Climbing the Great Wall of China: 6 things to know before you go

Prepared to be awed at the sight of China’s Great Wall. It’s not one of those much talked about attractions that actually underwhelms you when you see it. Quite the opposite, this expansive piece of construction – presumably the result of mostly manual labor –   lives up to its impressive reputation and surprises you with even more. More grandeur. More wonder. More jaw-dropping views.

Section of Great Wall of China

If it’s on your bucket list, there are some key things to know before you go. See my list below.

Its history

The Great Wall was built across the northern border of China to protect its people against raids and invasion. At various times, it also was used for border control where duties were imposed on goods being transported by Silk Road merchants. Although it never truly prevented invaders, the wall acted more as a psychological divider between Chinese civilization and the world, creating a mystique around Asian culture, and an albeit grudging respect for their strength and autonomy. Much of that still exists today.

The Asian Culture, history and heritage remains symbolic and powerful yet serene
The Asian Culture, history and heritage remains symbolic and powerful yet serene

Best section to visit

With more than 13,000 miles of historical monument to choose from, there are several sections that can be visited. Where you go depends on how much time you have, the vistas you prefer and your tolerance for crowds. Badaling, the section closest to Beijing, is the most popular. It is the most renovated area and it has facilities like guardrails and cable cars that make it easier to climb. The downside is the hordes of tourists thrown together with the occasional pickpocket and the ever-present souvenir hawkers.

Another section where you see the wall stretching for miles
Another section where you see the wall stretching for miles

Mutianyu is the second most preserved section. It has less foot traffic and it is steeper. Simatai, the most perilous and dense area, appeals to the adventurers and Jinshanling gets a lot of avid hikers as it is completely un-restored. Other options include Jiankou and Gubeikou.

Caution: Wherever you go, please watch your footing! Undeveloped sections are insecure and in some cases damaged, so you could easily hurt yourself if you are not careful.

Best time to go

If you choose to visit Badaling, try to get there early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the bus loads of people. An added bonus to going at those two times is that you also get better light for your photos.

Hello, Hello!
Hello, Hello!

The scenery and temperatures change with the seasons so in terms of weather, the best times of year to visit are spring and autumn. Then, it is sunny but there is no blistering summer heat. Think May, September or early October. During June to August, tourist season is in full swing. I went in March and it was COLD. I only learned later that ‘November to April is always bitterly cold with biting winds’.

The sparse winter scenery at the Great Wall (March)
The sparse winter scenery at the Great Wall (March)

What to wear

To get the true experience of the wonder that is the Great Wall, you should spend between two to three hours exploring this great engineering feat. It will be a strenuous walk as you traverse main staircases and passageways or observe watch towers and garrison stations, so you’ll need comfortable shoes.

That's the stance of someone happily thinking, "I came, I saw and I conquered THE Great Wall".
That’s the stance of someone happily thinking, “I came, I saw and I conquered THE Great Wall”.

Ladies, no open-toed sandals, wedges or heels will do. Guys, I recommend loose trousers rather than denim because denim will cling to you after perspiration sets in. Let’s not dress this up too much, you WILL be sweaty and out of breath after a few steep climbs. And I say sneakers for everybody!

Some months it can get quite windy due to the high altitudes so a scarf or light sweater may prove useful. At other times, an umbrella would be nice too. In the summer, have moisturizer handy to help protect your skin.

What to bring

If you can deal with the weight of a backpack, take your own snacks and water. However, if you’d rather stay light on your feet, food and drink will be available for sale in Badaling. Just know it will be pricey. Plus, western-styled food is hard to come by. As far as I know, there is nothing for sale in any other section.

Member of my tour group. We represented Australia, Canada, USA, UK and Jamaica!
Members of my tour group. We represented Australia, Canada, USA, UK and Jamaica!

Important note: While it’s important to stay hydrated, please temper your water intake if you have to go for regular bathroom breaks when you drink a lot. There are no pit stops along the way. The bathrooms are near to the ticket office and entrance.

