Mad About Mongolia
Experience the highlights of this fascinating country on an 11-day luxury Mongolia tour, staying in the most luxurious accommodation en route. Focusing on some of the most beautiful areas in the country you will explore historic and religious sites, the sweeping steppe, majestic dunes and spectacular jagged snow-capped peaks.
Itinerary at a Glance:
- Visit the best museums and temples in the capital Ulaanbaatar and stock up on cashmere in a huge outlet store
- See the last remaining pack of Takhi wild horses in Hustain Nuruu National Park
- Visit Erdene Zuu Monastery, constructed from the ruins of Kharakhorum (the former Mongol capital) in the 16th century
- Hike the Orkon River Valley
- Stay in an exclusive ger tented lodge
- Hunt for dinosaur eggs at the legendary Flaming Cliffs
- Climb majestic sand dunes in the Gobi Desert
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When To Travel
All of the holidays we create are completely tailor-made to you
Days 1-2: Flight to Ulaanbaatar
Begin your luxury Mongolia adventure with a flight to Ulaanbaatar. There are several airlines and routes that you can take, so that's where we come in, ready to recommend the best for your specific requirements.
Upon arrival into the capital Ulaanbaatar you will be met and privately transferred to your centrally located hotel, the journey time should take around fifty minutes. Depending on your arrival time you will have the rest of the day to relax at your leisure.
Day 3: Exploring Ulaanbataar
After a delicious breakfast, your driver and guide will meet you in the morning. Your first stop on your luxury Mongolia itinerary is the Gandan Monastery - the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia.
Woven through Mongolia's nomadic culture is a rich Tibetan Buddhist tradition, in which ancient shamanist practices are evident to this day. Strolling through the monastery grounds with your guide, you will hear the low tones of the horns used to call the monks and lamas (spiritual leaders) to the temple. Observe their daily rituals, including the reading of sutras, the teachings of the Buddha.
Next up for today's cultural wanderings is a visit to the recently renovated Chenrezi and Kalachakra Temples, as well as the magnificent statue of Migjid Janraisig, 'the lord who looks in every direction', a revered bodhisattva (one who has reached the Buddhist state of nirvana). This 82ft tall statue, gilded in pure gold and clothed with silk and precious stones, is a glittering, striking sight to behold.
Your day continues with a drive through downtown Ulaanbaatar to the National History Museum for an excellent overview of Mongolia's history and culture.
You will stop for lunch, and then it is time to visit Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum. Named in honour of Zanabazar, the renowned 17th century artist and politician who was also the first Buddhist leader of Mongolia, the museum contains one of the best collections of Buddhist art and artefacts in the world, including many of Zanabazar's original works.
As the sun sinks in the sky, it's time for a performance featuring traditional Mongolian dancers and khoomi throat singers, followed by a welcome dinner at a fine local restaurant.
- There are some good coffee shops in the capital and we particularly recommend UBean for a hit of caffeine
- Stock up on cashmere and sweet souvenirs at Mary & Martha Mongolia
- Head to the Naran Tuul Market, also known as the Black Market for traditional Mongolian horse-riding gear and carpets
- Sample a Mongolian craft beer at the Hops & Rocks Brewery
Day 4: To Hustain Nuruu National Park and Kharakhorum
This morning you will be met by your driver and guide, ready for the two hour drive to Hustain Nuruu National Park. The park is home to the last remaining species of wild horse, the takhi - commonly known as Przewalski's horse. Largely unchanged since the time of Chinggis Khan, they are stocky, sturdy horses, perfectly adapted for life on the steppes.
While you are here, you will learn about current conservation efforts and the status of the herds found within the reserve at the visitor's centre, before trying to spot these beautiful horses in their natural habitat. If you are feeling brave, take the chance to ride these beautiful, iconic horses - you won't regret it.
Your luxury Mongolian journey continues with a four-hour drive to Kharakhorum, the site of the 13th century capital of the Mongol Empire. The empire created by Chinggis Khan and his descendants was the largest contiguous land empire in recorded history, and its scope has never been matched. On arrival in this ancient place, enjoy a short hike along the Orkhon River Valley before settling in to your private ger.
As the sun sets, it is time for supper, and you have the rest of the evening at leisure in your campsite.
Day 5: Explore Kharakhorum
After breakfast, its time to visit the Erdene Zuu, Mongolia's largest monastery, and reputedly constructed from the ruins of Kharakhorum in the 16th century. Surrounded by 108 stupas, Erdene Zuu has been a place of Buddhist reverence for more than 500 years. Explore the monastery grounds with your guide and observe the monks as they perform their prayers and rituals.
Today is a day of monastic visits as you then discover your second religious dwelling of the day: Shankh Hiid. This monastery is only a short distance from Erdene Zuu and Kharakhorum, and was once frequented by Zanabazar, the renowned Buddhist artist and religious leader.
Your next stop is the Kharakhorum Museum, which was founded to showcase the research findings from the ancient capital of Mongolia by a joint Mongolian and German archaeological expedition.
The legendary Chinggis Khan and his son created Kharakhorum to serve as the heart of this monolithic empire. At the time, Kharakhorum was one of the largest junctions of the Silk Road, connecting the Oriental world with the West. Unfortunately, this bustling capital was abandoned by Khublai Khan and later fell into disrepair.
