Mongolia: Gobi Desert and Naadam Festival


Mongolia Naadam Festival

Overview

South Gobi and Central Mongolia trip timed with the famous Naadam festival featuring Mongolian wrestling, horse racing, and archery.

The Gobi Desert is a dream destination for many travelers! Imagine: Explore Ulaanbaatar, then fly into the South Gobi Desert to explore the world's largest sand dunes, the majestic 'flaming cliffs,' go for a camel ride, and then fly back to Ulaanbaatar to visit 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" – Mongolian wrestling, horse racing, and archery. The festival is held from July 11 to 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 no any age or weight restriction, but no women are allowed compete. The objective is to pin your opponent to the ground with your elbow or knee, no part of the body is allowed to touch the ground besides your feet and hands. The winner is awarded the title of Avarga (Giant, or Titan). The horse racing event is very different from western horse racing; they take place are cross-country, cover 10 to 20 miles, depending on the age of the horses, and as many as 1,000 horses can 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. 

What's on this trip?

  • 5 nights in Ulaanbaatar (2 nights at the beginning, 2 nights at the middle and 1 night at the end of trip)
  • 3 nights South Gobi ( Yol Valley, Singing Sand Dunes and the Flaming Cliff)
  • 1 night Gorkhi Terelj National Park
  • 1 night in Hustai National Park
  • 2 nights in Khogno Khan Reserve with excursion to Kharkhorin-the ancient capital
  • Trip timed with Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar.
  • 5 nights hotel and 7 nights in yurts.
  • Trip includes hiking and nomadic family visit. Camel ride and horse ride are optional and costs extra.

Is this trip right for you?

This trip involves some long day drive (4-5 hours) on deserts and gravel road conditions. Facilities in the ger camps are limited. You need to use shared toilet and shower in the ger camps. There are limited choices of food once outside Ulaanbaatar. Tourism infrastructure, facilities and professionalism are still underway. 

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 from jet lag, or explore the city.

      Overnight at the Ramada Hotel or similar first class hotel (4*).
      Meals: Dinner
  • Day 02 ~Sightseeing in ULaanbaatar

    • Our guide and driver will fetch us for sightseeing in Ulaanbaatar. We begin from the Gandan Monastery, the largest and most famous functioning monastery in Mongolia, where we can meet the monks in worship and see the impressive Golden Buddha Statue of Migjid Janraisig. Next stop: Chinggis Khan Square (Formerly called the Sukhabatar Square), the central square of Ulaanbaatar. We will also visit the Natural History Museum, which is famous for its authentic dinosaur skeletons, and the Zaisan memorial hill to get a fantastic view of whole 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 and 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,)
      This morning we have a 90-minute flight over the vast steppe to the Gobi Desert, Mongolia’s southernmost province of semi-arid desert. Our local guide and driver will meet us with a 4WD vehicle and we’ll head off on a two-hour drive to the Yol Valley in Gurvansaikhan National Park, situated in the lap of the Altai Mountains. On the way to our lodge, we can 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 during the summer. It is very wide at the entrance and narrows gradually into a remarkable gorge. We’ll see wild animals such as ibex and wild sheep, and the vulture. We can hike, or go by 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 three days will be well spent exploring the vast Gobi. It is the habitat of the Bactrian Camels, Argali mountain sheep, Golden Eagles, Jerboas (like Kangaroo rats), Saker Falcons, and more. We can 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 at Ramada Hotel, lunch and dinner at the camp.
  • Day 04 ~Drive to Hongoryn Els (The Singing Sand Dunes of South Gobi)

    • (Approximately 4 hours by 4WD)

      This morning we’ll set off in a 4WD vehicle for a four-hour ride to the towering sand dunes of Hongoryn Els, which run for 60 miles alongside the Gobi-Altai Mountain range. This 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.

      We will first check into our ger accommodation and enjoy the lunch. After some rest, we go for hike on the sand dunes. Later, we visit a camel breeding family near the sand dunes and even ride a camel to the sand dune (Optional, costs $7-8). The dunes seem to stretch on forever, like a soft ribbon of sand draped over the desert. There is also a beautiful green oasis known as Seruun Bulag near the Khongor River.

      Overnight ger at Gobi Erdene Ger Camp
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Day 05 ~Transfer from Khongor Sand dunes to Bayanzag to see the Flaming Cliffs

    • In the morning we will leave Hongoryn Els for Bayanzag. It's a good day’s drive, up to five hours, but it's a beautiful cruise through the vast land, and we will occasionally stop for photography and sightings of the region’s birds and other animals.

