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Mongolia

Wander Mongolia: Blue Skies and Endless Steppe

Mongolia is known as the land of blue skies, boasting vast and dramatic landscapes, from its sand dunes and snow forests to its famous steppe that stretches toward never-ending horizons. Come with us to explore unique national parks and a historic sporting festival—by road, on foot, and even on camel and horseback.

On this remote adventure, we'll be charting a path across large swaths of Mongolia's striking terrain. Along the way, we'll have the chance to visit with nomadic families and dive into the complicated history of the Mongol Empire. We'll stay in traditional ger camps and taste classic food and drink, including Airag, the fermented mare's milk that's a local favorite. Our journey will culminate with the annual Naadam Festival among thousands of other spectators, observing physical feats that pay tribute to Mongolia's warring history.

Our small group of 10 to 16 intrepid explorers will be traveling in the company of a local guide and an Atlas Obscura representative.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Dramatic natural landscapes: We'll take in a vast variety of scenery, from the Mongol Els sand dune to the famous steppe, from the Orkhon River to lush meadowland and dramatic rock formations.
  • The Naadam Festival: Our adventure ends with the celebratory competitions of "the three games of men"—archery, horseback riding, and wrestling—that pay tribute to Mongolia's warrior history.
  • Hiking, horseback riding, and home cooking: You'll have many opportunities to roam beneath Mongolia's big blue skies—on foot, on horseback, and on camels—in addition to trying your hand at a few local dishes.
  • Overnights in traditional ger camps: A ger is a traditional nomadic dwelling similar to a yurt and has served as home to generations of Mongolians. Throughout the trip, we'll be setting up ger camp in a range of remote settings, from the banks of Ögii Lake to multiple national parks.

TRIP COST

A $500 deposit is required to secure your spot; we have a limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill quickly. The deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The trip will cost a total of $3,160 (the $500 deposit plus the $2,660 final payment), which covers all fixed costs including accommodations, local guides, and all meals and activities listed in the itinerary.

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TRIP?

If you have any questions that aren't answered in the itinerary, or would like to chat with someone about whether you think this adventure is the right fit for you, please don't hesitate to contact us! Email us at atlasobscura@worldexpeditions.com or give us a call at 1-800-567-2216 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET.

