Every year, Mongolians flock to Khuvsgul lake to celebrate the Ice Festival. According to this article, the Ice Festival first started in 2000 as a celebration of the lake. Despite extreme temperatures of minus 25 degrees Celsius, the Festival attracts many visitors and it is getting more popular every year. Here are 5 reasons why you should go to the Ice Festival in Mongolia, too!
The Ice Festival takes place in a remote, isolated place
Khuvsgul is a very popular destination among Mongolians during the short summer season. I had the chance to visit the lake last August and it felt like a small beach town bustling with energy. In winter, though, given the cold temperatures, this place is deserted. And although there is a decent crowd of visitors at the festival, the venue is just a tiny speck in the vastness of the lake and its surroundings.
Find a spot to yourself and enjoy the quietness of the lake, only disrupted by the sounds of the ice cracking and, sometimes, the random car passing by in the distance. The stillness of this place will give you the chance to connect with nature and your inner self.
The Ice Festival takes place on the frozen Khuvsgul lake
The real highlight of the festival is the lake itself. It is very difficult to put into words how beautiful the landscape is (I have been trying for a while now, and nothing seems good enough). I will tell you, however, that you will find this place to be a natural canvas: air bubbles, frozen in time, that could not make it to the surface; frozen ripples and cracks carving random geometric forms. Mother Nature, you are a great artist.
Not only is the lake a visual delight, but the experience of walking, or rather shuffling, on its surface is also quite amusing (albeit challenging and tiring). If you get tired of shuffling back and forth, you can swap your boots for a pair of ice skates, quite a fun way to move around. Did I try it? No. Do I regret it? A little. I really wanted to but not hard enough to take off my shoes in -20 celsius… Maybe next time??
Full cultural immersion at the Ice Festival
The Khuvsgul Ice Festival in Mongolia is a rich cultural experience. The different activities and ceremonies are an honest display of Mongolian culture and lifestyle; nothing fancy to impress tourists. And you will notice the truth in my words when you realise the curious and shy looks of locals who aren’t used to seeing foreigners.
The Ice Festival in Mongolia is not intended to be a display for foreign visitors, so forget about seeing anything in English. But don’t worry about it, that’s part of the fun! Besides, chances are you will visit the festival with Mongolian friends or a tour guide. So, you are all covered!
Mongolians dress in colourful deel coats, which contrast with the pale blue of the lake. They also participate in different activities like sumo wrestling, ankle bone throwing or horse sleigh racing. At night there is a big campfire
Even though there is a significant language barrier, locals are very friendly and will appreciate any effort to communicate with them. One of my travel companions from
The Ice Festival in Mongolia is a great opportunity to meet the Tsaatan people, one of the many unique ethnic groups in the country. These people are nomads native from Khusvgul province and south of Siberia (Tuva region). Their society is built on their relationship with reindeers, with whom they have a special bond.
Another experience you’ll get to enjoy if you overnight in any of the camps is to live inside a ger under extreme cold weather. Spoiler alert: it gets hot.
You will find an abundance of spots selling local bites, mostly meat and dairy products. Sorry, this is remote Mongolia, no veggies for you. Funny enough, you will not find bottled water at the Ice Festival, so don’t forget to buy some at the supermarket. The highlights were warm fermented camel’s milk and roasted lamb. If you are staying in a camp you might be able to try buuz (Mongolian dumplings), khorkhog and other Mongolian traditional dishes.
Close encounters with Mongolian animals
This horse breed is one of the oldest breeds in the
Have you ever come face to face with a reindeer? At the Ice Festival in Mongolia, you will have the chance to meet the Tsaatan people, also known as the Reindeer People.
Did you know that there are only 9 countries in the world that have reindeer? A
How ethical is it to participate in an activity involving an animal at the Ice Festival in Mongolia?
If you are worried about how ethical it is to pay to ride an animal such a horse or a reindeer let me give you some context. Mongolian nomads and Tsaatan are horse and reindeer societies respectively as they rely on these animals for their everyday life. They are essential as a mode of transportation and for food and their societies would not exist as we know them if it weren’t for these animals. They are working animals yet they are free to roam in the countryside and, in my opinion, have the best life an animal “with an owner” could ever wish for.
The Reindeer People are a society that lives under very harsh conditions and they make do with what little they have. During the Ice Festival, some herders come down from the mountains where they live and introduce their culture to the festival visitors. To me, it is quite evident that no harm is being done to these animals, and that is why I personally chose to briefly jump on a reindeer for a photo.
And now the not so nice side of the story. As I was writing the very paragraph above I was a hundred per cent sure that my opinion about hopping on a reindeer for a pic was valid. However, I reached out to a friend of mine who works in the tourism industry and made me rethink my choices.
While it is true that some Tsaatan herders will attend the Ice Festival for cultural purposes and earn a little extra cash, it turns out that there are also fake herders around the lake. These fake herders have their reindeer in this area year-round for tourism purposes. These reindeer, which have adapted to high mountains and extremely cold weather, have been removed out of their natural habitat. This results in an increase in disease and a shorter life span.
Now that I know that, and I have passed this info on to you, hopefully, we can make a more educated decision in the future.
In conclusion, the Ice Festival in Mongolia is a perfect destination for nature lovers and culturally curious minds.
It’s the perfect winter weekend getaway if you live in Mongolia and want to get out of the city. Likewise, if you are passing by Mongolia as part of a bigger trip, it is an awesome stop in your itinerary.