Guides and Pack Animals

A group of European trekkers with guides



Guide or No Guide?
Language Barrier
Guide Pricing
Pack Animal Pricing
Gear and Food
Examples of Guiding Costs
Local Guide Services

Guide or No Guide?

Guide or No Guide?

Should you hire a guide? As a general rule we say yes (apart from urban walks).

The bald truth: most of the trekking routes on this website are not maintained as hiking trails. Local residents know the paths from start to finish. But the absence of trail signs and markers can leave outsiders to flounder. A guide will save you the trouble.

Hiring a guide is best practice for most trekkers. Good for the local economy as well as the safety and enjoyment of the visitor.

A few treks are so popular and (relatively) easy to follow, that few will need hire a guide. To include the following:

  • Jiaozi Snow Mountain
  • Niru Village to Colorful Waterfall
  • Tiger Leaping Gorge classic path
  • Xidang to Yubeng Village
  • Yubeng Village to Glacier Lake
  • Yubeng Village to Holy Waterfall

If you have experience camping and traveling independently, you might consider going without a guide. One skill to master is backcountry navigation, the ability to “stay found” and “get unlost” when necessary. Folks travelling on their own need carry auxiliary aids—compass, topographic maps and/or GPS with spare batteries—and know how to use them. Please review these notes concerning skills and gear by veteran trekking guide Adam Meckel. He delves into crucial matters that apply to backcountry travel throughout China.

Language Barrier

Language Barrier

If your mother tongue is English, you can always seek out a trekking agency with English-speaking guides. Likewise for other idioms whether French, German, Japanese, Korean, and etc. The alternative is local guides who speak only Chinese. Of course, a guide who speaks your mother tongue will cost signficantly more than one limited to Chinese.

In rural areas, many guides born before 1980 speak the local dialect, which can be a bit of a problem. Younger guides invariably speak the standard Mandarin that is taught in all schools.

It is not absolutely necessary to speak Chinese to hire a guide. Consider Haba Snow Mountain as an example. Many foreigners come to trek or climb and the local guest houses and guides have accommodated them for decades. There are probably no guides living in Haba Village who speak English beyond a few words. Yet they lead foreigners into the high country and even to the summit.

Installing a translation app on your phone will help greatly to overcome low proficiency in Chinese.

As a matter of interest, high mountain guides are called gaoshan xiangdao (高山向导).

Guide Pricing

Guide Pricing

Based on our experience across several areas of northwest Yunnan (Jade Dragon and Haba Snow Mountains, Lijiang, Shangri-La, Yubeng Village), guides generally charge 300-500 RMB per day, mostly at the middle to upper end of the range. These are local guides who speak only Chinese.

If the destination of a trek differs from the origination point (trek from point A to point B), the guide may request compensation to cover the additional time needed to return home. This sometimes includes an overnight stay. The additional fee may vary from 1 to 2 day’s wages or a fraction thereof.

Negotiating on price is worth a try especially for multi-day treks. If your trip involves shuttling by auto there may be an additional fee.

Payments for local guides and pack animals are by cash or WeChat. International credit cards are pretty much useless outside of cities. We don’t recommend trying this, but we once saw U.S. dollars accepted from a client who was short on Chinese cash

You can hire an English-speaking guide through a trekking agency but expect to pay double or triple the local rate, perhaps more. A guide who works out of a major city like Kunming, or who lives far from your trekking objective, might be required to contract with a local guide who will accompany both of you. This is standard practice to comply with guiding regulations and to maintain good relations with local communities.

Pack Animal Pricing

Pack Animal Pricing

The price of a mule or horse is 300-400 RMB per day, whether for riding or packing loads. This is based on our experience at Haba Snow Mountain and Yuhu Village near Lijiang. The price can be higher in areas that have seen recent increases in tourism. If an ordinary tourist spends 300 RMB to ride for a couple of hours, the full-day price paid by a trekker will naturally adjust higher.

For longer multi-day trips, the fee may include services of both the animal and the handler, the person who cares for and leads the mule or horse. A good deal if you can swing it.

Pack animal handlers are called mafu (马夫). Mafu usually walk rather than ride.

Gear and Food

Gear and Food

Unless you work with a full-service trekking agency that provides everything, it is best to supply your own food and equipment. Food for your trip purchased through a guest house can be expensive and not to your personal liking. Sleeping bags and tents can be rented for a fee in some localities, but watch out for low quality items. Take the time to set up your tent before you set off, to check for mismatched or broken poles or other defects.

