Mongolia Itinerary: How To Spend 2 Weeks In Mongolia
By Jessie Festa. This guide to planning a trip to Mongolia contains affiliate links to trusted partners.
Need help planning an unforgettable Mongolia itinerary ?
Then you’re in the right place!
Known as the Land of the Blue Sky, Mongolia is renowned for its natural beauty, nomadic heritage, and rich culture, all of which you will experience through the below travel plan.
As this beautiful country is remote and isn’t influenced by mass tourism, it’s possible to enjoy a truly authentic experience while having many of Mongolia’s special places all to yourself.
But, what are the best places to visit within 2 weeks in Mongolia?
The below itinerary shares exactly where to go and what to do – with suggestions for shorter and longer itineraries included. Not only that, but you’ll learn important tips for staying safe and enjoying your trip, plus must-pack essentials.
Ready to embark on an unforgettable trip to Mongolia? Grab your passport and let’s go!
Note: This Mongolia travel itinerary is based on a trip I did with WHOA Travel, a sustainable adventure travel company for women. They work with a local partner, Eternal Landscapes, who focus on immersive and sustainable experiences in Mongolia. I’ll share more below about booking tours and drivers.
⏳ My top Mongolia travel recommendations include: ✈️ Airport Transfer: Book that here 🏨 Hotel: Puma Imperial Hotel (in Ulaanbaatar) 🗺️ Tours: Viator 🎒 Multi-Day Tour Operator: WHOA – use code JESSIEONAJOURNEY for $100 off! 📍 Recommended Excursions: 🐎 Genghis Khan Statue with Terelj National Park & Aryabal Temple 🇲🇳 4-Day Essencence on Mongolia Tour 🛍️ Full-Day Tour of Ulaanbaatar with Museum & Black Market 🥾 Bogd Khan National Park Hiking Day Trip 🥘 Cooking Class: Cooking Class in a Traditional Ger Home in Ulaanbaatar Suburbs 🏥 Travel Insurance: SafetyWing 📞 Staying Connected: Airalo eSIM
Table of Contents
Free Mongolia Itinerary Planning Resources
But first, before we go over tips for planning a trip to Mongolia , I invite you to grab my free Ultimate Travel Planning Kit — which includes 40+ travel resources — from printables to quizzes to itineraries — all meant to help you explore the world beyond the guidebook!
Some highlights of the kit include:
- Free “Where Should You Travel Next?” personality quiz
- Pre-plotted Google Maps for 50+ destinations (including Mongolia)
- Printable travel journal with writing prompts
- Packing lists for different types of trips
Once you’ve grabbed your copy , keep reading for tips for traveling to Mongolia .
Is Mongolia Worth Going To?
As someone who has visited Mongolia , I think it is one of the most special places in the world.
Something really unique about Mongolia is it only receives about 66,900 tourists per year , meaning you can still have a very authentic experience that isn’t watered down to appeal to the masses.
While there are places you go and see a lot, Mongolia is a place you will go and experience a lot – including many that will be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before!
Is Mongolia Safe?
According to Travel Safe-Abroad , Mongolia has one of the lowest crime rates in Asia and is one of the safest places to travel. Your main concern will be petty theft in Ulaanbaatar – so make sure you know how to avoid pickpockets .
If you’re interested in solo travel in Mongolia, also know that the country is generally safe for female travelers. As always, just make sure to use common sense and keep the usual travel safety tips in mind.
Best Time To Visit Mongolia
The best time to travel to Mongolia depends on where you plan to go, what you plan to do, and your ability to handle extreme heat and cold.
Summer (June-August) is the peak tourism season, with warm weather and important festivals in Mongolia like Naadam taking place.
If you want to enjoy nice weather while saving money on high-season prices, autumn (September to October) and spring (March to May) are also great options. Just note that the latter can still be pretty chilly.
Mongolia’s winters are harsh, though if you can handle the cold you can partake in seasonal experiences like dog sledding and ice festivals.
Getting To Mongolia
If you’re arriving from out of the country, you’ll fly into Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital.
It’s a modern airport with amenities like restaurants, shops, WiFi, and SIM cards for purchase. Additionally, many airlines service the airport, like Turkish Airlines, Korean Air, MIAT, Asiana Airlines, Air China, and more.
Getting Around Mongolia
In Ulaanbaatar, you can get around on foot and by public bus.
There are also ride-hailing apps like UBCab, though when I tried to use it it required a Mongolian phone number. Alternatively, you can hail a cab on the street by sticking your arm out or call a taxi company to order a car and ask for the driver’s license plate number and arrival time.
To explore Mongolia beyond Ulaanbaatar, it’s highly recommended to hire a driver. Do not try to rent a car, as the roads are typically unmarked, unpaved, and tough to navigate.
You’ll also want to pre-book a driver for getting to and from the airport in Ulaanbaatar, as the drive takes about 1-2 hours. You can book your driver here .
Mongolia Travel Map
To help give you a lay of the land, here is a map for visiting Mongolia. It includes most of the main points and activities mentioned in the below 2 week Mongolia itinerary pre-plotted:
Click here for the interactive version of the above map .
2 Week Mongolia Itinerary (Overview)
Now let’s discuss our recommended Mongolia travel itinerary. With 2 weeks in Mongolia, you can spend:
- 2 days in Ulaanbaatar
- 4 days in the Mongolian Gobi Desert
- 4 days in the Altai Mountains
- 2 days in Hustai National Park
Feel free to adjust the timing of this Mongolia trip based on your preferences.
2 Week Mongolia Itinerary (Full Breakdown)
Now that we’ve quickly gone over where you should go for your Mongolia 2 week itinerary, let’s break down exactly what you should do. These are some of the best places to visit in Mongolia , and the following suggestions can help you really maximize your time in each spot.
Note that this itinerary is based on my own trip to Mongolia with WHOA Travel and their local partner Eternal Landscapes Mongolia – both of which are highly recommended companies!
Stop #1) Ulaanbaatar (North Central Mongolia)
Length: 2 days Tours: Click here for a list of top-rated Ulaanbaatar tours Recommended hotels near the tourist-friendly Chinggis Square area: – Puma Imperial Hotel (my favorite) – H9 Hotel Nine – Shangri-La Ulaanbaatar – Click here for a full list of top-rated Ulaanbaatar hotels Restaurants: -Grand Khaan Irish Pub (wide variety of Mongolian and Western dishes) -Modern Nomads (mix of Mongolian and global fare) -Hazara (delicious Indian food) -Azzurro (Mongolian restaurant with amazing views) -Luna Blanca Vegan Restaurant (Mongolian food is extremely meat-heavy, so head here when you’re craving lighter and more vegetable-forward fare)
Ulaanbaatar is the capital city of Mongolia and is where you can explore the country’s rich heritage as well as its modern present.
Though much of this Mongolia itinerary takes place in the countryside, spending some time in the big city will allow you to adjust to your new surroundings while educating yourself on the local history and culture.
It’s recommended to spend the first day of your Mongolia trip taking it easy and acclimating to the time zone. Grab your camera and wander around the lively Chinggis Square (Sukhbaatar Square), which is frequently used for events, festivals, and concerts.
You’ll also be able to take in some gorgeous views of the city – particularly of the Blue Sky Tower Residence , which looks like the body of a cobra.
Here you’ll also find numerous points of interest like a statue of Chinggis Khaan (Genghis Khan) as well as the Chinggis Khaan Garden , Mongolian State Academic Theater of Opera & Ballet , and the Cultural Palace (which houses the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery ).
Beyond the square, you can leisurely peruse important institutions like the National History Museum of Mongolia , the Bogd Khaan Palace Museum of Mongolia , and the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Art.
You might also consider visiting Gandantegchinlen Monastery (Gandan Monastery), Mongolia’s largest active monastery. Founded in 1838, it’s one of Mongolia’s only Buddhist monasteries to survive the Stalinist purges , a time when many Buddhist temples were destroyed. Inside, there is a towering 26.5-meter-tall Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, glimmering in gold.
On your second day in Mongolia, you might opt to do another museum – though you should also take a trip to Zaisan Hill Memorial .
Make sure to eat a hearty breakfast, as you’ll need to walk up 600 steps. Luckily, you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the Ulaanbaatar skyline, the Tuul River, and the surrounding hills and mountains.
For a bit of background, the memorial was built between 1971 and 1974 to show gratitude to the Soviet Union (USSR) for its assistance during Mongolia’s fight against Japanese forces. It features a memorial complex honoring the Soviet soldiers who lost their lives during WWII.
Interested in Ulaanbaatar nightlife? Along with your typical bars and clubs, you can also see a local throat singing performance!
Stop #2) Mongolian Gobi Desert (Southern Mongolia)
Length: 4 days Tours: I was accompanied by Eternal Landscapes for my entire Mongolia itinerary for 2 weeks. No matter what company you go with, you will absolutely want to go with a guide and driver. The roads in the Gobi Desert are unpaved and unmarked, making them extremely hard to navigate. Plus, your guide can act as a translator when needed. Stay: When staying overnight in the Gobi you’ll be camping and/or doing ger homestays organized by your Mongolia tour operator.
No trip to Mongolia would be complete without spending some time in the world-famous Gobi Desert. Spread out over 500,000 square miles (1,300,000 square kilometers), there is a lot to do and see here.
Fun fact: did you know that only 5% of the Gobi Desert is sand dunes ? As you journey through this Mongolia itinerary highlight, you’ll see the landscape morph between grassy steppes, lush valleys, granite mountains, and even rivers and lakes – making it the perfect place for outdoor adventures like hiking and biking.
During my time in the Gobi Desert, I biked from place to place, with support vehicles always nearby.
On the first night, my group camped in Baga Gazriin Chuluu Nature Reserve , which showcases rugged rock formations and towering granite mountains begging to be climbed.
It was incredible sleeping under a sky full of stars and plants (I saw Venus!) and waking up to hike the rock formations at sunrise. There are also horses, mountain sheep, wild goats, and marmots.
Within the reserve, we also visited the ruins of Chuluun Sum (Rock Temple), believed to be part of the larger Tsorjiin Khuree Monastery. Like hundreds of other monasteries, it was destroyed during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, though the ruins offer sacred solace as well as sweeping views of the surrounding steppe.
From there, we headed to Jargalant Cave , a striking 18-meter-long cave where you’re forced to belly crawl the deeper you go in.
Continuing on the Gobi Desert portion of the trip, the scenery continued to be stunning and the animal viewing plentiful. Keep your eyes peeled for Bactrian camels, which have two humps. Mongolia is one of the few places in the world where you can see them!
A few other highlights:
- Camping outside the ger home of a local family for a cultural twist
- Planting a tree with the Gobi Tree Planting Project and doing a homestay with the founder’s family
- Seeing a local concert in the town of Erdenedalai
Alternative Gobi Desert Itinerary
Alternatively, another option for this portion of your Mongolia itinerary is to fly from Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar to Dalanzadgad Airport to begin your Gobi Desert journey at Bayanzag .
Also known as the Flaming Cliffs thanks to their bright red color, Bayanzag is a famous paleontological site where dinosaur eggs and fossils have been found.
From there, you can travel to the Khongor Sand Dunes , which are some of Mongolia’s largest white dunes. When it is windy, they make a unique sound that leads people to also call them the “Singing Dunes.” You can climb to the top of the dunes to take in gorgeous Gobi Desert views and then slide down for a unique experience.
The dunes are located within Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park – Mongolia’s largest national park; so on the final days, you can continue exploring its beauty.
This name translates to “Three Beauties of Gobi,” a nod to three beautiful subranges: Western Beauty, Middle Beauty, and Eastern Beauty.
One place of interest within the park is the Yol Valley , which narrows gradually into a stunning gorge as you move through it.
After your time in the Gobi Desert, fly back to Ulaanbaatar.
Stop #3: Altai Mountains (Western Mongolia)
Length: 4 days Tours: I was accompanied by Eternal Landscapes for my entire time traveling in Mongolia. No matter what company you go with, you will absolutely want to go with a guide and driver. The roads in the Altai Mountains are unpaved and unmarked, making them extremely hard to navigate. Plus, your guide can act as a translator when needed. Stay: When staying overnight in the Altai Mountains countryside you’ll be camping and/or doing ger homestays organized by your Mongolia tour operator.
The main reason I love Mongolia is its natural beauty, which really shines in the Altai Mountains. Personally, this was the main highlight of traveling to Mongolia, as the region is one of the most stunning I have ever seen.
Stretching across China, Kazakstan, Mongolia, and Russia, the snow-capped mountains, lush valleys, glacial lakes, and crystal rivers of the Altai region beg you to stay a while and explore the outdoors.
From Ulaanbaatar, you’ll fly into Ölgii Airport , the gateway to the Bayan-Ölgii Province . From here, you’ll journey by car for about 4-6 hours into the Mongolian countryside.
While you can camp, it’s highly recommended to spend some of your time doing a ger homestay with a local Kazakh family to learn more about their way of life as nomadic herders. Many Kazakh people fled political unrest in Kazakhstan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, ending up in Mongolia.
Today, you can immerse yourself in their culture through activities like learning how they hunt with eagles, Kazakh embroidery, helping tend to the farm animals and cooking, listening to traditional Kazakh music, eating Kazakh foods, sipping milk tea, and simply spending time with them.
On the first night of my homestay, I was welcomed with a feast that included beshbarmak , a Kazakh dish of boiled meat like mutton and horse as well as thick flat noodles. The name translates to “five fingers” in Kazakh, referring to the traditional way of eating the dish with one’s hands.
While visiting the Altai Mountains , you’ll undoubtedly do a lot of hiking. One incredible place to do this is Altai Tavan Bogd National Park , which encompasses 6,362 square kilometers (2,456 square miles) of beauty.
Some highlights of the national park include:
- Khuiten Peak , the highest peak in Mongolia (the park is actually home to the five highest in the country)
- Potanin Glacier , the largest glacier in Mongolia
- Ancient rock art and petroglyphs (which are considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Along with hiking, you can enjoy activities like horseback riding, mountain climbing, fishing, and spotting wildlife like ibex, argali sheep, and snow leopards.
Once you’re done with your adventure, fly back to Ulaanbaatar.
Stop #4: Hustai National Park (Central Mongolia)
Length: 2 days Tours: Click here for a list of top-rated tours to Hustai National Park from Ulaanbaatar – including a day tour of the park if you’d like to do a shorter trip. Stay: When staying overnight near Hustai National Park you’ll be camping and/or doing ger homestays organized by your Mongolia tour operator.
Located about 2-3 hours by car from Ulaanbaatar – including a mix of highway and off-roading – Hustai National Park is known for its wildlife, particularly its wild horses.
Interestingly, the park was originally created to reintroduce Takhi or Przewalski horses in 1992 – which, according to my guide, are the world’s only true wild horses.
The main activities in the park are:
- Visiting the museum and gift shop
- Doing a wild horse game drive
- Hiking to enjoy the beautiful scenery and see wildlife like red-footed falcons, red deer, eagles, and marmots
- Bird watching
- Horse riding and camel riding
It’s also a great place to stay with a local family in a ger for some cultural immersion. I stayed with the Batchuluun family just outside of the park, who taught me how to do traditional Mongolian felt-making. I even got to make my own pair of earrings!
Another highlight of the homestay was enjoying a traditional Mongolian barbecue ( khorkhog ). For this, large river stones are collected to be heated and used in the cooking process.
The meat – typically mutton, and we also had chicken – is cut into small, bite-sized pieces and seasoned with salt. Additionally, my hosts added veggies like large carrots, potatoes, and cabbage.
When it’s time to cook the meat, a large pot is heated using the stones – which are also added inside the pot. Basically, you layer the stones, then the meat and ingredients, and repeat this process. Thick dough is added at the top to help seal the heat.
The ingredients are cooked for several hours, allowing them to tenderize. Yum!
Stop #5: Ulaanbaatar (North Central Mongolia)
Finish up your Mongolia tourism experience back in the capital enjoying some of the experiences you didn’t get to do at the beginning and adding on some new ones.
When it comes to what to see in Mongolia, one popular activity is a day tour of the giant Genghis Khan Statue, Terelj National Park, and Aryabal Temple .
The statue is the largest horse statue in the world at 40 meters tall, and you’ll be able to climb to the top.
Additionally, you’ll hike the uniquely-shaped Turtle Rock and to Ariyabal Meditation Temple , the latter of which is a peaceful place known for its beauty and panoramic views. For many, it’s an Ulaanbaatar itinerary highlight!
Shorter Mongolia Itineraries
Short on time? Here is how I would tweak the itinerary if you have less than 2 weeks in Mongolia:
5 Days In Mongolia . If your trip is only 5 days, I’d personally start and end in Ulaanbaatar and spend the middle 3 days in the stunning Altai Mountains.
Alternatively, you might choose to base out of Ulaanbaatar and do driveable trips to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and Hustai National Park. You could also do a day trip to Elsen Tasarkhai for a Semi Gobi Experience .
7 Days In Mongolia. With one week in Mongolia, I’d stick to Ulaanbaatar as well as driveable trips from the city. Additionally, I’d include 3-4 days in the Altai Mountains.
10 Days In Mongolia. With 10 Days in Mongolia, I’d keep the above 2-week itinerary almost the same except I’d cut Hustai National Park and spend one less day in the Gobi Desert and one less day in Ulaanbaatar.
Bonus Destinations For A Mongolia Itinerary
Are you spending 3 weeks in Mongolia, or maybe you want to swap out a different destination for something else?
You can see a long list of recommended Mongolia destinations here, a few of which include:
Lake Khovsgol National Park (Northern Mongolia). Also known as Khövsgöl Nuur National Park, it showcases 8,865 square kilometers (3,423 square miles) of natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and wildlife like the Siberian ibex, argali sheep, Eurasian lynx, and the gray wolf. You can also visit Lake Khövsgöl — aka the “Blue Pearl,” one of Central Asia’s largest and deepest freshwater lakes.
Tsagaan Suvarga (Southern Mongolia). Also known as the White Stupa, this Mongolia attraction showcases huge limestone cliffs that look like a row of stacked stupas in the Gobi Desert.
Orkhon Valley (Central Mongolia). This is a popular addition to a Mongolia itinerary due to its historical, cultural, and natural significance. Take in the astounding beauty of the landscape and also make sure to see Mongolia’s largest waterfall, Ulaan Tsutgalan (Orkhon Waterfall).
Tips For Planning A Trip To Mongolia
The following advice can help you maximize your Mongolia itinerary:
Consider booking a tour. As I stated in the introduction, my trip to Mongolia was with WHOA Travel and their local partner organization, Eternal Landscapes . Both companies were absolutely fantastic and made traveling through Mongolia a lot easier.
Not only that, but having a local guide allowed me to have experiences I wouldn’t have been able to find on my own while also immersing myself in the local culture. For instance, I did a number of ger homestays, and would not have been able to communicate with my hosts had it not been for my local guides.
Hire a driver. While Ulaanbaatar is a typical city with clear street signs and addresses, traveling through more remote places like the Gobi Desert and the Altai Mountains isn’t as straightforward.
