Looking for things to do in Sanya? Look no further than this comprehensive guide of top things to do in the city and nearby areas.
Sanya is a resort city on Hainan Island, sometimes refferred to as China’s Hawaii. This coastal city has miles of pristine, sandy beaches lined by coconut palms and is a favourite holiday destination for those escaping the harsh winters in the north.
The city is packed with things to do from swimming and sunbathing to surfing, kayaking and paddle boarding. There are numerous islands nearby where you can dive and snorkel in the crystal clear waters.
Sanya is packed full of bars and restaurants with cuisines from around the world (a rarity in most Chinese cities). You can try the freshest seafood or sample the local speciality of Hainanese Chicken as well as Italian, Mexican, Indian and more.
Because Sanya is within the tropics it has year-round warm and sunny weather with temperatures rarely dropping below 28 celcius.
Looking for great places to eat in Sanya? Be sure to check out our list of the best Sanya Restuarants to visit in 2021!
Where is Sanya?
Sanya is located at the very south of Hainan Island, itself the southernmost province of China. Hainan is in the tropics and lies less than 300km east of Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Top Things to do in Sanya
1. Sanya Bay
One of the best things to do in Sanya is to hit the beach at Sanya Bay! The bay stretches for a staggering 22 kilometres and its white, sandy beach is lined with palm trees. Sanya Bay is perfect for walking, sunbathing and swimming. The bay is lined by hotels, bars and restaurants (both international and Chinese).
The farther you follow the bay west out of the city, the quitter and more beautiful it becomes (the best way to explore and find the best spots is to hire a bicycle or e-bike).
How to get to Sanya Bay: Just walk south from anywhere in the city and you will reach Sanya Bay.
Buses that go to Sanya Bay: 6, 8, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 57
Sanya Tram: There is a tram service operating between Sanya Railway Station and Shengli Road. Stops closest to the beach are between Youyi Street and Xinfeng Street.
2. Sanya River Embankment
The Sanya River meanders through the city and exits to the sea between Sanya Bay and Dadonghai. The river is lined with mangroves and has an embankment with walkways and bridges leading to some of the city’s parks.
In the evening people gather on the embankment to sing, dance and live stream videos for Tic-Toc. There are many shops and stalls nearby selling drinks and snacks.
How to get to the Sanya River: Just walk south from anywhere in the city and you will reach Sanya Bay.
Buses that go to Sanya River: 11, 12, 15, 24, 30, 31 and 42
Sanya Tram: The river is walking distance from all stops from Sanya River East Road to the end of the line at Jiangang Road.
Dadonghai is the party centre of Sanya and where you can find the best bars. The small beach has many activities from surfing, paddle boarding and diving, to more high-octane thrills such as jet skis, banana boats and helicopter rides.
The boardwalk above the beach is lined with some of the city’s best clubs and bars including Manhattan and the newly opened NB’s and FreeGen Sports Club Bar. The main street leading to the boardwalk and beach is packed with shops selling beachwear etc.
How to get to Dadonghai: Dadonghai is around 3km from central Sanya. You can walk, bike, take an ebike, taxi or bus.
Buses that go to Dadonghai: 2, 4, 8, 15, 18, 19, 25, 28, 36 and 53
Xiaodonghai is Dadonghai’s quieter and more upmarket sibling. There is a beautiful small bay lined with fancy (and pricey) bars and restaurants. It’s worth paying the extra for the stunning views/ambience.
Although most of the beachfront is part of the InterContinental Resort, the beach, bars and restaurants are all for use of both guests and non-guests of the resort. Definitely one of Sanya’s hidden gems!
How to get to Xiaodonghai: Xiaodonghai is around 2km from Dadonghai. The best way to get there is by ebike (which can be rented all over Dadonghai for ¥50 per day), bus or taxi.
Buses that go to Xiaodonghai: take bus 4 or 26 to the Intercontinental Hotel
5. Luhitou Park
Luhitou Park is located just off the main road to Xiaodonghai and offers nice views across Sanya and out to sea. A nice place to watch the sunset, however the park itself is pretty underwhelming and not really worth the entrance fee. There are a couple of cafes at the top and you can either walk or pay for a ride in one of the battery cars. For the best views, head instead to Phoenix Peak (see below).
Opening Hours: 07:30 to 21:00
Entrance Fee: ¥35
How to get to Luhuitou Park: Luhuitou Park is on Luling Road which goes between Dadonghai and Xiaodonghai. It is within walking distance from both.