The rest of the day is yours to explore the Orkhon River Valley at your leisure or return to your private ger camp to relax and enjoy your surroundings.
Day 6: To Kultegin Monument and back to Ulaanbataar
After breakfast, you might fancy another short hike in the gorgeous Orkhon River Valley to stretch your legs before the six-hour drive to Ulaanbataar.
En route, you will stop at the Kultegin Monument, erected during the time of the Turkic Empire in the 8th century. Built in honour of a prince, this magnificent statue has been the subject of research by archaeologists from around the world, and many roof tiles that were found in the area, along with other significant artefacts, are exhibited at the newly established museum, funded by the Turkish government.
Continue your travels to Ulaanbaatar and on arrival, check into your centrally located hotel for a relaxed evening.
Day 7: Going to the Gobi Desert and Yol Valley
After breakfast this morning you will be privately transferred to the airport for your flight to Dalanzadgad in the Gobi. After you arrive, following the hour-and-a-half flight, a 45-minute transfer will take you to the Yol Valley National Park, cradled in the foothills of the Altai Mountains.
An ancient river once carved out this verdant green valley, and ice formations are visible in the remaining streams as late as July. A hike through this beautiful valley leads to the habitat of the indigenous vulture-like lammergeiers (or bearded vulture), Altai snowcocks, ibex, yaks and argali (mountain sheep). After exploring the valley, be sure to visit the local natural history museum for an overview of the flora and fauna of the surrounding area.
Your travels today then see you drive two hours further on, to arguably the most luxurious ger lodge in Mongolia. The camp is located beside Bulagtai Mountain, on the edge of Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park. You have the rest of the evening to relax or explore the surroundings on your own. The lodge offers a wide variety of activities, from reading books on Mongolia to watching a documentary about nomadic culture, and from learning traditional Mongolian games to enjoying a relaxing massage.
Later this afternoon, take a drive to the Havtsgait Valley, which takes about 45 minutes. The valley is home to ancient rock drawings that were left by early Gobi settlers more than 5,000 - 7,000 years ago. Hundreds of petroglyphs adorn the scattered rocks at the top of the mountain, giving a rare insight into our ancient relatives.
As the sun begins to sink in the sky, it's time to head back to the lodge to spend an evening in this beautiful place, enjoying your surroundings and tucking into a meal made with fresh produce from the lodge's kitchen garden.
Day 8: Camel Riding in Moltsog Els
This morning take some time to relax at the lodge, before a one-hour drive to Moltsog Els - one of the few regions of the Gobi actually covered in sand dunes.
Once you arrive, explore the dunes on foot, or climb aboard a two-humped Bactrian camel. You will also have the opportunity to visit a local camel herding family and experience their hospitality and way of life. This evening return to the lodge for another evening in the scenic surrounds of the camp.
Day 9: Tugregiin Shiree, Bulgan Soum and the Flaming Cliffs
After breakfast, it's time to drive to Tugregiin Shiree, which takes one-and-a-half hours. The area was first explored by Polish expeditions in the late 60s and early 70s, and is best known for the famous 'Fighting Dinosaurs', the fossil remnants of a protoceratops and velociraptor found locked in combat.
This afternoon, it's time to visit Bulgan, a small town near a natural spring. Bulgan has one of the only farms in the Gobi Desert, which supplies local ger camps with fruit and vegetables. It's a wonderful example of local businesses being supported by ecotourism.
As the afternoon draws on, your next stop is the legendary Flaming Cliffs - named for the way the rocks glow orange in the light of the setting sun. It was here in 1923 that Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews and his exploration team from the American Museum of Natural History found the world's first nest of dinosaur eggs. Although not obvious to the untrained eye, the red sandstone of the Flaming Cliffs is rich with dinosaur fossils, and paleontological expeditions continue to make significant discoveries at this site. Watch how the cliffs earned their name as the sun sinks and sets them ablaze with an orange-glow.
As the evening draws in, it's time to return to the lodge for dinner and your final night.
Day 10: Back to Ulaanbataar and the Chinggis Khan Statue
It's an early start this morning as you depart from the lodge and transfer to the local airport for your flight back to Ulaanbaatar, which takes around an hour-and-a-half.
On arrival into Ulaanbaatar, visit the Bogd Khan Palace, which was the home of Mongolia's last theocratic leader, Bogd Jabtzan Damba Hutagt VIII. Elaborate ceremonial robes and other personal effects of Mongolia's '8th Living Buddha', who ruled from 1911 to 1924, are on display.
Next up today is a visit to the Chinggis Khan Equestrian Statue. The massive statue, constructed from 250 tons of gleaming stainless steel, is an astonishing feat of engineering. The statue is located at the historic site of the Tsonjin Boldog, where legend has it Chinggis Khan found a horsewhip - a sign for him to unite the numerous nations of the world under heaven. This story is inscribed in the Secret History of Mongolia, which is the oldest historical book in the country. Visitors to this complex who climb up inside the mane of the horse statue will be rewarded with a magnificent view of the surrounding area.
After your climb, it's time to return to Ulaanbaatar for a farewell dinner.
Day 11: Homeward Bound
Sadly, today it is time to go home. You will have an early morning transfer to the airport for your return flight home.
Jacqui is our expert for this itinerary and, as a seasoned traveller, has the inside track on the most memorable adventures.