Climbing the Great Wall of China — whether you want to go solo or join a group — requires plenty of planning and patience.
Here are tips to help you check off this landmark on your Fit Bucket List with a minimum of logistical difficulties:
Try to Get an Upgrade
You can find fare sales in coach quite often to Beijing, however this might be the right time to finally use your airline miles to upgrade to business or first class. Take advantage of alliances to fly in style with an Asian carrier like Cathay Pacific or Japan Air. That will give you some rest and relaxation before tackling the steep slopes of the Great Wall. Just don’t overdo it on the free champagne.
Don’t Forget Your Visa
Don’t forget to allow several weeks’ processing time for a Chinese visa, which will cost at least $140. For more information from the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. and to apply, visit here.
Option 1: Visit the Wall On Your Own at Badaling
If you want to explore the Great Wall on your own, as a local would, the best place to access it is Badaling, a section of the wall located about 50 miles northwest of Beijing.
Take into consideration:
- There will be long lines: You will queue up in a holding pen outside Beijing North Rail Station, as well as wait in another long line once inside the station in anticipation of the arrival of an S2 train. When the train arrives, be prepared to run because seats are on a first come, first serve basis.
- Bring water, snacks: Stock up on water on the train, because it will cost less than at your destination. However, you can find reasonably priced snacks, like tea eggs and corn on the cob, at the various shops leading to the entrance, as well as at rest stops built alongside the Great Wall.
- Restrooms will be questionable: While there are bathroom facilities along the Badaling section of the Great Wall, few if any offer toilet paper. Bring some Kleenex and wet wipes to be safe. As in most of Asia, the toilets require squatting — for men, this poses less of a problem, but women will want to practice the appropriate maneuver on leg workout day. (Pro tip: Wearing a hiking skirt is advisable)
Option 2: Visit the Great Wall with an Escorted Tour
If you would prefer someone else do the planning and don’t mind conforming to a schedule, you can book a group or private tour. A guide can take you to less traveled sections of the wall that are also more challenging physically. Badaling is a tough hike, but unrestored sections will be even more difficult.
Book a tour before you leave home or through your hotel, via a reputable group, like Great Wall Hiking and Travel China Guide. Don’t wait until you get to the train station, where some operators receive a kickback or will try to sell you additional services. A quality tour will offer bonuses, such as meals at a local guesthouses and visits with historians in the villages around the Great Wall.
A small-group day hike will cost around $130 per person, while a three-day private hike can cost $500 to 600 per person. If you think this might be your one-and-only visit to China, you might want to hire a knowledgeable guide — and enjoy the road less traveled.