Trip Details – Altai Explorer – Mongolia small group tour

‘It is an unobtrusive sample of the way of life of the Kazakhs culminating with the spectacle of the festival – feeling at ease with everyone from your excellent, professional, tireless, organised, direct and honest team. Thank you, it has been my kind of experience.’ EL guest Marzena Prejbisz

Kazakh eagle hunter

Image: EL guest John Alexander

The wild landscapes of western Mongolia and the Altai – Mongolia’s highest mountains – form the stunning backdrop to this cultural adventure where you explore and discover a different more hidden side of the Altai – experiencing it side by side with people that spend their lives living in these landscapes. You’ll be hosted by Kazakh eagle hunters and local families and it is through their eyes that you experience the region including a 3-day horse trek and a 3-day trek into the magnificent Altai Tavan Bogd National Park.

The families that will host you are our own personal friendships that we have built up over the past 15 years. We form long-term local community partnerships throughout the country and work side by side with each family. Our experiences are put together in a way which benefits and supports each family, rather than disrupting their lives. We like to do things a little differently so we leave the plan each day entirely flexible and in the hands of your host.This leads to a more respectful and genuine experience as well as a more personal and real insight for you as our guest. Because of the way we work you’ll get an original insider experience – a more intimate and local introduction to the Altai region – a side that few other travellers get to see and experience.

  • Start Date – Sept 2022 – Dates TBC
  • Duration – 17 Days
  • Group Size – Maximum of 6
  • Accommodation – Homestays, WIld Camping
  • No single supplements for solo travellers
  • This is a small group trip. However, our maximum is group size is six – which is refreshingly small for the travel industry. Our small group sizes mean that our trips are more respectful for your host families that we work in long-term local community partnerships with. It also means you’ll be one of few rather than one of many and this leads to a more genuine experience as well as a more personal and real insight for you as our guest. It also means that no two trips are ever the same as we can keep things flexible. All images used throughout our website were taken either by EL guests or members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia that you will also experience.

Trip Breakdown

Day One  – Final Arrival Day | Discover Ulaanbaatar | City Walking Tour

Image: EL guest Tammy McCorkle

Ulaanbaatar (UB) is home to roughly 45% of Mongolia’s population and our free city walking tour will give you a more local introduction to this vibrant frontier style city with a strong Mongolian identity of its own. It is the beating heart of Mongolia and the hub of contemporary Mongolian urban life. The reality for many Mongolians takes place in this urban context, in a city they are striving to develop and improve. Ulaanbaatar deserves to be appreciated and explored as the urban centre that it is. 

Our informal and relaxed city walking tour will give you a contrasting insight into a way of life, compared to that of the rural population as you spend the day in the company of one of our female Mongolian trip assistants exploring the city through the eyes of a woman. You’ll also meet and spend time at the home of female shaman Javzandulam – learning more about her life and her work.

  • Accommodation: Your own choice
  • Meals: Local lunch and welcome drink
  • Travel: Free transfer

Day Two – Fly Ulgii or Khovd | Ulaankhuus| Kazakh Eagle Hunter Homestay (with Bashakhan family) | Western Mongolia

Kazakh family Mongolia

Image: EL guest Samantha Reinders

Fly out to Ulgii or Khovd – the provincial capitals of western Mongolia – where you will meet your EL team and then travel to the home of Kazakh eagle hunter Bashakhan. Together with his family, they move twice a year. In the summer months his pasture is located within the region of the snow-capped Tsengel Khairkhan Mountain.

The landscapes of Tsengel Khairhan form the backdrop for the next days. This mountain has an elevation of 3,943m and is one of highest glacier mountains in the Mongol-Altai mountain range. It is unexpectedly beautiful.

We leave the rest of the day flexible – you could take a horse trek or spend the day relaxing enjoying the rural way of life of Baskakhan and his family including Hamalgan and Tolhyn – both are talented embroiders and will show you the skill behind this ancient tradition.

  • Accommodation:  Bashakhan typically has one or sometimes two shared guest gers available.  At times, other companies may also be staying there but Bashakhan always provides a private ger for EL guests. Alternatively, if you prefer privacy, we always provide tents for each guest and these can be put up next to the family ger. Asian style long drop outside toilet. No showers.
  • Meals: D * other meals depend on flight time
  • Travel: Up to one hour transfer time to Chinggis Khan International Airport | Roughly 60km on dirt road (approx 1 hour driving time not including stops and depending on road conditions). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions. Please note, if you fly into Khovd the transfer time is longer.
  • Flight Departure and Arrival Time TBC. Weight restriction 15kg (10kg check-in and 5kg hand luggage). Hand luggage ‘officially’ restricted to 1-piece. Excess baggage charges are between $4-$7 per kilo depending on the route. Please note that the domestic airline may change the flight time schedule closer to the day of departure

The Kazakh eagle hunters only hunt in the winter months (early November through to February) as they hunt specifically for the winter coat of the prey of their eagles. In the summer months, the eagles are rested with no training or hunting taking place.