Buses that go to Luhuitou Park: 26, 54 and 55
6. Phoenix Peak (Fenghuangling)
The 400 metre Phoenix Peak offers the best panoramic views in the city. It can only be reached by cable car as the old path and steps are no longer accessible. This is the highest peak in Sanya and the sunset viewed from the wooden platforms surrounding the mountain are incredible.
Although the entrance fee is a little pricey (though not terrible when you consider it includes the cable car), it is worth it for the views out to Yalong Bay, Sanya Bay, the city and mountains. If you really don’t want to pay the entrance fee, then similar views can be had for free at Linchunling Forest Park a little further down the street (see below).
High Season: 08:00 to 21:00
Low Season: 09:00 to 19:30
Entrance Fee: ¥88 (includes return cable car trip)
How to get to Phoenix Peak: The cable car stop to get to Phoenix Peak is around 5km from central Sanya and a little out of the way. Taking a taxi is the easiest option and should cost around ¥20.
Buses that go to Phoenix Peak: 17, 24 and 55
7. Linchunling Forest Park
This beautiful mountain park is a pleasant escape from the city. Linchunling is packed full of tropical plants and flowers, birds and butterflies (be wary of snakes too).
There is a pavilion at the top which is where the best views can be had. Perfect for both sunrise and sunset because of the 360-degree panorama, Linchunling Forest Park is a must visit attraction and one of the best things to do in Sanya.
Opening Hours: 07:00 to 22:00
Entrance Fee: free
How to get to Linchunling: The forest park is on Fenghuang Road close to the large tree-shaped apartment buildings.
Buses that go to Linchunling: 9, 36, 50 and 53
8. Sanya Mangrove Park
The Mangrove park is a series of elevated walkways and paths through the mangroves along the Lin Chun He River in the east of the city. Here you can observe a variety of different flora including coconut palms, sea hibiscus, mango trees, and of course miles of mangroves above the water. The fauna includes plenty of birdlife, reptiles and jumping fish. Beware of venomous snakes!
Opening Hours: 24 hours
Entrance Fee: free
How to get to Mangrove Park: The Mangrove Park is located on the Lin Chun He River 2km east of Central Sanya.
Buses that go to Mangrove Park: 9 and 53 to Fenghuang Road/Chunguang Road.
9. West Island – Top Attraction!
West Island is a calmer antidote to the more popular Wuzhizou Island (see below). Here you can find beautiful, white sandy beaches, coconuts, palm trees and a host of activities from snorkelling to diving.
The island isn’t simply a tourist destination as it is home to some of Hainan’s ethnic Li and Mao tribes who live there, and the quaint village is well worth exploring.
There are hiking trails inland and around the coast and a few bars and restaurants on the island. For some reason it doesn’t seem to attract as many visitors as Wuzhizou even though it is closer to downtown Sanya, and is equally as beautiful.
Ferry operating times: 08:00 to 18:00 (don’t miss the last one)
Ferry Ticket Price: ¥100
How to get to West Island: Take a bus or taxi to Xidao Port (Xidao Tourist Zone) and then take the ferry.
Buses that go to Xidao Port: 14, 16, 25, 26, 32 and 57
10. Tianya Haijiao
Tianya Haijiao is an area to the west of Sanya Bay that has been developed into a tourist zone; i.e. overpriced entrance fee, tacky displays, gift shops, and hordes of tourists. There are some interesting rock formations just off the coast here, but essentially you are just paying to visit an overdeveloped beach of which there are far nicer ones to visit for free.
Opening hours: 07:30 to 18:00
Entrance fee: ¥150
How to get to Tianya Haijiao: Take a bus or taxi. Tianya Haijiao Scenic Area is 17km west of central Sanya.
Buses that go to Tianya Haijiao: 14, 16, 25, 26, 32 and 57
11. Tianya Village – Hidden Gem!
Known locally as “fake Greece” for its whitewashed Mediterranean-style houses with bright-blue shutters, the fishing village of Tianya was remodelled using Santorini in Greece as inspiration. The result is not as tacky as you might expect, and the small lanes, complete with orange and lemon trees, are fun to explore.
The nearby beach is perfect for swimming and sunbathing and looks stunning with the brightly coloured fishing boats resting beneath the palm trees.
The beach is also lined with several very nice, yet inexpensive bars and restaurants, some of which have a pool, making it the perfect place to stop for a beer and some fresh seafood. Highly recommended as one of the top things to do in Sanya!
How to get to Tianya Village: Take a bus or taxi. Tianya Village is 19km west of central Sanya.
