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2017 Mongolia & the Gobi Desert

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17 Days from only $5895 including international airfare

Ulaanbaatar • Gorkhi-Terelj National Park • Khovsgol Lake • Gobi Desert

Courtesy Stanislas Giroux
Seat 22

Journey through Mongolia and its surrounding countries on the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway.

©2014 The New York Times
Saving China's Elephants

Learn how China is striving to protect its shrinking population of Asian elephants.

Produced by Lauren Knapp
Mongolia's Nomads: Herding Life

Share the freedom of the steppes with Mongolian men and women who live the herding lifestyle still common in this country.

Courtesy Peter Kang
Mongolia - Khovsgol and Terelj

Fly over the sweeping landscapes of northern Mongolia, from open steppes to forested hills and the waters of Khovsgol Lake.

Produced by Lauren Knapp
Mongolian Naadam: Shagai

Take a look a Shagai, a Mongolian game recently added to the traditional competitions at the country’s Naadam Festival.

FROM
$5895
17 DAYS
$347/DAY
including international airfare
16 DAYS FROM $4695 Land Adventure Only
  • 3 nights from only $495
    Single Supplement: FREE
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Itinerary Overview

Wild and untamed, Mongolia is a deeply spiritual land of nomadic cultures and dreamy landscapes of snowcapped mountains, crystalline lakes, and great swathes of grassy plains and ancient desert. Even today, Mongolia evokes a time when Genghis Khan and his warrior horsemen thundered across the steppe to establish the largest land empire the world has ever known. Discover Mongolia’s diverse land and people, from the bustle of Ulaanbaatar and alpine beauty of Khovsgol Lake to the vast expanse of the Gobi Desert. Meet with nomadic herding families, learn about ancient shamanistic beliefs, ride a camel in the desert dunes, and discover why Mongolia is known as the "Land of Blue Sky" during stays in authentic ger tents—just as modern-day nomads and their ancestors have done for centuries. Travel to Mongolia, a pristine land that time forgot, for an adventure you’ll treasure forever.

Make It Your Adventure

Personalize your trip to meet your individual needs, from preferred flights and air routing, to “breaking away” to spend more time in a destination.

  • O.A.T’s team of Adventure Specialists makes every effort to provide you with non-stop flights and acceptable connection times to and from your destination. You also have several other options for personalizing your air itinerary, which include:

    • Choose your departure city and airline: We list the most popular gateway cities on our website, but not all of them. If you don’t see yours listed, or there’s one that better suits your needs, let us know. You can also tell us if you have an airline preference and we will try to accommodation your request.
    • Depart from one city and return from another: Just because your flight leaves from one city doesn’t mean you have to return there. Maybe you flew out of Boston and wish to visit friends in Los Angeles after your trip is over. Tell us where you want to go and we’ll do our best to get you there.
    • Fly the way you want to: We’ll gladly arrange a flight upgrade to business or premium economy class if it’s available. And when you fly economy class, we’ll do our best to see that you get your choice of seating preference or even add a special meal request if you have dietary restrictions or needs.
  • Beginning with September 2017 departures, you can break up your lengthy flight to Ulaanbaatar, and take time to relax, refresh, and add another stamp to your passport with a visit to Beijing before your main adventure—or before your pre-trip extension in southwest China. An O.A.T. representative will meet you at the airport in Beijing and assist with your transfer into the city for three nights in a centrally-located hotel—the rest is up to you!

    From perusing the hutong—ancient maze-like alleyways that still teem with life—to strolling down the vast plazas and halls of the Forbidden City, Beijing presents one adventure after another for the traveler who is intrepid enough to go looking. However you spend your time in Beijing, you’re sure to leave energized and ready to begin your Mongolian journey. This Beijing Stopover includes three nights at the Hejing Fu Hotel (or similar), daily breakfasts, and roundtrip airport transfers. Single Supplement is FREE.

    Suggested Activities in Beijing

    • After exploring the must-see Forbidden City and Tian’anmen Square, peruse the atmospheric, narrow alleyways of Beijing, called hutong, which date back eight centuries and are lined with courtyard houses and workshops
    • Marvel at a section of the Great Wall of China, located near the city and easily accessible, that dates back five hundred years and is still dotted with impressive fortresses
    • Watch the sun set from the Summer Palace, China’s largest and most well-preserved royal park, after exploring its pastoral gardens, pavilions, lakes, and bridges
    • Peruse the food stalls of the Wangfujing Snack Street, where you can try Chinese classics like Sichuan spicy soup or Beijing fried noodles—or more adventurous nibbles like scorpion skewers and honey bee larvae
    • Get a bird’s-eye perspective on modern Beijing from the Atmosphere Bar, perched among the bold skyscrapers of Guomao on the 80th floor of the World Trade Center.