Itinerary
Day 1
Welcome to Ulaanbaatar!
  • Once you land, you’ll be met and transferred from the airport to the group hotel.
  • Our group will meet in the evening for a welcome dinner and trip briefing before spending our first night in Mongolia.
Courtesy of the IQ Museum
Day 2
Ulaanbaatar Explorations
  • After breakfast, we'll spend our day exploring the capital city.
  • We'll visit the restored Gandan Monastery, a Tibetan-style Buddhist monastery home to several hundred monks. We'll also visit the National Museum of Mongolia, which covers over a millennia of local history, and Sükhbaatar Square. This central square is named for Damdiny Sükhbaatar, the "Father of Mongolia's Revolution" in 1921 that brought independence from China and a founding member of the Mongolia People's Party.
  • After lunch, we'll test our brain power at the International Intellectual and Puzzle Museum, also known as the IQ Museum. Created by puzzle master Tumen Ulzii, it is a place dedicated to curiosity, logic, and riddles.
  • This evening, we'll enjoy a dinner and a traditional folklore concert.
Day 3
Khogno Khan National Park
  • Today, we make the long drive from the capital to Khögnö Khan National Park. This natural reserve is home to two ecosystems: the steppe (shrub and grasslands) and the taiga (also known as boreal forest or snow forest).
  • Here, we'll visit the Mongol Els sand dune, nearly 50 miles long and set in the park's dramatic desert landscape. Its name means "Mongolian sand," though it is also known as Elsen Tasarkhai, or the "sand fracture."
  • We'll then ride two-humped (bactrian) camels for one to two hours to explore the local Buddhist monastery. While these camels are bred and domesticated, their wild brethren living in the Gobi Desert are now highly endangered.
  • We’ll visit with the camel-breeding family and learn more about their nomadic life.
  • In the evening we will take a leisurely walk in the sand dunes before spending the night in a ger camp (ger is the Mongolian term for a traditional yurt).
Max Cortesi (Atlas Obscura user)
Day 4
The Ancient Capital of Karakorum
  • This morning we continue our journey by road to Karakorum (also Qara Qorum), capital of the Mongol Empire between 1235 and 1260. You can still see ruins of the 13th-century metropolis, from statues and roof tiles to crumbling kilns. When Kublai Khan took the throne of the empire in 1260, the city lost its key status and was reduced to an administrative center.
  • We'll visit the Erdene Zuu monastery, the earliest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia, adjacent to the ancient city ruins. Construction began in the late 16th century, at a time when Tibetan Buddhism was declared the state religion of Mongolia. On a platform near the monastery's outskirts, you'll find Kharkhorin Rock, a large stone phallus statue. Kharkhorin's purpose? Twofold: A reminder to the monks to stay celibate, and a symbol of fertility and life.  
  • We'll also stop by the Karakorum Museum, located in the modern-day town of Kharkhorin, to learn about the history of the town and the artifacts found in various nearby archaeological sites. While small, this museum is perhaps the best in the country outside of Ulaanbaatar.
  • This afternoon, we'll take some time to relax and absorb the views along the Orkhon River, the longest river in Mongolia.
  • We'll spend tonight at a ger camp, which by now will feel just like home.
Chinneeb
Day 5
Birdwatching by Ugii Lake
  • After breakfast, we depart the ancient capital and continue toward Ögii Lake, a freshwater expanse known for its fish and birdlife.
  • We’ll stop along the way to discover more about the country’s history, zooming in on Turkish influences during the 7th to 8th centuries. Much of the territory of the original Turkish Empire encompassed major parts of modern-day Mongolia, and one of their main successors were the Uighurs, an ethnic group now concentrated in western China's Xinjiang Province that speaks a Turkic language and follows Islam.
  • As we arrive at Ögii, any birdwatchers among you will not be disappointed. As the main source of fresh water in this region of the steppe, Ögii lake attracts many birds, including the beautiful Oriental Plover and the Bar-headed Goose.
  • Tonight we'll stay in a ger camp on the shore of the tranquil Ögii. 
Day 6
The Last Wild Horses
  • Wake up this morning and take in the beautiful lakeside view. After breakfast, we'll depart for our next destination: Khustain Nuruu National Park. Declared a Specially Protected Area in 1993, the park—whose name means Birch Mountains—is home to 44 species of mammals and 217 species of birds, including Mongolia marmots, Eurasian Lynx, and lammergeier (bearded vulture). The last wild horses, or Takhi, were reintroduced here in 1992 and the population has slowly been stabilized.
  • Our group will settle into the ger camp. Then, in the late afternoon, we'll drive to the mountains for the best chance to see the Takhi as they gather close to sunset. Along the way, we might also see red deer, gazelles, ibex, foxes, badgers, and any one of 29 species of local grasshoppers.
  • We'll have dinner at the camp and then settle in for the night under a blanket of stars.
Day 7
Visit with a Nomadic Family
  • After breakfast at the ger camp, we'll drive to visit a local nomadic family, who will be our hosts for the rest of the day. Today, we hope to get a brief glimpse into the daily life of Mongolia's nomadic people.
  • For lunch, we’ll have a cooking class and make buuz, a traditional Mongolian meal.
  • During the day, you have several different options. You can horseback ride, or hike in the surrounding mountains and meadows. There will be ample opportunity to taste Airag—made from fermented mare's milk, it's a favorite drink of Mongolians.
  • Our evening meal will be a traditional Mongolian barbecue, called Khorkhog.
  • Overnight will be in our trusty ger camp, which will be set up right next to our host family.
Brücke-Osteuropa
Day 8
Mountain Walk & Turtle Rock
  • Today after breakfast, we'll bid farewell to our nomadic hosts and continue our journey. Tonight, we'll be setting up our ger camp in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. On the drive to Gorkhi-Terelj, we'll stop just outside the park to see the impressive mounted statue of Genghis Khan.
  • Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, which is also home to a Buddhist monastery, is beautiful and has two famous rock formations whose nicknames will make a lot of sense when you see them: Turtle Rock (Mongolian: Melkhii Khad) and the Old Man Reading a Book (Praying Lama Rock).
  • You'll have the chance for an evening walk before dinner, and a good night's rest at our ger camp.
Day 9
Full Day in Terelj National Park
  • Today is one entirely dedicated to exploring the park. Depending on what you're feeling, you can visit the monastery and meditation centre, set out for a hike, or go for a horseback ride. There is also a lake and hot springs, as well as a few small shops and restaurants, that you can roam around and check out.
  • We'll come together over dinner and spend another night at the same location.
Day 10
To Zuunmod for the Naadam Festival!
  • Today, we set out for the town of Zuunmod for the opening ceremony of the Naadam Festival! It'll be an early start to the day for the drive to the center of Töv province. Zuunmod, which means "Hundred Trees," has a population of just under 15,000, and is a quiet place outside of the festival season.
  • When we arrive, we'll head first to our ger camp to drop off our luggage and shake our legs after the drive. We'll then hop back into the vehicle for the shorter drive to the festival itself.
  • The Naadam Festival, locally known as "eriin gurvan naadam" or "the three games of men"—wrestling, horseback riding, and archery—is the country's most widely watched festival and is held during Mongolia's national holiday. Its roots trace back to Mongolia's imperial history of military and conquest, celebrating the strength of the ideal warrior. Women now participate in the latter two games, but are not part of the wrestling.
  • We'll spend the rest of the day viewing the "three games" in Zuunmod's local stadium.
  • Tonight after dinner, we'll return to our ger camp.

