Current as of: June 14, 2024 - 11:04

Mongolian Yurt

Mongolia: Steppes, Deserts & Nomads Trip Notes

  • Ways to Travel: Guided Group, Private Group Adventures
  • Destination: Mongolia
  • Programmes: Culture
  • Activity Level:

    2 out of 7 - Leisurely / Moderate

  • 14 Days: Flight Inclusive
  • 13 Days: Land Only
  • Ages: 16+
  • Trip Code: ACMA
  • Carbon Footprint: 29kg CO2e

Trip Overview

Discover the remote Mongolian steppe, the Gobi Desert and nomadic traditions

The rolling steppe of Central Asia makes way to stark desert; across this vast landscape, nomadic ger camps are peppered, camels and goats are herded on horseback, fermented mare’s milk is the tipple of choice, dunes sing and the first intact dinosaur eggs were found. Genghis Khan went forth from here to conquer the biggest land empire in history and, to this day, Buddhist and Animist traditions mix. Join this trip and travel through steppe, mountain and the Gobi Desert to explore the nature and culture of this fascinating, yet little known, country.

At a Glance

  • Three hotel nights and nine nights in traditional nomadic ger camps with shared facilities
  • Travel by 4×4, bus and one internal flight
  • Some long drives through very remote country
  • Special Naadam (ACMB/ACMC) and Eagle Festival (ACK/ACME) departures available

Highlights

  • Experiencethe spectacularly varied landscape of Mongolia
  • Sleep in ger camps (traditional Mongolian tents)
  • Visit Karakorum, the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire
  • Marvel at the rolling dunes and landscape of the Gobi Desert
  • Discover one of the last remaining nomadic cultures in the world

Is This Trip for You?

This trip is graded Activity Level 2 (Leisurely/Moderate). For more on our trip gradings, visit our Activity Level Guidelines page.

Mongolia is six and a half times larger than the UK but with a population 21 times smaller. Understandably, this means that large tracts of the country do not have much infrastructure. Much of our time is spent in areas where roads are barely tracks through the landscape.

We go further into the wilderness than the average visitor to Mongolia and, while this allows us to travel through stunning parts of the country, encountering few people other than the odd nomad, it does mean some days involve long and bumpy drives. These drives are balanced with time to relax and take in the incredible surroundings often with the option of going for a walk or, sometimes, a horse or camel ride.

There are some scheduled hikes, looking for wild Przewalski’s (takhi) horses and visiting the singing dunes, Vulture’s Mouth canyon and the Flaming Cliffs, for instance. These are relatively short, no more than one or two hours, on mostly flat or rolling terrain. The Flaming Cliffs hike may not be suitable if you have an acute fear of heights and can involve some scrambling; however, it’s still possible to enjoy great views of the cliffs and opt out of the walk.

The climate in central Mongolia is generally pleasant in summer when the trip runs. In the Gobi Desert, however, temperatures can get well above 30C (86F), even approaching 40C (104F).

This trip goes off the tourist trail and encounters local nomads. It takes us through spectacular and diverse wilderness and gives us an insight into a fascinating country unlike any other.

Group

We are led by a local tour leader who is accompanied by an experienced Mongolian guide. Other trip staff include drivers and local assistants as needed.

Adult min age: 16

Min group size: 4

Max group size: 16

Itinerary

ACM Map

Land Only

  • Start City: Ulaanbaatar
  • End City: Ulaanbaatar

Land Only Itinerary

Day 1
Start Ulaanbaatar

The adventure begins in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. Anyone who arrives early can explore some of the city sites, including Sukhbaatar Square (the main square), the National Museum and the landmark State Department Store. A group welcome briefing is held at the hotel this afternoon/evening.

Accommodation: Bayangol Hotel (or similar)

Day 2
To Khustain Nuruu National Park; trek to see Przewalski's horses; overnight in ger camp

Before leaving UB, we visit the Gandan Monastery, the largest functioning lamasery in Mongolia and the seat of Buddhist studies in Mongolia. Here we may see monks praying and a 65ft (20m) tall gold-and-bronze statue of Migjid Janraisig.

