Central Mongolia

 

Central Mongolia is located around 300-400 kilometers west of Ulaanbaatar, and is centered largely around the city of Karakorum and the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape. The area was once the center of the Mongol and Uighur Empires, and the birthplace of Mongolian Buddhism. Today, the region offers a diverse range of beautiful environs, including: Orkhon Valley, Elsen Tasarkhai, the Tsetserleg hot springs , Ugii Lake and Hustai National Park. It is also an important stopover for more extensive journeys into the Southern Gobi.

A three night tour is enough for a brief taste of Central Mongolia, focusing on the dunes at Elsen Tasarkhai, Karakorum and Hustai National Park. Four or five nights allows for a far richer experience, providing visitors the opportunity to travel and explore more of the diverse landscapes and environs, witness larger herds and a greater variety of animals than would be seen on the open steppe closer to Ulaanbaatar, visit nomadic peoples in more remote areas, and enjoy some real off-road adventures. 

Wild flowers from Hustai, Mongolia

Area descriptions

Orkhon Valley

The Orkhon Valley encompasses an vast area of pasture land and was once the heart of the Mongol Empire. The Orkhon Valley’s Cultural Landscape traces the Orkhon River in the Övörkhangai and Arkhangai Provinces, and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as representing the evolution of nomadic pastoral traditions spanning more than two millennia, resulting in economic, social and cultural polities unique to the region. The area contains a number of significant archaeological remains, structures and artefacts tracing the economic, religious and cultural history of the Mongol, Turkic and Uighur Empires.

Karakorum

The city of Karakorum is located in the upper part of the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape and encircles the site of the ancient capital, which reigned over the Mongol Empire from 1235 to 1260.

The highlight of Karakorum today, as it surely was in centuries past, is the Erdene Zuu Monastery, a Buddhist Tibetan monastery which sits adjacent to the site of the ancient capital city. The oldest monastery in Mongolia today, Erdene Zuu was destroyed and rebuilt many times over, reaching its peak in the late 19th century when it contained 62 temples and was home to around 1000 monks.

Though the Soviet government largely destroyed Erdene Zuu in the 1930s, in recent years the monastery has reopened and operates as a museum and place of worship. Today, visitors can wander among the three temples that remain, and enjoy roaming the expansive grounds, surrounded by impressive ramparts topped by dozens of stupas. Apart from Erdene Zuu, a short guided tour of the Karakorum Museum will provide visitors with a wonderful overview of the cultural history of the area.

Elsen Tasarkhai

The sand dunes and environs of Elsen Tasarkhai, roughly translated as ‘a fracture of sand’, lies around 260km west of Ulaanbaatar. The sand dunes stretch for approximately 80km, with the unique and varied environs, supporting forests of willow, elm and dogwood, divided by the main road between the Mongol Els to the north and the Khogno Tarniin Els to the south, and bordered by the majestic Khugnu Khan mountains to the east and the Tarna River which snakes its way through the area.

Tsetserleg Hot Springs

The town of Tsetserleg is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Mongolia, and is the gateway into the beautiful forested valley and the hotsprings iof the Khangay Mountains. The offroad 4WD approach into the valley is a highlight in itself, and with just a handful of tourist ger camps and nomadic families spread throughout the forested valley, the are is rish in hiking and horse riding opportunities, with the luxurious prospect of relaxing in the soothing hot springs at the end of the day.

Ugii Lake

Ugii Lake, in the Arkhangai province. is the closest lake of significant size to the city of Ulaanbaatar, and covers 25 square kilometres. It is a popular summer retreat for locals and tourists, and well known for its diversity of bird (Swan Goose, White Spoonbill and Dalmatian Pelican) and fish (pike, catfish, barscharten) life.

Tour programs

Feel free to insert or substitute tour programs into any itinerary with a stopover in Mongolia, adding or subtracting days to coordinate with your interests and budget. Take a look at the Trains and Scheduling page for the specific details regarding onward travel.

