A 2024 Guide to Xiao Liuqiu – Taiwan’s Answer to the Maldives (Yes, Really!)

Sun, Sea, Sand and TURTLES. Here’s Everything You Need to Know for Visiting Xiao Liuqiu from Taiwan

Xiao Liuqiu goes by many names.

Xiao Liuqiu (小琉球; Xiǎo liúqiú) which we use predominantly in this article translates to ‘Little Liuqiu’. It may also just be referred to as ‘Liuqiu 琉球’, Samagi, Lamay, Lambai, or ‘Ryuku’, as in the Japanese Ryukyu islands (i.e. Okinawa!). 

👉 See below in the FAQs why it’s called Xiao Liuqiu! 

If you know anything about Okinawa, you’ll be thinking of tropical paradise islands. 

That’s what Xiao Liuqiu has to offer. 12km in circumference (I know because I ran it) of beautiful turquoise blue waters, white sands, and sea turtles. Over 800 of those, actually (not that I counted).

It’s Taiwan’s only coral island and therefore very popular amongst domestic and international and tourists alike.

There are a total of 38 temples (making it the largest concentration of temples in Taiwan), 8 villages, and 13,000 permanent residents. As tourism picked up here, the island has been receiving over 400,000 visitors annually since 2004. 

Honestly, it’s popular for a good reason. I ended up staying an extra two days here because I fell in love with the place. The pace is slow, the people are lovely, the sea is warm and the turtles a-plenty. 

Can’t ask for much more, right? 

Chapter 1: Xiao Liuqiu History

Chapter 2: Xiao Liuqiu Location

Chapter 3: When to Visit Xiao Liuqiu

Chapter 4: How to Get Around Xiao Liuqiu

Chapter 5: What to Do on Xiao Liuqiu

Chapter 6: Best Beaches on Xiao Liuqiu

Chapter 7: Best Snorkelling on Xiao Liuqiu

Chaoter 8: Sea Turtles in Xiao Liuqiu

Chapter 9: What to Eat & Drink in Xiao Liuqiu

Chapter 10: Diving in Xiao Liuqiu

Chapter 11: Xiao Liuqiu NEED TO KNOW

Chapter 12: Xiao Liuqiu FAQs

Xiao Liuqiu History 

First off, let’s take a look at Xiao Liuqiu’s history and learn a bit more about this island you may never have heard of… but will definitely want to visit by the time you’ve finished reading all about it!

Let’s go back to 1622 when a Dutch ship was shipwrecked on Xiao Liuqiu and the locals massacred the crew.

But the bloodshed didn’t stop there! In 1631, another Dutch boat (this time a yacht) was shipwrecked and, again, massacred. 

This time, the Dutch stepped in.

An expedition in 1633 went to Xiao Liuqiu but undermanned, they didn’t get much done apart from learning that the islanders had the habit of retreating to a cave when there was trouble.  The Dutch used this to their advantage when they visited again in 1636 with more men, soldiers, and Han Chinese, in order to trap them in the cave and then set a fire there, emitting poisonous gas for 8 days straight. 

Grim stuff. 

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Around 300 people died, and 300 people survived. Those who survived were sent to slavery. 

By 1645, the entire island was cleared out of the indigenous people when a Han merchant rented the island from the Dutch and removed the remaining 13 people. 

In the Qing Dynasty in 1775, a Mr Lee Yue reached the island from his hometown Kaohsiung. During this time, it was part of Fujian province in Mainland China. Now, Kaohsiung is a major hub in southern Taiwan.

Want to study Mandarin Chinese in Kaohsiung? Check out our courses here!

Originally, heading over to Xiao Liuqiu to evade the storms, he ended up staying there and loving everything the place had to offer. It seems he tried to build up his own little empire as he brought over 20 other ‘Lee’ families. Well, they didn’t seem to mind and all loved their new lives at Xiao Liu Qiu; and the sun, sea, sand, and fish it brought! 

