Kenting, located at the southern tip of the island, is one of the top three hot-spots for tourists in Taiwan. This part of Formosa has a national park, beautiful beaches, ecological protection areas, old villages, green hills, and fishing harbours. The whole area (called Hengchun Peninsula) is one of the most picturesque of the entire island, and also one of the most touristic. I personally LOVE Kenting, I take trips down here at least 3-4 times a year with my wife, and we've been thinking about moving here in the near future...
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT ACCOMMODATION... (Seriously, this part is crucial!)
Book your hotel before you get there, especially if you're going to visit the area during a weekend or holiday! You do not want to waste your time driving or walking around looking for a place to stay there. I always reserve my rooms on HotelsCombined.com and I recommend you do the same if you want the best rates. If you do visit during a peak period and you end up stranded without a bed and everything is fully booked, your best chance will be to look for a room in Hengchun, the town north of Kenting Village.
If the weather is your main concern, do not worry - Kenting has good weather year-round. Still, keep in mind that typhoons are frequent during the summer months and most beaches are closed on those occasions. Also, just like other popular places around the island, expect a gazillion tourists on holidays, and for that reason, I prefer visiting Kenting and the beaches in the area during quiet weekdays only. I seldom travel here on weekends as hotels, beaches, roads, restaurants, and tourist sites can really get horribly packed.
My favorite beach use to be Baisha Beach, located in the quiet Baisha Bay (not quiet anymore!) about 5 km away from Kenting. By the way, bai means white and sha means sand. I like it because it's removed from the hustle and bustle of Kenting town, it's free, long, clean and you can even camp on the sand at night or have a barbecue without worrying about being kicked out.
To visit Baisha, head north toward Hengchun on Kenting Rd (for about 2 or 3km) and turn left at the 7-11 (road 153). It helps if you have your own scooter or car. Otherwise you can hitchhike or take a bus from Hengchun bus station.
Update 2017: Tour groups from China have drastically decreased, and Baisha beach is not as crazy as before, when thousands of tourists from the mainland would invade the whole area by the bus loads. Let's hope the situation stays like that.
You won't have any difficulty finding the other beaches along Kenting Rd. As you drive around the peninsula (the tip of the island) you'll pass about a dozen parking lots where you can stop and it's usually only a short walk to the shore. Try Nanwan beach if Baisha is too far for you. If you have your own scooter or car, make sure to check Jialeshui.
Nanwan is the busiest beach in the Kenting area, it's the big, busy bay that you'll see by the road as you pass Hengchun, just a few minutes before you enter Kenting town. It can be busy, noisy, a little dirty, but it offers the convenience of hotels, restaurants, a 7-11, as well as 2 scooter rental shops right in front of the sea.
Many visitors who don't have their own transportation opt to spend their whole vacation in Nanwan as everything needed is within walking distance. That being said, it can get disturbingly busy and there is even a nuclear power plant right on the northern edge of the bay, as you can see on the following picture...
As you can see from these two pictures (above and below), Nanwan can be crazy packed or surprisingly empty!
You may want to check the South Bay Recreation Area at Nanwan if you need to use a changing room, toilet, or locker to store your bag while you go for a swim. The center also sells snacks, beer, swimsuits and there's a parking lot (not free) just outside.
Jialeshui is where I always go these days. I guess I'm getting too old (or too boring) for the action of the main town and it's constant hustle and bustle. Jialeshui is 25 minutes away from Kenting village, around the southern tip of Taiwan, across the peninsula, in a small bay facing the Pacific Ocean.
If you're a surfer, your visit to Taiwan won't be complete without a trip to Jialeshui. It is considered by many to be the top place on the island for catching waves.
You can rent surfboards at one of the little surf shops you'll see right after the bridge. A place with a friendly owner (Doris) and reasonable price is Jialeshui Surf Club, which is located at Food Corner (find it on the map). Prices to rent a long foam surfboard are 500NT$ for half a day, and 800NT$ for a full day. It's a bit more expensive for a shorter / better board. They also rent wetsuits and offer surfing lessons.
