Mongolia Travel Guide
Mongolia, a land of untouched beauty and rugged landscapes, offers a travel experience like no other. Embracing the vast steppes, nomadic culture, and the warmth of its people, Mongolia presents a unique adventure for those looking to step off the beaten path and experience a different pace of life.
With its rich history, from the mighty Mongol Empire led by Genghis Khan to its serene Buddhist heritage, Mongolia stands as a testament to the endurance of nomadic life and the beauty of nature in its purest form.
Venture into this land of endless horizons, where the blue sky stretches as far as the eye can see, and discover the wonders that Mongolia has to offer.
Capital city: Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator)
Currency: Monglian Tugrik – 1 USD = 3460 MNT.
Electricity: Power voltage is 220 Volts. Power sockets type C and E.
Languages: Mongolian is the official and most widely spoken language. Some dialects such as Buryat are also spoken.
10 Handpicked Highlights of Mongolia
The Gobi Desert
The Gobi Desert is a vast and varied landscape, ranging from sand dunes to rocky outcrops. One of the highlights is the Khongoryn Els, also known as the Singing Dunes, which can reach up to 300 meters in height.
The sound they produce when the sand moves is a natural phenomenon not to be missed. Visitors can also explore the Yolyn Am, a deep and narrow gorge in the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains, known for its stunning scenery and wildlife.
Ulaanbaatar, the capital and largest city of Mongolia, is a vibrant mix of old and new. The city is home to stunning Buddhist monasteries, including the Gandantegchinlen Monastery, and the National Museum of Mongolia, providing a deep dive into the country’s rich history.
Despite its rapid modernization, Ulaanbaatar retains a strong connection to Mongolia’s nomadic culture, offering a unique blend of traditional and contemporary life.
Lake Khövsgöl is one of the clearest and most beautiful lakes in Mongolia. It’s surrounded by lush forests, mountains, and meadows, creating a tranquil setting perfect for hiking, horseback riding, or simply enjoying the serene atmosphere. The lake is also a vital part of Mongolian folklore and is considered sacred by many locals.
The Altai Mountains
The Altai Mountains in western Mongolia are a haven for adventure seekers and nature lovers. This rugged terrain is home to snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and deep valleys, offering challenging treks and stunning vistas. The region is also rich in wildlife, including the elusive snow leopard, making it a prime destination for eco-tourism and wildlife spotting.
The Orkhon Valley is a cultural and historical treasure trove, with a history that spans over several centuries. It’s home to ancient Turkish stone monuments, the ruins of Uighur cities, and the Orkhon Waterfall, a stunning natural feature formed by volcanic eruptions. The valley is also significant for its role in the history of the Mongol Empire, providing a fascinating glimpse into Mongolia’s past.
Khustai National Park
Khustai National Park is renowned for its successful reintroduction of the Przewalski’s horse, also known as Takhi, back into the wild. Visitors can observe these wild horses in their natural habitat, along with other wildlife such as red deer, marmots, and numerous bird species. The park also offers hiking, horseback riding, and the opportunity to learn about Mongolia’s conservation efforts.
Terelj National Park
Just a short drive from Ulaanbaatar, Terelj National Park offers a taste of Mongolia’s stunning landscapes, with its impressive rock formations, rolling meadows, and winding rivers. Visitors can stay in traditional ger camps, explore the park on horseback, and visit a local nomadic family to experience their way of life.
The Naadam Festival
The Naadam Festival is a celebration of Mongolia’s nomadic culture, featuring traditional sports such as wrestling, horse racing, and archery. Held annually in July, the festival is a colorful display of Mongolian heritage, with participants dressed in elaborate costumes, and is a must-see for any visitor looking to experience the country’s rich culture.
The Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag
The Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag, located in the heart of the Gobi Desert, are renowned for their red and orange hues, creating a stunning visual spectacle, especially at sunset. The site is also famous for its paleontological significance, with numerous dinosaur fossils having been discovered there, including the first dinosaur eggs.
The Eagle Festival
The Eagle Festival is a unique event that showcases the ancient art of eagle hunting, practiced by the Kazakh people in the Altai Mountains. Held annually, the festival features eagle hunters displaying the skills of their trained eagles, along with traditional games, music, and dance, providing a rare insight into this fascinating tradition.
Mongolia's Geography & Landscapes
Mongolia’s vast and varied landscapes make it a paradise for nature lovers and adventurers alike. Its unique geographical features have been shaped by its location landlocked between Russia to the north and China to the south, creating a rich diversity of natural wonders.
The Gobi Desert: Spanning across the southern part of Mongolia, the Gobi is a vast desert region known for its sand dunes, rocky outcrops, and unique wildlife. Despite its harsh conditions, it’s home to various plant and animal species, as well as significant paleontological discoveries.
The Steppes: Characterizing much of Mongolia’s landscape, the steppes are vast, grassy plains that stretch as far as the eye can see. This is where many of Mongolia’s nomadic herders live, tending to their livestock in the open expanse.
The Altai Mountains: Situated in the west, the Altai Mountains offer some of the country’s most dramatic scenery, with towering peaks, glaciers, and deep valleys. The region is popular for trekking, mountaineering, and witnessing the traditional lifestyle of the Kazakh eagle hunters.
