Mongolia travel guide

Mongolia Travel Guide 2024

Welcome to Mongolia, a land of boundless beauty and untamed wilderness, where ancient traditions and modernity coexist in harmony. Nestled between Russia and China, Mongolia is a country of vast expanses and rich cultural heritage, offering adventurous travelers a unique and unforgettable experience. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deep into the heart of Mongolia, exploring its …

Planning Your Trip

Embarking on a journey to Mongolia, a land of vast steppes and nomadic traditions, requires meticulous planning to ensure a seamless and enriching experience. This section will guide you through the essential steps to craft your ideal Mongolian adventure.

Research and Itinerary

Begin by delving into the diverse offerings of Mongolia. Are you drawn to the stark beauty of the Gobi Desert, the historical treasures of the Orkhon Valley, or the vibrant cultural scene of Ulaanbaatar? Once you’ve identified your interests, create a loose itinerary, allowing for flexibility and spontaneity. Consider the duration of your trip, the time of year, and your preferred mode of travel.

Booking Flights and Accommodation

Mongolia’s international gateway is Chinggis Khaan International Airport (ULN) in Ulaanbaatar. Secure your flights well in advance, especially if traveling during peak season (June-August). Accommodation options range from traditional gers (yurts) to comfortable hotels in Ulaanbaatar and larger towns. For a truly immersive experience, consider staying with nomadic families.

Travel Insurance

Obtaining comprehensive travel insurance is non-negotiable. Ensure your policy covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost or stolen belongings. Familiarize yourself with the coverage details and emergency contact information.

Visas and Entry Requirements

Navigating the visa requirements is paramount to ensure a smooth entry into Mongolia. Citizens of certain countries are eligible for visa-free travel for specific durations. However, most travelers will need to obtain a visa in advance or upon arrival.

Visa-Free Travel

Citizens of several countries, including most European Union nations, the United States, Canada, and Australia, can enter Mongolia without a visa for a limited period, typically ranging from 14 to 90 days. It’s crucial to verify the specific duration applicable to your nationality with the Mongolian embassy or consulate in your home country.

Tourist Visas

If your nationality requires a visa, you can apply for a tourist visa online or through a Mongolian embassy or consulate. The online application process for an e-visa is generally straightforward, requiring you to provide personal information, travel details, and a scanned copy of your passport’s biographic page. Processing times for e-visas vary, so it’s advisable to apply well in advance of your intended travel dates.

Passport Validity and Entry Stamps

Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in Mongolia. Upon arrival, you’ll receive an entry stamp in your passport. It’s essential to keep this stamp as proof of legal entry and to present it when exiting the country.

Best Time to Visit

Mongolia, with its dramatic continental climate, offers distinct experiences throughout the year. Choosing the best time to visit depends on your interests and tolerance for varying temperatures.

Summer (June – August): Peak Season

Summer is the most popular time to visit Mongolia, with warm temperatures and vibrant festivals. Days are long and sunny, ideal for exploring the vast landscapes, experiencing nomadic culture, and witnessing the renowned Naadam Festival in July. However, be prepared for higher prices and increased tourist crowds, especially during July and August.

Autumn (September – October): Golden Hues and Festivals

Autumn paints Mongolia in stunning shades of gold and crimson as the foliage transforms. The cooler temperatures offer a refreshing change, and the landscapes are equally captivating. September is an excellent time for hiking and wildlife viewing. October brings the unique Golden Eagle Festival, a must-see for cultural enthusiasts.

Spring (May): Nature’s Awakening

Spring in Mongolia is a time of rebirth and renewal. As the snow melts, the steppes come alive with wildflowers, and nomadic herders migrate with their livestock. May offers pleasant temperatures and fewer crowds, making it an ideal time for trekking and exploring the countryside. However, note that some areas may still be muddy from the melting snow.

Getting to and Around Mongolia

Reaching Mongolia and navigating its diverse landscapes requires understanding the available transportation options. This section outlines the most common ways to get to and around this captivating country.