Buses that go to Tianya Village: 14, 16, 25, 26, 32 and 57
12. Nanshan Culture Tourism Zone
Another tourist trap packed with busloads of day-trippers. There is nothing particularly interesting or historical about this 108-metre-tall statue of the bodhisattva Guanyin, which was built in 2005.
Unless you have a yearning wish to see a large Buddhist statue (actually, it is the 12th tallest statue in the world), then it’s probably best avoided and definitely not worth the steep entrance fee or journey from downtown Sanya.
Opening hours: 08:00 to 17:30
Entrance fee: ¥150
How to get to Nanshan: Take a bus or train to Nanshan Cultural Tourist Zone 40km west of Sanya.
Buses that go to Nanshan: 16, 25, 55 and 57
Nearest Train Station: Nanshan North
13. Yalong Bay
The beach at Yalong Bay, 16km east of central Sanya, is similar to Dadonghai with lots of ocean activities. The 7.5km long sandy bay is quite beautiful and the water here is exceptionally clear (visibility can sometimes be up to 9 metres).
The area behind the beach is lined with large resorts, shops and restaurants and the area can get very busy during public holidays.
How to get to Yalong Bay: Take a bus or taxi directly to Yalong Bay, or a train then taxi.
Buses that go to Yalong Bay: 15, 24 and 27
Nearest Train Station: Yalong Bay
14. Yalong Bay Rainforest Park
This pleasant, landscaped rainforest park is worth a visit for the interesting array of flora and fauna (including a display of rare orchids) and the views across the jungle and Yalong Bay from the top of the mountain.
Once inside the park, you will need to take a free shuttle bus between each scenic spot. There are optional extra excursions such as the rope bridge and glass bottomed walkway.
Opening hours: 08:00 to 17:30
Entrance fee: ¥50
How to get to Yalong Bay Rainforest Park: Take a bus to the entrance on Liupan Road.
Buses that go to Yalong Bay Rainforest Park: 15, 24, 25 and 27
Nearest Train Station: Yalong Bay
Houhai is the hip, surfers’ paradise located 23km east of Sanya. Here you will find the best waves, the biggest parties and the best nightlife.
The small, curved bay can get very busy with surfers and paddleboarders, but is worth the excursion. The small village has a very bohemian vibe. The main thoroughfare is lined with stalls selling street food and seafood restaurants.
The beach itself is lined with many bars with thumping bass and revellers drinking and dancing as the sun sets. A few of the bars have onsite pools overlooking the beach. There is even a “full moon party” of sorts (though don’t confuse it with the ones in Thailand).
How to get to Houhai: Take bus 28 from the Pineapple Mall at Dadonghai.
Buses that go to Houhai: 28
16. Wuzhizou Island
Wuzhizou is one the best places to head to for water-borne activities. Swimming, snorkelling, diving, sailing and more high-octane activities are all available here.
The island is quite beautiful with some of the clearest waters around Sanya. Here you will find white, sandy beaches, promenades and jungle hiking trails leading up to a viewpoint.
There are restaurants and cafes near the small port and one or two hotels for those that want to stay on the island.
Ferry operating times: 08:00 to 17:30 (don’t miss the last one)
Entrance fee: ¥144
How to get to Wuzhizhou Island: Take bus 28 from Dadonghai to Houhai. At Houhai take the ferry (every 20 minutes).
Buses that go to Houhai: 28
17. Hotel Atlantis – Haitang Bay
Haitang Bay is a long stretch of quiet coastline lined with the most expensive resorts in the Sanya area. Here you will find the world-famous Hotel Atlantis which has its own large aquarium (you can even book an underwater room if you don’t mind paying $8,000 per night) and aqua park.
Here you will also find some world-class restaurants such as Gordon Ramsey’s Bread Street Kitchen and Bar. If you don’t fancy forking out thousands of dollars for an underwater room at the Atlantis, you can dine in the underwater Ossiano restaurant (still not going to be cheap).
Tip: don’t pay for entry to the aquarium as there is a huge display inside the hotel which is free.
- Atlantis Waterpark: 10:00 to 20:00
- Lost Chambers of Atlantis Aquarium: 10:00 to 18:00
Bars and restaurants: 10:00 to 23:00
- Atlantis Waterpark: ¥338 adult, ¥238 child
- Lost Chambers of Atlantis Aquarium: ¥188 adult, ¥148 child
How to get to Hotel Atlantis: Take bus 33 or 35 directly to the hotel on Haitang Bay.
