On the eastern coast of Taiwan sits the beautiful city of Hualien. The Spanish came here to mine for gold in the early 1600s, but it was not until around 150 years later that the first permanent settlement began in the rocky coastal terrain. Hualien is a small city that is mainly known as being a starting point for anyone visiting Taroko National Park. Inside the park lies Taroko Gorge, a 19km-long canyon that twists and turns through jagged cliffs. Today, Hualien has a listed population of just over 100,000 residents.
Taroko Gorge was established as a national park while Taiwan was still under Japanese rule in the 1930s, and is arguably the top tourist destination on the island. Getting to Taroko Gorge is not difficult at all. If you are coming from Taipei, you can get a direct two-hour train to Hualien; the best time to arrive is during daylight. Try to get your train ticket for the left-hand side of the train as the tracks follow the coastline for a majority of the ride and offer excellent views of the ocean.
Sights in Taroko National Park
Known as Ihla Formosa, or beautiful island, Taroko Gorge does not disappoint. Onlookers are drawn to the pristine blue water of the Liwu River, which knifes its way through the canyon walls. There are many areas to explore in the canyon, such as the hiking trails. Many are marked “closed”, but that does not deter backpackers from testing them out. A thick layer of fog will often blanket the top of the gorge and create stunning effects. For the animal enthusiast, Taroko Gorge offers a variety of birds and wildlife: the park is even home to several species of boars.
Hualien Hotels and hostels
Finding accommodation in Hualien is very easy, even on weekends. Don’t worry about booking in advance as many Hualien hotels are within a short walking distance from the train station. For travelers on a budget, Hualien also offers several formidable hostels.
Transport and Taroko Gorge tours
There are three main options for getting to Taroko Gorge. The first option is to sign up and ride one of the tour buses lined up outside the station. Several companies will compete for your business to charter you to the gorge. This approach is easy but lacks the freedom your average backpacker desires. Also, most of the tours are in Mandarin.
Second on the list is to rent a scooter. The gorge is only twenty minutes from Hualien and many tourists feel this is a great option for seeing the gorge. You may not be able to rent a scooter without providing an adequate Taiwanese operating license, but it is still worth a shot.
Finally, finding a taxi is not difficult at all. There are several drivers who speak English and are more than welcome to take you to stunning lookout points along the coast as well as the gorge. A full eight-hour day with a personal chauffeur will run to around US$20. Taxi drivers can take you to beautiful beaches and other non-touristy areas that are located down slim mountain pass roads, too narrow for a bus to navigate.