According to the 2010 Census, the population of Sanya is of 685,408 inhabitants, living in an area of 1,919.58 square kilometres. The city is renowned for its tropical climate and has emerged as a popular tourist destination, also serving as the training site of the Chinese national beach volleyball team. The city has become known as "China's Florida", drawing a large number of retirees from Northeast China during winter. Sanya is home to small concentrations of Utsul people.
Known in ancient times as Yazhou, postal romanization: Aichow (崖州), literally "cliff state or prefecture", Sanya's history dates to the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BCE). Due to its remoteness from the political centers during the Imperial China eras on Mainland China, Sanya was sometimes called Tianya Haijiao (天涯海角), meaning "the end of the sky and ocean" or "the end of the earth". As a result, the city served as a place of exile for officials who found themselves out of favor with the country's rulers.
During the Tang dynasty, the Buddhist monk Jianzhen accidentally landed here, using Sanya as a staging post on his missionary journey to Japan.
In 1912, Yazhou became Yaxian (崖县; postal: Aihsien). Japan then occupied the area during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1941–1945) and renamed Sanya as Samah. The city then became a naval port for the Second Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the main embarkation point for the Japanese Invasion of Malaya and Thailand.
In April 1950, the People's Liberation Army took over Yaxian County and established a People's Government. In October 1954, the administration of the CPC Yaxian Committee relocated from Yacheng to Sanya then in 1958, administration of Yaxian relocated from Yacheng to Sanya and Yaxian merged with Baoting, Lingshui, Niulou, and Xinglong, Wanning, to become a large county. In 1959 and 1961 these areas were separated to establish Baoting and Lingshui while Yaxian County remained in its current prefecture. Approved by the State Council of China, Yaxian was upgraded to Sanya City on September 26, 1987 and on December 30, Sanya City was officially established.
In 2007 the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee announced that the city of Sanya would become the first leg of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay in China.
In the 21st century Sanya's strategic importance has grown for the Chinese military and is home to several navy bases that help develop and protect the internationally disputed shoals and islands in the South China Sea.
Sanya lies at the southern tip of Hainan Island at Sanya Bay, and, after Sansha (also administered by Hainan Province), is the second-southernmost prefecture-level city nationally. Located at 18° 15' N latitude, it is about as far north of the Equator as the Island of Hawaii is. Though the administrative area (Sanya City) has a rough topography, the city itself is generally flat, lying on a parcel of land between low-level mountains to the north and the South China Sea.
The area has a tropical wet and dry climate (Köppen Aw), featuring very warm weather all year around. Monsoonal influences are strong, with a relatively lengthy wet season and a pronounced dry season. The coolest month is January, at 21.6 °C (70.9 °F), while the hottest, unlike much of the rest of China, is June, at 28.8 °C (83.8 °F); the annual mean is 25.8 °C (78.4 °F). Water temperatures remain above 20 °C (68 °F) year-round.
Before July 30, 2014, there were direct jurisdiction over four county-level districts and two township-level subdistricts (乡级管理区 xiangji guanli-qu), six towns (镇 zhen) and four state-run farms in Sanya City. Now there are four districts in Sanya.
In recent years Sanya has become a popular tourist destination. Numerous international hotel chains are now established in the area. In 2009 the luxury Mandarin Oriental hotel group opened in the Dadong Hai area of Sanya, their first property in mainland China. There are now over 100 hotels, ranging from international brands to locally managed resorts.
Russian and English signs can be seen throughout the city. Restaurants in Sanya are also infamous for over-charging tourists (whether foreign or Chinese). However, due to the recent exposure of this practice posted on the micro-blogging site Sina Weibo, Hainan government officials and Sanya city officials have vowed to crack down on this practice. The Sanya Industrial and Commercial Bureau has also begun to implement an open and transparent real-time information system of the city’s seafood restaurants during the May Day holiday for public supervision in order to stop any future price gouging by restaurants.
