Looking for the best things to do in Sun Moon Lake? Then you’ve landed on just the right page.
Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) is a beautiful lake neatly tucked away in Yuchi Township, Nantou County, right in the middle of Taiwan. It is famous for many things; scenic bike paths, beautiful hiking trails, rich indigenous culture, delectable aboriginal cuisine, Assam black tea, and a whole host of things to do for nature-loving travelers. But what really makes Sun Moon Lake such a huge must on any Taiwan travel itinerary is its incredible setting.
Sun Moon Lake is Taiwan’s largest lake and spans roughly 7.93 km². It sits at an elevation of 748m and is entirely surrounded by gorgeous alpine scenery and thick forests, creating a picture-perfect setting. Lalu Island, a tiny island, separates the lake into a part shaped like a crescent moon and another part shaped like a round sun, hence the name.
Due to the lake’s unique geographical setting, Sun Moon Lake is one of the most beautiful places in Taiwan. And as a result, a firm favorite among outdoor enthusiasts and day-trippers from Taichung.
What’s more, there’s so much to do in Sun Moon Lake that one could easily spend a couple of days here without ever getting bored. Whether you’re into hiking, biking, temple hopping, food, or simply have an appreciation for the outdoors, Sun Moon Lake is the perfect place to immerse yourself in nature!
Ready to plan the perfect Sun Moon Lake itinerary? Read along to find the very best things to do at Sun Moon Lake and get all my insider tips!
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Before you go to Sun Moon Lake
If you’re spending some time in Taichung before heading out to Sun Moon Lake, also read my detailed Taichung itinerary to find the city’s best gems. This guide on epic day trips from Taichung will also come in handy!
How to get there
Since Sun Moon Lake is one of Taiwan’s most popular tourist spots, there are many ways to get there. I’ve written a complete guide on exactly how to get to Sun Moon Lake from Taichung and a few other places around Taiwan like Cingjing, Alishan, and Taipei.
But if you’re in a rush, here is a quick overview.
The main gateway to Sun Moon Lake is Taichung, Taiwan’s second-largest city, located roughly 1.5 hrs away by bus.
If you are not in Taichung yet, the first thing you need to do is get yourself there. The fastest way to do so is via HSR, Taiwan’s highly efficient high-speed train, which runs all along the western coast of Taiwan. It’s best to book an HSR ticket here via Klook in advance as seats fill up quickly. You can also read my detailed guide on how to get to Taichung from Taipei here.
From Taichung, the most straightforward way to get to Sun Moon Lake is with Nantou Bus 6670. The bus runs from several departure points: Taichung HSR station, Taichung Station, and Gancheng Station.
Buses call every 20-30 minutes between 7:20 am and 7:45 pm and cost NTD 197 (single trip) and NTD 360 (round trip). See schedules here. You can also pay with your Easy Card, which will be a bit cheaper.
If public transport is not for you, it is also possible to take a private transfer or a shared transfer. Alternatively, join this fun day tour from Taichung. For those coming from Taipei, check out this Sun Moon Lake day tour from Taipei.
Where to Stay
Figuring out where to stay in Sun Moon Lake is not the easiest of tasks. While there are loads of accommodation options, most are quite pricy, and rooms fill up very quickly. Make sure to book accommodation at least a few weeks in advance. And if you can, avoid weekends or special holidays.
Another thing to know is that there are two main areas in Sun Moon Lake; Shuishe Village and Ita Thao Village.
Shuishe (水社) is the main village, and it’s also here where you can catch the bus to and from Taichung. Ita Thao (伊達邵) is on the other side of the lake, across from Shuishe.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out my guide on the very best hotels in Sun Moon Lake. It includes heaps of accommodation suggestions no matter your budget! But here are some of the best accommodation options for those in a rush:
- Shuishe Village: The Lalu | Hotel Del Lago | Timing House | Sun Moon Lake Loft Inn
- Ita Thao: The Crystal Resort | Lealea Garden Hotel | Einhan Resort | See Moon B&B
I’ve personally stayed on both sides of the lake, and while both are lovely, I prefer Ita Thao. It is much more laid-back and not as touristy as Shuishe.
Getting around Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake is really geared towards tourists. So whether you’re a solo traveler backpacking Taiwan or traveling in a group, getting around Sun Moon Lake is super easy.
The easiest way to get around the lake is by renting a scooter in the main tourist area, Shuishe Village. You’ll find several scooter shops near the Shuishe Visitors Center (the Sun Moon Lake bus stop), where you can easily rent a scooter for less than NTD 500 a day. Note that you’ll need a valid driver’s license or IDP to rent a scooter in Taiwan.
