If warm tropical weather and white sandy beaches are your thing, head down south for at least a day or two.
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.
Make sure to pay me a little visit at our Pizza Rock restaurant in Nanwan (South Bay) during your stay in Kenting! We have a wonderful sea view, a nice patio area, salads, pasta, wine, imported beers, and real coffee!!
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. My wife and I now live full-time in Kenting National Park, near Manzhou -- the quiet part of the peninsula.
Things to do in Kenting, attractions:
- chill on the the fine-sand of Nanwan Beach (South Bay)
- hike in grassy meadows or along the coast at Fengchuisha
- surf or watch surfers
- eat fresh seafood
- Eat thin-crust pizza at Pizza Rock in Nanwan!
- swim, snorkel or scuba dive
- snap a picture or two at Eluanbi Cape where you can see Taiwan’s most popular lighthouse
- drink a cold draft beer at Alex Reggae Bar
- sample Taiwanese street snacks and shop on Kenting Street when the sun has gone down
- Spring Scream -- one of Asia’s biggest outdoor music festival
- eat at one of the best restaurants in Kenting
- sleep at Wild East Guesthouse or Koti B&B, the best budget accommodation in the area!
Best time to visit Taiwan’s beaches / Weather
If the weather is your main concern, do not worry -- Kenting can have good weather year-round. Still, keep in mind that typhoons are frequent during the summer months and most beaches are closed on those occasions. Beware that summer is brutal here at times -- real heat, real humidity!
Winter brings the strong and relentless northeast winds -- they blow continuously from mid-October until mid-March. Winter can also be quite cold, temperature can drop as low as 10 degree Celcius, but it feels much colder due to the humidity. That being said, we still sometimes get hot summer-type weather in the middle of winter.
Whichever season you visit, pack a rain jacket, sunscreen, sunglasses, a bottle of water, and remember that Kenting is where the Pacific Ocean meets the Taiwan Strait, and also where the Central Mountain Range ends. These natural features mean that there are pockets of microclimates around the national park. So always be ready for fast weather change.
Top Beaches in Kenting
Nanwan (also called South Bay) is the busiest beach in the Kenting area, it’s the big bay that you’ll see by the road as you pass Hengchun, just a few minutes before you enter Kenting town. Nanwan Beach has tons of B&Bs, few good restaurants and bars, a 7-11, as well as 2 scooter rental shops right in front of the sea. That’s also where my own pizza shop is located.
Many visitors who don’t have their own transportation opt to spend their whole vacation in Nanwan as everything needed is within walking distance, food, drinks, the beach… The proximity to Hengchun Town also makes it an attractive option if you want to get a taste of old Taiwan.
You may want to check the South Bay Recreation Area 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.
Little Bay (Xiaowan) is just 5 minutes away on foot from busy Kenting Street where the night market, and a high concentration of restaurants, bars, hotels are. Xiaowan is a gorgeous little tropical paradise where you can grab a beer on a nice wooden terrace overlooking the sea. It’s one of the nicest beaches in Taiwan for sure.
Baisha Beach (Baishawan) 白沙灣
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 2019: 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.
Jialeshui Beach 佳樂水
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.
Jialeshui = Best Surfing in Kenting!
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 one of the top places on the island for catching waves -- the #1 spot goes to Donghe, in Taitung County.
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 2019: 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.
Sail Rock 船帆石
A bit similar to Nanwan beach, but not as crowded. Couple of good, affordable accommodations 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. Read more about Sail Rock 船帆石.
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.
Kenting Beach 墾丁海水浴場
Also called Big Bay 大灣, this is the main beach which is also the closest to Kenting Village 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.
Best Snorkeling in Kenting
My personal favorite snorkeling area in Kenting is at Banana Bay, just south of Sail Rock. You can park your car at the harbor, and rent snorkeling gear at a little stand under the palm trees by the trail that leads to the water. The area is quite big and one of the most colorful in Taiwan.
Another popular snorkeling spot is called Little Bali, 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 Harbor.
A bit further north of Little Bali and Baisha is another lovely snorkeling area, which goes by the name of Wanlitong. Driving or riding to Wanlitong takes about 15 minutes from Hengchun. For that reason, there is usually less people at that reef.
Eluanbi Lighthouse 鵝鑾鼻燈塔
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 learn 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 鼻頭漁港
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 harbur, but I’ve always pretended I can’t understand what they’re saying, or I tell them there’s no sign mentioning that.
Southern Tip of Taiwan
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.
Restaurants and cafes in Kenting
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.
Hotel De Plus
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.
Camping in Kenting
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. My favorite spot for wild camping is at Fengchuisha, along the coast.
Some other spots you could consider for camping are:
- Baisha Beach (southern end)
- Nanwan (northern end)
- Jialeshui Beach (southern end)
- Manchurian Drawbridge (just below, on the flat grass near the parking lot)
- Wanlitong Beach
Shopping in Kenting
Kenting Street turns into a night market at night. You’ll find cheap souvenirs, T-shirts, snorkeling gear, swimsuits, sunglasses, iPhone covers, wallets, hand-made jewellry, 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.
Nightlife, bars, discos, booze-trucks
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 KTV fun. 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 not cheap, and they close very early.
Favorite Kenting Bars
- Goat Bar -- good for live music (Hengchun)
- Little Bay Bar -- right on the beach (Xiaowan 小灣)
- Alex Reggae Bar -- little booze truck with big action, South Thailand vibe (Kenting Street 大街)
- New Cut Warehouse -- live music, interesting concept (Hengchun 恆春)
Spring Scream Outdoor Music Festival
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$.
Update 2019: Unfortunately, Spring Scream is no longer held in Kenting. In 2019 the event had supposedly moved to Kaohsiung. Rumors had it that the event would not be back 2020 either. As Mr. Trump likes to say: “We’ll see what happens…”
Getting there and away
Kaohsiung HSR Station to Kenting -- Express Bus
There are also buses linking the HSR (High-Speed Rail) station in Kaohsiung to Hengchun and Kenting. There are English signs at the HSR station and you’ll have absolutely no problem finding your way to the bus stop. Read more about the Kenting Express Bus.
Train and Bus Travel to Kenting
The bad news for those of you who want to visit Taiwan’s southern part is that the train doesn’t go all the way down to Kenting -- it will only take you as far as Fangshan.
Another option is to take the train to Kaohsiung, and then take a local bus to Kenting. Buses leave frequently from Kaohsiung train station. At Kaohsiung train station, just walk outside and you’ll find a couple of private companies that offer shuttle / bus / taxi transportation to Hengchun, Kenting, and Jialeshui, for all range of prices. Cheap equals slow and uncomfortable. More expensive equals fast and comfortable.
Getting Around Kenting
I only have 3 words for you: GET A SCOOTER!
There is no better way to travel around Kenting and explore the little beaches surrounding the southern tip of Taiwan than on a scooter. Here are the reason why:
- renting a scooter is cheap and easy (around 10US$/day)
- traffic can be alienating (for cars) on weekends
- you can park free anywhere
- you can feel the wind on your face and smell the ocean water
- easier to wander through narrow alleys in small villages
- and so much more… (I just love scooters!)
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!