Silk Road Photography Tour

Silk Road Photography Tour

CETPH-03: 15-day Northwestern China photography tour

There are many ancient sites and relics along the China part of the Silk Road. The natural landscape is amazing as well. This itinerary brings you from Xi'an to Urumqi, and includes the most famous sites and scenery in each place. It is also a good chance for you to see the local culture and real life in northwestern China. If you are interested in the photography of Silk Road culture or the landscape of the Gobi desert, this is the route you are looking for.

Trip Highlights

  • Professional photography suggestions from the guide
  • Comfortable transportation time between cities
  • Diverse attractions and photography sites
  • Explore the depths in Dunhuang World Geo-park
Suitable For: Photographers, Photo Lovers

Full itinerary for Silk Road Photography Tour

Day 1
Xi'an Arrival

Arrive in Xi'an, meet your guide and driver at the exit of Xi'an Xianyang Airport (XIY) or Railway Station. You will be transferred to your hotel in downtown Xi'an. The rest of the day is on your own. As the start of the Ancient Silk Road, Xi'an is the best place to start your Silk Road photography trip.

Day 2
Xi'an: The ancient capital of China (breakfast & lunch)

The first stop in Xi'an must be the world famous Terracotta Warriors. Your guide and driver will pick you up from your hotel in the morning. After a 1 hour drive, you will arrive at the Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses. Over 7,000 warrior figures, 100 chariots, and 100 war horses have been unearthed. You will be amazed by the 'Eighth Wonder of the World'. A lunch will be arranged at a local restaurant.

The Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta Warriors


The Ancient City Wall of Xi'an has always been the must-see place for visitors. You can take good photos at the Gate Tower, Watchtower, Bell Tower and the City Moat. Your guide will bring you to all the best corners of the City Wall.

gate tower

Tower of Yongning South Gate

The Small Goose Pagoda is one of the 22 Silk Road relics located in China, and has a history of 1300 years. Go for a visit to this pagoda in the late afternoon, and you may learn more about the history of Xi'an and the Silk Road.

The Small Goose Pagoda

The Small Goose Pagoda


Recommended Activity at Night:
‘Tang-Dynasty Music and Dance Show’ and the Night view of Xi'an City Wall are the most recommended activities at night when you are staying in Xi'an.

dance show

Tang-Dynasty Music and Dance Show

Day 3
Xi'an: Mount Hua one day trip (breakfast & lunch)

The most well-known natural landscape photography destination around Xi’an must be Mount Hua. It is one of the five most famous mountains in China, and is a holy land of Taoism and famous for its steepness. We will take a cable car to the north peak of Mount Hua. There are still some steep steps to climb to the top of the mountain. Once you get to the top, you may take a panoramic view of the mountain peaks. The cliffs, narrow and steep steps, temples, and breathtaking views are great photographic resources.
Note: If you want to take photos of the sunrise and sunset at Mount Hua, you will have to stay overnight at one of the hotels on the mountain. Please consult your travel specialist about the detailed plan.


Mount Hua


Drive back to your hotel in downtown Xi’an. You may explore the Muslim Quarter to taste some local snacks by yourself in the rest of the day.


Mutton Kebabs

Day 4
Xi'an – Xining: Travel to the western part of China (breakfast & lunch)

Today, we are heading to the west of China to explore this vast land. Take a plane from Xi'an to Xining, the provincial capital of Qinghai Province.


Meet your guide and driver at Xining Airport and have lunch at a local restaurant in Xining.
In the afternoon, take a visit to the Qinghai Provincial Museum. It is the best place to learn the history and culture of western China.

Day 5
Xining: Qinghai Lake and Bird Island One Day Trip (breakfast & lunch)

In the early morning, your guide and driver will drive you to visit Bird Island at Qinghai Lake. Qinghai Lake is the largest inland lake and salt water lake in China (4,543 km2). From March to April every year, nearly 100,000 birds migrate to Bird Island. The birds will cover the sky and the sun when they fly. It is a major attraction of Qinghai Lake.

