Countryside Travel Guide
Mongolia is a vast, diverse country with much of interest to offer for travelers in terms of its natural beauty and ancient culture. Popular destinations to visit include the Gobi Desert, Arkhangai, Khugsvul Lake, the steppes of Eastern Mongolia, and western Mongolia.
This Mongolia Countryside Travel Guide gives some basic information about countryside travel destinations and experiences of Mongolia. General information about Mongolia can be found by visiting our Mongolia Country Guide page. Meanwhile, further details about some of the main things to see and do while in Mongolia are listed on our Mongolia Tours page.
Things to See & Do in Mongolia
Central Mongolia has the classic Mongolian landscape, and it is the heartland of the nation. It includes portions of the Gobi Desert, and The Khentii and Khangai Mountain Ranges. There is plenty of stuff to see, including ancient monasteries, gorgeous lakes and several national parks, as well as the capital city. Most of the region is steppe, with forests and semi desert, and there are several dramatic, extinct volcanoes, as well as many rivers.
Near the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, there are several national parks, such as Gorkhi Terelj, where there are extraordinary formations of huge rocks and many tourist ger camps, as well as the ruins of Manzshir Monastery in Bogdkhan, a Strictly Protected Area proclaimed off limits to hunting and logging by Chinggis Khaan in the 13th century.
At Khustain Nuruu National Park, you can witness the rare species of wild horse, Takhi - commonly known as Przewalski's Horse. Reintroduced into the wild in 1994 by a Dutch project, the population is now thriving.
Driving to the west for around 5 hours, you come across Elsen Tasarkhai Sand Dunes, which is the northernmost point of the Mongolian Gobi Desert and Khogno Khan Natural Reserve. All of them are good places to go hiking, riding and to enjoy nature.
Within a 6 hour drive from the capital is Karakorum, which was the ancient capital of the Great Mongolian Empire in 13th century, and you can also visit the inspiring Erdenezuu Temple, founded in the 16th century by descendants of Chinggis Khaan.
In Arkhangai Province, there are many interesting tourist attractions, such as the Khorgo extinct volcano, Terkhyn Tsagaan Nuur Lake, Taikhar Chuluu Rock and Tsenkher Hot Spa etc.
The southern region of the country is dominated by the Gobi Desert, covering a third of the country's whole territory. Most of the Gobi consists of stony, scrubby, open land: sandy dunes only cover about 3% of the Gobi.
The Gobi is one of the world's most unusual deserts, with its dramatic cliffs and valleys, rolling sand dunes, and "forests" of small but hardy saxual shrubs. Decent rains only fall every two or three years, therefore it can be well over 40C during the summer. Storms of dust and sand are fearsome in spring.
The Khongoryn Els are some of the largest and most spectacular sand dunes in Mongolia and camel riding and hiking activities are the best activities for tourists.
Gobi is home to gazelle, khulan (wild ass), Bactrian two humped camels, takhi (Mongolian wild horse), rare saiga antelope, and the world's only desert bear - the Gobi bear, of which there are only 50 left in the wild, and hence very sparsely populated.
There is no shortage of evidence that dinosaurs once roamed the region. Fossil finds have revealed that the Gobi basin was once part of a large inland sea.
The so-called "Flaming Cliffs", site of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of this century, is in the Mongolian Gobi Desert.
It was here, in 1923, that the first nest of dinosaur eggs was discovered in the world. Paleontologists from the world over continue to uncover fossils at this rich site.
A few kilometers from Dalanzadgad Town, you are able to hike through the steep rocky canyons of the surprisingly green Yolyn Am Valley, carved by an ancient river whose remnant streams create ice formations that sometimes persist as late as July.
Yolyn Am is home to vulture-like lammergeiers and the whole area is inhabited by Argali mountain sheep, ibex, yaks and Altai snow-cocks.
Mongolia's northern region borders the Siberian forests of Russia, and it is one of the most beautiful areas of the country with the densely forested mountains covered by Siberian pine trees. The steppes teem with elk, reindeer and bears, and the rivers and lakes are brimming with fish. The meadows are blanketed with wildflowers in spring, and the air is filled with the voices of migrating birds.