Contact Doris through Facebook, or give her a call at 0963763502, or 0906108528. Tell her you heard about her place from Ugo, Taiwanese-Secrets.com.
(Update 2017: It is no longer legal to camp at Jialeshui, but some people still pitch their tent once it gets dark. By any means, keep a low profile, don't make a fire, and keep the volume as low as possible if you still decide to camp there.
If you don't want to camp, but would still like to stay in the area, you could spend a night at Relax Easy Guesthouse Kenting, which is just outside of Jialeshui, along the main road that takes you back to Kenting. Another amazing option, where I stay most of the time I travel to Jialeshui, is Winson's Hostel.
A bit similar to Nanwan beach, but not as crowded. Couple of good, affordable hotels available within walking distance, very few restaurants, a 7-11, not easy to park a car on weekends. Jumping from the "lip" or "chin" of the rock should be on your list of thing to absolutely do if you're adventurous. Snorkeling around the rock is fun too, when there's not a billion people in the water.
Sun Light Inn at Sail Rock!
I stayed twice at Sun Light Inn, it's near Sail Rock beach, only two minutes away by foot. The rooms are bright and clean, the staff is attentive, and the price is very reasonable, less than 2000NT$ from what I remember. Book here.
This is the main beach which is also the closest to town with its numerous hotels, restaurants, and stores. Due to its proximity to this developed area, there is quite a lot of trash all over the place and there's even a stream which brings sewage water right into the sea. For those reasons, I never frequent that beach.
If you want to snorkel, you'll want to head to what is called Little Bali Rock, or Little Bali Bay (小巴里島岩), which is located about 1km south of Houbihu Fishing Harbour. Check the map at the bottom of this page to find it. You can rent snorkel equipment at one of the diving shops across the street from Houbihu Harbour.
Built in 1883 during the Qing Dynasty, Eluanbi Lighthouse stands at the top of Cape Eluanbi near the southern tip of the island, between the Pacific Ocean and the Taiwan Strait.
Cost per person to have access to the lighthouse and its little museum is 60NT$ per person. I think it's worth it if you want to snap a picture of the building and know more about the history of the Sino-Japanese war, World-War II, and the complicated relationship between China, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States.
Bitou Harbour is never mentioned in guidebooks, I've never seen any tourists there, and that's the reason why I like that spot. Fishermen have told me I can't swim in the harbour, but I've always pretended I can't understand what they're saying, or I tell them there's no sign mentioning that.
The southern tip of Taiwan is seen by many as a tourist trap. It use to be free of vendors, but now they turned it into a park with a stone path for tourists to walk to the edge of the sea, where there's a platform and an ugly sculpture. There's lots of tourists, vendors - even some who play loud music along the path. There's tons of nice trails around Kenting National Park where you can hike in quietness, no point to waste precious time here unless you want to claim that you've really been to the southernmost tip of Taiwan.
For some of the best - and extremely cheap - seafood, head to Houbihu Fishing Harbor. Follow the directions to Baisha beach (explained above), then follow the signs to the harbor.
There are so many places to eat in Kenting. You can have Chinese, Thai, Italian, Tex-Mex, Mongolian BBQ, Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC... Just walk around and browse the menus on display by the main road.
Take a look at this page where I listed my own favourite restaurants / food stands / cafes in and around Kenting and Hengchun.
The past few times I went down south to visit the beautiful beaches around the southern tip of Taiwan, I was shocked to see the huge amount of new hotels, hostels, guesthouses, and BnB that now line up the road in Hengchun. As Kenting is getting more expensive and crowded, it seems like everyone wants to stay in Hengchun. Check availability and prices for a hotel now if you don't want to have to drive back to Kaohsiung to find accommodation.