We do not arrange contrived experiences where live prey is pre-captured, held, and then released on purpose for our guests to be able to photograph the experience. We will never arrange any artificial experiences as they damage the culture, the way of life, or wildlife itself.

For those concerned about the welfare of the eagles during your time at the homes of the hunters, the Kazakh eagle hunters have a respectful yet practical approach to their eagles – they have a close connection with their eagles – they are virtually family members although it is sometimes hard for outsiders to recognise this.

The eagles are released back into the wild after about ten seasons so that they can breed. Once released, the birds are observed to make sure they successfully reintegrate back into the wild.

Day Three – Five  – Horse Trek   Horse trekking icon

Landscapes of western Mongolia

In the company of Bashakhan or Tileukjan or Serikjan – both also eagle hunters and Bashakhan’s adult sons – enjoy the wild spaces of this glorious region on a horse trek. The power of the landscapes is an integral part of any journey in Mongolia. The landscapes you will be passing through are immense and immeasurable, weathered and stark – made up of sunlight and shadow, rock, scrub, part streams and fast-flowing rivers. Travelling through the vast landscapes of Mongolia allows you to witness and connect with the local way of life as well as gaining an understanding how the landscapes and the challenges that the locals face within them have helped to form the Mongolian personality – the individualism, hardiness, endurance, self-sufficiency, tolerance and their spirit of freedom.

Our horse trek is different in that we leave the route entirely flexible and in the hands of Basakhan as this leads to a more organic and Kazakh type of exploration. So many trekking experiences offered in Mongolia have rigid routes and itineraries and that just seems wrong in a country of such freedom. Instead, the focus becomes getting to meet and know Bashakhan as you ride alongside him in the areas he considers home. Each night you will set up camp somewhere new, allowing you to experience Mongolia in the true sense of the term nomadic.
Kazakh eagle hunter Mongolia

Image: EL guest Sam Potter

Bashakhan and his sons Tileujkjan & Serikjan are part of the 100,000 Kazakhs living in Mongolia. The Kazakhs are Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority group mainly living in the provinces of western Mongolia. Amid arid yet strikingly beautiful landscapes Bashakhan as both a herder and an eagle hunter has way of life that has been shaped by history, geography and political change.

Hunting with eagles (‘berkutchi’) is a form of falconry traditionally found throughout the Eurasian steppe and still practiced by a percentage of Kazakhs in western Mongolia. It is a winter activity but one reason the Kazakh eagle hunters love to hunt is for the freedom of spending time in the mountains and that’s one reason why he loves to guide on this particular horse trekking experience.

Panoramic view of the snow capped Altai Mountains in western Mongolia

Image: EL guest Shobna Gopinath

The Length

3 days

The Trek

There will be challenges – maybe the weather or maybe some of the terrain at times. However, our treks aren’t meant to be physical endurance events. The focus is on enjoying the wide-open spaces and the feeling of freedom to be found when horse trekking and exploring the Mongolian landscapes.

The Horses

The stars of the show! The horses themselves are a little like the herder guides / horse wranglers you would travel with – self-sufficient and tough. They’re small – but strong and resilient. Ponies they are not. The Mongolian horse spends much of its year roaming in the hills – in territorial, almost semi-wild herds.  They’re a joy to ride … but just take a little time to understand their character. They’re as much part of the experience as the trek itself.

Equipment

You will use Russian saddles (or a similar Mongolian version with felt saddle pads providing support and comfort under the saddle).These are provided by the herders themselves so will change in style from herder to herder. The stirrups have ‘character’ – they’ll be more basic than you’re used to but have a wide step. The bridles are basically similar to what you might have used in the past.You might want to consider bringing your own helmet with you.

Distances

It is difficult to describe a typical day, as they vary so much. Around six to eight hours is about right for most people. On a ‘normal’ day you would cover around 30-50km, depending on terrain.

The Trails

There isn’t a network of clearly defined trails. You have to be prepared for a mixture of terrain – everything from dry river beds to mountainous alpine routes with potentially some river crossings. Your main luggage will be transported by pack-horses or tour vehicle (depending on the final route chosen).

