Travel to Mongolia, a land where time has stood still with landscapes that appear today much as they did when Genghis Khan led his horde across its plains 800 years ago. Mongolia holds some of the last true wilderness areas on Earth; vast tracts that are utterly untamed, untouched, untrodden, unfenced, and unspoiled.
The austere beauty of the Gobi Desert in the south is matched by the awesome breadth of the oceanic grasslands on the central steppe and by the grandeur of the 14,000-foot Altai Mountains in the far west. Also frozen in time are the traditional lifestyles of the nomadic pastoralists that still live here. Explore their magnificent country and share meals with them before retiring each night in the comfort of your own ger, the time-tested, portable shelters designed centuries ago, and still used today.
Arrive early or stay late at the Gobi Desert’s Flaming Cliffs, so named for the ruddy bluffs that seem to glow in the sunlight at the beginning and end of each day. Of all the world’s arid lands, Mongolia’s Gobi Desert (which means simply “desert”) has about it the greatest air of mystery. The Gobi holds many fascinations including sites of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of this century. The Flaming Cliffs, also known as Bayan Zag, are famous for yielding the first discovery of dinosaur eggs. The red-orange color of the sandstone cliffs, give them their name.
Watch breathlessly as some of the world’s finest horsemen thunder by and let fly their arrows in astonishing feats of archery. Follow traditional Mongolian Eagle Hunters as they ride out with their trained eagles in search of quarry. Learn about the woman who, while still a young girl, broke an ancient gender barrier by becoming the first Eagle Huntress in the world.
Begin your adventure in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. The contrast between ancient traditions and the dawning of a 21st-century democracy is most visible in Ulaanbaatar, where traditional gers and Buddhist monasteries coexist with modern high-rises. Visit the Gandan Monastery, the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia, and explore the monastery grounds, where you will hear the low tones of the horns used to call the lamas to the temple and observe their daily rituals, including the reading of sutras (teachings of the Buddha).
Head west to Tolbo Lake and explore the rugged Altai Mountains, home to eagle hunters who still practice a centuries-old tradition (named a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Site). This isolated area has preserved the language, culture, and traditions of the Kazakhs and provides some of the most spectacular scenery in Mongolia. You will have ample opportunity to meet local families and experience the unique Kazakh culture, including learning about the art of the Kazakh women and the ancient tradition of hunting with eagles. The Altai mountains have an array of habitats and are home to diverse fauna, including the Siberian ibex, moose, forest reindeer, Siberian musk deer, and Siberian roe deer.
Stay in the Three Camel Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World to experience a luxurious version of a traditional nomadic yurt.
While in the Gobi, attend the local Naadam Festival celebrations. Naadam is the most widely watched festival among Mongols, and is believed to have existed for centuries. Naadam has its origin in sporting competitions such as archery, horseback riding, and wrestling.
Visit a nomadic family living nearby the lodge where you will spend an entire day learning to make traditional handicrafts. Begin with a hands-on lesson on thread making and spinning wool. Afterward, learn about felt making and how felt is used as an insulator for gers and as a textile for clothing and boots.
Near the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, drive to Hustain Nuruu National Park, home to the last remaining species of wild horse, the takhi – commonly known as Przewalski’s horse. Twenty-five years after becoming extinct in the wild, the takhi was reintroduced to the Mongolian steppe from zoo populations. Learn about current conservation efforts and the status of the herds found within the reserve at the visitor’s center, before trying to spot these beautiful horses in their natural habitat.
- Meet Kazakh eagle hunters to learn about their ancient practice of training and hunting with golden eagles
- Witness live horseback riding, wrestling, and archery competitions at an authentic local Naadam festival in the Gobi Desert
- Spend time with a local nomadic family for a demonstration on making traditional handicrafts and felt products
- Look for dinosaur fossils at Flaming Cliffs, a site for important paleontological discoveries.
What You'll See and Do
- Cultural Exploration
- Local Delicacies
- National Parks
- Natural History
- Spa Element
- Wildlife Viewing
- Women-To-Women Exchanges