Formerly known as Zhongdian, in 2001 the city was renamed to Shangri-La, after the mythical Himalayan utopia described by British author James Hilton. In the novel, Lost Horizon, the people here live in isolation from the outside world and are almost immortal, living years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly ageing. Today, this Shangri-La exhibits all the traits of Tibetan culture - barley cultivation, yaks, lamas, monasteries, butter tea and prayer flags - for a taste of the legendary region.
A short drive west of the city brings you to the Pudacuo National Park, with 20% of China's plant species and a third of its mammal and bird species, many of which are endangered, including the Black-necked cranes. North of the city is the beautiful Songzanlin Monastery, the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan, home to around 600 monks.