Accommodation

For tent camps, we provide a kitchen tent, a toilet tent and VANGO tents.  There are no single supplements – each traveller gets their OWN tent.  Don’t worry about lack of showers – we provide heated water for washes en-route. On the final night, return to Bashakhan’s home.

Meals

Meals will be hearty and rustic as all food has to be carried with us. Also, there is no chef. Your EL trip assistant treks with you during the day and prepares all your meals as well.

Day Six – Alma Kuk Eagle Festival

Traditional Kazakh horse games

Image: EL guest Kairi Aun

 

The Golden Eagle Association, ‘Almakuk’ was created as a result of the suggestion of forty of Mongolia’s Kazakh eagle hunters from the small community of Ulaankhus. It is a governmental organization, registered by the state, with the purpose to serve society. The objective of the association is to maintain the traditions of the Mongol Kazakh people at the same time as promoting those same traditions to the younger generation. The association works to protect the rights of the Eagle Hunter but also encourages the protection of the eagles including prohibiting the taking of chicks from the nest purely for the purposes of tourism.

Each year the programme is different but the festival is a celebration of Kazakh culture and includes traditional Kazakh games as well as competitions showcasing the relationship between hunter and eagles – focusing on the communication between them and the speed, agility, and accuracy of the ‘berkut’ (the female Golden Eagle).

The festival provides you with a wealth of cultural experience as you mix in the company of small-town folk, nomads, and Kazakh hunters. It promises to be a treat for the senses whatever the line-up.

Each day is about flexibility for you but your EL team will be on hand throughout the event. You will have full access to the van where you can keep your belongings safely and where you can come to warm up if necessary. Your trip assistant will be with you and will help to explain the traditions of eagle hunting as well as the rules of the competitions taking place throughout the day.

Day Seven & Eight – Khoton Nuur | Khurgan Nuur

Khoton & Khurgan Nuur Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

Drive out across expansive rocky plains to the small windswept town of Tsengel. From here continue along through the river valley as to the rugged peaks of the Altai and the spectacular alpine lakes of Khoton and Khurgan Nuur.

Altai Tavan Bogd National Park can be divided into two regions, the Tavan Bogd Mountains in the northwest and the Lakes Region to the southeast. The lakes are fed by glacial melt and annual snow fall and form the head waters of the Khovd River.

Explore this mountain forest steppe region –  including the valleys that the local herders use for their summer and winter pastures on the Chinese border. One option is a day hike to Baga Turgen Waterfall.

  • Accommodation:Tent camp. UK VANGO tents. We also provide a kitchen tent  and a toilet tent (well, a tent to cover the hole in the ground. I call it a ‘loo with a view!”). No showers. Solo travellers receive their own tent – no single supplement required.
  • Meals: B/L/D
  • Travel: Day 7 – Roughly 150km on dirt road (approx 6-7 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.

Day Nine  – Altai Tavan Bogd National Park  

Altai Tavan Bogd National Park Mongolia

Drive to the home of the Imbekbaatar family – a Kazakh herding located within the Baga Oigor river valley. The Tsagaan Salaa River flows into the Baga Oigor in the far western region of Bayan Ulgii Aimag and the petroglyphs found here form part of the Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai. Within an area of roughly 15 km2 reside approximately 10,000 figures on the southern side of the Tsagaan Gol River Valley.

  • Accommodation: Ger next to family ger. Outside Asian style long drop toilet.

Staying With The Imbekbaatar Family

Kazakh ger stay western Mongolia

The Imbekbaatar family are a young Kazakh herding family making their life amongst the foothills of Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. We like to work with them as it helps to provide financial support that enables them to retain their way of life. Also, their local knowledge of the region is unparalleled. It also gives our guest a different perspective of the way of life in western Mongolia as none of the family members are eagle hunters.

  • Meals: B/L/D
  • Travel: Roughly 150km total on asphalt and dirt road (approx 5 hours driving time not including stops and depending on road conditions). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.

Day Ten – Twelve  – Altai Tavan Bogd National Park  Trek Trekking icon

Altai Tavan Bogd Mountains are the highest mountains in Mongolia, with Khuiten Uul (‘Cold Peak’) at 4374m being the highest. These permanently snow capped mountains form a bowl around the Potanii Glacier. The other peaks are Nairamdal (‘Friendship’, 4180m), Malchin (‘herder’, 4050m), Bürged (‘Eagle’, 4068 m) and Olgii (‘Cradle’, 4050m). Within this incredible region of cold permanently glaciated peaks, alpine lakes and hidden valleys you feel as if time is standing still – these vast and timeless landscapes will make you think and reconsider your priorities.