  • You can extend your time abroad and "break away" anywhere you'd like to do more exploring on your own. Stay for a day, a week, or even a month in a favorite locale. Or consider arriving a few days early for a fresh start, or staying overnight in a connecting city before or after your adventure to break up a lengthy flight. Our Adventure Specialists can provide you with information on the accommodations we will use at the beginning of your trip so that you can make your own arrangements. That way, you'll know that you will be exactly where you need to be to meet your group.

  • Many of our travelers choose to take another trip directly after their first one ends. Think about it: If you’re already overseas, why not see more of the region and avoid the expense and length of another international flight? Many of our travelers have taken two or three consecutive trips before returning home. One of the most common adventures combined with Mongolia & the Gobi Desert is Imperial China, Tibet & the Yangtze River. And now you’ll save an additional $250-$350 per person when you reserve two trips right after one another.

  • Many O.A.T. travelers simply don’t want their trips to end. With an array of pre- and post-trip extensions to choose from, you have the chance to experience more of the places you’ve traveled so far to see including Mystical Yunnan: Kunming, Dali & Lijiang and Siberian Odyssey: Lake Baikal & Irkutsk. Plus, you lower your average per-day costs because you’re taking advantage of your already included international airfare.

Day-to-Day Itinerary

  • 3 nights from only $495

    Break up your lengthy flight to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, with a 3-night Stopover in Beijing before your main adventure or before your pre-trip extension in southwest China. An O.A.T. representative will meet you at the airport and assist with your included transfer into the city for three nights in a centrally-located hotel—the rest is up to you! Take advantage of this opportunity to relax, refresh, and explore the dramatic imperial legacy, inventive culture, and peaceful, temple-studded parks of Beijing. Breakfasts and roundtrip airport transfer are also included. Single Supplement is FREE.

    Looking for ways to fill your free time in Beijing? Check out some of our suggestions.

    Learn More
  • 8 nights from only $2195

    Before you travel to Mongolia, experience southwestern China’s Yunnan Province. With its deep spirituality and sweeping scenic vistas, many claim that this is the legendary land of Shangri-La. Witness a forest seemingly made of stone in Kunming, discover Bai culture in the walled city of Dali, and explore the splendor of Lijiang, home to one of the best-preserved Old Towns in China.

    View Extension Itinerary
Ulaanbaatar Gobi Desert Expand All
  • Since your overnight flight to Beijing, China, departs Los Angeles very early in the morning, travelers are advised to arrive at LAX the night before.

  • After our early morning arrival in Beijing, we fly to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, with those who chose to take the pre-trip extension to Mystical Yunnan: Kunming, Dali & Lijiang, arriving in time for lunch at a local restaurant. The afternoon is free to relax before we gather together this evening for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant, where we can talk about our upcoming discoveries while enjoying traditional Mongolian cuisine.

  • Today we begin a city tour of the Mongolian capital, situated on the banks of the mighty Tuul River and surrounded by holy mountains. The first capital of the modern Mongolian empire was founded in 1639 as a nomadic encampment. This ancient "city" of gers (traditional felt tents; also known as yurts in Russian) was moved to the present site of Ulaanbaatar in 1778. Today, UB (as Ulaanbaatar is commonly referred to) is a bustling metropolis of roughly a million people, where modern buildings vie with Mongolian gers, and cars often share the road with nomads on horseback. Our exploration of UB begins with a visit to Gandan Monastery, Mongolia's largest and most important center of Buddhism, which was built in 1838. Next, we'll explore Sukhbaatar Square. A famous statue of Damdin Sukhbaatar, the “hero of the revolution,” presides over the square. It was on this spot that Sukhbaatar declared Mongolia's independence from China in 1921. Less than 70 years later, in 1989, Sukhbaatar Square was also the site of the first protests against Soviet oppression, and rallies and ceremonies are still held here today. Then view exhibits on Mongolian history and culture at the Museum of Natural History.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we stop at the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts, home to a collection of Mongolian art from prehistory through the early 20th century, along with works by Zanabazar, a 17th-century artist and Mongolia's first spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism. Zanabazar has been referred to as the "Michelangelo of Asia." Afterwards, we ascend the 200 steps to the top of Zaisan Hill to enjoy panoramic views of the city and the four sacred mountains that surround it—Bayanzurkh, Chingeltei, Khairkhan, and Bogd Khaan.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, we’ll delve deeper into Mongolia’s spirituality by visiting a shaman in his home and participating in a shamanistic ritual. Our visit will reveal how many modern-day nomadic practices—including the blue flags and mounds of sacred stones called ovoos—can be traced to shamanistic beliefs that have been shaping Mongolian culture since the days of Genghis Khan.

