The Gobi

The Gobi Desert is a vast, arid region in northern China and southern Mongolia, formed by the rain shadow of the Himalayan mountain range. Covering an area of approximately 1,300,000 square kilometres, it is the fifth largest desert in the world, and Asia’s largest. The Gobi is located on a plateau between 900-1500 meters above sea level, which contributes to its character as a cold desert, recording low temperatures, and receiving frost and occasional snow.

The Gobi was significant during the time of the great Mongol Empire, as home to several important cities along the Silk Route. Many significant fossil finds have been uncovered in the Gobi, particularly around the ‘flaming red cliffs’ of Bayanzag. Other popular areas to explore in the Gobi include the singing sand dunes at Khongoryn Els and the frozen river in the Yolyn Am Valley.

In the past, our guests have generally explored the eastern Gobi, beginning in Sainshand, a convenient stop-off point on the train line between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar. While it is still possible to visit the Gobi in this area, the southern Gobi definitely has more to offer for guests with 6-8 days available.

Buddhist Temple in Gobi, Mongolia

Area descriptions (southern Gobi)

Yolyn-An Valley

Yolyn Am (Ёлын Ам), is a deep and narrow gorge in the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains of southern Mongolia. The valley is named after the Lammergeier, which is called Yol in Mongolian. The Lammergeier is an Old World Vulture, hence the name is often translated to Valley of the Vultures or Valley of the Eagles.
The valley is located within Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park.
Yolyn Am is found in the Zuun Saikhanii Nuruu (the Eastern Beauty) subrange of the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains. The area, as part of the Gobe Desert, sees little precipitation. However, Yolyn Am is notable for a deep ice field. The ice field reaches several meters thick by the end of winter, and is several kilometers long. In past years it remained year round, but the modern ice field tends to disappear by September.

Bayanzag ‘Flaming Cliffs’

The Flaming Cliffs site, also known as Bayanzag, sometimes Bain-Dzak, with the alternative Mongolian name of Mongolian: Улаан Эрэг, is a region of the Gobi Desert in the Ömnögovi Province of Mongolia, in which important fossil finds have been made.

Khongoryn sand dunes

The Khongoryn Els sand dunes are located in the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park, some 760 km south west of Ulaanbaatar in Umnugobi province. 

These are the biggest sand massifs in Mongolia, covering a 180km long area between Gurvan Saikhan and Nemegt Ranges belonging to the Gobi Altai Range. It lies along wind flows.The sand has 965sq km area, 27 km wide and 0.8km narrow. There are many clay hills and terraces with sexual-trees in the western part of the sand. East of the sand has much taller sand dunes with 150m relative altitudes and 25-300 inclined sides. The tallest one has 190m relative altitude. The movement of the sand makes a unique noise and it’s therefor called ‘singing dunes’ by local people.

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 Schedules page for the specific details regarding onward travel.

When to visit: The best time to visit the Gobi regions is between mid-April and early-September. 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.

6 night Gobi tour

Available mid-April to mid-September

Day 1: Tsagaan Suvraga: Meet guide at guesthouse. Travel south (approx. 6 hours) to Tsagaan Suvarga in the middle Gobi. The impressive multi-colored cliffs, known as the ‘White Stupa’, have been shaped by the wind and stands approximately 60 meters high and stretch for 400 meters. Overnight at family ger camp.

Day 2: Yolyn Am Valley: After breakfast travel south through the Gobi, driving along the dunes for more than a hundred kilometers (approx. 5-6 hrs), before branching into the Gov-Altai Mountains and the Dungenee Pass, leading to the glacial gorge of Yolyn-Am. The valley, known as the ‘Valley of the Vultures’, Yolyn Am is home to an ice field several meters thick and several kilometers long in winter (melting off throughout the summer). Overnight at family ger camp.

Day 3: Khongor Els: Travel (approx. 6 hrs) through the beautiful Gobi Desert, alongside towering sand dunes. Stop en route to observe the customs of the local nomadic people before arriving at the mighty Khongoryn Els sand dunes, which cover an area 12km wide and 100km long. You’ll have time to play among dunes to enjoy the amazing views and this unique environment. Overnight at tourist ger camp.