You’ll drive to the ranger station of Altai Tavan Bogd from where you can hike towards the Potanin Glacier, the largest in the Mongolian Altai and in the shadow of the ‘Five Holy’ peaks. It is a stunning setting from which to explore.

Your final camping location depends on the fitness levels of the whole group as it is a vigorous 20km trek from the ranger station to the Potanin Glacier (accompanied by pack camels). Please take into consideration that this is a border region and the border army can close the area to overnight trekkers due to weather conditions. In these circumstances we arrange day hikes. We require you to be flexible and adaptable.

On Day Twelve return to your ger accommodation provided by Imbekbaatar. 

NOTE – Malchin Peak is offered as a trekking option by our competitors. However, it has an elevation of 4,050 m although it is the only one of the five peaks of Altai Tavan Bogd that can be climbed without specialised mountain climbing equipment, it is challenging. Due to the death of 17 of Mongolia’s top mountaineers on a neighbouring peak in 2017, we decided to cancel all treks to Malchin Peak. It wasn’t a decision we took lightly as it does limit our income but we feel it is a safe decision.

Day Thirteen – Fifteen – Altai | Kazakh Eagle Hunter Homestay (with the Asker family)

A family photograph of the Asker Kazakh family during one of our Mongolia trips

Transfer through Ulgii – stopping for a hot shower – before you head to the small community of Altai district – in the south of Bayan Ulgii Province.

Altai is a remarkable location – deep on the Chinese border. Your destination is the winter pasture of Kazakh herder and eagle hunter Asker (left) and his wife Ahgul. What makes this family so special is that they have one son (Nargulan – left) and five daughters – Ahjakar, Ardagul, Aijarin, Jakarke and Aigerim. The oldest of which, together with Nargulan, are also training to eagle hunters. This delightful family will be your hosts as you spend time in the company of their son and daughters.

Don’t try to find the location in a guidebook … you won’t. But, the lush alpine meadows, the open plains, the dense forests, the high snowy peaks and the crystal-clear rivers and lakes are worth the effort.

There is nothing planned as everyone is different in what they like to do and not planing in advance leads to a more respectful and naturally Kazakh experience. But there’s plenty of flexibility and options including learning more about the way of life or even a great horse trek or full-day hike into the landscapes of the interior in the company of Aigerim or one of her sisters.

Experiencing Kazakh hospitality in western Mongolia

Image: Massimo Rumi

As Kazakh culture dictates, they are warm and generous hosts and this image shows the incredible table that awaits visitors at each home. At some point during your time in Ulgii you will try ‘Besbarmak’, a dish consisting of boiled horse or mutton. This is is one of the most popular Kazakh dishes and is also called ‘five fingers’ because of the way it is eaten – using your hands.

  • Accommodation: We need you to be flexible in the Altai this close to the Eagle Festival as accommodation is limited in the region. By September/October, Asker is usually back in his winter house but may provide an additional ger but this depends on the weather. At times, other companies may also be staying there but Asker always provides a private room within the house for EL guests. Alternatively, if you prefer privacy, we always provide tents for each guest and these can be put up next to the family home. Asian style long drop outside toilet. Hot shower available at the local town shower house in Ulgii en-route to Altai — your own private cubicle with plenty of hot water. Queue with the locals and enjoy experiencing a little of their daily way of life
  • Meals: B/L/D
  • Travel: – Day Thirteen – Roughly 310km on dirt and asphalt road (approx 8 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.

Day Sixteen – Ulgii (contingency day)

Ulgii - the provincial capital of western Mongolia

Image: EL guest Meei Wong

Travel back to Ulgii where you will be hosted by our Kazakh translator Jako and her family.

Ulgii is a predominantly Kazakh city where a Muslim influence is widespread, from street signs to clothes and food, and gives the town its diverse atmosphere. As well as spending time at the family home do as the locals do and visit the market where you can purchase some locally made wool and embroidery crafts and take in the view from Ulgii’s viewpoint – always popular with local families. Also, consider the surprisingly interesting local museum.

And for those that think why bother visiting Ulgii?… remember, for each of the families you live with, Ulgii is part of their way of life … they use it for shopping, for meeting friends, for attending school or visiting the doctor. It’s as much part of their life as hunting with eagles is.

Meet Halmira

Halmira was widowed when her youngest child was just two. A mother of five, Halmira survived financially by creating traditional Kazakh embroidery. However, apart from local sales she has never really had an outlet for her remarkable skill … until now. With Halmira, her home is her workshop.  Self-taught, Halmira uses her own motifs as well as more traditional designs for the Kazakh embroidery and wall hangings she hand makes. She works freehand but uses handmade stencils. For those that wish to, we arrange for you to spend time at the home of Halmira learning this incredible skill.

