Sichuan Province, 135km (84 miles) NW of Chengdu, 50km (31 miles) NW of Dujiang Yan

Established in 1963, Wolong isn't the only place to see giant pandas, nor is it the most convenient. (And erase any notion of observing pandas in the wild.) But scientists here have made more advances in artificial breeding and raising pandas in captivity than anywhere in the world. The Wolong Breeding Center currently has about 30 giant pandas ranging in age from newborn to adult, and it is almost always possible to see panda cubs here.

Another aspect of Wolong's appeal is location. Situated in the high, densely forested mountains between the Sichuan Basin and the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the area has a diverse topography that supports a broad range of vegetation and animal life -- not that you're likely to see any of the panthers, macaques, white-lipped deer, or takins purported to live on the reserve. Nonetheless, the area is unspoiled and the flora is magnificent (and much more apparent than the fauna). You also have the chance to climb a mountain sans stairs -- good news to some. The population is mostly Tibetan and Qiang farmers who work the fields and make and sell handicrafts.

The best months to visit are May, August, and September. Allow 2 days to see the sights; add another day or two if you want to hike the several marked trails.