Formosa is what the Portuguese called Taiwan when they came here in the 16th century and saw the verdant beauty of the island.
Taiwan lies off the southeast coast of the Asian Continent, where the tropical and subtropical zones come together. Surrounded by the sea and dominated by high mountains created by tectonic action over the eons, the country features a full range of climates and terrains from the tropical to the frigid. The variations in weather, geology, and elevation give Taiwan an unparalleled richness of flora and fauna, including many endemic species that are found nowhere else in the world. Taiwan is, in fact, a northern-hemisphere microcosm and natural treasure house that, truly, must be seen to be believed.
During the age of discovery in the 16th century, Western sailors arrived in the Far East to set up colonies and conduct trade.
As Taiwan was located at the conjunction of the East Asia and the ocean, as well as being where the Northeast Asian waters meet the Southeast waters, it became the focus of the Western powers that were operating in East Asian waters at the time.
In the first half of the 17th Century, the Dutch established a presence at Anping (in modern-day Tainan city). They conducted missionary activities, trade and the production of various goods. They also recruited many Han Chinese immigrants from the China coast, leading to a multicultural history of Taiwan. The number of Han Chinese immigrants in Taiwan steadily increased during the short-lived Cheng (Koxinga) regime and Qing period over the next 200 years, creating a primarily Han society in Taiwan.
In the late 19th century, the wave of imperialism touched the shores of Taiwan. The island became a colony of Japan and remained under Japanese rule for 50 years, during which time it evolved from a traditional society into a modern society. At the end of World War II in 1945, Taiwan was liberated from colonial rule. Since then, the island has experienced an economic miracle and introduced political democracy achievements that have attracted the world's attention.
Today, Taiwan boasts an excellent infrastructure, convenient transportation system, and high-quality communication services. It also has accomplished, in the face of several international energy crises and economic downturns, a remarkable record of economic development and political democracy by virtue of the perseverance and unremitting efforts of its people.
Taiwan is surrounded by oceans and therefore has a long coastline, which offers different sceneries wherever you go. The West Coast mainly consists of sand dunes, sand beaches, sand bars and lagoons, and its straight coastline is rather monotonous. The East Coast on the contrary presents a dramatic coastline of towering cliffs that almost directly descend into the deep sea. The coastal plains here are very narrow. The rock formations at the North Coast alternate with beautiful bays and offer the most varied coastal landscape of Taiwan, while the South Coast mainly consists of coral reefs. The offshore islands of Taiwan also offer a great variety of geographical landscapes that are characteristic for the region, such as the basaltic rocks of the Penghu islands, the granite rocks of Kinmen, and the marine erosions of Matzu.
Flora and Fauna
Taiwan harbors a great diversity of organic life, and some variations are rarely found elsewhere in the world. An example is the black forest similar to that in Germany, with vegetation going back 30 to 60 million years, such as Taxus sumatrana, mangrove, Taiwan isoetes, and the rare high-altitude grass plains. The world's oldest amphibian, the Formosan salamander, can also be found here, as well as the Formosan black bear, the Mikado pheasant and the land-locked salmon. The beautiful azalea, cherry blossom and maple leaf are also subjects of admiration. If you want to experience this diverse animal and plant life, consider a visit to one of Taiwan's national scenic areas, national parks or forests, or nature reserves, as these form the most ideal outdoor natural resource learning opportunities in Taiwan.
Taiwan's national parks, including Yangming Mountain (Yangmingshan), Taroko, Yu Mountain (Yushan), Shei-Pa, Kending (Kenting), Kinmen, Dongsha Atoll, and Taijiang, form the back garden of Taiwan and in themselves are natural treasure-houses. Next to beautiful sceneries, they provide the shelter to unique animal and plant life, including insects, fish, and birds. The natural reserves actually form miniature ecosystems that not only provide a protected environment but also offer a great alternative for recreational activities, environmental education and academic research. Here, visitors can get away from their hectic lives in the city and enjoy the serene environment.
You can also come to Taiwan to watch its numerous species of butterflies and birds.
Some 17,000 different species of butterflies are known around the world; almost 400 can be seen in Taiwan, 50 of which are endemic to the island. There are many different sites where you can go to watch them dance in the air, including Doll Valley in Wulai near Taipei, Yangming Mountain (Yangmingshan) National Park, Mt. Jiaoban, and Mt.Lala along the Northern Cross-Island Highway, Qilan near Taipingshan (Ta-ping Mountain) , Guguan, Li Mountain (Lishan) , and Cuifeng along the Central Cross-Island Highway, Nanshan River and Huisun Forest near Puli, Shanlin River (Sunlinksea) in Nantou County, Butterfly Valley in Maolin near Kaohsiung County, Sheding Park and Nanren Mountain (Nanrenshan) in Kending (Kenting) , and Butterfly Valley in Taitung.
Because of its warm and humid climate, Taiwan has extremely rich vegetation which attracts many birds. Located at the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, it is also a favorite resting area for migrating birds. Resident and migrating birds total some 440 species, and endemic birds such as the black-faced spoonbill and the Sterna leucoptera can be seen here. Sites for watching these migrating birds include the Guandu swamplands in the northern Taiwan, Yilan swamplands, mouth of the Exit Dadu River in the central Taiwan and Gaopin River in the southern Taiwan. Other bird-watching sites are the Penghu islands, Matzu, Wulai, Mt. Hehuan, Xitou, Ali Mountain (Alishan), Yangming Mountain (Yangmingshan) National Park, Yu Mountain (Yushan) National Park, Shei-Pa National Park, Taroko National Park, Kending (Kenting) National Park, Kinmen National Park, Taijiang National Park, Northeast Coast National Scenic Area, and East Coast and the East Rift Valley National Scenic Areas.
As Taiwan is surrounded by oceans, marine life and other oceanic resources are abundant and diverse. The clear waters and warm climate of Kending (Kenting) and Lu Island (Green Island), for example, provide the ideal environment for colorful and peculiarly shaped coral reefs. These not only form the architecture of the undersea world, but also provide the shelter for all kinds of tropical fish. On Wang-an Island in Penghu, as well as Lanyu in Taitung County, you can even see the green sea turtles coming to the shore to lay its eggs. Along Taiwan's East Coast, particularly off the coast of Yilan, Hualien, and Taitung, more than 60% of all whale and dolphin species that are found in Taiwan can be spotted. You can choose to take one of the boat trips that are organized in this area. While listening to the introduction by professional whale spotters, the chance of seeing these extraordinary creatures is as high as 90%.