On this quick tour of Mongolia, you'll get an introduction to the country's culture and history. Start with sightseeing in Kharkhorin, visiting what was once the world's largest Buddhist university, then spend the night in a ger (yurt) camp. Explore the sand dunes of the Gobi Desert on a camel and go hiking in the deep ravine of Yolyn Am before heading to the city of Ulaanbaatar, where the adventure ends.

Highlights

  • Tour Ongi Temple, once the world's largest Buddhist university 
  • Camp in a traditional Mongolian ger (yurt)
  • Ride a camel across sand dunes at sunset
  • Sample khoorhog (roasted goat), a Mongolian specialty

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Sightsee in Kharkhorin Ger camp
Day 2 Visit Ongi Monastery Ger camp
Day 3

Go for a Camel Ride on Sand Dunes 

Homestay
Day 4 Explore the Yol Valley Ger camp
Day 5 Depart Ulaanbaatar

 

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Sightsee in Kharkhorin 

Visit the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire in the 13th Century
Kharkhorin, the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire

Welcome to Mongolia! Today you'll uncover some of Mongolia's history and culture as you head south to the ancient city of Kharkhorin. Also known as Karakorum, Kharkhorum, Qara Qorum, and Harhorum, this was the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire between 1235 and 1260. While none of the original city stands above ground today, there is a UNESCO museum onsite that explains the history of this important site and showcases some of the most exciting archaeological discoveries.

Next to the museum is the 16th-century white-walled Erdene Zuu Khiid Monastery, which still functions as a working center for Lamas and Buddhists from around the world. Nowadays, Kharkhorin itself is a rather nondescript Soviet-style town, but visiting the museum and the monastery will make you feel like you've taken a step back in time. 

Day 2: Visit Ongi Monastery

Explore the ruins of Ongii Monastery, once the largest Buddhist temple in the world
The ruins of Ongii Monastery, once the largest Buddhist temple in the world

This morning you'll set off on a long journey to Ongi Monastery in Saikhaan-Ovoo. Founded in 1600, the Ongi Temple was once the world's largest Buddhist university, with four separate colleges sitting on the banks of the River Ongi. Today, the ruined temples are a haunting reminder of the anti-religious purges of the 1930s. Take a tour through the ruins along the river and in the surrounding hills, then visit the newly founded temple to learn about the four Lamas who are reviving the ancient traditions that were lost here when the original temples were destroyed by Communist armies in 1939. 

This afternoon, you will learn to build your own traditional ger. For dinner, enjoy a hearty supper of khoorhog (roasted goat) under a starry night sky in this beautifully wild and rugged landscape.

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Day 3: Go for a Camel Ride on Sand Dunes 

Ride a camel across the Singing Sand Dunes of the Gobi Desert
Riding a camel across the Singing Sand Dunes of the Gobi Desert

You'll have a long but memorable travel day today as you head south across the immense Desert Steppes and the Altai Mountain range on your way to the legendary "singing sand dunes," the Khongoryn Els in the south Gobi Desert. It's also known as the Hongorïn Els. You'll be following in the footsteps of the famed Italian explorer, Marco Polo, who visited these dunes during the height of the Mongolian Empire in the 13th century. 

Just before sunset, you'll take a camel ride through the shadows of the huge dunes and the mountainous sandy landscape. Then settle in for dinner at a local camp and enjoy another night under an amazingly starry sky.

Day 4: Discover Yolyn Am Gorge

Drive through the Altai Mountain passes on our way to the Vulture's Mouth
Yolyn Am Gorge

After breakfast, make your way back along the southern side of the Altai Mountains in the southern Gobi Desert until you reach the Yolyn Am Gorge. Meaning "Vulture's Mouth," the Yolyn Am is a deep rocky ravine. The center is frozen solid throughout most of the year. Between June and September, the majority of the ice around will be melted but even in the height of summer, you'll still be able to see patches of snow and ice outside the valley walls. You'll go on a guided excursion that takes you most of the way out to the gorge, partly on horseback and partly on foot. Enjoy one last night of camping before heading back to civilization the next day. 

Day 5: Depart Ulaanbaatar 

It's time to say goodbye to Mongolia and Ulaanbaatar
A morning scene in Ulaanbaatar

Squeeze in some more sightseeing or souvenir shopping before heading to the airport. The trip has come to an end - safe travels!

More Mongolia Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Mongolia? Check out these other Mongolia itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights. 

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