There are many ways to experience the Great Wall of China but few are as memorable as hiking the ‘wild wall’, as the unrestored sections are known, on a private day trip.
While it is possible to hike the wall on a group tour, you will likely end up being disappointed. Sharing the wild wall with lots of people defeats the purpose of this experience.
Nothing can compare to the sweeping silence of the landscape and the wild beauty of hiking with just yourselves and a guide. After much research, we opted for a private wild wall hiking tour with Imperial Tours that also included lunch on the Great Wall.
Our itinerary meant the tour would be on our son’s 14th birthday which wasn’t part of our initial plan but was certainly an added highlight. If money is no object, you can do this day trip as part of an exclusive range of private jet tours through China with Imperial Tours.
These journeys are centred around culture, gastronomy and family travel and take travellers through Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing with stays at a five-star Peninsula Hotel in each city. While these sounded fantastic, we opted for just one night at the Peninsula Beijing and a day trip!
As we waited in the hotel lobby, we were feeling a little apprehensive. We had been looking forward to this tour so much, would it live up to expectations?
However, when our guide Leon arrived, we immediately began to relax as he was warm and friendly, without being too familiar, and very well organised. He gave us a quick rundown of the day ahead in fluent English, along with some good and not so good news.
The good news was it was a brilliant day with blue skies as far as the eye could see out at the wall which would make for some incredible photographs; the bad news was it was also very windy which could make our lunch tricky. Oh well, you can’t control the weather.
Leon settled us into a comfortable people mover (with one of the best drivers we have had on any tour) with the air conditioning set to warm as it was only a few degrees above zero outside.
Our trip to the Great Wall took about two hours which is the average time it takes to reach many of the Great Wall locations from Beijing.
The time was well spent with Leon giving us a running commentary about not only the Great Wall but also about life in Beijing with lots of helpful insider tips for getting the best out of our trip to China.
As we were driving to the wall, Leon received regular updates by phone from the Imperial Tours’ chef and his team setting up our lunch on the wall.
Luckily for us, the wind died down as we got closer and the temperature rose to a surprisingly comfortable five degrees. This may seem cold but it was ideal for lunch in the sun without feeling too hot.
We arrived at a small village near the entrance to the wall and made a comfort stop at some western toilets before continuing to the start of our walk.
While some sections of the unrestored wall are a little steep, you don’t need more than an average level of fitness to enjoy this tour. Having a private guide means you can take things at your own pace and stop whenever you like to take photos or have a rest along the way.
Soon we were trekking up a small hill and getting our first glimpse of the wild wall. This is very different from the popular tourist sections of the Great Wall such as Mutianyu, as the wild wall is largely unrestored and has been left to settle into its natural environment.
As we got closer to the top we saw our spectacular lunch venue set high on a flat podium created a crumbling guard tower. We took one look at the bright sunshine, clear skies and views of the Great Wall in both directions and increased our speed.
To say we were impressed would be an understatement. White linen-napped tables with flower arrangements, wine and chilled sparking water and a separate buffet table of food were arranged before us.
“If you will be seated, we will serve your hot first course and then leave you to enjoy your lunch. Chef and I will wait below the tower, just call if you need anything,” said Leon.
He poured French wine for the grown ups, sparkling water and our son’s drink then presented us with three bowls of piping hot pumpkin soup.
Before Leon slipped discretely away, we were invited to help ourselves from a buffet featuring poached chicken roulade plus three salads, crusty bread and excellent cheeses.
Rich chocolate cake, complete with a surprise personalised birthday message for our son, was also waiting on the table. When Leon told us later that the chef previously worked at a five star hotel it came as no surprise. Our lunch was absolutely superb and far more elaborate than we were expecting.
We could have stayed for hours enjoying the fabulous food, and the equally fabulous view, but the opportunity to go hiking on the Great Wall beckoned.
When Leon suggested we walk to one of the distant towers, I didn’t say anything but thought it might be too challenging. However, it turned out the hike was easily done in the time we had available and not hard at all.
One of the advantages of doing a tour is having expert guidance like this which can make or break a trip. During our time on the wall, we only saw three other travellers.
It felt like the Great Wall was ours alone. Leon guided us along the trail, stopping so we could take photos, and giving us a running history lesson about life on the wall.
When our son asked if this section had seen any battles, Leon launched into a vivid and entertaining account of the epic fighting that had taken place right where we were standing.
His stories made the history of the wall come alive. We continued on our way, slowing down to climb up a few tricky sections, before we reached a high peak with a tower overlooking distant sections of the wall which seemed to stretch on forever.
Walking back to where we started was a bit more tricky due to the loose gravel on some parts of the trail which we didn’t notice on the way up.
However, the only thing that gets hurt when you fall on your backside is your pride. We were on such a high from our adventure that not even getting caught in Beijing’s evening traffic could dampen our excitement.
When tour companies promise ‘an amazing once in a lifetime experience’, or words to that effect, guests are often disappointed. However, this tour was everything we had hoped for and more.
Disclosure: The writer was a guest of Imperial Tours and would like to thank them for inviting her husband and son to join her on the tour. If they hadn’t come along, her husband and son would probably still be refusing to speak to her after seeing the photos.