The highlight of Mongolia’s northern provinces, an alpine region bordering the forests of Siberia, is the pristine Lake Hovsgol, known as Mongolia’s “dark blue pearl.” Believed to be several million years old, Mongolia’s deepest freshwater lake is surrounded by dozens of small rivers and streams that empty into its waters, pristine taiga forest, and valleys and meadows rich with wildflowers.
Visit Mongolia during the summer and the lake is ideal for kayaking, camping, and birding. Visit Mongolia during the winter months when snow blankets the wilderness and the lake freezes over and have the opportunity to enjoy the celebrations and competitions of the Ice Festival.
A visit to Northern Mongolia is also an excellent destination for horse trekking, hiking, and fishing. Darkhad, an area containing hundreds of small lakes and streams, is where anglers can catch the world’s largest salmonid, enormous taimen weighing up to 200 pounds. Travelers are unlikely to encounter the brown bears and wolves that roam the forests, but elk and moose are among the less elusive wildlife that may be seen near Lake Hovsgol, while a wide variety of bird life can be spotted throughout the region.
Northern Mongolia tours offer a chance to see a large population of reindeer. Among the nomadic peoples who inhabit Mongolia’s northern forests and steppe are the Tsaatan, members of a small Tuvinian ethnic group who have herded domesticated reindeer for centuries. The culture of these herdsmen has changed little since the Ice Age, and like many of Mongolia’s nomads, and particularly those in the north, shamanism plays an important role in their lives.
Western Mongolia tours offer some of Asia’s most beautiful and unspoiled wilderness, where the snow-capped Altai Mountains tower above remote forests, lakes, and rivers. Teeming with wildlife, including endangered snow leopards and antelope, this region contains the most impressive of Mongolia’s mountain scenery, and is a prime destination for adventurous climbers and hikers.
The Altai are also the place to experience some of Mongolia’s most fascinating cultures. Bayan-Ulgii Province, which borders Russia and China, is home to a diverse population whose traditional ways of life have been preserved in these isolated mountains for centuries. Among these is Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority, the Kazakhs whose ancestors migrated to the area in the 1800s, and whose proud tradition of hunting with trained eagles is celebrated annually at the renowned Golden Eagle Festival. Also known for their exquisite embroidery and the fine tapestries and carpets they produce, these Muslim nomads live alongside the Uriankhai, famous for their archery skills, and other nomadic groups such as the Uuld, whose colorful traditional dress is unique to this part of Mongolia.
Visitors with an interest in Central Asia’s ancient history are drawn by the burial markers and mysterious “stone men” found throughout the province, monuments to the tribes who roamed the Altai in ancient times. The frozen remains of a Scythian warrior were recently found near Altai Tavan Bogd Park, and a wealth of prehistoric rock paintings have been discovered in the caves and mountains of Mongolia’s wild west.
Central and Eastern Mongolia
Central Mongolia is where most visitors begin their adventures, arriving byplane or rail in Ulaanbaatar. The nation’s capital and largest city, Ulaanbaatar contains an intriguing combination of the traditional and modern, where nomads’ gers and wooden temples sit side by side with concrete apartment buildings and modern high-rises.
The Gandan Monastery, priceless Buddhist treasures on display at the fine arts museum, and the natural history museum’s impressive dinosaur hall are but a few of the capital’s highlights. Another is Bogd Khan, a holy mountain that has been protected from logging and hunting since the 13th century, making it one of the Earth’s oldest national parks.
The steppes of Central Mongolia, beginning only a short distance from the avenues of Ulaanbaatar, are home to many of the nomadic families who travel the plains with their livestock, as well as small towns and ger settlements. However, like much of Mongolia, most of the region is characterized by seemingly endless expanses of uninhabited countryside.
Two of Mongolia’s most celebrated national parks, Hustain and Gorkhi-Terelj, are within short drives of the capital, encompassing vast preserves where a wide range of wildlife roam the grasslands, forests, and mountains. Among these is the takhi, the world’s last surviving species of wild horse, as well as brown bear, elk, and moose.
Two hundred kilometers north of Ulaanbaatar, Hagiin Har Lake is one of Mongolia’s best-kept secrets. Inaccessible by road, this idyllic spot in the Han Hentii Mountains lies hidden withina wilderness of coniferous forest and hills crossed by clear mountain streams.