I was constantly amazed at how our drivers were able to figure out where we were going when there wasn’t any signage for hours. For this reason, and because the roads are rough, it’s recommended to go with a tour or at least hire a local driver when you travel to Mongolia.
Realize there will be a lot of travel time and bumpy roads. Along with spending a lot of time in the car, you’ll be going over bumpy and uneven terrain. I suggest doing some yoga or stretching before getting in the car, and having podcasts and audiobooks downloaded for entertainment.
Prepare to eat a lot of meat and dairy. During my 2 weeks in Mongolia, I was offered mutton at almost every meal. Luckily, as a vegetarian, my Eternal Landscapes guides were able to prepare special meals for me.
Additionally, dairy is a huge part of Mongolian culture since many people rely on herding livestock for their livelihoods. When you stay in a ger camp, you’ll always be offered some type of milk or milk tea, which is a sign of hospitality. It is rude to refuse, so drink up.
Always carry toilet paper. In the Mongolian countryside and at your ger homestays, you’ll be going to the bathroom in a hole in the ground. Additionally, even in the city, many bathrooms don’t have toilet paper – so make sure to carry your own.
What To Pack For A Trip To Mongolia
Along with your regular packing essentials, clothing, toiletries, and medications, a few specialty items to bring include:
- Toilet paper
- Biodegradable cleansing wipes
- Hand sanitizer
Hydration & Sun Protection
- Water bottle or hydration bladder
- Portable water filter
- Chapstick with SPF
- Polarized sunglasses
Camping & Homestay Essentials
- Sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping liner
Outdoor Adventure Essentials
I found these items particularly important when visiting the Altai Mountains:
- Down jacket
- Rain jacket
- Daypack with waterproof cover
- Hiking snacks
- Moisture-wicking base layer
- Hiking boots with Gore-Tex
- Moisture-wicking socks
- Sock liners
- Moleskine adhesive
Other Items To Bring
- Gifts for your host family (optional, but appreciated)
- Portable charger since there aren’t outlets
- Travel insurance — essential to make sure you’re always protected
Mongolia Travel Itinerary Planning FAQ
Here are answers to frequently asked questions about planning the perfect Mongolia itinerary:
Q: How many days are enough for Mongolia?
When it comes to how long to spend in Mongolia, realize the country is large and that travel times between places can be long. For this reason, it’s recommended to spend a minimum of 10 to 14 days in Mongolia to see some of the main highlights.
Q) Is Mongolia friendly to American tourists?
Hospitality is deeply rooted in Mongolian culture, and locals are typically friendly and welcoming to all tourists, including Americans.
Q) Is Mongolia a cheap place to visit?
In general, Mongolia is considered to be an inexpensive travel destination. Budget travelers can expect to spend around $30 to $50 per day, while mid-range travelers may spend approximately $70 to $100 per day.
Q) Is it possible to do an independent trip across Mongolia?
While it is possible, it is highly recommended to book a tour or at least a driver, as roads outside of Ulaanbaatar tend to be unmarked, unpaved, and very hard to navigate. Additionally, a guide can help you communicate with your ger homestay hosts, who most definitely won’t speak English.
Q) What are some typical Mongolian foods to try?
A few traditional Mongolian foods to try include buuz (meat dumplings), bansh (smaller dumplings typically boiled in soup or fried), and khorkhog (authentic Mongolian barbecue).
Mongolia Travel Insurance
When visiting Mongolia — or anywhere else in the world — it’s wise to get travel insurance.
One of the best travel medical insurance for travelers is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country.
Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.
Click here to price out travel insurance for your trip in just a few clicks .
Final Thoughts On Planning A Trip To Mongolia
I hope you enjoyed this Mongolia travel blog! There are so many incredible places to visit when traveling or backpacking in Mongolia.
Whether you want to use domestic flights to get around, do day trips from Ulaanbaatar, or create more of a Mongolia road trip itinerary, you can enjoy spectacular scenery and rich culture.
And if you follow the above-mentioned Mongolia travel guide, you’ll experience some of the best the Land of the Blue Sky has to offer.
What would you add to this Mongolia itinerary?
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Discover Mongolia: The Ultimate Travel Guide
From the best time of year to visit to how to get a SIM card and where to register with immigration , these are the important things to know as you plan your trip to Mongolia.
Experience the World’s Coldest Capital During this Ulaanbaatar Winter Tour
Holiday Inn Ulaanbaatar Hotel Review: Best Hotel for the Budget
The Best Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants in Ulaanbaatar
Table of contents.
Mongolia. The Land of the Eternal Blue Sky, Genghis Khan and The Hu .
A place where 25% of the population is still nomadic , living a traditional lifestyle that means living in a ger (yurt), following their herds, moving several times a year (usually once or twice each season) and migrating across the lands as they’ve done for centuries. It’s a tough, but special place. A place where not many outsiders travel to, but the ones who do often can’t get enough of it. (Look at me, I liked it so much after one visit I moved there. Crazy, I know, but it’s been the best decision of my life.)
It takes a special kind of traveler to embark on a journey that could take 24+ hours by airplane, usually with two to three flight legs, only to land and almost immediately get into an old-school, less-than-comfortable Russian UAZ-452 Furgon, only to bounce up and down for hours on end as you travel across non-existent roads, stopping for the night to sleep in a nomadic family’s ger, and eat a simple herder meal consisting of mutton and fried noodles (a dish called tsuvian ) and salty milk tea. It’s a journey that will lack comfort and luxuries, but will be rich in culture and connection, and self-discovery. It’s a journey that will quite simply change the way you look at life.
So, whether you choose to head to the northern part of the country to embed yourself with the Tsaatan Tribe, the last tribe in the world that herds and rides semi-wild reindeer, or to the west for an apprenticeship with the country’s famed eagle hunters, you’ll quickly realize that Mongolia is unlike any other place in the world, and that’s exactly what makes it so special.
Use these tips for navigating the country and know these important things before you visit – your journey will be trying enough, why make it any harder on yourself.
Planning a Trip to Mongolia?
Below are some of the best tours, hotels, and more that I recommend checking out.
Top Tours in Mongolia :
- Camels, Horses, And Khans: Live With Mongolia’s Nomadic Families During This Small Group Tour
- How To Attend Naadam 2024: Join This Small Group Tour
- Snow Leopards, Fossils, And Flaming Cliffs: Join This Adventure In The Gobi
Top Hotels in Ulaanbaatar :
- Shangri-La (Top Hotel, Luxury)
- Holiday Inn (Comfortable, Best for the Budget)
- Hotel Nine (Boutique, Budget Friendly)
Before you pack your bags, read my guide on what to budget for a trip to Mongolia .
The Best Time of Year to Visit Mongolia
The Best Time to Visit: Summer
Summer is the best time to visit Mongolia unless of course you really like -40° C temperatures, and in that case, winter in Mongolia is for you. And probably only you.
With temperatures typically between 21 and 25° C and cool summer nights with very low humidity and only a handful of rainy days each month, summer leaves with you the best, most ideal conditions as any, for exploring.
Whether you’re heading north to Lake Khovsgol, a frozen mess in the wintertime, south towards the Gobi Desert, or west towards the Altai Mountains, no matter where you are in the country, summer temperatures are much more enjoyable than the -40° C that the country experiences in the winter months, and the pollution and dangerous terrain that comes with it.
Plus, in the summer months, you have cultural festivals such as Naadam and music festivals such as Playtime.
When it comes to the best festivals in Mongolia, Naadam isn’t only the biggest festival of the year, it’s one of the most important in Mongolian culture. It also happens to be one of the coolest times to be in the country – it’s like experiencing the best of Mongolia, and Mongolian culture, in just a few short days.
The festival is a competition of the three manly sports – wrestling, horseback riding and archery – and it’s celebrated by holding competitions for each of the sports across the country. While it’s best to watch the opening ceremonies and the wrestling matches in the city from the bleachers of the National Sports Stadium, you’ll need to head out to the countryside to experience the horseraces – which are quite an event to experience.
The festival is held in July.
Playtime Music Festival
Think of Playtime Music Festival as the Coachella of Mongolia. Attracting bands from all over the world as well as Mongolia’s most fashionable locals (and there are plenty), it’s the festival to be seen at each summer.
Fall in Mongolia
Tourism starts to die down as fall approaches and as everyone starts to prepare for the cold winter months ahead. But, there’s one reason to stay just a bit longer than everyone else, and that’s the famous Golden Eagle Festival. Be warned, the festival has gotten a bit touristy, but the locals depend on the tourism and they absolutely don’t disappoint when it comes to putting on a show.
Golden Eagle Festival
Held in Bayan-Ölgii aimag in the western part of the country (I recommend flying there), the annual festival is typically held the first weekend in October.
During the festival, Kazakh eagle hunters compete with their prized golden eagles to catch small animals and show off their trained bird’s speed, agility and accuracy. There are several prizes, including one for best traditional dress, and it’s quite an impressive and intimate event to experience as an outsider.
Winter in Mongolia
Don’t rule out winter in Mongolia , despite what I might have said above. (It’s actually my favorite time in the country, but don’t tell anyone I said that.)
Now that Ulaanbaatar , officially the coldest capital city in the world, has banned the burning of raw coal, the pollution issue that previously earned the city the title as “the city with the worst air pollution in the world,” is much less of an issue.
While parts of town are still dangerous when it comes to air pollution, things in the city center are much less dangerous than they have been when it comes to breathing in toxic air.
And while -20° C is what you’re looking at on an average day, in the right layers (hello, cashmere base layers) the blue skies and bustle of other locals all around you will have you forgetting about that number in no time. You can still visit and spend the night in a ger with a nomadic family out in Terelj National Park and spend your days riding horses or dog sledding through the snow-covered countryside, or better yet, head down to the Gobi Desert, one of the only deserts in the world where snow can lay across the dunes covering them in a sea of white.
Plus, with Tsagaan Sar, or Mongolian Lunar New Year, and the wrestling matches and other events around this special holiday that take over the city and bring in locals from around the country, winter turns out to be not such a bad time to experience the real Mongolia, and a Mongolia relatively free of other tourists.
Tsagaan Sar, or Lunar New Year, marks the first day of spring and a time when Mongolians take the time to visit each of the elders in their family, bringing gifts and sharing a meal. This is a special time for Mongolians to celebrate with family and look forward to new beginnings.
Spring in Mongolia
While we usually think of spring as a time when temperatures warm, flowers start to bloom and life returns to nature, spring in Mongolia isn’t quite that – spring is still uncomfortably cold. In fact, you should probably just think of spring in Mongolia as winter lite .
Blizzards can still occur in May, which locals refer to as dzud (or zud – a natural phenomenon that kills off a large portion of herds from starvation since they aren’t able to graze), and it’s still a harsh time in the country as locals start to run out of winter rations and look forward to summer months.
But, as always, the brave are rewarded with two very cool festivals that make a trip to Mongolia in the spring worth it.
Also held in March, this time in the southernmost part of the country in the Gobi Desert, the annual Camel Festival includes polo matches, camel races and competitions among the local camel breeders. Mongolia is one of the few places in the world where you find Bactrian (two-hump) camels, and the Gobi Desert one of the only deserts in the world where snow isn’t uncommon, making a trip down here quite a magical experience.
Held on Lake Khovsgol at the beginning of March, the world’s second-largest freshwater lake and a completely frozen block of ice by the time March rolls around, the festival is a local favorite thanks to the wrestling tournament, horse races and more.
And yes, this region bordering Siberia will be every bit as cold as you’d expect it would be, don’t come unprepared. A winter deel (traditional Mongolian robe) probably wouldn’t be a bad investment.
Getting to Mongolia
The easiest ways to arrive into Ulaanbaatar by air are via Moscow, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing (daily) or Istanbul. Flights can be limited from once a day to once a week, with airfares peaking between June and August. The Chinggis Khaan International Airport code is ULN and is a newly opened airport about 1.5 hours from the city center.
Internal domestic flights can be booked through MIAT, Aero Mongolia or Hunnu Air. Domestic roundtrip flights can cost a few hundred dollars and routes book well in advance during summer months. Plan as ahead as possible.
Taking the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Beijing is one of the most incredible train journeys in the world. Travelers can hop off the train in Ulaanbaatar and explore Mongolia at leisure before getting back on the train to continue their journey.
The bus station is located near the city center, in a less touristy part of town, it’s recommended that you grab a taxi and take all of your belongings to your hotel, guesthouse or Airbnb before exploring on foot.
Getting Around Mongolia
There are no airport shuttles, and only one bus line that goes from the airport to the city center, where it can drop you off at one of three stops: Central Library, Sukhbaatar Square or Mongolian National University. The price per bus ride is 500 MNT, but the caveat is that you need a U Money Smart Card – cash is not accepted, and there is no place to buy a card within the airport (you can buy one in the city at a V Point, Circle K or CU convenience store) – to take the bus. The bus operates from 6:30 to 21:30 daily, in approximately 20-minute intervals, everyday day and the stop is just outside of the airport on the main road.
At $30, arranging for a driver in advance is actually the easiest and most reasonably priced way to get to and from the new Chinggis Khan International Airport into Ulaanbaatar city center.
While most taxi drivers in Mongolia are fairly honest, arranging a transfer in advance is recommended for two reasons – one, they might inflate the price on you, especially if you land during rush hour when a trip into the city center could take three hours (normal transfer time is one hour) and they know that you aren’t aware of the local taxi rate (there aren’t meters in the unofficial taxis – expect 1,500 MNT per kilometer). And two, most drivers won’t speak English, so getting to your hotel, guesthouse or Airbnb in the city could be more hassle than it’s worth, especially after a long day of traveling.
You can hail a taxi just about anywhere in the city (and in the countryside, given there is anyone driving by) by simply putting out your hand to your side, signaling that you’re looking for a ride. Be aware that these are not official taxis, but they are the most common way to get around the city. Expect to pay about 1,500 MNT per kilometer and that your driver won’t speak English – have your destination ready to show them on a map like Google Maps or Maps.me (an app that let’s you access a local map even if you don’t have cell service).
If the thought of getting into a strange Mongolian’s car freaks you out, apps like 1991 TaxiCaller and UBCab can be used within the city. Ridesharing apps like Uber, Lyft and Yandex don’t exist in Mongolia.
Buses within the city are often crowded due to the lack of routes and other public transportation options (there is no subway in the city). Cash is not accepted for a ride and you’ll need a U Money Smart Card (3,600 MNT to purchase) refillable smart card to take the bus. The price per ride is 500 MNT. You can purchase and refill your U Money Smart Card at bus kiosks around town, or inside V Point, Circle K or CU convenience stores. Note that routes and bus numbers will appear in Cyrillic.
It is possible to take buses from Ulaanbaatar to different cities throughout the country. A bus ride to Moron, for example, will be relatively inexpensive, 32,000 MNT, for the 14-hour ride.
Renting a car in Mongolia is fairly cheap, especially through companies such as Sixt Mongolia .
For about $45 – $75 a day, depending on your model – you’ll want to go for something sturdy, roads in Mongolia aren’t exactly forgiving – you can rent a car for your trip and overland your way across Mongolia at your leisure.
Be warned that it can be very difficult to navigate your way around the country once you leave the city – roads aren’t always exactly common, so unless you’re a driver who’s really comfortable off-roading, renting a car with a driver is usually the best way to navigate yourself around the country with much less hassle, and usually for about the same price.
Prefer a Toyota Land Cruiser over a Toyota Delica? Or do you want the full experience in a Russian UAZ-452 Furgon? Hiring a private car and driver will cost you around $65/day, plus gas – a pretty solid bargain if you think about it (and have some friends you can split the cost with).
Drivers are always flexible, easy going and ready to fix their own car when something goes wrong – which I can almost guarantee that it will. Chances are they won’t speak English, but you’ll quickly learn the key words you need to get through your journey and never underestimate the power of sign language and Google Translate.
When it comes to meals for the driver and where they’ll sleep, this is included in the price, but it’s a nice courtesy to offer to cover a meal/meals during the trip so that they eat with you, giving you a chance to get to know them – they are usually pretty funny characters that will start to become like family in no time.
Plugs and Voltage
Sockets in Mongolia work with several different types of plugs. Wall sockets are compatible with three different plug types – one that works with type B plugs (the kind used in the U.S.) and one that works with type C (plugs with two round pins, like they use in Europe) and type E plugs. For example, if you’re coming from the U.S., your device will work in most wall sockets in Mongolia. Just note the voltage difference (230 V in Mongolia vs 120 V in the U.S.).
We like this universal travel plug , in general.
That being said, type C plugs are the most commonly compatible plug types. So, if you have an adaptor for type C plugs, bring it. Especially for use in the countryside where extension cords that run off of generators or solar electricity will only be compatible with type C or type E plugs.
As I mentioned above, be aware that the voltage is much higher in Mongolia than it is in the U.S. (230 V vs 120 V). If you plan to plug directly into the wall socket make sure your device has a built-in power converter, or you have a power adapter that allows for dual voltage.
Getting a SIM Card
Getting a SIM card is quick and easy in Ulaanbaatar. You won’t necessarily need one or want one – it’s pretty nice to just disconnect and be in the moment during your trip – but just in case you do, you can head to the State Department Store’s fourth floor to get one. You’ll just need your passport and you can pay by credit card. Make sure that your phone is unlocked so that you can use a foreign SIM card.
The two most reliable mobile service providers in Mongolia are Mobicom and Unitel. Tourist plans start as low as 20,000 MNT and include international call rates, SMS messaging and different levels of data.
Local Currency and Money Exchanges
The currency in Mongolia is Tugriks, or MNT. Today, one USD = about 2,757 Tugrik. You will need cash, especially if you jump in a taxi (where you’ll need exact change, always have a few 1,000 MNT bills on you) and it often happens that credit card machines don’t accept foreign credit cards for no reason at all. This is a country where cash is king.
The easiest way to exchange cash for Tugriks is in the State Department Store, on the ground level.
ATM’s are more available than cash exchanges in the city, so you can pull out money that way as well. ATM’s typically have a withdraw limit of 500,000 MNT, 800,000 MNT at very select terminals.
Prepare to have what will seem like a large amount of cash on you and note that Mongolia does not use coins.
While most tour operators, guides and private drivers are happy to accept cash in USD or Euros, taxi drivers and local businesses will only accept MNT.
U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter Mongolia, but there is a limit on the number of days they can stay in the country – there’s a 90-day maximum limit.
Additionally, citizens from these countries do not need a visa to enter Mongolia and can stay for up to 90 days: Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Chile, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macao, Serbia and Ukraine .
Citizens of Canada, Cuba, Germany, Israel, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay can stay visa-free for up to 30 days.
Citizens of the Philippines can stay for 21 days without a visa.
Hong Kong citizens can stay visa-free for up to 14 days.
Citizens from these countries are required to have a visa to enter Mongolia, which they can obtain on arrival: Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and United Arab Emirates .
All other nationalities will need to apply for a single-entry visa before departing for Mongolia. Australians can expect to pay $230 AUD. Citizens of the UK £40 and Chinese citizens Y405.