    Later, we'll enjoy traditional Mongolian cuisine during a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local Kazakh family, giving us the chance to glimpse the daily lives of our gracious hosts. Afterwards, we continue to our ger camp in the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, where we check in and have dinner.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning we’ll explore the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, a nature reserve set in a deep valley between forested hillsides, granite boulders, and mountain streams. Nomads roam the surrounding hills, which are home to some 250 different bird species, rare brown bears, and a wealth of scenic hiking trails. After a short drive—in which we’ll pass by the park’s famous Turtle Rock—we’ll enjoy a hike to Aryabal, a scenic meditation temple.

    Then, we’ll return to our camp for lunch before meeting a local nomadic family. With the family’s help, we’ll learn how to turn their cows' milk into cheese. Tonight, we’ll have dinner together at our ger camp.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    Today begins with a visit to a rather remarkable monument. The people of Mongolia decided to honor Genghis Khan in a big way—by erecting a statue of him astride his horse that stands 131 feet high atop a 33-foot-high coliseum. Built at the site where legend has it Genghis Khan found a horsewhip that inspired his future conquests, it is said to be the world's largest equestrian statue.

    After returning to our camp for lunch, we'll visit a nomadic horse-breeding family to better our understanding of the nomadic lifestyle. This will be a rare opportunity to experience modern Mongolian life firsthand. Nomads learn to ride horses as soon as they can walk, and spend much of their lives in search of stray animals—for there are almost no fences in the entire country. We'll have the chance to sample fermented mare's milk—a local specialty—then see a demonstration of horse-catching techniques. Afterwards, we return to our camp for a lesson on how to set up a traditional Mongolian ger. We'll have dinner together at our camp this evening.

  • Today we'll return to Nalaikh to visit the Sain Nomun Monastery, where local monks will be waiting to show us how to practice meditation. 

    Next, we'll have lunch together at a local restaurant in Ulaanbaatar before visiting Naran Tuul, sometimes called the Black Market. In browsing its labyrinth of stalls, you'll find clothing, bags, leather boots, Mongolian antiques, saddles, a variety of local foods, and much more. The market will also provide you with a unique opportunity to mingle with locals and experience life in the bustling capital.

    After exploring Naran Tuul, we'll head to our hotel. You'll have the chance to visit a local bar to experience a bit of life in Ulaanbaatar before getting dinner on your own this evening.

  • After breakfast, we visit a workshop that produces traditional morin khuur (horse head fiddles), registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage of Art and Cultural Objects list. Mimicking the shape of the all-important horse, this bowed instrument features a long neck with a carved horse head at its end and two horse-hair strings. At the workshop, we’ll learn how the ritual of morin khuur playing has become intertwined with Mongolia’s history and culture.

    Then we head to the airport for a flight to Moron, the administrative center of northern Mongolia’s Khovsgol Province. After our late afternoon arrival in Moron, we’ll have lunch at a local restaurant and continue with an overland journey to our ger camp along Khovsgol Lake.

    One of Mongolia’s most picturesque destinations, Khovsgol is an idyllic landscape of thick evergreen forests, flowering meadows with grazing yaks, rugged mountains, and crystal-clear streams and lakes. Khovsgol Lake is a pristine alpine lake some 100 miles long, situated close to the Siberian border. The surrounding region is home to camels of the Gobi and reindeer of the taiga (coniferous forest), as well as several Mongolian ethnic groups, including Buriat, Khalk, Darhat, and the Tsaatan.

    Tonight, we’ll have dinner together at our camp.

  • After breakfast, we begin the day with a leisurely horseback ride along the shores of Khovsgol Lake, whose crystal-clear waters are home to such species as Siberian grayling, pike, perch, salmon, and sturgeon. After some time at leisure—which you may use to embark on an independent hike in this scenic area—we’ll enjoy lunch at our camp. This afternoon, we’ll take a boat ride on Khovsgol. Tonight we'll gather together and dine under the Mongolian stars with an outdoor dinner by the shores of the lake.

  • After breakfast, we’ll experience A Day in Life of modern Mongolia, first stopping to meet with members of a yak-herding family on the Mongolian steppe. Our meeting will reveal the austere lifestyle of these nomadic families, who depend on the long-haired bovine for virtually all of their core needs: milk, food, shelter, and clothing.

