A Quick Getaway from Taipei or Kaohsiung
Xiaoliuqiu Island is Taiwan’s only coral island off the southwestern coast of the main island. It is a perfect weekend getaway destination from Taipei or Kaohsiung.
Despite its tiny size and laid-back beach town vibes, there are so many fun things to do in Xiaoliuqiu, including swimming and snorkeling with turtles, diving, hiking, vibrant marine & wildlife tours, unique rock formations, etc.
Xiaoliuqiu (小琉球) is also known by many other names, such as Liuqiu, Little Liuqiu, Lambai Island, Xiao Liuqiu, Lamay Island, and Little Ryukyu. Like the island does not have enough nicknames, some people also like to call it mini Okinawa.
Unfortunately, the names are not the most confusing part. I had so many unanswered questions when planning a trip to Xiaoliuqiu. In this article, I will share all the helpful information you need that I wish someone has told me:
- Best Time to Visit Xiaoliuqiu
- How to Get to Xiaoliuqiu from Taipei or Kaohsiung
- How to Get around Xiaoliuqiu
- Where to Spot Green Turtles
- Best Beaches in Xiaoliuqiu
- Unmissable Xiaoliuqiu Eco Tours
- Three Caves in Xiaoliuqiu Worth Visiting
- Three Famous Rock Formations
- Where to Eat and Drink in Xiaoliuqiu
- Where to Stay in Xiaoliuqiu
Table of Contents
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>> Pssst! Heading to Taipei? Read my Taiwan Travel Tips with everything you need to know plan your perfect Taiwan trip. Also, see how you can add the city’s historical sites and glamorous old Taipei into your Taipei Itinerary and steal my unique Taipei day trip idea.
Oh, and don’t forget to taste Taiwan’s famous pineapple cake before you leave. Find out where you can find the best pineapple cake in Taipei.
Best Time to Visit Xiaoliuqiu
As Liuqiu is an island, the weather is critical in determining the best time/season for a visit.
Lambai Island in Southern Taiwan observes a tropical climate with warm temperatures almost all year round. May is the monsoon season. Just like the rest of Taiwan, summer is boiling hot with high humidity and occasional rains. Typhoons occasionally hit the island from July to September, which means no ferries. In winter, tides can be rough.
According to the local hotel staff I spoke with, the sweet spot is October. This is the down season as both summer vacation and typhoon seasons are over. And the water is still warm to swim or snorkel.
You can do your best to plan and minimize the risk of bad weather. But you never know. Check the weather as your scheduled date gets closer.
How to Get to Xiaoliuqiu
Taipei → Kaohsiung → Donggang Port → Xiaoliuqiu
Xiaoliuqiu is only a 30-minute away from Taiwan’s main island. Take a high-speed rail (THSR) from Taipei to Kaohsiung (Zuoying Station), which takes about 1.5 hours. At Zuoying Station, take the MRT red line to the last station, Siaogang. You can take a taxi or Uber to Donggang Port to catch a ferry to Xiaoliuqiu.
If you are coming from Kaohsiung’s central bus station or airport, you can also take a bus to Donggang Port on their way to Henghcun/Kenting. Find Guoguang, Chung Nan, or Pingtung bus companies. Note that you will need to walk about 10 minutes from Donggang Station to the ferry terminal.
Xiaoliuqiu Ferry Schedule
From Donggang Ferry Terminal, you can either take public or private ferries. The main difference is that they both leave Donggang but arrive at two different ports in Xiaoliuqiu. The public boats go to Dafu Fishing Harbor, whereas the private boats go to Baisha Port.
- Public Ferry: NT$200 (Round trip: NT$380) Donggang ⇄ Dafu Fishing Harbor
- Private Ferry: NT $230 (Round trip: NT $410) Donggang ⇄ Baisha Port
In my opinion, the difference between public and private is insignificant. Just choose one based on the operating time. Check the Xiaoliuqiu Ferry Schedule here.
- Ferries can get canceled at any time if the weather is not good.
- If you tend to get seasick, take medicine one hour before the departure. Even on a sunny day, the ride can be choppy.
- Heads-up: The ferries are enclosed—no window to open. No deck to go out.
- One alternative to Dramamine is dried sour plums. You can easily buy a pack at 7-Eleven in Taiwan. I don’t have a severe seasick, so I usually put them in my mouth for the entire ride, just in case.
>> Alert: There is a new yacht route from Dapeng bay to Xiaoliuqiu. You will sail on a fancy yacht with an open-air deck. If you are afraid of the seasick, I highly recommend this option. This upscale experience has competitive pricing with regular ferries.
Xiaoliuqiu Scooter Rentals
Like all the other Taiwan’s outlying islands, the best way to get around Xiaoliuqiu is by scooter.