For those tourists able to obtain a visa on arrival, the cost is 108,000 MNT or $23 USD for a single-entry visa ($35 for a multiple entry visa). Travelers will be required to provide two passport photos and should also have a pre-approval letter from the tour company or organization that they’re traveling with in Mongolia, as well as a printed-out confirmation of their departure flight.
If you hold a South African passport you CANNOT do a visa on arrival, you must obtain a visa before departing for Mongolia – you will not be allowed to board your flight without one in hand.
The Travel Insurance I recommend...
You’ll notice I require everyone on my small group trips to have travel insurance that covers medical evacuation and cost of participation . This ensures that if you have to cancel your trip for any reason, your trip expenses are covered by your travel insurance plan. Personally, I recommend World Nomads and have had the best experiences with them when it comes to claims and customer service.
Registering with the Immigration Office
Any foreigner staying for 30 days or more will need to register with the Immigration Office in Ulaanbaatar within seven days of arriving into the country. This process will take a few hours of your time, including the 30 minutes to get from the city center to the Immigration Office, which is located near the airport. You will need 1,000 MNT for the registration, and you will be asked to provide detailed information on your travel plans while in the country.
Additionally, you will need to bring: your passport, two passport photos (you can obtain these at the State Department Store, first level), a copy of your travel and flight itineraries, the contact information for your local tour company/host and the information on where you’re staying in the country.
The office may try to tell you that you will have to return the following day to pick up your passport, but you should be able to take your passport, which will now have your registration stamp in it, the same day.
The Immigration office is located near the airport. Depending on your flight arrival time, your best option would be to head straight to the immigration office before heading into town upon arrival.
It is also a good idea to head to the Immigration Office early in the morning to not only avoid wait times, but to avoid traffic to this part of town as well.
Do not forget to register upon arriving, this is very important if you plan to stay in Mongolia for longer than 30 days. I can’t stress this enough. If you fail to register at the Immigration Office you will be stopped at passport control on your way out of the country and not allowed to board your flight until you pay the fine for violating this law. Even worse, you could be banned from entering the country ever again.
Language and Religion
Mongolian is the official language spoken in Mongolia and it’s typically written in Cyrillic.
Russian and English are the second and third most spoken languages, but they are not common. So, while English is spoken in Mongolia, mostly in the capital, once you leave the comforts of Ulaanbaatar, don’t expect English to be a common language to use for communicating.
When it comes to religion, Buddhism is the main form of practice in Mongolia. Mongolians believe in respecting the earth and its inhabitants above all else. While most of the country’s monasteries were destroyed during Soviet times, a handful can still be found across the country and are worth taking the time to seek out and visit.
Shamanism is another common practice. But beware of fakes. Like all places, people take advantage of tourist’s desire to see these practices for themselves.
Eating and Drinking in Mongolia
There are many amazing traditional Mongolian dishes to taste during your travels – from homemade buuz (dumplings) to tsuvian (friend noodles with meat and vegetables) and khuushuur (think: chicken fried steak meets an empanada) – and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to taste all of them. Especially if you’re planning to spend time with a nomadic family in their ger.
Just remember these key things – it’s rude to accept food and not finish it, food is scarce to come by out on the steppe, and you should always accept a plate (or anything else) with your right hand.
Drinking is very common in public and in gers across the steppe. A bottle of vodka for your nomadic host will always go a long way – but please note that (like many countries) alcoholism can be a problem.
Besides vodka, airag, or fermented mare’s milk, is another common alcoholic beverage, often drank outside of the city where locals can easily make it on their own. Be cautious when drinking airag – your stomach won’t be used to the bacteria.
Out of respect, please keep your drinking to a minimum when you’re staying with a host family.
Travel Insurance and Emergency Healthcare
While medical treatments in Mongolia are reasonably inexpensive when compared to countries like the U.S. (I would know – I had surgery on a broken collarbone for just over $3,000, which included a 5-day hospital stay), it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to medical emergencies in Mongolia.
If your medical emergency becomes complicated, requiring intense bone setting plating, chances are that you will need (and want) to fly to Hong Kong or Seoul, or back to your home country, for treatment.
That’s exactly where travel insurance will really save you – on changed flight plans, canceled trip itineraries and recouping on out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Travel insurance companies to consider include World Nomads and IATI Travel Insurance.
The medical emergency phone number is +976 103.
Snow Leopards, Fossils, and Flaming Cliffs: Join this Adventure in the Gobi
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17 things to know before traveling to Mongolia
Aug 20, 2023 • 7 min read
Use these tips on health, safety and etiquette to plan your trip to Mongolia © Henn Photography / Getty Images
A land defined by boundless steppes, blue skies and roving nomads, Mongolia is perfectly set up for adventure and cultural immersion. Memorable experiences are a given, but travel in the world’s least-densely-populated country comes with its own challenges, so it pays to level-up on your Mongolia knowledge before you come.
On my own Mongolia adventures, I’ve wild-camped in a lightning storm; got queasy on fermented horse milk; broken down multiple times on epic drives ; had my pocket picked; crashed a Kazakh wedding; been thrown from two horses; and – perhaps my biggest faux pas – tried to cross part of the Gobi desert in a Toyota Prius. (Spoiler: I got stuck!)
Experience is the mother of wisdom, so here are some tips to help you make fewer mistakes on your own trip. However you choose to explore this fascinating country, remember that Mongolians are famously hospitable and predisposed to help strangers in need – even if things do go wrong, someone will eventually put you back on the right track.
1. Organize your tour well before you travel
Mongolia’s travel season is fleeting, stretching from late May to late August, so the best drivers, guides and vehicles are soon snaffled up. In the past, it was possible to rock up to Ulaanbaatar in summer and ask around at guesthouses to find space on a tour, but with the suspension of the Trans-Mongolian Railway, fewer travelers are passing through. Booking tours ahead is the way to go.
2. Don’t be too ambitious with your Mongolia itinerary
A common mistake is to try to see too much of Mongolia in one go, which can turn your trip into a wearisome, bone-rattling driving safari. It’s better to focus on just one area of the country, or schedule a stop of at least two nights in each destination so you can slow down and enjoy the majesty and serenity of the Mongolian landscape.
3. Book domestic travel tickets through local Mongolian agencies
Schedules for domestic flights and rail travel often change at the last minute. If you book through a local travel agent in Mongolia, they’ll be able to sort you out if your flight is canceled or delayed. If you miss a connection or are running late, a good tour operator might even be able to hold the plane for you for an hour or so.
4. If you plan to drive yourself, avoid July and August
The summer travel season from July to August coincides with the time when the grassy tracks of the steppe become waterlogged and the risk of getting stuck rises exponentially. If you intend to drive yourself, it’s better to come in the shoulder season in June or September for firmer ground. If you come at the height of summer, stick to the paved roads that fan outwards from the capital, or hire a car and a local driver who knows the local driving conditions.
5. Download podcasts and audiobooks for those long road trips
Mongolia is three times the size of France , and most roads are bumpy tracks, which translates to low average speeds even in a modern 4WD. Expect to spend hours bouncing along through vast, unchanging landscapes – beautiful but somewhat repetitive. This terrain is crying out for a good soundtrack; preload your audio player with good tunes or a selection of audiobooks or podcasts to help the miles pass.
6. Bring sanitary supplies and medication
While you can pick up most health essentials in the capital, once you’re out on the steppe you’ll find that personal sanitary supplies and medication are much harder to find. Make space in your pack and come prepared with everything you need.
7. Spice up your mutton with condiments
Ulaanbaatar has a buzzing dining scene, but out in the wilds, you’ll subsist mostly on mutton dumplings (buuz) , fried mutton pancakes (khuushuur) , mutton with pasta chunks (tsuivan) , or just plain boiled mutton (makh) . On a long expedition this can get boring, so remember to pack a bottle of sriracha, horseradish, gochujang, piri-piri sauce, or any other condiment that you like to use to zhush up your food.
8. Boil or purify water from streams and lakes
Rural Mongolia may look pristine, but even crystal clear water can contain microbes, contaminants or impurities. Boiling water for at least one minute can kill most harmful microorganisms, or you can use water purification tablets or a portable filtration system to cut down on energy use.
9. Pack camping gear to save money (and if heading out west)
In Mongolia’s most popular destinations, you can stay overnight in fixed ger (yurt) camps set up for tourists, but in remote western areas such as Bayan-Ölgii province, it’s a good idea to carry your own tent and camping gear, as ger camps are few and far between. Ulaanbaatar is full of shops selling outdoor equipment, in case you didn’t bring your own gear from home.
10. Bring gifts when visiting nomad families
It’s customary to bring something for your hosts when staying with local people in Mongolia. Popular gifts include food, candies, cigarettes and bottles of alcohol. Taking along souvenirs or photographs from your own country is another great way to foster cultural exchange.
11. Climb a hill to get a mobile phone signal
In recent years, cell phone coverage in Mongolia has become much more widespread, with fewer dead zones, though there are still some off-grid spots. If you’re in the countryside and don’t have a signal, usually all you need to do is climb the nearest hill and you’ll be back online.
12. Think twice about riding that horse
Falling off a horse is one of the most common accidents to befall foreigners in Mongolia. If you are keen to get in the saddle, make sure your travel insurance covers it, and consider getting some practice before you leave home. Be extra careful in remote areas such as the Gobi , as horses tend to be more skittish, often a result of mixing different herds to make up the numbers for the tourist season.
13. Observe ger (yurt) etiquette
There are special rules for staying in Mongolia’s most famous form of accommodation. Inside a ger , it’s polite to wait until you’re seated and have been served tea before engaging in conversation with your hosts. It’s also disrespectful to throw trash into the central stove; instead, place it in front and your host will dispose of it.
14. Be vigilant when walking around central Ulaanbaatar
While Mongolia is generally a safe place to travel, tourists have been known to get robbed in Ulaanbaatar. Back in 2012, I had my wallet picked from my back pocket outside the Ulaanbaatar Department Store – a rookie mistake! Also take extra care when crossing the street – Ulaanbaatar is choked with cars and pedestrians get no special treatment from motorists.
15. Use official taxis after dark
In Ulaanbaatar there are two types of taxis – official taxis and the unofficial kind, essentially regular cars prowling the streets for fares. While unlicensed cabs are generally safe by day, you should stick to official taxis at night. Two useful taxi apps are UBCab and ABA taxi Mongolia , each with their own registered drivers.
16. Use what3words to find places and points of interest
Mongolia has adopted the popular what3words navigation system, where locations are mapped using unique combinations of three words. This makes it easier to locate sites and attractions in a country with few named roads and landmarks. The current edition of the Lonely Planet Mongolia guidebook lists what3words locations next to every point of interest.
17. Get a GPS tracker device
The vehicle version of the hikers’ GPS device, a GPS tracker will provide an extra level of safety when adventuring into the great Mongolian emptiness. If you drive with a tracker, any tour company or support office in Ulaanbaatar can locate your whereabouts if you get lost or your vehicle runs into difficulties.
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A Local’s Mongolia Itinerary for First Timers (and Why it Needs to Be on Your Bucket List)
Ever dreamed of visiting Mongolia? The thought might seem daunting or a bit out of your comfort zone, which is why I’ve enlisted Mongolia expert Breanna Wilson to share her top tips and Mongolia itinerary–3 in fact–to jumpstart your planning process. Keep reading for a deep dive into everything you need to know about exploring this vast country.
It was by accident that I visited Mongolia a few years ago. I knew nothing about the place (except for some hazy memory from high school history of a Mongol ruler named Genghis who did that one thing, that one time, 800 years ago).
But I had just quit my full-time job, had a hefty tax refund in my bank account, and had just been introduced to some guy on Instagram. “That guy” quite literally changed my life. (And not in some mushy rom-com kinda way. We’re better than that, girls. He’s now one of my dearest friends in life as well as a badass business and adventure partner. We all need an Erik Cooper in our lives.)
Today, Mongolia is my part-time home (I split my time between Ulaanbaatar and Tbilisi, Georgia) and is a place that I’ll forever have a fascination with and passion for. It’s not an easy place to live (by any means), but that’s what I love about it.
Everything about Mongolia pushes you. Pushes you to your limits. Pushes what you thought you knew about yourself. Pushes you to open your eyes and your mind. Mother Mongolia, as I like to call her, doesn’t mess around; just when you think you have everything under control, she throws something unexpected your way.
It’s a place where you truly have to let go–let go of control, schedules, and yourself. The only way to truly experience Mongolia and everything she has to offer is to let go. Once you do, she’ll show you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about yourself, and so much more.
After two years in the country, I still discover new things every day. From befriending reindeer riders, Kazakh eagle hunters, and Gobi Desert camel herders to uncovering unexpected street art and fashion scenes, underground jazz clubs, and experimental cuisines, I never grow tired of what this country has to offer.
Which is exactly what led me to launch Meanwhile in Mongolia –to share my experiences of scuba diving in the world’s most landlocked country to hiking volcanic craters, and everything in-between.
That’s why I love Mongolia and why I think it should be on everyone’s bucket list. But don’t just take it from me, it’s a place that you need to experience for yourself. And when you do, well, here’s everything you need to know about visiting Mongolia for the first time.
See you there.
Why Mongolia Should Be at the Top of Your Bucket List
From riding reindeer to hunting with eagles, swimming in color-changing lakes or cruising on camels across the Gobi Desert, visiting Mongolia puts your wanderlust into overdrive.
Some of my favorite adventures include:
- Winter Dog Sledding in Gorkhi Terelj National Park
- Motorcycling Across Mongolia in Vintage Russian Urals
- Learning to Hunt with Eagles from the Kazakh Eagle Hunters in the West
- Riding Reindeer Across the Taiga in the Northern Provinces
Is Mongolia Safe for Female Travelers?
Is Mongolia safe? It’s the number one question people have about traveling to Mongolia, especially solo female travelers like myself (it was my biggest fear about moving here as well).
Mongolia is like any other country–there are parts that are extremely safe, and parts where you’ll need to be cautious. There’s no point in sugarcoating this: foreigners absolutely stand out here. Because of this, I do not recommend females travel around the country by themselves. I say this for a few reasons.
First, you’re remote. Like, remote, remote. There’s no one around for miles and miles. So, if you’re driving solo in a rental car and get a flat tire (or worse), you’re all alone. No AAA. No 911. It’s up to you to figure out this problem, and I can almost guarantee it won’t be a little one. Mongolia is a rough and rugged place.
Second, alcoholism is very common among locals. I’m not saying this to make you think all Mongolians are alcoholics, but only to provide 100% clarity on what you’re getting into.
So, if you’re staying in a ger (also known as a yurt) with a family, be aware of both your and the family’s alcohol consumption. We all know that alcohol can increase aggression, and miscommunication without a clear understanding of cultural nuances or the language leads to increased frustrations. Create a safe experience for yourself by avoiding these situations altogether.
Overall, Mongolia is a place where guns are rare (unless you’re in the countryside protecting a herd), and although pick pockets and petty theft are common, that’s the worst of it. Wars and political unrest are practically unheard of, and natural disasters are nearly impossible.
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When to Go to Mongolia
Summer is the absolute best time to visit Mongolia (unless you really enjoy -40 C/F weather).
In May you still face the risk of getting stuck in a snowstorm, but by June temperatures are warm. Rain is common, but it won’t ruin your trip.
July is when Naadam, the biggest festival of the year, takes place. The entire country shuts down for about two weeks usually starting around the second weekend of the month. Horse races, wrestling matches, and archery all take place across the country during this time. It’s an incredible way to experience Mongolian culture.
August is hot and a great time to escape north to higher elevations or to Lake Khovsgol, the second largest freshwater lake in Mongolia (after Lake Baikal).
September and October are just as wonderful but be prepared for cold nights. Ger camps start to close down for the season during this time, and some nomads begin moving towards their fall and winter camps.
Summer summary: Nights are chilly. The weather is dry, and usually in the 80s F. Overall, it’s a place where layers are your friend and you can adventure freely without delays.
How to Get There
Getting to Mongolia from the US is, well, a journey. It’s going to take at least 24 hours, and you’ll have to go through Istanbul (my preference), Hong Kong, Beijing, Seoul, or Moscow. ( Note : these are all pre-Coronavirus flight patterns and not all of these routes may have reopened, so research accordingly.)
The country’s main international airport is located in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. Though there’s a smaller international airport in Bayan Olgii, it’s mostly for “local” international flights out of Kazakhstan and Russia.
The main airlines that fly to Ulaanbaatar include Turkish Airlines, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific, Aeroflot, and Air China. Turkish Airlines is my airline of choice as flying through the new Istanbul airport offers plenty of food options and quiet corners for sleeping.
Aeroflot flights typically leave from New York City through Moscow, but I know more people than I’d like to tell you about who’ve lost their baggage on this route. If you’re heading out of the city shortly after landing, I’d recommend avoiding Aeroflot since it’s a bit of a process to recover lost luggage once in Ulaanbaatar.
From the west coast, flying through Seoul, Beijing, or Hong Kong are fairly good options. Layovers in Beijing or Hong Kong can be 12 hours, but if you’re on a budget, it usually offers a good fare.
Where to Eat, Sleep, and Play in Ulaanbaatar
If you ask me, Ulaanbaatar is one of the most misunderstood cities in the world. It’s not exactly pretty at first glance. There’s an insane amount of traffic. Things don’t open early–or even on time. It’s a place–like the rest of Mongolia–where you have to go with the flow.
Service is slow (or nonexistent). Food quality is hit or miss. And complicated orders are a recipe for disaster (sorry vegans and eaters with dietary restrictions, this is not going to be an easy place for you).
But, when it comes to things to do in Ulaanbaatar, the possibilities are endless. It’s the hidden gems that really make this place stand out. No matter where you stay, most activities are either walking distance or a short taxi ride away. Plus, you’ll have to fly in and out of Ulaanbaatar regardless, so adding it to your Mongolia itinerary is non-negotiable.
Where to Stay:
- Budget: Zaya Hostel
- Mid: Holiday Inn
- Luxe: Shangri-La Ulaanbaatar
Search for more Ulaanbaatar hotels on Booking.com:
Where to Eat:
- La Rosa Tapas & Tequila Bar
- Rosewood Ulaanbaatar Kitchen + Enoteca
- ROC Caffeine Bars (Coffee)
Where to Play:
- Fat Cat Jazz Club
- MB Beer Plus
- Republik Pub
Quick Tips for Planning Your Mongolia Itinerary
Here are a few quick tips for planning your trip that will make your Mongolia itinerary run more smoothly:
Plan *almost* everything in advance
Mongolia is not a place to “wing it”. You won’t find hotels everywhere. Or water, for that matter. Wi-Fi won’t necessarily work once you leave the city. And don’t expect people to speak English.
Stock up on some solid gear
While I hate pushing gear on travelers, I’d recommend stocking up on some solid staples before leaving. You DO NOT need the best of the best to travel/hike/adventure/overland here, but it can get cold at night so a down puffer jacket is an absolute must.
A portable water purifier just might save your life. And never underestimate the power of quick-dry socks, a waterproof rain jacket and pants, and a knife.
