The entire time I was hiking on the Great Wall I had all the songs to Mulan playing in my head. Although my reaction might be borderline childish, I sincerely doubt that anyone could walk away from having visited this majestic site and not felt as though they had been transported back in time. Every morsel of Chinese history comes gushing back to you when you are at the Great Wall of China. No trip to China is complete without visiting the Great Wall. That would be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower or going to Egypt and foregoing the Pyramids of Giza.
To put things in perspective, you need to know some of the history of this great monument. Construction for the Great Wall of China started in the third century B.C by Emperor Qin Shi Huang as a means of protection from other invaders. The original length of the wall was apparently 21,000 kms but only a few hundred kilometres exist intact today. The Wall spans across 9 provinces of China (and if you know how large China is, you will be suitably in awe) and was built by seven different dynasties. The government has spent some money restoring different sections of the Wall for the purposes of tourism but other parts of the wall are either crumbling or have altogether disappeared.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Planning a trip to the Great Wall requires a bit of advance planning. My best advice to you would be to book a visit using a private tour operator. The two most recommended companies are China Highlights and Catherine Lu Tours, we used the latter.
The Wall is divided into several sections. The most popular sections of the Wall are Badaling, Juyonguam, Huanghuacheng, Jiankou, Mutianyu, Gubeikou, Jinshanling, Simatai and Huangyaguan.
Badaling is the most visited section of the Wall (primarily by Chinese tourists) because General Mao visited this section back in the day. The Mutianyu section is a fully restored section of the Wall, Jiankou is wild and untouched and Jinshaling is meant to be the most beautiful section. Honestly, I do not think you can go wrong visiting any section of the Wall (except maybe Badaling because it is very crowded), but I had only one critieria – I wanted to take the Toboggan to the bottom and that is only available in the Mutianyu section of the wall.
Our tour operator therefore suggested hiking from the Jiankou section to the Mutianyu section. The reason I wanted to hike is because my initial impression of the Great Wall was that you would take the cable car to the top, take a few pictures and come back down. I wanted to make the trip worth my while and so decided on the hike. In retrospect, you do not even need to hike from Jiankou as the Mutianyu section offers tough uphill climbs! I would even wager that the Jiankou to Mutianyu hike is an easy hike.
The journey from our hotel in central Beijing to the Jiankou section of the wall took about 2 hours. The climb up to the top of the Jiankou section is only about 600 metres but it is a very steep climb and not for the faint hearted on the fitness challenged (I learned this the hard way as I huffed and puffed my way to the top). Once you get to the top the views are so completely worth the climb. What is amazing about starting at Jiankou is that you will probably find about 5 – 10 hikers along the way so you literally have the entire section of the wall to yourself. The cheeky part is that because the section of the Wall is not under the control of the government or tourism authorities, you also do not have to pay an entrance fee to visit the Wall.
There are so many different places for photo opportunities along the way that we stopped every 10 – 15 minutes or so to take pictures. At some parts along the way, I was lagging behind my travel compatriot as I was just caught up in the scenery.
THE FINALE: TOBOGGAN RIDE
The icing on the cake at the end of a 3.5 hour hike was taking the toboggan down hill. That is just so much fun and for the 60 seconds or so it took to get all the way down, I relived the innocence of childhood. We had so much fun that we actually took the cable car up just so that we could take the toboggan down a second time.
And that my friends, is how you hike the Great Wall like a pro!
Do you have any tips for hiking the Great Wall of China? Please share with our readers in the comments below! Read Next > Tips For Visiting Zhangjiajie National Park, China