Buses that go to Hotel Atlantis: 33 and 35
18. Coconut Island
Coconut Island is a beautiful area of jungle along the Tegqiaodong River which culminates in a large lagoon. On weekends it is popular with paddle boarders and kayakers as well as off-road vehicles. Not easy to get to without your own transport, but worth making the effort.
How to get to Coconut Island: take a bus to Haitang Bay or Lingshui Bay and then a taxi. Be aware that you might not find a taxi back so try and agree to pay for the driver to wait or take contact details.
Buses that go to Haitang Bay: 33 and 35
19. Lingshui Bay
Clear Water (Lingshui) Bay is a long, palm-lined beach surrounded by (reasonably priced) resorts. There is a tidal swimming pool, coastal walkway and a few rock pools to be explored.
How to get to Lingshui Bay: Take a train from Sanya to Lingshui Bay and then a taxi to the beach.
Nearest Station: Lingshui Bay
20. Yanoda Rainforest Park
Yanoda Rainforest Park is located in the jungle 30km north of Sanya. Although it is quite commercial, it is possible to escape the crowds and amusement park and hit some of the more difficult trails that lead up into the rainforest. Here you will find an astounding array of biodiversity.
If you are expecting a real wilderness experience, then you won’t find it at Yanoda, but if you have kids and want to explore the jungle in safety and comfort, then this is a good option. If you are looking for a more adventurous trip, then continue north to Baocheng and Qixian Ling.
Opening Hours: 07:30 to 18:00
Entrance Fee: ¥100
How to get to Yanoda Rainforest Park: You can take a tourist bus from Dadonghai or take the Baoting bound bus from Sanya bus station or railway station.
21. Mao Village
22. Jiangfeng Ridge
Jiangfeng Ridge is a mountain 100km west of Sanya located in unspoilt jungle and rainforest. Here you can climb the 1,412-metre peak for incredible views across the jungle and out to sea.
Within the national park you can also find lakes, rivers and jungle trails. It’s only possible to visit the park if you have your own transport. You could take a train and a taxi to get there, but getting back might prove very difficult.
How to get to Jiangfeng Ridge: You will need to drive a hire car or book a tour. In theory you could take the train to Jiangfeng and then a taxi to the park entrance, but there are large distances between scenic areas inside the park and you probably won’t be able to get a taxi out again.
23. Fake Guilin
Wuzhishan is a small city (really no more than a town) in the middle of the rainforet 50km north of Sanya. There are numerous paths into the jungle where you can find cooling rivers and waterfalls surrounded by lush rainforest.
25. Qixian Ridge
Safety and security in Sanya
Hainan Island, and Sanya in particular is home to many PLA bases. Pay attention to and heed signs about photography and drone use.
Sanya’s traffic is considerably worse than other cities in China. Cars will frequently drive on the wrong side of the road. Always pay attention when crossing the road and when cycling or using an ebike.
Unlike other cities in China, the police enforce traffic rules for ebike riders and helmets must be worn. It is also an offense to ride an ebike after drinking alcohol, with fines and possible detention for doing so.
Sanya is a tropical location and as such has some creatures that can be considered dangerous. The parks, fields and jungle areas around the city are home to some very venomous snakes including cobras, pit vipers and bamboo snakes.
The waters around Sanya are home to sea snakes, jellyfish, cone shells and sting rays. As with most creatures, if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.
How to get to Sanya from Phoenix International Airport
Sanya Phoenix International Airport is only 11 kilometres from the centre of the city. Airport shuttle busses run from 06:00 until 00:30. The journey takes 4 minutes and costs ¥10 to ¥15.
A taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost around ¥30 to Central Sanya and ¥50 to Dadonghai.
Flights from Guangzhou take just 1h35m and cost from ¥500 ($80). Be aware that during national holidays tickets can cost at least double.
There are two trains per day from Guangzhou Railway Station to Sanya. Read how to get tickets in the Guangzhou to Sanya train guide. Tickets cost from ¥388 ($61) for a hard sleeper and the journey iss around 16 hours.
Flights from Beijing take 4h25m and cost from ¥800 ($125). Be aware that during national holidays tickets can cost at least double.
There is one train per day from Beijing West Railway Station to Sanya. Read how to get tickets in the Beijing to Sanya train guide. Tickets cost from ¥788 ($123) for a hard sleeper and the journey is around 38 hours.
About this author: Steve Rohan has lived in China for six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, ancient capital of Luoyang and tropical paradise that is Sanya.
After teaching English for a number of years, he now blogs full time for this site and adventure travel blog thetripgoeson.com.