In addition to its natural wonders, there are many historical sights to be explored in Mongolia’s heartland, particularly in the Orkhon River Valley, which contains archaeological remains dating back several centuries. Few traces remain of Kharakhorum, the 13th-century capital of the Mongol Empire, but the nearby temple of Erdene Zuu was reputedly built from its ruins. The wall surrounding this vast monastery complex, which houses spectacular Buddhist art and architecture, is made up of over one hundred white stupas.
Southern Mongolia: The Gobi Desert
The Gobi Desert in the southern region of Mongolia is a startlingly beautiful place with vastly alternate regions and diversified ecosystems. Centered amongst the hundreds of natural land formations and inspiring vistas, the Three Camel Lodge provides direct access to these landmarks while furnishing luxury and comfort for the adventure traveler. Travel to the Gobi Desert and tour Mongolia’s best-kept secrets:
Hongoryn Els. These 600 foot sand dunes ‘sing’ when a storm is blowing in from any direction. Running 60 miles alongside the Gobi Altai mountain range, they are the Gobi Desert’s most magnificent sand dunes.
Tugrugiin Shiree. First explored by Polish expeditions in the late-1960s to early-1970s, Tugrugiin Shiree is best known for its famous fossil find, the ‘Fighting Dinosaurs,’ which contains the two skeletal remains of a Protoceratops and Velociraptor locked in deadly combat.
Flaming Cliffs. In the early part of the 20th century Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews of the American Museum of Natural History undertook an expedition through the heart of Central Asia, discovering some of the most beautiful and little-visited areas of the world. He came across what he named the Flaming Cliffs in 1923, christening them so due to their brilliant orange glow at sunset and sunrise. Here he discovered the first nest of dinosaur eggs the world had ever seen, cementing the Gobi Desert as an area rich in significant paleontological findings where expeditions continue to unearth archaeological evidence of the past.
Yol Valley. Cradled in the foothills of the Altai Mountains and located in the northern part of the Gobi Desert, this green valley is a surprisingly lush region. Carved by an ancient river, its remnant streams create ice formations at the base of the valley that can last as late as July, and hiking in this region is an adventurous and rewarding activity.
Bulgan sum. The town of Bulgan is a settlement near a natural spring. Its population sells produce thanks to its many farms, which grow organic fruits and vegetables.
Havtsgait Valley. This exceptional valley holds hundreds of ancient rock drawings, all of which were created by early Gobi settlers.
Gegeet Valley and Gyalaan Am. A beautiful pass-through on the way to the Hongoryn Els sand dunes, the Gegeet Valley region is the habitat of the elusive snow leopard—which can be tracked during Mongolia expeditions in the winter. Both the Gegeet and Gyalaan Am (Gyalaan Canyon) regions also house at least 52 unique species, including Argali mountain sheep and ibex, which appear on the cliffs above. In addition, Gyalaan Am hosts the richest fossils of late Cretaceous dinosaurs found.
Trips to Mongolia
Winter Festivals of Mongolia
An exploration of Mongolia’s dramatic winter landscapes, this journey is a unique opportunity to attend a festival held on the frozen surface of Lake Hovsgol, and join a celebration in honor of the Gobi’s Bactrian camel. The Thousand Camel Festival, held amidst the dazzling scenery of the Gobi Desert, is a celebration of the endangered… Learn More
Western Mongolia Expedition
On this wild and rugged trek to the Altai Mountains, travelers experience the traditional cultures, ancient history, and unforgettable scenery that make this tour of Asia one of the most exciting and unique adventure destinations. Trek Mongolia’s remote western frontier, where Kazakh nomads hunt with Golden Eagles amidst unspoiled valleys, lakes, and snow-covered peaks. Beginning… Learn More
Dinosaur fossils, Bearded Vultures, and singing sand dunes are just a few of the many treasures to be discovered in the Gobi Desert trek. From the green valleys in the foothills of the Gobi Altai Mountains to the dramatic red sandstone of the Flaming Cliffs, this adventure provides an in-depth exploration of the Gobi’s secrets…. Learn More