Mongolia, the land of endless skies and nomadic traditions, offers a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural richness that is unlike any other. Tucked between China and Russia, this largely undiscovered gem beckons travelers who yearn for adventure and an authentic experience. From the rugged landscapes to the hospitality of its people, Mongolia provides a treasure trove of things to do and explore. Here are some must-see destinations and activities to consider.
Traverse the Gobi Desert
The Gobi Desert is one of Mongolia’s most iconic landscapes. It’s not just a barren wasteland but a vast area filled with unique geological formations, like the Flaming Cliffs, where dinosaur fossils were first discovered. You can take a camel trek, guided by local herders, to explore the sand dunes and get a true taste of the Mongolian wilderness. Don’t forget to spend a night under the Gobi sky; the stargazing experience is out of this world.
The capital city, Ulaanbaatar, is an intriguing mixture of modernity and tradition. With its growing skyline, bustling markets, and vibrant nightlife, it is the political and cultural hub of the country. The Gandan Monastery and the National Museum offer rich insights into Mongolian history and Buddhist traditions. For souvenirs, head over to the Naran Tuul Market to grab some traditional Mongolian garments like the ‘deel.’
Visit Lake Khövsgöl
Nicknamed the “Blue Pearl of Mongolia,” Lake Khövsgöl is a stunning natural wonder. The crystal-clear freshwater lake is surrounded by picturesque mountains and dense forests. It’s an ideal spot for hiking, horseback riding, and even kayaking. The area is also home to several traditional nomadic families, giving you the chance to witness their lifestyle and perhaps even experience their famed hospitality.
Attend the Naadam Festival
If you’re visiting Mongolia in July, the Naadam Festival is a must-see. This traditional sporting event showcases three Mongolian ‘manly skills’: archery, horseback riding, and wrestling. It’s a colorful and lively affair, complete with opening ceremonies that include dance performances and parades. Beyond the games, Naadam provides a deep look into the importance of athleticism and competition in Mongolian culture.
Take a Step Back in Time at Karakorum
The ancient city of Karakorum was once the capital of the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan. Today, the Erdene Zuu Monastery stands as a reminder of the city’s glorious past. Though much of the original city has been lost to time, the remaining stone turtles and intricate phallic rock carvings tell a story of a once-majestic city. A visit to Karakorum is a step back in time, revealing the grandeur and mystery of Mongolia’s history.
Go Bird-Watching in the Wetlands
For nature enthusiasts, Mongolia offers unparalleled opportunities for bird-watching. The country’s wetlands are home to a variety of bird species, including the rare white-naped crane. Visit regions like the Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve and the Khustain Nuruu National Park for an unforgettable bird-watching experience. With fewer human disturbances, these areas provide an ideal habitat for both migratory and native birds.
Experience Nomadic Culture
You can’t leave Mongolia without immersing yourself in its nomadic culture. Many tour operators offer “homestay” experiences, where you can live with a Mongolian family in their traditional ger (yurt). It’s an enriching experience that allows you to partake in daily chores, from milking goats to making traditional Mongolian meals like ‘buuz’ (dumplings).
Hike in the Altai Mountains
For the adventurous at heart, the Altai Mountains offer challenging treks and jaw-dropping scenery. The region is also rich in archaeological sites, where petroglyphs from ancient civilizations can be seen. The snow-capped peaks, stunning glaciers, and high mountain passes make it a hiker’s paradise.
Visit the Hustai National Park
If you’re keen on wildlife, a trip to the Hustai National Park could allow you to catch a glimpse of the Przewalski’s horse. This endangered species was reintroduced into the wild and can now be seen grazing in their natural habitat.
Try Traditional Mongolian Cuisine
Last but not least, savor the flavors of Mongolia by trying traditional dishes. Whether it’s a hearty bowl of ‘tsuivan’ (noodle stew) or the meaty ‘khuushuur’ (fried dumplings), Mongolian cuisine is sure to leave an impression.
Mongolia is a country that defies easy description. With its diverse landscapes, rich history, and welcoming people, there is no shortage of things to do and places to explore. From the arid beauty of the Gobi Desert to the bustling life of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia promises an unforgettable experience for every type of traveler.