Gobi Desert

Gobi Desert

The Gobi Desert is the largest desert throughout Asia and extends the entire southern part of Mongolia far into China. The Gobi is a semi-desert, it exists only in part of sand dunes and predominantly of a rocky steppe landscape. Along with the mountains and lakes has thereby no less than five different ecosystems. Follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo and the other merchants who followed the Silk Road through Central Asia to China, many of them travelled through the desert with their caravan.

A drive through the Gobi Desert is very different than you often imagine in a desert landscape. The area is dry but things grow here. Along the way you’ll pass ger tents of nomadic families who live in the desert. They are herding their herds of horses, goats, sheep and camels. The roads all lead across the steppe, sometimes you find a dirt road but usually you follow the tire tracks of previous traffic. A bumpy, uncomfortable but beautiful ride.

Khongor Sand Dunes

The Khongor Sand Dunes are one of the highlights found in each Gobi tour. These sand dunes reach 300 meters up, over a total area of 900 km2. The wavy sand plain is also called the ‘singing sands’ because of the sound the wind makes as it hurtles through the dunes.

You can climb the dunes in about half an hour time for a truly breath-taking view from the top of the dunes on one side and the beautiful steppes on the other side. The best time is just before sunset so you can see the sun sink into the sand.

Tip: climb the sand dunes barefoot and take extra protection (a plastic bag) for your camera to prevent breaking your camera.

Riding a Camel

Around the Khongor Sand Dunes is the location of various nomadic families who are herding camels. Some make their camels available for a ride along the sand dunes which usually last one hour. In the evening you drink the warm camel milk tea and eat sweets made of camel yogurt to complete the experience.

Flaming Cliffs

Another ‘must’ is a visit to the Flaming Cliffs (also known as Bayanzag or Rich Saxual). These impressive red rocks are like a mini Grand Canyon. The area is extremely valuable to palaeontologists; This is the site of many dinosaur skeletons, fossils, dinosaur eggs and bones. In the Central Museum of Dinosaurs in Ulaanbaatar you can admire some of these.

The American fossil hunter and adventurer Roy Chapman Andrew, which some say was the inspiration for Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones films, found many of these relics here in 1920. Occasionally visitors still seem to find pieces of bones and eggs around the Flaming Cliffs.

Yol Valley

The green valley called Yol Valley (also called Yolyn Am) is a surprising attraction in the Gobi Desert. Surrounded by mountains, everything thrives here that you do not expect to find in a desert landscape. The valley was formed by a river that flowed through here a long time ago. The remaining stream creates ice on the bottom of the valley that even lasts during the summer months. The walk through the valley is a lot of fun, about an hour walking there and an hour of walking back by walking the same route, where you climb over rocks and must jump over the small river. The high cliffs that flank the valley are very impressive.

Yol Valley is home to exotic animals like the snow leopard and many raptors. You won’t see leopards that soon, but the chances of spotting a red-brown rodent called a ‘pika’ is much bigger. These small marmot-like creatures jump happily through the countryside.

Sleep with nomad families and the best time to travel to the Gobi Desert

In the Gobi Desert you sleep in ger camps with nomad families (sometimes in luxurious tourist camps). The climate in the desert can be extreme; during the winter it freezes and it gets very hot in summer. However, summer is also the rainy season in the desert. Moreover, the region has diverse ecosystems, making the climate ever-changing in the different areas. Generally, the months from June to September are the best time to visit Gobi.

We travelled in July and found this very doable; at the hottest times of the day we sat in the car (the travel days are long in the Gobi Desert, because it does not go very fast), and at night it was not cold in the ger. Nevertheless, we recommend to bring a set of warm clothes and a raincoat or poncho if you’re traveling in the summer to the desert, both came in handy during our trip.

Travel routes with the Gobi Desert