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Xiao Liuqiu Location 

Where is Xiao Liuqiu? And… how do you get to Xiao Liuqiu?

Well, both are good questions! Xiao Liuqiu is actually located just 30 minutes from mainland of Taiwan. On a clear day, you can see right to the mainland and even buildings in Kaoshiung!

It’s located just South of Kaohsiung in Pingtung county. The only way to access it is by ferry from Donggang. There are public and private ferries, at least once an hour or so from around 7 am to around 5 or 6 pm. 

You can purchase either a return or a single on the ferry to Xiao Liuqiu. A return works out slightly cheaper, and you can use it for 7 days – so it’s a pretty good deal. 

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NOTE: There are TWO ferry ports on Xiao Liuqiu; one south and one at the main port area. Private companies Dongliu (東琉), Taifu (泰富), and Lanbai (藍白) all go to Baisha. Public ferries (cheaper and run less often) go to Dafu ferry port, which is in the South of the island. 

If you’re just arriving, it’s best to go to Baisha Port as you might need to rent out bikes etc and it’s the main area of Xiao Liuqiu so it’ll help you get your bearings! 

When to Visit Xiao Liuqiu

One of the few places in Taiwan you can always visit. I went in November and highly recommend coming around this time (and mid-week if possible) due to the lack of people.

In fact, that’s one of my biggest tips here. The weekend and mid-week are totally different at Xiao Liuqiu since it is a very very popular weekend getaway. 

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How to Get Around Xiao Liuqiu

The best way to get around Xiaoliuqiu is by scooter or electric bike. If you haven’t got a local license or international driving permit, you’ll only be able to get a 50cc electric bike. It’s fine – you won’t need to get anywhere too fast really and most of the roads are absolutely fine with it, although some hills are a slow struggle! 

Helmets are pretty lax as you’ll see, but it’s always wise to wear one! Make sure the company give you one when you hire out your scooter. 

You could also get the local bus – the Google Maps times are pretty accurate. But it might get quite inconvenient after a while. 

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Walking… is possible.

It’s a 12km circuit. But there are hills and it will be hot. Plus, you will be stopping a lot on the way so it would probably be an all-day walk to see everything. From one end of the island to the other (furthest to furthest tip) it’s probably around 1hr walk.

Cycling is possible too – but there were enough hills here to put me off it.

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What to Do on Xiao Liuqiu 

Where to go in Xiao Liuqiu? We’re glad you asked! 

Let’s go over the top sites in Xiao Liuqiu. 

Vase Rock 花瓶石

The most iconic site of Xiao Liuqiu and just a short trip from the main Baisha ferry port, you absolutely cannot and should not miss it!

It’s basically a big rock made up of coral jutting out from the sea… maybe in the shape of a vase?

It’s a site in itself, but it would be a shame if you didn’t stop here for some time to go for a snorkel (see below).

Shanfu Fishing Harbour 杉福漁港

This is a popular kayaking spot in Xiao Liuqiu but if you’re not going kayaking, why not stop off here for a look? The harbour is formed naturally by the coral rocks that run along it and is one of the island’s three fishing ports. 

There is also a small beach nearby where you can swim! Win-win. 

Walk the Wild Boar Trench Trail 山豬溝

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Probably one of my favourite things to do here and I was genuinely surprised by how nice it was to visit.

You can spend up to an hour here getting lost in the trails through the lush jungle and towering banyan trees. There are several paths along this trail and I would really recommend going to all of them and getting a bit lost.

There are benches and viewpoints along the way, and explanations on the different trees (Chinese only). Even if you’re alone, you won’t feel it with the constant jungle sounds going on all around you. 

If you only have a short amount of time, make sure to go up to the top viewing platform (just keep going up) for a great sea view. 

Visit Black Devil Cave 烏鬼洞風景區

Another must-visit and top site of Xiao Liuqiu (I’m probably going to say this for most things), the Black Devil Cave is a cave with an interesting history… 

There are various stories (like the one in the history above), but another legend has it that slaves were abandoned on the island here by the Dutch and were later found and then massacred. 

