16 days
Duration
Destination
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Mongolia Dinosaurs Gobi Map

Mongolia Dinosaur Dig Tour

This small group educational tour, the Mongolia Dinosaur dig in the Gobi Desert, is arranged under the auspices of the Institute of Palaeontology and Geology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences. The goal of  the dinosaur dig in the Gobi Desert is to assist  in scientific research and field study projects through sustainable tourism. This is a unique experience to contribute to the world's understanding of Mongolian dinosaurs through palaeontology.

The tour is typically led by one of Mongolia's leading palaeontologists, Dr Tsogtbaatar Khishigjav, along with young Mongolian scientists and the field staff. Dr Tsogtbaatar began his field research and excavation career in the early 1980s.  Today, Dr Tsogtbaatar  is the director of the Institute of Palaeontology and Geology. 

The first nest of dinosaur eggs was discovered in Mongolia in 1928. These local geological beds are especially relevant as they yield not only the dinosaurs remains but also the fossils of mammals and other animal species as well as baby dinosaurs.

Itinerary & highlights for the Dinosaur dig tour

Our small groups palaeontological tour begins in Ulaanbaatar.  This city offers an intriguing contrast between ancient traditions and the dawning of a 21st century. Consequently this contrast is seen in the traditional gers and Buddhist monasteries coexisting with modern high-rises. In Ulaanbaatar, you visit Gandan Monastery, the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia. In the monastery grounds, you hear the low tones of the horns used to call the lamas to the temple. While  here you can observe their daily rituals, including the reading of the sutras. You also visit the National History Museum for an overview of Mongolia’s history and culture.  Finally, you  will also have the opportunity to tour the Mongolian Paleontological Laboratory.

After our time in Ulaanbaatar, you travel through the Gobi, Mongolia’s southernmost province of semi-arid desert. Of all the world’s arid lands, the Gobi (which means simply “desert”) has about it the greatest air of mystery. Probably because it lies at the heart of Asia’s remotest hinterland between the Siberian wilderness to the north and the Tibetan Plateau to the south. Contrary to the sterile sameness that the word “desert” suggests, the Gobi holds many fascinations. Especially relevant to this tour are the  sites of some of the most important palaeontological discoveries of this century.

The Dinosaurs of the Gobi small group tour includes ten days on a palaeontological dig. You have the opportunity to recover specimens of various dinosaur and mammal species in the fossil rich Tugrigiin Shiree. This geological formation was discovered by Mongolian scientists in the late 1950's. Since its discovery it was  then  co-explored by Polish expeditions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As a result of this work the Tugrigiin Shiree is perhaps most known for its famous "Fighting  Dinosaurs” (a fossil of a Protoceratops and a Velociraptor locked in combat). For this part of the trip, you will almost be living as palaeontologists, joining and following the research team in their daily work.  As a result you have the opportunity to participate in actual excavations and make new discoveries. Following each day's adventurous prospecting, the group expert field-chef will serve a hearty meal. View an article of the tour from Oct 2016.

This Dinosaur dig is one of a series of archaeology tours that Odyssey offers around the world each year.

If you would like to learn more about Mongolia, explore Odyssey's country profile. For more details, click the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Itinerary’ buttons above! If you’re keen to experience this tour, please call or send an email. Or, to book, simply fill in the form on the right hand side of this page.

 

Frequently Asked Questions about Mongolia

All direct flights come into Ulaanbaatar, the capital city. There are direct flights to the Mongolian capital from Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong,Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin and Istanbul. If you have travelling from Australia or New Zealand, you will likely fly into one of these destinations first. You can also get to Ulaanbaatar on the Trans-Mongolian train from Moscow or Beijing.

Our Odyssey tour begins in Ulaanbaatar.

It depends. Some citizens, such as those from the US or Singapore, do not need to obtain a tourist visa for visits less than 30 days. A 30-day tourist visa is required for most countries, including the UK and Australia, and can be easily obtained at any Mongolian embassy or consulate. If you don’t have access to a Mongolian consulate, you can pick up a 30-day tourist visa on arrival at the airport in Ulaanbaatar. You’ll need two passport photos and a pre-approval letter from an organisation or company in Mongolia.

One thing you might know about Mongolia is that it is the least densely populated country in the world. The reason why is complex, but it owes a lot to the extreme continental climate mentioned above. Mongolia has very little arable land (or land suitable for growing crops). Three-fourths of the land consists of grassy steppe, which support immense herds of grazing livestock. The rest is divided between forests and barren deserts, with a tiny portion used for agriculture.

