This 12 – night Mongolia itinerary includes the city of Ulaanbaater. Afterwards fly to Ulgii, Mongolia’s most western province. Head to Tsambagarav Mountain to visit a Kazakh eagle hunter, enjoy lunch with his family followed by horseback riding, and archery. The next day hike in the area. Fly back to Ulaanbaatar, drive to Hustain Nuruu National Park for a night. Fly back to Ulaanbaatar for your flight to the Gobi for the next four nights. The Gobi is a fascinating and diverse region and includes sites of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of the 20th century. Visit Yol Valley National Park, Hautsgait, Tugregilin Shiree, and Flaming Cliffs. Return to Ulaanbaatar before departing for home.
Photos credited to Nomadic Expeditions.
The contrast between ancient traditions and a 21st century democracy is most visible in Ulaanbaatar, where traditional gers and Buddhist monasteries sit side by side with modern high rises.
Upon arrival at the airport, you will be welcomed by your private guide and driver and transferred to your hotel, located just steps from various museums and shops.
Begin the day with a visit to Gandan Monastery, the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia. Woven through Mongolia’s nomadic culture is a rich Tibetan Buddhist tradition in which ancient shamanist practices are still evident. Although Buddhist monasteries were either destroyed or converted into museums during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, Gandan Monastery continued to operate as a showpiece for government officials. Despite the government’s efforts to suppress Buddhism and other religious beliefs, Mongolia’s spirituality persisted and a significant resurgence of Buddhism began in 1990 when Mongolia became a democracy. Visit the recently renovated Chenrezi and Kalachakra Temples, as well as the magnificent statue of Migjid Janraisig, “the lord who looks in every direction”.
Visit the Mongolian National History Museum for an excellent overview of Mongolia’s history and culture. The newly remodeled museum displays traditional implements of daily nomadic life, including Stone and Bronze Age artifacts, historical costumes of Mongolia’s minority tribes, sacred religious relics, and agricultural, fishing, and hunting equipment.
After lunch, visit Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum named in honor of Zanabazar, the renowned 17th century artist and politician, who was also the first Buddhist leader of Mongolia. The museum contains one of the best collections of Buddhist art and artifacts in the world, including many of Zanabazar’s original works.
Drive to Zaisan Memorial built by the former Soviet Union to commemorate fallen soldiers of World War II. Those who climb the 300 steps will be rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the capital city, the Tuul River, and the surrounding countryside.
In the morning, transfer to the airport for the flight to Bayan-Ulgii province (3 hours), Mongolia’s westernmost province. 90% of the population of Bayan-Ulgii is Kazakh. You will have ample opportunities to meet local families and experience the Kazakh culture. Your journey will take you past ancient stone men statues, reminders of Mongolia’s rich, ancient history. Upon arrival, visit the local museum in Ulgii, where you will learn more about the history and culture of the Kazakhs.
In the afternoon, head to the wilderness camp (45 mins – 1 hour), where you will be rewarded with the sweeping view of Lake Tolbo and Tsengel Khairkhan.
After breakfast, head to Tsambagarav Mountain (1 hr and 15 minutes) to visit a Kazakh eagle hunter. You may have the opportunity to meet with the three – time champion of the Golden Eagle Festival. Falconry was found in Central Asia during the domination of Kitan Khanate dating back to the 9th century.
Spend the entire day with the family and after lunch, explore the surrounding area of Tsambagarav Mountain on horseback.
Visit an Uriankhai family for an archery experience. The Uriankhai are considered the most ancient ethnic group among Mongols. During the domination of Qing Dynasty in Mongolia, the Uriankhai were allowed to practice archery on a daily basis.
In the late afternoon, return to the wilderness camp for dinner and rest.
After breakfast, hike to a canyon located just behind your wilderness camp. This canyon has some uneven terrain, which may be a bit challenging, but has incredible scenic views. Those not up for the challenging hike can head out to Lake Tolbo for an easier hike.
In the morning, transfer to the local airport for the flight to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival, transfer to HS Khaan Resort on the outskirts of the city. Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
Hustain Nuruu National Park, home to the last remaining species of wild horse, the takhi, is commonly known as Przewalski’s horse. Twenty-five years after becoming extinct in the wild, the takhi was reintroduced to the Mongolian steppe from zoo populations by the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski’s horse. Sixteen horses were flown from the Netherlands to Mongolia in 1994, and nearly 400 now roam in the re-introduction sites in Mongolia and China. Learn about current conservation efforts and the status of the herds found within the reserve at the visitor’s center, before trying to spot these beautiful horses in their natural habitat.
