A Mongolian yak herder battling the winter weather conditions during winter in Mongolia
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A Mongolian yak herder battling the winter weather conditions during winter in Mongolia

Experience Winter in Mongolia

Mongolia is a land of extremes, boasting four distinct seasons each with its distinguishing features. But, it’s winter that casts a spell unlike any other. This is when Mongolia unleashes its full majesty and to experience winter in Mongolia is a journey into the raw beauty of the country. But beware, for its reputation precedes it and it can be unrelenting and unforgiving.

Landlocked and surrounded by Russia and China, Mongolia’s extreme continental climate means that it lacks any moderating influence from the ocean and this makes it one of the coldest countries in the world. It’s a place where winter isn’t just cold; it’s a test of your mettle, with January temperatures plunging to a bone-chilling -30°C, and the mercury daring to dip below a mind-numbing -40°C (and in some remote corners, even below -50°C). Yes, that’s a bit on the chilly side.

But, surprisingly, winter in Mongolia comes with an unexpected bonus – the weather. Despite the brutal cold, Mongolia enjoys around 260 days of crystal-clear blue skies per year, earning its name as the ‘land of the eternal blue sky.’ Most of these blue sky days grace the winter months. The landscapes of Mongolia are vast at any time of year but in the winter light – often dusted by snow or ice – they take on a beauty not seen at other times of year.

 A majority of tour companies that operate in Mongolia close for the winter and early spring months. We don’t. For those travelling looking to travel out of season or on the Trans Siberian we offer short trips focusing on the ‘real’ Mongolia. One of the destinations we include is Gorkhi-Terelj where the main focus of your experience is staying with Naraa and Bujee – a modern herding family that move twice a year. Yes, Gorkhi-Terelj is well developed for tourism and is a key location for international visitors. But, as this photo taken by our guest Yi-Hsin who travelled with us this February and March shows, sometimes it’s not necessarily where you visit but the way in which you visit. Look at the Eternal Landscapes website for more information on our Mongolia short trips.

While most tour companies hibernate during the winter and early spring months, we don’t. Winter is not just a season; it’s an essential part of the Mongolian experience. The frigid temperatures and weather are what make Mongolia and its landscapes truly extraordinary during this time. Add in the challenges, like limited infrastructure, and it makes winter one of the most rewarding travel experiences.

“We do miss and speak of the Mongolian trip a lot. It remaistand-outd out adventure, remote, beautiful, free and with great interaction with the environment- including landscapes, animals and off course, the people. A true adventure, unlike any other. And it was possible thanks to the special way you built EL and tailored our trip. It could easily be much less interesting and involving without your deep relations with the herders and hunters families. So thank you for making it a real Mongolian exploration and not just a hover above the surface.” The Kidron family, Winter Wild Family Explorer

Winter In The Words Of The EL Team

‘It’s a challenging time of year. It makes us stronger people – facing the harshness of winter.’

‘Winter in Mongolia makes my country look even more vast. It seems endless. With the mountains and mountain steppe all covered with snow, it is like an infinite milk sea. The beauty of it makes you catch your breath.’ 

‘During the winter time in Mongolia we can sledge with our children – after the fresh snow. It is wonderful in the mountains – with nothing else except snow. It is just WOW. And the challenge of the winter makes me admire my ancestors and my country makes me think about who I am and where I am from. How Mongolians  have always faced the challenges of the winter. And of course, there is our new year celebration – Tsagaan Sar.’

 

A winter horse trek Ulaankhuus district of Bayan Ulgii Province in the wild landscapes of western Mongolia during winter in Mongolia

 

Also, winter in Mongolia opens doors to a world of experiences you might not expect.

  • Local festivals take place throughout the winter months. Some are traditional festivals that have been part of the Mongolian calendar for many centuries such as Tsagaan Sar or Nauryz. Others are newer events created by local tourism companies or the local governments as a way of supporting the local communities.
  • Winter provides an amazing opportunity to experience the strength and resilience of the local people. Mongolians adapt to their challenging environment including Mongolia’s herders, who, no matter the weather or temperature, must continue their daily tasks of looking after their livestock. Herders bring their livestock closer to the homestead for protection in the winter and this means their way of life is brought closer to you as a guest. It also means that during the winter they have more free time to be able to interact with you making it a more personal experience.  Families add one or two additional layers of felt to their ger in winter. With the central stove and this additional felt, it makes the nucleus of the ger a very warm and comfortable environment to be in.

Bujee and Naraa of Gorkhi Terelj National Park are a great illustration into how Mongolian horse herders are adapting  - setting up micro businesses as a way of substituting their income.

  • For those seeking an even more exhilarating adventure, venture into the realm of the Mongol Kazakh eagle hunters in western Mongolia. Witness these extraordinary hunters and their magnificent female golden eagles in action.
  • Despite the winter chill, roads and train routes remain open, providing access to the farthest corners of this incredible country, including its Buddhist monasteries and museums.

Erdene Zuu Monastery - Winter

Winter In The Words Of The EL Team

‘The weather is really unique. It can be so harsh and also so mild. No two days are ever the same. It’s a very real time of year – with our people and our livestock battling the changing weather conditions.’

‘One reason I like winter in Mongolia is because of Tsagaan Sar – our traditional New Year. It is an important time to be with family and this means I get to travel to my home in the countryside and meet with my relatives.

 

But there’s more to the story. Mongolia’s tourism exhibits some of the most pronounced seasonality of destinations globally and we encourage you to embrace the off-peak season in Mongolia not just for the unique experiences but also for sustainability. The tourism season takes place between late May to mid-September, with the peak tourist season lasting barely three months (in 2019, 42% of Mongolia’s annual tourist arrivals came during just three months). Many Mongolians working in tourism struggle to make ends meet and by choosing to experience winter in Mongolia, your visit can truly make a difference by supporting local families and communities including those we work in long-term local community partnership with. For those who choose to travel with us in the winter, we show our appreciation with a 15% discount as a thank-you for joining us in sustaining tourism in Mongolia throughout the year.

Thousand Camel Festival winter camel trek

Winter In The Words Of The EL Team

‘I like the snow in winter. Also, our winter holiday which is Lunar New Year – Tsagaan Sar – is very special for us. We meourwith out relatives and celebrate. Although winter is a very cold season, Tsgaaan Sar celebrates the warm season – the coming of spring and the warmth of being together with our relatives and family.’

‘Every season is completely different in Mongolia. If you want to know what winter is like in Mongolia, then really, you have to come and experience it yourself. Our Mongolian winter really has its own taste – especially our Lunar New Year celebration.’

 

Before you choose to embark on a winter adventure, be sure to prepare for the cold. Layers of (merino) wool, silk, polypropylene, or synthetic fibers like fleece are your best friends. And flexibility is key, as weather conditions may demand last-minute changes to your plans. But as the sun dips in the sky, casting long shadows across the endless steppe, the coldness of the weather is eclipsed by the warmth of the welcome you’ll receive.

If you are tired of standard tourism, we invite you this winter to step out of your comfort zone, do something a little out of the ordinary, and experience winter in Mongolia with us. Bring your thermals and embrace the chill, for it’s in the heart of winter that Mongolia reveals its true magic.

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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