Known among its fans as the "Hawaii of the East" thanks to its sub-tropical climate and palm trees, Sanya is the primary resort destination on China's Hainan island. With its glitzy resort complexes, it's fast becoming one of Asia's most popular beach destinations.
If you want to jet ski, snorkel, splash around, and perfect your tan, Sanya's Dàdōnghǎi Bay is tough to beat, but with fascinating craft villages showing off local Hainanese culture, Buddhist temples at Nanshan, fun for nature lovers at Monkey Island, and rainforest hiking in Yanoda, the region around Sanya has something for every visitor.
Above all else, Chinese vacationers flock to Sanya for its sun-drenched beaches. There are luxurious resort hotels with private beachfronts in Haitang Bay, the 5-mile long strand at Yalong Bay, and - most popular of all - the tourist hub that is Dàdōnghǎi.
Another huge plus point in Sanya is the chance to enjoy almost any watersports for reasonable prices. There are diving trips to nearby reefs, banana boats aplenty, jet skis for hire, and parasailing.
If you're looking for an Asian beach destination with high-quality hotels, Sanya definitely makes the grade. Modern, comfortable resort complexes have sprung up along the entire seafront, offering excellent accommodation, sports facilities, entertainment, and dining.
Aside from the beautiful coastline, Sanya has plenty of natural wonders for tourists to enjoy, including the ziplines and paths of the Yanoda Rainforest, the (dormant) Fengluling volcanic crater, and Monkey Island, home to 2,500 macaque monkeys.
Sanya has boomed recently, becoming a true pleasure-seeker's paradise. From the zoo and musical performances at Sanya Qianguqing to humble karaoke lounges dotted across the city, entertainment is king in Hainan's tropical resort, and boredom isn't an option.
Widely rated as one of China's best beaches, Dàdōnghǎi is a few miles down the coast from Sanya and occupies a stunning bay, with pure blue waters. It fills up in peak season, but when the crowds aren't too heavy, it's a wonderful place to be.
Also dubbed "Monkey Island", Nan Wan is home to a huge macaque colony, many of them tame enough to serve as a greeting party when guests disembark. The 7,000 ft ropeway is also not to be missed for thrill-seekers.
Set across 18 square miles, Yanoda is another world. You can hike to waterfalls in Dream Valley, see exotic plants in Rainforest Valley, and even camp out overnight, with folk music performances throughout the evening.
Another gorgeous bay, Yalong is the place to swim or snorkel near Sanya. Reefs filled with multicolored fish are 30 feet below the surface, while the bay's waters remain warm and welcoming all year round.
Located 25 miles away from Sanya, Nanshan is a thriving Buddhist complex that is worth visiting for the buzz of the community alone, but it also hosts some incredible vegetarian restaurants on-site.
Sanya attracts beach lovers all year-round thanks to its tropical climate, although you might want to miss the rainy season (generally May to October) or Chinese New Year, when the resorts can become packed. October and November are a great time to visit, as are March and April, though anytime from October to April should ensure fine weather and reasonably thin crowds.
The most convenient way to get to Sanya is flying to Sanya Phoenix International Airport, which is 10 miles west of the city center and offers connections to cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, and even distant cities such as London, Moscow, and Kiev. Buses from the airport take 40 minutes to get into town and the fare is CNY4-5. Expect taxis to cost CNY30-40.
Trains run on a daily basis from Guangdong to Haikou on Hainan island via the Yuehai Ferry. After that, you can take a high-speed train from Haikou to Sanya, which takes just under 2 hours and costs around CNY85. The station is a few miles outside town, and most visitors take a taxi to their hotel at a cost of around CNY25.
If you're driving from the mainland via Haikou, you can get to Sanya via the G98 (it's around 3 hours and 30 minutes from the ferry port to central Sanya).
Public buses run regularly from Haikou East to Sanya's bus station at JieFang Erlu, with a journey time of around 3 hours and fares of approximately CNY49-79.
Sanya is packed with modern beachfront hotels, and there are some highlights among them. Haitang Bay hosts the One&Only, the Sofitel Sanya Leeman, and the Sanya EDITION beach hotels, which tick most boxes for sun-seekers. The Ritz-Carlton is the premier place to stay in Yalong Bay, while Shangri-La's Sanya Resort and Spa focuses on creating a tranquil atmosphere, eons away from the stresses of home. But there are budget options too, such as the Sanya Backpackers Hostel, which is basic but near the beach. Sānyà Bay is a good choice of area to stay in with its multiple shopping malls, karaoke bars, and markets, while Yalong Bay is lined with upmarket resorts.
Public buses run all along the Sanya coast, and short journeys tend to be very cheap, with a basic fare of CNY2 for short hops. Bus 27 is a great way to reach Yalong Bay from the city center, while Bus 8 runs to the airport.
Taxis are another convenient way to travel between beaches, hotels, and restaurants in the Sanya area, and you can hail them directly on the street. Expect taxis to charge around CNY12 for the first mile, followed by CNY2 for every subsequent mile.
Many visitors choose to get around the coast by car, and major car hire companies like Avis, Europcar, and Hertz have local offices. Hire prices vary by season and the car you choose, but expect a medium-sized model to cost around CNY150 per day.
Sanya is a fantastic shopping destination, particularly the city itself, which is crammed with malls and markets. The Mangrove Luxuries Center is a great place to head for contemporary apparel, Jiefang Road offers a more down-to-earth range of fashion stores and jewelry sellers, and the Summer Mall is Dàdōnghǎi's hub for multinational brands. And 1 Market ("First Market") is an unbeatable place to pick up locally made ornaments or jewelry made from crystal and pearl.
Wanghao is easily the biggest supermarket operator in Sanya, and they should have all of the essentials travelers need during their stay. Prices aren't too high at CNY30 for a gallon or milk and around CNY25 for 12 eggs, while 1 Market is also a good place to hunt down fresh produce if you want to put together a healthy beach picnic.
Eating well in Sanya is easy, especially if you love seafood. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel's Fresh restaurant in Dàdōnghǎi serves up gorgeous grilled seafood by the beach, while you can enjoy upscale gourmet seafood in the aquarium at Aqua in Haitang Bay. But there are plenty of other cuisines on offer, from the pizzas at Casa Mia, Thai food at Baan Rim Nam in the Anantara Resort, and high-class Mediterranean dishes at the Ritz-Carlton's Sofia. Prices vary a lot depending on where you eat, but in general a satisfying meal can be had for CNY140-160.