If you only have time to do one road trip in Taiwan, it should be either Taroko Gorge or Highway 11. My personal favorite is the latest! Some of the best beaches in Taiwan are located along Highway 11, on the East Coast, between Hualien and Taitung. On this page, I'll show you my personal favorite ones, as well as other cool spots.
By the way: Highway 11 is not a real highway in the sense of high-speed traffic with multiple lanes. This road is mostly two lanes, speed limit is maximum 50 to 60km per hour, and it takes you through many small fishermen villages and aboriginal communities where the main action drying fishing nets or just sitting by the road on plastic chairs to chat over tea (and beer / rice wine) with neighbours.
The East Coast of Taiwan means different things to various people. For most Taiwanese, it's just a wild, far away place that gets pounded by the sun and typhoons in summer. For city (Taiwanese) people, it's a destination that is best described as "inconvenient" due its lack of fast transport like the high-speed train (HSR), shops, and malls.
For me, the East Coast, especially the Highway 11 section between Hualien and Taitung, means nature, beaches, adventure, clean air, freedom, down-to-earth people, and a slower pace of life. It's the kind of place where you want to leave your watch in the hotel room...
Here is a list of the main things to do / attractions from Hualien, going down south all the way to Taitung, along the scenic Highway 11:
Qixingtan Beach is not officially on Highway 11, it's just few kilometers up north from the starting point of the road, but it's the second most popular beach along the East Coast of Taiwan (Fulong tops the list), so I decided to include it on this page.
Qixingtan is the lonnnng bay that lies to the northeast of Hualien City - it actually arcs in a perfect half-moon shape all the way to the mouth of Taroko Gorge roughly 20km away. One of the reasons why it's so popular is its proximity to the city. The southern part is made for mass-tourism, huge parking lots can receive dozens of buses, and that's where you can also find hotels, restaurants, cafes, and a convenient store.
The beach is covered with polished, round, dark stones. It's actually quite comfortable lying down on them when it's not 40 degree outside. Quick note: only the southern part of the beach gets crowded on weekends - walk or ride a bit up north along country road 193 and you won't see a soul!
Niushan (Cow Mountain) Beach is just a few kilometers south of Hualien City, and it's a very nice spot to enjoy sea and sun on any day of the week.
There is a guesthouse / B&B near the beach, but everybody knows that this place is absolute garbage, an overpriced place with rude people. Don't stay there! I rarely use such strong words for businesses, but I've never heard a single good review about these guys, and I have personally been (un)welcomed in the coldest manner one time when I went to ask about their accommodation prices.
That being said, don't let that put you off from visiting the area: the beach is really nice! The water is clean. It's a great spot to find tranquility just outside of Hualien City, it's one of my favorite places to swim along Highway 11 when the waves are not crashing too hard.
Safety Tip: Use your rear break when riding downhill on the small path to Cow Mountain beach - the pavement is in poor condition in some places and there is sand on some patches, which can make your tires skid and get you and your bike slide in the ditch... Ride downhill as slowly as you can!
Baqi Lookout offers one of the most scenic views along Taiwan's East Coast. Look east and you can see, well, the Pacific Ocean! Look south and, on sunny days, you are rewarded with fantastic views of Jiqi Bay. You can buy snacks, coffee, tea, beer here, and there's also toilets provided. The Taiwanese woman who operates this place is really nice, and she speaks French perfectly!
Arguably the best (and busiest) spot for surfing near Hualien, Jiqi Beach is located in a picture-perfect, crescent-shaped bay, about 40 minutes away (south) from Hualien City.
Jiqi is one of the only beaches in Taiwan that is covered in fine black sand. Unfortunately, sometimes after powerful typhoons, the beach sand can be completely washed away, and the whole place becomes a stone field, making it unpleasant to swim, and more dangerous to surf.
The "visitor center" at Jiqi is one of the biggest touristic failures of Taiwan. It's been mismanaged by clowns forever, ticket prices for beach access change all the time, rules and regulations make no sense, there's basically zero services or food offered, and people who are managing the place are simply not the friendliest.
I pretty much never go through the visitor center. I drive all the way down south to the big pagoda, where fishermen park their boats, I park there, and walk down the cement path. Once, a worker from the center walked all the way to me and my wife while we were chilling on the beach, and he asked us to pay 200NT$ each. Most times, nobody bothers me.