Best way down

You can walk down, take a cable car or get into a toboggan. I chose the latter and the meandering downhill slide was a whole lotta fun!

Cable cars that help you to go up or down
Cable cars that help you to go up or down

I finally used Uber!

I’d heard the violin-accompanied praise reports of the growing number of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber and politely listened to fervent extra-income earning potential pitches from wanna-be entrepreneurs. But until very recently, I had never swallowed ‘the spiel’.

Uber sure rocks! (Image sourced from the Internet)
I’m finally a Uber-liever. The service sure rocks! (Image sourced from hb.com)

I was one of those archaic believers in the ‘sanctity’ of the yellow cab. This is how I convinced myself. Cabbies are better regulated so hailing one had to be safer because of things like thorough background checks and more rigorous screening of their drivers, right? Plus, surely, paying high fees to operate had to mean the passenger would have greater recourse for  insurance claims if God forbid, he/she ever got into an accident. No, not quite.

The yellow cabs I used to know and love.
The yellow cabs I used to know and love.

All those arguments flew out the window when I finally downloaded the Uber app before a December 2015 trip. For my departure, I took an established taxi service to the airport – one that I could call and make a reservation the night before as I had an early morning flight. However, on my return trip, I opted to ride with Uber, a decision that turned out to be a far more seamless experience than I would have thought.

The Uber app is simple to download and easy to navigate. (Image sourced from INternet)
The Uber app is simple to download and easy to navigate. (Image sourced from the Internet)

When I arrived home safely, and in record time, I felt like knocking myself in the head for waiting so long to take the plunge. The car was in immaculate condition and the driver was prompt and polite. To my surprise, he even had a little swag going on: visualize pink corduroy pants, an immaculately groomed white shirt and designer loafers topped off with slightly peppered grey hair and an accent. But most noteworthy is the fact that I saved US$20 driving the same route and covering the exact number of miles.

Like really now, what was I thinking losing all that potentially-more-money-to-buy shoes time with my ridiculous reservations? What’s there NOT to love about SAVING cold hard cash? Duh.


Editor’s Notes:

I’ve been asked to share more details about how the app works, so here goes…

  1. Uber will need your name, cell phone number, email, main language and billing information to complete the sign-up process. You don’t have to hand over your credit card information, a PayPal account will do just fine.
  2. Calls are made on demand so please note, you will not be able to book your pickup for a specific time-frame.
  3. You are allowed to select your vehicle preference and depending on the city in which you live, Uber offers up to five categories: Black Car, UberX and SUVs are three of the most popular options.
  4. The app has an inbuilt map so you can either type in your location or pinpoint where you are on the map. As soon as you enter your starting point and destination, a fare estimate will appear.
  5. One of the cool things about the process too, is that you get the name of the driver, a photograph of the person and the license number of the vehicle once you schedule your ride.
  6. Uber rates are based on a combination of time and distance. If the car is travelling under 11 mph (18 km/h), you will be charged by the minute. If it’s going faster than that, you will be charged by the mile. The cost is the same no matter how many people are in the car.
  7. Cash is not used in the transaction. Your billing information is already in the system and you will be emailed a receipt at the conclusion of your ride.
  8. Tipping is not required for Uber services, though clearly appreciated.


Disclaimer: There are risks to everything, so please take all regular precautions when making your transportation decisions. If your instincts say no, don’t go!


My four best sunsets of 2015

I’m a little late with my end-of-year roundups but its still early in 2016 so I figure I’ll proceed with them nonetheless.

These were my four best ‘captured” sunsets of 2015, in no particular order.

Snappas Grill and Chill in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas
Snappas Grill and Chill in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas
Paradise Beach, St. Kitts and Nevis
Paradise Beach, Nevis
Ocean Club Resorts, Turks and Caicos
Grace Bay Beach, Turks and Caicos


South Florida, USA
South Florida, USA


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