We then drive on the main road westwards towards Karakorum, making a detour to Khustain Nuruu National Park, two hours west of Ulaanbaatar. Khustain Nuruu is famous for the re-introduction of Mongolia’s wild horse. The Przewalski’s horse (also known as the takhi horse) is native and almost became extinct earlier in the 20th century. Through the efforts of several Mongolian and international organisations, these magnificent wild horses now roam in the steppes of the national park once again. We visit the Project Information Centre and take a guided hike to see the wild horses. Tonight is our first night staying in gers, traditional Mongolian felt tents.

Accommodation: Ger camp

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3
Drive to Little Gobi Desert; visit Khogno Khan Mountain; opportunity for bird and wildlife watching

We continue our journey westwards towards Karakorum along an asphalt road, travelling at an easy pace. Today’s destination, the Mongol Els (or Little Gobi Desert) is a unique belt of dunes in the steppe. Arriving at lunch, we check into a ger camp before exploring the surrounding region. Bactrian (two-humped) camels wander the desert dunes as horses graze on green steppe nearby – an incredible sight. We visit nearby Khogno Khan Mountain and the small temple at its base. This region is also renowned for its birdlife, including steppe eagles. We return to camp in the late afternoon.

Accommodation: Ger camp

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4
To Karakorum; visit Erdene Zuu Monastery

Today we have a 56mi (90km) drive to Karakorum, the 13th-century capital of the Mongol Empire. It was established by Ogedei Khan and remained the Mongol power base until Kublai Khan established Beijing as the capital. Erdene Zuu (Hundred Treasures) Monastery was the largest monastery in Mongolia, built in 1586 under the direction of Abtai Khan on the ruins of the ancient capital. Much of the monastery was destroyed during Stalin’s purges of the 1930s, but an impressive wall with 108 stupas and several temples remain. After lunch, we visit the monastery, the modern Karakorum Museum and the surrounding area.

Accommodation: Ger camp

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5
Morning visit to monastery; along northern edge of Gobi Desert to Arvaikheer via Shankh Monastery

We continue along the paved road to Arvaikheer, the capital of Ovorkhangai Aimag on the northern edge of the Gobi Desert. On the way, we visit the Shankh Monastery, once the home of the great Mongolian theologist Zanabazar. We should arrive at Arvaikheer mid-afternoon and check into our hotel. We have time to visit the local museum, which contains nature collections, stone figures and Turkic scripts and possibly go to a local market.

Accommodation: Standard hotel

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6
To Bayan Gobi via Ikh Bogd Mountain

Today is a long day as we head properly off the tourist route into some of the wilder parts of the Gobi Desert. After an early breakfast, we start our journey and rapidly leave the paved road. The landscape changes as we head deeper into the Gobi, while the majestic Ikh Bogd Mountain, the highest mountain in the Gobi Altai mountain range, should be visible in the distance. After about nine hours of travelling (with stops) we arrive at our ger camp in the wilderness. This is the longest day of driving but is also a highlight of the trip as we pass through some of the most spectacular scenery in Mongolia.

Accommodation: Ger camp

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7
See rock paintings; explore region of Bayan Gobi

After going over a desert pass and visiting the quartz-rich White Cave, our journey continues through classic Gobi Desert scenery of flat stony plains mixed with small rocky outcrops and patches of sand across the Khatan Suudal Steppe. We stop for a picnic lunch on the way, with views of Arts Bogd mountain to the north. We head off to the Kongoriin Els dunes and arrive in the late afternoon.

Accommodation: Ger camp

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8
Visit the Singing Dunes, the largest dunes in Mongolia

We have a full day to explore the dunes and surrounding area. The Khongoriin Els stretch for 125mi (200km) and are as high as 985ft (300m) in places. They are known as the Singing Dunes, because of the beautiful sound that resonates through them on a windy day. The South Gobi has 100,000 camels, typically used by herders for transportation of their gers. We have the opportunity today to visit a camel-breeding family and learn about the life of the local nomadic herders.

Accommodation: Ger camp

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 9
Travel through the rocky plains of Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park

This morning, we drive through the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. Gobi Gurvansaikhan means ‘Three Beauties of the Gobi’ and this range marks the eastern end of the Gobi Altai range. The park landscape is extremely varied, with rocky and sandy desert plains, precipitous cliffs and ravines, saltpans and oases. We visit a spectacular natural sight, Yolyn Am (Vulture’s Mouth), a canyon so deep and narrow that winter ice can remain on the valley floor even in the height of summer. This region is also renowned for the diversity of its wildlife and many endangered species live here, including Mongolian wild asses, argali sheep and the elusive snow leopard. We visit a museum and explore the canyon before transferring to a nearby ger camp for the night.