If that’s not for you, other ways to navigate the area include boats, a round-the-lake bus, and of course, bicycles for the more adventurous. Here’s a quick look at each of them.
The Round-the-Lake Bus is the cheapest way to get around the lake. See schedules here. Buses run frequently, and a day ticket costs NTD 80. You can buy a day ticket straight from the bus driver or simply use your Easy Card every time. If you purchased a day ticket, don’t lose it as you’ll need to buy a new one.
Insider tip: There might not be English announcements for each bus stop. Keep Google Maps open to track your location. Also, remember to press the “stop” button just as you’re coming up to your stop.
Sun Moon Lake Shuttle Boats
The fastest and most fun way to travel between Shuishe Village, Xuanguang Pier, and Ita Thao Village (on the other side of the lake) is by boat.
The Sun Moon Lake shuttle boats run every 15-20 minutes between 9:00 am and 5:40 pm daily in summer and till 5 pm during winter.
Boats leaving from Shuishe Pier, first stop at Xuanguang Pier before heading to the final stop at Ita Thao. Note that boats leaving from Ita Thao go to Shuishe Pier first, before going to Xuanguang Pier. However, it’s always best to check schedules and confirm details with the local staff on the spot. Also, make sure to be at the pier 5-10 minutes before departure.
You can buy a ticket from any boat operator (there are several) at either Shuishe Wharf or Ita Thao Pier. It doesn’t matter which company you use, as the prices are fixed and non-negotiable. Just make sure you buy a ticket from an actual ticket booth and not from one of the peddlers on the street. Their tickets are fake, and you won’t be able to use them to get on a boat.
A one-way trip to any of the piers mentioned above costs NTD 100, although special discounted tickets are sometimes available at NTD 50. And for a few dollars more, you can also buy a combo ticket which includes a one-way boat ride and full-day bike rental (NTD 150). With that said, you’ll be missing out if you didn’t grab this discounted hop-on-hop-off boat pass which includes unlimited rides for a day!
Another option is buying a discounted boat and bike combo ticket (NTD 200) at the Taichung HSR Station. The ticket includes unlimited boat rides for one day and a 3-hour bike rental.
Bicycles are cheap and plentiful in Sun Moon Lake and a great way to explore the area.
Besides saving a few bucks, cycling is one of the most popular Sun Moon Lake activities to do. So much so that CNN even dubbed it as one of the world’s most breathtaking cycling routes.
There’s a Giant bicycle shop on the basement level of the Shuishe Visitors Centre, where you can rent a bike. But there are dozens of other bike rental shops with more choice nearby, too.
Taxis are available in Sun Moon Lake, but they aren’t the best mode of transport.
A taxi ride in Sun Moon Lake is much more expensive than elsewhere in Taiwan. What’s more, taxis are few and far between, so flagging down a cab is nearly impossible.
To give you an idea, a ride from Ita Thao Village to Shuishe Village (and vice versa) will set you back NTD 700, while a taxi ride back to the Taichung HSR starts at NTD 2700. If you are traveling on a tight budget, I wouldn’t recommend taking a taxi.
Best time to visit Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake is a great destination most months of the year, with pleasant temperatures ranging between 19°C and 29 °C.
January is the coldest month, with average temperatures between 14°C and 19°C. In February and March, temperatures are still low, but it’s a great time for cherry blossom viewing, and the annual Formosa Village Sakura Festival is in full swing. In April, the temperatures start to warm up, and it is mostly sunny. October to December are other great months to visit the lake, and you can expect average highs in the mid-twenties with little rain.
I wouldn’t recommend visiting Sun Moon Lake in May as this month marks the arrival of Taiwan’s plum rains, and it can rain for days on end. June to September also sees much rainfall, and the heat and humidity can be overwhelming if you’re not used to that kind of climate. If you must visit in late spring or summer, make sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast because typhoons aren’t uncommon, and the weather can change quickly.
Since Sun Moon Lake is one of the top landmarks in Taiwan, it’s almost always crowded on weekends, and accommodation fills up quickly. It’s also not the cheapest place to visit in Taiwan. So if you can, come during the week when prices are generally a bit more affordable, and there aren’t as many tourists around.
The Best Things to do in Sun Moon Lake
Great! Now that you know all the ins and outs of planning a Sun Moon Lake itinerary, it’s time to find out what to do in Sun Moon Lake! Here are the best things to do!
