Visiting the pandas in Chengdu is often at the top of people’s China bucket lists, and we are no exception. We recently finally ticked visiting the pandas in China off our bucket list when we spent a fun and very cute morning with the pandas at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
While we would all love to visit pandas in the wild, there are less than 2,000 giant pandas in the wild in China today, spread between 26 nature reserves, and so for most people, the best opportunity to see the pandas in China is to visit the panda research centre in Chengdu.
Due to damage to their natural habitat in the 1970s and 1980s, around 250 giant pandas starved to death in the Sichuan Province. The authorities managed to rescue 63 pandas and rehabilitate them before releasing them back to the wild, but chose six of these rescued wild giant pandas (3 male and 3 female) to initiate a breeding programme. And so in 1987, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was opened.
Today the panda research and breeding centre in Chengdu boasts the world’s largest captive panda population and is one of China’s most popular tourist attractions. Here visitors can wander along the bamboo-lined pathways that meander through the park, alongside roaming peacocks and visit some of the 146 resident pandas in their spacious enclosures.
Don’t expect to have the park to yourself though – this is one of China’s most popular tourist attractions and so you will be sharing the pandas with many other people!
I have read criticism that visiting the pandas here at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is akin to visiting a zoo. And while it is true that you walk from one enclosure to another, the chance to see so many of these cute cuddly animals in one place is pretty special.
We also loved the opportunity to see all of the little pandas playing together – chasing one another up trees and tumbling around their playground with each other.
Also, to dismiss the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding as ‘just a zoo’ ignores all the important work going on here. As well as being one of China’s top tourist attractions, the continued research carried out here has led to many important achievements towards the long-term survival of the giant panda species. The center has:
- Increased the survival rate of giant panda cubs to over 90% (even 100% in recent years), compared to 34% pre-1990s.
- Successfully reared giant panda twins for the first time in history (in nature the panda mother will choose the strongest cub to rear, leaving the weaker one to die).
- Increased the reproductive rate of the giant panda by 11.2% through artificial insemination technology.
- Solved many problems related to preventing and treating diseases that endanger the health of the giant pandas.
- Rescued and treated many injured wild pandas and re-released them into the wild.
You can also read in the Guardian about plans to create a giant panda reserve to help boost the wild population.
An unexpected highlight of visiting the pandas in Chengdu is the red panda enclosure. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding also has the world’s largest population of red pandas, with 76 red pandas in residence. The red pandas are all free to roam anywhere within the enclosure, which includes along the pathways. We had a very up close encounter with one red panda who wandered along the path and had a good sniff of all our feet!
Note that ‘cuddling’ the pandas and having your photo taken with them is no longer an option at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. If you want to have an interactive experience with the pandas, you can join the panda keeper programme at the Dujiangyan Panda Base, an hour and a half drive from Chengdu. However note that ‘volunteers’ need to be at least 12 years old, which excluded us from trying this.
Top Tips for Visiting the Pandas in Chengdu
- Get there early. The park opens at 7.30am and gets busier as the day goes on. We arrived at 8.30am and left around 11.45am and it was much busier by the time we left.
- Make use of a guide. As we had booked our tour through the Shangri-La Hotel Chengdu’s Premier Panda package, we had our own guide as part of the package. You can also book a guide through the tour guide station at the entrance of the panda base. Guides cost between 50RMB and 100RMB, depending on the size of your group.
- Start your visit by watching the info video. This 10-minute video runs continuously on a loop and alternates between English and Mandarin.
- Bring water, especially on a hot day. There are also coin-operated drinks machines around the park.
- Bring snacks for the kids. There are a couple of restaurants, but not really anywhere to buy snacks.
- Take the tour bus shuttle if you are visiting with small kids. The park is large and involves lots of walking. I ended up carrying my 4-year old most of the way around the park. Note that you may need to queue for the bus though.
- Visit in July/August for the best chance to see the baby pandas. We visited in early May and the pandas were still pregnant! The youngest pandas when we visited were around 9 months old.
- Buy postcards and special panda postage stamps at the on-site post office.
- There is a tourist service center on the 1st floor of the Giant Panda Museum. This includes facilities such as hot water, microwave, and child stroller lending.
- Don’t forget to buy a souvenir before you leave! There are four souvenir shops around the park.
Getting to the Giant Panda Research Base
The Giant Panda Research Base is less than 10 kilometres outside of Chengdu and is easily reached by taxi, private car, public bus or sightseeing shuttle bus. It took us around 25 minutes to get here by car. For further information on all the different bus routes etc check out this page on the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Pandas website.
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Note: Mum on the Move were guests of the Shangri-la Hotel Chengdu for our visit to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. This in no way affected our review and all opinions, as always are honest and our own.