Accommodation: Ger camp

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 10
Hiking around the Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag

Today we have time to relax in our luxury ger camp. Either in the morning or afternoon, we take a 43mi (70km) drive to Bayanzag. Known as the Flaming Cliffs, the red-ochre colour can be striking and we have the opportunity for a short hike among colourful sands of red, yellow and orange. Bayanzag is also a world-renowned dinosaur fossil exploration site, discovered in the 1920s by Mongolian and American palaeontologists. We are free to explore the region and may even be lucky enough to spot dinosaur fossils. We later return to our ger camp.

Accommodation: Ger camp

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 11
Fly to Ulaanbaatar; to Terelj National Park

We leave the Gobi Desert and fly back to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival, we’re picked up by our bus and drive to Terelj National Park. Though it’s only about 37mi (60km) away, traffic is the main determining factor as to how long this journey takes.

Terelj National Park is a large, protected area of green mountain meadows filled with edelweiss and other wildflowers. The contrast to the Gobi Desert is striking and it feels like being in a different country. We then have our final night in a ger.

Accommodation: Ger camp

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 12
Terelj National Park; Genghis statue; Ulaanbaatar

This morning, we visit the Tibetan-style Aryabala temple, a meditation centre on a mountainside with sweeping views over the national park. As we follow the walk up to the temple, we can read inspirational sayings on placards every few steps. The climb to the temple is not difficult but does involve many steps and can be tiring.

We later visit the giant Genghis Khan statue at Tsonjin Boldog. Standing 130ft (40m) tall, it depicts the Mongolian ruler astride his horse and sits on top of the visitor centre (itself 33ft/10m tall). It is possible to climb up onto the horse’s head to get a closer look of Genghis Khan’s face.

We finally make our way back to Ulaanbaatar. This evening, we have the option of attending a local song and dance performance at the National Academic Drama Theatre (US$10) before our last meal together.

Accommodation: Bayangol Hotel (or similar)

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 13
End in Ulaanbaatar

The tour ends after breakfast today and we begin our return journeys home, full of tales and magnificent photos to share.

Meals included: Breakfast

Accommodation

Hotels and ger camps

Mongolia: Steppes, Deserts & Nomads

We use hotels in Ulaanbaatar and Arvaikheer and ger camps elsewhere. Gers are similar to yurts, generally airy and comfortable with beds and, normally, a stove (though the stoves are not normally needed in the summer). The bathrooms are normally shared and all have hot water (due to the remoteness of the camps this can, at times, be erratic). Many of the ger camps now have 24-hour electricity in the ger itself for charging batteries. If there is no charging facility inside the ger, there are charging facilities in the common area (though this may be during limited periods of the day when the generator is turned on). There is normally no more than two people per ger; however, in some cases, due to availability issues, we may need to have triples in the ger. There may also be rare occasions when a single cannot be guaranteed in a particular ger camp.

Single supplement from £ 610

Food & Drink

All meals included.

Traditional Mongolian diets are very meat and dairy heavy. While there are opportunities to try some of these products, such as dry curd and fermented mare’s milk, the meals provided in the ger camps are generally Western meals, at times with an Asian influence. There is normally some form of soup and salad plus a main course and desert. Vegetarians are generally well catered for; if you are vegetarian or have other dietary requirements, please inform us in advance.

Breakfasts can vary from place to place, some are buffets while others are set, normally cereal, bread and possibly a hot dish. On some days, a pack lunch is provided, this is often still a proper meal (though without the soup). Water is provided and is generally from large water containers, so make sure to bring a refillable water bottle. Tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer, vodka and (most of the time) wine are available to buy at the ger camps. There is the opportunity to buy snacks in Ulaanbaatar and on a couple of other occasions along the way when we drive through towns or villages.

Transport

We travel in a convoy of 4x4s (four passengers per vehicle) as we make our way around central Mongolia and the Gobi Desert.

Driving in the wilderness can be hard going on minivans/larger vehicles. They may experience punctures and may need to be cooled down as overheating is common. We use Jeeps as they are much more reliable and able to navigate rough roads better than the larger minivans often used. Although rare, punctures/issues can occur so please come with an open mind.

We may also use a coach for getting around Ulaanbaatar and Terelj National Park.

We also use one internal flight.