Take the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway
For the best view over Sun Moon Lake, hop in one of the colorful cable cars at the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway. The 1.9km ride takes less than 10 minutes and is undoubtedly one of the easiest ways to get a bird’s-eye view over the whole area!
The cable car ride ends at the Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village – a huge theme park with plenty to keep you busy. The village is famous for cherry blossom viewing during late winter in Taiwan to early spring. And it’s a fun place to go on all kinds of rides, learn more about aboriginal culture, or stroll through beautiful gardens. If you don’t want to visit the theme park, you can simply hop back in the cable car.
Taking the ropeway is one of the most popular things to do in Sun Moon Lake, so the lines get long quickly. Come in the early morning before the huge tour groups arrive. And don’t forget to grab your tickets online in advance to skip the queues!
Although you can take the Round-the-Lake Bus to get here, you can also walk there from Ita Thao. The Itashao Lakeview Trail is a low-key 10-minute walk that takes you all along the lake. The scenery is really beautiful, and it’s a nice way to get a close-up view of the lake, the small floating fishing islands, and the forest.
Opening hours: 10:30 am to 4 pm (weekdays) | 10:30 am to 4:30 pm (weekends)
*Closed the first Wednesday of every month for maintenance.
Wander around Wenwu Temple
Wenwu Temple, located on the northern bank of the lake, is the most visited temple in the area. This huge temple, built in 1938, is devoted to the God of Literature, the God of War, and Confuscious. It’s very popular among students and tour groups, so be prepared to join the scrum no matter which time of day you visit.
The temple sits on top of a hill and offers beautiful views over the lake and mountains. Inside the temple, browse the various halls and admire the ornate architecture. There’s also a huge stairway behind the temple where you’ll find beautiful gardens, interesting statues, and even better views!
Even if you’re not into religion, dropping by Wenwu Temple is a huge must because the views are truly spectacular!
Oh, and don’t forget to make a wish – wish trinkets can be bought inside the temple for a small fee. Entrance to Wenwu Temple is free, but donations are always welcome.
Climb to the top of Ci’En Pagoda
Ci’ En Pagoda is another popular Sun Moon Lake attraction you don’t want to miss.
Built by Chiang Kai-Shek in memory of his mother, Ci’En Pagoda is a beautiful 47m-high structure. It sits roughly 1000 meters high atop Shabalan Mountain and is particularly popular among photographers.
To get to the pagoda, you need to follow a 700m long trail with many stairs through a lush forest. While that might not seem very far, the hike is quite intense, and you’re almost guaranteed to break a sweat. However, once you make it to the top, all that effort will be worth it!
Ci’En Pagoda sits right in the middle of a huge square, and towering trees surround it. You can’t see the lake from the courtyard, so if you still have some energy in you, definitely climb to the top of the pagoda! From there, you’ll get unparalleled views over the lake and surrounding mountains.
While Ci’En Pagoda is a popular Sun Moon Lake attraction year-round, it’s even more special during firefly season when thousands of fireflies light up the forest. The black-winged firefly can be spotted from April till May, while the mountain firefly can be seen during October and November.
After you’ve finished admiring the views at Ci’En Pagoda, it’s worth stopping by two of Sun Moon Lake’s most popular temples; Xuanzang Temple and Xuanguang Temple.
Insider tip: When hiking in Taiwan, be sure to always carry some bug spray with you. Mosquitoes are relentless in the lush jungles here!
Visit the Master Xuan Zang Memorial Hall
Xuan Zang Temple is a beautiful temple only a short walk from Ci’En Pagoda. The temple sits atop Mount Qinglong and was built in 1965.
Although this temple is not nearly as popular as Wenwu Temple, it is one of the most important temples in Sun Moon Lake and houses a relic of the Buddist Monk Xuanzang – a holy monk of the Tang Dynasty.
Besides the important relics, Xuanzang Temple is a great place to stroll around with minimal crowds. The temple architecture is beautiful, and the gardens peaceful. The entrance is lined with beautiful towering trees, and the “wake up bell” near the main gate is great for photo ops.
Drop by Xuanguang Temple
Xuanguang Temple is a stunning temple that sits right on the shore of Sun Moon Lake and overlooks Lalu Island.
This tiny temple was built in 1955 to honor the Buddhist monk Xuan Zang who traveled all the way from India to China to bring back important Buddhist scriptures. Although his relic is no longer housed in this temple (it can now be found in the Xuan Zang Temple), the temple is still one of the most important attractions in Sun Moon Lake.