Meet Halmira, Olgii Western Mongolia

  • Accommodation: At the home of Jako and Baurjan. Outside toilet. Hot shower at the local town shower house. Your own private cubicle with plenty of hot water. Queue with the locals and enjoy experiencing a little of their daily way of life
  • Meals: B/L/D
  • Travel: Roughly 130km on dirt and asphalt road (approx 4 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions.

During your time in Bayan Ulgii Province you will have the services of a Kazakh translator working alongside your EL trip assistant. This is not a professional translator. This is either Jako or her husband Baurjan – local Kazakhs who can speak Mongolian (and depending on who works on your specific trip, a little English) and who supplement their income by working as translators specifically for EL. It could be that your questions have to be translated from English into Mongolian and then into Kazakh (and the answers vice versa). It might at times test your patience but just relax and enjoy being with Jako and Baurjan who have become part of the EL family.

Jako and Baurjan - Our Kazakh fixers

Day Seventeen – Return Ulaanbaatar

Fly back to Ulaanbaatar. On arrival into UB, we’ll transfer you to your accommodation and the rest of the day will be yours to create your own experience. Remember you could use our UB guide to help you to explore the urban side of Mongolian life in downtown Ulaanbaatar. Alternatively, one of our trip assistants could be made available but please let me know in advance.

We will transfer you to the airport or train station on your departure date.

  • Accommodation: Of your own choice
  • Meals: Breakfast * Lunch depending on flight time
  • Travel: Short transfer to Ulgii Airport. If flying from Khovd, roughly 220km on dirt and asphalt road (approx 4 hours driving time not including stops). Averages of between 30 and 65 km/hr are usual but depend on road and weather conditions. Up to one hour transfer time from Chinggis Khan airport.
  • Flight Departure and Arrival Time TBC. Weight restriction 15kg (10kg check-in and 5kg hand luggage). Hand luggage ‘officially’ restricted to 1-piece. Excess baggage charges are between $4-$7 per kilo depending on the route. Please note that the domestic airline may change the flight time schedule closer to the day of departure

The Small Details

  • For all of our trips we offer a sliding price scale. We appreciate your holiday funds are precious and so the more people that book so the price comes down and everyone benefits.

Group Size – Maximum of six. Minimum of THREE required for a guaranteed departure. Or, two guests can pay a surcharge

  • 3-4 Guests     US$ 3465 + domestic flight of approximately 750,000 MNT pp
  • 5 Guests        US$ 3095 + domestic flight of approximately 750,000 MNT pp
  • 6 Guests        US$ 2735 + domestic flight of approximately 750,000 MNT pp

Where Does Your Payment Go?

  • In our experience, how people choose who to book with usually comes down to the cost. Budget is a very personal thing and everyone is different in what they want to pay.
  • We’re a registered Mongolian business and registered social entrepreneurship. We are not a luxury tour operator. We’re a small business that receives around 150-200 bookings per year. We can’t compete on price with our budget competition that don’t pay sustainable wages, or with the international companies that use agencies to run their trips and receive 1000s of bookings per year. We also can’t compete with individual guides or drivers that offer cut-price trips.
  • To help you see where your payment goes, we’re very much driven by our philosophy of making a positive difference in Mongolia through tourism.
  • We focus on community-based tourism – working directly with local people, communities and projects – slowly building up relationships and what we call long-term local community partnerships with them. We work side by side with each and our experiences are put together in a way that benefits and support each family or project, rather than disrupting their lives or work. We also run our free long-term training school for Mongolian women that want to work in tourism – providing training and then creating long-term flexible employment opportunities for them. 
  • Your payment remains in Mongolia and goes back into the communities through which you travel. We are committed to providing honest and ethical business opportunities for the local people we work with, at fair rates, as well as providing long term support.  We also focus on making sure our impact is as positive as it can be. I am the only westerner (the rest of my small team are Mongolian) and we don’t work with any outside agencies or ‘buy’ services from other in-country operators.
  • We are also a member of Tourism Declares A Climate Emergency – a collective of travel organisations who have declared a climate emergency and are coming together to find solutions. We accept our responsibility to tell the truth, work together, and help build a new, regenerative tourism.
  • All meals outside of the city of Ulaanbaatar. Mainly prepared and cooked by your local team so they are fresh and it means we offer more flexibility for any dietary requirements. We also provide filtered drinking water (not bottled), tea and coffee. 
  • In Ulaanbaatar: local lunch and welcome drink on city walking tour
  • Local team of English speaking female Mongolian trip assistant and Mongolian male driver
  • All overland transportation throughout the trip (4×4 Russian Furgon van + fuel)
  • Each vehicle has a charger for cameras and phones
  • Free (informal and relaxed) city walking tour of Ulaanbaatar
  • Transportation to and from the airport on arrival and departure days
  • All activities mentioned PLUS any activities offered including
  1. Camel or horseback rides
  2. Entrance fees to monasteries, temples and museums (when with local team) – excludes camera tickets
  3. Festival tickets if festival is highlighted in itinerary
  • For winter trips, we also provide each traveller with one of our traditional hand made goatskin blankets. These are used by most rural Mongolians and go on top of the sleeping bag. They are fantastic insulation. Also, you get a pair of Mongolian felt boots to wear during your time in Mongolia. These are commonly used by herders and insulate the feet much better than western-style hiking boots and socks can do. They are waterproof. About the cold, predicted winter temperatures could scare at first sight, but it is a very dry cold and with good preparation (as in the right clothing including thermals)  minus 25 ° C could be compared with – 5 ° C in Europe. We look after you!
  • International airfare to and from Mongolia
  • Accommodation in Ulaanbaatar