By Air

Chinggis Khaan International Airport (ULN) in Ulaanbaatar serves as the primary international gateway to Mongolia. Numerous airlines offer connecting flights from major cities worldwide. Domestic flights are also available to reach various provinces and regional centers, providing efficient access to remote areas.

By Road

Mongolia’s road network is continually improving, with paved roads connecting major cities. However, many rural areas are still accessible only by unpaved tracks, making a 4×4 vehicle essential for off-the-beaten-path adventures. Self-driving is possible but requires experience with challenging road conditions. Hiring a driver or joining an organized tour is recommended for a more comfortable and stress-free journey.

By Rail

The Trans-Mongolian Railway, a branch of the iconic Trans-Siberian Railway, traverses Mongolia, connecting Russia to China. This scenic route offers a unique perspective of the country’s vast landscapes. Comfortable sleeper trains are available, allowing for overnight journeys between major cities. Ulaanbaatar serves as the central hub for railway travel within Mongolia.

Local Transportation

Within Ulaanbaatar, taxis are readily available and generally affordable. Buses operate throughout the city, offering an economical means of transportation. For shorter distances, walking is a viable option in the city center. In rural areas, horseback riding is a traditional and immersive way to explore the steppes and connect with nomadic culture.


Mongolia offers a diverse range of accommodation options, from modern hotels in Ulaanbaatar to traditional gers (yurts) nestled in the heart of the steppes. Choosing the right accommodation for your needs and preferences will enhance your overall experience.


Ulaanbaatar boasts a wide selection of hotels, ranging from budget-friendly guesthouses to international chains offering luxurious amenities. These hotels provide modern comforts and conveniences, making them a suitable choice for travelers seeking familiarity and a higher level of service. Mid-range and luxury hotels often feature restaurants, bars, and fitness centers.

Gers (Yurts)

For an authentic Mongolian experience, consider staying in a ger, a traditional nomadic dwelling. Gers are circular, felt-covered tents, offering a cozy and unique accommodation option. Many tour operators offer ger camp stays, providing opportunities to immerse yourself in nomadic culture and enjoy the tranquility of the Mongolian countryside. Facilities in ger camps vary, but most offer basic amenities such as shared bathrooms and dining areas.

Home Stays

Home stays offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of Mongolian families. Staying with a local family allows you to experience their hospitality, traditions, and daily routines firsthand. While home stays may not offer the same level of comfort as hotels, they provide an unparalleled cultural exchange and a deeper understanding of Mongolian customs.

Things to Do and See

Mongolia, a land of boundless steppes, ancient monasteries, and vibrant nomadic traditions, offers a wealth of experiences for every traveler. From exploring historical sites to immersing oneself in the nomadic way of life, here are some of the must-do activities and attractions:

Explore Ulaanbaatar’s Cultural Treasures:

Begin your journey in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s dynamic capital city. Visit the Gandantegchinlen Monastery, a spiritual oasis adorned with intricate Buddhist art and home to a towering golden statue of Migjid Janraisig. Explore the National Museum of Mongolia, showcasing the country’s rich history and cultural heritage. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Sukhbaatar Square, the heart of the city.

Venture into the Gobi Desert:

Embark on an unforgettable adventure to the Gobi Desert, a land of stark beauty and ancient wonders. Discover the Flaming Cliffs, renowned for their fiery hues at sunset and their paleontological treasures. Explore the Khongoryn Els sand dunes, towering over the desert landscape. Experience the tranquility of a night under the star-filled Gobi sky.

Discover the Orkhon Valley:

Journey to the Orkhon Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and delve into Mongolia’s rich history. Explore the ruins of Karakorum, the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire, and marvel at the Erdene Zuu Monastery, a testament to Mongolia’s spiritual heritage. Trek through the picturesque landscapes, encountering nomadic herders and their livestock along the way.

Ulaanbaatar: The Capital City

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s vibrant capital city, is a captivating blend of ancient traditions and modern aspirations. Nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling hills, Ulaanbaatar serves as the cultural, economic, and political heart of the nation.