Buy travel insurance
Just do it. Trust me. It personally saved me $3,000 when I broke my collarbone in Mongolia last summer.
[Note: For travel insurance, Live Like it’s the Weekend recommends World Nomads or SafetyWing for the best budget options with the most coverage. If you want to read more about my experience with travel insurance, click here ).
Three Bucket List Mongolia Itineraries for First Timers
Mongolia isn’t an easy place to plan for or explore on your own. Here are three ways to explore Mongolia without feeling overwhelmed, because these badasses have done the work for you.
How to Explore Mongolia by Motorcycle: Moto Trip Mongolia
Who this trip is perfect for: New and experienced motorcyclists looking to adventure in style.
I may be biased since I designed this trip with some friends, and I personally lead this adventure … but it’s good .
Along with the nomadic herders and translators we bring along who will open your eyes to Mongolian life and culture in one of the most unique ways possible, this experience will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about life, travel, and most importantly–yourself.
What to expect on a Moto Trip Mongolia itinerary :
- A vintage Ural motorcycle with sidecar (so, 2 riders per motorcycle– perfect for bringing a friend).
- A motorcycle driving experience that includes off-roading across the Mongolian steppe.
- All drivers must have a motorcycle license and proof of travel insurance. Riders in the sidecar do not need a motorcycle license but must have travel insurance. The tour is set up so that drivers and riders will switch throughout the trip, but if someone doesn’t want to drive (or doesn’t have a motorcycle license), that’s okay too–they can be the passenger the entire duration of the trip!
- While it is required that you have a motorcycle license for this trip, this is a great trip for new and beginner motorcyclists! These Urals are easy to manage since you’re on three wheels, and there isn’t much chance of a traffic accident out on the steppe–it’ll be just us out there!
- And I can’t forget to mention, this is a great trip for females since it’s led by me !
- All meals, accommodations, transportation, motorcycles, and fuel are included.
- The trip also includes a follow car for carrying luggage, a translator, and motorcycle mechanic who will repair and tune up the bikes all along the way.
Self-Drive Mongolia and Take a Photography Masterclass Along the Way: Follow the Tracks
Who this trip is perfect for: Self-sufficient explorers looking for great photos for the ‘gram.
I really, really like the Follow the Tracks model. It’s a self-driving tour plus a photography masterclass designed by Max Muench, a guy you’ve almost certainly seen (more like, stalked) on Instagram .
You can choose from a few different routes (I recommend the Gobi Desert one), all of which start and end in Ulaanbaatar. You’ll have your own rental car, car camp essentials, and an iPad loaded with everything you need to make the most of this go-at-your-own-pace adventure.
I recommend grabbing enough friends to do this trip with at least two cars so you can tow each other in case of any hairy situations. Plus, more people equal more fun.
What to expect from the Follow the Tracks experience:
- A rental car from Sixt Rent a Car will be waiting for you in Ulaanbaatar at the start of your trip.
- Each car has 4-wheel drive and is equipped with a rooftop tent for sleeping.
- The car will have a GPS system loaded onto an iPad for your use during your self-driving adventure. This iPad will also act as your photography masterclass workbook, pointing out the best spots to capture photos along the route, and the best camera settings to do so.
- Additionally, the car will have camping and kitchen equipment, but you are responsible for purchasing your own food–and fuel–for the duration of your trip. (I suggest stocking up on food in Ulaanbaatar before hitting the road. Once you reach the tiny soums (tiny villages) in the countryside, you never quite know what you’re going to find.)
Ride Reindeer and Learn the Ancient Tradition of Hunting with Eagles: Erik Cooper Adventures
Who this trip is perfect for: Equestrians looking to really embed themselves with Mongolia’s unique–and very remote–tribes.
Erik is the gateway to the Tsaatan Tribe and Kazakh eagle hunters (he’s also the reason I fell head over heels in love with Mongolia). He’s spent the last eight summers in Mongolia and his connections are truly the reason why his tours are the most immersive, unique, and bang-for-your-buck.
You are thrown into the lifestyle, into the steppe, and into everything Mongolia has (for better or worse) to offer, with a touch of boujee along the way. There isn’t anyone that I trust more in Mongolia–or with my life. You can tell him I said that.
What to expect on an Erik Cooper Adventures Mongolia itinerary:
- All meals, accommodations, and transportation included. A translator will also accompany you during the duration of the trip.
- You MUST be comfortable on a horse. Because there are no roads where you’re going, you’ll be riding semi-wild horses for two days just to get to the Tsaatan Tribe’s home on the taiga, for example. If you are inexperienced on a horse, or afraid of riding, this trip is not for you. Erik will vet you before the trip, so don’t expect to fake your way into this experience, it’s simply too dangerous to do that.
- Each of Erik’s trips is different. You never know if you’ll get to ride reindeer across a glacier, watch locals compete in a reindeer race, or watch on as Eagle Hunters battle in ancient Kazakh games. No matter which trip of Erik’s you join, each one is specially curated and pulls out all of the stops.
Hope to see you all in Mongolia. You know where to find me when you do.
Planning a trip right now don’t miss my go-to websites for booking everything from flights and tours, to accommodation and more:.
- Booking.com for the best hotel deals
- World Nomads for flexible travel insurance
- VRB O for awesome home rentals
- Skyscanner for finding the best flight deals
- Hostelworld for budget accommodation
- Rentalcars.com for easy car rentals
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On the contrary, it’s very easy to eat vegan in Ulaanbaatar. There’s plenty of great vegan spots to eat there.
That’s helpful to know, Joe thank you. Can you share some of your favorite vegan spots and maybe we can update the post?
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61 Useful Tips for Travelling to Mongolia (Backpacker’s Guide)
March 28, 2020.
Everything you need to know about travelling in Mongolia. Where to visit, how to get around, safety, and more are covered in this comprehensive travel guide.
Mongolia is one of my favourite countries I’ve ever visited. Known as the “land of the blue sky”, Mongolia is home to an incredible nomadic culture and gorgeous natural beauty. It’s also one of the least visited countries in the world, making it a great off-the-beaten-path backpacking destination.
I spent over three weeks backpacking around Mongolia and learned a lot about the best ways to travel around it. I can’t wait to get back soon and see more of it.
In this post, I’ll go over everything you need to know about travelling in Mongolia based on my experience.
After reading this guide, you’ll be ready to head out and see the rugged streets of Ulaanbaatar, the singing sand dunes of the Gobi Desert, and the endless steppe of the Orkhon Valley.
- 1 Backpacking Mongolia
- 2 Visas for travelling to Mongolia
- 3 Safety in Mongolia
- 4 Money in Mongolia
- 5 Communication in Mongolia
- 6 Getting to Mongolia
- 7 People & Culture of Mongolia
- 8 Where to visit in Mongolia
- 9 Tours in Mongolia
- 10 Food in Mongolia
- 11 Accommodation in Mongolia
- 12 Transportation in Mongolia
- 13 Mongolia Travel Itineraries
- 14 When to visit Mongolia
- 15 Travel Costs in Mongolia
- 16 Internet & SIM Cards in Mongolia
- 17 Solo Travel in Mongolia
- 18 Female Travel in Mongolia
- 19 Travelling in Mongolia Wrap-Up
Mongolia is the perfect backpacking destination. It’s got a ton of unique landscapes including the Gobi Desert to the Altai Mountains. Mongolians are very friendly and want to show tourists a good time. It’s an affordable country to travel in, especially if you’re willing to rough it a bit.
I definitely think more people need to add backpacking Mongolia to their bucket list. It’s a country like no other and is a must-see if you’re planning a long trip to Asia.
Visas for travelling to Mongolia
1 – Visa-free access to Mongolia: People from certain countries are lucky enough to get visa-free access to enter Mongolia by air or land! Visa-free length varies by passport, here is the current list:
90 days visa-free : Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Chile, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macao, Serbia, Ukraine (with invitation), USA 30 days visa-free : Canada, Cuba, Germany, Israel, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, Uruguay 21 days visa-free : Philippines 14 days visa-free : Hong Kong
2 – Mongolia visa at an embassy: If you’re not on the above list of countries, you should apply for your Mongolia visa at your nearest Mongolia embassy.
To apply for a tourist visa, you’ll need:
- Completed application form
- 3.5×4.5cm photo
- Copy of hotel booking in Mongolia
- Copy of flight/train tickets
For the most up-to-date requirements, contact the embassy that you wish to apply at.
3 – It is no longer possible to extend your visa in Mongolia: While you used to be able to apply for a 30-day visa extension in Ulaanbaatar, as of 2019 this is no longer the case.
Travellers have been reporting that they are told to simply pay a $4 per day overstay fee instead, as long as the overstay is less than 58 days. If you overstay longer than 58 days, you will be deported.
Safety in Mongolia
4 – Is it safe to travel to Mongolia?: I’d say that Mongolia is a pretty safe country to visit. According to the Canadian government (which is usually pretty conservative with travel advisories), you should simply exercise normal precautions while visiting Mongolia.
Be careful around drunk people. Unfortunately, certain people can become quite aggressive, especially if you’re a foreign dude talking to a Mongolian girl. Avoid walking around Ulaanbaatar in the dark – it’s better to take a taxi.
Carry some medical supplies if you’re going anywhere outside of Ulaanbaatar. It’s a long way to a pharmacy when you’re in the middle of the Gobi Desert.
Use common sense and you’ll be perfectly fine when backpacking Mongolia, but of course, you should purchase travel insurance before you visit Mongolia.
For more information, check out my post on staying safe in Mongolia .
Travel Insurance for Mongolia
5 – Travel insurance for Mongolia: No matter where you go, you should always have travel insurance – Mongolia is no exception. Even though Mongolia is safe, accidents can still happen.
I personally use and recommend World Nomads. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities (important if you plan on doing any treks or other outdoor adventures while backpacking in Mongolia).
GET YOUR FREE QUOTE FROM WORLD NOMADS HERE
Money in Mongolia
6 – The Mongolian tugrik (MNT) is the official currency of Mongolia: Sometimes also written as tögrög, the Mongolian currency is quite low in value. The current rate as of January 2020 is 1 USD = 2740 MNT .
7 – There are plenty of ATM machines in Ulaanbaatar: In Ulaanbaatar, it’s easy to find an ATM machine that will accept an international Visa or Mastercard, and this is how I got all of my local currency during my trip to Mongolia. Credit cards are not commonly accepted at businesses in Mongolia, but you may have some luck at high-end hotels and restaurants.
8 – Outside of Ulaanbaatar, ATMs are unreliable: If you’re planning on heading out into the countryside, you should bring as much cash as you think you’ll need. It’s difficult to find a working ATM even in some of the larger towns, and even then it might be out of cash.
9 – Converting USD to MNT works too: You can also bring USD from home and convert it to tugrik when you’re in Mongolia, although you might not get quite as good a rate as if you’d used an ATM. It may be possible to change RMB, EUR, or RUB, but don’t count on this.
Communication in Mongolia
10 – Mongolian is the official language of Mongolia: Spoken by around 95% of the population, Mongolian is by far the most common language in Mongolia.
11 – In Mongolia, the language is written using the Cyrillic alphabet: While there is a traditional Mongolian script that is used in Inner Mongolia province of China, Mongolia uses the Cyrillic script to write Mongolian.
12 – You don’t need to know Mongolian to travel in Mongolia: You don’t need to know any Mongolian to travel in Mongolia, but knowing the Cyrillic alphabet can be a huge help. If you learn the Cyrillic alphabet, you’ll be able to read signs and certain words on menus. It only takes a few hours to learn the basics – check out this resource to learn more.
Luckily, most people who travel outside of Ulaanbataar will be with an English-speaking guide, so they’ll help you get over any language barriers in rural areas.
Really want to impress the locals? Pick up a Mongolian Phrasebook and try to use it while you’re in Mongolia!
Getting to Mongolia
13 – Overlanding into Mongolia via either China or Russia is totally possible: There are a number of border crossings to both China and Russia that are open to foreigners. Border procedures are fairly straightforward, as long as you’ve got a valid visa (or don’t need one).
14 – The current border crossings with China are:
Erlian – Zamin Uud: This border crossing is quite straightforward. I wrote a complete guide to getting from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar , so check that out if you’re planning on taking that route (or that route in reverse).
Takashiken – Bulgan: Border crossing between Urumqi and the Mongolian Altai. It is possible to reach this border via public transport from Urumqi and continue onto Khovd by shared taxi. Expect long border procedures on the Chinese side (including a search of electronic devices).
One other lesser-used border that is open for tourists is the Khatavch – Bichigt Zuun crossing. Do note that the border crossings with Xinjiang Province are subject to random closures.
15 – The current border crossings with Russia are:
Kyakhta – Altanbulag : The main road border crossing between Ulan-Ude and Ulaanbaatar. There are direct buses between the two cities, taking about 12 hours to complete the trip.
Sükhbaatar – Naushki : This is the railroad border crossing for the Trans-Mongolian Railway between Ulan-Ude and Ulaanbaatar. Very straightforward – immigration officers will board your train and stamp you in.
16 – Mongolia is an expensive country to fly into, and isn’t well connected by air: It can be a bit pricey to fly into Mongolia from Europe and North America. Ulaanbaatar (ULN) is the only airport in Mongolia with international flights, so you’ll most definitely be flying into here.
17 – Mongolia’s flag carrier is MIAT Mongolian Airlines: They offer direct flights to Frankfurt, Moscow, Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Seoul, Busan, Tokyo, and Osaka.
Other airlines operate flights from Ulaanbaatar to Istanbul, Astana, Irkutsk, Tianjin, and Hohhot.
As you can see, there aren’t that many places you can fly to Mongolia from without a connecting flight.
I recommend using Google Flights to find the cheapest flights to Mongolia.
People & Culture of Mongolia
18 – Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country on Earth: A lot of the country’s traditions and culture stems from this fact.
19 – The country became independent from the Qing Dynasty in 1911: There is a lot of shared history between Mongolia and China, although nowadays Mongolians don’t look upon China very fondly.
20 – Most people in Mongolia are Mongolian: In fact, a whopping 96% of the population is Mongolian. The other 4% are Kazakhs in the far western Altai region of the country.
21 – Buddhism is the most popular religion in Mongolia: Over 50% of Mongolians are Buddhist, making it by far the most common religion. Another 39% are non-religious, and the remainders are split up between Islam, Shamanism, and Christianity.
22 – There isn’t really a dress code in Mongolia: There is no set dress code here, but it is still a conservative society so it’s best to dress modestly. In the central areas of Ulaanbaatar, things are a bit more liberal.
Where to visit in Mongolia
23 – Most of Mongolia is empty, so getting around can take a long time:
The country can be divided up into six distinct regions based on differences in culture and geography. Each region requires at least a week to properly visit (aside from Ulaanbaatar).
Let’s cover all of the best places to visit during your travels in Mongolia.
24 – Almost every traveller will begin their adventure in Mongolia’s capital city of Ulaanbaatar: Ulaanbaatar is the only real city in Mongolia and is home to over half of the countries population. The city is connected to China and Russia via the Trans-Mongolian Railway and has an international airport.
The city is a great place to organize tours into the countryside, visit museums, eat, shop, and chill out after a long journey through the steppe.
I’ve met a lot of travellers who told me that they hated Ulaanbaatar, but I kinda liked it. There are some nice western-style cafes, good restaurants, and some malls if you need to get any gear.
25 – There isn’t much to do in Ulaanbaatar, but it’s alright for a couple of days: While most travellers visiting Ulaanbaatar are here to organize the rest of their Mongolia adventure, there are a few things worth checking out in the city itself.
When you arrive, pay a visit to the Genghis Khan Square and take in the atmosphere of the political center of Mongolia. Next, make your way to the Gandantegchenling Monastery for a look at some of Mongolia’s Buddhist traditions.
If you’ve got some extra time, you can also check out the National History Museum . For any shopping that you need to do, hit up the State Department Store.
26 – Ulaanbaatar is full of great hostels: It’s the perfect place to meet other people who want to travel around Mongolia.
I’d recommend staying at the Golden Gobi Hostel when you’re in Ulaanbaatar.
They’re super organized with arranging tours to the other parts of Mongolia, and the hostel is a great place to meet other travellers. I had a great time here!
Also, consider Sunpath Mongolia – they provide similar quality and services to the Golden Gobi hostel.
Backpacking Central Mongolia
27 – Central Mongolia one of the more popular regions among travellers: It’s not far from Ulaanbaatar and offers gorgeous natural beauty along with hospitable nomadic people.
The main tourist sights in Central Mongolia are the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, the ancient city of Karakorum, and the incredible Orkhon Valley.
28 – Gorkhi-Terelj National Park: Located only 70 kilometres from Ulaanbaatar and is a great place to visit if you have a short amount of time in Mongolia. In the park, you can go hiking, horseback riding, and stay with nomadic families.
Gorkhi-Terelj NP is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mongolia, so there are plenty of tourist camps offering all sorts of services.
You can access the park via 2 daily buses departing from Ulaanbaatar – do note that there is a 3000₮ entrance fee at the park gate.
29 – Karakorum: The city of Karakorum was the capital of the Mongol Empire and visited by Marco Polo on his during his travels through the area.
When you’re here, roam around the historic former capital of Mongolia and learn more about its history.
30 – The Orkhon Valley: This gorgeous valley is located about 300 kilometres from Ulaanbaatar and follows the banks of the Orkhon River. It’s a lush grassland home to many nomadic people who still live traditional lives in ger camps. Orkhon Valley is also home to Mongolia’s tallest waterfall.
The Orkhon Valley is the perfect place to embark on a multi-day horse trek or spend some time living with a local family. The landscapes here are beautiful, and it’d be a shame to only visit for a day! Try not to miss the Naiman Nuur National Park (Eight Lakes).
Backpacking the Gobi Desert
31 – Basically all of Southern Mongolia is covered by the Gobi Desert: It’s Asia’s largest desert and is home to camels, massive sand dunes, and a ton of other interesting sights.
This region is fairly accessible from Ulaanbaatar. Dalanzadgad is the capital of the region, and you can get there from Ulaanbaatar by bus in about 10 hours.
The main sights to visit in the Gobi Desert are:
32 – Yolyn Am: Yolyn Am is probably not what you would’ve expected from the Gobi Desert. It’s a deep, narrow gorge that often has snow left in it well into summer months.
When here, you should spend a couple of hours hiking (or horseback riding if you’re confident) through the gorge.
33 – Bayanzag (Flaming Cliffs): The Flaming Cliffs are one of the more famous spots in the Gobi Desert, for good reason! They’re absolutely stunning and make for epic photographs (especially at sunset).
In the 1920s, the first-ever dinosaur eggs were discovered here by an American paleontologist, and a number of subsequent fossil finds have occurred here.
34 – Khongoryn Els: When you think of the Gobi Desert, giant sand dunes probably come to mind. Don’t worry, Khongoryn Els has got you covered!
Some of the dunes are over 300 meters tall, and they go on for over 100 kilometres. Hiking up the tallest dune and watching the sunset was one of my favourite travel experiences.
