I can’t even start writing this post without stressing how incredibly AMAZING this was. If you are ever planning a trip to China and love the great outdoors, this should definitely be at the top of your priorities list. The information that I’m sharing in this post is based on what I learned from talking to my two fantastic tour guides who have led camping trips to the Great Wall for over a year, plus from my own experience! I’ve already gotten a lot of questions about it, so I’ll start by answering the ones I got the most!
Is it illegal to camp on the Great Wall of China?
There are the parts of the Great Wall that have gondola rides right up to the top and toboggan rides down, which are extremely cool to visit, but – as you can probably imagine – also very “touristy”. These are also the sections that will charge admission fees and have opening hours. If you tried to camp here, you would most likely be escorted out by the guards patrolling the area. That being said, it’s not like the entire 15,000+ km wall is being guarded and has a “closing” time. It is perfectly safe and perfectly legal to hike and/or camp on the wall outside of the touristy areas! Plus if it was illegal, there wouldn’t be so many small travel companies offering trips to do so. When we camped, I saw a few small groups of locals along the way doing the same thing. How cool would it be to just camp at a wonder of the world every weekend?!
What are the pros and cons of hiring a guide?
I think a lot of the pros are pretty obvious. There’s no stress in planning anything; the next 24 hours are covered and you just get to enjoy the experience. You have all of the necessary gear provided for you, as well as meals and transportation to and from the site. There is no worry about getting lost, and you have the chance to ask so many questions! I loved firing hundreds of questions at our guides and learning more about the history of the Great Wall, their favorite Beijing recommendations, getting local tips, and learning some Chinese!
After doing a bunch of research on various companies, we camped with China Travelers (www.chinatravelers.com) and they had fair prices and great staff. The rate converted to about $173 per person unless you are a student, in which case you pay $156 (10% discount). This price included transportation from a metro station in Beijing to the Wall and back, 3 meals, water bottles, two guided hikes, and all of our camping gear (mattress pads, tents, pillows, sleeping bags, etc.). It sounds expensive at a glance, but if you add up the cost of food and transportation (not to mention the convenience of it) you are definitely getting your money’s worth!
My Experience + Facts About The Great Wall !
We traveled out to the section of the wall called Huanghuacheng. “Huang Hua” meaning “yellow flower” and “cheng” meaning “wall”, because during certain times of the year the area is covered in yellow flowers. I loved that! This was about a two hour drive from the center of Beijing. There are some sections of the wall that were restored back when China started to build back parts of the wall that had broken or worn down, but didn’t have time or funds to restore too much of the wall (because really, who could actually restore a 15,000 to 20,000 km wall??)(that’s around 10,000 miles + more of the wall is still being discovered today – WHAT). We spent a few hours hiking some of the unrestored sections and it was incredible to see! Did you know that the ‘concrete’ used to construct the wall was literally made from rice? And it still stands today, over 2200 years later. That blows my mind !!
We hiked back to our little base camp in front of a local bed and breakfast, got something to eat, and loaded our backpacks with our camping gear. We hiked up the wall for about an hour and set up our tents in one of the watchtowers, finishing up just in time to watch the sun set. I hiked around a little more and just tried to take it all in. I’ve seen some pretty amazing things, but I think that view took the cake. There was a small city in the distance on one side of the wall where they launched some fireworks, and we hung out with our group and talked while we watched the stars come out. NOTHING prepared me for the sunrise though… I wish pictures could do it justice, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.
How was your experience visiting the Great Wall? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!