Exploring Cultural Gems

Begin your urban exploration at Sukhbaatar Square, the city’s central square, dominated by a statue of Damdin Sukhbaatar, a national hero of Mongolia’s independence movement. The square is a hub of activity, hosting cultural events and public gatherings. Adjacent to the square is the Mongolian Parliament House, an imposing building reflecting the country’s political life.

Delving into History and Spirituality

Immerse yourself in Mongolia’s rich history and spiritual heritage at the Gandantegchinlen Monastery, a significant Buddhist monastery and one of the most important religious sites in Mongolia. The monastery complex is a sanctuary of tranquility, adorned with intricate Buddhist art and home to a towering golden statue of Migjid Janraisig, the bodhisattva of compassion.

Experiencing Local Life

For a taste of local life, venture to the Naran Tuul Market, Ulaanbaatar’s largest open-air market. Here, you can find an eclectic array of goods, from traditional Mongolian clothing and handicrafts to everyday household items. It’s a bustling and vibrant place to experience the city’s commercial heartbeat.

Exploring the Gobi Desert

Venturing into the Gobi Desert is an experience unlike any other, a journey into a realm of stark beauty, ancient wonders, and captivating silence. Spanning southern Mongolia and northern China, the Gobi is a cold desert, characterized by vast steppes, rocky outcrops, and towering sand dunes.

Witnessing Nature’s Artistry

The Flaming Cliffs, named for their fiery hues at sunset, are a must-see in the Gobi Desert. These sandstone formations, sculpted by centuries of wind and erosion, reveal a treasure trove of paleontological finds, including dinosaur eggs and fossils, offering a glimpse into Earth’s prehistoric past.

Scaling the Khongoryn Els Sand Dunes

No trip to the Gobi is complete without experiencing the majesty of the Khongoryn Els sand dunes, often referred to as the “Singing Dunes.” These towering dunes, some reaching heights of over 300 meters, stretch for over 100 kilometers, creating a mesmerizing landscape of shifting sands.

Embracing Nomadic Hospitality

While exploring the Gobi, seize the opportunity to interact with nomadic families who call this harsh yet beautiful landscape home. Experience their traditional way of life, share a meal in their ger (yurt), and learn about their deep connection to the land and its resources.

The Orkhon Valley: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Journey back in time and immerse yourself in the heart of Mongolian history and spirituality within the captivating landscapes of the Orkhon Valley, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nestled in central Mongolia, the valley is a testament to the enduring legacy of nomadic civilizations and their profound connection to the land.

Unveiling the Ruins of Karakorum

Step onto the grounds of Karakorum, the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire, established by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. While the city’s former glory lies in ruins, the site still evokes a sense of awe and wonder, offering a glimpse into a pivotal period in Mongolian history. Explore the remnants of palaces, temples, and fortifications, imagining the city’s grandeur during its heyday.

Finding Serenity at Erdene Zuu Monastery

Discover the spiritual heart of the Orkhon Valley at Erdene Zuu Monastery, one of the oldest and most significant Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia. Founded in 1586, the monastery complex, with its distinctive Tibetan architectural style, was a center of Buddhist learning and culture. Explore the ornate temples, adorned with intricate murals and statues, and witness the enduring faith of Mongolian Buddhists.

Embracing the Natural Splendor

Beyond its historical and spiritual significance, the Orkhon Valley captivates with its breathtaking natural beauty. Rolling hills carpeted in lush grasslands give way to meandering rivers and picturesque waterfalls, creating a landscape of tranquility and grandeur. Trek through the valley, encountering nomadic herders with their livestock, and embrace the serenity of this remarkable region.

Naadam Festival: A Cultural Extravaganza

Immerse yourself in the heart of Mongolian culture and witness a spectacle unlike any other at the Naadam Festival, a vibrant celebration of nomadic traditions, athletic prowess, and national pride. Held annually in July, Naadam is a testament to Mongolia’s nomadic heritage and a highlight of the country’s cultural calendar.

The “Three Manly Games”

Naadam revolves around the “three manly games” of Mongolia: wrestling, archery, and horse racing. These ancient sports showcase the strength, agility, and horsemanship skills that have been integral to the nomadic way of life for centuries. The wrestling competition, with its elaborate costumes and rituals, is a sight to behold. Archery, a test of precision and accuracy, sees both men and women compete in traditional attire. Horse racing, the highlight of Naadam, features young jockeys racing across the steppes on sturdy Mongolian steeds.

