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Work at a renowned panda conservation center based in Chengdu and work alongside researchers to help care for the pandas. Your days will be filled with monitoring their behavior, preparing food, feeding the pandas, and cleaning their living spaces. When not working with the pandas, you’ll trek across the Four Girls Mountain, explore Chengdu, and spend a day hiking on the Great Wall of China.

Dates listed reflect travel time departing from and returning to the USA. International clients click here.

With our No-Stress Travel Policy, you cancel for any reason up until the day of travel, and escrow 100% of the program fees for up to two years from the cancellation date.

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Program Profile

Get to Know
Nature, Adventure, The Sights
Travel Component
Moderate Travel Involved

  • Day 1

    Departure Day

    After meeting and greeting your flight leader and the other students joining the Giant Panda Conservation Project in Los Angeles, it’s off to Beijing! This is an easy, non-stop ride across the Pacific – and most students find that after dinner and a movie, they’re able to manage dozing off to sleep for a while. So sit back, have a chat with your new friends, and enjoy the flight!

  • Day 2


    Arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport, where you will meet up with your program managers. Catch a chartered bus through downtown. 
Take in your first glimpses of China as you’re carried through the streets, especially Beijing’s distinctive old-meets-new architectural character. This multicultural metropolis is home to some 20 million people – one of the largest cities in the world. While Mandarin Chinese is the official national language here, nearly 300 other distinct languages are also spoken throughout the country’s 23 provinces. Welcome to China!

  • Day 3

    Beijing to Dujiangyan

    Rise early, grab your bags and catch a short flight to Chengdu. Welcome to Southwest China! Hop on a private bus that will take you to the Wolong Conservation and Education Center in Dujiangyan, less than two hours away.

 Once you arrive, you’ll check into your guesthouse and enjoy a traditional Chinese lunch. Meals here are served family style, so each day you’ll get to sample different Chinese dishes. This evening, we will head into Dujiangyan to explore the town and see the beautiful squares lit up at night.

  • Day 4 - 6

    On the first day, we head over to the conservation center for an introduction and quick orientation–It’s time to meet the pandas! Your guides will tour you around the facility, which is home to 50 to 70 pandas (depending on the time of the year). You will learn the background of this project and the goals of the conservation center. You’ll be fitted for your panda volunteer uniform and assigned to the pandas that you’ll be working with over the next four days.

    The daily itinerary at the Panda Conservation will be divided between direct interaction with the pandas and spending time with your group learning about general conservation topics, participating in in-depth discussions regarding the panda breeding program, and performing behavioral observations to learn how scientists conduct research at centers like this one.
While the daily and weekly itinerary will vary based on weather and other factors, you will usually enjoy a Chinese-style breakfast at your guesthouse (fruit, oatmeal, steamed bread, noodles, fried rice, or toast and jam). Your staff members will go over the day’s schedule and divide you into groups of three or four with the other students on your trip. Each group will be paired with specific pandas and researchers for your morning service work. A typical schedule might look like this:

    8:30-10 a.m. Clean the indoor and outdoor facilities that your group is assigned to, including sweeping up poop and/or bamboo leaves, picking up any uneaten bamboo stalks, and mopping the indoor facility.

    10-11 a.m. Read an article about conservation and participate in a group discussion on the topic.

    11-11:30 a.m. Prepare and weigh food provisions and feed your pandas.

    11:30-1:30 p.m. Take a lunch break at the restaurant, rest, and play some local games like mahjong, dou di zhu, and ping pong. You’ll be introduced to the intricacies of mahjong strategy and how to play your cards right in dou di zhu (which translates to “fight the landlord”). Spend time getting to know your traveling companions and trip leaders during lunch each day.

    1:30-2 p.m. Prepare and weigh food provisions and feed your pandas.

    2-3:30 p.m. Perform behavior observations on the panda of your choice.

    3:30-4 p.m. Prepare and weigh food provisions and feed your pandas.

    Your evening activities will differ every night, but depending on the weather and time of day. You may take a walk through the Dujiangyan National Forest Park to marvel at the unique flora and fauna of the area; explore the big city feel of Dujiangyan and enjoy some traditional Sichuan hotpot; visit Jiezi Old Town for some souvenir shopping; spend a relaxing evening by the river; or learn how to make classic Chinese dumplings!

    On the last day, you will return your volunteer uniform and badge as you prepare to say goodbye to your new friends at the conservation center. You will then have the the opportunity of a lifetime and be able to sit next to and hug a giant panda!!!*

    *This is an additional cost and not required but keep in mind that there are only two places in the world where this is possible, so you will have a truly unique chance to capture your love and adoration for the panda in this photo opportunity.

