I’d waffled over whether to book a private car and driver for our visit to the Great Wall or whether to book a tour. Dan visited the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall with his daughter just a month ago. In their case, he booked a driver. I considered the same, but when I found a tour for the same price that included lunch and the entry fees, I decided this was the better option.
Booking our Mutianyu Great Wall tour
We booked our Mutianyu Great Wall tour through the Travel China Guide website, which ended up booking us with MuBus. After booking through the website, payment was requested through PayPal. While you don’t have to pay immediately, you do need to pay at least a few days in advance of the tour. The total cost, including the PayPal fee, was $130 for the three of us, which seemed reasonable to me, when compared to the price for a private driver. The tour booked through Travel China Guide costs $49 for an adult (older than 8 years). Child tickets cost $29 each, plus they asked for $3 to cover the PayPal fee.
The tour included lunch (which I value at ~$12, given the cheap cost of eating out in China) and the entrance fees to the Mutianyu Great Wall. Entry fees to the section are 40 yuan for adults and 20 yuan for kids between 1.2 and 1.4 meters. It would have cost us 100 yuan (~$15) to enter. Our Mutianyu Great Wall tour guide actually purchased the tickets for us as well, saving us the hassle. Adding in the value of the entrance tickets and lunch, we were effectively paying just $103 for transportation to the wall.
Considering what Dan had paid for a private driver to take him and his daughter to and from the wall, the price didn’t seem too bad to me. However, had I done a little more research, we could have seen the wall for a whole lot cheaper by booking directly through MuBus. The round-trip ticket for a Mutianyu Great wall tour is a mere $13. This would have saved us 60% of the cost!! If having lunch included isn’t a critical requirement for you, I would absolutely book directly with MuBus. We could have packed (or purchased) a lunch and paid our own entry fees and come out ahead.
I guess this is where I reiterate how inexpensive China is in general. The prices as presented for our Mutianyu Great Wall tour honestly felt reasonable enough to me as a foreign tourist coming from America. Three hours of bus travel, lunch, and entrance to the sight we wanted to see for the day isn’t unreasonable. But it is when you take into account the other prices available!
Communication and hotel pickup
During the couple days leading up to the Mutianyu Great Wall tour, I emailed back and forth with a representative from Travel China Guide. The primary issue to discuss was when we would be picked up. Pick-up ranges between 6:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.; our tour included being picked up directly at your downtown Beijing hotel. The cheaper version of the tour booked directly with MuBus requires you to meet the bus at a designated pickup location near the Swisshotel along the 3rd ring road in the Chaoyang district.
Official confirmation of your pickup time is by phone the night before. The email said that they’d call at 8:00 p.m. I waited until 8:30 for our call, but then turned the lights off. We were still suffering from jet lag, and bed came early every evening. I was jolted awake by the sound of the phone at 8:50. MuBus was confirming our pickup time as 6:55 a.m. Not ideal (I’d hoped for later) but we would have to make it work.
In the morning we were picked up about 5 minutes after the scheduled time. Our tour guide came and fetched us from the lobby of our central Beijing hotel (SEE: Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing Review).
It took another 45 minutes to get all the other passengers. If your time is valuable, consider this aspect of a group tour. You could be halfway to the wall in the same time. I believe the bus holds about 48 passengers, and it was pretty full when we departed. The number of buses MuBus runs depends entirely on the number of bookings they receive.
Tour bus ride to the Mutianyu Great Wall
Once we’d picked up the final passengers near the Swisshotel, our tour guide started relaying some of the history of the Great Wall in both English and Mandarin. Her name was “Claire” Wang. She also told us her Chinese name, but I’m not even going to attempt it. Her English was good, but still difficult for my kids to understand (English is their second language).
