I had never heard of “Tianmen Mountain”, but I had seen pictures of this famous rock with a hole in the middle, often called the “Gate of Heaven”, with a staircase in front.
It was only when we arrived in Zhangjiajie, China, that I looked up from inside the bus and saw a hole in the middle of the mountains.I went looking for it and was shocked to learn that I was next to that wonder without even having planned it!
What is the Mountain Tianmen
Originally there was a natural cave in the mountain, but its back collapsed and formed a hole.The mountain’s name was then changed to Tianmen, which means “Gate of Heaven”, to reflect this change.
What makes Tianmen Mountain is so incredible, in addition to the beautiful natural scenery, it is the tourist structure that the Chinese built around it.
To climb up to the 1280 meters of altitude of the mountain, you use nothing less than the largest cable car in the world, 7.5 km long!The degree of inclination of the ascent reaches 37 degrees, which is quite bizarre and scary.
The other option to go up is along a winding road, carved into the cliffs, with exactly 99 turns (and its name is 99 Curves Road!).
At the end of this road you come across a staircase with 999 steps leading up to that hole. immense (we’ll explain the meaning of 999 in a moment).
As if that weren’t enough, you can still go up, but this time it’s through a set of 7 escalators in tunnels inside the mountain.
But I managed to do it, I really enjoyed the tour and I’m going to leave you all the step-by-step here so you can also get to know this wonder of China.
Be sure to watch our videos (parts 1 and 2) over Tianmen Mountain:
If you are planning to travel to China, be sure to read our guides with essential information.We spent months in the country and gathered a lot of important tips:
And also read about some curious and cultural aspects that might shock you if you’re not prepared.Then don’t say I didn’t warn you:
Where Tianmen Mountain Is
Tianmen Mountain is located in a town called Zhangjiajie, in Hunan Province, in mainland China.
Click on a point on the map to see its legend
Hunan is one of the most interesting provinces in China.This is where you’ll find Fenghuang, the most beautiful city in the world, and Zhangjiajie Park, which inspired the setting for the movie Avatar.
You can reach Zhangjiajie by train, bus or plane.We came by bus after visiting Fenghuang.
To visit Tianmen Mountain, it is best to stay in Zhangjiajie city centre, which is the starting point for the cable car and the buses that go up the mountain.
For those on a budget, check out Xin Jian Guesthouse and Panda Hostel, both well located in Zhangjiajie City and highly rated by guests.
For maximum comfort, choose Xiao Wu Ding Inn or Qingshanyi Art Hotel, which are magnificent options for visiting Tianmen Mountain.
Tips for Visiting Tianmen Mountain
That Tianmen Mountain is amazing you’ve already learned from this post, but how to get to know it the best way possible?Some topics are essential for planning your tour:
- Book a full dayto explore Tianmen Mountain at your leisure.
- Get ready to walk , as well as going up and down many stairs.
- Choose the best timeto travel:
The ideal is to travel in autumn, between September and November, when the temperature is pleasant and it doesn’t rain, so there is not much fog spoiling the view from the viewpoints.
In summer there is no rain either, but in addition to the intense heat you will have to face crowds of Chinese and foreign tourists enjoying their vacation.It must be so beautiful to see the mountain all white, but the prospect of not being able to see anything is very discouraging.
But whatever time you’re in China, go visit it, because the place deserves it.
We traveled at the end of November and it was VERY cold at the top of Tianmen Mountain.We even saw a few flakes of snow falling, but the sky remained clear and fog-free both above and below us.
- Don’t forget your passport, which is required to buy a ticket and enter the mountain area.
- Plan your tourin advance.
If you are going to Zhangjiajie to visit Tianmen Mountain, be sure to dedicate at least 1 day (but preferably 2 or 3) to visit Zhangjiajie Park, the park that inspired the movie Avatar and it’s nearby.
