Are you considering a trip to the vast and captivating country of Mongolia? You’ve come to the right place. As someone who has lived in Mongolia for 4 years and has close local connections, I’m here to provide you with a comprehensive travel guide to help you plan the perfect Mongolian adventure.

I decided to write this Mongolia blog post after running into a great number of questions about Mongolia travel on Facebook groups and travel forums. The problem with those Facebook groups is that it takes some time to get an answer, it is not very detailed at times, and sometimes you don’t exactly get what you are looking for.

Hopefully, with this Q&A you will not have to navigate much further to prepare for your Mongolia trip. So without further ado, let’s dive in and address the most common questions travellers have on the net.

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How to plan and prepare your trip to Mongolia

In this section, I will explain everything related to documentation and packing for your Mongolia trip.

Where is Mongolia located and how to get to Mongolia?

Mongolia is a landlocked country nestled in East Asia, bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south. You have several options to reach Mongolia, each offering a unique travel experience. Flying is the quickest and most common way to enter Mongolia, so most travellers will only have to find a flight to the primary international airport, Chinggis Khaan International Airport (ULN) in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city. For those travellers who are looking to enter the country via land, there are some options departing from China and Russia, but be prepared for very long journeys and and potential challenges with obtaining all the necessary up-to-date travel information.

Female Hand Pointing Mongolia on a Political Map
Airplane


These airlines offer direct flights to Mongolia:
Aeroflot (Russia)
Korean Air (South Korea)
Turkish Airlines (Turkey)
Lufthansa (Germany)

train


Currently, there’s no direct train service from China to Mongolia. You need to choose the multi-leg train journey.

multi leg train journey


Take a train from Beijing to Erlian, China. Cross the border into Mongolia then board the night train from Zamiin-Uud to Ulaanbaatar.

bus


International bus services connect Mongolia with China, primarily departing from Erenhot and Beijing.

Note on crossing the border from China to Mongolia. The border towns are Erlian in China and Zamiin Uud in Mongolia. According to different sources from locals who have experienced this trip first-hand or know someone who has, take into account the following:

  • There are designated buses and ride-share taxis that can get you from Zamyn-Uud to Erlian and the other way around.
  • Walking through the border is not possible, though someone claimed to have biked.
  • Erlian is also known as Erenhot and Ereen. This is useful if you are checking train and bus schedules between border towns.

Do I need a visa to travel to Mongolia?

You normally do -the K2 tourist visa– but Mongolia is promoting tourism at an international level and there are visa exemptions for several countries until 2025. You can check their e-visa website to see if you are eligible for a free visa or if you need to apply for one. If so, you only need to have your passport, a two-way flight ticket confirmation, and fill out a form when you reach immigration at the airport.

The tourist visa is valid for up to 30 days, after that, even if you are from one of the exempt countries, you will need to ask for an extension at least 10 days before your original visa expires. You can apply online or go directly to the immigration office when you are in Ulaanbaatar.

Do I need vaccinations to enter Mongolia?

No mandatory vaccines are required for entry, but it’s always a good idea to consult your healthcare provider before your trip. They can advise on any recommended shots based on your health history and the areas you’ll visit.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following, which most adults should be vaccinated against:

  • Covid 19
  • Hepatitis A & B
  • Rabies
  • Tetanus and Diphtheria (Tdap)
  • Tick-borne Encephalitis if travelling outdoors during the warm months

When should I visit Mongolia?

When deciding when you should visit the country the two main factors to consider are the weather and the things you can do in Mongolia. So let’s tackle those topics.

What is the weather like in Mongolia?

Mongolia’s climate is continental, meaning hot and short summers and long winters with extreme subzero temperatures. I could explain in my own words what each season feels like but instead, I invite you to check out this colourful diagram from my favourite weather app.

Downloaded from Weatherspark.com

If you intend to visit other provinces of Mongolia, check local temperatures in the following cities/towns:

Murun if you are going to Lake Khuvsgul or the Taiga.
Olgii if you are going to see the Eagle Hunters or the Altai Mountains.
Dalangzagdad, if you are going to the Gobi.

My preferred times to visit would be summer and autumn. Summer is pleasant and full of life both in the city and the countryside, although it rains more than you might expect. Autumn is less crowded, perfect to avoid the crazy summer rush, but still nice enough to see and explore the countryside without the frigid temperatures.