The easiest way to get here is to take a boat to Xuanguang Pier. From there, follow the 80m trail to get to the temple. Alternatively, you can also take the Qinglong Mountain Trail from Xuanzang Temple (the closest bus stop) to get there. The trail only takes about 25 minutes to complete, and the scenery is really stunning. But you should know the path is not the easiest and has lots of steep uphill and downhill sections.
Snack Your Way Through Ita Thao Village
While Shuishe might be the main tourist area in Sun Moon Lake, a visit to Ita Thao is a huge must. The village sits on the southeastern side of the lake and is a cool place to get acquainted with the rich culture of the Ita Thao tribe. And the easiest way to do so is through your stomach!
The Ita Thao Shopping District is famous for its street food market. And while you’ll find all the usual Taiwanese night market favorites here, you’ll be missing out if you didn’t try some of the weird and wonderful aboriginal foods. The most renowned specialty snacks to sample here include wild boar sausages, wild mushrooms, millet donuts, black tea ice cream, gua bao (Taiwanese hamburger), fried cabbage buns, and aruzay fish (also known as president fish). Take your time strolling the streets lined with vendors, and come hungry!
There’s not much Western-style food in Ita Thao. But you can grab sandwiches or ‘heat-up’ meals at the local 7-Eleven and Family Mart nearby. If you’re really craving a pizza or some pasta, Moon Cafe near Meihe Park on the Shuishe side is your best bet.
You’ll also find a good selection of souvenir shops in Ita Thao if you’re into shopping. And you can buy anything from wood-carved items and postcards to sweets, aboriginal-themed bags, and clothing here.
Just a tip though, Ita Thao turns into a ghost town quite early at night. Don’t come too late (after 8 pm) or you’ll miss the best vendors!
Bike Around the Lake
One of Sun Moon Lake’s biggest draws is its incredible scenery. And one of the best ways to experience it first-hand is on a fun bike ride.
A 30km-long scenic road runs around the lake where you can enjoy unparalleled views of the surrounding area and mountains. But if you simply want to take it easy, there are many shorter cycling paths to explore. Both the Xiangshan Section and Ita Thao Section bikeways are great low-key options.
- Shuishe to Xiangshan Visitor Center
- Length: 3.4km
- Difficulty: Easy
Ita Thao bikeway:
- Shuiwatou Hiking Trail to Sun Moon Lake Ropeway Station
- Length: 1.5 km
- Difficulty: Easy
Explore the Ecological Sites
Sun Moon Lake is blessed with abundant fauna and flora. Whether boating, hiking, or biking, you’ll never need to wander too far to immerse yourself in nature. But, what most visitors don’t know is that there are actually several lesser-known ecological sites worth exploring.
The Butterfly Garden (near the SML Ropeway station) and the Bamboo Rock Garden (near Shuishe Village) are great add-ons to your Sun Moon Lake to-do list! Another cool spot not to miss is the Lily Garden Area. And if you happen to visit from August till September, you can wander through beautiful fields full of blooming lilies.
If your Sun Moon Lake itinerary is flexible, the Endemic Species Research Institute’s Conservation Education Center in Jiji is another attraction. It is a great place to learn a little more about all kinds of butterflies, birds, and other rare species in Taiwan.
Get Active with Fun Water Sports Activities
You can rent a kayak at Ita Thao Wharf if you want to paddle around the lake. And SUP is another fun activity to try out for more adventurous travelers.
Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed in the lake except once a year during the annual Cross-lake Swim. Every September, thousands of swimmers compete in the 3km race across the lake. If that’s something you’re keen to do, you can read up more about it here (only in Chinese).
Insider tip: You might come across a few blogs on the web mentioning secret swimming spots around SML. But as a rule of thumb – it’s always best to stick to the rules and regulations while traveling in Taiwan.
Tackle the Year of Steps
Right in front of Wenwu Temple, next to the lookout point, you’ll spot a flight of stairs adorned with thousands of wind chimes.
Back in the day, before the road was built all around the lake, this stairway was actually the only way to access Wenwu Temple. Today, it’s an iconic attraction in Sun Moon Lake. And if you’re up to it, you can climb down the 366-stairway to get a close-up look at the lake and surrounding scenery. It’s a steep climb down (and back up), but the effort will be more than worth it! Remember to grab some snacks at one of the vendors to enjoy at the bottom.
If you want to make a special wish and hang your very own wind chime on the Year of Steps, you can buy one inside the temple for a couple of dollars.