Bird Island

Bird Island


If the weather is fine, you will be amazed by the blue sky, clear lake water, variety of birds, and miles of Cole Flower fields.
Drive back to Xining in the late afternoon and arrive at your hotel at night.

Qinghai Lake

Qinghai Lake

Day 6
Xining – Zhangye: Travel into the Gobi desert area (breakfast & lunch)

This morning, you will take a 2 hour bullet train from Xining to Zhangye. Meet your guide and driver at the exit of Zhangye Railway Station. Then go for lunch at local restaurant.


After lunch, a visit to the Giant Buddha Temple is highly recommended. You will see the biggest indoor reclining Buddha statue in China, which is an important historical site on the Silk Road.
Stay overnight in Zhangye City and free time at night.

Giant Buddha

The Giant Buddha

Day 7
Zhangye – Jiayuguan: See the "Rainbow mountains" in Zhangye (breakfast & lunch)

You will be picked up from your hotel to Zhangye National Geo-park in the morning. The colorful Danxia landform (the "Rainbow mountains") has become the top attraction in Zhangye, since it has been ranked as one of the "six most beautiful landforms" in China by Chinese National Geography magazine in 2009.
Note: The best time to see the Danxia landform is just after rainy days. The rainwater makes the color more brilliant and bright. The viewing platform 4 is the best place to capture sunset and sunrise. The viewing platform 2 is best for panoramic shots.


After you have got enough photos at Zhangye National Geo-park, your driver will drive you to Jiayuguan City and stay overnight there.

Day 8
Jiayuguan: Visit the largest pass of the Great Wall (breakfast & lunch)

You will visit the Jiayuguan Pass as the first attraction today. As an important traffic artery of the ancient Silk Road, the pass was the best-preserved and most spectacular ancient military fortress along the Great Wall in the Ming dynasty. You will be surprised by the amazing pictures of the Gobi desert, the magnificent pass building and the ancient wall.
Lunch will be arranged at a local restaurant nearby.

Jiayuguan pass

Jiayuguan Pass


In the afternoon, we will go for a visit of the Overhanging Great Wall which is not far from the Jiayuguan Pass. It is the last section of the Great Wall before it joins Jiayuguan pass. Although it is located on the steep mountainside and hard to climb, you may enjoy trying your best to get to the top and taking some great photos.

the Overhanging Great Wall

The Overhanging Great Wall

Day 9
Jiayuguan – Dunhuang: Drive to the important town of the Silk Road (breakfast & lunch)

Travel from Jiayuguan City to Dunhuang City by car with your guide and driver. You will be amazed by the vast Gobi desert along the road, which is a big contrast with the east coast of China. You will arrive at Dunhuang City at noon.


After lunch and taking a break at your hotel, it is time to visit the Echo Sand Mountain & Crescent Lake. The blue sky, beautiful sand dunes and the green crescent-shaped lake make this area a perfect photography destination. It is also one of the must-see attractions along the Silk Road.
Note: It is worth spending some time to look for a perfect position and wait for the sunset. Your guide will assist you to find the photo spots. Moreover, you may also take some photos such as "Sand dunes and camels", "Crescent lake surrounded by sand dunes" or choose a highland to take the "panoramic photo of the area".


Echo Sand Mountain

Crescent Lake

Admire Crescent Lake from a Highland

Day 10
Dunhuang: Explore the historic sites and the natural "ghost city" (breakfast & lunch)

Today we are going to drive deep in the Gobi desert and see the amazing landscape in Dunhuang area. Firstly you will arrive at the Jade Gate Pass (Yumen Pass) and The Great Wall of Han-Dynasty. These two places are also important historical sites on the Silk Road. They bore witness to the rise and fall of the ancient Silk Road.

Yumen Pass

Yumen Pass

The Great Wall of Han-Dynasty

The Great Wall of Han-Dynasty


In the afternoon, you will see the magical Yardang landforms in Dunhuang World Geo-park, Yardang. This is the typical landform under such an extremely arid climate, mainly formed by the wind and water erosion during the past 100,000 years. The major landscapes of this area include mound-shaped, wall-shaped, tower-shaped and columnar Yardang landforms, which are very lifelike and have come to be known as the "ghost city" in western China.
Note: Different from the regular way to visit this Geo-park, we will arrange a private vehicle for you and your guide in the park so that you will be able to fully enjoy the creation of photography without the restrictions of the time and route.

