Taiwan Travel Guides
‘Made in Taiwan’ is often the first and only thing that comes to mind when mentioning this island nation situated off the central coast of mainland China. Yet Taiwan is a surprisingly colourful, vibrant and naturally scenic place well worth deeper exploration. Its reputation as an industrial powerhouse certainly holds true, but in recent years the economic emphasis has shifted more towards tourism as the nation has begun to showcase its cultural and natural highlights
The Portuguese called this island Formosa, which means ‘beautiful’, a title which is deserved. Taiwan may be a small island, but its interior is divided by a stunningly lush range of mountains which tower to nearly alpine conditions. All along its shores are dramatic seascapes, sandy beaches and charming coastal towns. In the foothills are ancient aboriginal tribes, while classic Chinese temples dot the landscape. Accommodation can be found in every tourist destination on the island, ranging from simple hotel rooms to luxurious resorts.
Balancing all this natural diversity is one of Asia’s most energetic and entertaining cities - Taipei. Tucked around the low hills at the northern end of the island, Taipei is the hub of Taiwan life, sporting some of the most creative Chinese cuisine on earth, boutique hotels and fashionable night spots. Towering above it all is the planet’s tallest building, the bamboo-inspired Taipei 101. Most of the top hotels, monuments, museums and performance venues are in the capital, making this city worth a few days of exploration.
Like the other satellite enclaves of Chinese culture, Taiwan is distinctly Chinese at heart. Yet its surface glimmers with a touch of Western enthusiasm. Clean cities, efficient transport and friendly residents make this island a great place to experience China in a uniquely Taiwanese way.
Taiwan’s ancient history remains a mystery, but scholars agree an indigenous Australasia culture once settled here. By the 15th century, people from the Chinese mainland had begun to migrate to the island. Soon after their arrival, however, the Europeans reached Taiwan and began efforts to colonise it. This sparked a long era of conflict, with control of Taiwan passing back and forth between the reigning powers of the day.
The Portuguese arrived in 1517, naming the land Ilha Formosa, meaning ‘beautiful island’. The Dutch were the next foreign power to invade, establishing their capital at the coastal town of Tainan in 1624. Just two years later, however, they lost the island to the Spanish, who were subsequently evicted by the Dutch again in 1641.
This wrestling match between European nations ended in the 1660s, when the Ming and Manchu dynasties removed the Dutch once and for all. These two Chinese powers didn’t want to share Taiwan, however, and the Manchus eventually drove out the Ming and gained full control over the island.
When China lost the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Taiwan was ceded to Japan. The Japanese helped improve Taiwan’s economy and educational institutions, but Taiwan returned to Chinese control when the Japanese were defeated in WWII. The island’s next political development came when the Communists took over China in 1949, forcing the president of the Kuomintang Nationalist Party to flee to Taiwan. Over a million Chinese fled to Taiwan during Mao’s reign, establishing the present demographics of Taiwan.
Taiwanese politics has since been divided between those who want independence and those who want reunification with China. This ongoing struggle has become a global issue, with the United States declaring they will defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. The Democratic Progressive Party has been in power since 2000 with a subdued agenda towards independence.
Taiwan may be a subtropical island, but it is one of those rare places that enjoys both snowy winters in the northern mountains and balmy temperatures year-round in the south. The climate in the mountains can be surprisingly chilly, even during the summer months of June to August. However, during the winter season from December through February, the peaks are often covered with snow.
Winter is the dry season in the north of Taiwan including in Taipei, where daytime temperatures drop as low as 19°C. In the capital, temperatures reach a hot and humid average of 33°C during the sticky summer months, when rain appears almost daily.
Summer is also typhoon season in Taiwan, particularly between June and October. Keep an eye on the daily weather if you travel during this time. In the southern part of Taiwan, the weather is reliably warm with sunny days most of the year. There is essentially no cold season in the south. The island’s weather is known for changing quickly, so always go out prepared with a raincoat or warm clothing when in the mountains.