How to Visit Turtle Island 龜山島, Taiwan’s only active volcano

Taiwan‘s mountains are pretty famous and it does get the occasional earthquake, but did you know that it still has an active volcano, and you can visit it quite easily? I love Taiwan’s offshore islands, but when I found out that Turtle Island or Guishandao 龜山島 is also its last active volcano, I knew I definitely needed to check it out. Here’s everything you need to know about how to visit Turtle Island.

Looking for more about Taiwan’s offshore Islands? Check out my time in Lyudao and Lanyu off the Eastern coast, or venture further to Kinmen.


Why visit Turtle Island?

Guishandao literally translates into ‘Turtle Hill Island’, which is a pretty straightforward descriptor about how this island looks like from certain angles. If you fly back to Singapore from Taipei and are seated on the left side window of the plane, you might be able to spot Turtle Island below you.

Here’s a zoomed-in shot that I managed to take after taking off from Taoyuan airport. You can see quite clearly the head, tail and shell of the turtle swimming away. You can even sort of see the different coloured waters near the head

Turtle Island is ostensibly the only active volcano in Taiwan (this news article says it may not be the only one now), though its last eruption was way back in 1785. Fishermen used to live there back in the day with a population of around 700 at its peak, but the last villagers were moved out to Toucheng in the 1970s. After that it was temporarily a military base and today, access is limited to the island – it is uninhabited and home to over 300 species of flora and fauna.

Guishandao Boat Approach
Turtle Island in the distance

I first wrote about my Turtle Island adventure in this post about cool things to do in Taiwan during the hot summer season.


What you can see on Turtle Island

Yuanyang Sea 鸳鸯海

The island isn’t far from the shoreline, but as my boat rounded the island towards the Turtle’s Head or Guishou 龜首*, the dark blue sea water suddenly turned a milky light blue colour, and the stench of rotten egg sulphur was in the air. This effect is what the Taiwanese called the Yuanyang sea and is the result of the cold seawater mixing with the hot spring waters emerging through the cracks in the seabed.

*Usually ‘head’ is translated as 頭 ‘tou’ but Guitou is kinduva slang for part of a male appendage that looks like a turtle’s head…

Guishandao Yuanyangsea boat
The colours aren’t due to the different water depths but the different waters mixing
Guishandao Yuanyangsea Pale
Here’s a section where it’s all pale water

Unfortunately, my tour didn’t include any dolphin or whale watching, but the best time to do that in Yilan is typically between April to October.

Guishandao Yanjing Caves
It’s not so well lit, but if you look closely there is a pair of round caves in the centre. These are called the Yanjing Caves or Spectacle Caves.

Visitor Centre

We hopped off the boat at the harbour near the tail and took a quick walk to the Visitor Centre nearby. That’s where you have toilets and a small shop where you can pick up food, drinks and some small souvenirs.

Guishandao Harbour Boats
Guishandao harbour with the turtle tail in the background
Guishandao Visitor Centre
Most of my tour group was Taiwanese folk all geared up for a good hike

Turtle Tail 神龜擺尾

On the way up to the 401 Peak, there’s a viewpoint where you can get a better view of the turtle tail or Guiwei 龜尾. The tail faces the mainland and is made up of rocks from the surrounding cliff face. It also ‘wags’ and apparently curves in different directions depending on the time of year and the prevailing waves.

Guishandao Turtle Tail
The wagging turtle tail (Guiwei) phenomenon is known as 神龜擺尾

401 Peak / 401 高地

Here’s something you might not know about the 401 Peak – located at the top of the turtle’s ‘shell’, the actual peak is only 398m high, but they built a watchtower that’s 3m high to make it 401m tall.

Guishandao 401 Peak From Boat
A look at the 401 Peak from the boat

You will need to climb a grand total of 1,706 concrete steps to reach the peak. The path is quite well maintained overall – seasoned climbers like the group of mountaineering-loving Taiwanese uncles in my tour group had no problem getting to the peak within an hour or less. Slowpokes like me took about 1.5 hours to make it to the top.

