China - The Great Wall

Under construction from the 3rd century BC to the 16th century AD, the Great Wall of China stretches from east to west across one of the largest countries in the world. From Shan-Hai Pass near Po Hai to Chia-Yu Pass, this around 6,000 km combination wall and string of fortresses is among the largest man-made objects on the planet. Even today minor repairs or reconstructions are continually being made.

Built to protect the 'Middle Kingdom' from raids by the Mongols, the Huns and other marauding tribes, the wall stretches across northern China, approaching within 60 km of Beijing. As a result, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations for visitors to that dynamic city.

The portions accessible to most visitors were constructed beginning around 1368 AD to roughly 1640 AD, with much of it in only the last hundred years of that period. Many watchtowers line the top, extending to the famed Gobi Desert and the oases of the Silk Road.

Visitors can see portions in all states of preservation and repair. In some areas, the limestone blocks are little more than rubble. Many areas, though, have remained intact or been restored. Those wanting to see it as it might have been can visit the reconstructed areas. Those who prefer their archaeological artifacts as nature has eroded them, devoid of crowds, can see that as well.

About an hour from Beijing is the section called Si Ma Tai. The section is rough and the climb would represent a challenge for many. But there are guides and assists for those requiring them.

Much of the terrain near the wall shown in photos appears dry and dusty, possibly discouraging a visit. But, in the area known as Mu Tian Yu, the wall is near heavily forested mountains, making the long trip well worth it.

The section known as Jin Shan Ling has not undergone reconstruction in the last 400 years. As a result, those who prefer their archaeological sites rough and un-retouched may want to visit this part.

For the truly hardy, there's the 10km walk from Jinshanling to Simatai with breathtaking views and few tourists. At the Simatai end, there's an 800m cable ride down, so you can rest your aching feet.

The section at Huanghua is more off the beaten track and hikers will enjoy the opportunity to climb the wall in uncrowded conditions. You can even camp out overnight, if you dare. Take care to travel in a group in order to avoid difficulty with the locals, though.

Badaling is one section that has been renovated and, as a result, tends to be more heavily populated with tourists. The upside is a much safer walk, where there's no risk of being accosted by locals attempting to make an unauthorized dollar out of your visit. It's also one of the closest sections to Beijing, representing a shorter trip there and back.

At whatever location the wall is toured, the views of the surrounding scenery is as spectacular as the wall itself. Don't miss out on a visit to one of the world's most extraordinary sites.