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Home » Mongolia: Your Travel Guide to the Land of the Blue Sky

Mongolia: Your Travel Guide to the Land of the Blue Sky

Prepare to be mesmerized by Mongolia, the untamed paradise known as the Land of the Blue Sky. A haven for adventurers, cultural enthusiasts, and serenity seekers, Mongolia promises an unforgettable experience replete with stunning landscapes, vibrant traditions, and a sense of boundless freedom. Whether you’re riding through the expansive Gobi Desert, sailing on the placid Lake Khovsgol, or exploring the bustling streets of Ulaanbaatar, a journey through Mongolia is a lesson in wonder and discovery.

Quick Facts

Capital City

Ulaanbaatar is the capital and the largest city of Mongolia, serving as the country’s political, cultural, and economic center.

Official Language

The official language of Mongolia is Mongolian, predominantly spoken in the Khalkha dialect.

Currency

The currency used in Mongolia is the Mongolian Tugrik, abbreviated as MNT.

Mongolian Tugrik current exchange rates

  • 100.000 MNT = $28.99 or $1 = 3,450.00  Mongolian Tugrik
  • 100.000 MNT = €27.16 or €1 = 3,681.46  Mongolian Tugrik

Other currencies:

  • 100.000 MNT = 23.43 British Pounds
  • 100.000 MNT = 44.97 Australian Dollar
  • 100.000 MNT = 39.73 Canadian Dollar
  • 100.000 MNT = 315.39 Swedish Krona
  • 100.000 MNT = 117.74 Polish Zloty
  • 100.000 MNT = 686.58 Czech Koruna
  • 100.000 MNT = 39,970.41 South Korean Won
  • 100.000 MNT = 210.05 Chinese Yuan
  • 100.000 MNT = 4,488.35 Japanese Yen

Time Zone

Mongolia operates in the GMT+8 time zone, specifically in Ulaanbaatar, but certain regions have their own time zones.

Population

As of the latest data, Mongolia has a population of around 3 million people, making it one of the least densely populated countries in the world.

Geography

Mongolia is a landlocked country sandwiched between Russia to the north and China to the south. The country is known for its vast, rugged landscapes including the Gobi Desert and the steppes.

Government

Mongolia is a parliamentary republic, with a multi-party system and a President serving as the head of state.

Climate

Mongolia experiences a continental climate, marked by cold winters and hot summers. The country is also known for its clear skies, earning it the name “Land of the Blue Sky.”

Major Industries

Mining, agriculture, and tourism are the major industries driving Mongolia’s economy.

Visas

Most travelers will require a visa to enter Mongolia, although there are exceptions based on bilateral agreements with certain countries.

Top Cities to Visit

Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar is more than just the political and economic heart of Mongolia; it’s a bustling metropolis where modernity and tradition coexist. From the ancient Gandan Monastery to the modernist State Palace, Ulaanbaatar offers a diverse array of attractions. Don’t forget to check out the National Museum for an in-depth look at Mongolian history.

Erdenet

Not just a hub for Mongolia’s copper mining industry, Erdenet offers more than meets the eye. The city’s local museum gives you a glimpse into its Soviet past, while the surrounding hills are perfect for hiking and horseback riding. The blend of Mongolian and Russian cultures in Erdenet offers a unique cultural experience.

Darkhan

Constructed in the 1960s as a manufacturing hub, Darkhan has since developed its own character separate from its industrial roots. The Darkhan Uul Province surrounding the city is rich in historical and natural sites. Darkhan offers a variety of attractions, from modern shopping malls to ancient Buddhist temples.

Ölgii

Ölgii is the cultural center of Mongolia’s Kazakh community. The city is famous for its annual Golden Eagle Festival, where traditional eagle hunting techniques are showcased. Nestled among the Altai Mountains, it is also an excellent starting point for treks and nature tours.

Kharkhorin

Formerly known as Karakorum, this ancient city was once the capital of the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan. Now, Kharkhorin is mainly known for the Erdene Zuu Monastery, one of the earliest surviving Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia. It’s a must-visit for anyone interested in Mongolian history and Buddhism.

Ulan Ude

Although located in Russia, Ulan Ude has a significant population of ethnic Buryats and shares many cultural similarities with Mongolia. The city is famous for the world’s largest head sculpture of Lenin and the Ivolginsky Datsan, a Buddhist temple that serves as the center of Buddhism in Russia. It offers a unique blend of Mongol and Russian cultures.

Must-See Attractions

Gobi Desert

The Gobi Desert is one of Mongolia’s most iconic landscapes, covering large parts of the southern region of the country. It’s a haven for adventure seekers, offering unique activities like camel trekking, dune bashing, and fossil hunting. Don’t miss the stunning Khongoryn Els sand dunes and the Flaming Cliffs, where important dinosaur fossils have been found.