Khuvsgul and the southern part of the region are lands of tall taiga forest, crystal-clear lakes, icy
streams and lush grass. The Khuvsgul region is popular for its outdoor activities, ranging from hiking, birding, and fishing to horse riding, kayaking and canoeing.
Khuvsgul is the only region where you can visit the Tsaatan tribe - traditional reindeer herders who live in teepees similar to those once used by Native Americans on the Great Plains.
The best fishing is to the south, where the Ider, Bugsei, Selenge, Delger Moron and Chuluut rivers converge. Shamanism has been re-developing in the region since the collapse of Soviet Union.
Except for the Khentiin Nuruu Mountain Range, and some forests surrounding it, eastern Mongolia is pure steppe plain. There is some stunning scenery, and it is one of the world's last great undisturbed grasslands. The most famous and plainest steppe in the country is the far eastern part named Menengyn Tal (tal means 'steppe'). The area is almost uninhabited by people, but home to some of the largest herds of gazelle left on earth.
In some areas, in the remotest part of Eastern Mongolia, are the bases of a multi-million dollar environment-protection project. The project is researching everything from fires to field mice in an attempt to protect one of the world's last undisturbed grasslands, named as the ‘strictly protected areas' of Mongol Daguur, Dornod Mongolyn Tal Steppe and Nomrog Region.
The remotest region of Eastern Mongolia, which is the historical Mongol heartland, and specifically the Galshar in the south of the region, is famed as the source of Mongolia's fastest horses and the Dariganga minority, famous for its silversmith works and jewellery crafts.
Western Mongolia is dominated by the Mongol Altai Nuruu, Mongolia's highest mountain range. There are several challenging peaks for mountain climbers. The area is the source of several rivers, which eventually flow into the Arctic and Pacific oceans.
There are remote alpine lakes with fish in icy fresh rivers, ancient stone balbals, Siberian larch forests and valleys strewn with wildflowers amidst the snow-covered peaks of the Altai Mountains.
Western Mongolia offers spectacular scenery and excellent opportunities for horse riding and trekking. Hundreds of water-birds crowd the shores of Lake Uvs, Mongolia's largest lake by surface area, during the spring and fall, and the surrounding area is home to an abundance of wildlife.
Western Mongolia is a region with the unique culture of the Kazakhs, Mongolia's largest ethnic, Muslim minority. Their pastoral nomadic lifestyle is similar to that of the Khalka Mongolians, living in felt tent or ‘gers'. These nomads speak Kazakh, a derivative of the Turkic language and they understand Turkic language. There are many ancient stone monuments dating to the Turkic period in the region. Kazakh wall rugs, with their rich embroidery, are some of the best handicrafts for tourists.
Many Kazakhs still hunt with skilfully trained eagles in the winter months. In the beginning of October each year, The Golden Eagle Festival is held in Bayan Olgii Province, and Kazakh eagle trainers contest with each other by testing the skills and bravery of their trained eagles.
During the summer, Altai Mountain Range becomes a good travel destination, and travellers have the opportunity to see these magnificent birds during their travels.
There are a number of tourist camps, where you can sleep in a ger, go horse-riding and witness something that resembles a traditional Mongolian country lifestyle.
The nearest (and hence, most touristy) to Ulaanbaatar is Terelj, which is located about 75 kilometres (50 miles) outside of the capital. Some of the highlights of a trip to Terelj include the Gorkhi Mountains, Turtle Rock and the Terelj River. Tour companies will normally offer a range of different options for visiting the tourist camps, including variations on the duration and available activities.
The real highlight of Mongolia is the countryside and the numerous activities available. These include such cultural opportunities as staying overnight in gers, and visiting nomadic herdsmen. Active nature tours encompass things such as hiking, trekking, horse and camel riding, yak caravans, rafting, biking, mountain climbing, birdwatching and fishing etc.