Spring is not a dealbreaker, however, the weather is unpredictable with occasional snowfalls and dust storms, which could be inconvenient when you only have one suitcase to rely upon.

Is it worth visiting Mongolia in winter?

Short answer: yes! In winter, Mongolia is a different ballgame compared to the warmer months, but it is not for everybody… However, if you’re the adventurous type who wants to test your limits, then Mongolia in the winter might just be your cup of (very hot) tea.

The pros:

  • Mongolia in the winter is a straight-up winter wonderland with snow-covered landscapes as far as the eye can see.
  • You will have it all to yourself, there is no one around!
  • Two very popular Mongolian Festivals are hosted during winter: Khuvsgul Ice Festival and the Eagle Festival in Bayan Olgii.

The cons:

  • The cold will be downright brutal, with temperatures that’ll make every drop of moisture become ice.
  • Shorter daylight hours. Be a bit more strategic with your sightseeing.
  • Some of the more remote areas will be off-limits, so you’ll have to adjust your itinerary accordingly.
  • Ulaanbaatar is incredibly polluted in winter and unfortunately, it worsens every year.

What should I pack for Mongolia?

Now that you know what kind of weather you may be facing, my one piece of advice is layers, layers and more layers. Shoulder season is the most difficult to pack for, especially spring. You can bask in the sun one fine morning in May and get a snowstorm the next day. Literally.

Here are some clothing options to consider for your trip to Mongolia:

Summer

(June-August)

  • T-shirts, light long sleeves
  • Shorts, long pants, jeans
  • Sweater and jacket
  • Light raincoat
  • Sun protection (hat, sunnies, sunscreen)

Winter

(November-March)

  • Long, heavy coat
  • Thick woollen socks
  • Sturdy winter boots
  • Scarf, gloves, beanie
  • Thermal underwear
  • Pollution mask

Spring/fall

(April-May & September-October)

  • Many layers
  • Woollen socks
  • Sturdy winter boots
  • Scarf, gloves, beanie
  • Pollution mask

Other items you should consider packing when you travel to Mongolia

  • Footwear: Comfortable hiking boots are essential for exploring Mongolia’s varied terrain. If you have waterproof boots, that’s a bonus.
  • Headlamp/Flashlight: Useful when you sleep in gers (traditional Mongolian dwellings) or camping in the countryside, where electricity might be limited.
  • Universal Power Adapter: Mongolia uses two-pronged round plugs, the same ones used in most European countries. You may find upscale hotels have a couple of options to cater for a variety of international visitors but this is not the norm. Even if you are from Europe, I would pack a universal adapter as part of my carry-on essentials to be safe.
  • Cash: While Mongolia is increasingly accepting credit cards, especially in tourist areas, carrying cash (Mongolian Tugrik) is still recommended for smaller purchases and travel outside Ulaanbaatar.

What should I know before travelling to Mongolia?

Image of a sand dune with some vegetation and a dog in the distance in the Little Gobi in Mongolia
If you do not have time for a Gobi trip, you can go to Kharkhorin and visit the “Little Gobi” on the way.

How many days should I spend in Mongolia?

In my opinion, the sweet spot is around 2 weeks. I know one week might seem tempting if you’re short on time, but trust me, that’s going to be way too rushed if you want to see different parts of the country.

If you stick to one area, like the Gobi or Central Mongolia, or you have someone do the driving for you, you could pull it off in 1 week.

If you find yourself with three weeks to spare, it would be perfect for exploring various regions by car, leisurely enjoying different experiences, and even dedicating some time to discovering things to do in Ulaanbaatar.

Is Mongolia safe to travel to?

Absolutely! During my four years living in Mongolia, I experienced no safety concerns and I find Mongolians to be incredibly friendly and welcoming. Furthermore, all the solo travellers I encountered along the way felt very safe, too.

Just use your best judgment and as a general precaution stay alert in crowded places like the Narantuul market or busy city streets and do not expose yourself to potentially unsafe situations like walking in dark alleys in the middle of the night or leaving your belongings unattended.

What is the cost of travelling to Mongolia?

Mongolia travel can get pricey and this is due to the vast distances you’ll need to cover within the country. Fuel is expensive, and those long drives between destinations add up quickly.

If you are renting a car, expect to pay from 150 to 300 USD per day in high season. If you have a driver and a tour guide, expect to pay 40+ bucks per day and person.