Backpacking Northern Mongolia
35 – Mongolia’s north is home to Lake Khuvsgul, the most beautiful lake in the country: In the northwest of Lake Khuvsgul, the Tsaatan tribe are one of the only remaining groups of nomadic reindeer herders.
Most travel around Northern Mongolia will be based out of the town of Moron. Getting to Moron can take a while – there are buses running from Ulaanbaatar that take about 12 hours, or you can take a flight for around $150 USD.
Visiting the Tsaatan tribe can take some time, requiring a multi-day horse riding journey. If you plan on visiting the Tsaatan, do your research and find an outfitter that places an importance on sustainability and preservation of the Tsaatan culture.
Backpacking Western Mongolia
36 – Western Mongolia is the most remote part of Mongolia: Most travellers will visit this region to journey into the Altai Mountains. Ölgii is the starting town for most adventurers in the region. Ölgii a 48-hour bus ride from Ulaanbaatar, or a short flight.
In early October, the Kazakh inhabitants of the region host the Golden Eagle Festival.
I haven’t visited this region yet, but I plan on making it a large focus of my next trip to Mongolia.
Backpacking Eastern Mongolia
37 – Eastern Mongolia is rarely visited but is home to the birthplace of Genghis Khan: Much of the region is a vast steppe without many interesting tourist sights. If you’ve been to Eastern Mongolia, let me know more about it and I’d love to update this section!
Tours in Mongolia
38 – So, how do you organize a trip in Mongolia?: Before my trip to Mongolia, my biggest challenge was figuring out how I was going to get around the country! Public transportation connects the main regional hubs to Ulaanbaatar, but other than that there isn’t any way of getting around.
All of the incredible sights are hours away from town and require a 4×4 vehicle to reach.
This means that the typical “backpacker” travel style of staying in hostels and taking public transportation doesn’t work here.
39 – Group tours in Mongolia are a great option: Almost every hotel, hostel, and guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar will offer group tours.
An organized group tour in Mongolia will typically include the following things:
- Vehicle and driver
- English-speaking guide
- Accommodation in gers or tents
- Food (not including snacks or alcohol)
- Entrance fees and activities
As you can see, a group tour will include pretty much everything you need!
40 – How much do group tours typically cost?: The tour cost depends on the number of people who sign up. Expect to pay between $50-70 USD per day for a group tour that has a few other backpackers on it.
It’s hard to give an exact number, so make sure to budget for the high end to be safe.
When you are in Ulaanbaatar, I’d recommend staying at the Golden Gobi hostel . They’re very well organized and have multiple tours leaving every day in the summer.
Another hostel that I heard good things about is Sunpath Mongolia . If you can’t find the tour you’re looking for, or Golden Gobi is all sold out, consider staying there.
41 – Don’t arrange your group tour from outside of Mongolia: It will cost a lot more. It’s much easier to arrange things on the ground in Ulaanbaatar with any other travellers that you may meet.
Both of the above hostels have many tours leaving each day, so it’s easy to show up and join a group that’s leaving the next day.
Independent travel in Mongolia
42 – Independent travel is also possible, but much more challenging: If you want to independently backpack around Mongolia, you’re gonna need your own vehicle or a lot of cash.
If you have your own vehicle (4×4, bicycle, motorbike, horse), then getting around won’t be too difficult.
Most tourist sights have ger camps that you can pay to stay in, but you’ll need to bring a tent and cooking supplies for the places that don’t have ger camps.
If you don’t have your own form of transportation, you’ll need to hire a private vehicle and driver. Hiring a private vehicle will cost a couple of hundred dollars per day.
Food in Mongolia
43 – Outside of Ulaanbaatar, food in Mongolia is pretty basic: As many people still live nomadic lives in rural Mongolia, they aren’t able to grow things like fruits and vegetables. Because of this, their diets still consist of mostly meat and dairy products.
Ulaanbaatar has pretty decent options for food, however. There are some good Indian, Chinese, and Korean restaurants if you want some flavour after spending time in rural Mongolia.
44 – You need to try airag when you’re in Mongolia: Araig (called kumis in Central Asia) is a dairy product made from fermented horse milk. It’s sour is very unique, and it’s even got a light alcohol percentage due to the fermentation.
In rural parts of Mongolia, you’ll see people drinking this all the time! It’s served in a bowl, and if you finish your bowl you’ll instantly get a refill.
45 – It can be a bit challenging to travel here as a vegetarian: In Ulaanbaatar, you’ll find a few options for vegetarian-friendly food, but in rural areas don’t expect locals to know what you’re talking about.
If you travel on a tour, you should tell your guide in advance so they can make the appropriate accommodations.
Accommodation in Mongolia
46 – In Ulaanbaatar, all sorts of accommodation are available: Ulaanbaatar is full of hotels, hostels, and guesthouses. It’s up to you to choose which one you’d prefer, but hostels are usually the best bet if you also want to find people to group up with for a tour.
I’d recommend staying at the Golden Gobi hostel . I stayed here both times I was in Ulaanbaatar and arranged my tour through them and had no complaints.
47 – Rural areas have more basic accommodation: When travelling through the rural parts of Mongolia, accommodation will either be in basic homestays, ger stays, or camping. If you travel with an arranged tour, they’ll sort all of this out for you. Most places like these aren’t displayed online anywhere.
Transportation in Mongolia
48 – Getting around Mongolia takes a long time: Unless you’re travelling between a large town and Ulaanbaatar, there aren’t really paved roads in Mongolia. This makes getting around take forever.
49 – There is a decent bus network: There are buses running between Ulaanbaatar and all of the major towns, although these all take a long time. Getting from Ulaanbaatar to Khovd in Western Mongolia can take upwards of 40 hours.
50 – Hitchhiking is also possible: Although be prepared to be patient. Hitchhiking on main roads is doable, but if you want to go to touristy sights it will be rather difficult as there isn’t any local traffic.
51 – Flying long distances is a good idea: If you want to avoid taking a 40-hour bus ride from Ulaanbaatar to Khovd, there are some domestic airlines in Mongolia that fly routes such as that one. It isn’t the cheapest option, but it is your best bet if you’re short on time.
Mongolia Travel Itineraries
Mongolia 1-week itinerary.
With a week in Mongolia, you’ll want to stick around the Ulaanbaatar area.
Spend a couple of days in Ulaanbaatar visiting its main sights, and then head to the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. I’d recommend spending a few nights here, you’ll get to stay in a ger, try fermented horse milk, and go horseback riding.
If you arrange a driver with your hostel in Ulaanbaatar, you could also take a trip to the ancient capital of Karakorum. It’s a good 5-6 hour drive from Ulaanbaatar, so plan accordingly. I’d only recommend this if you’re really info Mongolian history, as there isn’t much else to do in Karakorum.
Mongolia 2-week itinerary
Two weeks is the perfect amount of time to check out Ulaanbaatar, Central Mongolia, and the Gobi Desert.
A typical tour of Central Mongolia and the Gobi departing from Ulaanbaatar will take about 12 days, and you’ll get to spend time in all the major sights.
For info on arranging a tour like this, see the Group tours in Mongolia section above.
The Gobi and Central Mongolia offer a perfect intro to the country and are what I’d recommend for a first-time visitor.
Mongolia 3-week itinerary
With three weeks, you’re able to add on another region to the above itinerary. Northern Mongolia would make the most sense, as you’re able to drive there pretty easily after visiting Central Mongolia.
A week in Northern Mongolia probably won’t be enough time to go and visit the Tsaatan people, so plan for a longer amount of time in the north if this is something you wish to do.
Mongolia 1-month itinerary
A month in Mongolia – I’m jealous! With this amount of time, you could make it all the way out to the western part of the country. You’ll be able to go hiking in the Altai mountains and meet the Kazakh people that inhabit that area.
Western Mongolia will take up about two weeks (the exact amount of time depends on if you fly or bus there). For your other two weeks in the country, consider checking out the Gobi and Central Mongolia. You’ll also probably want to plan some rest time in Ulaanbaatar.
When to visit Mongolia
52 – Mongolia can be visited year-round: But.. you’ll have a vastly different experience in the summer than you would have in the winter. For most people, the best time to visit Mongolia is in summer, but let me go over the pros and cons of the different seasons.
53 – What is Mongolia like in the winter?: Unless you like -30°C weather, it’s probably best to avoid visiting Mongolia in the winter (November to March). If you do visit Mongolia in the winter, dress warm and you’ll experience a Mongolia that few other backpackers do!
Be warned – in the winter, Ulaanbaatar becomes one of the most polluted cities on Earth due to wood-burning heating.
54 – What is Mongolia like in the spring?: In the spring (April to May), weather can still be unpredictable and roads can be quite muddy as the snow is still melting.
55 – What is Mongolia like in the summer?: Mongolia’s summer lasts from June to August and is definitely the best time of year to visit Mongolia. In the summer, the steppes will be green and the skies will be blue (for the most part). Still, be prepared for any type of weather.
I backpacked around Mongolia in August, and when I was in the Gobi Desert climbing the Khongoryn Els sand dunes, it started pouring rain. Later on, I was in the Orkhon Valley and we were hit with a hail storm that covered our ger in ice. Be sure to bring gear for any sort of situation.
In late July/early August, the Naadam festival takes place all over the country. It’s an incredible experience that shouldn’t be missed!
56 – What is Mongolia like in the fall?: In the fall temperatures begin to drop, but gorgeous fall colours help make up for it. After summer, fall is probably the best time to visit Mongolia.
If you’re in Mongolia in early October, try to make it out for the Golden Eagle Festival in Ölgii.
Travel Costs in Mongolia
57 – How much does it cost to backpack in Mongolia?: Well, Mongolia lies somewhere in the middle of the budget range. It’s more expensive to travel in than places like Vietnam or India, but cheaper than Japan or Korea. Due to its massive size and low population, a tour is pretty much required to see anything outside of Ulaanbaatar.
To be safe, budget between $50 and $70 per day in Mongolia if you plan on taking a group tour.
If you’re just visiting Ulaanbaatar, costs will be much lower. A hostel dorm bed (Again, I recommend the Golden Gobi ) will be less than $10 USD, and you can eat at local restaurants for only a few dollars.
Check out the State Department Store if you need to do any shopping – they have everything from camping gear to televisions.
Internet & SIM Cards in Mongolia
58 – In the countryside, internet access is non-existent: As most of Mongolia is extremely sparsely populated, expect to be offline most of the time while you’re travelling in Mongolia.
59 – What about in Ulaanbaatar and larger towns?: WiFi isn’t great, but I recommend picking up a local SIM card from either MobiCom or Unitel . With one of these local SIM cards, you’ll have 4G coverage in Ulaanbataar and quite a few towns around the country. You can purchase a SIM at any of the MobiCom or Unitel shops – just be sure to bring your passport.
Basic data packages are quite cheap – you can get about 10GB of data for around $5.
For detailed info about the different plans offered by the telecoms, check out the Mongolia Prepaid SIM Card Wiki.
Solo Travel in Mongolia
60 – It’s easy to meet other backpackers in Ulaanbaatar: Before my trip to Mongolia, I was a bit worried about going solo. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find any other travellers who wanted to visit the same places as me, and therefore worried that I would be stuck paying a lot more money for my tour.
Fortunately, it’s super easy to find people to split your tour costs with in Ulaanbaatar. As long as you don’t plan on going wayyy off of the beaten path, you’ll be able to find someone. Most hostels in Ulaanbaatar communicate with each other, so they’ll ask the other hostels if they have anyone with your same plans and put you in contact.
Don’t worry about heading to Mongolia solo – you’ll be able to meet other travellers and make some new friends!
Female Travel in Mongolia
61 – Mongolia is a great destination for female travellers: Mongolia is a safe destination for female travellers, and you’ll definitely find plenty of others there.
You’ll need to be careful to dress somewhat conservatively and follow the female safety practices that you would anywhere else. Avoid heading out alone in the dark (in Ulaanbaatar), and you will be fine.
Here’s some great info on female travel in Asia – be sure to check it out if it’ll be your first time in Asia.
Travelling in Mongolia Wrap-Up
And that’s it for my guide to travelling in Mongolia! I hope this helped you plan your Mongolia adventure.
If you’ve got any questions about backpacking in Mongolia, feel free to ask me!
Remember to check out my guide to getting from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar , if you’re planning on taking that route.
I’ve also got a few other comprehensive backpacking guides – feel free to check them out if you’re planning a trip!
- China Backpacking Guide
- Pakistan Backpacking Guide
- Wakhan Corridor Travel Guide
Yay transparency! There are affiliate links in this guide. If you book or buy something using my links, I’ll make a bit of money at no extra cost to you.
21-year old Canadian dude who loves to visit off-the-beaten-path places, climb tall mountains, and try delicious foods.
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Borders Of Adventure
Leading Culture and Adventure Travel Blog by Becki Enright. Looking at the world with a different angle to change perceptions of misunderstood places, for the best in travel.
Adventure Travel , Mongolia
This is How to Travel to Mongolia – Overlanding the Least Densely Populated Country in the World
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Want to get to somewhere lesser-known and travel differently? This Mongolia travel guide shows how to go overlanding in the world’s least densely populated country.
Travel to Mongolia means tackling a land of extremes. Both in the landscape, from its vast desert lands and towering dunes to its lush green mountainous national parks, and in its lack of infrastructure, where you become just as frustrated as you are in awe by the country’s areas of extreme isolation.
Visiting Mongolia is to find a canvas of rugged beauty capped by a sky so blue that pollution isn’t even a word that exists here. Passing only wild horses, herds of cattle, an isolated ger in the distance, and the odd truck also on its way to the city, life here is at its purest and most beautiful.
Outside of its unkempt capital, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia exists with limited facilities, but that’s what makes it attractive. On the road, it can take hours of driving before you pass a small ger community, a Mongolian on horseback or another vehicle, and in between blessed with the most stunning views of a country so desolate that you know you’ve reached the real heart of it.
Overlanding through Mongolia, rather than flying or taking the train, is one of the best decisions I have ever made. This guide will show you how to travel Mongolia from China by land, in a vast loop that takes in some of the country’s most treasured hotspots and wilderness hideaways.
Visit the Least Densely Populated Country in the World
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Mongolia travel changes you and makes you appreciate the beautiful patches on the earth’s surface not ruined by extreme modernisation, pollution and overpopulation.
My time in Mongolia meant experiencing everything from bush camping to ger camps, being at one with nature (and not care who sees you squatting in the process) and realising that animals like to roam and Mongolians love to chat – right outside your Ger from 5 am.
I saw a night sky so clear that I didn’t think you could ever see so many stars. I traversed a land so serene in isolation and culture so welcoming that I hope it never, ever becomes ruined by tourist traps or the tight grips of mass capitalism (currently contained to Ulaanbaatar).
Wild horses in the vast Mongolian landscape
If you want to get off the beaten track, not be on any set grid and take each day as it comes, you will love Mongolia. But this also comes with its frustrations where you need droves of patience and a good chunk of travel time to spare.
Firstly, there are hardly any roads. Roads are dirt tracks or pre-made grooves in the land pointing the way, and paved highroads are very few and far between.
Secondly, Mongolia is prone to unpredictable weather conditions. That means random onslaughts of rain and the likelihood that you are likely to get bogged at some point. There were countless numbers of times where we had to dig out and push the truck or find locals to come to the rescue – tractors are a saving grace here.
It’s a vast country that you could get lost in for weeks on end, and when you accept the setbacks, you start to see them as part of the big adventure – travel at its most raw. Back to basics, getting dirty and struggling with the lack of modern amenities we too often take for granted is part of what travelling in Mongolia is all about.
The Overlanding vehicle used to travel to Mongolia and around.
The summer season between May to September is said to be the best time to go to Mongolia. July and August are the hottest months, with temperatures in the Gobi Desert reaching 40°C. Rainfall is at its highest between June and September, balancing out the heat while keeping the forest and valley lands, in particular, lush and fertile. I travelled to Mongolia in July and experienced a lot of rainfall alongside high temperatures.
Mongolia’s winter season is from November to February. While some people like to experience the landscape in this snowy season, temperatures can drop to below minus 20°C – a harsh and challenging environment to travel in. You’ll find that not many companies run tours during this time.
Is it Safe to Travel to Mongolia Safe?
While petty crime and pickpocketing are common in the capital, Ulaanbataar, Mongolia is a relatively safe place to travel, and I never encountered any significant problems. It pays to be more streetwise and alert in the city, as you would in any other. As the landing and departure point for tourists, opportunism poses a higher risk.
Despite the lack of infrastructure and the relative isolation when travelling through the country, the only minor issue we encountered was related to the high levels of alcoholism in the country. We saw drunk drivers on our long drives and an occasion or two when inebriated locals came to our makeshift camp out of curiosity. Even then, it never felt threatening, and we were always within the safety of our group.
On the whole, we rarely saw other people, and when we did, we were met with kindness, invited into homes and welcomed into common spaces such as markets and small-town social spaces.
I also travelled alongside a Mongolian guide – someone who could speak the language when we got stuck, who could walk to a nearby home and explain the need for assistance and who understood the land’s general navigation. Therefore, in Mongolia, it pays to get yourself a local guide, join a small group tour, formulate a small group of your own in Ulaanbataar or be equipped with general wilderness survival skills if going out there entirely on your own.
When I was planning my travel to Mongolia, Dragoman was the only company offering Mongolia tours that lasted more than ten days to two weeks. The 21-day overland journey was the first trip itinerary of its kind they were running here, which included Inner Mongolia. Today the 21-day trip, called Nomads & Wilds of Mongolia, is on a loop from Ulaanbaatar and includes Khovsgol Lake in the north. Dragoman has currently suspended operations until there is a clearer path for tourism after the pandemic.
My favourite adventure travel people, and partners, G Adventures, offer Mongolia tours that all start and end in Ulaanbaatar.
A 14-day trip, including all the highlights at an affordable price (from €1999), this Mongolia trip includes a Gobi Desert and Mongolian Grasslands stay, alongside packing in the major historical must-sees and cultural experiences that make Mongolia an unforgettable adventure.
This 10-day local living trip includes staying with three different families in Gers to experience life as a nomad. Mix historical monuments with cultural moments, exploring pastures, forests, lakes and national parks by foot and horseback while helping your host families prepare traditional dinners and learn the skills of their nomadic trades.
G Adventures, in partnership with National Geographic Journeys, offers a two-week comfort adventure through Mongolia . You get to visit Khustai National Park, Karakorum (the ancient capital of Mongolia), Tsenkher Hot Springs, the Orkhon Valley and more. You will also see a nomadic camel-herding family and dive deeper into Mongolia’s culture, as well as support the local community where tourists pass through.
Want to experience the Naadam Festival’s horseracing, archery and wrestling tournaments? This mini adventure takes you to it and throws you right into the buzz of traditional Mongolian festivities.
Mongolia is expensive to travel in and around due to the very nature that it is not overly touristic. Due to the lack of infrastructure, a tour with a local guide and appropriate transport can often be necessary to cover more ground.
