrum album and nigrum, lovely roses and delicate and refined Corydalis flexuosa. Overnight Rilong.

Day 16        To Chengdu

We'll explore some other delightful areas around the lower Balang Shan including stands of the spectacular lily Cardiocrinum giganteum, before heading to the big city in the afternoon. Overnight Chengdu.

Day 17        Flights home


4-20 June 2023 

Days: 17


Per person: 6750 euros

Single supplement: 600 euros


  • 16 nights accommodation
  • All food
  • Ground transport
  • Guide services

Not included:
  • Int'l Flights (to Dali/from Chengdu)
  • Travel/Medical Insurance
  • Alcoholic and soft drinks
  • Personal expenses (including visas)


Minimum number of participants 6; maximum 13.

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