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Mongolia: Gobi Desert and Naadam Festival


13 days 12 nights

Code MCT164

Category Mongolia Small Group Adventures

  • Group Size 2-16 Person
  • Difficulty Level 3
  • Trip Starts From Ulaanbaatar
  • Trip Ends At Ulaanbaatar
  • Type Tours
  • Destination Ulaanbaatar Dalanzadgad Hongoryn Els Bayanzag Gorkhi Terelj NP Khui Doloo Khogno Khan Kharkhorin ( Karakorum)
Dates & Prices

Overview

For many, Mongolia is the land of Chinggis Khan but it's much more than that. Bordered by Russia in the north and by China from all three remaining sides, Mongolia is the world's second largest landlocked country after Kazkhastan. With very little arable land but vast grasslands with snow-capped mountains in the north and the west and the famous Gobi Desert to the south, Mongolia is an exotic destination for the travelers. Still more than 30% population live nomadic or semi-nomadic life in the ger camps and ride horses. Majority of the population are of Mongol ethnicity and practice Tibetan Buddhism.

The Naadam Festival and the Gobi deserts are the highlights of this trip. Gobi desert is a dream destination for many travelers to Mongolia! You will get to explore Ulaanbaatar before flying into the South Gobi . In South Gobi, you will explore the world's largest sand dunes, the majestic 'flaming cliffs' where many dinosaur eggs and skeleton were found. You will experience the double humped camel and horse riding, and then fly back to Ulaanbaatar to attend Mongolia's largest festival, the Naadam festival!

The Naadam festival means "games", also given the name "eriin gurvan naadam" meaning "the three games of men". These games are Mongolian wrestling, horse racing, and archery. The festival is held from July 11 to the 13 at the National Sports Stadium. There is an elaborate ceremony before the games begin. During the festival, the wrestling really draws in the crowds. There is not any age or weight restriction, besides it being gender specific (no women are allowed to compete). The horse racing event is very different from western horse racing as the races taking place are cross-country, and covering any distance between 10 to 20 miles depending on the age of the horses. Up to 1000 horses can be chosen to participate. The jockeys are children between the ages of 5 and 13, and training for the event begins many months in advance. The winning jockey is praised with the title of "tumny ekh" or "leader of ten thousand".The archery events are held between groups of ten men and women, and each participant is supplied with four arrows. There are hundreds of targets or "surs", and each team must hit at least 33 of them. The winners are declared the National Marksmen or National Markswomen. Some kind of version of these games have been going on for centuries.

On this trip, you will also visit Terelj National Park with forested alpine mountains and gigantic rock formations, Hustai National Park known for the successful reintroduction of the wild horses which were once extinct from the world and Karakoram-the ancient capital of  Mongolia.

The trip offers also opportunities for hiking, camel riding, horse riding and visiting Nomad families.

Detailed Itinerary

Day 01 Arrive in Ulaanbaatar. Meet the group today

Arrive in Ulaanbaatar. You will meet your guide at the airport and transfer to the hotel for check in. You have an open day to recover jet lag

Overnight at the Ramada Hotel or similar first class hotel (4*).

Meals : Dinner
Day 02 Sightseeing in Ulaanbaatar

After breakfast, your guide and driver will take you for sightseeing of Ulaanbaatar. The first stop will be at the Gandan Monastery that is the largest and most famous functioning monastery in Mongolia; here you may experience the monks in worship and see the impressive Golden Buddha Statue of Migjid Janraisig.

Next, we will visit the Sukhbaatar Square, which is the central square named after the revolutionary hero of 1921 Damdin Sukhbaatar whom declared independence from China (now, the name is officially changed to Chinggis Khan Square).We will also visit the National Museum of Mongolia formerly known as National Museum of Mongolian History- that exhibits prehistory, pre-Mongol Empire history, Mongol Empire, Mongolia during Qing rule, ethnography and traditional life, and twentieth-century history. We will also visit the Central Museum of Dinosaurs which is famous for its authentic dinosaur skeletons.