* Our trip pricing excludes the price of accommodation in UB though. Why?  Everyone is different is the standard of accommodation they prefer at the start and end of a trip. As there is now such a variety of hotels in UB it is easier to exclude this cost. I provide a list of ideas covering varying standards and budgets and I can also help with booking. There’s everything from a homestay through to Airbnb, US$10 guesthouses and the Shangri-La!

  • Domestic flight where/if applicable

*If you are travelling by domestic flight, the schedule and cost of the domestic flights have not yet been determined by the Mongolian airlines. Once you have booked this trip, you will be notified directly by us as soon as that info becomes available. Reservations and payment arrangements for any domestic flight will be coordinated by us.

  • Passport and visa fees

Let us know your nationality at the time of booking and we’ll confirm whether you need to apply for a Mongolian visa. It is a relatively easy process depending on your nationality and we can help with some of the formalities.

  • Travel insurance (mandatory) 
  • Gratuities

*Each member of the local team receives a responsible but fair salary and none have to rely on receiving gratuities to supplement their income.  In addition, we make sure that everyone who works with us or helps us is fairly rewarded for their work and the service they provide. At the end of the tour, if you wish to make a gratuity to the local team then thank you – it is not compulsory but it is appreciated when given. If you would like to provide a tip,  a tip for the drivers would be roughly equal to what you would give to the tour guides – anything from $20 (USD) per member of staff (driver & tour guide) is a good minimum guide.

What Will It Be Like?

Although there is a structure in place – we don’t provide a tight schedule or overly detailed itinerary – that sort of rigidity just seems incongruous in a land of such freedom among a country of herders.

Yes, there may well be irritations and difficulties – this is Mongolia, one of the largest, most remote countries in the world, with limited infrastructure. Mongolian people are tough and resilient and make their way of life in both the city and countryside seem easier than it actually is. Mongolia will challenge you at times. We’re on hand  to iron out any niggles and make the experience as smooth as possible but you need to be sure you’re able to demonstrate flexibility,  patience, and both a sense of humour and a sense of adventure. 

Are you up for a road trip? It’s something to consider since there are always several long travel days on any Mongolian journey.  Mongolia can be a challenging destination, road conditions can change dramatically with the weather and some drives may be prolonged as a result. It simply comes with the territory. Traveling long distances is an integral part of Mongolian culture and it is considered bad form to complain or ask about the length of time of any road journey. If you can accept the journey as part of the overall Mongolian experience, you’ll do fine.

What About The Weather?

Mongolia’s weather system has a reputation for a reason. We’ll prepare you for what weather to expect during your trip (including links to the long-range weather forecast for the regions you will be visiting) and also provide a detailed packing list on booking.

Travelling In The Winter

  • Winter trips can sometimes be susceptible to unforeseen problems which might result in last-minute itinerary changes.  Things will not happen on a perfect schedule and conditions will be very rugged – you will be required to step outside your circle of comfort. Please base your expectations on this important point.
  • Facilities will be more limited than you have maybe experienced on previous winter trips elsewhere.
  • In towns, accommodation is heated through a central piping system which gets turned on in late September and turned off in May. You may find the rooms overly warm and stuffy but there is typically no thermostat so the only option is to open a window.
  • Apart from in the towns, your accommodation will be in family provided accommodation where there won’t be hot showers and the toilets will be OUTSIDE Asian style long drops. All family accommodation will be prepared for winter and heated by a stove but you’re probably used to an insulated house with central heating. There is a substantial difference.
Who Is The Local Team?

