Mongolia – one week we wish lasted forever

Mongolia may be one of the coldest and less developed countries in the world, but it remains a unique destination for travelers who love wilderness and mesmerizing landscape. In this 7-day suggested itinerary, you will see most of Mongolia’s key attractions. There are of course numerous other destinations in this country so you might want to mix and match the suggestions below to create your own Classic Central Mongolian itinerary.

Things to consider before travelling to Mongolia:

Language – Mongolian is the official language of Mongolia and is spoken by majority of the population. English is used widely in the city, especially in hotels, souvenir shops, tour agencies and rent a car companies. Many Mongolians in the rural area cannot speak English that is why it is recommended to learn a few important phrases before going on your trip. If you will join an organized tour, a local guide will be available to assist you.

Money and costs – Mongolian tögrög (or tugrik) is the official currency of Mongolia. Exchanging money is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Asia. You can exchange currency at the airport, hotels, malls, local banks, and money changers throughout Ulaanbaatar. ATMs are available in the capital, all accepting international credit cards and debit cards, so it’s easy to withdraw your money in tögrög. Credit cards are commonly accepted at most tourist destinations. Out of the capital, cash is the preferred mode of payment.

Mongolian currency
10 togrog bill

Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Mongolia. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Cases of robbery and assault have been reported by foreign travelers in Ulaanbaatar and other major tourist areas. Beware of individuals posing as police officers and always ask for their police identification if approached.

Health – Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccinations before your trip. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Typhoid vaccines are the most common. Rabies vaccine is also recommended because there is a large number of stray dogs in Mongolia. Protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times. In case of medical emergency, there are a few hospitals in Ulaanbaatar that cater to foreign travelers. For life threatening condition, it is best to leave immediately for Beijing, China.

Etiquette – Mongolians are generally friendly, very direct and hospitable people. Most foreign visitors who come to Mongolia are pleasantly surprised to know that the locals welcome them wherever they go. There are, of course exceptions, but generally you can expect to be treated well. This also applies in nomad-run ger camps where nomads are now accustomed to seeing foreign travelers passing by. A handshake or simply nodding of the head one time is an acceptable form of greeting.

Tours – Join a group tour or do it your own? This is perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions by foreign travelers. Mongolia is a vast, mountainous country and public transportation is limited. Therefore, hiring a jeep and driver is the best way to explore the country. You can definitely join group tours, especially if you are a first timer, but organizing your own trip gives you the most flexibility.

Detailed day by day itinerary: Mongolia – one week we wish lasted forever

Day 1: Ulaanbaatar

View of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
View of Ulaanbaatar

The adventure starts in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital city. Assuming you had to cross an ocean to get to Mongolia, your first day will be rife with jet lag. Take a flight that arrives in (ULN) Chinggis Khaan International Airport as early as possible and check in to your preferred hotel/hostel in Ulaanbaatar.

Hotels to consider in Ulaanbaatar:

Shangri-La Hotel, Ulaanbaatar (19 Olympic Street | Sukhbaatar District-1, Ulaanbaatar 14241, Mongolia)

Alpha Hotel Mongolia (Narnii zam 64 | 13 khoroolol, Sukhbaatar district, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)

Best Western Premier Tuushin Hotel (Prime Minister Amar Street 15 | Sukhbaatar District, 8 Khoroo, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)

Chinggis Khaan Hotel (Tokyo Street – 10 | 1 – Khoroo, Ulaanbaatar 49, Mongolia)

Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace (East Cross Road, Peace Avenue | Bayanzurkh District, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)

Genghis Khan Statue, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Genghis Khan Statue is a 40-metre tall statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, at Tsonjin Boldogeast of the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar

A visit to the 40 meter-high silver statue of Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan), Mongolia’s legendary emperor, is a great start. This is a relevant and educational stop to create basic understanding of Mongolia and the emperor who founded one of the largest empires in history. Sticking with the history theme, it is best to squeeze in a trip to National History Museum. In the afternoon, check out Zaisan Monument, a memorial for Soviet soldiers during the WWII. Just before sunset, head to Chinggis Khan Square, previously known as Sükhbaatar Square.

Travel Tip: If you can, travel to Mongolia in July to witness the Naadam Festival, a celebration of the nomadic culture of Mongolians. This major Mongolian holiday is the best time to experience the unique culture of Mongolia which runs for three consecutive days in all parts of the country. This festival has been celebrated for centuries featuring the country’s 3 major sports – archery, horse racing and wrestling.

Horseback Spectators, Nadaam Horse Race
Group of horseback spectators at Nadaam horse race, the most important festival of the year in Mongolia from 11-13 July. Competitions include horse racing, wrestling and archery.