 

Day 11
Archery in Ulaanbaatar
  • This morning, we head back into Ulaanbaatar. Our first stop is the city's central stadium, where we'll see the archery competition and hopefully the ankle-bone shooting game.
  • In the afternoon, we'll make a short tour to visit to Zaisan Memorial, a massive communist-era propaganda monument and mural, perched on a hill overlooking the city. The mural features scenes of friendship between the peoples of the USSR and Mongolia, across multiple events spanning the 20th century.
  • Later, we'll also visit the Bogd Khan Palace Museum, also known as the Winter Palace. Bogd Khan—otherwise known as Bogd Jivzundamba Agvaanluvsanchoijinyamdanzanvanchüg—served as the Khagan of Mongolia (an equivalent to emperor) from 1911 until 1919, when Chinese troops occupied the country. He held the throne in a limited role again from 1921 until his death in 1924. The palace museum is now home to elaborate architecture and a small taxidermied zoo, among other sights.
  • We'll celebrate our last night together with a farewell dinner, and raise our glasses to a trip packed with adventures. Tonight, back in a hotel, you might already begin missing our ger camp.
Day 12
Farewell & Departure
  • Our trip concludes this morning. After one final breakfast together, we'll transfer you to the airport to depart home or onto your next destination.
  • Until the next adventure!
The Fine Print

 

YOUR EXPEDITION TO MONGOLIA INCLUDES

  • Lodging in double-accommodation rooms in modern, well-equipped hotels and basic but comfortable ger camps throughout the trip. (Single accommodation is not an option on this trip.) 
  • All breakfasts, lunches, and dinners during the tour.
  • All entrance fees, activities, and excursions.
  • Private transportation throughout the trip and airport transfers.
  • Local guides and an Atlas Obscura representative accompanying the entire trip.
  • A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, final itinerary, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that this unique region has to offer!
  • Please email us at atlasobscura@worldexpeditions.com with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, flight planning, and payment, or call us at 1-800-567-2216 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET.

NOTE ON ITINERARY

Itineraries and pricing are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, and schedules and availabilities may change in coming months due to inclement weather, forces of nature, and other circumstances beyond our control.

NOTE ON FACILITIES

In cities or large towns you will be accommodated in 3- to 4-star, twin-share hotels that are centrally located, atmospheric, and reliable. While in the more remote regions, we will be staying in ger camps. A ger is a circular felt yurt used by nomadic people. Warm in winter and cool in summer, these camps offer a unique and awesome cultural experience.

The ger camps provide basic but comfortable accommodation. Gers in a ger camp typically include four beds around the perimeter of the ger (single accommodation is not an option), with a wood-burning stove and low table in the center. The potbelly stoves can generate quite a temperature inside the ger. Wooden floors are generally provided. There are basic shower and washing facilities available, and hot water is supplied to all gers. Washing facilities are separate in men’s and women’s shower and toilet blocks. All bedding is provided at the ger camps and you will not be expected to bring your own sleeping bag. 

ACTIVITY LEVEL

Adventure is always accompanied by an element of the unexpected. The most important thing to bring with you is a flexible, positive, and open-minded attitude. During this trip, you will be staying in three-star accommodations, while also spending time in areas with less predictable facilities. We recommend a medium level of physical fitness, since we'll be embarking on very active days together. You should be comfortable walking between three and five miles per day without difficulty, and spending extended periods of time on your feet. There will be several walks and optional horseback rides. If you're uncertain about whether this trip is a good fit, please contact us and we'd be happy to discuss with you further. 

PAYMENT

You will be charged a nonrefundable $500 deposit to hold your space. The final payment of $3,160 will be due by April 16, 2018. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. 

TRAVELERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR

  • International airfare to/from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  • Travel insurance (required).
  • Baggage charges.
  • Tips and gratuities.
  • Camera and video fees at sites and monuments.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
  • If applicable, application for a Mongolia visa.