The other two attractions are Bogd Khan Palace Museum and Zaisan Memorial. The Bogd Khan Palace Museum (the winter palace) is one of the few Ulaanbaatar historical attractions not destroyed by the Soviet and Mongolian communists. It used to be a winter residence of the last Bogd Khaan of Mongolia, Javzandamba. The palace compound was built between 1893 and 1903, and is well known for its Gate of Peace, Temple and personal library of Bogd Khaan. Among the museum's exhibits are sculptures by Mongolia's first Bogd Khaan Zanabazar, the famous Taras. The museum has 21 invaluable sculptures of Taras.

The Zaisan memorial lies in the foothills to the south of Ulan Bator (i.e. Ulaanbaatar). It was built by the Russians as a monument to Soviet soldiers fallen in World War Two. A tiled mural lies within a huge concrete ring, which is raised about 5 m above the ground. Zaisan is a popular tourist attraction and one of the highlights of Ulan Bator due to the fantastic views it offers over the city.

In the evening, enjoy the cultural program that includes Mongolian throat singing, folk dances and opera.

Overnight at the Ramada Hotel or similar 4*

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 03 Fly to the Gobi Desert and then drive to Yol Valley and the Gurvansaikhan National Park.
(1.5 hours flight, approximately 2 hours driving,)

After breakfast at your hotel, you are transferred to the airport in time for flight to Dalanzadgad Airport of South Gobi. We fly over the vast steppe to the Gobi Desert, Mongolia’s southernmost province of semi-arid desert.

Upon arrival, meet your local drivers and then transfer to the Yol Valley in Gurvansaikhan National Park, situated in the lap of the Altai Mountains. On the way to the lodge, you will stop to visit the local Natural History Museum for an insight into the flora and fauna of the area.

This valley is nestled deep within the hills and is a safe haven to get away from the desert heat. Some areas of the valley are continually sheltered from the hot sun and house huge, blocks of ice that gradually melt away during the summer. It is very wide at the entrance and narrows gradually into a remarkable gorge. You will get to see wild animals such as ibex and wild sheep, and the vulture. You can hike on foot or go horseback or camel riding around the area to the gorge.(Horseback ride costs US$ 5-7 with the lead).

Check into the ger camp. The next two days will be well spent exploring the vast Gobi. It is the habitat of the Bactrian Camels, Argali mountain sheep, Golden Eagles, Jerboas- which resembles the Kangaroo rats, Saker Falcons, and more. You may also take a scenic hike through the valley to discover the habitat of the indigenous vulture-like lammergeyers, Altai snow cocks, ibex, yaks, and Argali mountain sheep.

Overnight at the Gobi Mirage Camp

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 04 Drive to Hongoryn Els (The Singing Sand Dunes of South Gobi) Approximately 4 hours by 4WD

Following breakfast, set out in a 4WD vehicle to the towering sand dunes of Hongoryn Els, which run for 60 miles alongside the Gobi-Altai Mountain range. We will have occasional stop for photography.

Upon arrival, we check into our ger and after wash and change, we will enjoy lunch. We will have time for some rest before we head to the Sand Dunes. The sand strip was called the Singing Sands because when there is high wind, it produces the sound like an aero plane. These “Singing Sands,” which stand up to 2,500 feet in some areas, are probably the Gobi’s most impressive sand dunes. Isolated from the rest of the country, the "Singing Sands" have been the best kept secret for thousands of years in the history of Mongolia. Hiking enthusiasts can try hiking the sand dunes.

Later we visit a camel breeding family near the sand dune and learn about their lifestyle. You can experience camel ride for $5-7 per person which is not included in the trip. The dunes seem to stretch on forever like a soft ribbon of sand draped over the desert. The shifting of sand blown by the wind are as if someone is making a song, hence why it is called the "Singing Sand Dunes". There is also a beautiful green oasis known as Seruun Bulag near the Khongor River. You will go to a camp for lunch and enjoy the feeling of silence in the peaceful, beautiful surroundings of the Gobi Desert.

