Turtle Island, also known as Guishan Island, is one of Taiwan’s most beautiful offshore islands.
Located just 10 km off the coast of Toucheng in northeastern Taiwan, Turtle Island is a charming little gem floating in the Pacific Ocean with a lot going for it! While it is a popular day trip from Yilan, the island can also easily be visited as a side trip from Taipei with some planning.
In this guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about visiting Taiwan’s only active volcano! Read along to find out how to visit Turtle Island and what to expect on your tour.
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Tips for Visiting Taiwan’s Turtle Island
- Book a tour well in advance. Only a limited number of people can visit Turtle Island daily, and it’s best to book a tour well in advance. KK Day has several tour packages ranging in price and duration. If you want to visit the island, read the fine print carefully. The cheapest option only includes sailing around the island. I booked the 4.5-hour tour, which included whale watching and visiting the island. It was quite pricey (TWD1400) but worth every penny! The tour is only available in Chinese, but don’t let that stop you from visiting!
- Bring your ID and cash. Upon check-in at the harbor, you’ll need to present some form of identification, so don’t forget to bring your ARC, ID, or passport. If you’re also visiting the island, you’ll need to pay an additional TWD100 entry fee before boarding the ferry.
- Essentials to bring on your trip. Whether you’re just cruising around the island or exploring it, make sure to bring a good SPF sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, bug spray, and ample water and snacks. A tiny shop in the Visitors Center sells a small selection of drinks and snacks too.
- Take seasickness medication. If you suffer from seasickness, it’s best to take medication at least 30-60 minutes before the boat trip. You can buy seasickness tablets at any pharmacy, but Watsons in Yilan also stocks them.
When to Visit Turtle Island
Turtle Island is only open to the public from March to November every day of the week except Wednesdays, when visiting is reserved for educational groups. If you can, come on a weekday. That way, you’ll skip the crazy weekend crowds.
Because the island is an ecological park, only 1800 people can visit it daily, with only 100 people allowed to hike to its summit each day. Since visiting Turtle Island requires a permit (applied for up to 20 days in advance), it’s best to book an organized tour that takes care of that for you.
How to get to Turtle Island, Taiwan
All tours to Turtle Island depart from Wushi Harbor just outside Toucheng in Yilan County.
The easiest way to get to the harbor is to take a train to Toucheng Station and then hop in a taxi. (Uber is not available in Yilan).
Make sure to download the Taiwan Railways App (IOS) to easily check train schedules and delays. It’s also a good idea to have the harbor’s address in Chinese handy to show the driver. The ride from Toucheng Station to the harbor costs roughly TWD140.
Insider tip: There weren’t any taxis at the harbor when I finished my tour. If this happens to you too, you can catch bus #GR18 or #1766 back to Toucheng Station at the Wushigangzhuanyun Station. The bus stop is right in front of the Lanyang Museum.
Guishan Island’s History
Despite its name, Turtle Island is not home to a bunch of turtles. Instead, the island gained its name (龜山島, literally Turtle Mountain Island) from its shape, which resembles a turtle floating in the ocean.
Turtle Island was once home to about 700 residents, but getting food and supplies from the mainland was often hard, especially during typhoons. In fact, in the early 1970s, the residents were cut off from the mainland for about two weeks due to torrential rains and almost ran out of food. As a result, local talks began to resettle the community on the main island. By 1977, all the residents had moved to Daxi in Toucheng.
Afterward, Guishan Island was declared a restricted military zone, and the island was closed off to the public for 23 years. In 2000, the island was reopened, and today, visitors can catch a glimpse into the rich ecological resources and natural scenery that makes Turtle Island so unique.
Turtle Island Day Tour Highlights: What to See & Do
The Milky Sea
The biggest highlight on any day tour to Turtle Island is seeing the Milky Sea up close.
The Milky Sea is quite a unique phenomenon, and its caused by cold seawater mixing with the hot spring water that emerges through the seabed’s crevices. The result? The most beautiful turquoise water imaginable! Just be ready for the smell of rotten eggs – it’s quite intense!
The best place to spot the Milky Sea is right in front of the 239m high Turtle’s Head, but you’ll already be able to see (and smell) it as you cruise along the island’s eastern side. The massive yellow-brown cliff, known as the Turtle’s Head, contrasts starkly with the light blue sea water and is truly something special to witness.
Also, keep an eye out for bubbles surging to the surface and steamy sulfur smoke released from the water.
Spot Whales and Dolphins
If you’ve booked a whale-watching tour, you might be lucky enough to spot whales and pods of dolphins playing in the sea.
From May to October, Guishan Island attracts large numbers of migrating marine life. This is due to the Kuroshio Current’s warm waters that flow through here. There are more than ten species of whales and dolphins around the island. However, some of the most common species include bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, and false killer whales.
Insider tip: Whale and dolphin sightings aren’t guaranteed, so don’t expect a refund if you don’t see any on your trip.
Sea Caves and the Turtle’s Glasses
The island’s southern side is home to a whole host of sea caves formed by constant crashing waves.
The most peculiar cave and one of the eight scenic highlights on the island is the “Spectacle of Glass Hole.” The cave consists of pyroclastic rocks and resembles a pair of glasses.
Turtle Wags Its Tail
It’s hard to miss the peculiar pebble beach with its smooth round rocks resembling turtle eggs right next to the North Coast Wharf as you disembark the boat.
