If you go to China you have to visit The Great Wall – it’s a must! The wall itself is huge and not one continuous structure, it has branches and wiggles all over. I found researching how to get there, what bit to walk etc. was a little confusing so I’ll break it down in a summary. There are several sections of the wall that you can visit and hike along. Some people go for an hour and just take selfies, some hike along the wall for hours and others camp and spend days wandering. You can organise to go solo but it takes some determination. The closest section of the wall is called Badaling and it’s still about an hour or so from Beijing by bus. As it is the nearest it is also the most touristy and most big tour buses etc. go there as people can hop on/off and get their snap. We knew we wanted to spend a day out here exploring and also see a mix of old and new wall. I researched several hiking guide groups and there are a ton of options out there (all of which do similar routes, just depends on your budget and what you’re after).
In the end we booked a hike with Beijing Hikers from the Gubeikou section to Jinshanling. It was a pretty decent price and included transport, guides, snacks and lunch afterwards. We met the bus just outside of Beijing (simple subway ride) quite early in the morning as the journey to Gubeikou was two hours or so. It isn’t the closest section to Beijing and therefore wasn’t rammed with tourists which was awesome. There were about twenty of us in total which I was initially a little anxious about but once the hike starts everyone travels at their own pace and there are points where we were pretty much on our own enjoying the experience. Three guides went with us, one leading the way planting red flags which we were all meant to follow – thus we could go our own speeds and stay comfortable! There were two stops along the way so everyone could catch up to one another but the rest of the time was free roaming.
The Gubeikou part of the wall isn’t renovated and therefore felt really raw. At times we were walking and I couldn’t even seen a wall / had no idea we were even on it. After an hour or so we reached a tower that overlooked a large section of wall and it was incredible. From there we went off the wall through ‘spider valley’ (I saw no spiders) as that bit of the wall was owned by the government. We went down, down, down through this valley and ended up at a little guest house so naturally I bought an ice-cream. How the owners of that place get their groceries or any wifi signal I’ve no idea. After that it was a really long and steep climb back to the wall and this time the Jinshanling section which is the newest and ‘modern’ part. You can really see a difference in my photos here as this part looks like the Mulan version of the wall. The ground is organised, the stones are tight and we started seeing more tourists (still not that many though). Steps do become your best friend here as you don’t have the rough ramps from before but your legs will go through the motions no doubt.
Although it was hot, the sky itself was quite moody that day and kept a grey fog to it (which at the time I was annoyed about but looking at my photos now I quite like the mystery). The whole hike took us about five to six hours and on their site is classified as a ‘level four out of five’. There are a few steep sections and the ground, especially on the older section, is quite rough and slippery but the biggest woe is the length and your endurance of the whole thing. Lunch afterwards was a family style dinner and I’m not sure if it was delicious or not as I pretty much wolfed it down after all that walking. If I do it again I would try for the summer to see some greenery with blue skies, maybe give another section of the wall a go and I’d prioritise camping on it and spend two or three days exploring!