Mongolia is the most sparsely populated independent country in the world, with a population of less than three million people. Its harsh windswept plains and the starkly beautiful Gobi Desert are a revelation to intrepid travellers. Renowned for the legendary warrior Genghis Khan, whose Golden Horde swept across Asia in the 12th century, Mongolia has many traditions that live on in the nomads of today. Horses still play an important part in an essentially timeless lifestyle where migrations between summer and winter pastures continue just as they did hundreds of years ago, and many children still learn to ride almost before they can walk.
Large tracts of Mongolia remain virtually unvisited, which makes this enormous country a wonderful destination for true exploration, either on horseback or, more comfortably, in a jeep. Its people are predominantly Buddhist and both peaceful and hospitable in true Central Asian style.
Mongolia is one of Fiona’s all-time favourite destinations and her personal travels have taken her from desert and steppe to the mountains, by jeep, horse and train. Who better, then, to handcraft an itinerary for you that is exhilarating but within your limits?
Fiona’s travel tipsWHAT TO EXPECT: It is not uncommon for drivers to stop at 'gers' — they are not lost but like to get local and seasonal information on travelling through regions with no roads.
DON’T MISS: An absolute highlight is the annual Naadam Festival in mid-July, which celebrates the traditional sports of riding, wrestling and archery.
TAKE WITH YOU: Everything from T-shirts to thermals. The weather changes constantly, especially in the mountains and you can expect everything from hail to sunshine. For riders a sheepskin ‘seat-saver’ will do just that!
INTERESTING FACT: Mongolia is the world’s second-largest landlocked country after Kazakhstan. Around 30 per cent of its population are nomadic or semi-nomadic and the predominant religion is Tibetan Buddhism.
BEST TIME TO GO: We suggest travelling any time between May and October to get the best of the weather.
JOURNEY TIME: 10 hours (indirect)
“A tremendous success, ‘South Zeal’s’ detailed planning and choice of local agent paying off, as ever. Though I’ve travelled extensively in remote areas I still found Mongolia one of the most challenging lands to have visited, physically and, sometimes, culturally – but also one of the most rewarding and special. One needs stamina and, specifically on the cross-country driving, anyone with back problems or whose body might not withstand hours of being wrenched and shaken up should look elsewhere.
However the rewards are enormous in the beauty of the scenery; the flora and (now and again) the fauna and the insights into nomadic life and ancient cultures. My guides and drivers were excellent. You gave ample advice about the uncertain standards of accommodation and food and with few exceptions I was very content with both. I was really glad that I had included some non or only local travel days at each of the camps to balance the long drives and take in the surroundings. The secret is to be selective, and not try to do too much.”
David Carter, Mongolia, August-September 2018
“Inspiring landscape that can be harsh and completely unforgiving but so, so beautiful. Nomadic peoples living hard simple lives and happy with their freedom. Freedom and a nature which they know and love.”
Mrs Gretta Robertson, Mongolia
“ It was great. Fiona was really helpful, making modifications to suit my budget and inclinations, and listened to what I wanted. The camp was terrific, the food wonderful…My guide thought it was very funny that I thought there was too much food put it in front of me, and I tend to eat it. When I told her I didn’t want to get fat, she looked amazed....not getting fat is something which hasn’t really caught on in Mongolia yet! Mostly I was the only tourist at the camp, and I was an object of some curiosity, as single females travelling are rare. The camp staff adopted me a bit, and were just lovely. I was treated like family.”
Sue Murray-Jones, Mongolia, June 2011