  • Day 7

    We will start the day hiking and enjoying Mount Qingcheng Park, which is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous Taoist mountains in China. Enjoy the overlook of the area you have called home for the past week. After lunch we will head to Yingxiu to learn about the earthquake that damaged the Sichuan Province in 2008. We will spend the night in Wolong, an area famous for being the natural habitat for Wild Pandas.

  • Day 8

    In the morning, we head toward Four Girls Mountain. Along the way, listen to the Chinese tale of how the mountain got its name and how pandas acquired their black eyes. Once you arrive, you’ll head to the national park that was founded in 1994. It is home to a diverse number of animals, many of them protected or endangered. The jaw dropping scenery is sure to be a treat as you hike around the different areas of the park. then head home for a good night’s rest after a full day of outdoor adventure.

  • Day 9

    It will take us all morning to head through mountains and valleys towards Danba Jiaju Tibetan Village. Once you reach Danba, you’ll meet your Tibetan homestay family. The drive will seem well worth your time when you see the beautiful mountains and hidden pagodas.

  • Day 10

    After breakfast, we have the day to relax and truly get to know Danba. There are beautiful walks around the homestay to enjoy and the locals are always excited to have foreigners come see their small village. In the evening, you will enjoy a large BBQ and learn some traditional Tibetan dances.

  • Day 11

    Hop on the bus to continue your journey to Ya’an. On the way, we will  stop in Luding City to view the Luding bridge – a suspension bridge built over the Dadu River during the Qing Dynasty. The Luding bridge,a historical landmark, was an important strategic location for the Red Army during the “Long March” of 1935.

  • Day 12

    Today, you’ll head back to Chengdu for a bit of sightseeing in town. Stroll through the People’s Park, a central area in Chengdu known for its warm and friendly inhabitants who welcome you to take part in their activities! Grab a partner and join the traditional Chinese dances or the more modern group dances to the sounds of Michael Jackson!  You may bump into locals playing badminton, practicing Tai Chi, or calligraphers writing beautiful characters on the ground with nothing more than a brush and water.  
In the evening, you’re in for a treat – attend a traditional Sichuan-style opera. No visit to Sichuan would be complete without a trip to the opera! This isn’t what you’d consider an opera in the Western sense. It’s part acrobatic show, part comedic relief, modern and traditional dance performances, and Chinese music all blended together in a wonderful artistic performance.

  • Day 13

    After breakfast, enjoy your last morning in the Sichuan Province before heading back to Beijing. Once in Beijing, you will be able to explore the local hutongs to shop for souvenirs before enjoying a Peking Duck dinner.

  • Day 14

    Get up early and head to a remote section of the Great Wall- away from the tourists and the cities. Enjoy hiking along this picturesque section of the Great Wall and your final evening in a local guesthouse.

  • Day 15

    After enjoying a last morning with your group, you’ll head to the airport and say goodbye to your new friends before you board the plane home or onwards to your next adventure! We hope you enjoyed your two weeks in wild China!

An Important Note About Schedule Changes

Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.

The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.

“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.

“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.

For more information, email china@rusticpathways.com

Program-Specific FAQs

  • The direct flight from Los Angeles to Beijing takes approximately 13 hours. The return flight to Los Angeles is a bit quicker, taking 12 hours. There is then a connecting from Beijing to Chengdu , which is approximately 4 hours.

  • Yes. All flights between China and the USA will have a flight leader starting when the fight leader meets the students at the airport in Los Angeles. The group will be received by their trip leaders in Beijing upon arrival.

  • YES. China requires a visa for all US citizens which students must obtain themselves before departure. Rustic Pathways will provide you with Information about obtaining your visa along with your acceptance letter, but cannot apply for your visa for you. If your stay in China is longer than 30 days, please contact our office for information regarding additional visa requirements. Students who are not traveling on a US passport should check online for their visa requirements.

  • The CPC Wolong Nature Reserve is about an hour from Chengdu. Both Chengdu and the Wolong Nature Reserve are in the Sichuan Province. Beijing is included on this trip and Beijing is in its own municipality.

  • Rustic Pathways does not make recommendations regarding immunizations. We strongly suggest that you consult with a travel doctor or your family physician for medical recommendations based on the area where the student will be traveling (as listed above). You can also check the Center for Disease Control website athttp://www.cdc.gov for more information.

  • Throughout Mainland Asia, Thursdays are our travel days. This allows you to connect to other programs in China as well as our programs in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, India, and Mongolia. While their flights to the starting destinations of connecting programs are often unescorted, they will be dropped off at the airport by their previous program leader and met at the arrival airport by their new program leader. While the countries are close together, depending on connection times and which program you would like to connect to, it can often take a half of day of travel to arrive at your next destination.

