Known as the “Hawaii of the East,” Sanya on China’s little-known Hainan island is a paradise of white-sand beaches, turquoise water, lush tropical landscapes and sleepy fishing villages. There are beaches for days – including the Sanya, China’s top beach holiday destination. Sun worshippers and surfers are flocking to Sanya Bay Beach, as well as other top Hainan beaches; with everything from world-class resorts to incredible surfing, there’s something for everyone. Plus, there’s plenty to do when you need a break in the shade, from craft villages where you can experience local Hainanese culture, Buddhist temples and rain forest hiking in Yanoda.
Let’s see why locals and international beach lovers are setting their sights on Sanya.
Where Is Sanya?
Sanya is at the south end of the Hainan island province. The South China Sea is to the south. Sanya is surrounded on three sides by Lingshui County, Ledong County and Baoting County. It’s the only city in China where you’ll find beach and tropical rainforest at the same time.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Sanya?
The best time to hit the beach in Sanya is November to February, the driest time of year. Keep in mind, however, that this is high season for Chinese travelers, particularly over Chinese New Year. Consider anytime between September and April, for more flexibility. And as long as we’re being flexible, Sanya is really a lovely place to visit any time of year.
What Are the Top Beaches on Hainan Island?
Let’s start with this stunner on the south coast, just steps from the Sanya city center. Expect sun-loving crowds here – it’s best for those who like a lot of company during their beach day. The crowds dissipate at night, making it a nice place for a cool stroll and to watch (or join) dance parties on the beach. There’s fantastic dining, especially the seafood. On at least one of your days here, rent a bicycle and cruise along the Coconut Dream Corridor that follows Sanya Bay for about 12 miles.
Head east of popular Sanya Bay Beach and you’ll find crescent-shaped Yalong Bay, with more than 4 miles of toe-pleasing white sand and deliciously warm water. With lush rolling hills as a backdrop, this is one of the prettiest beaches in China. There are several luxury resorts here, but even so, the beach itself feels less crowded than others in the region. Snorkel, sunbathe, scuba dive or just sink into the laid-back vibe. Then, pop over to the central plaza for a fresh seafood lunch.
Step into a postcard-perfect scene at Dadonghai Beach, tucked between rolling green hills and just 2.4 miles southeast of Sanya. The locals love this beach – and that’s always a good indication. Rent a lounge chair or sun umbrella from a local shop, then head down the shaded boardwalk to find your spot on the sand. Don’t miss the local crab specialties at the beachside eateries.
This small fishing community on an island in Sanya Bay welcomes visitors to its semi-private paradise. Visit the historic fishing village, now a creative arts cultural center, with fantastic street art. Then, hit the beach for water sports and excellent snorkeling and diving – the waters allow visibility of up to 49 feet to view the colorful coral and marine life. Feel like staying? There are several basic homestay accommodations on the island, helping you fit right into the relaxed vibe.
Near quiet Tenghai village, Houhai Beach is where to go if you want to be (almost) alone. Surrounded by forested hills and offering a gorgeous golden-sand beach, this is where the local surfing community hangs out – the waves are excellent for beginners. Rent a kayak and set off in search of secluded coves for snorkeling or go hiking in the hills.
No matter what level of surfer you are, don’t miss Riyue Bay, considered the best surf beach in Hainan. It’s halfway between Sanya and Bo’ao on Hainan’s east coast. Beginners through experts bring their boards here for the pristine bay waters and consistent breaks. If you need gear, rent a surfboard and wetsuit from the beachside restaurant – they offer lessons, too. Depending on the time of year, you might be fortunate enough to witness a surfing or stand-up paddleboarding competition.
Feel the natural pull of the ocean on this wild stretch of coastline. Not far from Wanning City on the southeast coast of Hainan, the beach is surrounded by ancient evergreens and lined with affordably luxurious resorts. The World Tourism Organization has called Shimei Bay “the most beautiful unexploited bay in Hainan.” Get there now, while it’s still pristine.
Even when it’s just a 20-minute ferry ride, jetting out to a very special island in a crystal-clear bay feels exclusive. Live large here, enjoying white-sand beaches, one of the best-preserved coral reefs in China, a fantastic selection of seafood restaurants and bars, great hotels and more. The locals are definitely in the know on this one, so perhaps visit during the shoulder season.
Stay in town and walk just five minutes to this lovely strip of golden-sand beach where the Jiugu, Longgun and Wanqua rivers flow into the South China Sea. It’s a great place to swim because the currents aren’t that strong – and a super place to learn to kitesurf. Save room for lavish seafood dinners – the Sea Story restaurant is an experience unto itself, where you sit in old boats while you dine.
One of the five bays of Sanya, this is where to come for luxury beach accommodations. It’s quieter than most area beaches, giving it a more exclusive air. Plus, there’s the China Duty-Free Mall (the world’s largest of its kind). Visit the water village in Tielugan. And don’t miss fresh seafood at one of the floating restaurants in the Dan communities (where residents all live on boats).