Hotel De Plus is located near the southern tip of the island and it's one of the very few accommodations in all of Taiwan which enjoys two things which I love: an amazing view over the Pacific Ocean, and NO NEIGHBORS! Not having any buildings around is hard to find in Taiwan. I have never stayed at Hotel De Plus, but some of my visitors have spend nights there and they have told me it was one of the highlights of their whole trip. You can check room availability and make a reservation from here.
Another favorite, the Caesar Park has a stunning swimming pool, superb dining options, impeccable rooms, and surroundings you would expect in a paradise like Bali or Tahiti. Check prices, availability, and book right here.
If you want to camp, your best (legal) option is near Sail Rock. There's a couple of campgrounds by the road on your left (mountain side) as you head down south. These campgrounds tend to get really, really packed on weekends, but can be completely empty during the week.
Other options (illegal) include pitching your tent, or sleeping under the stars at one of the beaches - an option I've used many times without ever encountering any problem.
Some other spots you could consider for camping are:
Kenting Street turns into a mega-huge, crazy-busy nightmarket at night. You'll find cheap souvenirs, T-shirts, snorkeling gear, swimsuits, sunglasses, iPhone covers, wallets, hand-made jewellery, and all the typical, useless gadgets that are usually sold at beach resorts.
If you need to buy more useful products (like BBQ equipment), head up north to Hengchun town where there is a wide array of "normal" stores which cater to the locals needs, not just tourists.
In Kenting town, there are quite a few bars / lounges, and even a place or two where you can dance your way late into the night. Just walk along Kenting Rd after dusk and let your senses guide you. The liquor store has some nice surprises, and yes, you are allowed to open a bottle pretty much anywhere you want - on the road or at the beach.
Outside of town, options are limited but they exist. Eluanbi has cold beer, beetle nuts, hard liquor and cigarettes. Hengchun is the place to go for KTVs. If you plan to spend the night under the stars in Jialeshui, bring your own juice. There's a place that sells beer but it's overpriced, and they close very early.
If you visit Taiwan in April, make sure you don't miss Spring Scream Music Festival. This massive outdoor musical event features bands both from Taiwan and overseas. Last time I went in 2013, it lasted 4 days, there were around 300 bands playing on 8 stages, and the ticket was 1500NT$.
The bad news for those of you who want to visit Taiwan's southern part is that the train doesn't go all the way down to Kenting - it will only take you as far as Kaohsiung.
Another option is to take the train to Kaohsiung, and then take a local bus to Kenting. Buses leave frequently from Kaohsiung train station. At Kaohsiung train station, just walk outside and you'll find a couple of private companies that offer shuttle / bus / taxi transportation to Hengchun, Kenting, and Jialeshui, for all range of prices. Cheap equals slow and uncomfortable. More expensive equals fast and comfortable.
Kaohsiung HSR Station to Kenting
There are also buses linking the HSR (High-Speed Rail) station in Kaohsiung to Hengchun and Kenting. There are English signs at the HSR station and you'll have absolutely no problem finding your way to the bus stop. Read more about the Kenting Express Bus.
I only have 3 words for you: GET A SCOOTER!
There is no better way to travel around Kenting and explore the little beaches surrounding the southern tip of Taiwan than on a scooter. Here are the reason why:
There are also local buses which link Hengchun, Nanwan, Kenting village, Eluanbi, Sail Rock, Jialeshui, and Manzhou. Buses are only a couple of dollars and are a great way to meet locals and travel at a slower pace.
Hitchhiking in Kenting?
It's not 100% safe (like eating steak or pretzels), but it's fun, free, and IT REALLY WORKS! I've hitchhiked dozens of times all over Kenting, Pingtung, and the southern tip of Taiwan, early in the morning, late at night, even at 3am, and I've never had any issue. You can hitchhike pretty much anywhere in Taiwan - except on highways. No better ways to meet locals, and practice your Mandarin!