There simply is nowhere quite like it. The birthplace of the great Chinggis Khan is largely the same now as it was then. The country is wonderfully diverse in terms of landscape. The magisterial Western Altai gives way to the fertile central Heartland. The exquisite forested North fades into the endless sea of green steppe which in turn becomes the Gobi in the South. One of the world’s last wildernesses. A holiday in Mongolia will be like no other.
The people of Mongolia are wonderfully adapted to their climate. Temperatures can differ by as much as 80°C between summer and winter. The Mongolian ger is perfectly designed to withstand such extremes as well as being portable to fit the nomadic way of life almost half of the population lead. Such a demanding climate leads the people of Mongolia to exhibit magical hospitality. Only here does a traveller receive an unreserved welcome at every turn. No description of Mongolia is complete without reference to the ingrained equine culture present throughout the nation. The almost spiritual relationship between man and horse is captivating to all who visit and it remains critical to Mongolian identity.
This vast country is loosely divided into five main regions; scroll down to learn about them.
The Gobi Desert in the South
The iconic Gobi Desert is a rich mix of towering dunes, rugged mountains, deep canyons and ‘flaming cliffs’ of sandstone at Bayanzag. The Gobi can get incredibly hot during the summer months – just as you expect from a desert!
The Gobi is a vast gravelly plain dotted with spectacular sand-dunes to climb and slide down and camels to ride and dinosaur remains to be found in sandstone cliffs.
You can hike into Yolyn Am, a gorge which cuts through the mountains and has ice at the bottom even in the midst of summer. The mountains can be a surprise, full of wildlife, such as little mouse-like pikas scampering between burrows, and long-eared hedgehogs. There is a healthy ibex population big enough to support snow leopards, and in the gravel plains, you can see herds of gazelle and wild asses.
The Central Heartland
There is more driving involved in visiting the heartland of Mongolia but driving through the country is an amazing way to experience its vast vistas and this route provides many changing landscapes.
You will see regions of wide open steppe, rolling hills, and mountains. You can visit the old capital, Kharkhorin (around a 10hr drive from the capital) and go on safari to find the ancient ‘Przewalski’s’ wild horses.
There will be opportunities to hike, visit Erdene Zuu monastery in Kharkhorin, and ride camels at the small dunes at Bayan Gobi, the very northern edge of the Gobi. If you have more time to go deeper into this region, you can see dormant volcanoes , sparkling lakes and roaming yaks.
The Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia
The wild west of Mongolia is characterised by rugged mountains, lakes, and glaciers and is perfect for active adventures such as trekking on foot, horse, or camel. The Altai Mountains run through the province of Bayan Ulgii which is home to a large Mongolian-Kazakh population who have their own distinct culture, religion, and identity.
In fact, it is said that to see the real Kazakh culture you should visit Western Mongolia. The practice of hunting with Golden Eagles is still common and we can arrange a home-stay with an eagle hunter. It is a four hour flight to visit this area from Ulaanbaatar and so it is less visited, it is a true wild west experience. Wrap up warm and embrace nomadic life.
Visit in late September or early October for the Eagle Festival where eagle hunters gather to show off their skills; in the summer months of July and August for green pastures and warm days; or in March for the Nauryz festival.
Lake Khovsgol in the Alpine North
A stunningly beautiful area. Ask most Mongolians which is their favourite province and they will say Lake Khovsgol. The lake is crystal clear and surrounded by larch and pine-covered mountains: imagine the Alps with yaks!
Great for horse-riding and hiking; activities on the lake such as kayaking or hiring a motorboat to explore more remote areas; fishing is possible in some nearby rivers; and there may be a chance to see reindeer. In the summer months, it is a 1.5hr domestic flight from Ulaanbaatar to Muron, the capital of Khovsgol province, and then just a 1.5hr hop up to the lake.
Terelj and the Khenti Hills East of Ulaanbaatar
This area is closer to the city so less travel time is involved. You can feel as if you are in complete wilderness within two hours driving out of the city. For many visitors to Mongolia it is this region – its open steppe, flower-filled meadows, and its spectacular magma plume landscapes – that wow the most. There is plenty to see!
The landscape in Terelj is interesting with lots of ancient rock formations, perfect for hiking and horse-riding. There are several rivers in the area which are good for kayaking or rafting and one or two good fishing rivers. There is history at the giant Chinggis monument and at the 13th Century Camp – a living museum from the times of Chinggis Khan. There is plenty of wildlife to see at the Gun Galuut Nature Reserve with several endangered species in an area which combines 4 ecosystems. This is the perfect region to immerse yourself in nomadic culture with a nomadic family who will invite you to share their daily lives.