About 30 minutes before we reached the wall, Claire discussed the various options for purchasing either cable car, chairlift and/or toboggan tickets. In short, two different companies run the transportation up to the Mutianyu Great Wall. You can buy a cable car round trip for 120 yuan or a chairlift/toboggan round trip for 120 yuan. A one way on either will cost you 100 yuan. What you can’t do is a cable car + toboggan ticket, which is what I wanted to do. Unless you want to spend 200 yuan per person. Kids between 1.2 and 1.4 meters tall are half price. You don’t have to purchase tickets for any of the transportation, although it will mean hoofing it up hundreds of stairs.
When we reached our first stop (also a bathroom break), Claire purchased the tickets for us. She obtained the desired ticket types from everyone and then distributed them. It was efficient and helpful to have her do this. Then we all hopped on the bus for a few more kilometers up to the wall.
We reached the wall right at 9:30, about 2.5 hours after we’d left our hotel. Claire led the tour group up to a sign depicting the layout of the Mutianyu Great Wall facilities and gave us a few more helpful pointers. The final announcement was regarding lunch, which was scheduled at 1:40. This gave us plenty of time to explore. We were now on our own and would meet our Mutianyu Great Wall tour group again at that time.
Experience touring the Mutianyu Great Wall
Tickets in hand, we made our way to the chairlift entrance. Soon we were headed through the air up to the top of the wall in our open-air transportation with stunning views. My kids were a bit freaked out. I was giddy.
The chairlift arrives near watchtower #5. From there we slowly climbed up to watchtower #1, the highest point on the east side of the Mutianyu section of the wall. And it was quite a climb. The kids asked to stop often since the stairs were so steep. I didn’t mind in the slightest (as long as the whining didn’t get that bad). The views are magnificent!
The wall and mountain scenery around us was breathtaking. And there were *so* few people on this side of the wall. Supposedly, the other side is the most scenic and is better to hike, but I was entirely satisfied with our choice. Our Mutianyu Great Wall tour seeing this magnificent wonder of the world ranks high on my list of top travel experiences. Here is a panorama near the highest point on the east side of the Mutianyu Great Wall:
The toboggan ride down was one of the highlights. I’d heard from Dan that this was not to be missed, and he is entirely right. The kids *loved* it (SEE: [VIDEO] Great Wall Mutianyu Toboggan Ride review).
If you want to read more about our visit to the wall, (SEE: 5 Days in Beijing: Day 3 – Mutianyu Great Wall Excursion). The amount of time were were afforded by our Mutianyu Great Wall tour with MuBus turned out to be plenty to fully experience the wall. Sure, if I was traveling solo, I would have loved to hike the entire length. And there probably wouldn’t be time for that.
Lunch on our Mutianyu Great Wall tour
We headed down from the wall with about an hour left before we had to meet our group for lunch. We wandered around near the base of the wall for a bit, bought a snack, and then headed down to the restaurant a little before the 1:40 scheduled meal time.
Claire was already there, and we chatted for a bit. She did solicit a 5-star review on TripAdvisor at the end of the conversation. Later, she asked the same of the whole bus. I’m not keen when tour guides or companies do this, but I also understand that this is their livelihood and online ratings drive a *lot* of business these days. It was a little awkward since she flat out told everyone that she “only works if there are enough tour groups booked.” How’s that for making you feel guilty?
Lunch was good. I’d not call it excellent, but it was certainly a decent meal and nice that it was included in the price. Rice and a number of dishes were shared by each table of up to eight people. After that, we all piled back onto out Mutianyu Great Wall tour bus with the rest of the group.
We left for Beijing at about 2:30. The Mutianyu Great Wall tour bus stopped at three different places. First, near the fourth (or third?) outer ring road from where you could catch the subway to the Olympic Park. The second stop was back near the Swisshotel. The last stop is near Wangfujing, where we got off. It is about a 15-minute walk back to the Renaissance.
Overall, I’m happy we booked out Mutianyu Great Wall tour with MuBus, although I wish I would have know it can be done for much cheaper. I found the group tour to be both a good value and stress-free. It is also nice that it isn’t a fully-guided tour the entire time, as you get to explore the wall on your own. I’d highly recommend both the tour and this section of the wall in particular.