Sanya is facing a few challenges as it continues to expand at such a rapid rate: lack of infrastructure to support tourism, difficulty in reaching the location due to limited flights and airport capacity, sound pollution, traffic and road safety, pollution of the beaches and, most importantly, shortage of quality hospitality talent.
Nature reserves of Yalong Bay Tropic Paradise Forest Park (亚龙湾热带 天堂森林公园) and Sanya Coral Reef National Nature Reserve (三亚珊瑚礁国家级自然保护区) are located nearby Yalong Bay, and Yalong Bay National Tourism Holiday Resort was created. In recent years, as the waters of Sanya Bay and others below mentioned are becoming clearer and healthier, several species of dolphins, including endangered Chinese white dolphins, appear along the coasts from time to time. However, they have not been considered as targeted tourism attractions.
Other attractions include:
The city is served by Sanya Phoenix International Airport. Taxis are available throughout the city.
Buses from other parts of Hainan serve Sanya's bus terminal. The No. 8 bus connects the airport to Dadonghai Beach. From there tourists can take the 24 or 25 bus to Yalong Bay or the 28 bus to Haitang Bay. There is also a free bus from Luhuitou Square to the Duty-Free Shopping Center at Haitang Bay, the largest such center in China.
The Hainan East Ring Intercity Rail links Sanya and Haikou, and runs along the east coast of Hainan Island. There are 15 stations in between, either in operation or still under construction. Trains are designed to travel at 250 km/h (160 mph). Travel time from Sanya to Haikou is approximately 1 hour and 22 minutes. The Hainan Western Ring High-Speed Railway, running along the west coast of the province also links Sanya to Haikou.
Hainan 301 Hospital, a branch hospital of People's Liberation Army General Hospital, is located in the Haitang Bay area of Sanya. The hospital possesses a substantial number of state-of-the-art equipment for medical and research purposes which include a Da Vinci surgical system, different MIR system (including 1.5T MRI 3.0T MRI), Helical CT facilities (including 128-Slices CT), medical linear accelerator and electronic microscopes which are worth more than 450 million yuan. The hospital has 500 patient beds, and a total of 74 clinical, medical and nursing departments.
Sanya Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital (三亚市中医院) is located on Fenghuang Road. It is a grade-A tertiary hospital offering medical care, education, research, healthcare services and International Chinese Medicine exchange and cooperation.
Sanya University (三亚学院) Located at Xueyuan Rd., Yingbin Ave. Sanya Hainan 572022. Sanya University is an independent undergraduate university, it has a brand new campus and state of the art facilities. The University has fourteen schools: Social Development, Law, Finance and Economics, Management, Tourism Management, Humanities and Communication, Arts, Foreign Languages, Engineering, Physical Education, General Education & Foundation Courses, International Tourism, International Education and Music, and other, and offers 56 undergraduate majors.
Qiongzhou University (琼州大学) is located at 1 Yucai Road. The only public university located in Sanya, Qiongzhou is actively pursuing more foreign enrolments, hoping to attract Chinese tourism and language students to the city. Courses Offered to international students are: elementary Chinese, intermediate Chinese, advanced Chinese (listening, speaking, reading and writing), English, Russian (listening, speaking, reading and writing), Chinese calligraphy and painting, Chinese martial arts, Chinese history, studies of Li and Miao Cultures, tourism and recreational management, and music performance.
The city government states on its website that "Being the second-largest city in Hainan, the education in Sanya is relatively better than the average level in Hainan Province" but that the kindergartens are not as good as those in major Chinese cities and that the primary and secondary schools are still below the Chinese national average.
According to the city government, Primary schools No.7 and No.9 Primary School are the best ones in the city and that Bayi Primary School "is also of good quality". The city government identifies the best lower secondary (junior high school) and upper secondary (senior high school) institutions as Sanya Shiyan Middle School and Sanya No.1 High School, respectively.
The International School of Sanya (formerly Canadian International School of Sanya) is the first school to offer two programs: Canadian and Mandarin, in Hainan. day students and boarding facilities for students.
The city has hosted: