Just an hour’s flight from Hong Kong, and a couple of hours from most locations in mainland China, Sanya, on the touristy tip of Hainan Island, has been marketed as the “Hawaii of China.” Thanks to similar latitude to the U.S. paradise, the city also enjoys perennially sunny skies, warm temperatures (71 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit all year), an abundance of tropical fruits and long stretches of sand. Sanya still has a ways to go before it can formally compete with the idyllic American archipelago, but it does have many things going for it — here are five of our favorites.
Sanya Butterfly Valley
Often referred to as the “Butterfly Kingdom,” Hainan Island is home to the highest concentration of butterflies in China. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the Butterfly Valley near Longtan Lake — examine more than 2,000 specimens in the exhibition hall or catch a glimpse of rare butterfly species, like the state-protected Golden Kaiser-i-Hind, fluttering around an 18,083-square-foot ecological garden.
Banyan Tree Sanya Spa
Known for its elegant Thai sensibilities, the villa-only Banyan Tree Sanya is home to a sanctuary of a spa. At first it might feel like any humble spa reception, but don’t be fooled: The treatments here skyrocket past your expectations. Try the signature Rainforest Bliss experience, which is a hydrothermal journey that piques all of your senses. You’re led through a dark, cave-like labyrinth comprising eight different water treatments — including an herbal steam sauna, a dry sauna, two pools and a rain shower — all followed by a 60-minute massage. After your service, make your way to the beach bar and watch one of Sanya’s vibrant sunsets over Luhuitou Bay, aka Lovers Bay.
In 2014, Sanya unveiled its CDF Mall, a ridiculously large duty-free shopping center — the biggest in the world at 753,000 square feet — in the Haitang Bay area. When thinking of a megamall in China, your first instinct might be to run in the opposite direction, but CDF is an ultra-modern delight. Structurally, the building stuns with lots of natural light streaming through grids in the ceiling as well as several vortex-like structures. If you’re in the mood for a bit of luxury shopping, this is the place. You’ll find the newest collections from Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Rolex and many other big names in the fashion business — all tax-free. Do keep in mind, though, that you’ll have to pick up any purchases at the airport and the spending limit is RMB8,000 ($1,290).
Sofia Italian Restaurant
It might seem odd to suggest Italian food while you’re traveling through China, but when you need a break from the Guangdong flavors, Sofia at The Ritz-Carlton Sanya, Yalong Bay comes highly recommended. The chic establishment has indoor and outdoor dining options, with a romantic pavilion that’s perfect for couples. The food is equally as impressive: Pull up a chair and dine on fresh catches such as crispy calamari, Hainan red snapper or Il Merluzzo (cod with an almond crust). And don’t skip the wine cellar, which is stocked with a host of champagnes and an impressive list of new- and old-world vinos.
Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay Resort
The 207-unit Park Hyatt Sanya Sunny Bay Resort touched down in February and has already earned lots of fanfare thanks to its dramatic design, sky-high ceilings and hidden location. Though it’s a bit of a drive from the airport, the 45-minute trek rewards you with cliffside views and a private strip of sand away from all the other resorts in the Yalong Bay area. It doesn’t look like your typical beach resort, either: Slate-gray walls and “Shanghai red” accents feel more like a sophisticated Chinese mansion. The hotel’s long list of amenities includes a pool bar, spa and tea house. Still, our favorite feature is the 377-foot swimming pool, which is a dream for lap swimmers and sunbathers alike. As you’d expect from a Park Hyatt, the food is also first-class — don’t miss the wood-oven spicy lamb pizza at the natural light-filled Pool House — and the staff members go out of their way to help, whether you need to hire a car or borrow a yoga mat.