We’ve written a very comprehensive guide (honestly, it’s the most comprehensive guide you can find on the internet) to visit Zhangjiajie Park without having to worry about it:
Our Tour of Tianmen Mountain
We leave our hotel at 7 am and we walked to the bTianmen Mountain ticket office.
We chose this time very early because Chinese people usually travel in groups and the seats fill up.This way we avoid queues to buy tickets and to board the flight to the top of the mountain.
Before buying the ticket, you need to decide between 3 options:
- A)Get on the cable car and get off the bus
- B) Get on the bus and get off the cable car
- C) Up and down by bus
If you choose option A, you will first visit the top of Tianmen Mountain (where the glass walkways are), then descend the 999 steps and only at the end will you have a view of the hole.
In option B, which I consider the best, you start the tour by going up the 999 steps towards the hole, then walk to the top of Tianmen Mountain and finish with the cable car going down, already exhausted from walking.
It took us a while to decide, mainly because of my fear of heights, but in the end we discovered that the cable car was undergoing maintenance duringall month, so only option C was available.
Thus, with option C, we started the tour by going up by bus and then facing the 999 steps towards the hole;we rode the entire top of Tianmen Mountain, including the glass walkways, and then went down the steps again to catch the bus.
The Normal ticket price is 255 Yuan per person, but due to the cable car not working, we paid 232 Yuan.
In less than half an hour we arrived at another bus and cable car station, where the official entrance to Tianmen Mountain is.
There, it was necessary to present a passport, ticket and pass our backpack through an X-ray, which is quite normal in China.
Once inside, we boarded another minibus and then finally started to climb the 99 Curves Road, called Tongtian.
The path is a little scary for those who are afraid of heights and narrow passages, as is my case.Feeling sick can also be easy for those who have this type of problem.
After a while I was able to relax thanks to the beautiful scenery outside.
If you pay attention, each turn has a small number plate, a little faded, but it’s there.
In about 20 minutes we reach the final stop, at the foot of the 999 steps and overlooking the Porta do Céu, the hole of the Tianmen Mountain.
The 999 Step Staircase
After taking lots of pictures of that amazing place we were in, with the curves of the road below us and the city in the background, we prepared to climb the 999 steps of the stairs.
At the very beginning of the stairs we find a very beautiful Buddhist censer with the Gate of Heaven and a waterfall in the background:
The 999, like 99, it is considered a sacred number in Buddhism.There are handrails everywhere and from time to time there is a side rest area.
The truth is that the ascent is very smooth, with plenty of space to rest and few people around.
Most people, especially the dozens of Chinese tourist groups, go up an escalator that goes inside the mountain and it goes to the top of the 999-step staircase.
I only recommend taking this escalator if you have trouble climbing stairs, because as much as 999 steps seem like a lot, the look is well worth it.
If you choose the escalator, there is a ticket office near the final stop of the bus where you pay 32 yuan to go up (the descent is not included).
The Escalator Inside Tianmen Mountain
Regardless of going up the 999 steps or taking the paid escalator, once you reach the hole you only have one option to reach the top of Tianmen Mountain: 7 flights of escalator through tunnels.
This ladder is included in the ticket price, as it is the only alternative to continue the tour.It’s pretty weird to think that you’re literally inside a mountain, but in the end it’s just a regular escalator.
It took us more than 10 minutes to climb it all (around, several photos of beautiful places in China) and we arrive at a courtyard.
This is the starting point to explore the top of Tianmen Mountain and the dreaded glass walkways in edge of the cliff.
We followed the signs pointing the way to the east.I decided to go for it right away, before I lost what little courage I had managed to muster.
To walk on the glass walkways, it is necessary to wear a fabric protection over your shoes, so as not to damage the glass. .
This fabric is available in various sizes and charges a fee of 5 yuan for its use at the entrance to each catwalk.
It was a crazy feeling to walk down that glass walkway and see the cliff under our feet, with the ground hundreds of meters below us.
The good news is that the part of the walkway closest to the stone wall is made of wood, not glass.Not that it makes much difference if it all decides to fall apart, but for those who are afraid it gives a certain relief.
