What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about Mongolia? The nomadic life? The desert wilderness? The stunning scenery? The untouched nature? Or maybe, the rare wildlife?
Well, Mongolia can offer all this and even more.
For those of you wishing to visit this fabulous country, there are several elements you may need to clarify first. How much time will you need, which parts of the country are worth visiting, what are the weather conditions per season, what are your commuting options, and of course what is the estimated cost for such a trip? In this article, I will try to help out by giving you information on all the above elements!
How Much Time Should I Plan For Mongolia?
If you are planning to visit Mongolia as part of your Trans-Siberian trip, I would recommend one full week to get a small, yet good, dose from this amazing country.
If you are considering a stand-alone visit for just Mongolia, then you should plan at least two (2) full weeks to make your visit worthwhile! Truth be told, you could easily spend an entire month here and never get bored. The call is yours!
Where To Go?
Depending on your personal preferences you should target the geographical area that better suits your core travel interest.
- Central Mongolia is popular for its rich cultural and historical heritage sites. It offers a diverse landscape consisting of steppes, mountains, forests, and semi-deserts.
- Western Mongolia is famous for its snow-capped mountains, serene lakes and ice glaciers.
- Eastern Mongolia is an ecological haven and the best place to get closer to native wildlife. Here you will find the famous Mongolian horses, one of the oldest breeds in the world.
- The landscape in Northern Mongolia changes dramatically. The terrain is covered by lush forests, while crystal-clear rivers drain peacefully into the region’s most pristine lakes.
- Last but not least, the Southern region of Mongolia with the most exotic and mystical desert in the whole world, the Gobi desert.
No matter which area you will eventually decide to visit, you should try to be realistic with your expectations. Remember that Mongolia is pretty much remote and commuting takes longer than expected!
Weather in Mongolia
SPRING: Even if the temperature gradually warms up, the weather can still be unpredictable. Make sure your clothing is appropriate for such a varied climate and be prepared to sometimes experience even four seasons in one single day!
SUMMER: Despite being the wettest period for Mongolia, summer also welcomes pleasant temperatures of approximately 25°C. If you are traveling to the Gobi Desert, then the temperature can rise up to 40°C. Moreover, it can become quite chilly at night, so you’d better carry multiple layers of light clothing with you.
AUTUMN: The weather starts getting cooler and nature is at its very best! The changing of colors create a spectacular landscape, which you should by no means miss! Stick to the layering approach, yet with much warmer clothes, and don’t forget to bring with you a pair of waterproof boots.
WINTER: The temperature in Mongolia during winter can get as low as -18°C in the daytime and -35°C at night. Snow makes travel difficult but this is the one and only time of the year to experience the country with close to zero tourists!
Self Driving vs Local Driver
I would advise against self-driving in Mongolia for the below valid reasons:
- Most roads are unmarked and you can easily get lost.
- Conditions are rough in most parts of the country, with only the main roads being asphalt paved. Most of the times you will need to drive off-road with the chances of a flat tire or engine breakdown being extremely high. With or without a personal driver, it comes without saying that you have to invest in a 4WD car for such a trip.
- In the case of a mechanical breakdown while traveling in a rural area, expect to encounter difficulty in communicating your issue to someone, as unfortunately, most locals do not speak any English.
- A local driver and/or guide knows better how to navigate in his own country. He can take you to the best spots and make sure you won’t miss out on any local experiences. He will also ease your communication with nomad families, and of course, handle any unexpected issues.
- Moreover, cost-wise, hiring a local driver with a car can be the same or even cheaper than renting your own car.
Most tour operators will charge you a daily rate for the car + driver / guide, ranging from around US$80 to US$150. The final price varies according to the selected / offered vehicle (type and size), as well as any other extras you might ask for.
Indicative extras can be camping and cooking gear, entrance fees for museums / national parks, and daily meals. As far as your accommodation is concerned, there is an obvious differentiation in price between a local yurt / ger and a tent.
Petrol is usually not included in the above-mentioned price. It is strongly advisable to ask in advance for an estimation for such a cost. It comes without saying that petrol consumption very much depends on the agreed itinerary and consequently the traveled distance.
If you are a budget traveler, then my post “Mongolia the Budget Way” might give you some inspiration. Read and learn about the two valuable contacts I have established in Mongolia. Through them, you can get the best value for money tours in the market, hands down!