Lake Khovsgol

Known as the “Blue Pearl of Mongolia,” Lake Khovsgol is one of the deepest and oldest lakes in the world. It offers breathtaking vistas and is a popular spot for hiking, horseback riding, and boating. The lake is also sacred to local communities and plays host to the annual Ice Festival.

Orkhon Valley

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Orkhon Valley is rich in archaeological and cultural significance. It features remnants from various empires, including Turkish stone inscriptions and ancient Buddhist monasteries. The Orkhon Waterfall is another must-see attraction within the valley.

Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

Located in western Mongolia, this national park is home to the highest peaks in Mongolia, including the Khuiten Peak. It’s a paradise for trekkers and climbers, with glaciers, rapid rivers, and deep forests. The park is also home to several ancient rock carvings and the endangered snow leopard.

Terelj National Park

Just a short drive from Ulaanbaatar, Terelj National Park offers a quick escape into nature. Famous for its unique rock formations, including the iconic Turtle Rock, it’s an ideal location for hiking, rock climbing, and horseback riding. You can also experience a traditional ger stay, getting a taste of Mongolian nomadic lifestyle.

Naadam Festival

This traditional Mongolian festival is a celebration of the “Three Manly Sports”: wrestling, horse racing, and archery. Held annually, it’s the best way to experience Mongolian culture, music, and food. The most significant celebrations take place in Ulaanbaatar, but smaller events can be found throughout the country.

Culture and Traditions

Mongolian Nomadic Lifestyle

One of the most enduring aspects of Mongolian culture is its nomadic heritage. Even today, a significant portion of the population lives a nomadic lifestyle, moving with their herds across the vast, open landscapes. Visitors often have the opportunity to experience this way of life through homestays in traditional gers (yurts).

Cuisine

Mongolian cuisine is hearty and meat-centric, reflecting the country’s pastoral lifestyle. Dishes often feature beef, mutton, or goat, and dairy products are also staples. Popular dishes include “buuz” (meat dumplings), “khorkhog” (meat stew), and airag (fermented mare’s milk).

Naadam Festival

The Naadam Festival is not just a sporting event but also a significant cultural celebration. The festival includes traditional music, dance, and ceremonies alongside the wrestling, horse racing, and archery competitions. It’s a must-experience event to understand the richness of Mongolian culture.

Traditional Music and Instruments

Mongolian traditional music is known for its unique instruments and vocal techniques. “Throat singing” or “overtone singing” is one such technique where singers produce multiple pitches simultaneously. The morin khuur, a two-stringed fiddle, and the yatga, a zither, are popular traditional instruments.

Shamanism and Buddhism

While Tibetan Buddhism is the most widely practiced religion in Mongolia, shamanistic practices and beliefs still persist, especially in rural areas. Rituals often involve the worship of natural elements and ancestral spirits.

Arts and Crafts

Mongolian arts and crafts are deeply tied to its nomadic roots. From intricate ger designs to handmade leather goods and felt making, traditional craftsmanship remains an essential part of Mongolian culture. Visitors can find handcrafted souvenirs that showcase the skills and heritage of local artisans.

Mongolian Script and Language

Mongolian script has evolved over the centuries, with the traditional Mongol script giving way to Cyrillic in most modern contexts. However, efforts are ongoing to revive the traditional script, and visitors will often see it on monuments and older texts.

Folklore and Storytelling

Mongolian folklore is rich in myths, legends, and proverbs. Oral storytelling is a cherished tradition, with tales often featuring heroes, mythical creatures, and lessons in morality. These stories serve both as entertainment and as a means to pass down cultural values and history.

Best Time to Visit

Summer Months

The summer months of June, July, and August are generally considered the best time to visit Mongolia. The weather is warm, and the landscapes are at their most vibrant. This is also the time when the Naadam Festival takes place, offering an immersive experience into Mongolian culture.

Autumn Foliage

September and October offer mild temperatures and the chance to see Mongolia’s landscapes in the stunning hues of autumn. This is also an excellent time for hiking and outdoor activities, as the weather is generally dry and sunny.

Winter Adventures

For those who want to experience Mongolia’s winter landscapes and aren’t afraid of a little cold, the months of November through February offer unique opportunities. The Winter Festival and the Eagle Hunting Festival are among the seasonal events that shouldn’t be missed.

Spring Bloom

Although spring in Mongolia can be marked by unpredictable weather and occasional sandstorms, especially in the southern Gobi region, the months of April and May offer the chance to see the countryside come back to life. Migratory birds return, and the wildflowers start to bloom, making it a scenic time for nature lovers.

Shoulder Seasons

May and September serve as shoulder months, offering a compromise between pleasant weather and fewer crowds. Tourist services are fully operational, but the sites are less crowded than during the peak summer months.

