Mongolia Overview

Mongolia vacations represent a chance to experience true wilderness. This is a vast, beautiful country – a sea of rolling steppe, unimpeded but for the shadow of clouds for miles; a collision of mountains, forest and snow-capped peaks; and a vast golden desert of towering sand dunes and camps below the stars. There are more horses than people in Mongolia, and five times as many sheep and goats, and almost nothing man-made to attract tourists. Instead you find a country with a strong personality, rich cultural heritage, and gentle and friendly people – expect to be instantly captivated. Find out more in our Mongolia travel guide.

Our top Mongolia vacations

Mongolia nomad horse riding vacation

From £1449
9 days ex flights
Horseriding & staying with local Nomadic familes in Mongolia
Small group2021: 21 Aug

Mongolia adventure vacation, small group

From US $4849
15 days ex flights
Discover the remote Mongolian countryside
Small group2021: 30 Jun, 7 Jul

Best time to go to Mongolia

In Mongolia, there is a glorious yin to each season’s not-so-glorious yang. Picturesque summer (June-August) brings lush steppes in bright greens, but also mosquitoes and mud. Spring (March-May) is migration season for herders, but brings unpredictable weather and deceptive wind chill, while autumn (September-October) is a kaleidoscope of colour, but prone to heavy rain. You could be forgiven for thinking winter is not the best time to go to Mongolia, as temperatures can plummet to -30°C. But for well-prepared adventurers this can be a hugely rewarding season, as herders stay close to camp and there is not another tourist in sight.
Mongolia temperature and rainfall chart

Map & highlights

If you’re arriving on the Trans Mongolian Railway into the smoky, chaotic and charismatic capital Ulaanbaatar, you’ll probably soon head northeast to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Here you can sleep in a traditional ger, waking to scenes of pastoral peace. Other camps can be found in the UNESCO-listed Orkhon Valley, or by Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, the ‘White Lake’. More adventurous trips might take you into the parched Gobi Desert, where cattle herders brave extremes of temperature. As for the famous Eagle Festivals, head to Western Mongolia in spring and autumn to witness horsemanship displays and hunting with birds of prey.
Gobi Desert

1. Gobi Desert

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.
Orkhon Valley

2. Orkhon Valley

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.
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

3. Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

A highlight of Trans Mongolian Railway vacations is spending a few nights at a traditional herding camp. Sleeping in a comfortable portable ger, you’ll experience the culture of a welcoming nomadic family, cautiously sipping your fermented yak’s milk. Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, just outside Ulaanbaatar, is a popular destination – a peaceful picture of rolling hills, unending skies and grazing livestock.
Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur

4. 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.
Ulaanbaatar

5. Ulaanbaatar

Excepting the odd monastic pocket of serenity, Ulaanbaatar 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, with its jazz and comedy clubs and fashion stores.
Western Mongolia

6. Western Mongolia

The Altai Mountains form a dramatic backdrop in Mongolia’s wild, westernmost province. Here, ethnic Kazakhs lead semi nomadic lifestyles with their livestock, and many traditions have been maintained – including the practice of hunting with golden eagles. Eagle hunting festivals in spring and autumn showcase the Kazakhs’s horsemanship and falconry skills; stay with a local family for a truly immersive experience.

The people of Mongolia

Anyone who has experienced the warm hospitality of a stay in one of Mongolia’s nomadic herding camp rarely forgets it. There’s a language barrier to overcome, but smiles and sign language soon put paid to any awkwardness. Mobile phones charged with solar panels are everywhere – handy for staying in touch when you’re always on the move. Nearly half the Mongolian population lives in and around the crowded cosmopolitan capital, Ulaanbaatar, and you can expect to find a lot of good English spoken and people eager to share their culture with you, and learn about your own in return.