Once you arrive at the port, you will see a bunch of scooter rental shops. Scooter rental costs about NT$250-400 for a day. Getting a scooter will require you to have an international (or Taiwan) driver’s license for motorcycles. Also, be aware that there is only one gas station on the island.
If you don’t have a license, you can opt for e-scooter or e-bike. E-scooters are more expensive to rent (about double the price of regular scooters) but more eco-friendly. (And you don’t have to look for a gas station.) Although they have lesser power than a regular one, Xiaoliuqiu is flat enough that you don’t have to worry about it. But e-scooter is appropriate for a single rider only.
As we can communicate in the local language, we did not need help. However, Xiaoliuqiu hotels and B&Bs (see your options below: “Where to Stay in Xiaoliuqiu”) typically offer to book ferry + scooter rental package. Ask about the pricing and requirements to see if it makes sense for you.
Insider Tip: As one of the fellow travelers suggests, Xiaoliuqiu does not have ATMs supporting international debit cards. Make sure you withdraw enough cash from Taipei or Kaohsiung before you leave.
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Swimming with Sea Turtles: Flower Vase Rock
Green turtles are native to the island. You will see the island’s mascot everywhere from the post box to souvenir shops. However, you do not only get to see them as plush toys in Xiaoliuqiu; you will get to swim next to them in the water. How magical is that?
The best place to swim with green turtles is the Flower Vase Rock. This rock is the iconic landmark (or seamark?) of Xiaoliuqiu. While the pebble beach surrounding the rock looks humble, underneath the surface is the natural habitat of green turtles. The rock covered in algae apparently attracts turtles.
Snorkeling with Turtles
One of the most popular activities in Xiaoliuqiu is snorkeling for the apparent reason. You don’t even need to go too deep. Once you get under the sea, you will see colorful tropical fish, rare coral reefs, and, most amazingly, green turtles swim by you!
If you already have snorkeling gears, you can bring yours and jump in the water. However, please note that the beaches on the island are not monitored by lifeguards.
I felt much safer to join a snorkeling group led by a professional. The group will hang onto a rope chained to a floating device. Instead of actively snorkeling, you will float on the water as the instructor leads to the spot and points out fish and turtles. S/he also takes underwater photos for you and turtles, so you don’t have to worry about bringing a waterproof camera! The snorkeling with turtles package also includes snorkeling gears, suits, shoes, and simple shower stations.
>> Read my complete Beach Packing List. Find out which snorkeling gear to buy and which to rent.
Be Mindful of Green Turtles and the Environment
Please be courteous travelers. Green turtles are endangered species. You are absolutely NOT allowed to touch or feed them. They will swim by you. I know it’s tempting but just look from a distance.
If you cannot resist the temptation, you will be amazed at how fast the Taiwanese authorities can react to arrest you. In 2019, a German teenager posted a photo of himself touching the turtle on social media. He got caught within 15 minutes of posting.
If I may suggest, please don’t wear sunscreen as it will leave chemical residue in the water. The snorkeling shops let you use their snorkeling suit and shoes, anyway.
The water is so clear that you can even see turtles from the Sea View Pavilion on top of the cliff.
Where to Spot Green Turtles in Xiaoliuqiu
For those who would rather see turtles outside of the water, you are in luck. The water around Xiaoliuqiu is so clear that you may spot them afar from Sea View Pavilion, next to the Beauty Cave. Also, many reported seeing turtles at Geban, ChungAu, and Secret Beaches (see the best beaches below).
>> Ok, so you don’t want to get wet but want to see turtles closer? Hop on a glass-bottom boat tour to see the exquisite coral, tropical fish, and green turtles. This excursion also takes you to the island’s rock formations, ancient temples, beaches, and caves – basically everything I recommended in this article.
Best Beaches in Xiaoliuqiu
Geban Bay (蛤板灣)
Geban Bay is the largest sand beach on the Southwestern side of the Xiao Liu Qiu Island. It is a shell sand beach composed of eroded coral reefs, and great for swimming and snorkeling. You can spot green turtles here.
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉 [Open Google Map]
ChungAu Beach (中澳沙灘)
ChungAu (or Zhong Ao) Beach is between Lobster Cave and Baisha Port on the Northeast side. It is a great place to go for water sports such as kayaking, paddling, etc.
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉三民路124號 [Open Google Map]
Sanfu Fishing Harbor (杉福漁港)
Sanfu Fishing Harbor is not necessarily a beach. But next to the boat docking area on the corner, you will see an area blocked with seawall. This area is safe and appropriate for children as the waves are quite calm thanks to seawall.
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉環島公路 [Open Google Map]
Secret Beach (秘密沙灘)
Secret Beach is not so secret. It is a small rocky beach with clean water. Many have reported spotting green turtles here.