Lake Khövsgöl: Located in the north, near the border with Russia, Lake Khövsgöl is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, providing a stunning backdrop of crystal-clear waters, forests, and mountains.
The Central and Northern Regions: These areas are characterized by rolling hills, lush valleys, and dense forests, providing a stark contrast to the arid landscapes of the Gobi. It’s a region rich in wildlife and perfect for hiking and horseback riding.
The Eastern Plains: Known for its wide and open grasslands, the eastern plains of Mongolia are a vital area for the country’s livestock and agriculture. This region also plays a significant role in Mongolia’s nomadic culture.
Best Time To Go To Mongolia
Mongolia experiences extreme weather conditions, with long, harsh winters and short, warm summers. Understanding its climate is key to planning the perfect trip.
Winter (November to February): Winters in Mongolia are bitterly cold, with temperatures often dropping below freezing. While the snowy landscapes can be beautiful, it’s a challenging time to visit due to the harsh conditions.
Spring (March to May): Spring sees a gradual increase in temperatures, although it can still be quite cold, especially in the evenings. This season can also bring strong winds and dust storms, particularly in the Gobi Desert.
Summer (June to August): This is the best time to visit Mongolia, as temperatures are warm, and the countryside is alive with color. July is particularly vibrant due to the Naadam Festival, showcasing Mongolia’s traditional sports and culture. However, it’s also the peak tourist season, so some areas may be busier than usual.
Autumn (September to October): Autumn is another good time to visit, with cooler temperatures and fewer tourists. The landscapes are adorned with autumnal colors, providing a beautiful setting for outdoor activities.
Overall, the best time to visit Mongolia is during the summer months of June to August, when the weather is warm and the country’s nomadic culture is in full swing. However, for those looking to avoid the crowds and experience Mongolia’s beauty in solitude, the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn are also excellent options.
Traveling in Mongolia
Mongolia is generally considered a safe country for travelers, with low crime rates and a welcoming population. However, like any travel destination, it has its own set of challenges and risks. Here is a list of general advice to help you stay safe while exploring this beautiful country:
- Beware of Petty Crime: Petty crime, such as pickpocketing, can occur in crowded places like markets or public transport. Always keep your belongings secure and be mindful of your surroundings.
- Avoid Walking Alone at Night: It’s best to avoid walking alone after dark, especially in poorly lit or unfamiliar areas.
- Be Cautious with Alcohol: Drinking is a big part of Mongolian culture, but it’s important to know your limits and avoid excessive alcohol consumption, particularly in social settings with new acquaintances.
- Stay Informed About Weather Conditions: Mongolia’s weather can be extreme and change rapidly. Always check the weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes, especially if you’re heading into rural or mountainous areas.
- Respect Local Customs and Traditions: Mongolians take great pride in their culture. Showing respect towards their customs, traditions, and religious beliefs will not only keep you in good standing but also enhance your travel experience.
- Keep Your Travel Documents Safe: Ensure that your passport, visa, and other important travel documents are kept in a safe place. Consider having photocopies or digital copies stored separately.
- Be Mindful of Wildlife: If you’re venturing into rural areas or national parks, be aware of wildlife and maintain a safe distance. Some animals can be dangerous if provoked.
- Use Reliable Tour Operators: If you’re planning to take tours, especially adventure or wildlife tours, make sure to use reputable and licensed operators.
- Stay Hydrated and Protect Against the Sun: The Mongolian climate can be very dry, and the sun can be intense. Drink plenty of water, use sunscreen, and wear a hat to protect against sunburn.
- Know Basic Mongolian Phrases: Learning a few basic phrases in Mongolian can be helpful, especially in remote areas where English is not widely spoken.
Getting to & Around Mongolia
Mongolia’s vast landscapes and sparse population mean that getting around can be an adventure in itself.
- By Air: The main international airport is Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar. MIAT Mongolian Airlines is the national carrier, providing international and domestic flights.
- Trains: The Trans-Mongolian Railway runs through the country, connecting Ulaanbaatar with China and Russia. It’s a popular and scenic way to enter or exit Mongolia.
- Buses and Minivans: There are bus and minivan services connecting Ulaanbaatar with other major towns, though services can be infrequent and vehicles may be cramped.
- Cars: Renting a car with a driver is a popular option for travelers, providing flexibility to explore more remote areas.
- Horseback and Camel Riding: In some rural areas, traveling by horseback or camel can be a practical and authentic way to get around.
Accommodation options in Mongolia range from luxury hotels in Ulaanbaatar to traditional ger camps in the countryside.
- In the capital and other major towns, you can find a range of hotels, guesthouses, and hostels catering to different budgets.
- For a unique Mongolian experience, staying in a ger (a traditional nomadic yurt) is highly recommended. Many tour operators offer ger stays, providing an opportunity to experience the nomadic lifestyle firsthand.
- Prices vary widely depending on the level of comfort and location, with options available to suit budget travelers and those looking for more luxurious amenities.
- In remote areas, accommodation options may be limited, so it’s wise to plan ahead and make arrangements in advance where possible.