Overnight ger at Gobi Erdene Ger Camp

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 05 Transfer from Khongor Sand dunes to Bayanzag to see the Flaming Cliffs

After breakfast, we leave Hongoryn Els for Bayanzag. It's a long day drive today and can take up to 5 hours but it's a scenic drive through the vast land. We will occasionally stop for photography and to watch the birds and the animals of the area.

We check in our camp, wash and change and after lunch, we drive to visit the Flaming Cliff. The place was named as 'Flaming Cliffs' by Roy Chapman Andrews, an American explorer who searched throughout the Mongolian Gobi Desert and found dinosaur skeleton and eggs for the first time in Asia. The red cliff gleams with sunlight and can be seen from far away. We will take a short walk on the ridge of the cliff and look for the pieces of Dinosaur bones. We will drive little further to see the saxaul trees that contributed the name Bayanzag. Bayanzag means-rich in saxaul.

Overnight in Mongol Gobi Ger Camp

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 06 Fly back to Ulaanbaatar and Transfer to Gorkhi Terelj NP

After an early morning breakfast, you are transferred to the airport in Dalanzadgad (75 miles, 2 hrs).Upon arrival at the airport, meet your driver and you are transferred to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. This unforgettable excursion will take you to features such as unique rock formations, scenic valleys, a winding river, and restful groves of trees. Many nomads live in the park itself, where they find lush grazing land for their animals. You will take a tour in the park and visit the notable rocks called "The Turtle rock", and "Monk reading a book".

You will visit the Aryabal meditation center located inside the mountains to learn more about Mongolian Buddhism. Check in your ger camp and tour to Terelj National park on foot or rent a horse which costs less than $10/hour .

Overnight in Terelj Lodge Ger Camp

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 07 Travel back to Ulaanbaatar via Chinggis Khan statue

After a leisurely morning breakfast, we retrace our drive back to UB.

On the way, we will stop to visit the giant statue of Chinggis Khan which stands 40m high. The statue is the landmark of the area and can be spotted from far away.

You have a free afternoon today.

Overnight Ramada Hotel

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 08 Join the opening ceremony of Naadam Festival Celebration

Today we spend a full day at the Naadam Festival Opening Ceremony. We get to observe the elaborate opening ceremony which consists of local dancers, athletes, horse riders and musicians. The festival celebrates Mongolia's independence and its rich cultural heritage with a festival of sports and revelry in Ulaanbaatar. The distinctly Mongolian feel and flair of the Naadam Festival make it a wonderful spectacle, a joyous time, and an intriguing cultural event. Colorful ceremonies and parading soldiers kick off the celebrations.

There also will be the first round of wrestling, archery and ankle bone shooting competitions. Until now, wrestlers are only men but you can see both male and female archers.

Overnight Ramada Hotel

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 09 Attend the festival in Khoidoolo and afternoon travel to Hustai National Park

Following breakfast, we check out hotel as we travel to Khui Doloo to see the horse racing and then we go to Hustai National Park for overnight stay.

Khui Doloo is the site for the horse racing which is the major part of Naadam Festival. The horse racing is cross-country type and the race course is 10 to 20 miles long and the horse complete the course based on their age. The youngest horse runs the shortest distance. Interestingly, the jockeys are children and youths between 5 to 13 years old. There is a lot of singing and music during the race.

Afternoon, we travel to Hustai National Park (40 miles). After we settle into our ger, our guide and driver will take us for a short ride in the park to explore the wildlife. Of course, the only main attraction here are the herds of wild horses, called Przewalskii’s horses (Equus przewalskii) . Locals call them "Takhi". It became extinct in the wild in 1969 and, since 1992, has been successfully re-introduced in Hustai NP from zoos around the world. This has been an international effort monitored by The Foundation for the Przewalskii Horse, based in the Netherlands and MACNE (Mongolian Association for Conservation of Nature and the Environment).

The national park boasts rolling steppe mountains with rather large patches of birch and aspen forests. There are also visible remains of Neolithic graves. In addition, red deer (Cervus elaphus) and wolf (Canis lupus) have increased quite a bit during the last few years, as well as Mongolian gazelle. Species existing in Hustai but rarely seen include Lynx, Argali Sheep and Roe Deer.

