Built between the 5th century B.C. and the 16th century A.D. to block outsiders, the 5,000-mile Great Wall has ironically become the very thing most visitors come to China to see. From Beijing, skip the most popular section, Badaling, which can be an exercise in dodging crowds. Instead travel an extra 30 minutes to the well-preserved segment in the model village of Mutianyu, itself worth exploring (mutianyugreatwall.net).
Make the 90-minute journey by taxi—independent cabbie John Ping charges $88 round trip. Book him a week in advance and factor in a customary 10 percent tip (011-86/131-4688-9929, beijingcardriver.com).
Plan of Attack
A 20-minute trek or a $7.25 gondola ride gets you onto the wall. Amble west for nearly a mile along gentle hills marked by watchtowers. At tower No. 22—the highest—the views of pine forest seem straight out of a Ming scroll. Retrace your steps and go east another three quarters of a mile to tower No. 4, the only lookout with three turrets. Near the tower's base, wheeled sleds on a metal track ($7) whisk you back to your driver and to vendors selling "I climbed the Great Wall" T-shirts (about $5). Yes, you want one.
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