Dos and don'ts at the Great Wall of China

Mark Orwoll, International Editor, Travel + LeisurePublished 8th June 2012
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(CNN) — One of the oldest existing man-made structures, more than 2,000 years old and a world-travel icon that ranks alongside the pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge -- the Great Wall of China should be on every traveler's bucket list.
To make the most of your visit, take some advice from these dos and don'ts.
DO choose a section of the wall that's right for you.
Most travelers visit one of these sections from their hotel base in Beijing: Juyongguan (closest to Beijing but less interesting than most other sections); Badaling (close but crowded); Mutianyu (farther away but less crowded and set among gorgeous mountains); and Jinshanling and Simatai (farther away still, but perfect for adventurers). Note: Simatai is currently closed for site improvements.
DON'T spend less than two or three hours exploring the wall. You'll need at least that much time to get the true flavor of the centuries-old structure.
DO go in the spring or fall, when the weather is fine and the crowds are few. Summertime is often too hot, and winter can be treacherous.
DON'T forget plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat if you visit during the blazing summer. You'll need it all.
DO consider signing up for a day tour at your hotel's activities desk. It's the simplest way to go. Tours cost around $30 per person and include mini-bus transportation with an English-speaking guide and driver.
DON'T visit the wall on weekends or holidays, when it is most crowded. Remember, it's not just foreigners who tour the Great Wall. Chinese love to visit as well on their days off.
DO visit either Badaling or Mutianyu if you have mobility concerns; they both have aerial cable cars. Mutianyu also has a ski lift, but only Badaling is wheelchair accessible.
DON'T expect clear skies. The awful smog that often afflicts Beijing can spread to the wall itself, lending a dull haze to the surroundings. If possible, do try to visit on a breezy day or after a rainstorm.
DO take a ride on the wild, mile-long toboggan track that leads down from the wall at Mutianyu to the village at the base of the wall.
DON'T believe that you can see the wall from space. Apollo astronaut Alan Bean said he tried to spot it, but that no man-made object is visible once you leave the Earth's orbit.
Have you visited the Great Wall? Share your tips below.