- You will need to budget between $2400-$3600 for an extensive trip around the country.
- An average meal (if not making your own on the trip) costs around $5.
- Entrance fees to historic sites and museums average around $2 per ticket.
For those on a budget, day trips can be taken from Ulaanbaatar, or you can try and plan some shorter 3-5 day trips from the city. However, this can often depend on having a minimum amount of people signed up for the trip to run and isn’t always guaranteed.
Do you need a Visa for Mongolia?
If you are not a national of one of the visa-exempt countries listed below, you will need a Mongolia visa.
- A single-entry visa (valid for three months from the date of issue) for up to 30 days – £40/$50
- A double-entry visa (valid for three months from the date of issue) for up to 30 days – £55/$65
It is cheaper to apply directly at a Mongolian Embassy (either at home before you leave or in the country you are travelling in prior). You will need a valid passport, passport photos and supporting trip documents alongside a completed application.
Allow one working week for processing. Some Embassies provide a one-day service for an extra charge.
A 30-day tourist visa on arrival is available for tourists coming from European and other countries where there are no Mongolian Embassies present, obtained at Ulanbataar Airport or the Mongolian land borders. I got my visa in London months before my trip.
The following countries are granted visa-free entry to Mongolia.
Visa-free entry for 90 days: Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Chile, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, United States (US). Those from Ukraine require a form of invitation.
Visa-free entry for 30 days: Canada, Cuba, Germany, Israel, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, Thailand, Uruguay.
Visa-free entry for 21 days: Philippines.
Visa-free entry for 14 days: Hong Kong.
You can find further information on the Embassy of Mongolia website .
Where to Go in Mongolia – Itinerary
I spent 20 days Overlanding in and across the central and western Mongolian plains. We travelled in a big clockwise circle from Ulaanbaatar, through the scorching Gobi Desert to beautiful lakes, forests, canyons and waterfalls, all the while passing vast herds of wild horses, camels, goats, yaks and cows.
Overlanding in Mongolia for Three Weeks:
Kilometres travelled: 2492
Number of significant times the truck got stuck: 2
Number of minor times the truck got stuck: 12
Number of incredible driving days: 15
We spent a full day in Ulaanbaatar exploring outside of the stark Soviet communist-style architecture and moving past the city’s general dodgy feeling. There’s plenty to see and do here, including a walk through the modern Sukhbaatar (Parliament) Square, the Gandan Monastery, the National History Museum and the shopping paradise of the Black Market . In the evening, check out the singing, dancing and contortion talent at the Cultural Show before hitting a few bars and pubs. There’s so many you won’t know where to start.
Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
The golden feet outside the Gandan Monastery Ulaanbaatar
We set off in the truck from Ulaanbaatar to drive to the Baga Gazryn Chuluu rock formations in the Gobi desert. Due to heavy traffic when getting out of the city and general road conditions we got delayed and so decided to set up bush camp for the evening. Be prepared for delays in Mongolia but delight in being the only people in the area. All the space is yours.
We got to Baga Gazryn Chuluu – rock formations worshipped by locals who make pilgrimages here partly because legend states that Ghengis Khan camped here – before journeying to the Gobi Desert.
Layers of Baga Gazryn Chuluu rock formations in Mongolia
A hike to Baga Gazryn Chuluu as part of a Mongolia travel itinerary
On the way, we got to experience the famous Nadaam Festival when we passed through the local town of Mandal Govi . It was full of wrestling, horse racing, archery and fairground style fun. Nadaam means ‘games’, and the buzz was all around us as the only Westerners there. It was great to be a part of a traditional Mongolian community celebration, even if the afternoon was marred by a bogging, which resulted in the truck not being released from the soft mud until midnight.
Watching the wrestling at the Nadaam Festival in Mongolia
Mongolian locals enjoy the Nadaam Festival.
The plan was to get to our first ger camp, but after approximately 30 kilometres, we encountered a large ditch of water on the road. It resulted in us having to drain the water by hand and build a road and a dam for most of the afternoon to help us get across. Although this sounds horrendous, it created a great sense of camaraderie and, ultimately, an immense sense of achievement. We got to camp on a high point of the Gobi Desert instead near the town of Tsogoovi .
A Ger Camp on a hilltop in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia
We began our journey without a hitch to the ger Camp called Gobi Discovery, stopping at the town of Dalanzagad on the way. Mongolian towns are typically tiny and compact settlements that are reasonably large but without the ruin of a city like Ulaanbaatar.
Market time in the town of Dalanzagad, Mongolia
We hiked in Yolin Am , a beautiful canyon in the Gobi, an ice valley, which hosts a colossal glacier all year round. The hike was spectacular, but, unfortunately for us, little of the iceberg remained, although we had lots of fun playing with what little ice there was regardless.
Hike or horseback in the Yolin Am Valley in Mongolia
Many sandy riverbed crossings eventually led us to our second Ger camp, Khongoryn Els Ger Camp. Here, you only have to open your ger door to be greeted with a breathtaking view of the Gobi and the Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes , which I later climbed, drank beer on and ran down. That was after a camel ride, of course.
The glorious Gobi Desert Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes
Bumpy mountain roads took us to the spectacular Bayanzag Flaming Cliffs , which are a Mongolian version of the Grand Canyon, but smaller. It’s a significant site that unearthed many dinosaur fossils and eggs, and it is also a stunning backdrop for bush camping.
The blazing ochre colours of Mongolia’s Bayanzag Flaming Cliffs
Marvel the mars-like landscape of Bayanzag Flaming Cliffs when you travel to Mongolia
When the communists invaded Mongolia in the 1930s (known as the Purges), nearly all Monasteries were destroyed. Ongii Monastery was one of them, and we visited the ruins here before driving to Arvaikheer, where heavy rain forced us into a hotel for the night. At times, random bad weather makes bush camping in Mongolia impossible, so it is essential to prepare for a budget recount at any given time.
The site of the Ongii Monastery in Mongolia
The scattered stone ruins of Ongii Monastery in Mongolia
We began our journey to the third ger camp but got badly bogged around midday after the truck had to swerve slightly, of course, to miss a drunk driver who came in our path (sadly, a lot of people drink and drive here). It took over five hours to get out, with the help of a small local tractor, and during that time, a few of us who remained to help with the truck (local jeeps rescued a few) lost our minds. It was a hilarious few hours that would have made an excellent documentary, probably how a Lord of the Flies scenario starts.
Tractors help pull the Overlanding truck out of the sticky mud in Mongolia’s rural landscape.
The roads were not rigid and stable enough for the truck to continue, especially with all the hills. After setting up tents and cooking dinner, two small vans came to the rescue to take us on our two-hour journey to the Ger Camp. It was a scary ride in the dark, where we stopped at the driver’s backyard and where a small boy jumped into the hold of the van for the rest of the journey.
I highly recommend staying in a ger camp in the beautiful Orkhon Valley . There’s nothing like a pleasant hike through the beautiful forest to reach the Tuvkhon Monastery and see the surrounding area. Pure bliss.
The lush green leading to the soft peaks in the Orkhon Valley Mongolia
A rest stop in the scenic Orkhon Valley landscape
Hiking the forest trails of Mongolia’s Orkhon Valley
The rocky plateau that surrounds the Tövkhön Monastery in Mongolia
The colourful entrance to the Tövkhön Monastery
The Orkhon Valley waterfall was the next stop on our five-hour drive to the next ger camp. This camp plays host to the famous hot springs in the region, where we went skinny dipping and enjoyed a few refreshing beers.
A Mongolian man sits in a chair peacefully enjoying the backdrop of the Orkhon Valley Waterfalls in Mongolia.
Fully clothed, of course, we took a short hike through the lush green forest to visit the source of the hot springs. When you come across your first sighting of trees after two weeks of barren land, you begin to appreciate such incredible surroundings.
Visiting a local nomadic family in their ger in Mongolia
As we had two Mongolian guides with us (invaluable support in a country where very little or no English is spoken or understood), we could visit a Mongolian ger and a local family to learn about nomadic life.
It wasn’t a tourist set up, but a traditional, local family who lived on an isolated patch of land in the valley. We tried their dairy products (their source of income), including fermented mare’s milk, curd and butter, before learning about ger rules and traditions and asking each other many questions!
READ MORE: Visiting a Mongolian Ger – Understanding the Nomadic Culture of Mongolia
We needed a quick stop in the nearby town of Tsetserleg to stock up on food supplies. It was a market day with an electric atmosphere. I get a high from moments when you don’t know where you are and what to do, and where you have to work hard to communicate and negotiate.
We later visited the most important Monastery in the country, Erdene Zuu Monastery in Kharkhorin – the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia that had up to 100 temples and 1,000 monks before the purges in 1937. Only three temples remained, alongside several statues and other items.
The exterior walls of the Erdene Zuu Monastery, Mongolia
Part of the temple complex inside Mongolia’s Erdene Zuu Monastery
The red, gold and green temple structures at Erdene Zuu Monastery
A visit to the museum we camped next to – the Kultigen Monument, housing artefacts from the Turkish empire – set us on the way to the nearby Ugii Lake, where we would relax all day and camp for one night.
Ugii lake emits a calming atmosphere and invites you to traverse it slowly. While it would take almost a day to walk around, it’s a great place to unwind and reflect. I count this as one of my most favourite spots in all of Mongolia.
Our camping set-up beside Ugii Lake in Mongolia
We arrived at Hustain National Park in the afternoon to settle into a ger camp. This National Park is known for the rare Przewalski’s horse, unique to Mongolia. When you finally track down a small group, it’s still hard to see their beauty up close as you can’t get that close to them.
Still, we got to meet the ‘Best Mongolian Folk Band in Mongolia’ called Domog in the evening after a fantastic show where they performed rock-style tunes via the famed throat singing. I guess it is the equivalent of meeting Westlife in Ireland. Seriously.
Meeting Damog, the Best Mongolian Folk Band in Mongolia
We had to journey back through the crazy, construction-overloaded, traffic-ridden Ulaanbaatar to get to Terelj National Park and the last ger camp of the trip (we were due to bush camp the weather put a stop to that).
It’s incredible how a few hours down the road from the capital brings you to some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes.
The road that leads to the heart of Terelj National Park, Mongolia
If you love walking and hiking, you will love Terelj National Park. Here you can wander for hours, hike to a Monastery and horse ride through the forests and rocky hilltops. Make sure you check out ‘Turtle Rock’ too. You may think it looks like something else from a certain angle!
One of the layered rock formations in Terelj National Park in Mongolia
Visiting Turtle Rock in Terelj National Park Mongolia, named for its shape similar to the animal
Nothing beats the end of the wilderness journey than a visit to the giant 40-metre tall silver Ghengis Khan statue just outside of Ulaanbaatar on the banks of the Tuul River. Legend has it that it was at this spot that Ghengis Khan found his golden whip. Anyhow, a bit of a pilgrimage spot for locals, it was fascinating (if not a bit odd and imposing in the same way a colossal silver statue of Hitler in Germany would probably evoke the same feeling).
40-metre tall silver Ghengis Khan statue just outside of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Back in Ulaanbaatar, I turned my hostel room into an office and distracted myself with a pizza slice, cake and coffee at Wendy’s Bakery – worth a visit alongside the State Department Store, which is right next to the hostel area. It’s an excellent chance to rest up after adventure through the vast landscapes of Mongolia.
The Dragoman overland truck is what we called home, except we didn’t sleep on it overnight. Instead, we went wild camping and every night, checking into a hotel once when the rains were too much to settle a tent comfortably.
The truck’s exterior has lots of compartments – storage for luggage and tents and a clean water supply, mealtime equipment and food supplies. It’s a travelling transformer, and everyone has to lend a hand setting up and packing down for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you have no sense of camaraderie or hate getting dirty, then this isn’t the kind of adventure trip for you. I embraced it and loved every minute of ‘roughing it’.
Travel in Mongolia was mostly about camping.
Twenty-three seats, a fridge, a safe, a bookshelf, prominent speakers and a place to recharge equipment, this is where we spend hours at a time, or what could end up being an entire day, traversing the landscape. We filled it with our belongings like a messy bedroom and made it cosy.
Inside the Overlanding truck on the journey travelling Mongolia
Along the Way
The two drivers are the mechanics, the navigators and the troubleshooters. Everything about the truck, from where it goes and how it gets there, hangs on their decision making, alongside our Mongolian guide who knew the land better than anyone else and could speak the language when we needed to call upon locals for help.
Overlanding in Mongolia was a real adventure.
Although the drivers would jump out to check the road, walking far ahead to determine the best track to take or check waterlogged areas (often by getting in the water) to limit the truck’s chances of getting bogged. We often stopped to help locals whose cars were stuck, knowing that karma would need to be returned one day.
The Realities of Rural Travel in Mongolia
“Ok, guys, you have to get off. It’s not looking good.” This phrase, accompanied by the engine’s low hum and strain as it finally gave up, became a regular occurrence during the three weeks I spent in Mongolia. Getting dirty in Mongolia is a given, but I never thought on my travels that I would push a truck out of thick, stodgy mud, build a road complete with a dam or wade knee-deep through a river to get to the other side.
In Mongolia, aside from the small handful of roads available, you will take the path less travelled, one that hasn’t been used for days or worn in by other vehicles for an easy pass. You could call it bad luck, or you could call it a reality, but travel comes with its challenges and getting stuck in Mongolia is by far the most common. While I wasn’t expecting substantial bogging incidents on this trip, I began to embrace them when they did happen. After all, the locals have to face these situations regularly. It became a part of what Mongolia is and what it means to cross her lands.
The drivers of the truck were responsible for assessing each situation when it arose. They were the first to get dirty, walk through the water and determine the outcome. At times it put you on edge, wondering how long you would be stuck somewhere with no one passing by for hours. At other times it merely meant us having to walk a short distance to lighten the truck.
Either way, the result was a massive whoop and roar for our truck, Archie, when he made it through. It felt good, and we then knew the next stage of the journey could begin. These are the times I’ll always remember.
Our group helps find a track in the water for the truck to pass in Mongolia.
It had been raining on and off for a few days, mainly in short spurts in the evenings, and we were bumping along the wet dirt tracks just fine. When the truck stopped, and we saw that two pools of water had filled two road tracks, we knew a bogging incident was imminent. The drivers walked, pondered and walked through the water. Could we drive through it without getting stuck?
The usual scenario rested on two possibilities – drive through it or find hard enough ground around it. Except that this time it was different. We were told: “We need to empty this road of water and then let the ground dry out so we can cross over it.”
Cue the mad dash to empty our camping gear to find our plastic washing-up bowls and any other form of a plastic container to begin the removal process. The ladies rolled up their shorts to get right in there and scoop out the water as the men started digging to create a road. Everyone built a dam by hand on each side of the tyre track grooves so that the emptied water wouldn’t flow back in.
It was hard work, but we became a team, a great team. The sun was shining that day which meant we only had to wait a couple of hours while the heat dried out our creation. We ate, we played, we sang, and we marvelled at what resourceful people we were. It was a scary moment when Archie made his move to cross our road (our beautifully crafted highway that could be crushed in seconds and need rebuilding), but he made it in one unbeaten run, and our handmade route was left to the land and in nature’s control.
Happening upon grassy, muddy areas is sporadic. You can never tell exactly how hard the ground is beneath it. After bouts of rain, the ground softens, and even though there were times when the truck had to work a little harder, it made it through.
We had just had a fantastic afternoon checking out a local Nadaam festival and were in high spirits, which we needed knowing that we would be driving for the rest of the day. Except we didn’t – we were soon stuck in thick, sticky mud, and no amount of pushing and revving was going to change it.
Digging out the truck wheels from the deep, wet mud in Mongolia
Our Mongolian guide walked to the nearest ger to get help, and the locals later returned on a motorbike to check out the situation. The whole family came out – we regularly became a source of fascination or amusement en route through the country. However, they kindly decided to use their big, industrial tractor to help pull the truck out of the mud – that too got stuck.
With two vehicles out of action and night starting to fall, we decided to set up camp on a drier patch of land nearby, and the drivers worked relentlessly with the locals throughout the evening. We got bogged at 5 pm, and it took until midnight for the truck to be pulled from sludge. It was a day wasted, but another example of how unpredictable travelling here can be.
When the truck stops dead at a deep area of water, you know the situation isn’t going to be resolved quickly. Can a truck this size pass through a river without sinking or getting stuck? Although we enjoyed paddling in the freshwater, we didn’t know whether we could have to completely re-route to get around it and lose more time.
The conclusion was that there was a distinct lack of knowledge about alternative roads around the river, and somehow we would have to find a way to get through it. With a small truck already stuck right in the middle, it was a scary prospect.
The drivers identified the most shallow and hard ground area in the water to pass, although we couldn’t be on the truck, unfortunately. You can imagine the chaos – a group of locals trying to rescue their vehicle and 20 non-locals trying to navigate through the water, knee-deep and screeching, scared of falling in.
My heart skipped a beat watching our truck splash through the water and wondering whether it would stop dead in its tracks and slowly swim in a sea of mud, taking all our belongings with it. But Archie made it, and this time, he got the biggest cheer. And a giant sigh of relief.
Typical river crossings in Mongolia and helping out locals who were also stuck
With unpredictable weather conditions, a challenging landscape to navigate and a trip mostly comprised of wild camping, packing for Mongolia requires some planning. In short, you need to factor in the following:
- Items of clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty and wholly ruined.
- Clothing layers for the constant switch of hot and cold climates – thermals to moisture-wicking and waterproof items.
- Sun protection and bug spray for mosquitos and sandflies.
- All medications you need as you’ll often be far from any significant stores or aid.
- Snacks from home as the food variation can get very repetitive.
For a more extensive overview, read: Preparing and Packing for Mongolia .
Becki Enright is a British Travel Press Award-winning writer whose work focuses on changing perceptions about misunderstood aspects of destinations. Her writing combines storytelling with insight into the social, historical, political and economic factors that shape the country or place in relation to tourism. Becki has appeared live on Sky News and CNN and has contributed to high profile media including National Geographic, Time.com, Guardian online, New York Times, Grazia and Buzzfeed.
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The Ultimate Mongolia Travel Itinerary
Planning an independent trip to Mongolia is a challenging task. The tourist trail is not well developed and lack of information makes it hard to figure out a great Mongolia travel itinerary for first-time visitors.
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Unlike a lot of other places in Asia, you can’t just rock up in the country, pop into a travel agency and hop on a tour.
Our attempts to get information from our guest house resulted in an invitation to join their prepackaged tour. The set up didn’t sound like our cup of tea so we continued our search.
We wanted to pick our own route, set our own schedule, and explore the country on our own.
Traveling Soon? Here is a list of our favourite travel providers and accessories to help get you ready for your upcoming trip! Book Your Accommodation HERE Search for Great Tours HERE Get a Car Rental HERE Buy Travel Insurance HERE See our Favourite Camera Bag HERE Grab a Reusable Water Bottle HERE or a Filtration Straw HERE Order an eSim HERE
It took us 3 days and many calls, messages and meetings to find a car and a driver (renting your own car in Mongolia is HIGHLY INADVISABLE) and with the help of an ex-guide and all-around wonderful local (who has now started her own company, Explore Mongolia), we finally managed to work out our own Mongolia itinerary that allowed us to see the most of the country .
