Places to visit in Mongolia
Mongolia is a vast country, with limited infrastructure in many areas which means that it is difficult to cover the whole country in one visit. We therefore advise you to pick one area and to concentrate your visit here, so as to avoid too much travelling time. Generally we suggest that you focus your time in the spectacular landscapes of the centre and south of the country, which include the rolling grasslands as well as the dramatic desert scenery of the Gobi. But there are plenty of other places to consider for adventurous travellers.
The capital of Mongolia is in complete contrast with the rest of the country, hurtling towards modernisation as its population grows and embraces capitalism. There’s a new international airport (although this is yet to open!), and new buildings are popping up all the time. For all that it’s a cosmopolitan and industrialised city, there are many reminders of its Soviet (and Buddhist) past. Yes, you can visit world-class museums (The National Museum of Mongolia), watch traditional theatre and eat international food but we prefer to get under the skin of one of the world’s most remote cities.
We visit the ger district, where an enterprising local has bought an abandoned quarry and transformed it into a magnet for families, complete with a lake to pedalo around in summer and ice-skate on in winter.
It’s also well worth visiting the Gandan monastery which offers views over the entire city. This Buddhist monastery is one of only a handful to survive the Soviet religious purge of 1937 and is one of the most important and largest tourist attractions. Its full name, Gandantegchinlen, translates roughly as ‘the great place of complete joy’. We concur.
Baga Gazriin Chuluu
About 6 hours outside of Ulaan Baatar you’ll find a dramatic granite mountain, Baga Ghazriin Chullu, which appears red at sunset. It’s reminiscent of Australia’s Uluru, although not as high, but it’s well worth spending a few hours exploring. There’s a great viewpoint from which to see the surrounding plains, populated by ibex, marmot and mountain sheep, a place where eagles also make their home. You can also visit the ruins of a small monastery, known locally as Chuluun Sum (Rock Temple), a place where local herders come in pilgrimage to ask for local spirits’ protection and help.
Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park and Yolyn Am
At 27,000 square kilometres, Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park is Mongolia’s largest, located in the south of the country. The park gets its name from the Gurvan Saikhan mountains, which translates as ‘The Three Beauties’, the three subranges which form the eastern half of the park. Lying at the northern edge of the Gobi desert, the park contains high ranges and steppes, home to the elusive snow leopard, the Gobi camel, the argali sheep and Siberian ibex.
Yolyn Am is the must-see sight in Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park. Just a two-mile hike from the car-park, it’s a narrow canyon through the rock that ends in a small glacier. Even in high summer temperatures, the glacier often doesn’t melt and (grim fact) the Russian military once used it as a butchery where it could keep its meat cold from spring to autumn.
Within the park there’s many hikes and you can visit the gorge of Dungene Am, the journey to which offers magnificent highland views. Look up and you may well see bearded vultures riding the thermals above the hills.
Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes
Still within the national park, some four hours from Yolyn Am, you’ll find the mighty sand dunes at Khongoryn Els, some of the largest sand dunes in Mongolia. They’re hugely impressive and once climbed offer stunning views over the vast sea of sand. You can take a camel trek into the Gobi desert and camp deep within the desert.
The Flaming Cliffs at Bayanzag
A Gobi highlight, these ‘flaming cliffs’ are an impressive series of ochre and red coloured craggy rocks. They are also an important palaeontology site, proving a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils. The cliffs look like they have been torn open, and what’s most surprising is that whilst they are surrounded by rather bleak, scorched desert landscape, the valley below is lush green, providing a stark contrast.
Khogno Khan Nature Reserve
Khogno Khan is a 470 square metre nature reserve, the centrepiece being a large, boulder-strewn granite mountain set amongst an area of secluded valleys, freshwater springs, open steppe and sand dunes. It’s a sacred place for Mongolians, but you can clamber around the rocks, go for short hikes around the arid terrain and visit the Erdene Khambiin Khiid, a small working monastery. Wildlife lovers may spot red deer, ibex and even wolves.
Orkhon River Valley
One of our favourite parts of Mongolia, and exactly the Mongolia you’ll have imagined: endless rolling grasslands dotted with occasional gers and meandering rivers. This is the place where you’ll also get to sample a traditional Mongolian barbecue.
Kharkorin and Erdene Zuu
Erdene Zuu is the probably the oldest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia and although partly destroyed during the religious purge in 1939, was handed back to the Erdene lamas (the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism) again in 1990 and is now a working monastery.
The monastery is located 2km east of Kharokorin, the area once home to the fabled Chinggis (aka Genghis) Khan, and adjacent to the ancient city of Karakorum (Kharkorin).
For a real adventure you could head to the far west of Mongolia, a vast wilderness of snow-capped mountains that is home to nomadic eagle hunters, shamans and a fiercely traditional way of life. This is a truly remote region where snow leopards still roam the valleys of the Altai Mountains and packs of wolves cross the landscape. There is very little to be found in terms of creature comforts, and accommodation is with local families in their own gers (yurts), but this area offers intrepid families an incredible opportunity for real exploration.
Call us and we will be happy to provide you with a free-of-charge no obligation itinerary and quotation designed for you.
Country in pictures
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