Overnight in Hustai Camp.

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 10 Travel to Khongo Khan Reserve
(125 miles, 4 hours)

Following breakfast, we head west to Khogno Khan Natural Reserve. It's a scenic drive with changing landscapes. Along the way, we will come across various birds including sarus cranes, nomadic families, herds of camels and ships.

Khogno Khan is a magnificent place with mountains, forests, steppes, Gobi-type desert and mineral water sources all in one location. There are many wild animals such as wolves, deer, foxes and snow leopards inhabited here. In Khogno Khan Natural Reserve, there is an extraordinary sand dunes called Elsen Tasarhai which is a part of part of the Great Mongolian Sand dunes and extends for about 50 miles!

The scenery is a perfect combination of desert, picturesque mountains, river and green grassland. One of the main attractions here is Uvgun monastery which was built in 17th century by Saint Zanabazar who was a great sculptor and the biggest representative of Buddhism in Mongolia. We have various opportunities here; hike in the sand dunes, or take optional camel ride or visit a nomadic family who breed camels and learn about their lifestyle or hike the ruins of Uvgun Monastery.

Overnight in ger camp in Khogno Khan

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 11 Excursion of Kharkhorin ( Karakorum)
(Kharkhorin, 115 miles round trip)

After breakfast, we take excursion to Khakhorin or Karakorum, the ancient capital of Mongolia. The most part of the road is paved. We will see the herds of ships, cows, camels and nomadic people. We will have opportunity to view the various bird species including cranes. We will stop on the way on one of the camps for lunch.

One we arrive in the town, we will first visit the Erdene Zuu Monasery. The capital was destroyed in 1380 and nearly after 2 hundred years, Erdene Zuu Monastery was built on the same site using the remains of the capital. The monastery preservers the paintings, ornaments and embroideries dating from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Also notable here is the a library of rare manuscripts and wood-block printed editions. There were more than 62 temples and 1500 resident monks during the glory days of the monastery but during the Stalinist purge in 1930s the monastery was destroyed and rebuilt in 1965 and preserved as a museum.

Next we visit Kharkhorin's new museum which is small, but highly impressive. Everything is beautifully designed and well displayed. The exhibits include dozens of artifacts dating from the 13th and 14th centuries which were recovered from the immediate area, plus others that were found from archaeological sites in other parts of the aimag, including prehistoric stone tools. You'll see pottery, bronzes, coins, religious statues and stone inscriptions. There's also a half-excavated kiln sunk into the museum floor. Perhaps most interesting is the scale model of ancient Karakorum, which aims to represent the city as it may have looked in the 1250s, and is based on descriptions written by the missionary William of Rubruck.

After lunch, we retrace our drive back to our camp in Khogno Khan

Overnight camp in Khogno Khan

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 12 Retrace drive to Ulaanbaatar.
(175 miles, 5-6 hrs).

Once you arrive in Ulanbaatar, check into your hotel and rest of the day is free for shopping or your personal interest.

Overnight Ramada Hotel

Meals : Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Day 13 Depart Ulaanbaaar

Transfer to the airport in time for flight back home or extend your trip.

Trip Map

Trip Info

Trip Includes

  • Shared accommodation in Ger Camp
  • All meals as listed in itinerary
  • All entrance fees
  • Sightseeing as per itinerary
  • Accommodation in deluxe hotel in Ulaanbaatar (twin standard room double occupancy)
  • Transportation by 4WD vehicle
  • Domestic flight to and from South Gobi Desert
  • English speaking tour guide
  • Daily supply of bottled water

Trip Does Not Include

  • International airfare
  • Travel insurance
  • Items of personal nature, phone, drinks, tips, etc.
  • Optional additional activity cost
  • Excess baggage charge, airport taxes and fees
  • Single room supplement

Trip Difficulty Level

This is an easy to moderate plus graded trip, rated 3 on a scale of 1-5, 1 being easy and 5 difficult. So, all travelers with average health condition can go on this trip but must be prepared for long day drives on bad roads. The trip involves some mild adventures like camel riding, horseback riding, sand dune hiking boating etc. Drives can be 4-5 hours long in average with occasional stop. Road conditions vary. We use 4WD vehicles for all transfers and tours.