If you are on a budget, there are ways to cut costs, for example by choosing to eat local food or steering clear of the fancy tour operators geared towards international tourists, who, in my opinion, are simply overpriced for no good reason.

The way to look for more affordable tour companies is through Facebook or word of mouth. When you choose accommodation, look for local ger camps or even camp in a tent – you’ll get the same experience for a fraction of the cost.

The more adventurous travellers will take buses to go to different destinations or try to get a ride with some other travellers. The downside is that you need to be very flexible with your schedule and ideally have plenty of time on your hands.

So, while Mongolia may not be the cheapest destination, with a little creativity and an open mind, you can absolutely make it work on a budget.

INSIDER
tips

I spent around 1,500,000 Tugriks, 445 USD at the time of writing this post, on a 7-day road trip along the Gobi region. That’s on the cheap side. We had our car, there were 5 of us to split fuel costs, we camped in our tents and ate our cooked food sometimes.

During that very same trip, I met a solo female traveller who paid 2500 USD for a 17-day trip which included hostel accommodation in Ulaanbaatar, food and a 14 day tour with a tour guide and driver just for herself.

How do I get around Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia?

Once you arrive, there are many considerations and preparations before you embark on your Mongolian countryside journey. How do you navigate the city and where can you find your basic travel needs? Keep on reading!

Transportation options within Mongolia

  • Arrange a transfer with your accommodation.
  • Airport shuttle. The company is named Ubus, they have a desk at the airport where you can ask for their schedule. The cost is 30k tugrik.
  • Bus line A19. It goes into Sukhbaatar Square and it costs 15k tugrik one way.
  • Taxi – download the UB Cab app. Price is 1500 tugrik per kilometre.

Traffic in Ulaanbaatar can be horrendous, so if you are in good shape bring a good pair of walking shoes and hit your 10000+ steps a day. Time is too precious to spend it stuck in traffic. However, at times when you may want or need to get a ride in UB, your main options are taxi and bus. A single bus ride costs 500 tugrik and you can check lines and schedules in the UB Smart Bus app. If you go to settings you can change the language to English and you can search stations and line numbers.

The main mode of transportation visitors use to get around Mongolia is by car or WAZ – those Russian minivans – and mainly through a booked tour. Moving around within the country can also be accomplished by bus, train or plane, the latter one being the fastest but also more expensive option.

MIAT flies to many cities including Dalangzagad, Murun and Ulgii, which are the closest starting points to explore the Gobi, Lake Khuvsgul and the Altai Mountains. If you travel to Lake Khuvsgul you can also check out Hunnu Air.

TapaTrip: This handy website helps you navigate public transportation options within Mongolia, including buses and minibuses. While sometimes it is a little convoluted to navigate, it is useful when you are travelling on a budget and need to use the bus. There is also an app you can download.

Lack of infrastructure in Mongolia

Let’s touch on the not-so-glamorous side of travelling in Mongolia – the lack of infrastructure.

Mongolia’s road network comprises both paved and unpaved routes. Paved roads primarily link major cities, some are better maintained than others. Secondary roads leading to soums -countryside towns- are often unpaved and can become rough, especially following rain or snow, featuring potholes and uneven surfaces. Due to ongoing road construction and repairs, delays are common, so try to be flexible with your travel plans. Always drive cautiously and have alternative routes in mind as a precautionary measure.

The ger camps, while charming, can be pretty basic. I’m talking no running water, no bathroom in the ger and bed mattresses that are as good as sleeping on a bare plank. Sometimes the only option is a long drop toilet with two planks to place your feet while you pray your foot won’t slip in.

These are the super cheap accommodations and you get what you pay for. If you want comfort in the countryside, there are other options, but prepare your wallet.

In regards to finding restaurants or rest areas along the road, there are a few options on main roads, but as you get away from the more touristy zones, the rest areas look like a bunch of gers where they sell homemade food, or a few old buildings at the entrance of the town with a couple of shops.

Beware of long distances in Mongolia

I read questions from many travellers with unrealistic expectations of the places where they can travel to in just a few days’ visit. A rule of thumb I use is: drive for 4 to 6 hours to arrive at a point of interest, then you can spend the rest of the day enjoying the area.

If you decide to self drive, intend to camp or look for accommodation on the go, you will certainly need to allocate more time to your itinerary than if you were to join a tour.

Is the water safe to drink?

