Mongolia Photo Expedition

  • 14-day journey with an acclaimed National Geographic photographer
  • Capture images of ger camps, the Hövsgöl Nuur wilderness, and the Gobi Desert.

Expedition Details


Home to sweeping landscapes and a nomadic culture that pre-dates the age of Genghis Khan, Mongolia offers a stunning array of photographic opportunities. Travel through the vast steppe to photograph crystal-clear alpine lakes, traditional ger camps, and camel-herding families. Catch the towering dunes of the Gobi at sunrise and the brilliant Flaming Cliffs at sunset, and spend a thrilling day documenting the colorful contests of a private Naadam demonstration.

Trip Highlights

  • Snap portraits of Mongolian throat singers, camel herders, and traditional nomad families, and learn about their age-old culture.
  • Stay in a ger camp at beautiful Lake Hövsgöl, and go on photo walks in the surrounding mountains and meadows.
  • Photograph the vibrant pageantry during a private demonstration of Naadam, Mongolia’s most celebrated festival, and see wrestling, archery, and horse racing competitions.
  • Ride a camel into the Gobi to photograph the dunes at sunset, and spend a night near the rippling sand dunes.

Itinerary - 14 Days

Days 1 & 2 — Depart U.S.

Depart on an overnight flight to Ulaanbaatar, and check into our centrally located hotel upon arrival.

Day 3 — Arrive in Ulaanbaatar

Spend the morning at a specially-arranged photo shoot at the Gandan Monastery, Mongolia’s largest functioning Buddhist monastery—one of the few to survive the Stalinist purges during the 1930s. Listen to the horns calling lamas and monks to temple, and capture the monks’ daily rituals while visiting the adjoining Megjid Janraisig and Kalachakra Temples. This afternoon, visit the National Museum to get an overview of Mongolia’s history and culture. Examine exhibits on nomadic life, including Stone and Bronze Age artifacts, traditional costumes, and sacred relics. Gather for a welcome reception and dinner tonight.
Ulaanbaatar Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 4 — Ulaanbaatar/Lake Hövsgöl

This morning, join a senior U.S. Embassy official for an introduction to Mongolia’s current political and economic climate. Then transfer to the airport and fly north to Mörön, the capital of the mountainous Hövsgöl Province. Continue overland to Lake Hövsgöl, Mongolia’s second largest lake, nestled among larch forests and sweeping valleys. Known as the “dark blue pearl” for its beauty and purity, this pristine alpine lake is fed by over 90 streams and rivers, and its waters drain into the Egiyn Gol, eventually reaching Lake Baykal in neighboring Siberia. Settle into a traditional ger, or felt-lined yurt, at our camp set amid lush meadows. Later, head out on an afternoon photo shoot.
Ger Camp, Hövsgöl Nuur (B,L,D)

Days 5 & 6 — Lake Hövsgöl

Spend two days exploring the stunning lakeshore, surrounding mountains, and alpine meadows, and take advantage of incredible photo opportunities at every turn. In addition to horseback riding and hiking, you will also have the opportunity to visit with local nomad families and photograph their unique ways of life.
Ger Camp, Hövsgöl Nuur (B,L,D)

Day 7 — Ulaanbaatar

Return to Mörön this morning, stopping to photograph the Uushgiin “deer stones,” a group of ancient carved megaliths. Then transfer to the airport for your flight to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival in the city, transfer to your hotel. Today dinner is independent.
Ulaanbaatar Hotel (B,L)

Day 8 — Gobi Desert/ Yol Valley/Havsgait

In the morning, transfer to the airport for your flight to the mystical Gobi, site of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of the 20th century.

Upon arrival, drive to Yol Valley National Park, tucked between the foothills of the Altai Mountains. An ancient river carved this verdant valley, and its remnant streams create ice formations that provide a striking contrast to the surrounding desert. Hike through the valley, camera in hand, and look for indigenous lammergeiers, Altai snowcocks, ibex, yaks, and Egiyn Gol, or wild mountain sheep. Visit a local natural history museum to learn about the flora and fauna of this area.