Although, no extreme adventures are involved, this is also not the trip for luxury and leisure seekers. You should be willing to walk, hike and prepared for long day drives on dirt roads. Outside Ulaanbaatar, roads are unpaved, so they are bumpy and can be dusty as well. Please, bring the pollution mask to protect your nose and mouth to avoid inhaling the dust.

Although the trip is physically not challenging, some degree of physical fitness level is expected. The more physically fit you are, the more you will enjoy the trip. If you do not lead an active life, please start soft training 2-3 months prior to the trip. Engage yourself in hiking, jogging, swimming, cycling or aerobics for 25-30 minutes a day. Avoid using elevators or use bicycles instead of car if it's a short ride.

Transportation

In Ulaanbaatar, we will use a good conditioned minibus which is usually Hyundai County or Toyota Coaster or similar. In South Gobi and other areas where roads are mostly unpaved, we use 4WD vehicles such as Mitshubisi Delica or Land cruisers.

Vechiles

  • Mitshubishi Delica
  • Toyota Landcruiser
  • Coaster Bus

Guide:

Our tours are led by experienced local Guides who are proficient in English and has good knowledge on history, culture and religion of Mongolia. Guides in the different cities can be different persons.

Climate and weather

The weather is mild, generally dry throughout the central and southern areas. It can be still cold in the northern mountainous areas. The temperature in the steppe averages around 66°F, and may fall to 50°F, or below, at night. In the Gobi, temperatures in summer average 85-95°F, however, the nights can get quite cool. In the mountains temperatures will be lower with the increase of the altitude. July and August receive rains in the northern and southern areas but the rain is brief and doesn't affect the tours.
The winter begins at October and lasts through April and is not the best time to travel to the north.

Passport and Visa:

Remaining validity of your passport must be at least 6 months on the last day of the tour. Please, also make sure you are not running out of blank visa pages for entry and departure seals. American citizens don't need visa for Mongolia for up to 30 days.

Booking and payment schedule

A deposit of US$ 300 on land plus  is requested along with booking application and passport photocopies.  The balance and final payment is 90 days prior departure. The payment schedule may vary with customized and private trips on case to case basis. Balance payment by credit card attracts additional 3 to 3.5% fee. Credit card holder also must be the traveler.

Cancellation and refund

Notice of cancellation and refund request must be received in written form. Cancellation fee structure has been listed below.

90 days prior departure: US$ 150 (Administrative Fee).
60-89 day's prior departure: US$ 250 or 25% of the land cost whichever is higher.
45 days to 59 days prior departure: US$ 450 or 50% of the land cost whichever is higher.
30 days to 44 days prior departure: US$ 600 or 75% of the land cost whichever is higher.
Less than 30 days: 100%

If airfare cancellation fee is subject to the airline policies.

Accomodation

Your accommodation in Ulaanbaatar City will in Ramada Hotel, a 4 star property or similar that ensures all modern amenities and comfort. Rest of the places, we sleep in the ger camps with basic facilities. While cities have modern buildings, more than  a half population of the country stay in the traditional gers. The gers are made of a latticed wood and covered with felt and canvas layers. The gers are well furnished with colorful wood framed furniture and heated by the wood stove. Dining hall and western style toilet are located in the main building. Hot water may be available only certain hours of the day as they are heated in a tank. Some ger camps provide en suite bathroom and but there are limited availability and attracts extra fee usually $30-50 per person. If you are interested, please, let us know, we will check the availability and book it for you if available.
Staying in ger camps gives an experience of the lifestyle of Mongolian nomadic culture.

Ramada Hotel, Ulaabaatar

  • Ramada Hotel, Ulaabaatar
  • Ramada Hotel Room
  • Ramada Hotel

Ger Camp Accommodations

  • Ger Camp
  • A typical Mongolian Ger
  • Ger accommodation

Trip Map

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