You will travel with a team of male Mongolian driver and female Mongolian trip assistant. We do not outsource the logistics of our trips to drivers and guides working the tourism circuit. Instead, we have worked on nurturing our own local operations and provide long-term training, support and employment opportunities to those that want the opportunity to aim to be the best they can be thus supporting them in their aim. This has led to the formation of our small but great team. 

**Our female Mongolian Tour Guides are dynamic women who are searching for an opportunity to train for the long-term career opportunities that we provide. You’ll travel with someone who sincerely loves their home country, loves their job and genuinely cares about you as our guests. We are proud to be able to provide a starting block to women in Mongolia. We invite you as our guests to become a part of this philosophy.

   **We employ ten male drivers and knows each one personally. Their English may be limited and they are not necessarily modern urban types – more the traditional strong and silent type – but they are superb at navigating the Mongolian roads. (Often older or more traditional men are now overlooked by other tour companies who prefer younger more international Mongolians who speak English.  We wanted to provide equal opportunities and so as our trip assistants are female and typically younger with a more modern outlook, so our drivers are all male, older and from more traditional backgrounds. We find it is a partnership that works well.) If you take the time to get to know them, you’ll see why we employ them. As well as handling the challenges of the roads, they are supremely talented at the Mongolian skill of ‘mongolchlokh’ – improvising the Mongol way. It’s a joy to watch, so if your vehicle does break down, don’t get angry. Instead, watch the drivers do what they do best – improvise!

Meet Our Team
Our Local Long Term Community Partnerships

We work with a network of local families throughout the country. These are long-term local community partnerships we have built up over the 15 years+  we have been based here. These are also our own personal friendships.

We never ask a family to change their daily living for us.  We do not try to change Mongolians or their way of life for our/your own benefit or comfort. We don’t ask them to change their daily schedule or to put on an ‘act’ as this would lead to a contrived experience. Nothing is planned in any program, because we do not disturb the rhythm of life of the working families visited. We are just trying to share / experience  a portion of their life (also rarely wear a watch let alone work to an agenda!).

Our Community Partnerships
What Is The Tour Vehicle?
  • The 4×4 Russian Furgon / UAZ van (not jeep). Our Furgons are driver-owned but we support the drivers with maintenance fees.
  • Each vehicle has its own simple mobile kitchen, its own sunshade, a small library as well as a 220v inverter/charger. We only put a maximum of three to four guests per vehicle.
  • Each Furgon has a high wheel-base, ample luggage space, a sociable layout with forward and backward facing seats, surround side windows and most importantly, impressive off-road capability.
  • As is typical with all Furgons, due to the design of the vehicle, seat-belts are not available (2021 although we’re working on it for 2022. Get in touch for details if you’re concerned) but our Furgons are fitted with grab handles in the passenger area.
What Are The Meals Like?
  • Included meals will be provided mainly by the local team team. Since each of our vehicles contains a kitchen, it offers considerable freedom and flexibility. It also allows for picnic lunches en-route (and gives you lots of time to stretch their legs and do a little exploring). 
  • The majority of Mongolians eat meat and for Mongolia’s herders it is an essential part of their diet. Due to the remote locations and the lack of facilities, there will naturally, but occasionally, be limitations in place. (If you’re the type of person that must have five pieces of fruit a day then you may struggle.) But you can count on meals that will be tasty and filling. The team is encouraged to purchase local seasonal produce to help support each community we pass en-route. Also, we take food miles into consideration so do not expect kale smoothies or Thai curries or paella or Chinese stir fry. We just provide honest, heartening grub. You may see a pineapple in one of the markets but, no! We won’t necessarily buy it! 
  • We make every effort to cater to those with dietary requirements. However, you are personally responsible for providing clear information regarding dietary needs so we can help you to understand well in advance what you might realistically expect. There will be ample room on the booking form for you to convey these details. 
  • In Ulaanbaatar, there is a wide range of local Mongolian restaurants and international options. There are Japanese, Italian, Indian, Ukrainian, French, Mexican, American and even North Korean restaurants to name a few. Vegetarians are well represented, too, with a surprising number of meat-free, vegan restaurants. Most pubs and bars also serve food.
Being Vegetarian in Mongolia
What About Drinking Water?

