Mongolia map & itineraries
Make the most of your time
You don’t rent a car in Mongolia, you rent a horse or a camel then just sit back and survey the splendour of its endless plains.The roads in Mongolia veer between a state of OK and ludicrous; a tyre-testing combination of sand, steppe, pot holes and bigger pot holes, driving times are notoriously hard to estimate and speed fluctuate between slow to middling. Fortunately, you won’t be taking your own car, which would likely end up a rattling heap of slowly shaken nuts and bolts – your guide will get you where you need to be, but you’ll need to be flexible on arrival times. Sit back, belt up and look forward to exploring all of the glorious places to visit in Mongolia as they should be explored - by horse or on foot.
The first man that Mongolia ever sent into space was born in Bulgan, a town that tourists generally pass through en route to pastures new, but that is well worth standalone consideration if only for its beautiful scenery – emerald green rolling hills punctuated by open-air camps – and the Khalkh and Buriat ethnic groups that live a centuries-old pastoral way of life there.
Widely assumed to be the birthplace of Genghis Khan himself, Dadal has plenty to offer those who might not be super-fans of the all-conquering warrior. The town is pretty upmarket by Mongol standards and is a verdant area of rivers, forests, lakes and log huts as opposed to traditional gers. It’s great for hiking, or perhaps a spot of fishing if you’ve packed your rod.
The Gobi desert is one of few places on Earth with a truly ancient culture and history, due in part to its landlocked position and also because of a harsh environment that sways between scorching sun and icy cold, only yielding a rainfall of 200mm annually. Besides lack of water, the only constant in the Gobi is the incredible hospitality of the cattle herders that dwell there.
Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park
Wonderfully otherworldly, if the landscape of this national park comprised gritty grey rock instead of glorious burned orange sand, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on the moon. It’s known for its majestic sand dunes, ice canyons and plants that strategically “die” then rapidly bloom after rare heavy rain – natural curiosities that can only exist in such extreme conditions.
Ikh Nart Nature Reserve
Home of foxes, gazelles and migrating birds that vacation there for the spring and autumn, this nature reserve throws in a bit of historical bang for your natural buck – you can visit the Cymbur Prayer Ovoo, an ancient Buddhist prayer site to offer tea or money, or try your hand at deciphering the petroglyphs there: large Tibetan script scribed into rock outcrops.
Karakorum is an ancient town with a history largely based on flickers of glory quickly scuppered by bad times and unfortunately, fleeting greatness does not an interesting town make. There are relics of bygone splendour and the museum and monastery do pay homage to the once shining capital, but to visit Karakorum now is to visit a rather sad shadow of what once was.
Khentii is full-on Khan country: a place to channel your inner Genghis and explore the historical grasslands from which he launched his merciless military masterplan. The heavily-forested Khentii Mountain Range rises to no more than 2,000m and its scenery is thick and lush – it’s likely anything but a horse will get bogged in, so saddle up and head in on horseback.
The Orkhon Valley is a picture-perfect UNESCO World Heritage site with a pastureland landscape so lush it’s as though its been dipped in bright green then dusted with rapeseed yellow. The area is home to a series of important archaeological monuments that date back to the 8th century and the gushing Ulaan Tsutgalan waterfall, which stands proudly at 10 metres wide and 24 metres high.
Thanks to the fertile tendrils of the mighty Selenga River stretching underneath the town itself, Selenge has been gifted an abundant landscape of wheat fields and apple orchards. The Amarbayasgalant Khiid is an impressive 18th century monastery with a complex of nine temples to explore, each guarded under lock and key by a monk who you’ll have to find to get in.
Tarvagatai Nuruu National Park
Sitting deep in western Mongolia, a challenging area to reach, but one that rewards those who reach it by the bucket load, Tarvagatai Nuruu has it all - expansive steppe, forested valleys, mountains, lakes and deserts, and is a genuine wilderness experience. The park is home to huge amounts of plants and wildlife as well as natural hot springs that you can soak in under the stars.
Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur
Known as the White Lake, this freshwater lake is a smaller and less developed alternative to its increasingly polluted counterpart at Khovsgol National Park and is a 16km east to west arc marked out by a string of simple ger camps. A designated Wetland of International Importance, if fishing’s your thing, you’ll love it – permits can be bought from the local ranger for as little as £1 per day.
Excepting the odd monastic pocket of serenity, Ulaan Baatar is a chaotic city of rapid expansion – it has trebled in size since the 90s and cranes and construction sites dominate the skyline, but there’s something mesmerising about the Mongolian capital and an exciting, quite bohemian vibe that adds an appropriately shocking yang to Mongolia’s nomadic yin.
Ulaan Baatar - Bulgan - Selenge Gol - Khovsgol Nuur National Park - Khoridol Sandag Mountain - Khatgal - Ulaan Baatar
Ulaan Baatar - Gobi Desert - Ikh Gazrin Chuluu - Ikh Nart Nature Reserve - Gun Galuut Nature Reserve - Khentii Province - Dadal - Toson Khulstai Nature Reserve - Ondorkhan - Ulaan Baatar
Multi activity and southern Mongolia:
Ulaan Baatar - Karakorum - Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur - Tosontsengel - Tarvagatai Uul National Park - Marz Mountain Telmen Nuur - South Mongolia (flight) - Ulaan Baatar
Travel times in Mongolia
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Mongolia:
- Ulaan Baatar - Bulgan: 5 hours by road
- Ulaan Baatar - Gobi Desert: 4 hrs 15m by flight, road
- Ulaan Baatar – Karakorum: 5hr 25m by road
- Bulgan – Khovsgol: 5hrs 15m by road
- Ikh Nart – Khentii: 4hrs 30m by road
- Tosontsengel – Tarvagatai Uul National Park: 2hrs by road
- Dadal – Toson Khulstai: 2hrs 50m by road
- Ondorkhan – Ulaan Baatar: 12hrs 25m by road, flight, road