Over the last two decades, Taiwan has transformed into a cyclist's paradise, opening thousands of kilometers of interwoven bikeways through some of the island's most beautiful landscapes. The extensive new network of routes has earned the country many accolades, including a spot on Lonely Planet's 2012 Best Countries to Visit list and CNN Travel's top "Cycling Routes That'll Take Your Breath Away," and for good reason. By bike, visitors can cruise past hillsides painted with colorful flower farms, marvel at the geology of Taroko Gorge's marble walls, follow old rail lines through retired mining tunnels, cross thrill-inducing suspension bridges and sample sweet pineapple cakes from local farm stands.
The countless routes provide plenty of opportunities for individual exploration, but here are six of the most spectacular bikeways to fuel the imagination.
Sun Moon Lake
Sun Moon Lake is a scenic jewel embraced by mountains in the heart of Taiwan. The 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) cycling route winds up and down the hills around the largest lake in Taiwan. The three-hour loop provides stunning views, particularly at sunrise and sunset, and opportunities to stop and learn about local Thao aboriginal culture and the area's ecology.
Big Buddha Parkland is located on Bagua Mountain (or Baguashan) in Changhua, close to the city's downtown. The Big Buddha statue, Changhua's iconic landmark and one of the largest Buddha statues in the world, looks out over the city from its mountain perch. The hollow structure contains six floors where visitors can explore and learn about the life of Buddha. After admiring the massive construction and view, cyclists can hop on their bikes from the statue's base and explore the neighboring countryside.
Taroko National Park
Taroko Gorge, located within Taroko National Park, is one of Taiwan's most impressive natural wonders. Over millions of years, wind and water carved a spectacularly steep and rugged channel through the mountains, revealing towering white walls of marble. Casual cyclists can wind their way past waterfalls and through excavated stone tunnels while listening to the rushing current of the bright blue waters of the Liwu River.
Looking for a challenge? Try the "Taiwan King of the Mountain Challenge," a 105-kilometer (65-mile) cycling path through the Park that climbs from 0 to 3,275 meters (10,744 feet). The route was rated one of the world's most challenging cycling paths by the France-based publication Le Cycle.
The hillsides along this bike path on Chike Mountain explode into a sea of orange daylily blossoms from August through September. The area is famous for its flower farms, which cultivate the bloom for use in Taiwanese cuisine. Traditionally, the flowers are harvested before they fully open, and cyclists in this region will pass rooftops covered with petals set out to dry. As tourism picks up in the area, more farms are letting the flowers fully bloom and setting up local eateries where bikers can stop and sample the local specialty.
Fo Guang Shan
Cycling paths in this area lead to Fo Guang Shan, the headquarters of one of Taiwan's highest-profile religious institutions, and the largest Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. Several hundred outdoor Buddha statues adorn the outside of the temple structure, including one that towers over 118 feet tall. Inside, the Hall of the Great Hero is breathtaking. Here monks, nuns and visitors venerate the three imposing Buddhas of Amitabha, Sakyamuni and Bhasisajyaguru, while surrounded by almost 15,000 other wall-mounted Buddha figurines.
Taipei 101 & Xinyi District
Looking for an urban adventure? Xinyi, one of Taipei's most vibrant districts, buzzes with markets, cafes and dazzling displays of modern architecture. No building is more notable than the Taipei Financial Center, better known as Taipei 101. The building, a highlight of any meandering bike tour through the city, dominates the skyline, making it an easy destination from any starting point.
The 1,671-foot tower was at one point the tallest in the world and the first skyscraper to break the half-kilometer mark. The first four floors are filled with designer stores and high-end restaurants, but park your bike and head to the observatory on the 89th floor for sweeping, panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains – the perfect place to look out and pick which bikeway to explore next.