When to visit: The best time to visit Central Mongolia between mid-April and mid-September; May/June and early September offer the best chance to avoid the crowds and discover the countryside awash with springtime or autumn color. While it is possible to visit between October and April, touring at this time is definitely reserved for the more adventurous minded, prepared for harsh weather conditions, travel delays and program flexibility, and accommodation in nomadic family ger camps.

3 night Central Mongolia tour: Elsen Tasarkhai, Karakorum and Hustai NP (ETKH-3)

Available: mid-April to October

Day 1: Meet your guide at guesthouse or hotel after breakfast. Travel west of UB (approx. 260km) to Elsen Tasarkhai, known as the ‘mini-Gobi’ sand dunes. Enjoy a picnic lunch or at a local ger camp. Opportunity to ride a camel or horse ride. Staying overnight at local tourist get camp.

Day 2: Travel (85km) to Karakorum, once the capital of the Great Mongol Empire. Visit Erdene Zuu Monastery, and the Karakorum History Museum. Staying overnight at local tourist get camp or guesthouse / budget hotel.

Day 3: Travel to Hustai National Park (approx. 200km). Learn about the national park’s work in the reintroduction of the wild Takhi horses, a subspecies of the Przewalski. Lunch at restaurant in the park. Spend the afternoon searching for the horse within the national park. Continue on from the park (70km) to spend the evening and overnight at a local nomadic family ger.

Day 4: Spend the early morning with the local family, learning after nomadic life. Finish the tour with your return to Ulaanbaatar (55km).

Program includes: All transfers, driver, English speaking guide (3 1/2 days), 3 night’s accommodation: 2x tourist ger camp (or budget hotel) + 1 family ger camp (sleeping gear provided), all meals at camps (or picnic lunch) + lunch at restaurant in Hustai NP, Erdene Zuu Monastery, Karakorum Museum and Hustai NP entrance fees.

Excludes: horse and camel riding to be arranged and paid for locally.

Tettered Horses and local girl, Open Steppe, Mongolia

3 night Central Mongolia tour: Elsen Tasarkhai (day), Karakorum, Ugii Lake and Hustai NP (ETKUH-3)

Available: mid-April to October

Day 1: Meet your guide at guesthouse or hotel after breakfast. Travel west of UB (approx. 260km) to Elsen Tasarkhai, known as the ‘mini-Gobi’ sand dunes. Enjoy a picnic lunch or at a local ger camp. Opportunity to ride a camel or horse ride. Continue on to Karakorum (85km). Staying overnight at local tourist get camp or guesthouse / budget hotel.

Day 2: Morning in Karakorum, once the capital of the Great Mongol Empire. Visit Erdene Zuu Monastery, and the Karakorum History Museum. Travel (65km) to Ugii Lake. Enjoy lunch at ger camp before exploring the fabulous lake environs at your leisure (boating on the lake can be arranged). Staying overnight at tourist ger camp.

Day 3: Travel to Hustai National Park (approx. 200km). Learn about the national park’s work in the reintroduction of the wild Takhi horses, a subspecies of the Przewalski. Lunch at restaurant in the park. Spend the afternoon searching for the horse within the national park. Continue on from the park (70km) to spend the evening and overnight at a local nomadic family ger.

Day 4: Spend the early morning with the local family, learning after nomadic life. Finish the tour with your return to Ulaanbaatar (55km).

Program includes: All transfers, driver, English speaking guide (3 1/2 days), 3 night’s accommodation: 1 budget hotel / guesthouse + 1 tourist ger camp + 1 family ger camp (sleeping gear provided), all meals at camps (or picnic lunch) + lunch at restaurant in Hustai NP, Erdene Zuu Monastery, Karakorum Museum and Hustai NP entrance fees.

Excludes: horse and camel riding to be arranged and paid for locally.

Camel riding in the Gobi, Mongolia

4 night Central Mongolia tour: Elsen Tasarkhai (day), Karakorum, Tsetserleg hot springs, Ugii Lake and Hustai NP (ETKTUH-4)

Available: mid-April to October

Day 1: Meet your guide at guesthouse or hotel after breakfast. Travel west of UB (approx. 260km) to Elsen Tasarkhai, known as the ‘mini-Gobi’ sand dunes. Enjoy a picnic lunch or at a local ger camp. Opportunity to ride a camel or horse ride. Continue on to Karakorum (85km). Staying overnight at local tourist get camp or guesthouse / budget hotel.