To spare others the time and effort it took to pull together our Mongolia travel itinerary, we are sharing it below for others to enjoy!
3-Week Mongolia Itinerary
Ulaanbaatar: 2 days.
Start your Mongolia travel adventure by flying into Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia’s capital is an enormous fume-filled city that will excite you and shock you all at once.
UB (as the locals refer to it), is a mixed bag of old and new, of traditional and modern, of hope and despair. It’s busy, it’s chaotic, and it’s not tourist-friendly , but it’s the first stop of anyone traveling to Mongolia .
Despite the obvious lack of appeal, UB is a great place to start your Mongolia travel. It’s where you’ll want to stock up on anything you might have forgotten back home, sort out your trip arrangement, find travel buddies, and have a few last delicious meals (there won’t be too many of those once you get out into the countryside).
Don’t Miss: A visit to Chinggis Khaan Square and a meal at Namaste (UB’s best vegan restaurant).
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park: 2 days
It’s hard to believe that you can find unspoiled nature with great opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and horseback riding just an hour outside of UB, but that’s exactly what you’ll find in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park.
The park is a favourite weekend getaway for many locals from UB and thus get very busy on weekends and during the holidays.
But plan your visit outside of the busy days and enjoy plenty of trails, side valleys and your first peek at the beauty of the Mongolian countryside. Ger camps are plentiful, so you can plan to spend a night or two inside the park or enjoy it on a day trip from UB .
Don’t Miss: The park’s biggest attraction, Turtle Rock , and a visit to the Aryapala Initiation and Meditation Centre set on a hill overlooking the park.
Baga Gazriin Chuluu: lunch stop
The road from UB to South Gobi is long and bumpy and Baga Gazriin Chuluu , a giant rock formation that seems to appear out of nowhere makes for a perfect stopover. There is a handy picnic site and plenty of space to explore this unique geological wonder.
Admire the prayer flags and views from the top of the rock formations and take a break from a bumpy ride at a convenient spot just a few hours south of UB.
Don’t Miss: Usan Bolortiin Agui Cave and a tiny fresh water spring , hidden beneath a rock. There is a ladle inside the rock to help you scoop up some water to splash on your face.
Tsagaan Suvraga (White Stupas): Sunset Spot
Located some 300 km south of Baga Gazriin Chuluu, along the highway to Dalanzadgad, Tsagaan Suvraga is another great unknown natural wonder found in the Gobi and well worth a stop on your Mongolia itinerary.
The site, also known as White Stupas , is a unique sand pinnacle formation and is another popular stop in Middle Gobi. There isn’t much to see other than the stupas themselves, but you could easily spend a few hours exploring the area.
Don’t Miss: Sunset at the White Stupas is especially beautiful. If you are traveling in your own vehicle and aren’t on someone else’s schedule, hang back and wait for the tour companies to leave (which they do shortly before sunset) so you can have the place all to yourself.
Yolin Am Valley (Ice Field): 2-3 days
Yolin Am Valley was probably one of our favourite destinations on our Mongolia travel itinerary, which is why we suggest spending a few extra days in the area. This spot is famous for its dramatic rocky cliffs and shade clad canyons that prevent ice from melting well into the summer.
The valley remains lush and green despite being located in the heart of the Gobi Desert. Hikers and outdoor lovers from all over the world travel to Mongolia for this unique destination.
It’s possible to explore the gorge in a few hours but to walk the full length of the gorge (some 8-10kms), you’ll need to start at one end and get your driver to pick you up on the other side.
Don’t Miss: Keep your eyes peeled for ibexes that roam the gorge in the warmer months. They are tricky to spot and even harder to photograph!
Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes: 1-2 days
When you think of the Gobi Desert , you probably thinking of spectacular sand dunes and as you travel from UB to the Gobi, you’ll find yourself surprised to discover that the majority of the Gobi looks nothing like a sandy desert you have pictured.
Khongoryn Els, the largest and most well-known sand dunes in Mongolia, is the exception. At 300m high, 12 km wide and about 100km long, the sand dunes of Khongoryn Els are a force not to be reckoned with.
Climbing to the top of the dunes is possible, but the walk is not easy. The climb takes 45 minutes to 1 hour of an exhausting uphill battle.
Don’t Miss : Spectacular views of the desert from the sandy summit. Plan to start climbing the dunes 1.5-2 hours before sunset to give yourself plenty of time to reach the top before the sun kisses the horizon.
Bayanzag (Flaming Cliffs): Stopover
After a night in the Khongoryn Els, the most logical route will take you through Bayangzag, an area of flaming orange sand dunes famous for dinosaur bones and eggs. It’s worth adding a stop to your Mongolia itinerary even if you are not a dinosaur fan.
There is not much to do here other than explore the sand dunes on foot or hire a camel to take you around. A few souvenir shops and drink stands are set up on the edges of the cliff, but that’s about the extent of civilization in this part of the Gobi.
Don’t Miss: A chance to help out the local community by purchasing a few handmade souvenirs.
Ongiin Khiid Buddhist Monastery: Stopover
A few centuries ago, Ongiin Khiid was one of the largest monasteries in Mongolia , but the complex was destroyed back in 1937, leaving behind a set of ruins that can be seen in the area today.
The ruins aren’t very impressive, but the area around the monastery is nice and has a number of ger camps which makes it for a nice stopover en route from the Gobi to Central Mongolia.
Don’t Miss: A chance to stay in a nice tourist ger camp! Since there aren’t too many of them in the Gobi, make sure to enjoy a hot shower (you don’t know when you might get your next one).
Kharkhorin: 2-3 days.
Once the capital of the Chinggis Khaan empire , Kharkhorin was completely destroyed in 1388 and rebuilt a few centuries later into what now is known Erdene Zuu Khiid (Monastery). Today, the town itself is nothing exciting, but the monastery itself is impressive and definitely worth a visit.
Don’t Miss: Kharkhorin also has a great selection of ger camps and a big supermarket which is an ideal place to restock for the next leg. If you are lucky, your ger camp might also have wifi.
Tsenkher Hot Springs: 2-3 days
Located less than 30 kms from the town of Tsetseleg, Tesnkher Hot Springs is an up and coming Mongolia travel destination for both local and international tourists.
These natural hot springs are set between rolling hills clad with pine forests and green pastures, creating a beautiful natural setting for a few relaxing days.
And while the natural springs aren’t really set up for public enjoyment, there are four tourist ger camps surrounding the springs that pump water into their own hot spring pools allowing you to enjoy the health benefits of the springs just steps away from your ger.
Don’t Miss: The forested hills of the surrounding area offer lots of opportunities for hikes and nature walks, so make sure you warm up your muscles with a hike before jumping in those hot springs.
Terkhiin Tsagaan Lake (White Lake): 2 days
This freshwater lake spans 16 km and offers beautiful views from the numerous ger camps dotted along its shores.
There isn’t much to do at the lake other than exploring on foot, enjoying the peaceful beauty of the lake and sharing some yak milk with the families running the ger camps, but that’s part of the appeal.
Don’t Miss: A chance to climb to the top of Khorgo Uul , a 200m tall extinct volcano located just outside the town of Tariat en route to the lake.
Shine-Ider: 1 day
This tiny town has no reason to be a Mongolia travel highlight, but for us, the unmissable destination was a tourist ger camp , located some 5-10km outside of town.
Set in a small valley, the camp had the nicest gers and facilities we had come across on our Mongolia itinerary and the hospitality of the local family running the camp was unlike any other.
Don’t Miss: An opportunity to join the nomad family herding nearby for some early morning yak milking.
Khovsgol nuur (lake): 2-3 days.
Khovsgol Lake will be the most Northern stop on the Mongolian itinerary. This beautiful area is known for thick forests, rivers, mountains and a beautiful lake with crystal clear waters. While the lake never really gets warm enough for Khovsgol to become a beach destination, the area is perfect for hiking and horseback riding .
Most gers are located on the Western side of the lake, where hiking trails are limited and the only way to get around the beautiful forests is by horse, but travelers also report opportunities for a more off the beaten path hiking/horseback riding experience in the East.
Don’t Miss: A chance to explore the forest by horse , as the opportunities to hike on foot are limited.
Have More Time to Spare?
Adventurous travelers and those with lots of time on their hands may wish to continue their Mongolia travel by venturing further north, where pockets of remote ethnic communities still exist to this day.
The reindeer herders (the Tsaantan people) are gaining particular interest among those traveling to Mongolia , but an authentic low-impact trip to their region requires both time (at least 10 days), money ($1,000+/pp), and many days on horseback (there are simply no roads to get up there).
The rest may choose to end their trip in Khovsgol, returning to UB via Bulgan or Erdenet in the North. These towns have no sights or attractions and serve as mere stopping points on your Mongolia itinerary to break up the long drive back to UB, although they do offer an insight into the life of smaller towns outside of the capital.
Short on Time?
It is possible to check out all the destinations on this Mongolia itinerary in just 2 weeks , by cutting out additional days and moving to a new destination every 1-2 days.
Unfortunately, this will make for a VERY exhausting trip as roads in the Mongolian countryside are bad (and in many cases, nonexistent) and distances are much longer than they appear to be on the map.
Essential Mongolia Travel Info
Traveling to mongolia.
Fly into Ulanbataar to start your trip and organize transport and provisions for the rest of your time in Mongolia. Direct flights to UB are available from Beijing, Seoul and Moscow and start at $150-200 each way.
Alternatively, you may consider taking a train from Beijing, which runs as a part of the Trans Mongolian Railway system. Tickets are $270USD per person and the journey from Beijing takes 36 hours.
Getting Around Mongolia
Assuming that you are looking to experience the above itinerary independently, we recommend hiring a driver to take you around the country and get you safely to all the stops on your Mongolia travel itinerary. Driving in Mongolia is tough. Very tough. The roads are bad and drives are exhausting, and even experienced drivers (like ours) can easily get lost in the vast steppe of Mongolian countryside.
A comfortable car and a driver that’s familiar with the route will make a huge difference in your Mongolia travel experience. Expect to pay anywhere between $50-75 per car, plus drivers allowance for meals/accommodation,and gas. Less experienced drivers or those that don’t speak any English will be willing to accept a lower rate and will save their accommodation allowance by sleeping in their cars.
Where to Stay
Unless you book your trip with a tour company (prepare to pay a LOT more for the convenience), you won’t be able to pre-book accommodation along the way. Most of the ger camps do not have websites or emails, and they don’t take reservations. It’s another reason why a local driver (who also speaks a bit of English) is essential for this type of trip. They’ll need to know where the ger camps are and be able to call ahead to reserve you a bed/ger on the day of your arrival.
What to Pack/Bring for your Mongolia Travel
Aside from the usual clothing, camera equipment and other travel accessories, it is advised to bring a sleeping bag (as some gers do not provide any bedding or blankets), a gas stove (which you can buy at a supermarket in UB along with propane canisters), a solar charger (electricity isn’t always available), and to always carry a supply of food to last you a few days (canned food, bread, peanut butter/jam, muesli and fruits/veggies work great and can be easily restocked in any small town along the way). Food will be available for sale at ger camps, but if you plan on staying at any family gers, it’s best not to rely on their provisions for meals .
Ready for 3 weeks in Mongolia? Let us know your thoughts on traveling to Mongolia in the comment section below!
About the author.
Oksana & Max St John
16 thoughts on “the ultimate mongolia travel itinerary”.
Thank you for your blog on Mongolia. I need your help since I am planning a 2 weeks in Mongolia in July this year. Since your iternary was for 3 weeks can you help me with places I can avoid and reduce it to 2 weeks. Please also let me know how did you make the booking for car and driver. Please provide me contact number if you have and also help provide me cost. Since I am backpacking and cost is major concern for me.
Thanks in advance
If you only have 2 weeks, we would suggest cutting out the North (Khovsgol Lake), as it takes a long time to get to the lake and back to the city. In terms of hiring a driver, we have yet to write a post about the process as it was a bit complicated, but in short, we suggest reaching out to our friend Shine ( https://www.facebook.com/ExploreMongolians/ ) who helped us organize the trip. We paid $35/person, which included a car with a driver and ger accommodation along the way. However, there was 4 of us in the car, so the cost will likely be higher if you are traveling on your own.
Thank you for this great post. Can you clarify the cost of $35 / person for 4 people was for how many days? Thank you in advance for your help!
It was $35/person per day for 4 people and a 2-week itinerary. You might find prices per car per day or if you are organizing a tour similar to ours, the price will be per person per day.
Thank you so much. Very helpful. Happy new year!
Hi, Great content! I was wondering if you can share more about the car rental and why it took so long (3 days)? Also, please share about the accommodations, you say it is impossible to book in advance? So does this mean your itinerary is somewhat a private tour? Also, if possible, the cost? Thank you so much Monch
The reason the planning took so long was because we wanted a very custom and budget-friendly tour. We met with a couple of drivers to discuss potential routes and prices. Some had unreliable cars, some asked for too much money, some didn’t want to take on the route. We eventually ended up with a private tour for 4 people (us another couple) and we paid $35/pp/day each. The budget included transport and accommodation. The gers were impossible to book in advance because we stayed in very local, small family run gers. They had no websites and often no phone number that could be used to reserve a stay. We simply drove up to the camp and stayed if they had room. If they didn’t have room, we would drive to the next camp and try there.
Hi Oksana and Max.
Thanks so much for your time and effort. You really have given me some great steps and things to think about.
I am researching for myself and 2 mates for next June to August -max 3 weeks. I’ve been talking to a few people with advise on when Nadaam is and yo decide whether that is a priorirty of if another less busy time of year woud be better. Ive been adbised Aug is a great time as well. What are yiur thoughts? I defo had plans to do alot of what is in your itinerary but a driver for the entire journey sounds like a plan – esp if between 3 of us. We were gonna get a driver for the Gobi but it makes more sense for the long term. Tganjs for your time and hope to speak soon.
Traveling to Mongolia during Nadaam is meant to be a great experience. We missed it, unfortunately, so we can’t comment on how that would impact the trip, but do keep in mind that it is the busiest time in Mongolia and will bring its own challenges with accommodation. If you do end up going for Nadaam, we would strongly recommend booking your accommodation in advance.
Why is it ‘highly unrecommended’ to rent your own car in Mongolia?
Well, first of all, we didn’t come across an option to rent a car. And after seeing how much our local driver struggled with driving off road without any signs or directions, we wouldn’t even dare to try that ourselves.
Hello, thank you for your reply. I thought you’d write that your car would be broken into or stolen, or roadside criminals / robbers could hit on you. Have you heard any of such incidents? I looked on Priceline and there are many options to rent cars from Ulanbataar airport but that’s only how far I’ve gotten so far in looking into rentals. Prices are way better than renting in the US for sure so that didn’t scare me but if a guide would be recommended otherwise to be protected from criminal incidents that’s a different story… do you have any insights on that please?
Hi Bela, No, we have not heard of any incidents involving robberies or criminals. Mongolia is a very safe and friendly country and we did not experience locals treating visitors with anything but incredible hospitality and kindness. The reason why it is not a good idea to drive yourself in Mongolia is because navigating the Mongolian countryside is VERY VERY challenging. In the Gobi desert, there are literally no roads and even our local driver had a tough time navigating from one attraction to another. You would also want a local on board to help arrange your stays in ger camps along the way, as there is no way to book these online and no way for you to successfully communicate with local hosts in English. If you need help with arranging a tour or driver/car while in Mongolia, we recommend that you reach out to Shinechimeg from Explore Mongolia ( https://www.facebook.com/ExploreMongolians/ ). She helped us arrange our trip and will be able to help you with yours.
Hi Guys, Do you know the correct contact details for Explore Mongolia? There are two website operating with this name, so I am not sure which is the one you have referenced in the post above. Thankyou 🙂
Yes, you can contact Shinshemeg through https://www.facebook.com/ExploreMongolians/
yes, you did a great adventure travelling in Mongolia. I organize budget tours around Mongolia too.
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Tours & Top Tens
15 Best Things to Do in Mongolia
Last updated on October 13, 2023 by Alex Schultz - Leave a Comment
Sandwiched between Russia and China, the land-locked nation of Mongolia is one of the most adventurous places to visit in Asia. Famed for its endless, empty steppe, its rich nomadic culture, and Genghis Khan, the vast country begs to be explored, with a myriad of amazing tourist attractions for visitors to checkout.
Home to majestic mountains, picturesque plains, and the desolate Gobi Desert, Mongolia’s wonderfully wild landscapes are breathtaking, with remote yurts found here and there. Besides experiencing nomads’ hospitality, other things to do in Mongolia include horseback trekking and camel riding through the spectacular scenery.
In addition, many fascinating festivals highlight Mongolia’s rich history, culture, and time-honored traditions.
In this post, we'll cover:
15. Khorgo-Terkh National Park
Lying in the alluring and attractive Arkhangai Province of central Mongolia, Khorgo-Terkh National Park boasts splendid scenery and dramatic landscapes. Centered around the reflective waters of Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur or ‘Great White Lake’, the park is home to endless hills, steppe, and a large volcanic field.
Its other standout feature is the lofty 2,240-metre-high Khorgo Mountain, a dormant volcano with a cavernous crater that offers outstanding views of the nearby lake from its summit. The national park is a lovely place to visit, and hiking, swimming, camping, and horse trekking are all popular pastimes.
More commonly known as the ‘Flaming Cliffs’, Bayanzag is a breathtakingly beautiful part of Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, found in the south center of the country. The stunning sandstone cliffs were so nicknamed due to their ruddy hue by the paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews, who excavated the area in the 1920s.
Over the years, a number of fascinating fossils and dinosaur eggs have been uncovered here among its delightfully desolate landscapes. While there is not all that much to do at Bayanzag besides clamber over the cliffs and take in the endless emptiness, the Flaming Cliffs certainly make for an epic sight, particularly when lit up at sunset.
13. Tsenkher Hot Springs
Set among the verdant foothills of the Khangai Mountains, the steaming and soothing Tsenkher Hot Springs have long been noted for their healing properties. Lying in Arkhangai Province, the springs are located in an idyllic spot surrounded by wonderful woods and rolling hills.
Reputed to be the second-hottest in the whole of Mongolia, they are heated by volcanic sources from the nearby mountains. Nowadays, visitors to the Tsenkher Hot Springs can stay in the various resorts that dot the region and relax and unwind in outdoor pools, indoor baths, and spas.
In addition, hiking and horseback riding are very pleasant to do in the picturesque hills and valleys.
12. Gandan Monastery
One of the most important and impressive monasteries in Mongolia, Gandan lies in the heart of the nation’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. First erected in 1809, it has been rebuilt and restored numerous times over the years, thankfully escaping unscathed from the religious purges of the 1930s. Exhibiting astounding architecture that draws on Chinese, Mongol, and Tibetan influences, the monastery is home to terrific temples and brilliant Buddhist icons and images.