Camping is probably not considered legal anywhere along Highway 11 outside designated campgrounds, but I've pitched my tent on many occasions on the beach, or on patches of grass without issues at many places on the East Coast of Taiwan. The northern and southern ends of Jiqi beach have nice clearings to set up a tent, and big pagodas that can serve as natural shelter and provide much-needed shade on hot mornings.
Shitiping means "stone steps" in Mandarin Chinese. This place is one of the best spots to stop on your Highway 11 road trip. Here, you can take amazing pictures of the rock formations, snorkel (the top spot to snorkel along Highway 11 in my opinion), you can cliff-jump, and even camp! Yes, there's a fabulously well-managed, safe, clean campground right next to the water. Don't miss Shitiping, it should be a HIGH-PRIORITY item on your list of things to do during your Highway 11 adventure!
Jingpu Beach is pretty much mid-way between Hualien and Taitung on Highway 11. It is just a few kilometers down south from Shitiping. You'll be very unlucky if you see other tourists. I've never seen anyone there apart from the odd fisherman once in a while.
This Tropic of Cancer marker is located on the dividing line between tropical and sub-tropical zones. This attraction is a must-do for ALL Taiwanese travelers who drive here on Highway 11. There isn't much to see to be honest, just this tall marker, and big parking lots. Oh, there's also some food vendors by the road - which can be a good thing if you're hungry!
The Baxian Buddhist Caves are very popular with Taiwanese, Chinese, and other Asian tourists. These caverns have been sculpted by sea water over many, many years, lonnnng ago. They house golden images of Buddhas not unlike the ones you would find in Thailand. In (not-so) ancient times, aboriginal Taiwanese were living in these caves. There are some short hikes uphill if you're in the mood for sweating, and who knows, maybe see a snake!
Chenggong is the biggest coastal town you will pass between Hualien City and Taitung. 53% of Chenggong residents are of aboriginal Ami descent, which is the largest indigenous group on the island. The main thing to do here for most visitors is re-supply at one of the many shops, check out the Chenggong Fish Market auction at the fishing port (around 2pm), and surf at Palm Point, an advanced surfing spot that attracts pro surfers from around the world.
Food options along Highway 11 range from big Chinese restaurants that cater to tour bus groups, to 7-11 on-the-go snacks, to aboriginal BBQ food-stalls in the hills, to fresh seafood in small coastal villages. Down south, near Taitung, in Donghe and Dulan, a couple of long-term expats have set up shop along the road to offer tastes from abroad such as Indian, Italian pizza, Southeast Asian cuisine, French bread, and even Mexican dishes. There's obviously not as many options as in the big cities, but you won't go hungry, and you will find something good if you search a little.
Seafood restaurant near Jici Beach
In Xinshe, just passed Jici Beach, there is a seafood restaurant on the left side of the road, it's one of the first buildings on the block. The food is fresh, consistent, and the owners are friendly. It's really one of the only options you have in that area. Address is: #42 Highway 11.
Southeast Restaurant in Donghe
*** MY TOP PICK! ***
People don't talk about Southeast, they rave about it! What they serve is honestly, seriously really, absolutely delicious! This little restaurant offers Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian dishes at affordable price in a simple, clean, and quiet outdoor dining space in Donghe Township. The owner is Canadian, and his wife (the amazing chef/cook) is Vietnamese if my memory is correct. They are open every day for lunch and dinner.
Address: Taitung County, Donghe Township, 隆昌村236-6號
Phone #: 0952 257 500
Langhuaxie Campground 浪花蟹露營區
This campground is located in Changbin in Taitung County at marker 82.8km along Highway 11. It's got all the amenities you'd wish for extra comfort for such as toilets, showers, a cafe, small restaurant, big parking lot, volleyball net, picnic tables, a nice and somewhat private beach, and the area is surrounded by palm trees.
Price per campground site: 800NT$
This is the address in Chinese if you want to check it on Google Maps: 台東縣長濱鄉三間村真柄1鄰16之3
Phone number: 0978 687 555
One of the reasons why Langhuaxie Campground is a favorite among backpackers and Taiwanese outdoor enthusiasts is this: a nice quiet beach where you can chill, practice your volleyball skills, or go for a swim.
You will most likely start your trip along Highway 11 in Hualien City, as most people do. Spending a night or two in this city before you hit the road is a good idea, just because it's such a cool place and it's got a nice laid-back vibe downtown (for a big city in Taiwan anyway!) You can reserve accommodation in Hualien right from here:
If you finish your trip down south and you're not going to head back to Taipei or to the busy west coast right away, you could opt to spend a night in Taitung City. You can use this box to make a reservation or find deals on hotels, motels, and guesthouses...