Can a trip to China complete without taking some amazing panda photos? Visit these cute, cuddly animals and contribute to the conservation effort.
We’re tell you which panda base to visit, insider tips, and give composition ideas, to help you take incredible photos.
No single animal is revered more in China like the Great Panda. Even today, the panda is still very much endangered, with less than 2000 in the wild!
- Weighting as much as 150 kg (330 lb)
- 75 cm (2½ ft) high
- They eat 100% bamboo
- Live for 15–20 years
- 1,500–1,800 in the wild
- Give birth to 1 cub every 2-3 years.
- Chinese name translates as big-bear-cat 大熊猫 dàxióngmāo
- Panda’s happy sign model releases, but bring an ink stamp for their paws.
These distinctive bears are literally the “national treasure” of China, but they are rare. According to the latest data from World Wildlife Federation, there’s just a little over 1,800 panda bears left living in the wild, and you can only find them in the mountains of central China, Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu.
If you’re traveling China, you may be wondering if you’re even allowed to take panda photos yourself. Well, you’re in for a treat. Not only are you allowed to snap your own pictures, but we’re going to tell you exactly where you need to go to take the best panda photos during your trip.
The Best Place to Photography Panda’s in China
There are many places in China where you can see pandas but the best places are around Chengdu in Sichuan Province, home town of the Panda’s. They mainly live in the Qin Mountains (Shaanxi Province) and the Min Mountains in Sichuan Province. There are reports of Panda’s being spotted in the wild in Gansu province.
Volunteer Programs & Holding a Panda
If you want get up close, maybe hold a giant panda or assist in the volunteer keeper program, you to visit Dujiangyan Base near Chengdu. The experience and organisation is the absolute best. I have tested all volunteer programs, even those which are now discontinued or suspended.
Though less-well-known, Dujiangyan base offers a more accessible volunteer programs than Bifengxia Giant Panda Base, which is also three times the distance from Chengdu, at 93 miles, vs Dujiangyan’s mere 34 miles.
Taking a Photo, or Holding a Panda is Expensive
It will cost you 1800 CNY (cash only) for just a 60 seconds hold; last time we checked (Jan 2017). I don’t mind supporting the base with such a donation, but the cash only policy makes me wonder how much enters the facilities official accounts.
It’s good to know that holding a panda can never 100% guaranteed due to tourist numbers. In reality you have an 80% chance of holding a panda, based on reports by a local Chinese friend working at the research base.
Here are some key facts to consider:
- maximum 20-3o people per day depending on Panda’s availability
- 1 minute on the clock
- Panda will be 1.5-2.5 years old
- Cash payments only
- 1800 RMB
- You’re be sitting on a metal airport bench
- Your be in a blue plastic surgery gown and white gloves
- The back drop looks like a park/zoo, paths and nice walls.
It’s an awesome experience to hold and be so close to a panda, but not a portfolio piece. Focus on enjoying the experience with the panda, rather than photography.
Panda Keep Program (Dujiangyan Base) Typical Day Trip
08:15 am Hotel pickup in Chengdu city by private car, with guide.
10:00 am Arrive at the Dujiangyan Base, informal tour.
11:00 am Hold a panda for some photos or watch. CNY1,800 extra.
11:30 am Chinese lunch at a local restaurant.
(Because panda’s sleep inside in the afternoon, you’ll visit some other areas of interest)
13:30 pm Arrive at Dujiangyan Irrigation Project (DIP), informal tour.
16:00 pm Finish at DIP and transfer back to Chengdu.
17:30 pm Arrive at your hotel in Chengdu (5-6 dependant on traffic)
During the day volunteers work with staff to take care of the pandas.
Here’s some things you’ll be doing on a typical day:
- Cleaning panda enclosures
- Preparing food for the pandas
- Watching an educational film
- Visit to the Centre of Science and Education
- Attending panda classes or lectures
- Planting bamboo
- Planting trees
- Other activities as required
The Chengdu Breeding and Research Base
If pandas are a highlight of your China tour, then you cannot afford to miss the award-winning breeding and research centre 40 miles north west of Chengdu.
Currently, the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research base has 113 giant pandas and growing.
Tourists and photographers can walk along mountainous, lush paths complete with flowing rivers, rocks, artistic landscaping, and more scenery to take breathtaking panda photos of their own.
Among tourists and experts alike, the Chengdu park is considered the #1 spot for taking up close pictures of giant pandas. The half a square mile park also houses a wide variety of other fascinating animals native to China, like red pandas, colourful peacocks, graceful swans, and more than 100 different species of exotic insects. It’s a perfect destination for wildlife lovers.
Dujiangyan Panda Base and Center For Disease Control (Panda Keeper Program)
Another fantastic location for panda photos is the Dujiangyan Panda Base, located 34 miles from Chengdu in the village of Qingchengshan. This is the base we recommended above, for the keeper program.
This is a great place to photograph pandas amongst thick bamboo forests and more natural vegetation. Visitors can also enjoy a public education area and watch pandas on the center’s iPanda cam when they return home from their trip.
This is the base that has the most stable panda keeper program. The other bases on occasion stop or restrict such programs without warning. At the end of the day your get a certificate and the T-shirt. If you want to join a keeper program, go here!
Bifengxia Giant Panda Base
Want more pandas?
Just travel 90 miles from Chengdu’s capital and you will find the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base.
Nestled in the valley of Sichuan, you can take gorgeous panda photos complete with waterfalls, bamboo forests, and lush scenery. Tourists also have access to Bifengxia’s squirrel monkey garden, bird paradise attraction, the Shanshui Cave, and more animal parks.
Gengda Wolong Panda Center
This is the newest addition to China’s renowned panda viewing and research centers.
Now open to the public, the Gengda Wolong Panda Center is located right inside China’s lush Wolong Nature Preserve. This giant panda haven focuses on research and reintroducing pandas back into their natural habitats.
One Crazy National Geographic Photographer
How dedicated are you to get a panda shot in the wild? The Wolong Panda Centre is where one National Geographic photographer wore a urine-sprayed panda suit to take close up wild panda photos. ‘It was unbelievable difficult, but the patience and effort paid off.’ I’m not that dedicated! How about you?
Quick Tips For Taking Panda Photos
Now that you know where to go, let’s talk about how to capture awesome panda photos.
You want clear and crisp up close shots. That’s why we recommend using a camera with a strong zoom feature or a DSLR that lets you attach an additional zoom lens. If you don’t have one, consider renting a zoom lens from websites like lensrentals.com or lenslab.co.uk.
While you’re at it, bring a tripod to steady your camera to take in-focus shots. Once you start using a long zoom lens the slightest movements are exaggerated, causing less than sharp shots.
If you can, try to snap pictures of pandas doing their favorite activities, like eating bamboo and during playtime. Action shots are a good way to capture the personalities of these amazing animals. The pandas are more active in the mornings, the afternoons they tend to sleep or enter there shelters.
We don’t want you to miss a moment, so keep this guide on hand as you set out to capture the beauty and playfulness of these cherished pandas.
These are some specially designed panda itineraries that offer you the best chance to get close to giant pandas. Realistically at a minimum you need to allocate 4 days, including arrival and departure days.
Useful Links and Resources
National Geographic has a general article on the 3 Places to See China’s Giant Pandas, it’s a little on the light side, and also recommends 3 of the places we mention above.