Of the many superb statues, its 26.5-metre-high gold-cased likeness of Avalokitesvara is the star attraction. Meaning ‘Great Place of Complete Joy’ in Tibetan, Gandan Monastery is amazing to visit. It’s still in use to this day, with monks performing daily rites and ceremonies in its grounds.
11. Tsagaan Suvarga
Set in a scenic and secluded spot in the southeast of the country, Tsagaan Suvarga is yet another of Mongolia’s incredible natural sights. Stretching over 400 meters in length, the rugged cliffs reach 60 meters in height and boast an astonishing array of colors. Alongside its red and white layers of clay are pastel shades of purples and orange, while the bright blue sky stands out delightfully above.
Often called the ‘White Stupa’ due to its radiant resemblance to the ritual sites from afar, Tsagaan Suvarga looks out imperiously over the ululating hills that lie around it. Besides basking in the views and hiking around its stunning scenery, visitors can camp at the site and visit the ancient petroglyphs etched into the rock nearby.
10. Khongoryn Els
Covering a huge swathe of Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Khongoryn Els is an awe-inspiring sight like no other. Known as the ‘Singing Dunes’ due to the distinctive sound the sand makes as the wind blows, the enormous dunes reach up to 300 meters in height and stretch for a barely-believable 100 kilometers in length.
While the constantly shifting sands make hiking up to the top of an arduous task, it is well worth it: the views of the endless sand all around you is divine. As the desert landscapes are so spellbinding, camping and camel trekking among the dunes is one of the most magical and memorable things to do in Mongolia.
9. Erdene Zuu Monastery
The first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia, Erdene Zuu was founded in 1585. At its peak, it boasted 62 temples, which housed more than a thousand monks. Located next to Karakorum, the former capital of the Mongol Empire (and actually built out of its ruins), the monastery now lies behind a long wall dotted with shining stupas.
Although it suffered persecution and neglect during communist times, there are still some lovely statues and carvings to check out, as well as a handful of impressive temples and ceremonial halls.
Once again an active Buddhist monastery, visitors to Erdene Zuu can watch daily ceremonies and learn more about the complex’s rich history and heritage at its marvelous museum.
8. Khustain Nuruu National Park
Mostly known as being home to the wonderfully wild and free takhi, a breed of Mongolian horse once thought extinct, Khustain Nuruu National Park protects and preserves their natural habitat. Established in 1993, the park encompasses scenic steppe and low-lying mountains and lies around a hundred kilometers to the west of Ulaanbaatar.
Due to its stunning scenery and renowned residents, the national park is very popular. Many people who visit stay in gers or go horseback trekking through the wilderness. In addition to the takhi, Khustain Nuruu is home to deer, boar, lynx and wolves, with dawn and dusk the best time to catch a glimpse of them.
7. Genghis Khan Statue Complex
Lying just over 50 kilometers to the east of Ulaanbaatar, this captivating complex is home to one of the nation’s most iconic symbols – the enormous Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue. Sat atop his mighty steed, the fearsome founder of the Mongol Empire looks out over the surrounding steppe, dominating and defining the landscape with his sheer size and scale.
Made out of sparkling stainless steel, the spectacular statue towers to a massive 40 meters, with commanding views to be enjoyed from the horse’s head. While it is certainly the complex’s standout feature, there is also a great museum on offer showcasing ancient Mongolian artifacts.
6. Lake Khovsgol
Surrounded by majestic mountains, forests, and valleys, Lake Khovsgol lies in the far north of the country in a lovely national park of the same name. Formed over two million years ago, it is one of the largest lakes in the land, containing almost 70 percent of the nation’s fresh water supply.
Known as the ‘Blue Pearl of Mongolia’ due to its deep, dark waters, the lake is an increasingly popular tourist destination thanks to its delightful and dramatic scenery. As well as hiking along the lakeshore and swimming in its waters, visitors to Lake Khovsgol can go wildlife watching in the gorgeous landscapes that lie nearby.
5. Horse Riding in Orkhon Valley
For millennia, Orkhon Valley was considered the epicenter of steppe life, culture, and power, with countless khans and kingdoms originating here. As such, it is now littered with historical sights and cultural landmarks: magnificent monuments, monasteries, and memorials are found alongside the remains of the once-great city of Karakorum. In addition, the valley boasts beautiful scenery, with sparkling waterfalls and flower-filled meadows spied here and there.
The area is best explored on horseback. Set almost perfectly in the center of Mongolia, Orkhon Valley is a fantastic place to experience the country’s rich pastoral traditions and nomadic ways of life as you stay in gers and follow in the footsteps of the khans.
4. Golden Eagle Festival
Held every year in Olgii in the far west of Mongolia, the Golden Eagle Festival is a spectacular show sure to set your spirits soaring. Over the course of a weekend in October, a hundred or so Kazakh eagle hunters come to celebrate their heritage through competitions, cultural exhibitions and ceremonies.
Dressed to impress in traditional attire, the hunters compete over a number of categories, and their eagles are rated on speed, agility, and accuracy. Besides their heart-stopping hunts, there are also camel races, horse games, and archery to enjoy. A fascinating festival like no other, Olgii’s eagles certainly are exhilarating to watch, with loads of great photo ops to be had of all the events and festivities.
3. Camel Riding in the Gobi Desert
The largest desert region in Asia, the Gobi Desert covers an endless expanse of bleak yet beautiful landscapes in the south of Mongolia. Bounded by prominent peaks, plateaus, and plains, its basin is home to everything from scenic and secluded oases and salty rivers to ancient rock formations and dramatic gorges.
Due to its harsh and unforgiving – yet undoubtedly alluring and attractive – landscapes and scenery, the Gobi Desert is exciting to explore: camel riding through its dunes is an unforgettable experience. Among its many highlights are the cliffs, caves, and canyons of Yolyn Am and Dungeneegyn Am and the singing dunes of Khongoryn Els – all of which lie within Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park.
2. Stay in a Ger
While it is famed for Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde, Mongolia’s nomadic traditions are still very much alive, with over 30 percent of its population subscribing to this ancient way of life. As such, you’ll certainly come across lots of gers or yurts as you travel around Mongolia’s majestic mountains, desert, and steppe.
Staying in one of these warm and welcoming round tents is a great way to learn more about Mongolia’s rich cultural heritage as you converse with local families, try milk tea, and sample delicious food. After experiencing this humbling hospitality, you can wake up after a relaxing night’s sleep and explore the breathtaking nature that lies all around.
1. Naadam Festival
Showcasing and celebrating Mongolia’s rich history, heritage, and culture, Naadam Festival is held every year in the nation’s capital of Ulaanbaatar. Believed to predate the times of Genghis Khan, the centuries-old festivities see athletes compete ferociously at archery, horse racing, and wrestling, with traditional dances and celebrations also taking place.
While the fiercely contested competitions once tested soldiers’ military prowess, the festival now commemorates and celebrates the country’s independence. Held during the National Holiday – which runs from 11 to 13 July – the colorful and chaotic Naadam Festival is definitely one of the best things to see and do when visiting Mongolia.
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Mongolia Travel Restrictions 2022
Updated: 11 may, 2022, mongolia border opening 2022.
Welcome to Mongolia Mongolian air border is open for all visitors and travelers in 2022. Land travelers can enter Mongolia through Altanbulag port on Mongolia and Russian border. Flights and information on how to travel to Mongolia in 2022 .
The main requirements for entry to Mongolia
Mongolia is welcoming all visitors! The covid-19 vaccination and booster shot rates are high among the Mongolian population. Therefore, you do not need to show proof of covid-19 vaccination and PCR test result unless your aviation requires it.
Answers to Mongolia Travel Regulation FAQs
Should i be quarantined upon arrival in mongolia.
There is no quarantine when visiting Mongolia.
Does Mongolia require a complete coronavirus vaccinations certificate from visitors?
You do not need to be fully vaccinated when traveling to Mongolia. Alternatively, Mongolia is welcoming visitors to get vaccinated while traveling through Mongolia.
Is covid-19 insurance mandatory when traveling to Mongolia?
Mongolia does not require Covid-19 insurance. Although, we kindly advise you to choose travel insurance that covers Covid-19 related problems.
What to do if a traveler gets coronavirus infection while traveling Mongolia?
Coronavirus infected travelers will be treated in Mongolia according to the country’s medical regulations and treatments of the time.
Is coronavirus PCR test required upon entry and exit of Mongolia?
No PCR test is required when visiting Mongolia. But most aviation companies require negative PCR test results, performed within 24 to 72 hours of scheduled flights.
Although, required to show negative PCR test results when departuring from Mongolia.
What is Mongolian travel regulation when traveling with children?
Mongolia does not get PCR tests from infants and children under 4 years. Children above 4 years should show a negative PCR test result performed within 24 to 72 hours of the scheduled departure flight.
How much does the covid-19 test cost in Mongolia?
The rapid Covid-19 test costs between $7 and $12. The PCR test costs between $35 and $50.
What if a traveler has coronavirus symptoms while traveling in remote areas of Mongolia?
Your team should go to the nearest local hospital in the countryside, where you get tested and treated if the Covid-19 test result is positive.
What if one or some of the tour group members tested positive while traveling?
Coronavirus-positive tested travelers should be quarantined and treated. All other tour members should get the Covid-19 test, and no quarantine is required when tested negative.
Does the traveler responsible for the Covid-19 test cost?
The traveler has to pay for the Covid-19 test cost.
What if a visitor has Covid-19 symptoms upon arrival in Mongolia?
The suspicious passengers/all passengers have to get the coronavirus test upon arrival in Mongolia and get medical help in Mongolia.
Mongolia Covid-19 Vaccination
• 2.175.617 people out of Mongolian 3.3 million population have been fully vaccinated by Pfizer, Gamaleya (Sputnik V), AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Senopharma • 1.043.335 people get booster doze or the 3rd doze of vaccination
Internal Travel Restrictions
There is no internal restriction for public services, entertainment, and public transport. However, there are fewer domestic flights and trains when compared to the ordinary time before the Covid-19 outbreak. Related organizations are working to reschedule the frequent international flight operations and restore tourism.
Ulaanbaatar travel guide
Ulaanbaatar tourism | ulaanbaatar guide, you're going to love ulaanbaatar.
Few cities in the world have experienced as much change over the past 20 years as Mongolia's capital, Ulan Bator. Home to around half of the nation's population and growing all the time, Ulan Bator has shrugged off the Communist era, developing a thriving youth culture (with a huge K-Pop music fanbase), and some fabulous dining experiences.
It's also started to exploit the rich history of Mongolia, with monasteries, traditional theaters, and archaeological museums, creating a unique blend of the old, new, and the completely unpredictable. Whether you're headed for a yurt stay on the steppes or passing through to Beijing, Ulan Bator has plenty to offer.
Top 5 Reasons to Visit Ulaanbaatar
1. history and spritual endurance.
Life hasn't always been easy for Mongolian Buddhists, but they are well and truly back in the saddle these days, and the country's rich religious heritage is a major attraction - from dazzling temples like Gandam to the dancing masks collection at Choijin Lama.
2. Excellent Museums
The capital's museums offer a great spread of attractions. The Natural History Museum is exceptional, as is the National Museum of Mongolian History, but smaller attractions like the Museum of Mongolian Costumes also delight.
3. A Dynamic Youth Culture
30 years ago, nobody would have anticipated Ulan Bator's craze for Korean pop, and the capital's youth culture continually changes. Don't miss hip venues like iLoft, or schedule a trip for July when the Playtime Festival hits nearby Gachuurt.
4. Offbeat Sporting Attractions
Forget about NFL or basketball.Ulan Bator is the place to sample something a little bit different:Mongolian wrestling.The Wrestling Palace hosts bouts of "Bökh" wrestling all the time, and the atmosphere is incredible.
5. It's a Place to Launch Adventures
By basing yourself in Ulan Bator, you can head into the steppes for horseback riding or yurt stays, see the wild horses of the Hustai National Park, ride camels, or visit huge temples like Amarbayasgalant Monastery.
What to do in Ulaanbaatar
1. visit gandan khiid.
Ulan Bator's largest Buddhist monastery managed to keep going during the communist era (while thousands of smaller monasteries disappeared). The 85-foot-tall Migjid Janraisig statue is the highlight, but the whole complex is fascinating.
2. Tour the Winter Palace
This splendid palace was the last home of Mongolia's royal ruler, the Bogd Khan. Aside from its beautiful architecture, it boasts a marvelous collection of artifacts from the final years of Khan's life, as well as Mongolia's 1911 declaration of independence.
3. Discover Mongolia's Past at the National Museum of Mongolian History
This museum is Ulan Bator's finest, laying out the country's glorious past - from prehistoric Uyghur cultures to the empire of Genghis Khan. Look out for the Ganlin Horn, a Buddhist instrument made (reportedly) from a human femur bone.
4. Head to the Hustai National Park
Not far from downtown Ulan Bator, the Hustai is one of Asia's finest wildlife preserves and is famous for reintroducing takhi horses to the Mongolian steppes. Tours show off the elegant horses as well as some intriguing Ungut monuments from the 8th century.
5. See the Monuments at Sükhbaatar Square
Dedicated to Mongolia's 1921 revolution, Sükhbaatar is the city's focal point. It's known for its impressive statues, both of the revolutionary leader Sükhbaatar himself, and the great Genghis Khan, while the Mongolian National Modern Art Gallery is on one flank of the square as well.
Where to Eat in Ulaanbaatar
If you want to tuck into Mongolian minced lamb dumplings and thick meat stews, Khara Khorum at the Kempinski is a local favorite, while Luna Blanca provides an unexpected and satisfying vegetarian spin on the nation's cuisine. However, Ulan Bator's dining scene is really diversifying, with excellent northern Indian joints like Namaste, and European cafes like Turning Point, where good food and jazz come together. Meals can be very cheap indeed, costing from MNT6,000 to 10,000 per head.
When to visit Ulaanbaatar
Ulan Bator is a very cold winter destination, so summer is really the optimal time to go. July and August bring the lively Naadam Festival, with its sports and music events, but late May and June, or September and October are appealing times as well, with the steppes at their lushest and generally mild temperatures.
How to Get to Ulaanbaatar
Most visitors arrive at Chinggis Khaan International Airport. Airlines like Air China and Korean Air fly into Ulan Bator from Hong Kong, Seoul, and Beijing, making transfers from the rest of the world fairly easy. Expect taxis from the airport to cost around MNT10,000-15,000.
Ulan Bator is on the Trans-Mongolian Express route, a branch line of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The journey time from Ulan-Ude on the Russian border to Ulan Bator is 15 hours, and the train costs around MNT300,000. The same route also runs from Beijing to Ulan Bator, taking over 24 hours.
Car: Driving from Beijing to Ulan Bator is a long haul (around 700 miles) but it can be done. Take the G6 to Ulanqab, then head through Inner Mongolia via the G55, which becomes the G208.
Bus: There are no direct buses from Beijing to Ulan Bator, although Bjerl Line offers services to Erlien for MNT65,000. From there, you can take trains to the capital.
Airports near Ulaanbaatar
Airlines serving ulaanbaatar, where to stay in ulaanbaatar.
Popular Western-style hotels in Ulan Bator include the Best Western Premier Tuushin Hotel and the Kempinski, but smaller boutique hotels are more fun. Standouts include the Urgoo Hotel, right next to the National Museum, and the Lotus Guesthouse, which offers strong concierge services, plenty of parking, and is partly run by an orphans' charity. Some of the most popular districts to base yourself in include Baga Toirog, a green neighborhood with poplar-lined streets and a diverse dining scene, and Zaisan, a prosperous part of town with excellent eateries and famous for its impressive war memorial to Mongolia's World War Two dead.
Where to stay in popular areas of Ulaanbaatar
Most booked hotels in ulaanbaatar, how to get around ulaanbaatar, public transportation.
Buses run throughout the city but tend to be fairly crowded. There's a flat fare of MNT500 for all journeys, as long as you have a U-money card, which can be purchased at street kiosks.
Official taxis generally charge around MNT1,200 per mile, but be aware that plenty of unaccredited taxis also ply the streets. Companies like Help Cab & Tours provide assistance for foreign visitors booking cabs but charge a premium. Still, their help can sometimes be very handy.
Hire companies in town include Sixt and Drive, and prices start at around MNT100,000 for sedans. If you intend to venture out of the city, a 4x4 vehicle is essential, and expect to pay MNT200,000 for a sturdy model.
The Cost of Living in Ulaanbaatar
Aside from the riches on offer at Naran Tuul Market, Ulan Bator doesn't lack for malls and shopping opportunities. Don't miss the vast State Department Store, which is perfect for snapping up souvenirs. Chingeltei district is another place to look, where Mary & Martha Mongolia offer gorgeous embroidered products and Cashmere House deals in fine cashmere creations.
Supermarkets and Food Stores
NOMIN and Orgil are the major supermarkets in the Mongolian capital, but grocery stores can be found all over, while Mercury Market is a great place to pick up imported delicacies. Prices of some things can be high, as fruit and vegetables tend to be imported, but generally the city is fairly cheap. A gallon of milk should cost around MNT8,000, while 12 eggs will be about MNT3,800.
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Mongolia Vacations, Tours & Travel Packages
Mongolia, situated between Russia and China , is the World’s largest landlocked country with a population of only 2.8 million and was the home of the illustrious Genghis Khan who controlled his vast empire from here. The terrain consists of plains, high mountains, forests, lakes and the famous Gobi Desert and is a nature lover’s paradise on a Mongolia vacation.
The capital, Ulaan Bataar , combines the traditional and modern. However, the main impression one gets is of a city lost in time. Cows roam the streets and many locals still dress in traditional garb. The city is surrounded by four mountain peaks which are considered holy - Mongolia is a deeply religious country steeped in Buddhism. The focal point of Ulaan Baatar is Sukhbaatar Square, a gathering place for celebrations, concerts or simply strolling.
One highlight not to be missed on Mongolia tours is Naran Tuul, or the “Black Market”, the World’s largest market which 60,000 people visit daily. The city has a total of eight different museums from which to learn more about the culture of Mongolia.
Karakorum was Genghis Khan’s capital around 1220. You can still see remnants of the old city wall today and the Erdene Zuu Monastery is well worth a visit.
Visits to National Parks will reward nature lovers. The Hustai National Park is remote but beautiful and a good place to see the famous wild horses of Mongolia plus good for hiking and trekking. Khustain Nuruu Nature Reserve was opened in 1993 to preserve the large herds of wild horses.
A visit to Mongolia would not be complete without including the Gobi Desert. The word desert is really a misnomer as, although there are sand dunes, there are also mountains, springs and forests. One of the “stars” is the amazing clear blue sky. An enjoyable experience here is a stay in one of the gers or yurts as we know them – large tents, also used as homes by country people.
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Mongolia Vacation Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to a Mongolia vacation.
Learn about the history and culture of Mongolia, the must-try food and drink , and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about Mongolia's nature and wildlife , weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips and visa and health information will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering Mongolia for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our Mongolia tours today!
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