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Travel Tuesday: Beijing Layover Tour to Great Wall of China

When booking our recent trip to Thailand, I found that Air China was the best deal for flights at the time.  Most Air China flights from the states involved a layover in China.  As we had never been to China, I thought this could present us an opportunity to see at least a small part of this very large country. 
I coordinated our travel so that we had a 9.5 hour layover in Beijing.  I figured at least we would have some time to eat some local food, and maybe see Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City or something.  Little did I realize at time of booking that we'd actually have the opportunity to visit the Great Wall for a few hours... something I have wanted to see my entire life, and a major check off the ol' travel bucket list!
When it came time to start planning our layover activities, I came across a lot of options for "layover tours" in Beijing for people just like me... those who had a long layover in Beijing and wanted to see some sights.  It was on one of these sites that I discovered that Beijing airport is accessible to two parts of the Great Wall: Juyongguan and Mutianyu. Given that Mutianyu happens to be regarded as one of the most scenic parts of the Wall, as well as being less busy/touristy, the decision was a no-brainer.
As the wall was a good 1-1.5 hour drive, we wouldn't have time on the layover to do the Wall and any other spots in Beijing, so we opted to just do the Wall.  With many tour guide choices, I ended up settling on Beijing TourS Guide. Not only was their price competitive, but they also had great reviews (I always check the traveler reviews for places and activities I am trying to book internationally).  What really sold me however was their customer service and responsiveness.  I had a ton of questions, and all were answered promptly and with great information via email.  I was also able to pre-pay in full with PayPal (I could have put just a deposit), which was convenient to me to avoid international transfer fees and exchanging cash on site.
Their customer service rep, Daniel, presented me with this itinerary based on our layover schedule, which made planning very easy:
Mutianyu Great Wall Layover Tour~Pick you up from Beijing airport exit by our private tour guide & driver around 7:30 (Flight number: TBA; 06:30) 

~Drive to Mutianyu Great Wall (07:30-08:30)
~Visit Mutianyu Great Wall (08:30-11:30)
~Transfer back to airport (11:30-12:30)
~End of our service

The reasonable price included admission fees for all of the sightseeing spots listed in the itinerary, private English-speaking tour guide and private vehicle for transfers & sightseeing, service charge & government taxes, bottled mineral water, and China life tourist accident/casualty insurance.  Meals and gratuities for our tour guide and driver would be extra (but this is understandable).
One important thing to consider when leaving the airport during layover in China is that you need to apply for visa-free transit (which you can do for up to 72 hours in Beijing and other cities).  This can be done at the airport, but you do need to understand the process.  I found this article on TripAdvisor to be very helpful for planning purposes.
Our tour guide Herbie picked us up from the airport on time, and was waiting for us with our driver.  He was so great to be around on the drive and during our time at the wall.  He knew so much about Chinese history and the Great Wall that we learned a lot.  He was also a genuinely nice guy, and spoke English very well.  He really added to the experience, and for that we are really happy with our choice of Beijing TourS Guide as our tour company.
We were fortunate enough to visit Beijing on a day with no smog and a cloudless sky with perfect visibility.  We were in for a great day!  For your own info, here is a website with more info on Mutianyu, including prices and history. Here is a map for the Mutianyu section of the wall to help you with some context.

When we arrived at Mutianyu we had to make some choices on how we wanted to go up and down the Wall.  You can hike or chair-lift up, and hike, chair-lift, or toboggan down (more on that later). On top of the entrance fee to the Wall, you do have to pay extra for the transportation options up and down.  We didn't have time to hike (not that we would have - we knew we were in for lots of walking and stairs once on the Wall), and so we chose the adventurous options of chair-lift up, and toboggan down.

The Wall, in a word, was majestic.  Much like our visit to Machu Picchu, it was surreal to be there and see these sights with our own eyes.  It was just very amazing and significant.  In the image above you can see the steepest part of the Great Wall at the Mutianyu section, which we did ascend and descend.  It was no joke.  I recommend shoes with good grip, as the steps are unevenly spaced, and there is a lot of them.  The view at the top was worth it, however!

Here you can see a gorgeous view looking the opposite direction.  In the distance you can see the wall along the top of the entire mountain range, snaking along the landscape.
Here are some more images from our visit:

Now, the toboggan!  I was a little nervous seeing the sign pictured above... but honestly, I am a girl who sky dives and has run with the bulls, so for me, this was the only choice for descending the mountain.
It was really fun, and it was definitely worth it.  You do have to be careful, as you control your own speed and if you go too quickly, you slam into the person in front of you (you can see my husband in front of me in the photo below), and if you go to slowly, someone behind you will slam into you.  If you are unsure, you can actually watch people's YouTube videos of the ride so you can see how long it is, and what it is like.  I never felt like I was about to fly out, but I was definitely on my guard.

I definitely recommend a visit to the Great Wall of China if you have a long layover in Beijing, and I definitely recommend Beijing TourS Guide and our guide Herbie.  I am so grateful for this experience, and for this new travel adventure.  We will definitely be back to China someday to spend time exploring it more... there is a lot to see and do, and we didn't even scratch the surface.
I have also discovered some other great airport tour options.  Here are a few from Beijing Airport Tours that also look like great options:
We would loved to have seen the Forbidden City.  Someday!


Lynn Girard said...

I'm jealous that you had such great weather when you had your layover! When my husband & I were in Beijing for a 12 hour layover we had a layer of fog/smog that was terrible.

Check out what we did during our 12 hours in Beijing:

ramonaruby said...

What a bummer, Lynn! We got really lucky with weather that day!