Want to get very close to Pandas in their hometown? Here’s what you need to know.
Fun Fact: 80% of virally adorable panda gifs come from Chengdu, China, which is home to most of the world’s giant pandas. If you’re looking for an IRL view of adorably hilarious panda action, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is the place to go. Not only is it located in one of the only places in the world where giant pandas live in the wild, but it’s a research center where all of the residents are very well taken care of. And proceeds go toward the very successful breeding program that’s keeping one of nature’s cutest animals around.
Is it really worth it?
Not only are there tons of giant pandas here (176 to be exact), there are pandas of all kinds: toddler pandas, baby pandas, pandas hanging out as a family, having brunch or just napping under bamboo. There are even red pandas here too.
And, you can get ridiculously close to them, near enough to see them munch on bamboo, fall clumsily off of their perches, and nap very hard after putting in the intense effort of being one of nature’s cutest creations.
How do I get there?
Chengdu Research Base is just around six miles from fashionable downtown Chengdu. The easiest way to get there—especially if you don’t speak much Mandarin and don’t want to navigate Chengdu’s public transportation alone—is to have your hotel arrange for a cab or hotel transportation to drop you off and pick you up at a certain time.
If your hotel doesn’t offer that service, you can always order a Didi, China’s version of Uber (which does not operate in China) for the 30-minute drive.
How crowded is it?
In a word? Crowded.
China is a populous place. And while this region isn’t quite as jam-packed as China’s other major cities, Chengdu is a local tourist attraction as well as a global one.
On the one hand, the crowds that gather around the enclosures are a good sign that the pandas are doing something interesting. On the other hand, crowds in front of the very interesting enclosures like the panda nursery can be… intense.
Be prepared for a lot of pushing, jostling, and general extra-closeness to everyone trying to get a view. If you don’t want to join the mosh pit, we recommend bringing a selfie stick. Raising your camera above the crowd is a great way to get an unobstructed view without pushing through.
When should I go?
This part of China has great weather almost all year round, but the best time to go for panda viewing is between September and June when the weather isn’t too hot and the pandas are happy to sit out in the open outside.
If you want to avoid excessive crowds, we recommend arriving when the park opens (they’re open from 7:30 am to 5 pm, seven days a week) on a weekday when most people are at work. We also recommend avoiding Chinese holidays when throngs of people will have a day off for panda watching.
How do I get tickets?
You can purchase passes at the entrance for 58RMB (about $8 USD). Unfortunately, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding does not have online ticket sales. However, the park is massive and there are plenty of tickets to go around.
How much time should I spend there?
Chengdu’s Panda Base is a sprawling 247-acre park. If you want to see all of the panda enclosures, we recommend carving out a half day, with time for a refreshing lunch or snack at one of the park’s restaurants or snack bars and a visit to one of the many gift shops.
Insider Tip: There are tons of gift shops along the way. We recommend visiting them at the beginning of your trip so that you can buy and rock one of the panda headbands or panda hats that you’ll see everyone wearing in the park.
Can you pet the pandas?
Unfortunately, no. But you will get close enough to them to get a very good look at their surprisingly large canines which may make you feel better about the lack of cuddle time. If you would like to see someone hold a panda, even if it’s not you, hang around the nursery long enough and you may see a toddler panda being carried into the nursery on its caregiver’s hip.
Where should I stay?
Downtown Chengdu is the most convenient place to stay if you’re looking to see giant pandas. We recommend The Temple House in Chengdu’s fashionable city center. Its right smack in the middle of not only the city center but a sprawling shopping center, Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li shopping mall, that’s lousy with luxury shopping and fine dining.