Weather & Seasonality

July and August is summer in Mongolia and daytime temperatures should be a pleasant 20C (68F) in Ulaanbaatar and central regions. Temperatures can reach a maximum of 33C (91F) in the capital and high 30Cs (around 100F) in the Gobi Desert in July. Although the average is lower, expect some very warm weather. Evening temperatures are uniformly 15C-20C (59F-68F). Humidity is very low. These months are also the wet season. Over a trip of this duration, expect some rain but showers do not normally last long and the total rainfall during this period is very low.

Joining Instructions

Key information

Start hotel: Bayangol Hotel, Chinggis Avenue-5, Ulaanbaatar 14251, Mongolia
Phone: +976-11-312255
Recommended arrival time: You can arrive at any time today. There will be a welcome briefing in the evening, but if you miss it the leader will update you separately
Airport: Chinggis Khaan International Airport (UBN)

Getting to the start hotel

The start hotel is approximately 1hr 30min drive from the airport.

Exodus provides one group arrival transfer from the airport, which is timed to coincide with the arrival of a chosen flight from London, UK. You may join this transfer, provided you can be at the airport before the transfer leaves. Speak to your sales representative for the group arrival transfer times or to arrange a private transfer.

Catching your return flight

There’s a group departure transfer to the airport for customers who Exodus booked onto a chosen flight to London, UK. Please speak to your sales representative if you wish to join. If the group departure transfer does not suit your flight time, speak to your sales representative to arrange an alternative transfer.

Full joining instructions including local emergency numbers will be sent to you as part of our Final Joining Instructions. If you do not receive these at least a week before departure, or require them earlier please contact our office or your travel agent.

Location start: Ulaanbaatar
Location end: Ulaanbaatar

What To Take

Essential Equipment

In addition to your normal daily clothes, you need the following:

  • Sunhat
  • Sunglasses
  • Strong sunscreen
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Rain jacket
  • Soap and shampoo
  • Walking shoes or boots
  • Water bottle
  • Torch (flashlight)/headtorch (head lamp)
  • Warm sleepwear (the nights in the camps can get cold)

Bedding, including blankets and clean sheets, are provided at the ger camps.

Internal flights in Mongolia are currently subject to a weight limit of 22lb (10kg) for checked-in luggage and 11lb (5kg) for hand luggage. Extra weight costs US$2 per kilogram.

As advice about luggage allowances for both hand and hold luggage is subject to change, we suggest you check the airline website for the latest information prior to your departure.

Water included

Plastic bottles are a big issue in many countries where recycling isn’t yet widely available; they often end up in landfill or get burned. Both processes are harmful to the environment and we would like to reduce our impact here. For your trip, we provide an alternative to single-use plastic bottles to reduce the plastic used. This means that safe drinking water will be available throughout; all you need to do is bring a bottle to refill along the way. Please add this to your packing list.

Optional Equipment

Small gifts from home for local herders are a nice touch. Ideal gifts include:

  • Pictures from home
  • Pictures of family
  • Children’s presents (colouring‐in books and pencils etc)
  • Anything practical for the home, sewing kits etc (not knives)

Practical Information

Visa

Mongolia

Travellers from UK, US, CA and EU normally do not need a visa to enter Mongolia. Please note, visa requirements often change and it is your responsibility to obtain any required visas for this trip. Therefore, we recommend that you check with the nearest embassy or consulate of your chosen destination(s), including any countries you may be transiting or transferring through.

Some local governments provide guidance on what visas their citizens need. To help, we’ve gathered a selection of useful links below.

Vaccinations and Health

Mongolia

There are no required vaccinations. However, you may want to consider vaccinations for tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, tuberculosis and tick-borne encephalitis.

Dengue fever, a tropical viral disease spread by daytime biting mosquitoes, is a known risk in places visited. There is currently no vaccine or prophylaxis available; therefore, we recommend you take the usual precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

Local Time

Mongolia's time zone: Asia/Ulaanbaatar (UTC +08:00)

Electricity

Mongolia's electricity: Plug types C (two round pins) and E (two round pins) – 230V, 50Hz

Mongolia: Steppes, Deserts & Nomads

Money

Mongolia's currency: Mongolian tögrög (MNT)

ATM Availability

There are several ATMs, including in the hotel we normally use in Ulaanbaatar. Credit and debit cards can also be used in various shops, hotels and restaurants in Ulaanbaatar, though not in small shops in smaller towns and villages or at some souvenir stands.

