Friends and colleagues warned be before my departure: I was crazy to fly over 12 hours across two continents for only 7 days of fun. I knew it was impossible to visit each corner of the country I had been longing so much to explore – but I was determined to do as much as I could physically and mentally withstand.

And so, in addition to exploring Shanghai’s history and culture, we managed to squeeze in a day in Beijing, another one in Hangzhou and, of course, a trip to the Great Wall.

Mutianyu Great Wall, China

Mutianyu is one of the best preserved parts of the Great Wall, located at about 70 km from Beijing (which, when counted in rush hour, can mount up to almost 4 hours in a tiny bus!).

Mutianyu Great Wall, China

Being so close to Beijing, we expected a large tourist influx. But at arrival we were surprised to see that it was actually possible to have parts of the path entirely for ourselves. Ok, this usually didn’t last longer than a minute before the next visitor walked along – but still, we had enough time to take shots without anyone’s red cap or socks and sandals disturbing the historic view.

Mutianyu Great Wall, China

Unfortunately, we weren’t exactly equipped for a stoney old stair expedition – one of my friends was wearing wedges and the other one a similarly uncomfortable shoe. I, on the other hand, thought I was a smart ass by wearing my Five Fingers. Well, let me tell you something here: think twice about wearing them for a considerable long time on a really hot day!

As we reached the bottom of the BIG CLIMB (dramatic, right?) my feet felt as swollen as a foot of a hobbit. My friend-in-wedges had given up earlier, so it was only two of us left. Would dragging ourselves up there be really worth it?

Mutianyu Great Wall, China

Well, when you’re on the Great Wall of China – you can be assured it always is.

Mutianyu Great Wall, China

Hiking the Great Wall of China

Practical Information

Route: Mutianyu (From Tower 6 to Tower 20 – Towards Jiankou)
Elevation gain uphill: 400m
Elevation gain downhill: 180m
Length: less than 4 km
Duration: 2 hrs
Difficulty: Fairly Easy
Map: Mutianyu Great Wall

Have you been on the Great Wall? Which section would you recommend?

There have been a few times in life when I looked around myself, admired how far I had gotten and then told myself:

Holy sh*t, you actually made it!
(yes, I occasionally talk to myself – specially when I’ve accomplished something good or am about to do something that my other me knows I will regret in a few seconds).

Those times when I’ve felt so proud of myself that I shook my hands in glory and accomplishment have been usually limited to academic stuff: you know, the day I picked up a diploma in my masters’ graduation or the day I arrived a my 14th floor hotel room in Hong Kong and admired the beginning of my career. Or the day my school maths teacher, who peeked into each of our calculators and pencil cases during an exam didn’t notice my super super secret crib. But occasionally, I feel proud after completing a more physical challenge.

This, was one of them.

Overview of the 9km Trail to Mirador las Torres

We started off the day leaving our hotel at 7am to drive to the start of the trail at Hotel Las Torres. The hike is a 9km walk to the Mirador, most of the being (considerable) uphill. At the initial stage, the walk wasn’t steep; but for a good part of it, you walk exposed to the wind (which is usually quite strong around that corner). After walking about 300m uphill, you’ll stay at that level for a while, and will already start appreciating a broad view over the valley.

Torres del Paine, ChileLooking back

Looking into the Valley, Torres del Paine, ChileLooking forward

After reaching the campamento Chileno, you hike for another few hours – first drawing the curves of river Ascensio (a rather comfortable after-lunch walk), and later entering the woods. At this point, the trail starts to become steeper until reaching an open space from where the crazy moraine climb begins.

The Final Stage: Rocky Moraine

This final climb reaches 890m height in only 0.8km distance. However, you need to account for 45min/1 hour to reach the top. This is when you put your hiking shoes into a test – the path is a rocky ramp!

All the way up the moraine, you won’t see more than the peaks of the towers. It’s only once you reach the top that you discover the majestic landscape in front of you.

Torres del Paine, Chile

View From the Mirador: All three towers: Torre Sur, Torre Central and Torre Norte; the Torres glacier and a lake formed of glacial water.

Practical Information

Route: From Hotel Las Torres to Mirador Las Torres (Chile) – circular
Elevation gain uphill: 1.157m
Elevation gain downhill: 1.157m
Length: 19 km
Duration: 8 – 9 hrs trekking (12 hrs including breaks)
Difficulty: Challenging
Wikiloc: Mirador Las Torres, Chile