Mind you it was pretty damn hot on the day I climbed and all sorts of humid. I’m no mountain climber at all >_<

Guishandao 401 Peak start me
Somewhat cheerful at the start.
Guishandao 401 Peak Steps
Climb 1,706 of these to get to the top
Guishandao Sign Beware Animals
I was more paranoid about the insects than the snakes because these Xiaoheiwen are like sandflies – I got bitten by them pretty badly before all over my legs >_<
Guishandao 401 Peak Step Number
1,200 steps – just about 500 more steps to go!
Guishandao 401 Peak Top
The watchtower was a welcome sight at the top of the steps
Guishandao 401 Peak sign me
Tired but triumphant

I suggest pacing your climb as it can feel pretty steep at points, but it does pay to ascend as quickly as you can or you might end up with some unexpected fog that tends to cover the 401 Peak in the later part of the day. When I started climbing, the peak was clear and unobstructed but by the time I made it up, the fog had descended so I missed out on that spectacular 360 view of the yuanyang sea and the green stretch of the turtle’s head.

I was surrounded by a fog that refused to lift and could onlysee quick glimpses of the yuanyang sea view through the fog, which had apparently come down just a few minutes before I made it to the top. One of the nice mountaineering uncles kindly shared a video that he had taken earlier when the weather was still clear.

Guishandao 401 Peak foggy view
aaaaaaand this is what happens when the fog comes down and refuses to lift >_<
Guishandao 401 Peak head view
This is what I was supposed to be looking at, again thanks kind Uncle for sharing his video with me – this is one of their designated ‘must-see sights’ called 神龜戴帽 or Turtle Wearing a Hat.
Guishandao 401 Peak Uncle Me
Thanks Uncle!

After a bit, it was time to head back down that same flight of stairs. Definitely an easier task but no less taxing on your knees.


Old Village

The first recorded people living on Turtle Island were recorded in 1853, and at its peak the village saw 700 people in total. No one is allowed to stay here overnight these days, but you can still wander around the old stone houses. If you spot houses without roofs, that’s because they were thatched roofs that caved in after the people moved out.

We followed a path that looped around the Guiwei Reservoir 龜尾湖 – this is a brackish reservoir, a combination of sea and fresh water. There are lots of plaques that provide English and Chinese explanations about the history and flora/fauna on the island.

Guishandao Village
Wandering around with the tour group looking at the old village houses made of stone.
Guishandao Stone House
Something about old houses that just fall apart when people leave
Guishandao Building Me
Guishan Elementary School was the single school on the island
Guishandao Reservoir View
The Guiwei reservoir. There’s a smaller reservoir at the Guishou (turtle head)
Guishandao Bunker Entrance
島孤人不孤 – the island may be lonely but the people are not (I’m not sure if I’m translating that accurately)
Guishandao Bunker Gun
Military guns pointing out to sea. Sorry this shot is super overexposed
Guishandao Guanyin Statue
Guanyin overseeing things on the island
Guishandao Nanputuo Temple
The only temple on the island: the Guanyin Putuoyan Temple 普陀巖 because of the military personnel who were stationed here. Before that it was a Matsu temple (who protects the fishermen) and a Nezha one too
Guishandao Cold Spring
This natural cold spring supposedly has beautifying properties so you have to drink the naturally cold water and put it on your face

Finally it was time to leave – the boat headed straight for Wushi Harbour and reached at about 330pm.

Guishandao Boat Flag Behind
Bye bye Guishandao!

Lanyang Museum 蘭陽博物館

I recommend stopping over at the impressive looking Lanyang Museum located just by Wushi Harbour to learn more about the geography and culture of the surrounding area. The unusual shape is meant to call back to the mountains that border the Lanyang Plains that make up Yilan. In the event of Yilan’s rather unpredictable tendency to rain whenever, it’s a great place to hang out in for an hour or two and makes for some dramatic pix.

Yilan Lanyang Museum Reflection
It looks both like a mountain and that it has half sunk into the ground

The museum has explanations in English and Chinese and is both interesting and educational, with some large display dioramas like an actual fishing boat and a whale skeleton to wow you over 4 floors of exhibits. It explained some of the natural phenomena from Su’ao’s Cold Springs and Nanfang’ao‘s formation to the animals and plants found in the Yilan region as well as the aboriginal people who used to live in the area.

