Watch Jigokudani's snow monkeys
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Ever seen those adorable photos of monkeys lounging in hot springs against a snowy backdrop? Those are Japan's famous snow monkeys, comfortably unwinding in the warm waters of Jigokudani Monkey Park. This park is located north of Nagano, in the heart of the Japanese Alps.
The Nagano Prefecture region has gained fame as a ski resort, thanks to its generous and long-lasting snowfalls. The landscape is a scenic mix of snow-capped mountain peaks, steam-spewing geysers, exciting ski trails, and charming villages with natural hot springs. These 'onsens', as they are known, offer baths filled with heated volcanic water. This makes a delightful tradition, especially during the frosty winter months. However, it's not just humans who enjoy these warm waters; the Japanese macaque monkeys are also big fans.
Visitors from all over the world come to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. This started when the park was opened in the 1960's. The macaques, who live here all year round, are friendly and there is no fence that separates them from their visitors. Yet the park management constantly points out that monkeys are wild animals.
How to get there
From Nagano a train departs several times a day to Shiba Onsen station. From there, it's just a short taxi ride to the park.
Where to stayIf you're planning to spend a few nights in the area, consider Aburaya Tousen. A great hotel if you're looking for a short break at an high class Japanese ryokan near the mountains. It is a great place to stay if you'd like to enjoy yourself in the foothills of the Japanese Alps.
Wonderful, soothing, and warm natural hot spring water in private open air baths. You have a private bath as well as you can use the public bath. The public onsen has a panoramic view over town and mountains which is just phenomenal. According to reviews on booking.com, it's a top-rated experience, with an average score of 9.1.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit the snow monkeys is in winter, especially in the months of November till March. During these winter months the temperature can drop to -7 degrees (32 degrees Fahrenheit). Bring good shoes because a meter of snow is not a rare phenomena. For more detailed climate information about Yamanouchi (Nagano), Japan, you can click here.