Bailong Elevator: World's highest outdoor lifts zip tourists up China's 'Avatar' cliff

About 8,000 tourists take the journey every day, down from an average of 14,000 before the pandemic

Towering more than 300 metres up the cliff face that inspired the landscape for James Cameron's Avatar, the world's highest outdoor lifts whisk brave tourists up to breathtaking views.

The three double-decker elevators in central China's Zhangjiajie Forest Park zip up the cliffside in just 88 seconds, a speedy attraction as domestic tourism slowly recovers in China after the coronavirus pandemic forced strict travel measures earlier this year.

The lifts deliver tourists to the top of the sandstone rock face that inspired the fictional jungle moon of Pandora, home to the blue-hued Na'vi people, in the 2009 smash hit film.

This picture taken on November 13, 2020 shows a tourist with a face mask using her mobil phone to take a picture at the entrance of the Bailong elevators in Zhangjiajie, China's Hunan province.   Towering more than 300 metres (1,000 feet) up the cliff face that inspired the landscape for the blockbuster movie "Avatar", the world's highest outdoor lift whisks brave tourists to breathtaking views. - TO GO WITH: China technology film tourism transport, by Ludovic EHRET
 / AFP / WANG ZHAO / TO GO WITH: China technology film tourism transport, by Ludovic EHRET

"One of the main reasons we came is that the site inspired Avatar," says Qiao Ke, 45, who travelled to the lifts with his family. "The film really made an impression on us. And it really is beautiful here."

"Its geological structure is very suited to using elevators as a means of transport, so we made this Bailong Elevator," explains Liu Jie, the director of the company managing the lift. In English, the name can be literally translated to the "Hundred Dragons Elevator".

"Before, there was only a cable car with limited capacity, so tourists had to wait a long time," Liu adds.

The alternative was to brave a three-hour climb on foot.

Construction of the elevators started in 1999, and they opened in 2002. At 326m, the three elevators were officially recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest outdoor lifts in 2015.

"It's super-fast," retiree Jin Shihao says after completing the ride, which costs $19 for a return ticket.

About 8,000 tourists take the lifts every day. However, numbers are still significantly down from an average of 14,000 before the pandemic.

Record-breaking elevators

The tallest elevator in the world is at AngloGold Ashanti's Mponeng Gold Mine in South Africa, which opened in 1986 and makes a single descent of 2,283m in three minutes.

According to Guinness World Records: "[It is] more than 4.5 times further than those in the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. A second elevator then takes miners even lower, to 3,597m. Each day, the lift ferries 4,000 workers down to the mine – 120 workers at a time in three-level steel cages, at speeds of up to 40 miles (64 kilometres) per hour. It first operated in 1986."

Additional reporting from AFP