We had a lot of laughs watching some people just walk along this piece of wood, clinging to the few tree branches that are there.I held on until I caught my breath.
If you don’t want to walk on any of those glass walkways (I understand!) , there is always an alternate path you can take a detour.
Some stretches go through the vegetation, but most of the circuit is covered by walkways hanging from the cliff face.These walkways are made of cement, not glass (phew!).
Following the signs, we arrive at a Buddhist temple originally built in 870 BC and recently renovated.
Not many people go to this temple because it is on the other side of the mountain, so we enjoyed the almost empty courtyard, with some people praying and Buddhist music playing.
Very beautiful to witness that on top of a mountain, although the temple building itself is not as impressive as others we’ve seen in China.
There we stopped to eat the snacks we had in our backpacks.There was also a restaurant that serves meals at a good price, if you don’t want to bring your own food.
At this point, you have the option of following the tour using a small cable car (ski seat type) to go up to the Yunmeng Peak, the highest point on the mountain.
These car seats cost 25 yuan and we don’t think it’s worth getting.As if I hadn’t gotten over my fear of heights enough, this bridge swayed with people running across it.
Then we also crossed a very long stretch of walkways (concrete) on the edge of the cliff.For me these were the most impressive ones, following the contours of the mountain and entering crevices.
Look at these walkways we passed:
On this stretch we also pass this glass deck for the bravest ones to take a picture (you have to face a line, of course):
Before reaching the main cable car station, we also pass another glass walkway, the Western Glass Bottom Cliffside Path.If you want, there’s yet another glass walkway (the Glass Plank Road in Coiling Dragon Cliff) a little further on.You can go to it and then come back to take the cable car, as it’s close by.
Or, if you still have the energy, walk a long way until you reach a wooden platform overlooking the other side of the Tianmen Mountain hole. .
As the cable car was deactivated, we still had to walk to the starting point of the tour, go down the 7 flights of escalator and the 999 steps all over again, and then take the bus back to the City.Phew!
In total, we spent 8 hours exploring Tianmen Mountain, counting from the time we bought the ticket until we arrived back in town.
The circuit we covered at the top of Tianmen Mountain is about 5km long, not counting the stairs.
We we guided ourselves using a map we got at the ticket office and an offline maps app called Maps.Me.
On Maps.Me we can calculate distances and routes, which is very useful when you have to decide which way to go .
As Google Maps doesn’t work in China, unless you have a VPN, we make maps of the cities we visit in the country available, with points of interest, for you to use offline.Click here to download.
If you don’t already know, in China all Google apps and tools are blocked, such as Gmail, Google Maps and Google Translate.
Not to mention Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, Whatsapp and many other sites and apps that you just won’t be able to use.
The way to avoid this problem is to install a VPN on your smartphone and laptop.
Express VPN works well, allows cancellation up to 30 days of use and even lets you connect 4 devices at a time.
Click here to download our maps and use offline.You can open these maps in many apps, but we recommend Maps.Me, which is what we used, and it works very well.
Just install Maps.Me, download our map and you’ll use it, and open with the app.
Travel Insurance for China
China is a very safe country, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be cautious.
One Travel insurance will help you in various situations, such as in case of accidents and even lost luggage, depending on the coverage you select.
A travel insurance in China will help you to overcome the language barrier in situations of need .And most importantly, you can take out insurance with COVID-19coverage!It makes traveling much easier that way.
We recommend the Seguros Promo website, where you can compare prices and coverage from several different brokers.And the price is much lower than we think when it comes to travel insurance.
We got a really cool partnership with this site from which our readers get a 5% discount on any purchase, and 5% more if you pay by bank slip.
Just use the coupon CAMINHOSMELEVEM and make the purchase using our link: Click here to see the plans available for China.
We’ve been doing Around the World since June/2016.Follow our blog and videos on YouTube.
How about making your next trip cheaper?We have several discounts with our partners, click hereto check them out.
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