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉忠孝路8號 [Open Google Map]
READ MORE | Want more beach vacation ideas? See 12 Best Beaches in Taiwan >>
Xiaoliuqiu Eco Tours
Your trip to Xiao Liu Qiu would not complete without going on nature trips offered by Liuqiu Tourism: Intertidal Zone Tour and Night Tour. Each tour is only NT$100 (roughly USD3). You can book through your hotel or Minsu.
Intertidal Zone Tour
The Intertidal Zone is where the land meets the sea. During the low tides, you can observe different aquatic lives native to the island. But because the tidal time changes each day, you will have to be flexible to participate. This tour is highly popular, so I recommend booking in advance.
We booked the tour through our hotel. Interestingly, the guide came over to our hotel with a bunch of people on scooters. We simply tagged along and drove our motorcycle to the Duziping area (肚仔坪). With many other groups, we all went into the intertidal zone together.
The guide had a magnified glass tray. She waded around the shallow water to find anything from sea stars to crabs, barnacles, sea urchins, algae, etc. She even let you hold them. Unfortunately, we got showered, and the tour got cut short as the low tide turned to high so quickly.
A few things to note:
- A guide only speaks Mandarin Chinese. Even if you don’t understand, you will still learn a lot by observing and touching sea creatures.
- You will get wet as you have to follow the guide into the water.
- I had non-slip water shoes on, which helped a lot to walk inside the rocky beach.
- Bring a waterproof phone case to protect your cell phone. (Or, invest in a waterproof camera.) It will get wet for sure. But who would not want to take a few snaps?
A nice guy selling some cooled drinks in front of the beach lets everyone use his bucket of water to wash our sandy feet. Out of appreciation, we bought a few bottles of algae drink. It had some interesting taste of ocean-y sweet flavor that I never had before. But I recommend trying it as this is unique to this area.
Night Ecology Tour
Another guided tour available is the night tour. Similar to the Intertial Zone Tour, a professional guide takes you to the Sanfu ecological zone. You can follow the guide to see local flora and fauna as s/he points out. You will enjoy hearing frogs and spotting birds. The tour may also take you to the vista point to view the illuminated Kaohsiung and Linyuan industrial areas.
I also participated in a similar tour on the Orchid Islands. It is quite a unique experience you don’t get to experience elsewhere.
Taiwan’s Paradise Island
Penghu is Taiwan’s popular summer vacation island. My Penghu Island Guide includes how to get to Penghu from the main island, things to do, the best local food and restaurants, and secret tips by the locals.
Coral Reef Rocks in XiaoLiuQiu
Riding a scooter along the Houshi Shore, you will find three unique coral rock formations in Xiaoliuqiu: Indian Rock, Rat Rock, and Guanyin Rock.
Indian Rock is my favorite, whoever named it! The rock is resembling the head of a Native American. Rat Rock is in front of the Indian Rock. But it looks more like a rat when you pass these rocks and turn around.
Three Caves in XiaoLiuQiu
Xiaoliuqiu Cave Entrance Fee: NT$120 for all three. You can buy it at any ticket office. Don’t throw it away as you can enter all three caves with the same ticket.
Black Devil Cave (烏鬼洞)
Black Devil Cave (also called Black Dwarf Cave) is a historical landmark with a sad story. The cave used to be the living space for some black slaves abandoned by the Dutch when they were forced out of Taiwan during the Ming Dynasty. The slaves survived on stolen food and treasures from the parked boats on the way to the Philippines. After they got caught, the sailing boat crew set fire in the cave to kill all of them.
We were allowed to walk through a narrow maze-like cave. But note that some part was a super tight space due to the collapse.
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉 [Open Google Map]
Beauty Cave (美人洞)
The legend has it, a ship got wrecked during the Ming Dynasty. A beautiful lady traveling with her father on the boat ended up on the shore of Xiao Liu Qiu. Separately from her father, she lived in this cave until her death. And the limestone cave became the Beauty Cave.
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉環島公路 [Open Google Map]
Lobster Cave (龍蝦洞)
Lobster Cave on the northeast of the island features potholes and ditches formed as a result of erosion by the sea. As the name suggests, you can see lobsters and sea turtles. I wasn’t as excited about this cave and skipped. However, this is one of three famous caves in Xiao Liu Qiu.
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉 [Open Google Map]
Explore Kaohsiung en route!
Xiaoliuqiu is a fantastic island to visit from Kaohsiung. My Kaohsiung Guide includes itinerary, things to eat & best restaurants, how to use public transport, best pineapple cakes & sweet souvenirs, and best milk tea shops & cafes.
XiaoLiuQiu Food & Night Life
Unfortunately, many of the local establishments on the island we enjoyed have permanently closed during the pandemics. MIMI Hamburger and the Owl Bar are examples. Hopefully, the recent boom in domestic travel helps to sustain the travel and tourism industry in Xiaoliuqiu. I recommend checking if my recommendations are still in business before you head over.
