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Land of red dragons and Buddhist monks, massive
fortifications and delicate arts, modern skyscrapers
and ancient villages, China and its contrasts mystify and
enchant. Delve into the legacy of China’s myriad dynasties,
hiking three remote sections of the Great Wall and exploring
imperial sites in Beijing and Xi’an. Venture into the Forbidden City
and the ancient caves of Yungang, face Xi’an’s ancient terra-cotta warriors, and
climb the peaks of the holy mountain of Hua Shan. Then immerse yourself in the
surreal karst landscapes of southerly Guilin.
Hike three different sections of the
Great Wall of China over two days and
visit villages built in the shadow of the
Encounter the terra-cotta warrior
army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang in
Xi’an and hike or bike around the old
Float downriver on a bamboo raft past
limestone pinnacles near Guilin.
Sit down to a dumpling extravaganza,
help cook dinner in a family home, and
attend a traditional performance in the
Itinerary - 13 Days
Day 1 — Beijing, China
Arrive in Beijing and check into our hotel, located in a
hutong neighborhood of traditional courtyard houses.
Gather for a welcome dinner this evening.
Hotel Kapok (D)
Day 2 — Forbidden City
Begin the day at the Forbidden City, the imperial palace
complex that has graced the center of Beijing since the early
1400s. Retrace Chinese history from the Ming dynasty to the
end of the Qing dynasty and walk up a nearby hill for a bird’seye
view of the complex. Then visit the Lama Temple, the
most important Tibetan Buddhist site in Beijing—and home to
the largest Buddha statue in the world.
Hotel Kapok (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Great Wall
Head north to the Gubeikou section of the Great Wall where
we kick off our two-day hike along this historic fortification.
Zigzag along the mountain ridges, taking in exhilarating views
and exploring dozens of watchtowers on the way. Our trail
dips down into the mountains, passing through rural villages
on the way to Jinshanling, a portion of the wall begun by the
Ming dynasty in 1570. (6–8 miles hiking, 4–5 hours)
Ramada North Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Great Wall
West of Beijing lies the remote Yangbian Great Wall, the first
section built by the Ming, intended as a model for other segments.
Set out for a day hike on this timeless structure, and
learn about the different building styles and materials used.
(4–6 miles hiking, 3–4 hours)
Hotel Kapok (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Beijing/Datong/Wutai Mountain
Fly to the edge of the Gobi desert to Datong, capital of the
fifth-century Northern Wei dynasty, which saw a golden era
of Buddhist art. This artistic legacy lives on in the Yungang
Grottoes, which brim with ancient artwork. Venture into the
caves to examine paintings, rock-cut sculptures, and Buddhas,
and then encounter the incredible Hanging Monastery,
a series caves and wooden structures built into a sheer cliff.
Qixiange Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Wutai Shan/Taiyuan
Spend today at Wutai Shan, or Wutai Mountain, a sacred
mountain in Chinese Buddhism considered to be the home
of a bodhisattva of wisdom. UNESCO dubbed it a World
Heritage site in 2009 for its multitude of temples, lamaseries,
and monasteries, which we will explore in depth.
Kempinski Hotel Taiyuan (B,L,D)
Day 7 — Taiyuan/Huashan
After breakfast, travel by bullet train to Xian. Upon arrival, have lunch and then transfer by coach to Huashan. Check into your hotel and have some time to relax before dinner.
Huashan Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Mt. Hua/Xi'an
Huashan is one of China’s Five Great mountains, and has a long history of religious significance. It is a Daoist holy mountain. Mt. Hua has five peaks, which are known as the East Peak, the South Peak, the West Peak, the North Peak and the Middle Peak. The South Peak is the highest peak, which is 7,050 feet. We will take a cable car to the top of the North Peak, then hike on the summit to visit all the other peaks. The mountain is known for its adventurous routes. Return to the medieval capital of Xi'an and check in to the hotel. Dinner features a dumpling banquet, where we have the opportunity to taste dumplings of many different shapes, sizes and flavors. (4-6 miles hiking; 4-5 hours) Zuoyouke Hotel(B,L,D)
Day 9 — Xi'an
After breakfast, visit the legendary
terra-cotta army of the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Face thousands of clay troops buried near the emperor’s tomb to serve him in the afterlife. In the afternoon, visit Xi’an’s massive, eight-mile-long, 40-foot-tall city wall, which is surrounded by a deep moat. If you wish, explore the area by bike. Stroll through the Muslim quarter, which traces its history back to Arab and Persian merchants who settled here after journeying the Silk Road. Enjoy dinner at a restaurant in the Muslim Quarter.
Zuoyouke Hotel (B,L,D)
Days 10, 11, & 12 — Guilin/Yangshuo/Yulong River
Fly to Guilin and transfer to charming Yangshuo on the Li
River. Explore the town before an evening water and light
show, where more than 600 singers and dancers perform
against the background of the region’s distinctive karst
formations. The next day, hike up Moon Hill, then raft down
the Yulong River through the otherworldly karst scenery
of gumdrop-shaped mountains and limestone crags. A
local family hosts us in their home for a dinner of regional
specialities that we’ll help prepare. On our final day, enjoy
time at leisure in Yangshuo, or bike to Fuli village for a visit
to workshops where China’s distinctive traditional paper
fans are made. (Day 12: 3 miles hiking, 1–2 hours)
Yangshuo Resort (B,L,D daily)
Day 13 — Guilin
Drive back to Guilin to catch flights home. (B)
National Geographic Active Expeditions are unique, active itineraries for intrepid travelers that combine spectacular places, cultural interaction, and physical challenge. You'll explore fascinating, off-the-beaten-path places with top guides, and wherever possible, meet National Geographic experts in the field.
Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room,
add $1,500. International airfare to Beijing and return from
Guilin is not included in the cost. The group flights within
China are $460 (subject to change).