Yardang landforms

Yardang Landforms

Day 11
Dunhuang – Turpan: Visit one of China's four greatest grottoes in Dunhuang (breakfast & lunch)

Before you leave Dunhuang, you have time to visit the most famous relic in the area, Mogao Grottoes. It was listed as a World Cultural Heritage site in 1987. It is the largest and the richest Buddhist art site in the world. The Buddhist wall paintings and sculptures are all national treasures. It is one of the most elaborate and exquisite sites along the Silk Road in China and you can't miss it.

Mogao Grottoes

Mogao Grottoes from the outside (No Photos Allowed from the inside)


After lunch, you will take bullet train from Dunhuang to Turpan in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Meet your guide and driver at Turpan Railway Station and stay overnight in Turpan.

Day 12
Turpan: The hottest city of China (breakfast & lunch)

Turpan was another important town on the ancient Silk Road. After breakfast, your guide and driver will pick you up and drive to the Jiaohe Ruins near Turpan. It became part of the Silk Road UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2014. The whole town is located atop a leaf-shaped plateau between two deep river valleys and has a history of over 2000 years. It is the best preserved and largest ancient city ruins all over China.

Jiaohe Ruins

Jiaohe Ruins


After lunch, the next stop is the Emin Suliman Minaret. This pagoda was built in 1777C.E. It is the tallest ancient pagoda in Xinjiang area and the only Islamic ancient pagoda in China. You will be attracted by its unique shape and history.

Emin Suliman Minaret

Emin Suliman Minaret

The last activity today is to see the Karez Irrigation System in Turpan. Due to the extremely arid climate, local people built this underground water tunnel system for their irrigation and daily life. You will learn how this system works and how to build it. It is a good opportunity to see some different lifestyles in Turpan.

Karez Irrigation System

Karez Irrigation System

Day 13
Turpan – Urumqi: Transfer from Turpan to Urumqi by car (breakfast & lunch)

Before you transfer to Urumqi, you have time to visit Turpan Museum. There are a variety of cultural and historical relics of the Silk Road. The mummies and fossils of ancient creatures are the most important treasures of the museum.


It takes about 3 hours to drive from Turpan to Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang.

Day 14
Urumqi: Geographic center of the Asian continent (breakfast & lunch)

Today you will see the beauty of Heavenly Lake at the Tianshan Mountain range. Tianshan Mountain was listed as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage in 2013 and the Heavenly Lake is the center of this scenic area. Snow-capped mountains, reflections, clear lake water and the green plants are good elements for your photography. The best seasons to visit the Heavenly Lake are summer and autumn.

Heavenly Lake

Heaven Lake of Tian Shan


Back to downtown Urumqi, you have time to walk around the Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar. This world’s largest bazaar is the best place to bring some local souvenirs from for your family and friends before you depart China.

Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar

Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar

Day 15
Urumqi Departure (breakfast)

Your guide and driver will pick you up from your hotel to Urumqi airport (URC). You will depart China from Urumqi to your next destination.

Featured Hotel

  Comfortable Deluxe
Xi'an Grand Noble Hotel Xi'an Wyndham Grand Xian South
Xining Enraton International Hotel Yinlong Hotel
Zhangye Tianyu International Hotel Zhangye Zhangye Hotel
Jiayuguan Holiday Plaza Hotel Jiayuguan Holiday Plaza Hotel Jiayuguan
Dunhuang Dunhuang Fuguo Hotel The Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel
Turpan Huozhou Hotel Huozhou Hotel
Urumqi Excemon Xinjiang Yilite Hotel Grand Mercure Urumqi Hualing

What's Included in the Tour Price?

  • Experienced photography guides, drivers and vehicles
  • Accommodations in each city
  • Entrance fees of all attractions as listed
  • Meals as listed
  • All domestic transportation fees between cities in China
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