Beijing tips on Great Wall
Q: Will be in Beijing with group of 4 for 1.5 days. Looking for best tips to get to Great Wall and have good experience.
To make things easy, you can either join a group bus tour or go on the trip as a group consisted of just you and your friends. For both you'll get transportation and English-speaking guides. If you do the former, you'll be going with a dozen or so people, more or less, on a bus. They'll pick you up at your hotel (if it is located not far out) in the early morning, take you out to the Great Wall, show you around and let you tour a little. You'll regroup and return to Beijing late in the afternoon. Prices vary, but you'd probably pay $30 per person for such a tour.
Since there are four of you, you can also go on a trip to the Great Wall as a group. You may be looking at $60-70 per person for the guided tour. There will be a small van, a driver and/or a guide. The advantage of this arrangement is of course you have some control over your itinerary. For example, go up to the Great Wall and return early so that you can squeeze in some other activity that afternoon/evening.
There are several sections of the Great Wall outside Beijing that you can visit, including Badaling, Mutianyu, Simatai and a couple of others. Badaling is the most frequently visted whereas the others, just a little farther away, are less crowded (no guarantee). If you go to Badaling, normally the tour includes a visit to the Ming Tombs (Shisanling). If you go as a group by yourself, you may discuss with your guide whether you want to tour the Ming Tombs, depending on you overall plan in Beijing.
On a Great Wall tour, when you arrive at the site, you get up on the Wall either climbing or taking a cable car. You then take a walk on the wall, how far out you go depending on how much time you have and which section of the Great Wall you're visiting. Normally, on a tour, they'll let tourists hike a stretch of the Wall with 4 to 6 beacon towers.
As for which section of the Wall to visit, considerations include the state of the Wall, how crowded it will be, and how much time the trip will take. If you plan carefully, you may be returning from the Wall 3 o'clock in the afternoon and you may use the remaining time of the day for some other activities.
Quite a few travel agencies do the kind of guided tours for foreign visitors above mentioned. You can look around to see which meets your need the best.
There are other ways to visit the Great Wall, but they may not be for foreigners. At Tiananmen Square there is a place where people show up and sign up for a trip to the Great Wall. This is mostly for local Chinese. The cost is roughly 90 Chinese dollars or $12 or so. At various places across the city (for example, Dongzhimen, Dengshengmen), there are also tour buses that go to the Great Wall everyday. This is even cheaper but is often transportation only - everything else is on your own. This may not be the right thing to do for foreign tourists who do not stay in Beijing for long; if they have to try to find their way around, they may not be making the best use of their limited time.
If you plan to go on a guided trip to the Great Wall as a group, you may also consider if you want to plan your overall stay in Beijing with the agency/guide. The advantage, again, is the efficient use of your time. On the other hand, all other major attractions of Beijing, unlike the Great Wall, are in the city or in the suburbs and are not as difficult to access. You may of course decide to keep some free time for yourselves.