For travelers to China, the Great Wall is essential to any visit. But with its 10,700,000 annual visitors, it’s hard to find a section where you’re not crowding shoulder-to-shoulder with other sightseers. And that’s why it’s on Travel + Leisure’s list of most visited attractions, as well under protection as a member of United Nations UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
So, the key to any authentic and immersive visit to the Great Wall, as with any spot in China, is to avoid those portions that are easiest to reach. Classic Journeys strategically directs its guests away from the crowds by making an after-breakfast drive from Beijing to Jinshanling for a day on a spectacular stretch that’s much less visited. Porters from a nearby village accompany us with water, snacks and lunch as we walk a 7-mile leg of the wall built in the mountains in 1368. As we make our way toward Simatai, our guides have plenty of opportunity to explain the history and engineering of the wall. After all, this stretch alone has 67 combat towers, plus embrasures, watchtowers, crenellations and more. When you’ve seen pictures of dignitaries on the Great Wall, they’re standing on restored sections. One reason we love this area is that we also traverse some untouched sections that speak to the true age of the Great Wall. Because we’ve allocated the whole day, we take our time and stop for a picnic in the gorgeous surroundings. You’re unlikely to know anyone who’s seen this wonder of the world in this detail.
Classic Journeys guests, Joel and Jennifer, are on their second trip to Asia with Classic Journeys (as a follow up to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in 2014). From China, they sent us photos of themselves with their Classic Journeys guide, Kevin, exploring the Great Wall. In contrast to the typical traveler’s photos of the Great Wall with thousands of tourists filling the frame, their photos tell a totally different story. In typical Classic Journeys style, they had their section of the wall almost entirely to themselves. And the cooler Kevin is carrying? For their chilled champagne, of course!
How To Have the Great Wall to Yourself
Join Classic Journeys on our handcrafted 12-day/11-night Cultural + Walking vacation to China. Our expert local guides will introduce you to life in Beijing, Shanghai, the Li River Valley and the Tibetan frontier, as well as locals from every walk of life. Highlights include:
- Hiking the most scenic stretch of the Great Wall
- Dancing with locals in the town square of Yangshuo
- An up-close visit of the Terra Cotta Warriors with your guide, Kevin
- The chanting of the monks at Songzanlin Monastery
- An easy guided bike ride among rice paddies and farmhouses