For a great road trip, cruise the Central Cross-Island Highway (the most spectacular mountain drive in this part of the world) from Taichung on the west coast to Hualien on the east coast. Along the way you’ll get a chance to see mist-covered valleys, vast bamboo forests, and Taroko Gorge, a mini-Grand Canyon of marble cliffs stretching more than 10 miles and cut by a white-water river.
Taiwan’s festival-of-the-month club includes dragon boat races, lion dances, and food fetes, but for sheer color Taipei’s Lantern Festival is matchless. Five days of activities (on the first full moon of the lunar calendar, usually in February) includes lantern-lit processions to temples throughout the city, along with dragon dances and folk art demonstrations. For a distinctive Taiwanese festival, make plans to attend a harvest festival celebrated by the island’s native aboriginal tribes. The largest, an elaborate spectacle of traditional costumes, music, and dance, is held by the Ami in the eastern Taiwan town of Hualien, in late summer.
Here’s a tip: Don’t think takeout, because dining out here is a way of life. If you are eager to sample dishes from around the island, schedule an August visit during Taipei’s Chinese Food Festival. Recipes follow the full range of traditional styles of mainland China, from the milder flavors of Peking and Canton to the fiery Szechuan concoctions, but Taiwan has developed its own cuisine, based largely on seafood and sauces drawn from Shanghai traditions. If it’s not festival time, don’t despair: Head for night markets in Taipei and other major cities, where you can taste-test your way amid stalls with everything from curios to clothes.