You can just have a little peek inside or if you’re brave, try and squeeze through the narrow passage out to the other side (it’s possible!). 

But… that’s not all this place has to offer. Actually, it would be a shame just to visit this cave right at the start. Again, you could probably spend an hour here if you were to do it slowly.

There is a trail carved through the coral that goes almost down to sea level. The path is literally caved out in the coral, you really have to bend your head sometimes and go through narrow passages, or passages where water spurts right up in front of you.

This is a really beautiful trail that people miss out on! 

Walk the Sanfu Ecological Path 杉褔生態廊道

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An old military bunker, it’s quite cool to stop off here. Plus there is a gorgeous view of the sea at the top.

Walk through the passageway and down into the bunkers… A bit creepy by yourself but otherwise very cool. You’re likely to run into some swallows nesting there. 

Catch the Sunrise at the Sunrise Platform

The best time to catch the sunrise on Xiao Liuqiu is about 30 minutes before the sun is set to rise. At this time, it might still be pitch black but in just a few minutes the sky will be lit up with pinks, reds, and oranges.  Get some breakfast beforehand if you can and enjoy it at the platform. 

The sunrises can be amazing in Xiao Liuqiu – I got up three times just to see them! 

Catch the Sunset at Sunset Galley 落日亭

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One of the best places to catch the sunset due to its location, obviously it gets crowded. But it’s worth it for a visit! You can also go around the viewing platform and onto the coral cliffs (be careful!) if you want a more peaceful experience. 

Watch out on the sharp coral, though! 

Run Around Xiao Liuqiu 

At just over 12km, the island circuit makes a lovely running route for those who like to run and can do 10km or more.

There are a few challenging bits with hills, but it’s not *too* much of an incline and really not too bad. You get some killer views if going around sunset or sunrise. You will want to go early or late to avoid the midday sun. 

White Lighthouse 白燈塔

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OK – this one isn’t a MUST do on Xiao Liuqiu but if you have time or if you’re passing, there’s no reason not to visit.

A small 11.6 meters tall lighthouse that you can walk around. You can’t go in, but it’s quite cute for pictures!

And right next to it is… 

The Century-Old Banyan! 

Of course, a temple next to this one too. This 100-year-old Banyan tree stretches out over the temple area creating a nice shady umbrella. Keep walking behind the temple and up what definitely doesn’t look like a path, and you’ll find a beautiful view of Secret Beach and the reef below. 

Lobster Cave 龍蝦洞

One of my favourite places to visit. 

It’s important to note that there are two bits to see here. First is Lobster Cave. You have to climb down (over the coral and with a rope) to get right down to the cave. You can’t swim in it since the waves are too strong but very cool to climb down and see. 

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Next, don’t miss out on going to the beach here!

Apparently, you can climb over the coral at Lobster Cave to get to it, but I decided to take the safe route and drive down. It’s left at the entrance to the Lobster Cave road, then just basically keep driving straight on until you can turn right, taking you down to one of the biggest beaches! 

🥽 Snorkelling is some of the best here.

Even if you wade out a little and walk towards the coral reef break, you will be able to see tons of sea turtles popping their heads up. I stood for about 15 minutes and saw more than four turtles! That’s before I even go in the water! 

Ecological Wetlands

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A nice 10-minute short walk through the natural wetlands site.

You’ll find turtles here as well as various birds and other wildlife. Not a must-do, but good if you’re looking to escape the crowds or if you want something a bit different. 

Very beautiful at night as it is lit up! 

Biyun Temple

One of the nicest temples on the island, this one is massive and conveniently located right in the middle of the island. You could consider visiting here whilst taking a walk at the wetlands since they’re in the same spot.

