The world’s least densely populated country, Mongolia is nomadic culture and pristine beautiful landscapes.
Experience the vivid green pastures of the steppe, the eerie red cliffs of the Gobi Desert, and the rugged Altai Mountains – all so remote that you probably won’t encounter another human being. Join a local family in their ger, or traditional herder’s tent made of felt and wood – just make sure to bring gifts to reciprocate the immense hospitality of the locals. And if you still have time, dive into Mongolia’s more recent Buddhist culture, including some spectacular monasteries – or join a paleontological dig and go back to the even more distant time of the dinosaurs.
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. Buses and minibuses run services out of Ulaanbataar to regional areas, though can be somewhat cramped. Train services run on a limited north to south route, running from Sukhbaatar through to Ulaanbataar and down to the Zamiin-Uud in the south. Taxi services run from Ulaanbataar to other regional cities, though they might not be able to go off-road to sites in more rugged areas.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 3-4 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our longstay tours, during which you spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, Environment, & Weather
Mongolia is a landlocked country, covering an area of 1,564,116 square kilometres. Mongolia’s landscape is characterised by rolling plains and mountains, with two mountain ranges, the Altai Mountains and Khangai Mountains, stretching across much of the north and west of the country.
Mongolia has an extreme continental climate with long, cold winters and short summers. Temperatures often drop below freezing during the winter, so depending on when you intend to travel, check the weather reports and dress accordingly.
World heritage sites
Mongolia has 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can view the official list of the sites here (https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/mn). The listed sites currently include:
Landscapes of Dauria, a vast area home to millions of endangered and vulnerable birds
Uvs Nuur Basin, featuring an incredibly diverse landscape including desert dunes, steppe, wetlands and forests, and home to a diverse range of species
Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai, featuring rock carvings and funerary monuments dating back millenia.
Festivals & Events
The unique culture and traditions of the Mongolian people is celebrated through a number of different festivals throughout the year. The Naadam Festival is held every summer in Mongolia, with participants across the country joining in on the three ‘manly’ sports of archery, wrestling and horse racing. The Thousand Camel Festival, held in the Gobi Desert, celebrates the Gobi region’s beloved camels, with camel racing and polo competitions held alongside traditional music and dance performances. Tsagaan Zar is the Mongolian Lunar New Year celebration, with faimilies visiting each other to pay their respects and feast on traditional fare such as buuz (dumplings), rice and curds and mutton.
Mongolia: Travels in the Untamed Land, by Jasper Becker
Hearing Birds Fly, by Louisa Waugh
In Search of Genghis Khan, by Tim Severin
Moving with the Seasons: Portrait of a Mongolian, by Liza F. Carter
Eating & Drinking
As a nation with a long history of nomadism, meat and dairy products are of primary importance in Mongolian cuisine. Roasts and barbeques feature prominently in Mongolian cooking, with notable dishes including khorkhog (lamb cooked inside a pot with carrots, onions, and potatoes) and boodog (a whole goat filled with hot stones, onions, and potatoes, which is then cooked). Buuz (flour dumplings filled with shredded meat, onion, garlic, and pepper) are popularly consumed, especially during the Lunar New Year, while aaruul (dried cheese biscuits) are a favourite of Mongolians. Alcohol is an important part of socialising in Mongolian culture, with vodka and airag (fermented mare’s milk) amongst the most popular beverages.
Health & Safety
Generally speaking, Mongolia is a safe country to travel in, though always exercise common sense while travelling.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. Mongolia’s electricity supply runs at 220V and 50Hz. Mongolia uses both Type C and Type E plugs, so make sure you have the right travel adaptor with you.
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue
Mongolia has two time zones, Hovd Standard Time (UTC+7) and Ulaanbaatar Standard Time (UTC+8). Daylight savings are not currently observed in Mongolia
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping so you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you tip an appropriate amount for services. Tipping is not common in Mongolia, though is appreciated. If you wish to tip, 10% is a reasonable amount to leave as a tip at restaurants.
Wifi should be available in many restaurants, cafes and hotels in major cities, though internet access is likely to be more sporadic in rural areas.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in Mongolia. Many providers will allow you to pay a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible travel tips for Mongolia
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although some locals speak English, the more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a business card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of tögrög in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Before departing on your trip, contact your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.