Try Sun Moon Lake Tea
While Alishan’s High Mountain Oolong Tea might take the crown for Tawain teas, Sun Moon Lake’s black tea is a close contender.
Sun Moon Lake’s tea cultivation started years back during the Japanese occupation when Assam tea from India was introduced to the area. And today, it’s one of the area’s most important agricultural products. So much so that you’ll find all kinds of tea products no matter where you turn – from tea leaves to ice cream to egg rolls and more!
Try Taiwan Black Tea No. 18 (also known as Red Jade tea) for the crème de la crème of Sun Moon Lake black teas. And definitely buy a few boxes of crispy hand-made black tea egg rolls from this famous egg roll shop!
If you’d like to learn a little more about tea cultivation and snap some cool pics amid beautiful tea fields, don’t miss Antique Assam Tea Farm.
Hang Out at the Xiangshan Visitors Center
Xiangshan Visitors Center is an interesting modern building sporting really cool architecture and exceptional lakeside views. There are plenty of cool spots to take photos here, so don’t forget your camera! You can walk all around the building, but for something extra special, head to the rooftop for the best photo ops.
Inside, you can browse several interesting exhibitions, learn a little more about the area or kick back with a cuppa while soaking up the views at the Xiangshan Cafe. After spending some time at the visitors center, head over to the Xiangshan Scenic Skywalk for a close-up look at Lalu Island.
Follow the Shuiwatou Hiking Trail
Sun Moon Lake has no shortage of excellent hiking trails. And one you definitely don’t want to miss is the Shuiwatou Hiking Trail.
The trail is only about 500m long but what really makes it so special is the stunning lakeside scenery along the walkway – from thick forests full of monkeys, birds, and frogs to swaying wild grass growing in the lake. Make sure you go all the way to the end of the trail, where you can spot the Nine Frogs Stack in the water – nine frog statues stacked on top of each other, indicating the lake’s water levels.
Just a heads up, I spotted several monkeys along the trail. Although they may seem cute, please remember that they are still wild animals.
What to do in Sun Moon Lake in Conclusion
Whether you’re visiting for a day or planning a quick city break, Sun Moon Lake is the perfect place to enjoy some of Taiwan’s best scenery! While this guide only scratches the surface of things to do in Sun Moon Lake, it’s a good starting point!
That wraps up this guide on what to do in Sun Moon Lake. If you feel I’ve missed anything or have any suggestions on other cool things to do in Sun Moon Lake, I’d love to add to this list! Drop your comments below.
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Jan Chen says
Love all the info. Very helpful. I might just have half a day from taichung to SML.thining of renting a car. Does it help to go around SML with a car ? Parking is easy?
Thanks, Jan – so glad you found it helpful. There are several parking areas around the lake, most of which are near the main sites and hiking trails. With that said, you should know that the road around the lake winds quite a bit and only has two lanes. If you can, come during the week, as it can get congested quickly on weekends or special holidays. There is also a huge parking lot in Shuishe Village where you can leave your car if you want to take the boat across the lake to Ita Thao.
Hi! Thanks for this guide. I am planning to visit Taiwan in March with the family. One of the family members will be using a wheelchair though so I will have to drive and park the car. Woukd you know if the sites at Sun Moon Lake are wheelchair friendly please?
Any other spots in Taiwan you would recommend? (taroko gorge is an unlikely candidate for wheelchair bound visitors…).
Hey Alex! Yes, there are quite a few wheelchair friendly sites at Sun Moon Lake, like the ropeway, the aboriginal village, the visitors centers, etc. The SML website has a detailed map showing all the accessible spots which may help with your trip planning.
Other places you could look into include Yehliu Geopark, Shifen Waterfall, Fo Guang Shan, Liyu Lake, Chisingtan Scenic Area, the Erziping trail in Yangmingshan and attractions in cities like Rainbow Village, the National Palace Museum, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei 101, etc.
As for Taroko, you could just drive through the park without doing any of the trails – the scenery is really incredible! The Buluowan Suspension Bridge is wheelchair accessible though!
Hope this helps!
Thank you for this post, it has been very informative. Would like to ask if the bike rental in Sun Moon Lake have an option to add on toddler seat? Have a three year old and would like to cycle together.
Hey Jeannette, most of the shops have family style bikes, so I can’t think that it would be a problem. But if you’d like to be absolutely sure, it might be a good idea to ask your hotel to phone the nearest bike rental shop to find out specifically about toddler seats.