Dali Prefecture in northwestern Yunnan consists of 1 county-level city (Dali City), 8 counties (Xiangyun, Binchuan, Midu, Yongping, Yunlong, Eryuan, Jianchuan, Heqing), and 3 autonomous counties (Yangbi, Nanjian, Weishan).
Situated where the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau meets the Hengduan Mountains, Dali features high terrain in the northwest and lowlands in the southeast. It borders Chuxiong, Pu'er, Lincang, Baoshan, and Lijiang.
Dali is home to 26 ethnic groups including Han, Bai, Yi, Hui, Lisu, Tibetan, and Naxi, with Bai being the predominant group. As an autonomous prefecture, the capital Dali City serves as an important hub on the Burma and Tibet highways.
Mount Cangshan, shaped like an upturned umbrella, dominates the landscape. The snow-capped Mount Yulong on the border with Lijiang reaches 4,295 m, the highest peak in Dali. The lowest point lies along the Nu River at 730 m.
Abundant lakes were formed during the last Dali Glacial Period, for which Mount Cangshan is the type locality. Major rivers include the Jinsha, Lancang, Nu, and Hong (Yuan). Notable lakes are Erhai, Tianchi, Cibi, Xihu, Donghu, Jianhu, Haixihai, and Qinghai.
The Third Month Fair is a traditional festival with over 1,000 years of history in Dali. Formerly known as Guanyin Market or Guanyin Fair, it is the biggest celebration of the year for the Bai ethnic group. Held at the foot of Cangshan Mountain on the west side of Dali Ancient City, the fair is both a lively market where various ethnic groups trade goods and culture, as well as a stage for artistic performances. Events include horse racing, Yunnan opera shows, decorative lantern displays and more, drawing hundreds of thousands of attendees daily. The weeklong festival runs from the 15th to the 21st day of the third lunar month, typically corresponding to April on the Gregorian calendar. Visiting during the Third Month Fair offers immersion in the sounds, colors and excitement of this grand cultural gathering. Marveling at the seas of lanterns and cheering on horse races allows glimpses into enduring Bai traditions. Trying Yunnan snacks from the bustling stalls provides flavorful insight into regional cuisine. The Third Month Fair gives travelers a vivid experience of time-honored local heritage.
Surrounding the Three Spirits
The Sanlingduo Festival, also called Raoshanling or Praying for Rain Festival, is the biggest traditional celebration of the Bai people around Erhai Lake in Dali. Held before the busy farming season, it is a grand gathering for singing, dancing and celebrating spring. On the 23rd day, people congregate at Shenyuan Temple below Mount Cangshan's Wutaishan Peak to pray and sing competitions. On the 24th, the crowds flow through Xizhou Town towards villages on Erhai Lake's south bank, celebrating with singing competitions in local Benzhu temples that night. On the 25th, revelers circle Erhai Lake to Dali's Chongseng Temple, east of Majie Village, for final rituals before dispersing home and ending the festival. Visiting during Sanlingduo offers glimpses of enduring Bai heritage through their ceremonies, music, feast foods and more. Joining the circles of dance and song creates opportunities to experience spiritual locals customs. As an intimate look at ethnic culture before the toils of planting begin, the Sanlingduo Festival provides a window into the region's rich traditions.
The Torch Festival is a traditional celebration observed by many of China's southwestern ethnic minorities, especially the Bai and Yi peoples. In Dali, the Bai celebrate on June 24th and the Yi on the 25th. On the festival day, each village's teacher leads a procession with a giant torch, decorated with banners inscribed with auspicious phrases like "bumper harvests" and "favorable weather." The torch is adorned with fruits, steamed buns and five-colored streamers. As the torch is lit, villagers gather to try catching falling fruits and buns which are said to foretell the birth of noble children and good fortune. Eating torch foods is thought to confer health benefits. After watching the main village torch, children parade around with smaller torches, visiting fields to drive away pests by firelight. Villagers also sprinkle pine resin on torches to dispel harm until the embers burn out. Festivities commence at Dali's Zhonghe Temple, with surrounding Bai villages lighting torches in succession after the main one is ignited. Visiting during the Torch Festival offers glimpses of vibrant ethnic culture through the spectacular torch ceremonies and celebrations unique to the area.
Shibaoshan Song Club
The Shibao Mountain Folksong Festival is a major traditional celebration of Bai culture held in the Shibao Mountain area. During the festival, Bai people from surrounding regions gather at Shibao Mountain's Shizhong Temple, Baoxiang Temple, Haiyun Residence and Jinding Temple to sing antiphonal folksongs and take in the sights. Bai youth don colorful festive attire, playing traditional instruments, dancing and reveling through the night. The lively event takes place from the 27th to the 29th day of the seventh lunar month, typically falling in August. Visiting during the Shibao Mountain Folksong Festival offers an inside look at enduring Bai customs through their traditional music, clothing and celebrations. Joining in the singing and dancing creates opportunities for cross-cultural connections. With Bai folk culture on full display, the festival provides an immersive experience of local heritage.
Playing the Sea Club
The Shuahai Festival, also called the "Fishing for Corpses Festival", originates from two folk legends. In Dengchuan and Xizhou, it honors Lady Bijie who drowned herself in Erhai Lake during the Nanzhao Kingdom era. In Dali and Xiaguan, it commemorates the hero Duan Chicheng who sacrificed himself fighting a python to save people, during the same period. For the festival, Bai people don colorful outfits and ride decorated boats to roam Erhai Lake, singing antiphonal songs. The highlight is an exciting dragon boat race. Spectators crowd the shores cheering on teams in a lively atmosphere. The Shuahai Festival begins on the 23rd day of the seventh lunar month around Xizhou and Dengchuan, and the 8th day of the eighth month around Dali and Xiaguan, typically in August or September. Visiting during Shuahai offers glimpses of Bai cultural heritage through their legends, costumes, songs and celebrations. Cheering on dragon boats allows experiencing the palpable energy of this unique ethnic event.