Steppe & big skies

When it comes to wilderness, Mongolia goes one steppe beyond. Your first introduction to these vast open spaces will knock you off your feet, and you’ll find yourself then gazing up into another great expanse, this time of blue sky, immense clouds floating ponderously past. Herds of sheep, yaks, horses and camels wander peaceably through unfenced grasslands, and you can ride for days counting the number of people you encounter on one hand. Whether you’re traveling by 4x4, on horseback or just watching through the window of your train carriage, these landscapes are practically hypnotic.

Eagle festivals

The province of Bayan-Ulgii in Western Mongolia hosts three Golden Eagle Festivals every year, held in spring or autumn. Though far from ancient in their origins and aimed mostly at spectators increasingly from abroad, their success has seen rising interest in traditional eagle hunting among younger Mongolians, and the practise has now been listed by UNESCO as a ‘living human heritage’. If planning a trip, you’ll witness displays of falconry and horsemanship, but little in the way of actual hunting as the festivals are out of season.

More vacation ideas

Mongolia family adventure vacation

From US $3820
16 days ex flights
Life-enhancing local Mongolian adventure for all the family

Western Mongolia tour, the Altai mountains & eagles

From US $2500 to US $2995
13 days ex flights
Culture and adventure in the landscapes of western Mongolia

Mongolia eagle hunting festival vacation

From £2850 to £2995
13 days ex flights
Altai Mountains glaciers, nature & eagle hunting festival
Small group2021: 7 Sep, 2022: 7 Sep

Mongolia family vacation for all ages

From US $2300 to US $3000
15 days ex flights
Journey through stunning Mongolia with your family

Mongolia tour, food of the Nomads

From US $1940 to US $2840
13 days ex flights
Local Mongolia with homestays & family led cookery lessons

Mongolia adventure vacation, off the beaten track

From US $2260 to US $2915
14 days ex flights
An insight into local life in spring time Mongolia
Small group2021: 8 May, 15 May, 2022: 7 May, 14 May

More about Mongolia

Hunting with eagles

Hunting with eagles has a long history in Mongolia. Genghis Khan is thought to have been an aficionado and Marco Polo recorded that he had hunted alongside Khan’s grandson. The hunters are actually Kazakh, usually part of nomadic herding families who train their golden eagles to pick off small prey with fur that’ll be useful in winter. For the Kazakhs, their birds become like family, their bond forming a few months after hatching. Growing tourist interest in hunting with eagles is leading to ethical concerns; travel with a responsible vacation company to ensure that the birds you’re encountering aren’t just photo props.

Family vacations

Mongolia makes for a truly adventurous family vacation, especially when your kids are old enough to handle a few hours on horseback and endure the loss of a few home comforts. Their natural curiosity will be a perfect fit for exploring cultural differences at a nomadic camp, and you can let them wander off – the biggest danger they’ll face is falling into a patch of dung. If your idea of the perfect family vacation is one where charging tablets is logistically challenging, but campfires under vast canvases of stars are a nightly tradition, then Mongolia is your place.

Types of vacations

Small group vacations boil down the essence of Mongolia travel: great open spaces, cultural interactions, friendships made on the fly – but with the added pleasure of experiencing them with a select group of like-minded visitors, and with all the logistics ironed out for you. If you want to focus on the elements that appeal to you most, such as cultural immersion, adventurous family jaunts or long days in the saddle, tailor made vacations are ideal. Mongolia is made for adventure vacations too, whether that’s trekking through the wilderness, watching local people compete in archery, wrestling and horse riding, or witnessing a Golden Eagle festival.
[The people of Mongolia: Jeanne Menjoulet] [Steppe & big skies: jackmac34] [Eagle festivals: Altaihunters] [Hunting with eagles: Mark Robinson] [Family vacations: Quinn Mattingly] [Types of vacations: Kyle Taylor]
Photo credits: [Page banner: Bernd Thaller] [The people of Mongolia: Jeanne Menjoulet] [Steppe & big skies: jackmac34] [Eagle festivals: Altaihunters] [Hunting with eagles: Mark Robinson] [Family vacations: Quinn Mattingly] [Types of vacations: Kyle Taylor]
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