    Next we explore the nearby town of Khatgal to learn more about the daily lives of the people in this remote area. Here, we’ll visit a local school which Grand Circle Foundation is proud to support. After a discussion hosted by one of the school’s teachers, we will walk to a local bakery and meet with an entrepreneur. After lunch together, we'll return to the camp and you're free to spend the afternoon as you wish before regrouping for an included dinner and bonfire by the lake.

  • After breakfast and some time at leisure, we drive back to Moron and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Then we head to the airport for a flight to Ulaanbaatar, arriving in late afternoon. Dinner is on our own this evening.

  • After a morning at leisure, we leave Ulaanbaatar and fly to the Gobi Desert. Covering much of southern Mongolia, the Gobi Desert is a breathtaking region of semi-arid desert terrain that is dazzling in its variety—from rocky outcrops to barren stretches of seemingly endless, rolling gravel plains. It is the world’s coldest and northernmost desert, as well as a great repository of dinosaur remains. Caravan routes have been crossing the Gobi since ancient times. When Marco Polo, seeking the fabled capital of the Kublai Khan, encountered this vast and unforgiving landscape in the 1270s, he proclaimed, “It consists entirely of mountains and sands and valleys. There is nothing at all to eat.” But nomads—and wildlife—do survive here (and you will certainly be well-fed as we venture into this mysterious, otherworldly region). Once we land, we enjoy an included lunch before continuing our drive through the stunning Gobi landscape that rolls out to the horizon. You might keep your eyes peeled for the wildlife that makes its home in the great desert, from golden eagles and saker falcons to Argali mountain sheep, goitered gazelle, and a variety of reptiles. This area is also the last refuge of wild two-humped Bactrian camels and home to the rare snow leopard and desert-dwelling Gobi bear.

    We’ll have dinner in our desert camp.

  • Today we explore Yol Valley (also known as Vulture Valley). We’ll travel across the Gobi Desert to the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains and enter this deep gorge in a Mongolian national park. We’ll hike here amid impressive mountain scenery and learn about this area’s endemic plants and local wildlife, including the valley’s namesake, the lammergeier vulture (yol in Mongolian). One of the valley’s most striking sights is glacial ice that extends six miles down the gorge in the winter, some of which often lingers through September or even year-round. After enjoying a boxed lunch, we return to our desert camp to enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure. Dinner is included at our ger lodgings.

  • We begin the day with a visit to an area of the Gobi Desert known as Bayanzag, but more commonly referred to as the Flaming Cliffs. The region is famous as the location of the first nest of dinosaur eggs and other fossils found here by the American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews in the 1920s—and it was he who nicknamed the site "Flaming Cliffs" for the surreal, glowing orange color of the surrounding rocks and cliffs. We’ll enjoy a bit of light trekking among Flaming Cliffs before driving to another striking feature of the Gobi Desert, Moltsog Els.

    While only about 5% of the Gobi Desert is sand, we explore one of the few regions of the Gobi covered in dunes at Moltsog Els. Then, after a box lunch in the desert, we visit with a nomadic family engaged in the breeding of Bactrian camels. After learning about Gobi nomads and their camels, you will get to hop aboard one of the twin-humped beasts for a ride into the sweeping desert sands of the mysterious Gobi Desert.

    Back at our camp, you will have time to relax before an included dinner.

  • After breakfast, we drive to Dalanzadgad, where we make our final flight to Ulaanbaatar. We have some free time at our hotel in UB before we gather together for a performance of traditional Mongolian entertainment and to celebrate our adventure at a Farewell Dinner.

  • Depart for the airport for a flight to Beijing, where you'll enjoy an overnight stay. Or, if you're taking Siberian Odyssey: Lake Baikal & Irkutsk, depart for your flight to Irkutsk and begin Day 1 of your post-trip extension.

    • Meals included:

    Transfer to the airport for your return flight home.

  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    Siberian Odyssey: Lake Baikal & Irkutsk

    6 nights from only $2895

    Explore the remote beauty of southern Siberia, an atmospheric land of ancient and modern Siberian cultures, and nature at its most unspoiled. Visit the Siberian cities of Irkutsk and Listvyanka, and spend time at a former Cossack settlement along the shores of majestic Lake Baikal, the largest and most ancient body of fresh water on Earth.

    View Extension Itinerary

Click below to read our Travel Planning Guide on Mongolia & the Gobi Desert

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