Donggang Huaqiao Seafood Market
Before you hop on a boat to Xiaoliuqiu, stop by Donggang Fish Market. This is a great spot to buy seafood. The seafood here is not only fresh but also much more affordable than Taipei or even Kaohsiung. You can bring seafood to a restaurant to cook for your liking.
If you are in a rush to catch a ferry, stop by after you came out of Xiaoliuqiu. It is pretty cool to eat at a corner restaurant with the sunset view over the Donggang River.
Many Taiwanese also buy seafood to bring home from this market. The vendors package it nicely in a styrofoam icebox.
Location: 928屏東縣東港鎮朝隆路39號 [Open Google Map]
Pin Shiuan (品軒在地風味小館)
Pin Shiuan (or Pin Xuan) is a decent Japanese Omakase restaurant. In case you are not familiar with Omakase, it is a chef’s selection menu. The chef creates a course meal with fresh daily catches according to your budget. (You can let him/her know your dietary preference.) You never know what you will get next, and that is the fun part!
I don’t remember exactly how much we spent on a 10-course meal. But surely you will get much better value here than in Taipei (or the USA). Every dish was yummy and creative. I had deep-fried fish roes for the first time, and it was uniquely delicious. Both the Big O and I enjoyed the friendly chat with the chef, which made the dining experience much better.
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉中山路一巷七號 [Open Google Map]
Dafu is an excellent lunch spot on the island. Despite its humble presence, this casual Taiwanese restaurant is widely popular by local Taiwanese. Try their fried rice, seafood noodles, and stir-fried squid. And their lamb dishes are also popular. Up for some Taiwanese surf and turf?
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉仁愛路104-8號 [Open Google Map]
5 O’clock BBQ (小琉球五點燒烤)
As the name suggests, this Seafood BBQ Grill opens at 5 p.m. Unfortunately, it was fully booked for two days we were on the island! We passed by on our way to the hotel, and it looked delicious! Although we failed to try, maybe you will have better luck.
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉復興路161-52號 [Open Google Map]
If snorkeling or swimming did not tire you out, you might want to check out the night scenes of the island. I wish there was a beach bar, but I could not find one. Instead, I noticed that all bars are clustered on the northern tip of the island on Sanmin Road.
Wave Bar is a decent bar with a resident Chocolate Labrador. The handsome guy wags his tails and welcomes you. Why would you not want to grab a drink with him?
Location: 929屏東縣琉球鄉三民路308號 [Open Google Map]
Where to Stay in Xiaoliuqiu
Xiaoliuqiu Island is only the 6.8-square-kilometer in size. If you ride a scooter around the island, you will be able to stop by all the main tourist sites for a half day. That is exactly what I did on my first visit as a day trip from Kaohsiung.
However, I had to miss all the fun activities, like snorkeling with green turtles or kayaking! So on our second visit, we decided to stay a couple of days on the island.
Don’t let its tiny size fool you. Especially if you want to enjoy water activities, I recommend staying one day or two on the island. You will get to enjoy the island so much better!
We stayed here and very much enjoyed its chill resort vibes. The property has a beautiful little garden area with sunbathing chairs, which are beautifully lit in the evening. The outdoor shower rooms equipped with a swimsuit dryer came in handy. We were able to take a full shower on the checkout day after coming back from an ocean excursion.
Mare Cielo [Compare rates on Booking, Agoda] is a marine-themed B&B with the white-washed curvy exterior and blue staircases resembling Santorini. The super clean rooms feature nautical decor, like a boat-shaped bed. This beautiful property with excellent reviews offers a plunge pool and terrace for guests.
Pin Shiuan Inn
Pin Shiuan Inn [Compare rates on Booking, Agoda] is Bed & Breakfast above the Pin Shiuan Japanese Restaurant I introduced earlier. Like the restaurant, the rooms feature a zen atmosphere: one with tatami-style futon beds and the other with a bed. It is a small B&B with only two rooms, so book in advance. And if you stay here, make sure to get the Omakase meal downstairs!
Su Beautiful Home Stay
If all of the above are booked, consider the other popular accommodations:
- Peekaboo [Compare rates on Booking, Agoda]: A modern B&B with spacious, stylish rooms
- Venice Seaview Hotel [Compare rates on Booking, Agoda]: A modern, spacious hotel with the ocean view.
- Happy House B&B [Compare rates on Booking, Agoda]: A cabin-like independent lodging
- Liuqiu Antique Tea House [Compare rates on Booking, Agoda]: A pet-friendly B&B with unique teahouse decor
- Ecotourism skim month B&B [Compare rates on Booking, Agoda]: A cozy family-run B&B in a quiet residential area