Posted by Selena Travel / 06 29, 2019
Mongolia is an increasingly popular tourist destination. However, you may not have considered traveling here before. Travelers may wonder “Is Mongolia safe?”, “Do I need a Mongolian visa?”, and “When is the best time to go to Mongolia?” With these 20 tips, you can start planning your 2020 excursion to this wild and fascinating Central Asian country.
People may wonder “Is Mongolia Safe?” the answer is a resounding yes. The capital, Ulaanbaatar, has low crime for such a large city. The most noted crime is pickpocketing. Of course, be sensible and don’t leave valuables lying around, and follow your gut in sketchy situations; but the consensus is that Mongolia is a safe country.
Travelers may wonder when the best time to go to Mongolia. The answer is always! The summer offers the easiest time to visit, as most places are open and prepared for tourists, but the winter can provide some interesting activities as well. Whether it’s dog sledding on the frozen Tuul River in winter, or riding a horse through the Orkhon River Valley in the summer, Mongolia is jam packed with outdoor adventures. You can always find something to do in this vast and beautiful country.
Mongolia may not have a reputation for food, but that’s just because few have tried it! Khorkhog, a soup traditionally made with mutton, is a tasty example of good Mongolian food. It’s cooked with stones that have been heated in a fire, then lowered into the pot. If you can get your hands on the stones after they finish cooking the soup, you can hold them. It’s said to be good for your muscles!
This traditional Mongolian food is another hearty dish. Imagine a deep-fried mutton or beef hot pocket. The crispy outside and juicy inside makes for a deliciously filling treat. If you arrive for naadam, you can get special khuushuur, made in a circle with ramps minced in with the meat. Try and get a Mongolian host to teach you to make them!
Buuz are dumplings packed with meat. You can find vegetarian ones, but traditionally they are filled with lamb. For visitors in the winter, a nice warming treat is to put your buuz in the traditional milk tea and enjoy the whole thing as a soup. It’ll keep you warm when you want to!
If you plan on staying more than 30 days, you need to get a Mongolian visa within the first seven days of your arrival. However, if you’re visiting for less than that, there are a number of countries that don’t require visas. You don’t need a local sponsor for a visa, but you can get a visa at a border crossing. No matter what though, make sure it’s a passport that’s good for six months or else you could get turned away! For more information, visit: http://consul.mn/eng/02visae.php.
If you visit in summer, you will be guaranteed to have a great time. The atmosphere in the country is relaxed, and many Mongolians visit the countryside. There are a ton of activities – from the Naadam Festival, like the Mongolian Olympics; to the adventure tours you can do. There are so many choices and places to go. If you want to camp in the sea of grass out in the Eastern provinces, you can see the wild gazelles migrate through. If you want to climb the Altai Mountains in the West, you can catch a flight to Olgii and scale the craggy peaks. Or if you’d like to chill out in a shopping mall eating some gourmet food and buy lovely cashmere, Ulaanbaatar is a great destination.
If you visit Mongolia in Winter, you’re guaranteed to have a great adventure. There is a little less to do, but what you can do is so cool that it will make up for any inconvenience. The capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, doesn’t usually get much snow and flights are rarely delayed before the late Spring. You can go dog sledding on a frozen river, eat hearty food, and visit an ice festival on top of one of the oldest lakes in the world. There is plenty of ice skating and shopping, and the cashmere you buy will definitely keep you warm.
One of the coolest events is the Naadam Festival. It’s a multi-day sports event consisting of the “three manly sports” – archery, horse racing, and wrestling. It’s a uniquely Mongolian event and a social one as well. There is a lot for spectators to see, and the traditional costumes are unique. It’s a truly Mongolian experience. Check out our Great Naadam Festival tours happening in 2020! Only a few places left. Join now!
There are two Eagle Festivals, the largest one is held in October in Bayan-Olgii, a far Western province. With the backdrop of the Altai Mountains, you can watch eagle hunters showcase their skills. Huge Golden Eagles circle the sky and swoop onto their hunter’s arm by command. They also chase animals and there is wonderful food served as well. For those who arrive a little earlier, there’s also a smaller Eagle Festival outside Ulaanbaatar in the spring.
One of the things to enjoy is Mongolia’s nature. With so much open space, you have a lot of opportunities to go camping. There are few rules about where and when to camp; if you can see it, you can probably camp there. Just don’t hop any fences, or bother any herds of animals. Falling asleep under the stars, far away from any light sources, you’ll see heavenly bodies you might not see at home. Waking up to the sun rise over the vast country around you will provide a great start to your day. Bring some Mongolian milk tea and make it at breakfast for a truly nomadic experience. If you don’t want to bring your own gear, there are tons of shops that rent out camping equipment.
A quintessential part of Mongolia is horseback riding. Originally kept as entirely practical animals, now horses are seen as a status symbol. Many ger camps and horse camps operate horseback trips for an hour or two for an affordable price.
Another horse experience, this one is a little longer term. You ride with a team of horses from one place to another. These are one of the coolest ways to see the country. You can camp out under the stars during the evening, and ride your horse down the old town road until you can’t anymore. Mongolians love their horses and are happy to show foreigners a good time on them. If you’re tall and experienced, you may want to get a saddle and longer stirrups in town, as the horses tend to be shorter than the ones in the West.
For a people powered excursion into the countryside, you can rent a bike from a local outfitter and go for a supported bike tour. They will carry food and water behind you while you and a bunch of new friends ride over the rolling hills of central Mongolia. Bike tour companies are flexible and happy to provide either a challenge or something more relaxing. If you don’t want to pack your bike, it’s no problem; the bikes are available for rent!
If you don’t want to deal with any machines or animals and just want to see this amazing country with your own two feet, hiking is a great option. There are many places to go hiking, but not a ton of trails. Maps and compasses are available at camping shops. The freedom of the countryside and the relative rareness of fences mean that you can climb to one peak, and if you want to see what another is like, you can just walk there!
In late February, Lake Khuvsgul hosts the Ice Festival. If you’re looking to travel to Mongolia in winter, have a read of our ultimate guide first!
17. Admire the largest equestrian statue in Asia – Outside of Ulaanbaatar is the largest statue of a person on a horse – Chinggis Khan (aka Genghis Khan). The great Mongolian ruler is memorialized in a huge silver colored statue that looks out over the steppes. There is horseback riding, bike riding and a museum all located at the statue complex.
There are ger camps set up for tourists all over the country. In many national parks, you can find them along the road. There are a number of different yurts, with the traditional ones heated by cozy fires. More modern ones have windows in the walls, and are heated through the floors. You’ll get a good night’s sleep and be able to see some stars through the opening in the top! During the busy summer season, it’s well advised to make reservations in advance, as these can fill up quick!
Mongolia has some great fishing spots available. You need to get permission from the authorities, but with a Mongolian’s help it can be easily arranged. There are a number of interesting native species, with many options for all levels of fishers.
There are many cultural performances hosted throughout the country. Mongolia has a long history of music and dance. The band The Hu has made horsehead fiddle and throat singing world famous. You can see traditional performances in Ulaanbaatar, and they are often arranged in the countryside.
There are more than 20 reasons why you should visit Mongolia. I tried to make this list as short as I could, but there are amazing animals to see, other traditional foods to eat, and many other activities as well. There are also many malls with high quality stores, and cashmere is more affordable here than at home. Book your vacation to Mongolia now!