A red panda in China's forests.

1. Rare Wildlife

On treks through dense temperate forests, Nat Hab travelers enjoy enthralling encounters with endangered and elusive wildlife. These mythic-sounding creatures, from moon bears to clouded leopards, reside in China’s remote nature reserves. The bamboo understory is prime habitat for wild giant pandas. Also found in this biodiversity hotspot are rhesus and Tibetan macaques, as well as golden snub-nosed monkeys. These blue-faced primates feed on lichen in the treetops of their mountainous home, kept warm by thick coats of silky fur. Another adorable tree-dweller is the rare red panda, a bushy-tailed critter roughly the size of a domestic cat. Sichuan takin, blue sheep, wild boar, musk deer, muntjac and serow amble through the forests, while giant flying squirrels, leopard cats, hog-nosed badgers and civets emerge at night. Brightly-plumed birdlife includes Chinese monals, Temminck’s tragopans and golden pheasants.

A women with prayer wheels at a traditional village in China.

© Brad Josephs

2. Cultural Gems

A highlight for many is an excursion to see one of the world’s great archaeological marvels, the Army of Terracotta Warriors. More than 8,000 soldiers and 600 horses (no two of which are exactly alike!) guard the tomb of China’s first emperor. Nat Hab groups stop at several villages during their exploration of the Wild Side of China. This includes Qing Xi, a Muslim village with 300-year-old wooden buildings from the Qing Dynasty. At the Mianzhu New Year Painting Village, travelers will be mesmerized by the colorful paintings hung in houses to celebrate Chinese New Year, a tradition that dates back 2,000 years. Guests also visit Rilong, where influences of Tibetan culture can be seen in the fluttering prayer flags, embroidered costumes, cuisine and intricate architecture. On a Beijing & the Great Wall Extension, walk along the stone pathways of China’s most famous landmark and tour the 15th-century Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City—home to 24 emperors over the course of 500 years, this royal palace encompasses more than 800 buildings. Another extension explores the Mount Emei Scenic Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the Leshan Giant Buddha can be found. At 233-feet-tall, this massive carving is the largest stone Buddha on Earth. There are also special opportunities to survey the Mahao Cliff Tombs, which display fine examples of Han dynasty artwork, and Wuyou Monastery, a mountaintop complex compromised of seven Buddhist palaces.

Mountains in China at dawn.

© Alex Meniconzi

3. Majestic Mountains

It’s a small wonder why Four Sisters Mountain is dubbed the “Chinese Alps.” It has four serrated peaks, and its tallest, Yaomeifeng (peak of the youngest sister), soars 20,505 feet into the sky. Travelers will hear fascinating folktales of the Four Sisters as they explore the sapphire lakes and meadows of this subalpine terrain. On a hike through Shuangqiao Valley, the group passes Sun-Moon Mirror Mountain and Five-Colored Mountain, the immovable stone seeming to dance with shades of red, yellow, green, blue and white. Nat Hab also ventures into the Minshan Mountains to the Wild Panda Nature Reserve, then journeys to the Golden Monkey Nature Reserve, which lies in the shadows of Sichuan’s tallest mountain. Guests will have many opportunities to gaze at snow-crowned peaks as they wander past waterfalls, geological formations and glaciers.

Spicy Sichuan food in China.

4. Flavorful Food

Sichuan province is a lush, misty region famous not only for its giant panda population but for its food. Chengdu, the capital, is renowned for its fiery cuisine infused with Sichuan peppercorns, garlic and chilies. Popular dishes include spicy hot pots, dandan noodles, mapo tofu, pork wontons and stir-fried green beans, which all wash down nicely with a cup of jasmine green tea—an old proverb says that Sichuan ‘has more teahouses than sunny days.’ In the walled city of Xi’an, thought to be the birthplace of Chinese dumplings, guests gather for a traditional banquet of these steaming, pillowy delights. In Rilong, a village nestled at the base of Four Sisters Mountain, travelers feast on meals influenced by the Jiarong Tibetan population, and there’s also the chance to try a cultural staple—yak butter tea.

Baby pandas in China.

5. Giant Pandas—and cubs!

Nat Hab’s China nature adventure visits four panda bases, optimizing the chances of observing and photographing these gentle giants. Some of the conservation centers the group tours have captive breeding programs, with the aim of reintroducing pandas into the wild, which means seeing babies is a definite possibility! Toward the end of their China nature adventure, travelers experience a true highlight—the exclusive opportunity to volunteer at a rescue and rehabilitation center and interact with giant pandas at close range.