How to Get There

By Air

The primary gateway to Mongolia is the Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar. It is served by a variety of international airlines, offering connections to cities like Beijing, Seoul, Moscow, and Istanbul. From the airport, you can easily get to the city center by taxi or public transport.

By Train

The Trans-Mongolian Railway offers an adventurous alternative to flying, connecting Ulaanbaatar with Moscow to the north and Beijing to the south. The journey provides scenic views and a unique cultural experience but can be lengthy, taking several days.

Overland Crossings

For those who prefer road travel, there are several border crossings between Mongolia and its neighbors, Russia and China. However, it’s essential to note that these require advance planning and permits, especially for those driving their own vehicles.

Domestic Travel

Once in Mongolia, domestic flights offer the quickest way to reach distant regions like the Gobi Desert or Lake Khovsgol. Alternatively, for a more adventurous mode of transportation, consider hiring a driver and 4×4 vehicle to explore the rugged landscapes at your own pace.

Public Transport

Ulaanbaatar has a developing public transportation system that includes buses and trolleys. It is a convenient and affordable way to get around the city, although not all signs may be in English.

Tour Packages

Many travelers opt for organized tours, which can simplify the logistics and offer guided experiences in more remote areas. These range from day trips to multi-week expeditions and can include activities like horseback riding, hiking, and cultural immersion experiences.

Accommodations

Hotels

Ulaanbaatar offers a wide range of hotel options, from luxury five-star establishments to budget-friendly hostels. Most hotels provide modern amenities such as Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and in-house restaurants. Booking in advance is recommended, especially during the peak tourist season.

Ger Camps

For an authentic Mongolian experience, consider staying in a traditional ger camp. These are especially popular in tourist regions like the Gobi Desert, Lake Khovsgol, and the Orkhon Valley. Ger camps often offer full-board accommodations and guided activities like horseback riding and trekking.

Guesthouses

Guesthouses provide a more local experience and are typically cheaper than hotels. These are great options for travelers looking to immerse themselves in Mongolian culture and usually offer home-cooked meals and a communal atmosphere.

Airbnb and Vacation Rentals

In recent years, Airbnb and other vacation rental platforms have gained popularity in Mongolia, especially in Ulaanbaatar. These options range from modern apartments to traditional gers and can be suitable for both short-term and extended stays.

Camping

For the adventurous traveler, Mongolia’s vast landscapes offer endless camping opportunities. However, it’s crucial to be well-prepared and familiar with local regulations, especially in protected areas like national parks.

Hostels

Hostels are mainly found in Ulaanbaatar and major tourist destinations. They provide an affordable option for backpackers and usually offer dormitory-style rooms, communal kitchens, and social spaces.

Eco-Lodges and Retreats

For travelers interested in sustainable tourism, a growing number of eco-lodges and wellness retreats are appearing throughout Mongolia. These accommodations focus on low-impact, community-based tourism and often offer educational programs and activities.

Long-Term Stays

Apartments and serviced residences are available for travelers planning an extended stay in Mongolia. These usually come fully furnished and include utilities, making them a convenient option for long-term visitors.

Useful Websites

  • Mongolia Tourism Official Website – The official tourism site of Mongolia, offering comprehensive travel guides, itinerary suggestions, and visa information.
  • Lonely Planet – Mongolia – A reliable resource for travel tips, attractions, and accommodation options in Mongolia.
  • TripAdvisor – Mongolia – User-generated reviews and recommendations for hotels, attractions, and restaurants in Mongolia.
  • WikiTravel – Mongolia – A community-driven travel guide offering insights into local customs, key attractions, and practical tips.
  • Booking.com – Mongolia – A platform to book hotels, hostels, and other accommodations across Mongolia.
  • Skyscanner – A flight aggregator that helps find the cheapest flights to and within Mongolia.
  • Mongolian National Parks – Information on national parks and protected areas, useful for planning outdoor activities.
  • The Culture Trip – Mongolia – Articles on Mongolian culture, food, and attractions, giving a deeper understanding of the country.
  • Rough Guides – Mongolia – Provides travel guides focusing on what to see and skip, and hidden discoveries awaiting you.
  • Mongol Rally – Information on the annual Mongol Rally, a long-distance car rally that goes from Europe to Ulaanbaatar.

Mongolia is a land of breathtaking landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and unforgettable adventures. Whether you’re interested in trekking through the vast Gobi Desert, exploring ancient Buddhist monasteries, or diving into the nomadic lifestyle, Mongolia offers something for every traveler. With its unique festivals like Naadam and an array of accommodation options ranging from luxury hotels to traditional ger camps, a trip to Mongolia promises to be an experience like no other.

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