Day 2: Gorkhi – Terelj National Park

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park near Ulaanbaatar , Mongolia
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

Embark on one of the most interesting day trips out of the city by heading to Gorkhi – Terelj National Park, less than an hour drive from Ulaanbaatar. Considered one of the most beautiful places in Mongolia, the national park is famous for its pine covered mountains and fascinating rock formations. If this is your first time in Mongolia, joining a guided tour is recommended. There are plenty of tour groups offered online which normally includes Local English-speaking guide, traditional Mongolian lunch, entrance fees, transportation and driver. Tour starts at 9 in the morning.

Day 3: Hustai National Park

On your third day, rise early to get to Hustai National Park, home to the Takhi, Asia’s wild horse. Like Gorkhi – Terelj National Park, Hustai also offers breathtaking views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. No trip to Mongolia would be complete without staying in a Mongolian ger camp, traditional tents made of felt and well insulated. This experience will give you a glimpse of Mongolian family life and taste authentic Mongolian food like buuz (dumplings) and khuushuur (pastries).

Where to stay in Hustai National Park:

Ger Camp at Hustai National Park (Gachuurt Reserve Park, Hustai National Park, Mongolia)

HS Khaan Resort Hotel (Khui doloon hudag, Argalant soum | Tov aimag, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)

Day 4: The Kharkhorin City and Erdene-Zuu Monastery

Kharkhorin, Central Mongolia
Kharkhorin in Ovorkhangai Province near ruins of Karakorum the ancient capital of Mongol empire. The population of Kharkhorin town itself was 8,977 in 2003

After breakfast at the ger camp, drive to Kharkhorin (Karakorum). It was the ancient capital of Mongolian empire founded by Ogodei Khaan, successor of Chinggis Khan. The city was highly civilized built by the best artisans but it was all destroyed by clan fighting. The ancient capital was set on one of Silk Road’s ancient network of trading routes. Do not miss to visit Kharkhorin Museum and Erdene-Zuu Monastery. Stay overnight in one of the ger camps by Orkhon River.

Where to stay in Kharkhorin:

Zaya Hotel (Uvurkhangai, Kharkhorin, Mongolia)

Gaya’s Guest House (Kharkhorin, Mongolia)

Family Guesthouse Hotel (Uvurkhangai aimag, Erdenetolgoi bag, Artsat 19-iin 1 toot | Uvurkhangai, Kharkhorin 21060, Mongolia)

ANJA yourtes Ecologiques a Kharkhorin Mongolie

Buddhist Monastery Erdene-Zuu, Mongolia
Buddhist monastery Erdene-Zuu in the steppes of Mongolia

Day 5: Ugii Lake (Ogii Lake)

The next day, wake up early and enjoy breakfast at the ger camp. Then, drive to Ugii Lake, a freshwater lake in Central Mongolia.The road from Kharkhorin is all paved, except 20 km of it, which is dust road. Here, you will have the opportunity to see variety of birds like cranes, spoonbills and pelicans. Because of its beauty, Ugii Lake is famous among fishers, nature enthusiasts and bird photographers. Stay overnight in one of the ger camps by Ugii Lake (try Ugii Ger Camp – cost is 30 USD per person for double occupancy or 40 USD per person for single occupancy. You can find more info about the camp here).

Day 6: Elsen Tasarkhai Sand Dunes

On your 6th day, rise early and embark on a journey to Elsen Tasarkhai Sand Dunes. It is one of the best places in Mongolia for landscape photography because of its unique combination of sand dunes, forests and mountains. There are also plenty of outdoor activities for fun-loving and adventure-seeking travelers like horseback riding, camel riding and trekking.  Stay overnight in one of the many tourist camps around Elsen Tasarkhai Sand Dunes or stay in Kharkhorin.

Elsen Tasarkhai Sand Dunes, Mongolia
Elsen Tasarkhai Sand Dunes, Mongolia

Day 7: Ulaanbaatar

For your final day in Mongolia, head back to Ulaanbaatar and get a one last whirl through the city to take in other attractions that you might have missed. For a wide range and reasonably priced locally made handicrafts, you can explore the State Department Store. This charming shopping center is from the Soviet occupation and is the largest in Mongolia. It has souvenir shops where you can find variety of souvenirs with different colors and quality. There are also a number of eating places inside for a much needed pit-stop between shops. Head to the airport in time to check in for your international flight or you may opt to continue traveling independently, or extend your stay in Mongolia.

State Department Store, Ulaanbaatar
State Department Store

This is the end of our 7-day suggested itinerary. Remember, this is just a guide for planning and is in no way, shape or form the only way to travel the country. There are several alternative routes of travel within the country and it will depend on your intended length of stay. Enjoy Mongolia!

Have you been to Mongolia? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.

Adventure, backpacking, Culture, History

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