Visiting the Great Wall of China
I just knocked a big one off the bucket list. Or should I say a really long one? As part of a journalistic fellowship with the Canada China Business Council, I was sauntering along that Great Wall within 12 hours of touching down in Beijing. We chose the Juyongguan section of the wall also known as the Juyong Pass, one of three mountain passes along the 21,000km wall because it’s supposed to be a little less crowded — like all major tourist destinations there are tips and tricks visiting the Great Wall of China.
It was muggy and overcast that morning. The air was heavy with heat and pollution and made it feel like the atmosphere was only feet above us as we climb off the bus. I knew behind those low lying clouds were beautiful mountains and snow white peaks, but the only views we got that day were the deep greens of the brush and smoky grey hues. So much for those clear skies I’d seen in photographs. But, after years of spending too much time inside my camera lens and not enjoying the view, I’ve learned to snap some pics and just be in the moment.
There’s a famous quote about the wall: “He who does not reach the Great Wall is not a true man” and it rings true — just being on the wall feels like an accomplishment. It emanates grandeur and I found myself standing in the hoards of people from all over the world trying to picture what it must have felt like to come upon this wall in the early 1600s when it was finally completed.
Two things I wasn’t ready for when visiting the Great Wall of China: that oppressive mugginess and the crowds! I’d envisioned myself getting a fellow traveler to snap pictures of me back on to the camera engrossed in the majestic views: NOPE! The Great Wall of China is visited by more than 10 million people every year, and it’s a popular spot for Chinese to visit on vacation. It was also July so with average temperatures in the high 30s and humidity at 100000% it was a sweaty walk to the top. So to help you maybe be a little less sweaty and a little more in the moment…
Here are some tips (and pics) for visiting the Great Wall of China
There are many sites to visit along the wall
Because the wall is freaking ginormous (P.S. You can’t really see the Great Wall from space… it’s more fun to see it close up anyways!) naturally there are many spots to visit. There are 14 sites near Beijing with three sites within an hour’s drive from the city so it’s the more popular day tripping option. You can also take a tour from there. Badaling is the most popular access point because it’s the closest and Juyongguan is second. Mutianyu is just a little farther from Beijing and Jinshanling which is 125km away offer a much more relaxed, less crowded experience.
The Juyong Pass where we visited was built by the Ming Dynasty who reigned from 1368-1644 and is one of the three impregnable forts on the wall, so there are temples and other buildings to see at the entrance.
Think about when you are visiting the Great Wall of China
The best time of year to visit the wall is spring and in the fall when temperatures are more moderate. Spring offers limited vegetation, while early summer offers plenty of green. As part of media group, I didn’t have an option when I visited the wall and nearly sweat to death: pack some water if you go in July! Avoiding weekends and Golden Weeks (the semi-annual 7-day national holiday everyone in China gets) is best if you want to dodge the crowds.
How to get to the Great Wall
Admission at Juyongguan is reasonable; 45 Chinese yuan which is about $8 Canadian, but getting there is a little trickier. Because it’s a ways outside the city, you have to take a subway and then several buses. Round-trip taxis start at $75 CAD ( remember to write down your destination and your hotel in Chinese characters to get back easier). You can also opt to take a private day tour — dozens depart from the centre of the city near Tiananmen Square costing anywhere from $50 to $150 Canadian for the day which includes transportation, cost of entry, and probably lunch. There are no restaurants at Juyongguan but there’s a shop to buy snacks to tied you over.
Wear appropriate footwear
Yea, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now, but I’m serious! Wear comfortable shoes! Remember you’re visiting a structure that was completed more than 400 years ago so it doesn’t accommodate heels, flat shoes and climbing all those stairs won’t be any easier if you look cute. There’s nothing flat about this wall.. some parts are STEEP! That said Juyong Pass is one of the only points along the wall with wheelchair access.
There are also organized hikes along the wall costing anywhere from $90 to $1100 depending on the length and duration of the walks. Some even offer camping excursions!
The Great Wall of China is the third most visited tourist attraction in the world. It also happens to be the most popular in China; a common destination for locals on vacation as it is for world travelers. Expect lines, tour buses and people shoving past you while you try and get that Instagram shot. I don’t know how other bloggers were able to snap perfect shots of themselves, I was almost knocked over by three very sweaty guys from Iran.
Have you ever visited? Let me know if you have any tips for visiting the Great Wall of China.
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