  • Pandas really like the cool and wet climates of the mountains, but the temperatures can vary greatly throughout the summer months. During the days, the weather can get quite warm (in the 90s) and we will remind the students to apply sunscreen and drink liberal amounts of water throughout the day. The summer is also the rainy season in China, so a waterproof jacket and/or umbrella are a must. When the rains come, the temperature also drops down quite significantly, so please bring a warm sweatshirt or jumper. While we travel through the wilds of China, the morning and evening temperatures will average around 50 F, so bring pants and a Spring/Fall hoodie with fleece.

  • This program does not include formal Chinese language instruction; however students will have multiple opportunities to practice Chinese with the locals and our Rustic Pathways staff members. Additionally, they will have the opportunity to practice their language skills with their Panda Master and develop a deeper bond with their animal supervisor to gain the answers to any questions they have about pandas themselves! If a student is looking to study Chinese when they come to China, we encourage them to check out our Language Immersion project, which they can connect before or after their experience at the Panda Conservation Center.

  • This program is not overly strenuous and anyone with a basic fitness level will be able to participate in the program. Related to the service, the physical aspects of the program are cleaning the cages by sweeping and mopping the facilities and carrying up to 15lbs. (7kgs.) of bamboo into the panda’s facilities. We will go on several walks throughout the trip and participants should be able to walk for 2-3 hours.

  • The majority of costs associated with the program are included on this trip including all activities not listed as optional, all food, lodging, transportation, and supervision of staff members throughout the program. Students should have extra allowance money if they wish to buy souvenirs, artwork and handicrafts from local artisans or additional snacks or sodas from the local grocery stores. Students should also bring extra money if they choose to participate in add-on activities that are not included in the trip costs.

    The opportunity to sit with a panda for a photograph is NOT included with the cost of this program. On most weeks of the program there will be the chance for students to pay a donation fee to sit with a panda for a photograph, but is dependent on numerous factors at the conservation center including weather, if there are pandas that are age-appropriate to sit with, and the health of the pandas at the time of your visit. Please see “add-on activities” costs for pricing information.

  • Please note that these add-on activities are subject to change. Occasionally Rustic Pathways staff identify new opportunities throughout the summer that we feel will enhance the student’s overall experience.

    **Sit with a panda for photos: $300. Please send your student with cash or a credit card (Visa or Mastercard) that is unlocked to be able to use in China.

    **The opportunity to sit with a panda for photos is at the discretion of the panda conservation center. At times, they will prohibit the activity because the pandas are not feeling well or there have been too many people that want to participate in the activity. Additionally, at times there will not be a choice to sit with either the under 1 year old pandas or the 1-2 year old pandas because there will not be pandas in the center available in that age group. ALL students will have the opportunity to hand feed the pandas in their indoor facilities through the volunteer program at no additional cost.

  • Most meals on this program are served family style with 6-8 dishes per table that all students and staff members will share. This allows students the opportunity to try many different dishes and local flavors while still selecting foods they are comfortable eating. While there are “odd” food choices in China, we typically stick with foods that are comfortable for all students, including basic chicken, beef, and pork dishes, and a variety of local fruits and vegetables in season.

  • Contrary to belief, China is not just about rice. In fact, Chinese people often ask you “Do you prefer noodles or rice”? Better yet, the Chinese cuisine is one of the most suitable for vegetarians. China’s vegetable dishes are plentiful and savory and spiciness can be increased or left out all together at a simple request. One thing we do ask is that students are forthright about their food allergies, often China will use a lot of cooking oil and home spices, thus it’s important for us to know what you can and cannot eat.

  • Students will be provided with bottled water throughout the duration of the program. While visiting the Panda Conservation Center, there are large water coolers available for refilling water bottles, and as we are a conservation project, we greatly encourage students to bring their own water bottle or to refill their plastic bottles while working at the Panda Center.
    Tap water will not be consumed on the program, but it is suitable for things like brushing your teeth.

  • For the duration of our time at the CPC Wolong Nature Reserve (the panda center), we will be staying in a hotel in Dujiangyan. We will be sharing double rooms where the sheets, towels, and pillows will be provided. The hotel has Western style toilets in each room and hot showers will be available.

    Once we head into the rural part of the Sichuan Mountains for our Wild China trip, please keep in mind that it is not abnormal for electricity or water to go out at various times. Problems are usually fixed within a couple of hours and these situations do not greatly affect our programs. With our time in the rural areas, we will have time for various nightly activities (mahjong, cards, watching a movie) and the lights will be out around 10:30 pm.

    We have arranged this program with nicer accommodations (with strong water pressure and nicer sleeping quarters) at the beginning and end of this program so that the students can recharge from their travels.

  • We will tell you straight up, public toilets in China can be frightening. If you can avoid going to bathrooms at gas stations or in heavily trafficked locations, there are often no problems. At your guesthouses all toilets will be Western-style and when eating in restaurants, the “squatters” are often clean and well-maintained. The bathroom issue is a sensitive one in China since most Chinese people prefer the squatters, believing less contact offers cleaner situations.