The prehistoric people who lived in what is now Mongolia adapted to this environment. While some agriculture was present, the dominant culture of Mongolia was pastoral nomadism. The nomads of Central Asia were the first to domesticate the horse, which they used to herd livestock from steppe to steppe in search of green pastures. In the ancient world, nomads from Mongolia roamed from what is now Romania and Bulgaria in the west to today’s Manchuria (north-eastern China). Yet, unlike agriculture, nomadism could only support small populations, meaning that Mongolia never developed the population densities of nearby China.

Even today, an estimated 25 to 40 percent of people still live as nomadic herders. Much of the sedentary population is urbanised, with the capital Ulaanbaatar comprising around 45% of the nation’s population with a population of 1.3 million.

Mongolia wasn’t founded by one person but has a long and complex history. As mentioned above, the pastoral nomads of what would become Mongolia were the first to domesticate the horse. As a result, pastoral nomads had a mastery of the horse not shared by sedentary peoples. It was easy for them to dominate the scattered agricultural societies in the area.

All Mongolian people recognise their kinship to one another, expressed through shared history and language. Traditionally, however, the Mongolian people have been divided into clans based on blood relationship. While war between clans was common, at other times nomads formed giant confederations which could threaten the most powerful ancient states.

The Mongols appear as fearsome figures throughout Chinese history. Successive groups – the Xiongnu, Xianbi, Geuogen, Turks and Khitan, threatened Chinese supremacy first through raids and then the formation of powerful empires on the border. In response to these incursions, the famous Great Wall of China was built.

The most famous Mongol incursions, however, were led by Genghis Khan in the 12th century. Genghis Khan’s military campaigns spread across Asia, creating an empire that at its height was the largest contiguous empire in world history, spanning from the Danube River in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east.

Tour Notes
  • Group size is limited to 12 participants.

PDF of Tour PDF of Reading List

Overview: The contrast between ancient traditions and the dawning of a 21st century democracy is most visible in Ulaanbaatar where traditional gers and Buddhist monasteries coexist with modern high-rises.

Upon arrival at the hotel located near downtown Ulaanbaatar the group meets in the afternoon. Enjoy a welcome dinner at a fine local restaurant.

Accommodation: Ulaanbaatar Hotel; D

Overview: Begin the day with a visit to Gandan Monastery, the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia. Strolling through the monastery grounds, you will hear the low tones of the horns used to call the lamas to the temple and can observe their daily rituals, including the reading of sutras (teachings of the Buddha). Also visit the recently reconstructed Chenrezi and Kalachakra Temples, as well as the magnificent statue of Migjid Janraisig (“the lord who looks in every direction”). This 82-foot high statue, gilded in pure gold and clothed with silk and precious stones, completely fills one of Gandan’s temples.

After lunch, drive through downtown Ulaanbaatar to the National History Museum for an excellent overview of Mongolia’s history and culture. The newly remodeled museum displays traditional implements of daily nomadic life including Stone and Bronze Age artifacts, historical costumes of Mongolia’s minority tribes, sacred religious relics, and agricultural, fishing and hunting equipment.

Next, travel back in time with a visit to the dinosaur halls of the Natural History Museum, showcasing the spectacular fossils found in the Gobi desert. On display are fierce Tarbosaurous fossils (closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex), dinosaur eggs, large Hadrosaur fossils (duck-billed dinosaurs), and many others, all of which illustrate the richness and importance of the paleontological sites in the Gobi desert. Also visit the paleontological laboratory of the Academy of Sciences and enjoy a private behind-the-scenes look at fossils that are being prepared for exhibition. In the evening, enjoy dinner at a fine local restaurant.

Accommodation: Overnight at the hotel. (Ulaanbaatar Hotel; B, L, D)

Overview: In the morning, fly over vast steppe to the Gobi (1.5 hours), Mongolia’s southernmost province of semi-arid desert. Of all the world’s arid lands, the Gobi (which means simply “desert”) has about it the greatest air of mystery, perhaps because it lies at the heart of Asia’s remotest hinterland between the Siberian wilderness to the north and the Tibetan Plateau to the south. Contrary to the sterile sameness that the word “desert” suggests, the Gobi holds many fascinations including sites of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of this century.

