We first saw Japanese macaques (also known as snow monkeys) on the BBC series Life. We loved the idea of their unique way of life. Centred around their habitat of natural hot springs. Though there is a darker side to this considering the monkeys in a troop of low status, left outside the hot spring to freeze during the winter time.
The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park offers an opportunity to see these animals in their natural habitat. Although be warned, getting here can be quite the trek and is worth devoting an overnight stay nearby.
It was surprisingly complicated to reach this park, and if you search online you will find loads of articles dedicated just to getting here and detailing the various options.
We had dedicated a night in Nagano for the sole purpose of getting up early the next day to head to the park. The park is just a 1 hour bus ride from central Nagano. This article from The Travel Mentor does an amazing job of detailing all the different ways to get here and the pros and cons of each way.
To summarise, the best way to get here from Nagano is to get the Snow Monkey 1-day pass. With this, take the express bus as early as you’re able to and hopefully time your trip well enough to get an express bus back. The train takes longer (and too many transport changes tends to lead to delays).
We were on a tight schedule as we had seats reserved on a Shinkansen to Tokyo that afternoon, so we had to be quite cautious of time. This is why we recommend spending a night. Doing it on a day trip from Tokyo or Nagoya means you really have to time everything perfectly and you’ll also be looking at 7 to 8 hours of transit time just to spend an hour or 2 in the park.
However, its still possible to do if you are committed to seeing them and don’t have the time to spend a night in order to do so.
One of the bonuses of visiting the park is the walk up the winding road to the entrance. The trail gets slippery in parts so decent shoes are recommended (The park itself also has some particularly slippery areas).
The trail is surrounded by woodlands and there are some onsens on the way. We didn’t stop at any, but if you had some time in the day it would surely be nice to spend a bit of time in one of these bath houses after you are done with the park.
The trail can be completed in 25–40 minutes, depending on your walking speed.
Finally, after your long journey full of complicated timetables and forest trekking you have arrived! Now you get the joy of watching the snow monkeys in their park.
The park itself is all centred around one hot spring that the majority of visitors group around with their cameras out. It can be hard to get in there and get a photo, so putting away the camera and just appreciating this unique moment is a good course of action.
The park itself is quite big, and has a few areas to explore, including a visitor centre that sells some nice souvenirs (all monkey themed of course).
There are other parts to explore in the park where you can see the snow monkeys. For example, there is a river that runs through the middle of the park that the monkeys relax and play around, and you will see them climbing up the steep rock walls.
We had a great time seeing the snow monkeys, but wish we had the option of arriving a little bit earlier so we could beat some of the crowds. Despite visiting during the low season, the park was still packed with visitors.
If you opt for the public transport and don’t mind a longer journey, you can catch the local train for most of the distance early in the morning.
You could also get a taxi or rent a car and be able to arrive when it first open. We think you would get a lot more out of it doing it this way.
Port Barton is a charming town to visit. The calmness and understated beauty of the area make it a great stop off point on the way to the more hectic destinations of Palawan, such as El Nido or Coron.