Taiwan looks like a postcard, dotted with tranquil lakes and winding rivers. Explore the water through diving, paddling, swimming and sailing with our top water adventures...
Taiwan is a dramatically beautiful country, dotted with mirror-smooth lakes, curling rivers and beaches you can claim all to yourself. Here are our five top water adventures, from island hopping in Taiwan’s western reaches, to soaking in the natural hot springs.
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An hour's ferry crossing or short flight from Taitung, Green Island (also known as Lyudao) is one of Asia's best-kept diving secrets. The reef surrounds almost the entire island, and is remarkably well-preserved – thanks, perhaps, to the Taiwanese wariness of deep water, which keeps tourism to a minimum. The local dive operators have well-equipped boats, but if you have the right qualifications you can hire your own kit and dive (or snorkel) from the shore: the villages of Shihlang, Dabaisha and Caikou all have excellent coral within easy reach of the beach, teeming with tropical fish. From January to March, hammerhead sharks can be spotted off the island's southernmost tip, with many local dive schools offering boat trips out to see them.
Anywhere else, a morning mist would pass without comment – but at Sun Moon Lake, it's an event you'll want to capture on camera: it clings to the water, making the lake's temples and pavilions look like they're floating on a cloud. As the mist rises, the lake transforms into a gigantic mirror, reflecting the mountains that surround it – some of the prettiest peaks in Central Taiwan. It's a joy to stroll around at any time of day, with hiking routes aplenty on its 33km circumference, but you'll want to get on the water too: preferably in a canoe or kayak, to discover the coves that can't be reached on land. Befitting a site of such beauty, Sun Moon Lake sits in a sacred tribal area: the indigenous Thao people — Taiwan's smallest official tribe with only 540 members remaining — live on its shores. Swimming is forbidden on all but one day of the year: the Swimming Carnival, in September, sees over 10,000 Taiwanese splash across the 3km stretch – a rare interruption in this otherwise serene spot.
With their palm frond-tickled beaches and coves the colour of swimming pools, the Penghu islands look like they've been plucked from the coast of Thailand – albeit without (you guessed it) the crowds. Only 20 of the 64 islands are inhabited, but even the most populated spots run to their own leisurely, laid-back pace. Beyond the beaches, there are fishing villages, historic monuments and more than 165 Buddhist temples to discover: leave Penghu (the main island) behind and head for the outlying isles of Si (for eerie rock formations and Qing dynasty forts), and Baisha (for white-sand beaches and banyan trees). While there are day trips to the islands from Penghu, you'll definitely want to linger longer – so use the local ferries to hop between isles, and hire scooters locally to explore. Strong winds can make getting around tricky from November to March, but this is prime time for windsurfing, especially on Penghu.
Taiwan has one of the highest concentrations of hot springs in the world – second only to Japan. As such, bathing is an important part of Taiwanese culture, but not just for its rejuvenating qualities: it's also a social event, with everything from business deals to love matches arranged in the mineral-rich pools. The springs’ sources can be overwhelmingly hot, so the Taiwanese prefer to bathe in spas and hotels where the water is piped in. Here you can wallow to your heart's content – the perfect tonic after a few days of hiking. Key areas include Beitou (20 minutes from downtown Taipei on the MRT), Antong (on the cycling hotspot of Highway 11), and Lushan (in central Taiwan, close to Sun Moon Lake).
The Liwu River roars through Taroko Gorge, but its tributaries are much more peaceful, with secluded waterfalls and tranquil pools of turquoise water – so-coloured because of its high mineral content. It's like a naturally-hewn aquapark, with smooth 'waterslides' carved into the marble, big rocks to jump off, and plenty of cooling cascades. All around, the forest teems with life: monkeys hoot and honk in the trees, while you may find yourself bathing alongside a bemused cormorant. On a hot day – or even a rainy one – it's a treat to splash your way up the mini rapids, wallow in the shallows, and keep an eye out for Muntjac deer as you float through the jungle.
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