Baisha Village

The best places for scooter rentals, cafes, restaurants, dive shops, etc etc. This is the main village on the island and where everything goes on. From here you can also walk to a few popular sites. It’s worth a short walk around at least!

It’s also got some great bars here!

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Best Beaches on Xiao Liuqiu

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Honestly, Xiao Liuqiu is so small (and the beaches are too) that I’d recommend you to visit all of these.

Even if you want to relax and take it slowly, 30 mins – 2 hours at each of these is enough 

Plus, you can make up your own mind on your favourite beach in Xiao Liuqiu! (I think I settled on Lobster Cave for mine because it’s so big!)

Secret Beach 厚石魚澳

Secret Beach in Xiao Liuqiu is very much not a secret beach.

Maybe it was a secret one day, but the secret of this beach’s beauty is out.

It’s not amazingly big; it’s actually among the smallest. But the swimming here is perfect. See below for what we have to say on the best spots for snorkelling!

If you’re looking for a place to spend more time in the water and less time on the sand, Secret Beach is perfect for you! 

Zhongao Beach 中澳沙灘

Xiao Liuqiu’s largest beach and located right next to the port. Perfect to visit if you’re only here for the day and don’t want to go too far!

Beauty Cave 美人洞

One of the best and most popular activities here is this beauty cave – or rather, a set of caves and trails to follow.

You buy one ticket for the four different sites here and get them stamped off as you go. It’s worth the cost and you can spend some time here exploring the different caves, holes, trails etc.

Beauty Beach 美人沙灘

Not a very big beach in Xiao Liuqiu but again, one that is great for snorkelling and sunbathing. When I went here, the waves were pretty strong so the snorkelling was an effort, and getting out behind the coral reef break was a bit tricky – but worth it! 

It also seems like a great beach in Xiao Liuqiu for kids because it’s quite shallow at first with ample of space to play in.

Conveniently, it’s located in the whole ‘beauty’ area (Beauty Cave etc) and on the track you’ll be following, so it’s silly to not at least take a look.

If you walk around the coral edges to the left, you will come across a deserted army bunker too, as well as a platform looking out to see. Pretty cool!

Geban Bay/Venice Beach (蛤板灣)

Geban Bay or Venice Beach is a super popular beach. It’s not amazingly big (only 100m long) so it can get quite crowded on the weekend. Plus, it’s a great beach to watch the sunset so in the evening expect a LOT of people.

Nevertheless, it’s popular for a reason. White sands and crystal clear waters. 

Note: Venice Beach is how it will appear for you on Google Maps! There is a sign at the top of the road saying that no cars are allowed… but most people tend to ignore this. So you could ignore the warnings and save yourself the 5-minute walk down if you fancied. There is also a temple at the bottom of this walk and at the beach area. 

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Best Snorkelling on Xiao Liuqiu 

There are SO many spots for snorkelling and everyone seems to have their own opinion on this. Plus, it depends on the day, if you’re lucky with the weather and if a lot of fish and turtles are about. 

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What I can say, is that I snorkelled (by myself) at Vase Rock, Lobster Cave, Beauty Beach, and Secret Beach.

I loved them all, but probably Lobster Cave and Secret Beach more. Lobster Cave provides a much bigger beach. I saw way more turtles at Lobster Cave too, but the people who told me about Lobster Cave said they say many more at Vase Rock. So… depends

At Secret Beach, the sea was super calm. I love deeper water and coral and I felt Secret Beach gave a really nice experience where the sea is deep but there is a lot of coral to explore, and you can walk out through a nice little area – so there is no battling the wave break to get out into the open ocean.

However, at Secret Beach, I only saw 2 turtles on a 30-minute snorkelling trip – and found the current pulling me quite strongly out so. Swings and roundabouts! 

If you do want to go snorkelling but don’t know where to go, ask your hotel or a dive shop. They will try to convince you to go on a tour and say it’s dangerous etc… if you are confident in your swimming, it’s generally OK to go alone – and then you are free to enjoy the waters all to yourself! 

