The Great Wall

The Great Wall

The only man-made structure visible from space people say, is as impressive as it sounds; the Great Wall is the highlight of China. The wall was built over 2000 years ago to protect the Chinese Empire from the nomadic horseman peoples. The defence was not just “wall”, but also natural barriers such as mountains and rivers. During the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC), the first stones were laid, but during the different dynasties after, the wall was expanded quite a lot. The current Great Wall was mostly established during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The immense structure has long been estimated to have a length of 6400 km. But recent studies show that the size may be around 20,000 kilometres. Because many parts of the wall are located in remote mountains or deserts, it has long been very difficult to make an exact measurement. Whether the wall is indeed visible from space, is a mystery. Many argue that it is an urban myth because the wall measuring 6.5 meters is simply too small. Others claim to have photographs that actually show the wall. The building has in any case made a big enough impression to end up on the Unesco World Heritage List and is one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World.

Visiting the Great Wall

Many parts of the wall cannot be visited because they are badly damaged or broken. Still, you can see parts throughout China. Beijing is a very good base to explore beautiful parts of the Great Wall. You can choose from the more touristy or the quieter locations.

Mutianyu Wall

Our favourite is the Mutianyu section of the wall, 90 kilometres northeast of Beijing. This area has recently been renovated and offers you wonderful viewpoints that you know from the pictures. There are all kinds of facilities such as a cable car (up and down) and a zip line going down, but you can also just do everything on foot. The 3-kilometre-long section of the wall is easy to reach on your own, if you want to save the cost of a tour, and is less crowded; Most organized tours travel to a piece of wall which lies closer to Beijing.

We visited the Mutianyu Wall as followed:

• Take the Beijing subway Line 2 to Dongzhimen station.

• At Dongzhimen, walk to the bus terminal.

• Take bus number 916, but note that there is a slow bus and an express bus with this number. Take the Express, this leaves approximately every 20 minutes and takes you to your destination in about 1 to 1.5 hours. Cost: 12 yuan per person. You recognize the Express bus by the 快 sign.

• Get off at Huairou North Street Station. Ignore the taxi drivers to enter the bus at earlier stops and say you should look get off; They hope that you get off and then have no other choice than to pay more for their (expensive) taxi ride.

• Walk across the street and take bus H23 or H24 to the Mutianyu stop. A drive of about 30 minutes, costs 3 yuan per person. (Instead of this bus, you can take a minivan at this point. Make sure that you share with other travellers who go to Mutianyu and negotiate the cost. For 10 to 15 yuan per person this should work).

• The bus will drop you about 500 meters before the Mutianyu stop, walk straight to the bend and see the place where you can buy tickets. The minivan will drop you off on the site itself.

• Then buy your tickets at the ticket office: 45 Yuan per person entrance fee for the wall (25 Yuan if you bring a student ID), 15 yuan per person for the minibus to the beginning of the wall (15 minutes, uphill, do not go walking: keep your energy for climbing the wall) and possibly 80 yuan for the cable car or 80 yuan for the zip line, per person (both optional). The cable car up is a must if your fitness level is low, the climb up the wall requires quite some energy. The zip line down is a lot of fun.

• Going back: Get a minivan back to Huairou North Street Station (unless bus H23 or H24 drives past, then you can take that). If the drivers of mini buses in the parking lot do not offer a good deal, then you can already take a little walk in the right direction. With any luck, one of the minivans that are not full stops and you have a spot for 5 yuan per person. Then take the 916 快 (Express) back to Dongzhimen Station in Beijing.

Badaling Wall

The Badaling section of the Great Wall is the easiest to reach and is located 70 kilometres northwest of Beijing. Many tour organizations choose this option, in order to combine several highlights of Beijing in one day. There is a cable car on site, as well as many tourist shops. A great way to see a piece of the wall, but do take a lot of fellow tourists into account.

Jiankou Wall

For true adventurers, we recommend the Jiankou section of the wall. Here you will find large pieces of “wild wall”; Non renovated, with large crumbling parts. The hikes you can make here seem to be great, but also difficult and dangerous. Do not go out alone and get some good walking shoes with good grip.

Would you like to go camping on the Great Wall? You can do this here, not legal, but several backpackers told is it is a very nice experience. If you do not have camping gear with you, you can buy it in Beijing.

Other tips in Beijing