Giant pandas are considered one of China’s national treasures. Native to south-central China, these bears number less than 2,000 in the wild and, despite their few natural predators, continue to be classified as a vulnerable species. They continue to be at risk due to loss of habitat combined with the fact that they don’t reproduce quickly.

A “normal” reproductive rate is one offspring every two years, and female pandas are only fertile for 2-3 days a year. It’s no wonder so many early conservation efforts failed (for lack of species understanding).

In China there are 40 official panda reserves (compared to just 13 in 1998) and conservation efforts are thought to be working on the wild population. The Sichuan Panda Sanctuaries cover seven natural reserves, contain 70% of the world’s wild panda population, and were designated World Heritage Sites in 2006.

Also in the Sichuan province is the Chengdu Panda Base — a non-profit research and breeding facility founded in 1987. It began with just six giant pandas and has successfully seen more than 124 births (as of 2008). They opened for public visitation in 1993 to further educate the public. The base mimics the environment of wild pandas, having 96% green coverage.

There are currently over 100 pandas within the base. Their enclosures consist of large open-air spaces that make it feel a little less like a zoo and allow you the opportunity to observe the pandas as they play with each other, sleep, and, of course, eat.

Pandas are Chengdu Panda Base’s main concern, but they’re not the only animals they care for. You can also check out the red pandas, monkeys, and many species of endangered birds.

How to get there

The Chengdu Panda Base is located in a northern suburb of Chengdu, 10 kilometers from downtown. It’s about a 35-minute taxi ride, but it’s also easily accessed by public transportation. Check out detailed directions here.

What to consider

  • The best time to visit is between 9 and 10 AM during the panda’s active breakfast time (before 9 if you can manage it).
  • Visitor’s hours are from 7:30 AM to 6 PM.
  • Entry is ~$10 and is free for children under 4.3 feet in height.
  • The base can get crowded, but the further you move into the center the more the crowd disperses — it is possible to get away from the masses.
  • Close contact, taking pictures with pandas, and holding the young are currently prohibited.
  • The panda base is very large and you should plan 3 to 4 hours for your visit.
  • The pandas are very well looked after; it’s an overall positive experience.