The Tropic of Cancer crosses Taiwan 170 kilometers south of Taipei, and the island is just far enough from the equator to have four distinct seasons.
For many visitors and residents, fall is the best. Third-quarter weather is reliably comfortable, with Taipei enjoying typical daytime temperatures of 19 to 25 degrees Celsius (66 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit). In all four major cities (Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung), October through January are usually the driest months of the year.
Autumn is also ideal if you plan to explore Taiwan’s rugged interior. Days are not too short, and high-altitude roads such as the Alishan highway can be expected to remain open. In this season, the temperate woodlands that cover much of Taiwan’s mountains begin to change color. The greens become less vivid, gradually giving way to delicate browns, reds, and oranges.
On a clear day – and in fall there are many – high mountains are easily visible from the lowlands. But despite the speed and convenience of public transportation within Greater Taipei, and from the capital to other population centers, when to comes to escaping to Taiwan’s splendid highlands, options beyond driving a rental car or motorcycle are limited.
Recognizing that difficulty, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau over the past decade has fine-tuned the travel services offered under the umbrella of the Taiwan Tour Bus program (www.taiwantourbus.com.tw). This network provides access to a number of places which, for tourists who do not speak Chinese or do not wish to drive themselves, would be difficult or impossible to reach. Each bus is accompanied by a guide who introduces attractions along the way (in English, Japanese, or Chinese – the website has full details), answers questions, and ensures no one gets left behind.
If you ask a Taiwanese person to tell you where scenes of autumnal splendor can best be enjoyed, Wuling Farm is likely to be one of their answers, on account of its gorgeous stands of apple, cherry, maple, oak, peach, plum, pear, and walnut trees. Located more than a mile above sea level in Greater Taichung, Wuling is one of the most accessible parts of Shei-Pa National Park. To enhance the seasonal experience, park authorities have planted flowers that are at their best between late summer and early winter.
One-day Taiwan Tour Bus excursions to Wuling Farm pick up passengers in both Taipei and Yilan. The first halt is a brief stop at Nanshan, a sprawling mountain village. If you eat cabbage in Taiwan, there is a good chance it was grown near Nanshan.
Guided tours of Wuling Farm include much more than viewing trees and flowers. You will also learn about one of Taiwan’s rarest and most remarkable species, the Formosan landlocked salmon.
One-day tours to Wuling Farm start at NT$1,390 per person (the price is slightly higher on weekends or if you set out from Taipei rather than Yilan). The cost includes lunch, insurance, and admission to the farm.
The Xitou Nature Education Area is another mid-altitude woodland well worth exploring in the cooler months. It has 13 short hiking paths, as well as gingko trees planted during the 1895-1945 period when Taiwan was a Japanese colony.
If you are traveling with children, consider signing up for the one-day Xitou and Xiaobantian tour (NT$1,850 per person; pickup from various locations around Taichung) as it includes a pre-lunch stop at Xitou Monster Village. This attraction celebrates the cute freaks and spooks that appear in Japanese comic books and cartoons. Be prepared to take lots of photos, and bring a shopping bag as it is also a good place to pick up some delicious local fruit.
Even if you don’t plan to leave Greater Taipei, it is still possible to enjoy mountain scenery, as there are a number of peaks near the capital city, some over 1,000 meters high. Those due north of Taipei form the core of Yangmingshan National Park, and several points within the park – such as the trailhead for the hike up Mount Qixing (sometimes known as Seven Stars Mountain) – can be reached by regular city bus.
Waist-high silver grass, cultivated in North America as an ornamental plant, thrives naturally in several parts of Taiwan, including Yangmingshan during the fall. For a good introduction to the park, consider signing up for one of the half-day Yangmingshan National Park and Hot Springs tours. The charge (NT$1,500 per adult, NT$1,200 per child) includes admission to a hot springs – a “must do” when the weather is beginning to cool down.
Another favorite fall destination for Taipei residents and Taipei-based visitors is Wulai. Simple statistics help explain the district’s appeal. Some 2.7 million people are crammed into Taipei’s 272 square kilometers, while a mere 6,100 people are spread across 321 square kilometers of Wulai. Approximately one-third of Wulai’s population belongs to the Atayal tribe, one of Taiwan’s 16 indigenous Austronesian ethnic groups. They have lived in these pristine valleys for well over a thousand years.
The Wulai Aboriginal Culture half-day tour (NT$1,500 for adults, NT$1,200 for children) takes in the area’s main scenic attractions, such as the 80-meter-high waterfall, as well as an indigenous dance performance. Wulai also has hot springs, which can be enjoyed either in upmarket hotels or for free right by the river, and in the cooler months excellent birdwatching. A half-day tour is probably just enough to inspire you to return and explore more thoroughly, perhaps with an English-speaking driver and vehicle hired through Taipei’s English Taxi Association (Tel: +886 2 2799 7997; if possible, call a day or two in advance).
Further details of these and other tours, including how to make bookings, can be found on the Taiwan Tour Bus website. In all cases, the price includes the services of a guide; gratuities are optional. For general travel information about Taiwan, visit the website of Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau (www.taiwan.net.tw), or call the 24-hour tourist information hotline: 0800-011-765 (toll free within the Taiwan).