Major currencies such as US dollars, British pounds and euros can be changed at banks while hotels generally only change US dollars (at a worse rate).

Extra Expenses & Spending Money

Budget an extra US$150 for incidental expenses such as laundry, telephone and excursions into the nightlife of Ulaanbaatar. Cashmere, leather products, carpets, woodcarvings, watercolour paintings and traditional Mongolian dolls all make great souvenirs – US$150 is a modest souvenir budget.

Optional excursions

Horse riding (for experienced riders) may be available at some locations within the itinerary. The price will be confirmed at the time as these are operated independently by local horsemen. Please note, riding helmets and instruction are very unlikely to be available and, where they are provided, the quality may not be the highest standard. Mongolian ponies are generally unpredictable and more suited to confident and experienced horse riders. Any horse riding undertaken in Mongolia is done entirely at your own risk.

Theatre show: US$15

Tipping

Tipping is at your discretion but is customary in Mongolia and has become standard for tourism. We have found that a tipping kitty is the easiest way to ensure the correct levels are given out. This includes tips for local staff at the camps, hotels and airports plus your driver. Your leader will advise the amount, which will depend on the group size. Budget around US$80-US$110 for this.

This tip kitty will not include the tip for your leader, which is discretionary, though US$35-US$55 is common.

People, Places & Planet

At Exodus we believe in the power of Responsible Travel.

Every time we travel, we are part of a global movement that creates jobs, builds more sustainable societies, encourages cultural understanding and safeguards common natural and cultural heritage. To learn more about what Responsible Travel means to Exodus click here

Important Information

Optional activities and excursions

If you would like to join an optional activity or excursion outside those listed in the itinerary, your leader may be able to assist with selecting a provider. However, Exodus has not assessed the safety standards of activities or excursions that are not listed in the Trip Notes. All optional activities or excursions are undertaken at your own risk.

Important Information

Your safe participation 

When booking this trip, you should be confident in your ability to participate in all activities described in these Trip Notes. If you have any doubt about your suitability, please call the Exodus office and ask to speak to one of the experts on this itinerary. 

Although our leaders are well trained to deal with different capabilities, if they have any concerns about someone’s ability to safely take part in an activity, or their impact on other people’s enjoyment, we authorise them to take necessary action which, in some circumstances, may involve asking someone to miss that activity. 

By booking this trip you agree to our Booking Conditions which clearly state that our leaders have the authority to do this. In these rare instances we will ensure anyone sitting out is safely provided for and offered alternative options where possible. Refunds will not be provided for activities missed and customers may be liable for additional costs incurred. 

How to Book

  1. Check availability: Go online to check availability, or contact us by phone or email.
  2. Secure your place: You can provisionally hold a place on this trip, usually for between three and seven days.
  3. Complete your booking and payment

When you’re ready to book, go to our website for online bookings, book over the phone or you can complete a booking form (available online or on request by calling us). We accept all major credit and debit cards, or you can pay be cheque.

After booking

You will receive your booking confirmation letter and invoice, which includes extra information and guidance about your travel arrangements.

Full joining instructions, including local emergency numbers and details of how to reach the start point, will be sent to you approximately two to three weeks prior to departure. If you do not receive these at least a week before departure, or require them earlier, please contact our office or your travel agent.

Trip Note validity

These Trip Notes are valid from the “Current as” date on page one. They will occasionally be updated after booking and before departure; if there are any updates that significantly impact the inclusions or itinerary, customers will be written to separately. They will also receive a link to the most up-to-date Trip Notes with their Final Joining Instructions before travelling.

The information in these Trip Notes is given in good faith. Where differences exist between the Trip Notes and our current brochure or website, the Trip Notes supersede the brochure and website. All holidays can be subject to unexpected changes; to enjoy them you should be prepared to be flexible where necessary. Occasionally, it may not be possible to follow the itinerary as planned. This may be for a variety of reasons – climatic, political, physical or other. In these circumstances we will make the best-possible alternative arrangements that maintain the integrity of the original itinerary.

Licensing

Exodus is fully licensed and bonded as a tour operator. We hold Air Traffic Organisers Licence (ATOL) number 2582, issued and bonded with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). We are also bonded to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and we are members of the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO) and ABTA – The Travel Association. This means you can book your Exodus holiday with confidence, as all money paid to us for your trip is fully protected.