Follow in the footsteps of Genghis Khan—from the sands of the Gobi Desert to the grasslands of the steppe—as you explore Mongolia's unspoiled landscapes and stay in traditional ger
camps. You'll travel in the company of Paula DePriest (June) or Bill Fitzhugh (August), both experts on Mongolia at the Smithsonian.
Begin this unique adventure in Ulaanbaatar, a fascinating intersection of traditional nomadic life and modernity, where you’ll visit noted museums and the Gandan Monastery. Fly to the great Gobi Desert, Asia’s largest desert, to explore scenic eagle valley, the immense “singing sand dunes” of Khonogryn Els, and the striking Flaming Cliffs. In the open steppe, stop at the sacred mountain of Khongno Khan, then journey to the ruins of the ancient Mongol capital of Karakorum (possible site of Genghis Khan’s fabled palace of Xanadu) and visit Erdene Zuu, Mongolia’s oldest surviving Buddhist monastery and also an important museum. See more of the country’s landscapes at Khustai Nuruu National Park and freshwater Lake Khuvsgal, one of Mongolia’s premier attractions. This area is also home to minority ethnic groups with unique cultures and Shamanist traditions. Throughout your tour enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming, and horseback riding and meet with the local people, known for their generous hospitality.Special Value!This tour is specially designed for a small group of 18 Smithsonian travelers and offers outstanding travel value. Prices include airfare, airline taxes, fuel surcharges, and departure fees.Check out our slide show for a photo journey of this tour!
View photos by clicking "Next Photo" at the top of the page!Itinerary
Days 1-2 — U.S., Ulaanbatar, Mongolia
Depart the U.S. and upon arrival in the Mongolian capital late evening, transfer to your hotel.Day 3 — Ulaanbaatar
Encounter Mongolia’s spiritual heart as well as its political, economic, and social hub. A full-day tour includes visits to the Fine Arts Museum
, showcasing a noteworthy collection of religious art from pre-history to the early 20th century, including metal sculptures, scroll paintings, and papier-maché masks, and the Natural History Museum
, with a diverse collection that includes dinosaur skeletons and eggs. Also visit the important 19th-century Gandan Monastery
, one of the few Buddhist structures not destroyed by the Communist government in the 1930s. Tonight enjoy a welcome dinner and folklore performance. B,L,DDay 4 — Gobi Desert
The great Gobi is your destination today, after a 1½-hour flight. Asia’s largest desert (and the world’s fifth largest), the Gobi covers some 500,000 square miles of southern Mongolia and north and northwest China. Its vast, barren expanses of gravel plains and rocky outcrops stretch for thousands of uninterrupted miles. It is the Gobi’s extremes of landscape, temperature, aridness, and relentless sun that have produced the remarkable and resilient people of this land of the former Mongol Empire. After landing in Dalanzadgad
, journey overland to your ger desert camp
, arriving in time for lunch. This afternoon travel to scenic Eagle Valley (Yolyn Am)
, a shaded river gorge. Exploring the valley on foot, you may spot eagles soaring overhead and wild sheep and goats grazing on the high cliff walls. Visit the Natural History Museum
that showcases the desert’s surprisingly diverse bird and animal life, including the legendary snow leopard and the Gobi bear. B,L,DDay 5 — Gobi Desert, Khongoryn Els
Like Mongolia’s nomads, travel through the desert today along the Altai Mountain range to Khongoriin Els, home of the “singing” sand dunes. B,L,DDay 6 — Gobi Desert, Khongoryn Els
An unusual and exciting day is in store as you ride domesticated Bactrian camels out to the 2,600-foot high sand dunes
. With their two humps and slow, easy stride, the camels offer a comfortable means of transport. Enjoy the opportunity to climb on the soft sand of the dunes, which measure 62 miles long and just over a half-mile wide. B,L,DDay 7 — Gobi Desert, Bayanzag
On today’s excursion in this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve encounter Bayanzag’s striking Flaming Cliffs
, the red-rock bluff reminiscent of areas in the American West. The first place where dinosaur eggs were discovered in the 1920s, Bayanzag boasts a treasure-trove of fossils visible on the rocks. B,L,DDay 8 — Ulaanbaatar, Mt. Khogno Khan
Fly back to Ulaanbaatar this morning then travel overland into the countryside of wide-open steppe backed by rolling hills. This is the land of nomadic sheepherders, with their traditional gers
dotting the landscape. Late this afternoon reach the sacred mountain and nature reserve of Khogno Khan
, set in a beautiful landscape of taiga (boreal forest), steppe, desert, and river. Here have the opportunity to hike and to see the remains of an ancient monastery before continuing to your ger
camp for the evening. B,L,DDay 9 — Mt. Khogno Khan, Karakorum
On today’s two-hour overland journey to the ruins of the ancient Mongol capital of Karakorum—where Genghis Khan’s fabled palace of Xanadau may have stood—visit early 16th-century Erdene Zuu, Mongolia’s oldest surviving Buddhist monastery.
Its massive 1,312-foot walls with 108 stupas (cairns) still stand, though only three of its 62 temples remain in the wake of Communist-era destruction (and the killing of thousands of monks). Today, though, Erdene Zuu is a functioning monastery, the country’s most important, and also a museum housing priceless art and artifacts. B,L,DDay 10 — Khustai Nuruu National Park
Travel all day to Khustai Nuruu National Park
in search of Neolithic graves and the world’s last remaining species of wild horses (takhi). An endangered animal, the takhi have been successfully reintroduced here in Mongolia’s premier national park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The steppe landscape also sustains gazelle, deer, boar, wolves, lynx, and more. B,L,DDay 11 — Lake Khuvsgul
Today fly to freshwater Lake Khuvsgul
in the far reaches of Khustai Nuruu National Park by the Russian border. A pristine Alpine landscape of thick taiga forest, crystal clear waters, lush green valleys, and snow-capped peaks, the lake region ranks among Mongolia’s prime attractions. The lake itself, sacred to Mongolians and the second largest on Earth, supplies about 1% of the world’s fresh water. It is also home to minority ethnic groups with unique cultures and Shamanist traditions, including the Khuvsgul-Tuvan or “Reindeer” people. B,L,DDay 12 — Lake Khuvsgul
Today visit a local minority family
then spend time at leisure on and around the lake, engaging, if you wish, in such activities as hiking, swimming, horseback riding, or simply relaxing amidst the stunning scenery. B,L,DDay 13 — Ulaanbaatar Countryside
Early this morning travel to the city of Moron for the 1½-hour flight to Ulaanbaatar. From here drive an hour to Tuul Riverside Lodge
, an intimate and fully sustainable traditional Mongolian ger
camp set amidst rolling hills above the Tuul River. Absorb the vast, unspoiled countryside on a variety of outdoor activities. B,L,DDay 14 — Ulaanbaatar Countryside
Experience the hospitality of the Mongolian people on a visit with a nomadic family
before returning to your lodge for an afternoon at leisure—or to hike, bird watch, kayak, fish, mountain bike, or try Mongolian archery. Tonight dine on traditional Mongolian barbecue then watch a shaman performance around the campfire.
B,L,DDay 15 — Ulaanbaatar, Depart for U.S.
Visit the city this morning for last-minute shopping then return to the lodge for lunch. The remainder of the day is at leisure, with your rooms available for late check-out. This evening board your overnight flight to the U.S. B,L,DDay 16 — Arrive U.S.
Arrive in the U.S. today and connect with your flights home.