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A Virtual Hike Across the Great Wall of China

By: Casey Hopkins

Photo of The Great Wall of China from Unplash

The world was put at an unprecedented standstill due to the Coronavirus in the beginning of this year. Country borders, amusement parks, restaurants, beaches, and popular tourist attractions were all closed. As places slowly begin to open now around the world, people continue to be wary of traveling. There are fears of a potential second wave of the virus, so people urge each other to continue to social distance, stay home and stay healthy.

In times like this, it is easy to be upset, especially for those wanderlust adventurers. There is no doubt that it is difficult to stay home during these times. However, it’s important to look at the bright side of things. We currently live in a world surrounded by incredible technology. In fact, we are literally living through the Digital Age. Put the situation into a different perspective. How else can you see the world right now? By traveling virtually. Sit back on your couch, take your shoes off and don’t worry about waiting in long lines with busy crowds while taking a virtual tour of one of the previously named seven wonders of the world: The Great Wall of China.


Extending across more than 13,000 miles on the border between Northern China and Southern Mongolia, the Great Wall of China was constructed with the intended purpose of protecting the Chinese Empire from the invading Mongols. Most historians believe that construction on the Great Wall of China began in the 7th century BC under the leadership of the Zhou Dynasty and ended in the 16th Century under the leadership of the Qing Dynasty. 

Who Built the Great Wall of China and When - from china highlights.com

With each dynasty came both additions and restorations to the Great Wall, culminating in a series of walls. These walls total nearly 13,000 miles and range from 15 to 30 feet high. Through a labor intensive process, workers (soldiers, peasants, and rebels) used materials (stone, soil, sand, and brick) to construct these extensive structures. In fact, it is believed that over 400,000 people died while constructing the wall--with many of them being said to be buried within the walls.

Currently, because of natural erosion and human touch, over thirty percent of the Great Wall has been destroyed. Therefore, it is important for visitors to not litter, damage the walls, or take home any mementos. Luckily, we aren’t capable of harming the Great Wall virtually!

Virtual tour

Thankfully, museums and culture centers are making sure everyone stuck in their homes due to COVID-19 doesn't have to stop enjoying the world. The China Guide offers a truly incredible and captivating experience for virtual hikers that costs only $5.

Along this virtual hike, travelers can explore the 6.5 mile portion of the wall from Jinshanling to Simatai. This area is very well known, as it features impressively well-preserved sections with outstanding views from the wall.

A view of the wall in the Winter

Take the time to slowly click the arrow button as if you're walking along the wall in real life. Use the arrow buttons to turn your view and zoom buttons to gaze at the beautiful mountains, or even just zoom into the wall to get a closer view of the detail of construction.

A view from the watchtower

Along the wall, you will encounter quite a few watchtowers. It was the Han Dynasty in fact that focused so heavily on the construction of the watchtowers, as they believed they were crucial for transmitting signals before a battle. The number of total watchtowers reaches about 25,000 and the distance between each one differs. Additionally, the shape of the towers vary from being square and rectangle, but they are mostly built using brick.

A fire signal from a watch tower. Taken from china-mike.com

The soldiers would use these watchtowers to spot enemy movements, using a puff of smoke in the daytime and a lit fire at night to alert the other soldiers. This was often called “wolf smoke,” as they used dried wolf dung. This smoke was known for its ability to not disperse in the wind, making it a great source to transmit messages quickly.

It is said that soldiers on the Great Wall lit a certain number of fires and fired salvos depending on how many enemies were found.

  • 1-100 enemy soldiers = one beacon fire and one salvo

  • 500 enemy soldiers = two beacon fires and two salvos

The most visited sections of the Great Wall of China

There are quite a few world-famous sections of the Great Wall. These well preserved sections mainly consist of the suburbs of Beijing, sometimes called the gateway to the Great Wall, including Badaling, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Juyongguan, Gubeikou and Jiankou. Badaling has taken the name for the most famous section, where the majority of large tour groups gather. Juyongguan follows close behind in its popularity, since it features one of the three great mountain passes of the Great Wall.

When to visit

Now want to see the Great Wall in person? Plan your trip for when it is safe to travel! Since the wall covers so many areas of China, different places can be best during different times of the year. 

The busiest time for the famous tourist attraction is around National Day (the first week in October) and Spring Festival. The popular sections like Badaling, Juyongguan and Mutianyu can be extremely crowded. August can also be busy due to students on summer vacation traveling with their families.

The months from April to June offer enjoyable weather for all of the sections of the Great Wall near Beijing. This time is great to climb these parts! If you’re looking for a beautiful scene of the wall, you want to visit in late April to early May when the trees begin to blossom. The leaves on the mountains begin to change color in October and early November, making the wall especially picturesque.

A photo of the Great Wall in the fall from Unsplash

During the winter, less tourists are attracted to the Great wall. The weather from December to February tends to be quite cold and windy. If you plan on hiking, avoid the hot and humid months (July and August), as well as anytime after rain or snowfall since it can be slippery.

My experience

I was lucky enough to visit the Great Wall of China with my highschool in March of 2014, and I hope you all are able to make the journey as well. This virtual tour truly does allow you to see the beauty and embrace the history of the wall, in an incredibly convenient way. I urge you to get excited and look forward to a post-quarantine trip to visit the Great Wall in person! Check out my photo gallery below!

10 Fun Facts

  1. The Great Wall of China is the longest man-made structure in the world.

  2. The official length is 21,196.18 km (13,170.7 mi).

  3. Most of today's relics are the Ming Dynasty Great Wall: length 8,851 km(5,500 mi).

  4. The Great Wall is more than 2,300 years old.

  5. The Ming Great Wall crosses 9 provinces and municipalities: Liaoning, Hebei, Tianjin, Beijing, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia, Gansu.

  6. Badaling is the most visited section (63,000,000 visitors in 2001). And in the first week of May and October, the visitor flow can be up to 70,000 per day.

  7. The average height of the Great Wall at Badaling and Juyong Pass is 7.88 meters, and the highest place is 14 meters high.

  8.  Nearly 1/3 of the Great Wall has disappeared without trace.

  9. The Great Wall is not a continuous line: there are side walls, circular walls, parallel walls, and sections with no wall (high mountains or rivers form a barrier instead).

  10. The most popular Great Wall legend is about Meng Jiangnv, whose husband died building the Wall. Her weeping was so bitter that a section of the Wall collapsed, revealing her husband's bones so she could bury them.

Taken from China Highlights

I hope you enjoyed the virtual tour! If you're looking to see more of the world all from your couch, check out Forbes’ list of the 15 best virtual tours!

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