Day 4: Bayanzag: Travel (3 hrs) to the ‘Flaming Cliffs’ of Bayanzag, an area famous for many renowned dinosaur fossil discoveries. Enjoy the eerie emptiness of this area, and explore the enchanting landscape of red-orange sands and rocking outcrops and cliffs, especially majestic at sunset. Overnight at tourist ger camp.

Day 5: Ongi Khiid Monastery: Continue the journey (160km) to Ongi monastery ruins. Spend the remainder of the day visiting the monastery ruins either by foot or on horseback. Overnight at tourist ger camp.

Day 6: Karakorum: Travel (250km – 6 hrs) to Karakorum, the former capital of the Mongol Empire. Visit the Erdene Zuu Monastery and the Karakorum Museum, along with other historical sites. Overnight at hotel or guesthouse in Karakorum.

Day 7: Karakorum to Ulaanbaatar: Finish the tour with a drive (350km) to Ulaanbaatar.

Program includes: All transfers, driver, English speaking guide (7 days), 6 night’s accommodation: 1 budget hotel / guesthouse, 3x tourist ger camp, 2x family ger camp (sleeping gear provided), all meals at camps (or picnic lunch), Erdene Zuu Monastery, Karakorum museum.

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

Goats in Mongolia

7 night Gobi tour

Available mid-April to mid-September

Day 1: Baga Gazriin Chuluu: Travel south (approx. 5 hrs) to the granite mountains of Baga Gazariin Chuluu. This lunar landscape contains a number of old temples and is rich in mineral and crystal deposits. Overnight at family ger camp.

Day 2: Tsagaan Suvraga: Staying in the middle Gobi, travel (approx. 4 hrs) to Tsagaan Suvraga. The impressive multi-colored cliffs, known as the ‘White Stupa’, have been shaped by the wind and stand 60 meters high and stretch for 400 meters. Overnight at family ger camp.

Day 3: Yolyn Am Valley: After breakfast travel south through the Gobi, driving along the dunes for more than a hundred kilometers (approx. 5-6 hrs), before branching into the Gov-Altai Mountains and the Dungenee Pass, leading to the glacial gorge of Yolyn-Am. The valley, known as the ‘Valley of the Vultures’, Yolyn Am is home to an ice field several meters thick and several kilometrers long in winter (melting off throughout the summer). Overnight at family ger camp.

Day 4: Khongor Els: Travel (approx. 6 hrs) through the beautiful Gobi Desert, alongside towering sand dunes. Stop en route to observe the customs of the local nomadic people before arriving at the mighty Khongoryn Els sand dunes, which cover an area 12km wide and 100km long. You’ll have time to play among dunes to enjoy the amazing views and this unique environment. Overnight at tourist ger camp.

Day 5: Bayanzag: Travel (3 hrs) to the ‘Flaming Cliffs’ of Bayanzag, an area famous for many renowned dinosaur fossil discoveries. Enjoy the eerie emptiness of this area, and explore the enchanting landscape of red-orange sands and rocking outcrops and cliffs, especially majestic at sunset. Overnight at tourist ger camp.

Day 6: Ongi Khiid Monastery: Continue the journey (160km) to Ongi monastery ruins. Spend the remainder of the day visiting the monastery ruins either by foot or on horseback. Overnight at tourist ger camp.

Day 7: Karakorum: Travel (250km – 6 hrs) to Karakorum, the former capital of the Mongol Empire. Visit the Erdene Zuu Monastery and the Karakorum Museum, along with other historical sites. Overnight at hotel or guesthouse in Karakorum.

Day 8: Karakorum to Ulaanbaatar: Finish the tour with a drive (350km) to Ulaanbaatar.

Program includes: All transfers, driver, English speaking guide (8 days), 7 night’s accommodation: 1 budget hotel / guesthouse, 3x tourist ger camp, 3x family ger camp (sleeping gear provided), all meals at camps (or picnic lunch), Erdene Zuu Monastery, Karakorum museum.

Excludes: museum and temple entrance fees, horse and camel riding to be arranged and paid for locally.

Dermee in Gobi with horse skull, Mongolia