Yilan Lanyang Museum Boat Display
Fishing boats that used to be a common sight around the area
Yilan Lanyang Museum Turtle Island
Turtle Island from inside the museum

Address: No. 750, Section 3, Qingyun Road, Toucheng Township, Yilan County 261宜蘭縣頭城鎮青雲路三段750號. A full ticket (permanent + temporary exhibition) costs 130 NTD (S$6)


How to get to Turtle Island

Transportation

Turtle Island is located off the coast of northeastern Taiwan’s Yilan County, which is about an hour by coach from Taipei, though these normally stop at Yilan City or Luodong.

You will need to head up to Toucheng 頭城 located on the Northern tip of Yilan and find your way to Wushi Harbour 烏石港 to catch the boat to Turtle Island.

If you are coming directly from Taipei, you can get to Toucheng by:

  • Taking a train from Taipei Main Station to Wai’ao Station 外澳, and walking south along Wai’ao Beach to get to Wushi Harbour
  • Taking Kuokuang Intercity Bus #1877 from Nangang Exhibition Centre 南港展覽館 to Wushi Harbour

Tour needed

Turtle Island is only open to the public from 1 March to 30 November every year, 9am- 5pm. Summer season from June to August offers slightly extended hours 8.30am-5.30pm. Wednesdays are typically reserved for school and academic institution groups, and the island sees much more visitors on weekends, so pick a weekday to visit if you can.

Access is limited to Turtle Island – you need to get a special Island landing permit which must be applied at least 3 days in advance and limited to 100pax per day. Bring your passport with you for verification purposes.

The island tour I took was conducted in Chinese, most of my tour group was Taiwanese and pretty surprised that a Singaporean had somehow found her way into their midst. The tour basically involves following your tour leader around and listening to them on their loud microphone, and you aren’t allowed to wander around unattended.

How to book a Turtle Island tour

The easiest way for Singaporeans is to book through a site like Klook – they offer boat ride and island landing packages, as well as dolphin and whale watching experiences with prices ranging from around S$45-70. See more details here [klook affiliate link]

I booked a tour with Wushi Chuanqi 烏石傳奇號 through my Yilan guesthouse lady. My tour was a combination of Island Landing + 401 Peak Climb  – the 401 Peak climb requires an additional permit on top of the Guishandao island landing permit (with just 100pax allowed per day) and took most of the day, starting from about 9am and ending about 3.30pm. This tour cost me 1,500 NTD (~S$70).

Guishandao Wushi Harbour Boat
Boat to Turtle Island

You can check out the permit numbers available for each day on the government’s NEYC website and even make your own permit booking (if you manage to figure out all the things you have to click, I can read Chinese but man this was tricky even for me). Ultimately you still need to find a boat operator, so I recommend just booking a tour with one of the companies directly rather than trying to figure out the whole system yourself.

You could check out this other website which has some English but I don’t have personal experience with it

You can also make a booking down at Wushi Harbour, but it might be difficult to get a slot especially during high season, and you will unlikely be able to do an island landing if you book on the spot.


Have you been to Turtle Island? Check out other cool things you can do in Yilan, or see all my Taiwan posts for more.

If you love Taiwan’s offshore islands, check out some of the other islands that I have visited to date:

Apologies about the extreme tiltshift effect in some of the photos – I dropped my phone and my camera lens was pretty wonky, blurring out everything around the edges!

4 thoughts on “How to Visit Turtle Island 龜山島, Taiwan’s only active volcano”

  1. Absolutely gorgeous place. I went to Taipei, Sun Moon Lake , Jioufen, Taichung City as well couldn’t find time to visit Turtle island this time. Looks adventure and absolutely tempting information about the attraction and how to go there. Would it be convenient for 10 and 12 year kids as well ? Thanks for the post

    1. For Turtle Island’s 401 Peak I think if your kids can handle a steep climb it’ll be ok, otherwise just take the boat ride to look for dolphins/whales or maybe just the village tour would be sufficient :) Hope you have the chance to visit in future!

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