When one thinks of tropical locales, Hainan Island is not often the first thing that springs to mind. Hawaii, the Caribbean, Fiji—that is where the mind treads. But Hainan Island, just off the southern coast of China, has everything one could want in a tropical vacation—balmy beaches, gentle winds and vegetation creeping along the serene shores. Of course, this is less of a surprise to most Chinese; many flock there during the harsh winter months.
Hainan Island China is very similar in many regards to Hawaii. The southern tip, the most popular locations for tourists, rests on nearly the same latitudinal lines, and they cater mainly towards large tour groups of their fellow countrymen escaping towards the sun. A restful collision of mountains and beaches is the main draw, and the addition of the island to a tour of China is an amazing departure from much of the rest of the country. Even during the winter, the temperature rarely drops below 65 degrees.
On Hainan Island China, most visitors start at one of the main urban areas. Haikou, the capital city, is not that especially popular with tourists, but since most travelers approach the island by ferry (originating in Hai'an), this is usually one's introduction to the island. The island is tourist driven, a resort-centered location, and Haikou, for what it lacks in things to do, definitely has some of the cheapest lodgings available in Hainan. The second biggest city on Hainan Island China is the resort town of Sanya. This is about the furthest south you can go, making it the most popular travel destination on the island. Or at least, the areas surrounding the city. Sanya itself is little more than a glorified fishing village, the largest city nearby what people really come to see, the beaches.
Yalong Bay is widely considered the finest beach on Hainan Island China. Just east of Sanya, it is one of the longest stretches of sand you will ever see, and is defined by the influx of nearby student population. Tianya Haijiao is probably second on the list, though it is definitely the furthest from Sanya. Dadonghai is where you'll end up, especially if you are part of a package tour. It is by far the most developed, whether you find this a positive or a negative is up to you. But even then it is not immensely crowded, despite offering little more than a wide string of hotels on its streets.
Other than Sanya, Hainan island offers a number of other cities of interest, especially for those not hitting the island for the beach scene. Tongzha is sleepy and significantly cooler, north of Sanya, up in the highlands. Hiking is key here, not sand. Xincun is another small fishing village, made popular by one of the biggest tourist attractions on Hainan: Monkey Island. Here live the Macaque monkeys, numbering in the thousands, and extremely tame. For a pocketful of peanuts, you can have a new best friend in one of these monkeys, as long as you don't touch them. The island is about a ten minute fairy ride from the city of Xincun. If you can, visit Monkey Island during the months of March and April, which is prime mating season, when the monkeys are significantly easier to spot, though what you see them doing might not make for the best photo ops.