Tucked away in the remote reaches of China’s Yunnan Province lies the red earth terraces of Dongchuan. These rolling hills of copper red and vivid green sit under a boundless blue sky like a painting out of nature. Its signature brownish red soil comes from rich deposits of iron and copper. The warm and humid climate of the area slowly exposed the iron to oxidation over years to create the rust-red tint you see today. Locals terraced these hills to grow a variety of crops and complement the earthy red with splashes of budding green, earning the place the rightful nickname, “God’s palette”.
Long a well-kept secret
Dongchuan was unknown to the world for a very long time. But in the 1990’s Chinese photographers chanced upon the land and started publishing their photos to the public. The story goes that they tried to keep the place a secret as long as they could. But word eventually got out and more visitors finally started to make their way to the area to see the striking color palette for themselves.
A world preserved in time
Even with the influx of tourism, Dongchuan still preserves its pastoral lifestyle to this day. Farmers live by the planting seasons and you’ll find many examples of a bygone era as they pass by on horse drawn carts or herd goats and oxen along the roads. Most locals don’t speak English. Even China’s main dialect of Mandarin is rarely used in this area as most residents speak their own local dialect.
Best times of the year to make a visit
To get the most breathtaking views of the terraces, you’ll need to synchronize your visit with the seasons. May and June offer great views of the bare, red earth as the fields have been freshly ploughed and newly planted crops have yet to sprout. Potato flowers as well as wheat stems will both begin coming to life in the summer.
Between September and November, some of the red fields will be exposed again as they get turned over for new crops. Meanwhile, other parts of the fields will be covered in vast expanses of barley, wheat, and cole flowers.
A path less traveled
Located 250 kilometers northeast of the city of Kunming, Dongchuan’s remoteness could be one of its greatest strengths. Compared to other famous terraces in China, Dongchuan is more of a challenge to access and can’t boast as many housing and hotel facilities. For that reason, the few who do make it out to this richly painted landscape have described it as a true paradise on Earth.