Last month, we travelled out to China with a group of excited Bucketlisters, ready to take on one of the wonders of the world and the biggest bucket list items out there – the Great Wall of China.
This year, Bucket List guide and former China resident, Hugo, led the group on their once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Hugo has a wealth of experience exploring the highlights of China, so our Bucketlisters were super excited to learn all about the country, its history and culture from him and our local guide, David.
Find out what they got up to on their Great Wall of China trek in Hugo’s trip report!
Travelling to China
The group met at the airport at 8 p.m., full of anticipation for an amazing trip ahead. We all introduced ourselves and quickly made our way through security to board our flight to Beijing.
After a long but comfortable flight, we landed on the other side, where David was awaiting our arrival at the barriers. The journey to the hotel took around an hour and a half, where we checked in and freshened up before meeting at the lobby to go for dinner at a local restaurant.
After dinner, a few of us went out for a short walk around the local village area of Hutong, near the hotel. We explored the village, learning about local foods, cultures and customs, before sampling some street foods whilst practising our Chinese language skills!
Trek day 1
We began our day with a buffet-style breakfast at 07:30, before making ourselves a packed lunch for the trek, with peanut butter and jam, bread, nuts, fruit, chocolate and more. At 9 a.m., we met at the foyer and loaded onto the coach to drive to the first section of the wall that we would be exploring.
After about two and a half hours of driving, we reached our destination: the wild section of the wall from Jiankou towards Mutianyu. The initial climb was very steep with a number of challenging ‘staircases’ and wall ascents and descents. However, the scenery was rugged and spectacular, with the Wall in its natural, untouched condition.
We stopped for our picnic with a view part-way along the wall, before walking into the afternoon. Unfortunately, we narrowly missed the famous toboggan that you can take off the wall, which shut at 5 p.m., but decided to take the gondola early the next morning and toboggan back down before heading to the next section of wall. We walked from here to our first guest house, which was nestled at the base of the hill below the wall.
Trek day 2
After breakfast today, we headed out at 8:30 a.m. to walk back to the gondola entrance and purchased tickets for the gondola up and toboggan down. Off the toboggan, we reached the next section of wall, going from Huanghuacheng to Gubeikou.
This was another ‘wild’ section of the Wall, which required an ascent through the ‘bush’ to then join the wall. The scenery was full of autumnal tones of red and gold in charming contrast to the wall ruins and the bright blue sky.
We enjoyed another packed lunch, and then transferred to another wild section of the wall, from Panglongshan to Gubeikou. This is one of the oldest parts of the Great Wall, which you can tell from the crumbled ruins and ancient towers rising from the hillsides.
The group made a final push for the day up a section of very steep steps, and were rewarded with panoramic views over a reservoir below and the wall snaking above it through the mountains.
We descended to reach our guesthouse in Gubeikou, where we would stay for the next two nights. The group met some other hikers who were also staying here, and exchanged stories about their experiences so far.
In the evening, we checked out the local shop, where the Bucketlister practised their Chinese language skills to buy a few snacks. We also organised some exciting traditional activities for the next day!
Trek day 3
Today, we met early at 06:00 to have a Tai Chi lesson in the square outside our guesthouse. Everyone loved their crash course in this amazing Chinese art form, and it was the perfect way to ‘warm-up’ for the day’s hiking!
We made our packed lunches after breakfast and travelled by bus to the trailhead of our planned Gubeikou walk for the day – the ‘Crouching Tiger’ section of the wall. This section involved a 45-minute climb up a dirt trail, followed by about an hour and a half of slow descent along the side of the wall. When we reached the top, there were fantastic photo opportunities to be had, which the Bucketlisters made good use of!
We ate our lunch on the wall, and then the van took us to the next area of the wall for our afternoon hike on the ‘Hidden Dragon’ section, which was less challenging than the previous walks, but narrow at times. At the end of the day’s hike, we walked back to the guesthouse for 5:30 p.m.
After a quick rest at refresh, it was time for our Chinese cooking class! We learnt how to make traditional dumplings with our hosts, which was a really enriching experience for all, before kicking back for dinner at 7:30 p.m.