Examples of Guiding Costs

Examples of Guiding Costs

Here are some examples of guiding fees for the area we are most familiar with, Haba Snow Mountain. Guide and mule charges have been updated to accord with current pricing

Itinerary: Two-day Haba Village to Black Lake trek

One client riding a mule, spending one night at Base Camp and providing personal trail food.

Guide 2 × 400 = 800
Riding mule 2 × 400 = 800
Pack mule 2 × 400 = 800
Nature reserve entrance fee 200
Base Camp lodging 150
Base Camp food 50

Total 2,800 RMB

Itinerary: Four-day trek from Haba Village to Qiaotou via Jizhi Pass

Four clients bringing their own hiking, camping and cooking equipment and food. One guide and two mules to carry gear. A third mule to carry fodder for the others as grazing is poor in mid-Autumn. Mafu (mule handler) provided at no extra charge. Four trekking days, with two days for the return of the guides and mules to Haba Village. In this case, the guide suggested half payment in advance, and half upon arrival in Qiaotou. The trekkers paid the full price in advance. They reached Qiaotou on the third day and presumably received a partial refund for the unused fourth day.

Guide 6 × 400 = 2,400
Mules 6 × 3 × 400 = 7,200

Total 9,600 RMB

Itinerary: Transport gear to Black Lake

Two clients ascending the Lanhua Meadow Route for a week-long stay at Black Lake. Two mules, one for gear, the other for riding. One client walks, the other rides. Mafu (mule handler) spends one night at the lake and descends to Haba Village on the second day.

Mafu 2 × 400 = 800
Mules 2 × 2 × 400 = 1,600

Total 2,400 RMB

After one week at the lake, payment of 400 RMB per mule for the one-day descent to Haba Village.

Local Guide Services

Local Guide Services

The following guest houses, individuals, and agencies provide trekking guide service and most can make arrangements for pack animals. They are located in Lijiang and Deqin Prefectures, the areas with which we are most familiar. The availability of English-speaking guides is noted.

Areas (south to north)
  • Lijiang
  • Yuhu Village
  • Tiger Leaping Gorge
  • Haba Village
  • Shangri-La
  • Yubeng Village

Lijiang (丽江)

Xintuo Ecotourism Company (丽江新拓生态旅游公司)
Manager: Lily Zhang (张文琼)
Phone: 139-8882-6672
English: yes

Yuhu Village (玉湖村)

To make connections with local guides, visit 63 Café which is located east off the main plaza in Yuhu Village. The owners, one of whom speaks English, run the adjacent Nguluko Guest House.

Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡)

Halfway Guest House (中途客栈)
Bendiwan Village (本地湾村)
Owner: Feng Defang (冯德芳)
Phone: 133-6884-4698
No English-speaking guides; owner Feng Defang speaks English

Luke’s Hostel (栌克旅舍)
Full Name: Ancient Luke Youth Hostel (古道栌克青年旅舍)
Walnut Garden Village (核桃园)
Owner: Zhao Yin (赵银)
Phone: 135-0887-9892
Website (may be offline):
English: no

Sean’s Spring Guest House (山泉客栈)
Walnut Garden Village (核桃园)
Owner: Xia Shan Quan “Sean” (夏山泉)
Phone: 158-9436-7846 or 158-9436-5138
English: yes

Haba Village (哈巴村)

Haba Snow Mountain Inn (哈巴雪山客栈)
Hamlet: Guluba (古鲁八)
Owners: He Shao Quan (和绍全) and Yang Xiulan (杨秀兰)
Phone: 139-8874-9869 or 139-8876-5396
No English-speaking guides; owner Yang Xiulan speaks some English

On the Clouds Inn of Haba (云上哈巴客栈)
Hamlet: Longwangbian (龙汪边)
Owner: Bao Da Ge (包大哥)
Phone: 139-8871-6224
English: no

Shangri-La (香格里拉)

Luo Sang Jiang Cuo (洛桑江措)
Phone: 139-8872-0928
WeChat: chen13988720928
Chinese and Tibetan: fluent
English: some

Yubeng Village (雨崩村)

To make connections with local guides, ask the staff at any guest house in Upper or Lower Yubeng Village.