I don’t think I can say enough about how wonderful the Wenhai Ecolodge is. We spent four days here: one day hiking in, two days hiking through nearby villages, and one day hiking back down to Lijiang. Two to three nights are definitely sufficient to get a full experience of the area, but I would love to go back.
The village of Wenhai has traditionally been home to people from Yunnan’s Naxi minority group. The Ecolodge was set up in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy to provide employment for local residents and to bring tourists to the area in an environmentally-respectful way. The best part of staying at the Ecolodge is the chance to meet the wonderful people who work there. The caretaker — also the chief guide — and his wife, who are both Naxi, are incredibly generous and welcoming.
Update: In June 2009, another traveler wrote to tell me that some or all of the eco-friendly programs at the lodge have been dismantled. The lodge is no longer owned by a local cooperative and is now privately run. Although they were still touting their eco-credentials when I visited in October 2008, the changes likely predate my visit. Friends who visited the ecolodge in October 2009 confirmed these reports, and said that the lodge seemed to be in a bit of a decline. Hopefully a mention in the latest edition of Lonely Planet: China will help revitalize sales. I’d still recommend visiting the Wenhai area and staying at the lodge, but take the Nature Conservancy’s claims with a grain of salt.
The Ecolodge (elevation 3,100 m) is located in the foothills of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, south of Tiger Leaping Gorge. There are abundant day hiking opportunities around the lodge, but hiring a local guide (100 RMB per day) is necessary for many of them. Trail markers are few and far between.
The hike to the Ecolodge from the drop-off point in Yulong Village lasts about four hours. It is mildly strenuous, and would have been very difficult with our backpacks. If the jeep is not available to drive your packs into the lodge, hiring a horse to carry them (150 RMB) is suggested.
On our first day, we did a short hike on our own. Because we didn’t have a guide, we stuck to a dirt road running through a couple of different villages. We hired a guide for the second day, which enabled us to cover a lot more territory. He took us to several more villages belonging to different minority groups, including a stop for tea, which turned into a lunch of potatoes cooked over the fire, with one of his friends. Our fledgling Chinese was of limited use, since his friend did not speak Mandarin, but it was an amazing experience nonetheless.
We took a different route to leave the Ecolodge, again with a guide. This hike was flatter, but muddier, and took about five hours. We ended up in the village of Longquan, just outside Lijiang. It is similar to Lijiang in that it has also been “restored” for tourism. Resist the temptation to do all your shopping here, however, as Lijiang has a much wider selection of shops.
Room and Board
Room and board are included in the nightly rate of 120 RMB. The rooms are spartan but comfortable, and the bathrooms are communal. The food is simple — hardboiled eggs, potatoes, and buns for breakfast, for instance — but it is tasty and plentiful. (One of our fellow guests disagreed. If you are very, very, very picky, think twice, or at least bring your own snacks.) It is vegetarian unless you specifically request meat.
When you make the reservation, you will arrange a time and place to meet in Lijiang. (We met our guide at the Grand Lijiang Hotel.) A jeep or taxi will take you to a trailhead about 40 minutes away, and you will hike to the Ecolodge from there. It is now possible to take a jeep all the way to the Ecolodge, but you should hike!
As of October 2008, neither the on-site manager nor the caretaker speaks English. One of the manager’s sisters is an English teacher in Lijiang, and she replies to English e-mails and phone calls. We got along easily with beginner-intermediate level Mandarin, but at least some Chinese is probably necessary.