A Feast for the Senses

Beyond the sporting events, Naadam is a sensory feast, with vibrant costumes, traditional music, and delicious food. Experience the lively atmosphere as locals and visitors alike gather to celebrate. Sample traditional Mongolian cuisine, such as khuushuur (meat-filled pastries) and airag (fermented mare’s milk), while enjoying the festive ambiance.

Witnessing National Pride

Naadam is more than just a festival; it’s a celebration of Mongolian identity and a testament to the country’s enduring nomadic spirit. Witnessing the passion and pride of the participants and spectators alike is an experience that will stay with you long after the festivities have ended.

Mongolian Cuisine: A Culinary Journey

Embark on a culinary adventure through Mongolia, where the cuisine reflects the country’s nomadic heritage and its deep connection to the land. Characterized by hearty meat dishes, dairy products, and simple yet flavorful preparations, Mongolian food offers a unique and satisfying culinary experience.

Savoring Nomadic Staples

Meat, particularly mutton and beef, forms the cornerstone of Mongolian cuisine, reflecting the importance of livestock in nomadic culture. One of the most iconic dishes is buuz, steamed dumplings filled with seasoned meat, often enjoyed during festive occasions. Khuushuur, another type of dumpling, is deep-fried to a crispy perfection. Boodog, a traditional method of cooking, involves roasting meat inside a sealed animal skin, resulting in a tender and flavorful dish.

Exploring Dairy Delights

Dairy products, particularly from cows, yaks, and camels, feature prominently in Mongolian cuisine. Airag, fermented mare’s milk, is a national beverage, with a slightly sour and alcoholic taste. Try aaruul, dried curds, a chewy and tangy snack. Suutei tsai, a milky tea with salt and butter, is a staple beverage, enjoyed throughout the day.

Discovering Culinary Influences

Over the centuries, Mongolian cuisine has been influenced by its neighbors, particularly Russia and China. Noodles, often served in soups or stir-fries, are a common sight on Mongolian menus. Dumplings, both steamed and fried, reflect Chinese culinary traditions. Despite these influences, Mongolian cuisine retains its unique character, offering a taste of nomadic culture and the country’s vast landscapes.

Essential Travel Tips

To ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey through Mongolia, it’s essential to be prepared and equipped with practical information. Here are some essential travel tips to enhance your experience in this captivating country:

Language and Communication

While Mongolian is the official language, English is not widely spoken, especially outside of Ulaanbaatar. Learning a few basic Mongolian phrases will go a long way in facilitating communication and demonstrating respect for the local culture. Carrying a phrasebook or using a translation app can be helpful.

Currency Exchange and Money Matters

The Mongolian Tugrik (MNT) is the official currency. US dollars are widely accepted, but it’s advisable to exchange currency at banks or authorized money changers for better rates. Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and restaurants in Ulaanbaatar, but it’s best to carry sufficient cash, especially when traveling to remote areas.

Staying Connected

Obtaining a local SIM card with a data package is recommended for staying connected. Mobile coverage is generally good in urban areas and along major roads, but it can be limited in remote regions. Wi-Fi is available in most hotels and some cafes in Ulaanbaatar.

Health and Safety

Prioritizing your health and safety is paramount when traveling to Mongolia. While Mongolia is generally a safe country, taking necessary precautions and being aware of potential risks will contribute to a healthy and enjoyable journey.

Vaccinations and Health Precautions

Consult your healthcare provider regarding recommended vaccinations and necessary health precautions well in advance of your trip. Routine vaccinations, such as hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and tetanus, are generally recommended. Depending on your itinerary and planned activities, your doctor may suggest additional vaccinations or preventive medications, such as malaria prophylaxis.

Food and Water Safety

Food and waterborne illnesses can occur in Mongolia. Stick to bottled water for drinking and avoid consuming ice in beverages unless you’re certain it’s made from purified water. When dining out, opt for reputable establishments and exercise caution with street food. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water or using hand sanitizer is crucial for preventing the spread of germs.