Upon arrival, transfer to the Three Camel Lodge. In the afternoon, drive to the legendary “Flaming Cliffs,” named for the red-sandstone that glows a brilliant reddish-orange at sunset. It was here, in 1922, that Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews and his exploration team from the American Museum of Natural History found the first nest of dinosaur eggs the world had ever seen. Explore the cliffs, which abound with numerous scattered fossil remains. In the evening return to the lodge and overnight.

Accommodation: Three Camel Lodge: B, L, D

Overview: After breakfast, drive to Hongoryn Els (5 hour drive), which means “Singing Sands” in Mongolian. Picnic lunch on the way. Though the Gobi is primarily a stony desert covered with a sparse layer of scrub vegetation, there are a few areas where you can find the traditional desert landscape of seemingly endless sand dunes. Hongoryn Els is the largest of these areas, with dunes reaching upwards of 800m and extending parallel to the Gobi Altai Mountains for approximately 100 km. Dinner and overnight at the ger camp.

Accommodation: Ger Camp; B, L, D

Overview: After early breakfast, drive from Hongoryn Els through the austere and beautiful Gobi landscape to Nemegt basin (7 hour drive). Spend the next eight days prospecting for and excavating fossils. Discovered by a joint Soviet/Mongolian expedition in 1946, the labyrinth of gorges which comprise the Nemegt basin has yielded specimens of various dinosaurs, early mammals and other organisms, including the forbidding Tarborsaurus baatar (a relative of Tyrannosaurus rex), Saurolophus angustirostris, and Therizinosaurus cheloniformis.

During the expedition, our guides will set up camp with tents for every two people, outfitted with sleeping bags and mats.

Accommodation: Tent Camp; B, L, D

Overview: Days in the field typically begin at 7:00 am with a hearty breakfast at 8:00 am. You will then prospect for the rest of the day under the supervision of Dr. Badamgarav, with a break for lunch. After dinner, Dr. Badamgarav will review the day’s work and discuss the significance of any discoveries.

Accommodation: Tent Camp; B, L, D

Overview: After breakfast, drive to the now legendary Ukhaa Tolgod, the newest site which the American Museum of Natural History discovered in the mid-1990s. Ukhaa Tolgod is known for the fossilized egg embryo, which was found here almost complete. Continue driving to Hongoryn Els in time for dinner and overnight. (Approximately 7 hours driving.

Accommodation: Tent or Ger Camp; B, L, D

Overview: After an early breakfast, drive to Tugrigiin Shiree, first discovered and explored by Polish expeditions in the late 60s and early 70s. Tugrigiin Shiree is perhaps most known for its famous “Fighting Dinosaurs” (a fossil of a Protoceratops and a Velociraptor locked in combat), which were discovered in the 1970s. Explore this white-sandstone escarpment and nearby sand dune. In the late afternoon, continue your journey in the South Gobi until you reach Nomadic Expeditions’ Three Camel lodge ger camp.

Accommodation: Three Camel Lodge; B, L, D

Overview: After breakfast, drive to Dalanzadagad for your return flight to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel.

Following lunch, drive to the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum, named in honor of 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 artifacts in the world, including many of Zanabazar’s original works.

In the evening, we’ll attend a performance featuring traditional Mongolian dancers and hoomi (throat) singers. Overnight at hotel.

Accommodation: Ulaanbaatar Hotel; B, L, D

Overview: Tour concludes after breakfast. (B)

1
Recover specimens of various dinosaur and mammal species in the fossil rich Nemegt Basin
2
Visit the Gandan Monastery and several museums in Ulaanbaatar
3
Experience eight days on a paleontological dig
4
Learn about the range of fossil vertebrate species recovered in Mongolia
5
Explore several significant fossil sites used by the American Museum of Natural History and local paleontologists

What’s included in our Tour

  • 15 nights accommodation in lodges, gers and tented camps.
  • 15 breakfasts, 15 lunches and 15 dinners.
  • 2 internal flights and taxes (economy class, baggage limit may apply).
  • All sightseeing including entrance fees.
  • Services of an English speaking guide.
  • Odyssey Tour Leader for the duration of the tour.
  • Detailed tour information booklet.

What’s not included in our Tour

  • Return international airfare and departure taxes.
  • Comprehensive international travel insurance.
  • Mongolia Visa fees (where applicable).
  • Items of a personal nature such as telephone calls and laundry.
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