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“He who has not been to the Great Wall of China is not a true man”, Mao Zedong is quoted. So there is no time to lose, right? When travelling China or you are even living in China, you cannot afford to miss this wonder of human construction art.
What comes to your mind, when thinking of the Great Wall of China? In my thoughts I always associated it with one of the top sights to see when in Beijing. And I had pictures in my head, where the wall wriggles on the mountain ridges as the back of a dragon. But did you know that the Great Wall, one of the “New 7 Wonders of the World”, is actually 21.196,18 kilometres long and stretches through large parts of Northern China? This enormous length is really hard to imagine. But to understand more easily let me mention that there are various sections, which were all built during different dynasties to secure the Chinese Empire from nomadic horse folks of the North. A border fortification so to speak, which goes beyond our imagination and because of this for sure is one of the top sights, when visiting China.
But where exactly should you go to see the Great Wall of China, as there are so many options? Which is the most accessable sight, where will you have the best views and how to avoid large crowds? This and even more insights I will share in a separate BlogPost.
When, Where & How to visit The Great Wall of China
There are plenty of opportunities to visit the Great Wall of China. You can integrate it as a (half)-daytrip from Beijing. The easiest access from Beijing offers the area around Badaling (70 km Northwest of Beijing), which you can even reach by train. This is one reason why this part attracts lots of day-tourists, who want to tick the Great Wall off their list. Also very popular is the area around Mutianyu, 70 km North of Beijing. This recently renovated stretch is well developed and offers a cable car, a chairlift and even a toboggan, which of course is attractive for families.
And then there are the sections of the so-called “Wild Wall”, which aren´t restored, are located further outside of Beijing, not as easy to access and of course include some more challenging hikes. That´s why you will find less tourists, but more “real wall-hikers” in these areas around Gubeikou (130 km from Beijing) oder Jiankou (100 km from Beijing).
So you have the agony of choice and should choose your visit depending on: How much time you want to spend at the Great Wall and getting there. Do you prefer travelling by public transport or hiring a driver. You can also reach the areas further up north by public transport, but it will take much longer, as you have to transfer inbetween and you aren´t as flexible.
One of the best times to visit the Great Wall of China is during the spring months, as it isn´t as hot yet, but the iconic monument will already be embedded in a lush green landscape.
Our route from Mutianyu to Jiankou
We decided to combine the restored part of Mutianyu, which is not too far away, with a hike to Jiankou, beacuse we definitely wanted to explore one of the wilder parts of the Great Wall of China – without spending too much time travelling back and forth. So we hired a car with a driver to be flexible timewise and choosing our own route.
The Great Wall of China: Mutianyu
We leave Beijing already at 5am to arrive at Mutianyu before the big groups take over. And it looks like our plan is working out, although we visit The Great Wall during one of the busiest weekends of th year (around Labour Day). We reach Mutianyu even well before the ticket office opens and the shops start selling snacks and souveniers. We manage to sit in the 2nd gondola of this day´s shift, taking us to the top in only a couple of minutes. And believe it or not: We find the Great Wall of China almost for ourselves and are able to enjoy some breathtaking views.
We are deeply impressed by its wide stretch and can´t hardly believe to catch views like these. Longing for countless kilometres the Dragon (the nickname of the Great Wall) winds across the lush green mountain ridges, the hilltops only studded by watchtowers.
Meanwhile it´s after 9am and more and more visitors reach the top. So it´s time for us to head West.
In front of us lies a really steep stretch and I´m pretty confident that most trippers will only undertake this last ascent, before heading back after enjoying the view from the top.
The Wild Wall: The original part of the Great Wall
But our destination lies way further Westwards. The longer we keep walking this direction towards Jiankou, the more authentic the sections get – until we eventually reach the alleged peak of the Great Wall of China.
We find the so-called Ox Horn in front of us, a 180-degree u-turn, which steeply winds up the mountain ridge. But the path leads us off the wall and as we follow along, we do not foresee that we actually bypass the Ox Horn, which in the end saves us lots of time and energy. And now the Great Wall really turns wild.
Finally we reach a gigantic watchtower, on top of which our breaths are taken away: In front of us lies the Great Wall of China as I had always imagined it to be, but never thought I would actually get to see it with my own eyes. Now that´s the time to stop and stare – and enjoy the moment.
We meet some other hikers, who started their tour the opposite way, in Jiankou, climbing up the mountain and now walking towards Mutianyu. The exact direction this hike was described in lots of articles I read before….
For us now it´s time to descend, even if we cannot spot an obvious way down. But there must be a path leading back into the village, where the driver awaits us. After asking different hikers, all of them tell us something different as they don´t really understand our question. So we follow the way marked by a small red flag, the only obvious reference offering guidance to climb down straight from this exposed spot.
Jiankou: Descending the Great Wall of China
So far our hike went pretty smooth: We planned to finish our tour in the early afternoon to be back in Beijing before the rush hour kicks-in and end the day with relaxing evening. But for what has become a “well established” ritual for us over the years, on every route we did´t hike with a local guide, also the Great Wall of China will not be an exception from the rule: Sooner or later we take this one wrong turn…
The small red flag leads us to a tiny wooden latter with 5 steps, for which we even have to pay 5RMB. At this point we didn´t have a glimpse that we just started the steepest descend we have ever taken, including Kilimanjaro, Mt.Fuji or Gunung Rinjani. In the beginning we still meet some hikers on their way up, so why bother considering we might be on the completely wrong way. But the further down we get, the steeper the terrain becomes and at one point we could´t call it a path anymore as there was literally just rocks left to climb down. Somewhow we manage to reach the village in the valley, but only to realize we didn´t come down on a official and public way. And to all abundance we chose the wrong side of the mountain, means the driver doesn´t await us here, but on the exact other side, which took him a 1,5 hours drive after dropping us of in the morning.
Early arrival back in Beijing is out of sight. Because of the delay we head straight into rush hour and our excursion to the Geat Wall of China turns into an 18 hours-trip. Nevertheless: This trip to the more abandoned parts was absolutely worth it. The views were simply incredible and sowehow it seems we just need this extra kick from an unexpected adventure. Now we realize why all the route descriptions recommend it the other way around: Because what are the odds of taking the wrong exit, when in Mutianyu there is actual cable cars and a toboggan guiding the way. 🙂
QUESTIONS & COMMENTS?
Have you ever been to China or even climbed the Great Wall yourself? What was your experience like? Leave me a comment! Do you like the article, or still have any suggestions, critics or route recommendations? I am happy to read what you are thiking! If you like my content, please feel free to share this article with your friends!
In the category China you can find further travel stories from the land of the rising sun.
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