      We check in at our camp, freshen up, and after lunch, head for the Flaming Cliffs. The place was named as 'Flaming Cliffs' by Roy Chapman Andrews, an American explorer who explored the Mongolian Gobi Desert and found Asia’s first dinosaur skeleton and eggs. The red cliff gleams with sunlight and can be seen from far away. We want to take a short walk on the ridge of the cliff and look for the pieces of Dinosaur bones, then drive a little further to see why they call this place Bayanzag, which means “rich in saxaul shrubs.”

      Overnight in Mongol Gobi Ger Camp
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Day 06 ~ Fly back to Ulaanbaatar and Transfer to Gorkhi Terelj NP

    • (2 hrs drive to the airport and 1.5 hr flight).

      After an early breakfast, we’ll drive to the airport in Dalanzadgad (75 miles, or about two hours) and then a 90-minute flight. Our driver will meet us for transfer to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. This unforgettable excursion will take us past 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. A tour in the park could include the notable rocks called "The Turtle rock" and "Monk reading a book." We can 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 horseback (less than $10 an hour) .

      Overnight in Terelj Lodge Ger Camp
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch and 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 and dinner
  • Day 08 ~Join the Naadam Festival

    • Today and tomorrow, we will spend much of our time in the Naadam festival. Naadam is the most widely watched festival among Mongols, and is believed to have existed for centuries in one fashion or another. There are three main sports: wrestling, archery, and horse racing. Today is the opening ceremony of the Naadam festival at the national stadium. The ceremony is an impressive parade of mounted cavalry, athletes, and monks. The Naadam festival is a celebration of the victory of the People’s Revolution.
      You do not need to stay at the festival the whole day; you can come and go at your leisure. We will have option to take additional sightseeing tours of the town and surrounding area, or explore on your own

      Overnight Ramada Hotel
      Meals: Breakfast, lunch and 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 and 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 and 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 and 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 and dinner
  • Day 13 ~Depart Ulaanbaaar

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

      Khovsgul Lake Extension, 3 Nights/4 Days


      US$ 1290 per person double occupancy (minimum 2 persons). Trip cost will be lower as the group size increases.

      Khuvsgul Lake is situated high at the foot of the eastern Sayan Mountains in the northwest of Mongolia near the Russian border. It is the second-most voluminous freshwater lake in Asia, and holds almost 70% of Mongolia's fresh water and 0.4% of all the fresh water in the world. Its watershed is relatively small, and it only has small tributaries. It gets drained at the south end by the Egiin Gol, which connects to the Selenge and ultimately into Lake Baikal. The lake area is abundant with argali sheep, ibex, bear, sable, moose and wolves. Khuvsgul lake area is the home to Darkhad, Buriat and Tsaatan people who herd reindeer and practice Shamanism. Travelers who visited Khuvsgul Lake have highly recommended trip to the Khuvsgul Lake.

      Meals: Breakfast

Trip Info

Cost 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

Cost 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 in general good health can go on this trip. That said, be prepared for long day drives on bad roads. The trip involves such mild adventures like camel riding, horseback riding, sand dune hiking, and boating. Drives can be four or five hours long, with occasional stops. 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. But any discomfort will be more than rewarded by great adventure. You should be willing to walk and hike, in addition to the 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. Basically, this trip requires some degree of physical fitness. 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 two or three 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.

Accommodation

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 half of the country’s population lives in traditional ger camps. We, too, will sleep in the gers, the traditional tents of nomadic herders. The gers are made of a latticed wood and covered with layers of felt and canvas. The gers are well furnished with colorful wood framed furniture and heated by the wood stove. Dining hall and western-style toilets are located in the main building. Hot water may be available only certain hours of the day. Staying in ger camps is a rare 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

Transportation:

Our tours are led by experienced local guides who are proficient in English, with ready knowledge on history, culture and religion of Mongolia. Guides in the different cities can sometimes change.

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, and generally dry throughout the central and southern areas. It can still be 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.

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.

Dates & Prices

Land & Internal Airfare within Mongolia

  • US$ 2950 per person on double occupancy basis.
  • US$ 750 Single Room Supplement

Note: Tour cost is subject to change without a prior notice. International airfare is not included.

Small Group Departures

Start Dates End Dates Size Price (per person) Remarks Availability Booking
Jul 04, 2017 Jul 16, 2017 2-16 people USD 2950

Trip timed with Naadam Festival

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Jul 04, 2018 Jul 16, 2018 2-16 people USD 2950

Trip timed with Naadam festival

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Trip price may vary depending upon the group size.

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Request On Request: You can book this trip on REQUEST
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Want to make it a private tour ?

Book this trip as a private departure - for any group, big or small.

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