Altitude Sickness

Parts of Mongolia are located at high altitudes, particularly in the mountainous regions. If you’re planning to visit these areas, be mindful of altitude sickness. Acclimatize gradually, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid strenuous activity upon arrival. Consult your doctor about altitude sickness medication if needed.

Money and Currency Exchange

Navigating the financial aspects of your trip to Mongolia involves understanding the local currency and the available options for exchanging money and managing your expenses.


The official currency of Mongolia is the Mongolian Tugrik (MNT), often represented by the symbol “₮.” Banknotes are available in denominations of 1₮, 5₮, 10₮, 20₮, 50₮, 100₮, 500₮, 1000₮, 5000₮, 10,000₮, and 20,000₮. Coins are less commonly used but can be found in denominations of 1₮, 5₮, 10₮, 20₮, 50₮, and 100₮.

Currency Exchange

US dollars are widely accepted in Mongolia, especially in larger cities and tourist areas. However, it’s generally advisable to exchange a portion of your currency into Mongolian Tugriks for convenience and to obtain more favorable exchange rates for smaller transactions. Banks in Ulaanbaatar and other major cities offer currency exchange services. Look for authorized money changers, which often display competitive rates.

Credit Cards and ATMs

Credit cards, particularly Visa and Mastercard, are accepted in major hotels, restaurants, and some shops in Ulaanbaatar. However, it’s crucial to carry sufficient cash, especially when traveling outside of the capital or venturing into remote areas, as credit card acceptance may be limited. ATMs are readily available in Ulaanbaatar and larger towns, dispensing Mongolian Tugriks.

Culture and Etiquette

Respecting Mongolian culture and customs is essential for fostering meaningful interactions and ensuring a harmonious travel experience. Mongolians are generally known for their warm hospitality, but navigating cultural nuances with sensitivity will enhance your journey.

Greetings and Respect

When greeting someone, a gentle handshake is customary, often accompanied by a slight bow as a sign of respect, especially when interacting with elders. It’s considered polite to use the honorific title “Guai” (pronounced “goo-eye”) after a person’s name, particularly when addressing someone older or in a position of authority.

Visiting Gers and Nomadic Families

If you have the privilege of being invited into a ger, remember that it’s a family’s home and a sacred space. Remove your hat before entering and step over the threshold, as stepping on it is considered disrespectful. It’s customary to accept offerings of food or drink, even if just a small taste, as a gesture of respect.

Photography and Gifts

Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially monks or nomadic families. Offering a small gift, such as sweets or a blue khadag (a ceremonial scarf), is a gesture of gratitude when visiting a family or attending a special occasion.

Packing List

Packing for a trip to Mongolia requires careful consideration of the country’s diverse climate and the nature of your itinerary. Whether you’re exploring the bustling streets of Ulaanbaatar or venturing into the vast steppes, a well-prepared packing list will enhance your comfort and ensure you’re equipped for all situations.

Clothing: Adapting to Varied Conditions

Mongolia’s weather can be unpredictable, with significant temperature swings between day and night, even during the summer months. Layering is key to staying comfortable. Pack lightweight, breathable clothing for warmer days, such as moisture-wicking shirts, convertible pants, and a wide-brimmed hat for sun protection. As evenings can be cool, even in summer, bring along a fleece jacket or a warm sweater.

Essential Gear for All Adventures

Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes are essential, especially if you plan on exploring cities or engaging in outdoor activities. Pack waterproof hiking boots if you’re venturing into the countryside or trekking through mountainous terrain. A daypack is handy for carrying essentials during day trips. Don’t forget a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated, especially in the dry climate.

Health and Hygiene Essentials

Pack a well-stocked first-aid kit with essentials such as bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, and any personal medications. High-SPF sunscreen, lip balm with SPF, and sunglasses are crucial for protecting yourself from the strong Mongolian sun, especially at higher altitudes. Hand sanitizer is essential for maintaining hygiene, particularly in areas with limited access to soap and water.

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