Amid the stark beauty of Mongolia’s varied landscapes lives one of the world's last surviving nomadic cultures, whose customs pre-date the age of Genghis Khan. On a journey from the mystical steppe to the remote dunes of the Gobi desert, experience an ancient way of life. Ride horseback across wetlands, hike in a dramatic oasis, and watch the sun set on the Flaming Cliffs. Stay in traditional ger camps and witness the exhilarating contests of the Naadam Festival.
Experience Naadam, Mongolia’s most celebrated festival, and get up close views of its wrestling, archery, and horse-racing competitions.
Meet a senior government official in Ulaanbaatar for an inside perspective on Mongolia’s political and economic climate.
Visit with Nomadic families, look for fossils near the Flaming Cliffs, and listen to traditional throat singing.
Itinerary - 12 Days
Day 1 — Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Arrive in Ulaanbaatar and check into our centrally located hotel. Tuushin Hotel
Day 2 — Ulaanbaatar
Spend the morning 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 witness 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. Tuushin Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Ulaanbaatar/Gün-Galuut Nature Reserve
This morning, join a senior government official for an introduction to the current political and economic climate. Then drive east to Gün-Galuut, a nature reserve near the Khentii Mountains where the steppe converges with wetlands. Spend the rest of the day exploring the area on hikes or an optional horseback ride, enjoying stunning vistas and the wildlife of the reserve. Our home here is a camp of a traditional gers, or round, felt-lined tents, set amid lush meadows. Ger Camp (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Gün-Galuut Nature Reserve
Spend the day exploring the mountains and wetlands of the reserve on a hike or an optional horseback ride, and keep an eye out for endangered Argali mountain sheep and a number of endangered crane species. In the afternoon, pay a visit to a local nomadic family for a rare look at everyday life in rural Mongolia. Take in the ingenious architecture of the family gers while you get to know some of the world’s last nomadic peoples. Ger Camp (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Gün-Galuut Nature Reserve/Ulaanbaatar
Enjoy a morning at leisure before returning to Ulaanbaatar. Along the way, stop to view a 131-foot-tall Genghis Khan equestrian statue. This afternoon, visit the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum, which displays one of the world’s best collections of Buddhist art and artifacts. Tuushin Hotel (B,L)
Day 6 — The Gobi/Yol Valley/Havsgait
Soar over the vast steppe on a flight to the mystical Gobi, site of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of the 20th century. Over the next four days, explore the wildlife and varying landscapes of the desert, home to Bactrian camels, Argali mountain sheep, and saker falcons.
Upon arrival, travel to Yolyn Am, or Eagle Valley, a dramatic chasm that cuts a narrow path through the foothills of the arid Altai Mountains. Then visit the local natural history museum.
In the late afternoon, drive to Havtsgait Valley and hike to the hilltop site of ancient rock drawings left by early Gobi settlers. Three Camel Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 7 — Naadam Festival
Spend the day at Mongolia’s most famous festival and sporting event—Naadam, where traditionally-garbed participants compete in wrestling, archery, and horseback racing. Witness the contests up-close, taking in the colorful pomp and pageantry, as well as the whirling excitement of the horse race. Three Camel Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes
Today drive to Khongoryn Els (4 hours), 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 catch the sunset on this stunning and remote desert landscape, and spend the night in a nearby ger camp. Gobi Erdene Ger Camp (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes
This morning, listen to the low hum of the "Singing Sands," known for the uncanny, deep groan the sand emits when the dunes' surface is disturbed. Stop in at the camp of a camel herding family and experience traditional Mongolian hospitality. After lunch, return to Three Camel Lodge. Enjoy a lively music performance this evening. Three Camel Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 10 — Tugrigiin 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 see the breathtaking span of desert landscape and crimson cliffs. Then enjoy an al fresco dinner beside the cliffs. Three Camel Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 11 — Gobi Desert/Ulaanbaatar
Fly to Ulaanbaatar this morning, arriving in time for lunch at a local restaurant. Venture into the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, home of Mongolia's last theocrat and eighth Living Buddha. Take in the architectural details of this ornate monument that somehow escaped destruction during the reign of Stalin. In the evening, enjoy a unique art form during a performance of traditional Mongolian dance and khoomi, or throat singing, and celebrate your Mongolian expedition at a farewell dinner. Tuushin Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 12 — Ulaanbaatar
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your return flight home. (B)
Medical anthropologist Carroll Dunham has resided in the Himalaya for more than 25 years and currently resides in Nepal. Author of four books, she has explored deeply the feminine divine in South Asian history and culture. She has produced more than a dozen films for National Geographic, PBS, the BBC, and others on subjects ranging from Living Goddesses to polyandry, nomadism, and geology. She has recently been involved with working with female immolations at a hospital burn unit and has delved extensively into the history of women’s relationship to fire and sacrifice in the Hindu world. On the board of the Nekorpa Foundation, which preserves sacred pilgrimage sites and traditions, Carroll has a keen interest in environmental conservation issues regarding sacred spaces of South Asia. A practitioner of yoga and ayurveda, committed to fostering income generation among marginalized women so they may support their families' health and education, Carroll has formulated ayurvedic products for The Body Shop and founded Wild Earth, a sustainable social enterprise producing handcrafted herbal products in the Himalaya. Carroll and her family have spent the last ten summers living with nomads in central Mongolia.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives, or easy hikes, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and biking.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.
What To Expect
Travel to Mongolia requires flexibility and a sense of
adventure. Roads can be rough, and disruptions to the
country’s infrastructure can result in changes to our
itinerary. Travelers must be in good health and physically
fit. The gers in Gün Galuut and the Gobi are basic
and comfortable with a separate bathhouse. Deluxe
gers at Three Camel Lodge include a private toilet and