It’s generally not recommended to drink tap water in Mongolia, even in Ulaanbaatar. Here are some safe options:

  • Bottled Water: This is my least favourite option due to the plastic waste it generates, but it is by far the safest.
  • Purified Water: Many hotels and restaurants offer purified water.
  • Boiled Water: If boiling your own water, ensure it reaches a rolling boil for at least one minute.
  • Water Purification Tablets/Filters: Consider using purification tablets or a portable water filter, especially during rural travel.

Insider tip: While some locals might use boiled tap water for cooking (I have done it), it’s best to avoid this as a tourist to minimize the risk of stomach upset. Stick to bottled, purified, or filtered water for both drinking and brushing your teeth. Having said that, I have used tap water in UB to brush my teeth and it has never been an issue.

Can I camp in Mongolia?

Yes, yes and yes! And the best thing? You can virtually camp anywhere you want. If you are bringing your own tent, make sure it is wind-resistant. We learnt that the hard way and we now have a mountaineering tent.

Camping right next to Khongoriin Els, the dune in the Gobi Desert

Where can I get a SIM card?

Having a Mongolian SIM card is crucial for internet access, communication with local businesses (many use Facebook), and using some ride-sharing apps. You can purchase a SIM card at:

  • Ulaanbaatar Chinggis Khaan International Airport: Convenient upon arrival, but prices might be slightly higher.
  • City Center Stores: Look for stores selling Unitel or Mobicom SIM cards. Unitel is a popular choice and the provider I used when I lived there.

What are some useful apps I need to download before going to Mongolia?

  • TapaTrip to check public transportation schedules
  • UBCab to order a taxi effortlessly
  • Facebook to communicate with Mongolians via message
  • UB Smart Bus to check bus routes
  • Imap.mn as an alternative to above
  • maps.me offline map that shows you alternative roads not shown in Google Maps.
  • Google Maps (downloaded) in terrain type.
  • what 3 words to find very specific locations in poorly signalled areas

What is the culture like in Mongolia?

Once you are in the country, make sure to respect the people, their customs and their environment. These are some things you should take into consideration.

What is the food like in Mongolia?

The Mongolian base ingredients for any dish are meat, flour and dairy. While it is an interesting cuisine, it can get repetitive and heavy -it is very fatty- especially if you spend some time in the countryside. There are a myriad of dairy products that you cannot even start to comprehend until you visit several gers, but the most famous ones are milk curds.

I am sorry to tell you that if you are vegan or celiac you need to be extremely strategic on this trip. While there are more options in Ulaanbaatar’s excellent restaurants and supermarkets, the country overall offers limited variety, especially for dietary restrictions such as the ones mentioned.

Insider tip: Be careful when you order vegetable dishes or soups, the fact that the word “vegetable” appears in the dish name does not mean it is “meat” free.

What are some Mongolian customs that I should be aware of?

  • When stepping on someone’s foot, rather than saying sorry, try shaking their hands. Sometimes, word exchange is not even necessary.
  • Do not touch people’s heads.
  • When offered a drink at someoneĀ“s home, especially in a ger, you will receive either milky tea or airag. Most people don’t find the flavour pleasant, but if you want to show respect, grab the cup with your right hand, resting your right shoulder gently on your left hand, and wet your lips.

What are some of the best festivals to experience in Mongolia?

The best festival to go to is Naadam, but this is my opinion solely based on convenience. Naadam takes place during summer, the best season to visit Mongolia. You can experience it in Ulaanbaatar, the most popular option, or different countryside towns. If you would like to consider other options, then head to my post about all the Mongolian festivals and where and when they take place.

What can I expect from a sleepover in a ger?

A ger is the typical Mongolian dwelling that you will see sprinkled all across the countryside as you travel. You will notice a big difference between a family’s ger and a sleeping ger in a ger camp. Your ger accommodation will have the minimum essentials: a set of individual beds, usually 4, placed around the edges of the ger, a stove in the middle that runs with wood or coal, and a few tables. If you are in a ger camp, you will probably have electricity. In more modest accommodations, you might not have access to a light bulb or power outlet.

Gers do not have bathrooms, toilets or kitchen areas. However, I have seen modifications in gers that cater to visitors, for example, one big bed, toilets, sink, TV…

Insider tip: The stove serves 2 purposes: heating the ger and cooking. If you have cooking gear with you, go ahead and use it.

