How to get to Gulangyu Island in Xiamen, Fujian, China

Don’t you just hate it when you want to go somewhere or do something, then find out once you’re there, that you had to plan ahead because the process was much harder than you thought?

Gulangyu Island access is sort of like that.

Well fear not, for this guide will provide you with some in-depth details on how to actually get there.

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Gulangyu Island
Gulangyu is a small, car free, residential island on the west coast of Xiamen main island in Fujian Province in China. It is also a tourist attraction. The whole island is only around 2km2 and no cars are allowed on the island, so you need to get around by foot, or rent a buggy on the island.

Disclaimer: I didn’t get to go to the island this time, because it didn’t sound very exciting to me. However, I did find out how to get there (or at least the most of the process) as the process isn’t exactly straightforward.

Hurdle 1 – Visitor limits
Gulangyu has a daily limit of 30,000 tourists and you are strongly recommended to buy ferry tickets at least a day in advance. While you can buy them on the day and leave on the next ferry, there are several reasons to do this ahead of time. First, the process is a bit long and would thus reduce the amount of time you have on the island, unless you are staying there overnight at a hotel. Second, you’d have to turn up and get the next available ferry, and I haven’t figured out a way to check the time table remotely so you’d have to wait an indeterminate amount of time for the next ferry. Also, different ferry lines cost different amounts, the cheaper option might not be available at your chosen time.

Hurdle 2 – Getting tickets
I was told you can buy tickets online – but by online the sales person meant via WeChat, a Chinese messenger app that also has payment ability. Unfortunately, you can only use the payment facility if you have money in your WeChat wallet either by putting money in it, which requires a Chinese bank account and Chinese residential permit etc etc, or someone to send you money digitally.

How to get your tickets
Or, you can buy the tickets in person at the departure terminal. Tourists buy tickets at a separate place to residents, in order to convenience the residents of the island. To buy it in person, you need to get to the Xiamen international ferry terminal. To get to there, take a bus to “Xiamen Ferry wharf waiting hall number 2 bus stop” or 厦门轮渡码头2号厅轮渡站 xià mén lún dù mǎ tóu 2 hào tīng lún dù zhàn. Which bus you’d take here depends on your starting location. You can always get a cab too.

Children under 1.2 metres are free. Yes, this is a weird system but hey, I don’t make the rules. Each person is limited to 5 free child tickets, and you need to show the child’s ID.

There is a small bus depot there and a small visitor information desk. There are small toilets around the right hand side of the building (outside the building).

Xiamen Ferry wharf waiting hall number 2 bus stop 厦门轮渡码头2号厅轮渡站 xià mén lún dù mǎ tóu 2 hào tīng lún dù zhàn
Digital message board lest you know when the next buses are coming

Across the road is the esplanade along the sea, more (nicer looking) toilets and a ticket and information booth on the right hand side for residents. The ticket booth there only sells tickets to residents between the hours of 6:30am and 5:30pm. Outside of these hours, tourists can buy tickets but I did not find out what the ticket booth hours are. I heard from a local, it should be open 24 hours.

Once at the bus depot, take bus 51 on the same side (do not cross the road) to the last stop, about 10-15 minutes. The last stop is the Xiamen international ferry terminal. After getting off the bus, take the escalators on your left hand side up to the overhead bridge (or get the lift behind it), and you will see the large ferry terminal. Depending on the time of day, there might be a large number of tourists lining up at a passengers’ door to go inside to board a ferry. Enter the terminal through a normal door and follow the signs to the counter that sells ferry tickets to Gulangyu.

Last stop of bus 51, street level of the Xiamen International Ferry Terminal. Take lift, escalators or stairs up to footbridge.

The picture below shows the sign telling passengers where to go according to your destination. Gulangyu passengers are on the very left (left arrow), international passengers go straight ahead (middle arrow)

Look for this sign outside the terminal building
Ferry terminal hall

Chinese residents can buy train and ferry tickets from machines with their ID, tourists will have to get their tickets from a human.

To get to the ticketing desk for tourists, turn left after you enter the main hall and follow the signs. Look for signs that says “人工售票”. Can you see it in the picture above or below?

The teeny tiny ticket office sign you missed. Yes, the sign was annoyingly small.
Made it in one piece.
A picture of a random screen showing the next few ferries to Gulangyu, showing the price and departure time. I took this photo around 12pm.

Some things to note:
The terminal is quite large, like an airport terminal and there are toilets and restaurants. You can get an international ferry to and from Taiwan here, there is a dedicated gate for it as indicated by signage. Ferries timetable depend on the ferry you choose, and there are different prices.

Remember to factor in times getting to the terminal and waiting in queues. Treat it like a domestic flight. It takes the same amount of time for the bus 51 to get back to the Waiting Hall 2 depot.

The #51 bus goes in a one directional circle. On the way back to the Waiting Hall number 2 bus stop, it will pass the ticket booth for residents on the ocean side first, this is the second last stop for the cycle. It will then drive another 5 minutes or so in a large detour and go back to the Waiting Hall number 2 bus stop. You can get off at the resident’s ticket booth side and cross the road using the underground tunnel, which may be faster than waiting for the bus detour. There are escalators in the tunnel that operate between the hours of 7am and 9pm daily.

Escalators and stairs to underground tunnel to Waiting Hall 2 bus depot on ocean side

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