Next, drive to the Three Camel Lodge, voted in 2008 one of the Top 50 Ecolodges by National Geographic Adventure magazine and settle into your deluxe ger at Three Camel Lodge. Late afternoon, drive to Havtsgait Valley, site of ancient rock drawings left by early Gobi settlers. Join in a photo shoot, and capture these striking petroglyphs in their best light.
Three Camel Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 9 — Naadam Festival

Today, photograph Mongolia’s most famous festival and sporting event—Naadam. At a special private celebration arranged for our group, snap portraits of the traditionally-garbed participants who compete in the “three manly sports” (wrestling, archery, and horse racing). Witness the contests up-close, taking photographs in the middle of the action. Capture the colorful pomp and pageantry, and zoom in on the whirling excitement of the horse race.
Three Camel Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 10 — Khongoryn Els

Wake early to capture the sun rising over the vast Gobi landscape. Today drive through the Gegeet Valley, the habitat of the elusive snow leopard, en route to Khongoryn Els, a 60-mile stretch of rippling sand dunes that soar up to 600 feet and trace the edge of the Altai range. Ride a camel into the dunes to capture the dazzling sandscape at sunset. Spend the night in a nearby ger camp. Gobi Discovery Ger Camp (B,L,D)

Day 11 — Khongoryn Els

Rise early to photograph the dunes as the rising sun paints them orange and gold. Then visit the camp of a camel herding family and experience traditional Mongolian hospitality, and have a chance to photograph unique customs that predate the age of Genghis Khan. Return to the lodge for dinner. This evening, enjoy a lively music performance.
Three Camel Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 12 — Tugregiin Shiree / Flaming Cliffs

Drive to Tugregiin Shiree, where paleontologists discovered the famous “Fighting Dinosaurs” fossil in the 1970s. Continue to Bayanzag, also known as the Flaming Cliffs. Here, brilliant red sandstone harbors a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils and eggs. Hike down into the gorge to photograph the breathtaking span of the desert landscape, and capture the shifting palette of sunset. Then enjoy an incredible al fresco dinner beside the cliffs.
Three Camel Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 13 — Gobi / Ulaanbaatar

Take advantage of a morning at leisure to explore the grounds of our lodge and discover new perspectives as you frame the dramatic scenery. This afternoon, gather for a final photo slideshow presentation, and then fly to Ulaanbaatar. In the evening, take in a performance of traditional Mongolian dance and khoomii, or throat singing, followed by a farewell reception and dinner.
Ulaanbaatar Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 14 — Depart

Depart Ulaanbaatar for your flight back to U.S.A.

Related Trips

National Geographic Expert

Chris Rainier

Chris RainierChris Rainier specializes in the documentation of indigenous cultures, and is considered one of the leading documentary photographers working today. A National Geographic Explorer, Chris was a co-founder of the Society’s All Roads Photography Program and is a co-director of the Enduring Voices Project, documenting endangered languages and cultures. He serves as a contributing editor for National Geographic Traveler magazine. His life's mission is to document endangered cultures and help empower them to use modern technology to save their ancient traditions through a project he directs called the Last Technology Program. He has conducted expeditions to all seven continents and the North Pole. Chris has won numerous awards for his photography, including the Lowell Thomas Award given by the Explorers Club for his work with endangered cultures. Chris was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society in London.

Chris will join the following departure:

Jul 25 - Aug 07, 2014



  • Jun 13 - 26, 2014
  • Jul 25 - Aug 07, 2014

Expedition Cost



Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,160 in 2013 and $1,300 in 2014.

International airfare to/from Ulaanbaatar and airfare within Mongolia is not included in the expedition cost. The group flight between Ulaanbaatar and Mörön is $900 (subject to change).

What To Expect

Travel to Mongolia requires flexibility and a sense of adventure. Service is not always up to Western standards, and disruptions to the country's infrastructure can necessitate changes to our itinerary. The gers (felt-lined canvas tents) at Hövsgöl Nuur, Gün-Galuut, and Khongoryn Els are basic and comfortable, with traditional Mongolian beds (twin size) and toilet and shower facilities in a separate bathhouse. Deluxe gers at Three Camel Lodge include a private toilet and sink. A limited number of gers are available for singles. Road conditions can be very rough, and activities necessitate that travelers must be in good health and have no limitations on physical mobility.