How can I learn some basic Mongolian phrases?

The challenge I found with the Mongolian language is the pronunciation you are taught doesn’t match what people say because they speak so fast that they merge or remove a lot of consonant sounds. Your best bet is downloading learning apps with listening skills activities or finding YouTube lessons. My two favourite options are:

Memrise: I rate this language-learning app really high and I actually paid for it. The downside is that they only offer 2 levels.

Nomin Ger Youtube lessons: This is a language school in UB that has very good reviews from foreign citizens. I never used them personally but I know people who did. They have great short videos on YouTube that will help you with useful interactions during your trip.

Italki: This language-learning platform offers a variety of native Mongolian teachers who will teach you according to your personal goals.

INSIDER
tips

It’s advisable to refrain from vilifying or making inappropriate comments about the historical figure of Chinggis Khan or his legacy. I bring up this specific topic because, in Western cultures, Chinggis Khan has often been depicted as a ruthless conqueror, whereas in Mongolia he is revered and with good reason. Without Chinggis Khan, Mongolia as we know it would not exist.

A beige and brown mini-bus is stuck in the snow, with its front wheel partially buried. A person wearing a deel coat with a yellow belt and blue sunglasses stands at the bus door, smiling. The scene is set against a clear blue sky. This image highlights the potential challenges of getting bogged down in snowy conditions, which is useful information for a Mongolia travel guide.

On our way to a ger camp in Lake Khuvsgul we got stuck and spent a couple of hours waiting for help to get the mini bus unbogged.

Cultural shock: Expect the unexpected

One thing that I had to quickly learn when I first moved to Mongolia for the sake of my own sanity is that things can change at any given time. And you better be ok with it because there is no other way around it. What does this mean for your trip? Unavoidable setbacks that will mess with your schedule and itinerary. That’s why my number one recommendation is that you factor that in as part of your trip. If you want to avoid that kind of hassle, you need to find reliable tour companies or guides that will know how to respond effectively to any obstacles along the way but beware that this might increase the price if you want a tour on a budget.


Activities and experiences

What are the best things to do in Mongolia?

Mongolia is a destination for people who love the outdoors and are happy to do long trips by car. So the best thing to do is to explore the country while enjoying the unique experiences it offers.

Is it possible to see snow leopards in Mongolia?

It is! But there are not many and they are hard to find. In fact, you will not likely see them unless you go on a tour/expedition for that particular purpose. Bring your camera gear with your telescope lens.

What are some of the best places to go horse riding in Mongolia?

You can find horse riding activities virtually in any recreational area. If you go with a tour guide, they will arrange that for you at any given point of your itinerary. If you are not experienced with horses, exercise caution, Mongolian horses are known for their high stamina.

Foreigners pay more

This topic can stir up some debate because people have different views on it. Personally, I believe it’s crucial to be upfront and honest about the situation. There have been cases in which my condition as a foreigner has determined how much I will be charged for a service.

Some tour operators jack up prices to visit places that actually cost way less. I have argued with ger camp and national park staff who have insisted I pay more money than my Mongolian friend because I am a foreigner, even if I am a resident. A couple of years ago, even at the Chinggis Khan Statue Complex, there was a difference in price for Mongolians and foreigners displayed at the entrance.

When you travel with a tour guide, you can avoid these disagreements. However, if you prefer exploring on your own, be aware that you might encounter such scenarios.

Responsible Tourism

How can I support the local economy when I travel to Mongolia?

The tourism industry in Mongolia hasn’t reached many international tour operators and brands yet but as a rule of thumb I try to support small businesses whenever possible. If you want to go the extra mile, buy gifts from social enterprises such as the Mongolian Quilting Center or Mary and Martha.

mongolian themed quilted gifts

Should I bring a gift to nomadic families?

Absolutely! Whether you travel with a tour operator and have a nomadic family visit as part of your itinerary or you are flying solo, a gift is very much appreciated. A good road trip tip is to have some items ready in your car in case you encounter a situation where your gratitude can be expressed in gift form.

As to what you should consider as a gift, think of useful items or food not easily accessible in the countryside. These are some good options: a bottle of vodka, vegetables and fruits and games for kids, such as balls or colouring books. Bringing something typical of your home country would be greatly appreciated, too.

That’s a wrap up! I hope this Q&A post helps you prepare for your upcoming trip to Mongolia.

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