Trek day 4
At 8 a.m. this morning, breakfast was eaten, our packed lunches were made and we were en-route to our trailhead.
Today, we were walking the Gubeikou to Jinshanling section of the wall – which begins as a wild wall hiking at the start and then joins the redeveloped section of the wall later in the afternoon.
There are lots of steps to climb, but the weather is good and the views phenomenal. We pass by the 24-Eyes Tower, which got its name from the six windows on each of its sides. Midway along the hike, we stopped for our lunch, with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, uninterrupted by trees.
After lunch, we continue along the restored section above Hemp Village, where locals grow corn, hemp and tobacco. It’s a charming pastoral scene, with donkeys, cows, chickens and dogs milling around.
We arrived at our accommodation in Jinshanling at approximately 5:30 p.m, resting for a couple of hours before sharing a dinner and then spending the evening playing cards.
Trek day 5
We made an 8:30 a.m. start this morning, and began our hike in the morning mist. It was colder than the previous days, and by midday the rain was falling – albeit lightly. We were extra careful with our footing, as the wall could become slippery, however, we ended up coming down off the wall just as the rain started with no problems.
We enjoyed lunch in a local restaurant, by which time the rain had stopped. Next, we travelled to the Huanyaguan section of the wall – our final section. This section comprises a combination of walls from different time periods, and the scenery fantastic. The group made good time, despite the many steep steps.
Reaching our accommodation for the final night of trekking, we ate another shared meal and played some more cards. I mentioned to the group that I was planning to climb a final section of the wall the following morning to watch the sunrise. Five members of the group decided to join me, so we agreed to meet at 5:30 a.m. the following morning.
Sightseeing in Beijing
Wrapped up warm, with our head torches at the ready, we head out for our sunrise hike. This wall section is a final 30 – 45 minute section of predominantly steps, that follows on from the final Hunagyahuan area and ends at the mountain face. The hike was colder than most other days and began in near-darkness. We stayed together as a group and arrived at the final watchtower after approximately 40 minutes of hiking, gazing over the sunrise, which was a beautiful sight, and an interesting new perspective on the wall.
We returned for breakfast at 8 a.m. and set off for Beijing at around 10 a.m. We began by visiting the Birds’ Nest and Water Cube, marvelling at their avant-garde modern architecture. Then, we travelled to the Summer Palace, with its beautiful lakes and gardens dating back to the Qing Dynasty.
Later, we returned to the hotel to drop off our bags and head out for dinner nearby. At dinner, we spoke about the possibility of seeing an acrobatics show, the next day. Some of the Bucketlisters wanted to experience this, so we organised tickets, and then some of us went to Sanlitun Bar Street, where we had some drinks and played the local ‘dice game’, before taking taxis back to the hotel.
Beijing Sightseeing day 2
For our final day of activities, we met David in the lobby at 9:30 a.m. after breakfast and headed out to Tiananmen Square. After our historical tour around the square, we decided to go for an additional activity to visit Mao’s Mausoleum. Although the queue took about an hour, the museum was worth the wait.
After this we visited the Forbidden City, a complex of 980 buildings that were once home to the emperors of China. We travelled from here by bus to a Hutong area, where we had food in a local home before being cycled around the area in rickshaws.
One of the group requested to go to a sports bar to watch the England rugby match, while the rest of us explored the Pearl Market, before the group headed off to watch the spectacular traditional acrobatics show.
After a day jam-packed with activities, we all met up again at the hotel for 7:30 p.m. to head for a farewell Peking duck dinner.
On our last day in China, we met for breakfast at 9 a.m. and then headed to a local supermarket to pick up some last-minute souvenirs. Then, it was simply time to head to the airport and board our flight back to the U.K., after an incredible week of trekking, cultural exchange and adventure!
Inspired by our Bucketlisters’ experience to tick the Great Wall of China trek off your own bucket list? Remember, with us, you can pay monthly and secure your space for just a £200 booking fee! Contact us on 01769 309 003 for more information, or to book your trip, click here!