  • Actual numbers vary from week to week, but previous trips have averaged about 1 male for every three females on the program.

  • Rustic Pathways maintains a maximum ratio of 1 guide for every 7 students. There will be a mixture of staff on the program ensuring that we have at least one male and one female staff member as well as local Chinese staff members and non-local Chinese staff members. We also look for staff members with a background in biology, previous medical certifications, staff fluent in Mandarin and/or local Chinese knowledge, and previous experience working with high school students. Our guides go through a rigorous selection process including interviews with our program managers and a full background check before we determining the best candidates for the position.

  • Because the safety of our students is of critical importance, all of our non-local staff members are at the very least certified with First Aid and CPR training. Many of our guides are also qualified Wilderness First Responders, EMTs, Wilderness EMTs, or Life Guards. All programs also have a medical kit carried by staff members at all times to deal with basic medical needs and situations that arise on program.

  • Students should pack reasonably for this program and hopefully bring shirts or outfits that can be worn on more than one occasion. Students are able to hand wash and line-dry their clothes at our guesthouse, however, if they are doing laundry on rainy days, it will take several days for the moisture to evaporate completely from their clothes. At various times throughout the program, there may be opportunities to have somebody wash your clothing for you and it should be expected to be about $10 for a moderate amount of washing. Even if students give their clothing to be washed, it could be a couple day turn around since most places only use line-drying without use of electric dryers.

  • The internet connection in Dujiangyan (near the panda center) is very good. Students should be able to send out a quick email back home every few days if they wish, but Internet will not be strong enough to handle sending photos.

    Various international phone providers will work in China; however, there is not a consistent service or reliable network that you can use in the mountains. Additionally, Google, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram are blocked in China. You should not expect to use any of these sites for communication with the students while they are in China.

  • For questions specifically related to travel within China, including itineraries, dates, prices, optional activities, or flights, please contact the China Country Management at China@rusticpathways.com .

    For questions related to Rustic Pathways, paperwork, forms, signing up for a program, or any logistics before and after our programs, please email rustic@rusticpathways.com or call our office at 1-800-321-4353.

    For emergencies and situations while your student is on program, you will be provided with a 24-hour emergency contact phone number in your acceptance letter to utilize while your student it on program within China.

Carry-On Luggage

A small backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.

  • A small backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.
  • Passport
  • Chinese Visa
  • 2 Photocopies of passport
  • Wallet/money
  • Book and/or journal
  • Pen
  • Phone
  • Chargers
  • Camera
  • Ear plugs
  • Change of clothes
  • Reusable water bottle (Nalgene sized)
  • Medication
  • Snacks
  • Additional community service forms
  • Outlet power converter
  • Consent to Travel form
  • Rustic Pathways emergency contacts

Checked Luggage

A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal. A wheeled bag is suitable if it can be carried like a duffel bag over rough terrain.

Clothing Items

  • Underwear (12-14)
  • Socks (10)
  • T-Shirts with sleeves (7-10)
  • Long sleeved shirt (2-4)
  • Long Shorts (3-4)
  • Lightweight pants/capris (1-2)
  • Jeans (1)
  • Lightweight rain jacket
  • Pajamas (1)
  • Sneakers
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat


(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Face wash
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm w/sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Contacts
  • Contact solution
  • Foam earplugs
  • Personal med kit
  • Deodorant
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Wet wipes
  • Small packs of tissues
  • Razor/shaving cream


  • Flashlight/Headlamp w/ Extra Batteries
  • Watch or Clock with an Alarm
  • Bag for dirty clothes

Optional Items

  • Chinese phrasebook
  • Portable games (Bananagrams, cards, etc.)
  • Pictures of friends and family
  • Frisbee, Aerobee, football, etc.

Important Reminders

  • Domestic airlines in China have a checked bag weight limit of 20 kilos (about 44 lbs). If your bags weigh more than this, the airline may charge you an excess baggage fee for every kilo over the allowed limit. In past years, we have had students incur SIGNIFICANT charges for excess baggage.
  1. a

    Here is where you’ll start and end your adventure in China!

  2. b

    Work at the Wolong Panda Reserve; contributing to their conservation efforts of this endangered species.

  3. c
    Mount Qingcheng Park

    Visit Mount Qingcheng Park, which is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous Taoist mountains in China.

  4. d

    A Tibetan family will welcome you into their home tonight.

  5. e
    Heping Dafahui

    Spend time in this small Tibetan community in the mountains. Appreciate the beautiful scenery in this small Tibetan town.

  6. f
    Mount Siguniang

    Learn how the “Four Sisters” mountain got its name.

  7. g

    Spend some time sightseeing, stroll through the People’s Park, and attend a traditional Sichuan-style opera.