Jizu Mountain Chaoshan Meeting
The Jizushan Chaoshan Festival takes place in Jizushan Mountain from the first to the fifteenth day of the lunar new year. During Chaoshan, throngs of pilgrims and visitors make the trek up Jizushan daily to participate in the vibrant cultural activities. Many hike up before dawn to Jinguantai pavilion to witness the sunrise, especially on the fifteenth morning of new year's when crowds peak. In addition to taking in mountain scenery, attendees enjoy dragon dances, lion dances, hunting rituals, horse racing, antiphonal singing, lantern shows and lantern riddle guessing. The festival offers a window into the rich ethnic heritage of the region through the diverse Bai customs on display. Joining the pilgrimage and revelry allows for an immersive experience in local culture. The palpable enthusiasm and joy throughout Chaoshan makes it a delight for anyone interested in China's colorful traditions.
The Gegen Festival takes place on the fifth day of the first lunar month at SanTa Temple in Dali. Gegen translates to "kudzu root" and the festival centers around trading and selling this medicinal plant. Vendors and farmers come from around Yunnan to sell a variety of kudzu goods and products like herbal remedies, textiles and handicrafts. In addition to commerce, attendees can take in the scenery of SanTa Temple's three ancient pagodas and sample local snacks and treats. The lively marketplace offers a glimpse into the region's enduring herbal traditions and local culture. Browsing the many kudzu items and sampling unique foods creates an immersive festival experience. For visitors interested in Chinese customs, Gegen provides an intimate look at how ethnic minorities integrate native plants into their livelihoods and celebrations.
Weibaoshan Chaoshan Song Club
The Weibaoshan Chaoshan Folksong Festival takes place from the first to the fifteenth day of the second lunar month at Weibaoshan Mountain. For the festival, people from Dali, Eryuan, Midu, Nanjian, Yangbi, Fengqing, Yunxian and other nearby counties flock to Weibaoshan dressed in traditional ethnic attire. Local Dongjing music troupes perform elegant, folk tunes in the mountain's temples while vendors set up stalls selling regional food, mountain goods, local specialties and souvenirs to cater to the crowds. The lively marketplace and music create a festive atmosphere for experiencing Dali's diverse cultural heritage. Visitors can browse handicrafts, sample Yunnan snacks, and watch folk performances while soaking in Weibaoshan's natural and spiritual scenery. For an immersive experience of ethnic culture and customs, Weibaoshan's Chaoshan Folksong Festival offers a vivid display of local color.
Archaeological evidence confirms human activity in Lianyungang's ancient Mount Qushan and present-day Mount Jinping area as early as 10,000 years ago. In 1959 and 1978, the oldest Paleolithic sites in southeast China were discovered at Erjian and Daxian Village with clear stratigraphic layers. Mount Jinping has 19 Neolithic sites, with Erjian being one of China's earliest farming areas.
The 20-meter long, 10-meter wide "General Cliff Painting" discovered in 1979 was appraised by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage as "an extremely important cultural relic and rare major discovery, the earliest 'book' in China."
The Donghan era art treasure "Kongwang Mountain Grottoes Statues" are the earliest Buddhist grotto statues in China, 100-200 years earlier than the Dunhuang Grottoes, and protected at the national level.
The area is also steeped in history, with attractions related to Confucius' sea gazing, Emperor Qin's inspections, and famous poets and officials like Tao Yuanming, Li Bai, Su Dongpo, Shen Kuo, Li Qingzhao, Wu Cheng'en, Li Ruzhen, Wu Jingzi, Lin Zexu, Zhu Ziqing and more.
Best Travel TimeThe third month of the lunar calendar (April) is the best time for tourism in Dali. "The beautiful scenery of Dali in the third month" refers to this period. You can participate in the "March Street" activity and see the "Jade Belt Cloud" in Cangshan and the "Wangfu Cloud" in Erhai (but not all natural wonders from March to Dali will be seen, it depends on luck). In addition, the most grand commercial event in Dali, "March Street," is also held during this season. The Jinhua and Ah Peng in "Five Golden Flowers" met at the horse race on March Street.
Medical treatmentHere is some information on medical care in Dali for an English travel website:Medical Care in DaliDali First People's Hospital is one of the better comprehensive tier 2 grade A hospitals in Dali, located at 217 Tai'an Lu in Xiaguan district. Tel: 0872-2124462There are also many pharmacies in the old town, including the well-known provincial chain Yixin Tang on Fuxing Lu. They have a reputation for quality and reliability.For emergency care:Dali Prefectural Hospital Emergency DepartmentTel: 0872-2127127Dali Municipal Hospital Emergency Department Tel: 0872-2125066Be sure to travel with international medical insurance coverage. Do not hesitate to seek care at these facilities if you become ill or injured during your stay in Dali. Quality English-speaking staff are available to assist foreign visitors. Have a wonderful trip while remaining vigilant about your health!
Dali's Old Town is very safe, but visitors should take normal security precautions:
- Beware of pickpockets in crowded areas like markets. Keep valuables secure and bags closed.
- Avoid wandering alone at night, especially in isolated areas.
- Women are advised not to travel alone. Go in groups when possible.
Violent crime is extremely rare in Dali. However, exercise standard travel safety like only taking registered taxis and avoiding unlit back streets at night. Use hotel safes when available. While highly safe, following basic precautions provides peace of mind. Report any issues to tourism police, who provide assistance to foreigners. With some common sense, Dali's Old Town makes for a secure and enjoyable destination to discover.