Day 2: Morning in Karakorum, once the capital of the Great Mongol Empire. Visit Erdene Zuu Monastery, and the Karakorum History Museum. Travel (130km) to the beautiful area of the Tsetserleg hot springs. Hike or horse ride with your guide or at your leisure, and when the day is done, relax in the soothing hot springs. Staying overnight at tourist ger camp

Day 3: Travel to Ugii Lake, either directly (120km) on back-country roads, or (190km) via Karakorum. Enjoy lunch at ger camp before exploring the fabulous lake environs at your leisure (boating on the lake can be arranged). Staying overnight at tourist ger camp.

Day 4: Travel to Hustai National Park (approx. 200km). Learn about the national park’s work in the reintroduction of the wild Takhi horses, a subspecies of the Przewalski. Lunch at restaurant in the park. Spend the afternoon searching for the horse within the national park. Continue on from the park (70km) to spend the evening and overnight at a local nomadic family ger.

Day 5: Spend the early morning with the local family, learning after nomadic life. Finish the tour with your return to Ulaanbaatar (55km).

Program includes: All transfers, driver, English speaking guide (4 1/2 days), 4 night’s accommodation: 1 budget hotel / guesthouse + 2 tourist ger camp + 1 family ger camp (sleeping gear provided), all meals at camps (or picnic lunch) + lunch at restaurant in Hustai NP, Erdene Zuu Monastery, Karakorum Museum and Hustai NP entrance fees.

Excludes: horse and camel riding to be arranged and paid for locally.

Ugii Lake, Mongolia

5 night Central Mongolia tour: Elsen Tasarkhai, Orkhon Valley, Tsetserleg hot springs, Ugii Lake and Hustai NP (ETOTUH-5)

Available: mid-April to October

Day 1: Meet your guide at guesthouse or hotel after breakfast. Travel west of UB (approx. 260km) to Elsen Tasarkhai, known as the ‘mini-Gobi’ sand dunes. Enjoy a picnic lunch or at a local ger camp. Opportunity to ride a camel or horse ride. Continue on to Karakorum (85km). Staying overnight at local tourist get camp or guesthouse / budget hotel.

Day 2: Morning in Karakorum, once the capital of the Great Mongol Empire. Visit Erdene Zuu Monastery, and the Karakorum History Museum. Travel on to the Orkhon Valley (245km). Explore the area. Staying overnight at tourist ger camp.

Day 3: Travel (230km) over a number of mountain ranges to the beautiful area of the Tsetserleg hot springs. Hike or horse ride with your guide or at your leisure, and when the day is done, relax in the soothing hot springs. Staying overnight at tourist ger camp

Day 4: Travel to Ugii Lake, either directly (120km) on back-country roads, or (190km) via Karakorum. Enjoy lunch at ger camp before exploring the fabulous lake environs at your leisure (boating on the lake can be arranged). Staying overnight at tourist ger camp.

Day 5: Travel to Hustai National Park (approx. 200km). Learn about the national park’s work in the reintroduction of the wild Takhi horses, a subspecies of the Przewalski. Lunch at restaurant in the park. Spend the afternoon searching for the horse within the national park. Continue on from the park (70km) to spend the evening and overnight at a local nomadic family ger.

Day 6: Spend the early morning with the local family, learning after nomadic life. Finish the tour with your return to Ulaanbaatar (55km).

Program includes: All transfers, driver, English speaking guide (5 1/2 days), 5 night’s accommodation: 1 budget hotel / guesthouse + 3 tourist ger camp + 1 family ger camp (sleeping gear provided), all meals at camps (or picnic lunch) + lunch at restaurant in Hustai NP, Erdene Zuu Monastery, Karakorum Museum and Hustai NP entrance fees.

Excludes: horse and camel riding to be arranged and paid for locally.

Wild Takhi horse, Hustai, Mongolia