Mongolia is a very stretched country (38 times larger than the Netherlands) with a great diversity of landscapes and cultures. As you can read in the introduction of Mongolia, every part of the country offers something unique. Mongolia is not an easy country to get around, but it’s very rewarding. That’s why we list some useful tips to make the organization of a trip through Mongolia easier.
Booking a tour locally
We have only booked our tours locally here, in Mongolia. In Ulaanbaatar you will find a few dozen local agencies that offer all kinds of tours. You’ll need plenty of time to do so; Many travellers that arriving by Trans-Siberian train have less than a week time, so they just get a trip to Terelj National Park sometimes combined with Khustai National Park. This fits into a schedule of 1 to 4 days.
The tours going further into Mongolia, are 6 days or longer. But ideal is to keep an average of 7 to 10 days per area in mind. Would you like to explore the south, west and north, then you are soon looking at a traveling schedule of 2 to 3 weeks. Popular is a week in the Gobi Desert, which is the tour that we booked ourselves in combination with a day trip to Terelj National Park. In The Gobi Desert you will find lots of variety; sand dunes, steppe, sleeping at nomad families, riding camels, rock formations and viewpoints. For us this was the perfect combination, we highly recommend this tor if you have to make a choice and you can spend a week.
But you can also opt for Central, Western, Eastern and Northern Mongolia. We noticed that this was done a lot as a two-week tour in combination with the Gobi Desert, or that people who came back the Gobi then travelled up north for example. Some tours have multi-day horse rides or walks fitted into their programs, so check carefully what suits you.
Cost of booking a tour locally
We have approached several local travel agencies and ultimately chose Sunpath Mongolia. Below are some organizations, cost (in US dollars) and we list some advantages / disadvantages:
Traveling with a group
Sunpath consists of a hostel and a tour organization. The owner tries to let hostel visitors sign up for its tours, making the departure possible almost daily. We travelled with a group of 10 people, divided into two Russian minivans. Basically, there are a maximum of 5 people in a minibus (sometimes less), which provides sufficient space. We thought it was fun to go out with several backpackers. Each had its own minibus driver and went with one guide, plus one cook for supper.
Russian minivans are 4WD, but not very comfortable. They are widely used because they are easy to maintain and repair. On gravel roads you bounce back and forth. Book a tour in a luxury organization, and a 4×4 Jeep will certainly be more comfortable, but that’s what you pay for. Our minivan had had a flat tire twice, was once stuck in the mud and had a blown engine once. The engine could have been avoided, the rest was out of our control. Luckily we drove in convoy and Sunpath could quickly arrange for a replacement vehicle in the case of the blown engine.
We slept in gers with nomadic families. Several times there were several tours at the same time which made it a bit crowded, but often we were the only ones. The gers are simple and beds often hard, that’s a big difference with luxurious tours where you sleep in specially constructed tourist camps. But we did have a more authentic experience, personally we found this more enjoyable.
Cost of tours Sunpath Mongolia:
– For all tours Sunpath handles the same price.
– You pay US $ 60, – per person per day. Regardless of the route and length of the tour.
– Includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast and dinner, the cook does his/her best to prepare semi-western from (bread, egg pasta). Lunch you will at on your route at a local restaurant during a stop. You don’t really have much choice; rice with mutton (sheep meat) is pretty standard. Vegetarians are taken into account.
– Includes transportation, accommodation, activities like horseback riding and camel rides and entrance fees to the nature parks.
– Excluding a snack or drink that you purchase on your own during the trip (only during lunch stop) for the evening.
All tour opportunities of Sunpath are listed on the website.
Golden Gobi Tours
Golden Gobi is also a hostel and tour company. Golden Gobi also used Russian 4WD minivans. We noticed in an conversation with the organization that they had some unique stops, like a camel farm in the desert. We found it inconvenient we that the site offers no information about the route and on site you could not get any clear information about it either. They just explained everything to us verbally. There was no tour that left on the right date for us. That was the reason for choosing Golden Gobi, but the organization left a good impression.
Cost tours at Golden Gobi:
– Costs are calculated per tour, based on stops, entrance fees, etc.
– On average, Golden Gobi also amounts to approximately US $ 60, – to US $ 65, – per person per day.
– Include similar points as mentioned for Sunpath Mongolia.
Top Tours also offers both a tour and a hostel. The tours are similar to those of Sunpath. Top Tours does offer a discount for larger groups, but the question is whether you will travel comfortably in a minivan being in a big group. Examples of possible trips on the website of the organization:
Cost tours at Top Tours:
– US $ 65, – per person per day for 4 persons.
– US $ 55, – per person per day for 5 persons or more.
– If you choose a tour with a flight (for example, to the Gobi Desert, instead of driving) then those costs will be added as well.
For backpackers these three organizations are very good options. All these organizations can also arrange a private driver with 4×4 car for day trips or multi-day tours. Then, the route and overnight stays are not fixed. If you want to take an extra guide, you pay an additional cost. It is possible to sleep in gers during such trips, combined with camping in tents. A nice options if you are traveling with your own group of friends.
If you want to book your tour locally, but do not want to travel with a group, you can book a private tour. This is possible at the above organizations, however, a specialized tour operator offers more quality.
Cost tours at Tseren Tours:
– For one person: US $ 180, – per person per day.
– For 2 persons: US $ 95, – per person per day.
– For 3 persons: US $ 85, – per person per day.
– For 4 persons: US $ 75, – per person per day.
– For 5 persons: US $ 70, – per person per day.
– 4WD with separate driver and guide.
– Most nights in a tent, a few nights in a ger with nomadic families.
– Camping equipment and entrance fees.
Juulchin Tours is one of the larger local organizations. The tours are of a higher quality than the backpackers’ tours. Prices are not listed on the website, but we brought one visit to the office of Juulchin in Ulaanbaatar and learned that the cost of individual trips in Mongolia are approximately in line with the costs that are mentioned at Tseren Tours.
What do you take with you during the trip?
We found it convenient to take the following:
– Small backpack with a selection of our clothing (if you get back in Ulaanbaatar If you’ve booked a tour with a Dutch organization, then you will bring your entire suitcase or backpack.).
– Bug spray with DEET.
– Towel and toiletries (we showered every few days on the road in a bathhouse, the gers with nomadic families had no showers. If you sleep in a luxurious tourist camp, then there sometimes is a shower.).
– A pair of good shoes for walking and a pair of slippers.
– Toilet paper.
– Possibly a sleeping bag liner for the sleeping bag (the bag itself came with our tour).
– Pillowcase in which you keep your clothes and serves as a cushion if you book a backpacker tour.
– Clothing for both warm days and cold nights.
– Long pants for riding (and for chilly evenings).
– Flashlight or head lamp (to walk to the toilet at night).
– Swimwear, if you visit the lakes.
– Thin raincoat or poncho.
– Baby Wipes to use as a replacement shower.
– Camera with extra battery and SD cards if you have them, all fully charged.
– Power Bank for your phone / camera to charge (sometimes we had electricity at lunch however in the ger this was very rare so make sure to have an extra portable power supply…).
During our trip, all the food and water was provided. Sometimes we bought a snack or a beer or soft drink for the evenings at a small supermarket during lunchtime. The costs you make during the tour itself are very low.