The Great Wall of China is one of the modern seven wonders of the world, and a protected UNESCO World Heritage site, making it one of the top must-see destinations for intrepid explorers. The wall is unfathomably long, running 21,196 km all along the northern border of China, travelling through mountains, deserts, beaches and grasslands. It would be impossible to take it all in on one visit – in fact, experts estimate it could take up to 17 months to walk the entire length.
All this means travelers tend to choose a particular area of the wall to visit, some offering half or full day treks, others for five days or more with pit stops or camping trips along the way. We take a brief look at some of the experiences you might encounter during a trip to the Great Wall of China, which will require careful planning and preparation before you set off.
The Great Wall of China Has Many Parts
The Great Wall of China is not one long continuous stretch, but it is divided into sections which are separated by areas of mountain and wilderness, each of which was built during different stages in Chinese history. This means it is still possible to walk entire lengths of certain sections of the wall, each of which has its own attractions and distinctive features. Certain parts of the Great Wall of China are better equipped for tourists and tour groups than others, with planned guides, and accessible walkways. Below are just a handful of the most visited and accessible sites.
The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall in the Huairou District of China is 2 km long and has undergone extensive restoration work, making it one of the more accessible areas to walk across. As well as featuring a series of 23 watchtowers, this expansive stretch of wall also showcases stunning views across the Chinese wilderness.
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Badaling is one of the most popular regions of the wall, partly because it is easily reached by car from the nearby city of Beijing, meaning it can get crowded during peak holiday seasons. It is also heavily restored, with 16 watchtowers and a whole series of breathtaking views across Chinese mountains and other stretches of the wall as you walk its length.
Simatai is more historic and ruined than some of the more populist areas of the wall, but this meant it is full of charm. Situated two hours from Beijing by car, this crumbling section of the wall is set near the ancient Gubei Water Town, which itself offers a fascinating glimpse into the architecture of China’s past.
The 10 km stretch of wall known as Jinshanling runs from Jinshanling to Simatai west. It boasts 67 watchtowers of varying appearance, which demonstrate the wall’s original purpose as a system of defense against China’s incoming rivals. Many bricks along the walls between the towers are engraved with a time, date and name of the troop who made them.
The Great Wall of China Has Many Steps
Whichever passage of the Great Wall of China that you choose to visit, you can expect to be climbing a lot of steps, because the wall covers rocky and uneven areas of terrain. Those areas that have undergone restoration are more easily accessible on foot, while some of the lesser-known, ruined parts can make for tricky navigation as the ground surface is uneven. All this means a pair of sturdy walking boots are an essential.
Camping, Paragliding and Cable Cars
Visitors to the Great Wall of China are allowed to camp between stretches which allows them to make a trek across several different stretches during a single visit. Other popular activities available in the more heavily developed and restored section include paragliding, and cable cars, which can take visitors up steep climbs saving them the hassle of climbing all those steps and offer stunning views across the Chinese landscape.