The beach is about 1km long and is mostly formed by weathered rocks that have fallen away from the southern edge’s cliff and carried to the Turtle’s Tail by typhoons.
Unfortunately, you cant walk on the beach. However, you can get a pretty good view over it from the crossover bridge when entering the island. Another great photo spot is on the rock wall opposite the Visitors Centre. There’s a small rock stairway that’ll take you to the top. Don’t walk around on the ledge, though, because it’s a restricted area.
Putuo Rock Temple is the only temple on the island, and while it’s relatively small compared to other temples in Taiwan, it’s got a fascinating history.
Formerly known as Gonglan Temple, Putuoyan Temple was built in 1890 and later reconstructed in 1952. It was originally dedicated to Mazu, a popular deity worshipped among fishermen. But later, when all the residents moved away, Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy became the main deity.
Remains of the Old Settlement
Moving away from the temple, you’ll spot the remnants of the original settlement – a couple of derelict buildings made mostly of pebbles gathered from the surroundings. Since most roofs were made of thatch or tiles, most of them have collapsed, but it’s still interesting to catch a glimpse into the bygone days as you wander along the path.
Today the Guishan Island Elementary School is the most well-preserved building on the island. It was originally founded in 1949 but was later rebuilt to serve as barracks for the soldiers stationed on the island.
The Military Tunnel
The Military Tunnel on Turtle Island is 800m long with a height of 3.5m and a width of 3m.
The trail takes about 40 minutes to walk, but visitors can only access a small part of it today. The tunnel is well lit, but there are some signs at its entrance warning of poisonous snakes. So keep your eyes peeled and don’t wander away from your guide!
Inside the tunnel, you can get a close-up look at a huge shore gun which still points out at sea. It weighs a whopping 8000kg!
Lakeshore Trail & the Statue of Guanyin
The Lakeshore Trail is a lovely 650m long low-key trail. It runs all along Turtle’s Tail Lake (a beautiful natural lagoon with green water) and offers stunning views over the forest and glistening lake along the way.
While the trail is super easy to follow, there are quite a few stairs to climb, which could be a problem if you visit with the elderly. As you make your way around the lake, there are lots to take in – butterflies fluttering about, rare plant life, and fish swimming in the water.
There’s also a huge statue of Guanyin riding a dragon. And right behind her is an excellent example of the island’s volcanic rock formations. Another highlight further along the trail is the cold spring well – once a source of fresh water for the locals.
401 Highland Trail
If you want the best views over the entire island, you’ll need to book a special tour that includes a hike to the island’s summit. The island’s highest peak is actually only 398m high, but it’s known as the 401 Highland because the observation deck stands 3m tall.
The trail is 1400m long, and it takes about 3 hours to get to the top and back. Mentally prepare yourself to climb 1706 steps to the top, though!
Besides the epic views, you can also spot a diverse range of flora and fauna and an ancient tomb dating back to the Qing Dynasty along the way.
Don’t forget; you need to book this tour well in advance as tickets are limited.
What to do Near Turtle Island
If you’ve booked a morning tour to Turtle Island and still have some time to explore the surrounding area, there are a couple of places worth checking out near Wushi Harbour.
For beach lovers, Waiao Beach is a stunning black sand beach just north of the harbor and one of the most popular beaches in Taiwan. There are many cozy cafes along the beach where you can sit back and admire the view of Turtle Island in the distance. And if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can even learn how to surf or go paragliding.
If you’re into culture and history, the Lanyang Museum is just steps from the harbor and a cool place to learn a little more about Yilan. The museum features many interactive exhibitions about Yilan’s history, culture, landscape, and natural beauty. While there is a lot to learn inside the museum, its striking architecture and unique design are just as fascinating.
For those who simply want to kick back and soak up the views, MSWH (滿山望海) is a super Instagrammable Cafe just south of the harbor. It features large comfy sofas and a breezy deck with outdoor seating perfect for enjoying a light meal or something sweet. Reserve a table in advance because this is a hot spot!
Where to Stay in Yilan
If your sole purpose for visiting Taiwan’s northeast coast is to go to Turtle Island, it’s best to base yourself near the harbor.
- OA Hotel is a stunning contemporary hotel with bright interiors, beautiful rooms, and a fantastic rooftop hot spring pool where you can enjoy some epic ocean views. The best part? The hotel is mere steps from the harbor. [Check rates and availability].
- Kailan Hotel is another good base, just 5 minutes drive from the harbor. The 4-star property features large clean rooms with amazing views over the ocean. [Check rates and availability].
If you’d rather stay in Toucheng, Hotel Lounge is centrally located and within walking distance to many shops, eateries, and the train station. [Check rates and availability].
For those planning to explore the rest of Yilan County, Yilan City, Jiaoxi, or Luodong all make excellent bases. Here are some of the best accommodation options:
And, if you’d rather stay in Taipei, here’s my detailed guide on the best places to stay in Taipei.
Turtle Island Taiwan in Conclusion
With its rich history, beautiful scenery, and multifaceted ecosystem Turtle Island is undoubtedly one of the top places to visit in Taiwan. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure to Taiwan’s Guishan Island!
Well, that’s all I have on Turtle Island. If you think I’ve missed anything, let me know in the comments below!
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