It's no surprise that giant pandas are at the top of most people's itinerary when they visit Chengdu. After all, Sichuan Province is the giant panda's natural habitat, and virtually all giant pandas in the world live in this region of China. Though pandas are no longer as critically endangered as they once were, they are still very carefully protected in China.
There are several options for seeing pandas if you're staying in Chengdu. If you're willing to drive about 1.5 hours, you can go to the further Dujiangyan Panda Center. This place is special because you can (for a hefty fee) hug a panda or even volunteer to become a panda keeper for the day. They recommended signing up early for the volunteer program, since there are only limited spots per day and spots sell out, especially during peak summer months.
If you're short on time, the most popular place to see pandas is at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, which is only a 45 min car ride from Chengdu's city center. You can't touch the pandas here, but you still get to see many different pandas at all different stages of life. We took a taxi early in the morning and arrived first thing in the morning (around 7:10AM for 7:30AM opening). To save time, our Chinese friend helped us pre-purchased our tickets online (~ $8 USD each). I believe there are some English language tour companies that also offer tickets online. I can't personally comment on those since we didn't try it ourselves.
Go early in the morning because that's when the pandas are most active. They eat in the morning while they mostly sleep in the afternoon. Depending on the weather, the pandas may either be indoors or outside. They don't like extreme heat, so if it's too hot out, they won't be roaming around outside as much. We came during August, so unfortunately most of the pandas were inside enclosed areas where we could only see them through a glass window. I heard that during the cooler months they come outside a lot more.
It's worth standing in line to see the baby pandas in the nursery. They are sooooo cute, and the photos really don't do it justice. It's also fun to watch the younger "teenager" pandas because they still like to move a lot more, and it's really cute to watch them.
If you're lucky, you might even get to see newborn panda babies, who are kept in incubators. Newborns are tiny and don't really show much black and white fur yet, though I could see it just starting to show.
The park is pretty big and there are multiple panda houses and outdoor areas where you can see pandas. There's a shuttle bus that goes between locations if you don't want to walk, but it's not a bad walk as long as it's not too crowded.
We spent about a morning (2-3 hours) there before finishing around 10:30AM (Yes, we came right at 7AM!). By the time we left, the park was quite packed full of people and looked a lot harder to navigate! I highly, highly recommend going early in the morning!
Only a marginally successful selfie with a panda. Yes, this was later in the morning when it was starting to get pretty crowded!
All in all, I highly recommend coming to see the pandas. It's pretty impossible to see so many pandas in one park anywhere else in the world. As long as you go early, you should have a relatively pleasant and not too crowded experience. The most popular areas are where the baby pandas are held. Lines can get a bit long there, but it's worth the wait!
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