In rural areas in Mongolia, there is no running water. Since recycling is extremely limited in Mongolia, we do not buy bottled water. Instead, the local team travels with two 20l containers per vehicle and collect drinking water from the small town drinking water stations and filter it for your consumption. You will need to bring a resusable water bottle with you. We provide a detailed packing list on booking.

Our Partnership With Water-To-Go
Toilet Breaks When Driving

Regular toilet breaks are taken during road transfers. There are limited public facilities available (none) so we provide a small trowel and plastic bags. You can either take the trowel and dig a small hole (in which you can leave the toilet paper and then re-cover with the soil) or place your toilet paper into the small bag and place the bag into the main rubbish. We do not burn the paper – arid conditions, a strong breeze and grassland do not make for a good mix!

Providing Toilets In Tourism
Accommodation - Family Operated Ger Accommodation & Homestays
  • As much as possible we use rural family operated ger accommodation. We prefer to support this local form of accommodation as it helps provide a supplementary income and extra financial security for them meaning they are one step further away from having to consider urban migration.
  • These are all families we work in long-term local community partnership with – we NEVER turn up unannounced and we never just turn up to a herding family demanding accommodation.
  • The circumstances and type of ger accommodation provided will change from family to family. Consider them as small rural businesses NOT rustic luxury homestays. Be prepared for a variety of standards. Please remember that this is someone’s way of life and home and that they provide what they can in relation to their circumstances.
  • Beds will vary in comfort – most rural family members still traditionally sleep on the floor so don’t really understand the concept of double memory foam mattresses!
  • You should have your own private ger either to share as a group but we don’t offer exclusivity as this limits the income of the families so do expect other westerners during peak times.We try to get the right balance but during peak season please accept that you might see other westerners
  • Toilets (Familes & Homestays) – Some will be better than expected. Some will be worse than expected. Most will outside long (or short) drop Asian style and if it is at a family home then the toilet will be shared by you and the family. The toilets are not there to disgust you – this is the reality of life on the ground.
  • Showers (Familes & Homestays) – Most Mongolians visit the local town shower house. So this is what you do as well. It gives you an introduction to real daily life for a majority of Mongolians in both urban and rural areas as well as a hot shower. You get your own private cubicle with plenty of hot water. Queue with the locals and enjoy experiencing a little of their daily way of life- Most Mongolians visit the local town shower house. So this is what you do as well. It gives you an introduction to real daily life for a majority of Mongolians in both urban and rural areas as well as a hot shower. You get your own private cubicle with plenty of hot water. Queue with the locals and enjoy experiencing a little of their daily way of life
Accommodation - Tourist Ger Camps
  • If requested and in some locations (such as Khovsgol), we do offer accommodation at ger camps. We don’t book the most luxurious or the most exclusive. Instead, we choose the ones that we think work best for you and your style of trip as well as the locations you are visiting.
  • There WILL be times during your journey when the availability of certain amenities at these ger camps may be lacking. The reasons for this can be varied – low season; high season; electricity/generator problems; remote locations; the simple fact that some amenities are only catered for between certain times of the day. Examples of this could be a ger camp having a lack of hot water, or only having hot water at certain times.
  • Lighting in the evening at some places may be by candle-light, and electricity may not be available.
Accommodation - Local Hotels
  • We don’t use hotels in all itineraries.
  • Where we do use a hotel, it is locally owned – built for the passing Mongolian trade rather than for western visitors so they have been built with the local population in mind so they are not corporate chains. However, one or two will pleasantly surprise you.
  • Why do we do this? It brings money and support into the local communities.  As well as staying at the hotel we eat in local restaurants and buy our tour produce from the local market so you get a more real insight into the way of life for the locality.
Accommodation - Tent Camps
  • Not all itineraries include tent camping. Please check your itinerary.
  • We use VANGO Hurricane or Nemesis tents. There is also always a kitchen tent and also a toilet tent.  However, this is not the same as a 5* safari in Africa!
  • When camping, we do not camp too close to family gers as this intrudes on their privacy. However, local life is only a short walk away. If you like landscapes then you will love our campsites.

We are members of Tourism Declares A Climate Emergency which requires us to publish an annual Climate Action Plan. As part of our plan we carbon offset all domestic flights.

Although carbon offsets are far from imperfect and not the whole answer, they make a difference. Emissions per kilometer for domestic flights are always much higher because such a large proportion of the flight is spent taking off and landing. With this in mind, as a company, we will be calculating the offset for all domestic flights used by our guests and paying the offset to buy Plan Vivo Foundation carbon certificates which are used to support the Plan Vivo Mongolian Nomad Project – working in partnership with the Mongolian Society of Range Management. 

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