Sea Turtles in Xiao Liuqiu

I didn’t believe anyone when they said this but you are almost 100% guaranteed to see at least one sea turtle. You can even see them from the harbour or looking down onto the ocean as they come up for air. They’re honestly everywhere. 

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Literally… to the point at which I was worried I was STANDING on some accidentally and literally almost got knocked into two of them as the waves were pushing me and I got caught in the shallows between them. 

They are truly everywhere. Just looking out to a calm sea, you will be able to see them come up for air. 

There are over 800 sea turtles in total on this small 12km circumference island so… You’ll see some! 

Make sure to stay at least 5 meters away and do NOT touch them as they are a protected species

What to Eat & Drink in Xiao Liuqiu 

Surprise surprise, seafood wins this one! 

Whilst it can be more expensive than regular food in Taiwan, it’s still cheap for what it is. And you’re in the right place for some of the freshest fish around! If you get a chance, try some fresh bluefin tuna sashimi or some fish soup or BBQ. 

Xiao Liuqiu actually has two craft beers; so if you’re after an alcoholic beverage, then definitely try out one of these! 

Otherwise, make sure to drink plenty of water (yes mum…). It gets very hot and humid on Xiao Liuqiu – make sure you’re getting enough liquids in you (bubble tea works too!)

Genuinely, I read about an Iranian ice cream place on so many blogs on Xiao Liuqiu. I never intended to visit and I wondered what Iranian ice cream had to do with Xiao Liuqiu – well, I don’t know about that – but you actually do HAVE to visit this place.

It is some of the best ice cream I’ve had… ever. 

DIVING in Xiao Liuqiu

There are so many dive shops in Xiao Liuqiu – you’ll see a LOT of people going diving. It’s one of THE things to do here.

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You can also learn to dive here as many of the companies offer PADI courses.

Whether you *need* to dive here is a different story. Of course, if you love diving and have the cash – it’s a great place. There is so much coral and so many sea turtles to be seen!

But if you’re short on cash or short on time, then don’t worry if you miss out on diving this time. You see the best of what Xiao Liuqiu’s underwater has to offer just by snorkelling!

Xiao Liuqiu NEED TO KNOW

💳 There are no ATMs on the island that accept foreign cards. Yes, even at 7-11. Take all the cash you need, or use your Taiwan bank account. 

🛵 Rent a scooter and get an international driver’s license if you can. 

💸 If you have your own scooter, you’ll save a lot by bringing it to the island. 

🦟There are a LOT of mosquitos on Xiao Liuqiu. Bring repellant; or regret it. 

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Some places close early, fill up early etc. Make sure to plan in advance as much as possible.

🌎The islanders encourage the use of reef-safe, eco-friendly sunscreen. 

🐢 DO NOT touch the sea turtles. They’re protected. Not only is it not cool to bother them, but it’s also illegal and you will be fined. 

🥽 Most companies will try to tell you you need a guide to go snorkelling. Honestly. I think this is because a lot of Taiwanese are not the strongest swimmers. If you are confident with your swimming ability, it should be fine. I went out by myself multiple times. If in doubt, wait for a group of snorkelers and follow behind…! 

Xiao Liuqiu FAQs

Why is it called Xiao Liuqiu?

Liuqiu is the same character as Okinawa; in order to distinguish it from Okinawa in Chinese, Xiao is added at the front! 

How to get to Xiao Liuqiu? 

A ferry from Dongguan port is the only way. To get here, it’s easiest from Pingtung or Kaohsiung. 

How long should I stay at Xiao Liuqiu?

If you can only get one day off work; one day is enough. You can visit all the main sites in around 3 hours. If you have longer, you can easily spend 3-4 days soaking in all Xiao Liuqiu has to offer.

When is the best time to visit Xiao Liuqiu?

Autumn and spring are the best seasons to visit the island. We’d also recommend heading to the island midweek to avoid any crowds!

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