In the afternoon, stop at the Ongot stone complex near the Tuul River Basin. This is the largest grave complex in central Asia. These mysterious stone figures depicting men date from the Turkic period (7th-9th centuries A.D.). They all face one direction and are behind one another as if in a line. Some interpret this configuration as depicting a nobleman or generals with their subjects or soldiers following behind. These stones are a rare historical evidence of the culture that dominated the area at the time and are especially important to historians, as few written accounts have survived the burden of Mongolia’s nomadic lifestyle and turbulent battling periods.
Drive to Ulaanbaatar in the late day.
Take a morning flight to Gobi (1.5 hours), Mongolia’s southernmost province of semi-arid desert. Contrary to the sameness that the word ‘desert’ suggests, the Gobi is a fascinating and diverse region, and includes sites of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of the 20th century. For the next four days, explore the stunning landscapes of the Gobi, habitat for Bactrian camels, Argali mountain sheep, Goitered gazelle, Golden eagles, Saker falcons, Jerboas (similar to kangaroo rats), and many endemic reptiles. The Gobi is also home to some of the Northern Hemisphere’s most rare and elusive mammals, such as the dhole, snow leopard, wild camel, and Gobi bear.
On arrival, drive to Hongoryn Els Sand Dunes (approximately 4 – 5 hours). “Els” is the Mongolian word for sand dunes and “Hongoryn” describes the exquisite pale tawny color of one of the world’s most beautiful dunes. This is a remarkable landscape of the world’s northernmost desert. This is your ultimate destination today but to get there, you drive for several hours through a variety of landscapes from stony mountain gorges to rolling and surprisingly lush-looking steppe. After getting settled in your new ger camp, make a late afternoon excursion to the dunes and then return to camp for a hearty dinner.
In the morning, visit a local camel herding family to experience their hospitality and lifestyle. Later, depart for your lodge via Gegeet Valley (2 hours), habitat of the elusive snow leopard.
Spend the rest of the day at leisure. The lodge offers a wide variety of activities to travelers from reading a book on Mongolia, to watching a documentary about nomadic culture, to learning traditional Mongolian games, and to enjoying a relaxing massage.
Wake to the sight of the sun rising over the vast Gobi landscape. After an early breakfast, drive to Yol Valley National Park (2 hours) in the foothills of the Gobi Altai Mountains. Located in the northern part of the Gobi, the streams at the base of this surprisingly green valley remain covered in ice until as late as July. Hiking through this prehistoric canyon leads to the habitat of indigenous Lammergeiers that feed mostly on the carcasses of dead animals. However, unlike other such birds whose diets consist mainly of meat, Lammergeiers feed primarily on bone marrow, dropping large bones from the sky to break them into smaller pieces.
After exploring the valley, visit the local natural history museum for an overview of the flora and fauna of the surrounding area, followed by a drive to Dungenee Valley, a deep and narrow gorge where it is possible to view Argali sheep, Altai snowcocks, and ibex.
If time permits, drive to the Havtsgait Valley, site of ancient rock drawings left by early Gobi settlers for more than 5,000 -7,000 years ago. Hundreds of petroglyphs adorn rocks that are scattered on the top of the mountain. Note: This is a steep hike over gravel covered ground.
After breakfast, drive to Tugregiin Shiree (1.5 hours), first explored by Polish expeditions in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Tugregiin Shiree is best known for the famous ‘Fighting Dinosaurs”, a fossil of a Protoceratops and Velociraptor locked in combat.
In the afternoon, visit Bulgan, a small town near a natural spring. Bulgan has one of the only farms in the Gobi, which supplies local ger camps with fruits and vegetables. This is an example of local businesses being supported by ecotourism.
Drive to the legendary Flaming Cliffs, named for the orange glow of the rock at sunset. It was here in 1923 that Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews and his exploration team from the American Museum of Natural History found the first nest of dinosaur eggs the world had ever seen. Although not obvious to the untrained eye, the red sandstone of the Flaming Cliffs is rich with dinosaur fossils, and paleontological expeditions continue to make significant discoveries at this site.
Transfer to the airport for your flight to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival, drive to Chinggis Khaan Statue Complex in Tsonjin Boldog. The massive statue made of 250 tons of gleaming stainless steel will take your breath away. Once inside the two-story base of the statue, you can see a replica of Chinggis Khan’s legendary golden whip. Take an elevator to a deck on the horse’s head and marvel at the surrounding area overlooking the beautiful Mongolian steppe.
Transfer to the airport for your departing flight.