Nomadic Traditions of the Steppe & Gobi
On the rocky ridges overlooking Mongolia’s remote, westernmost province, Bayan-Ulgii, a dwindling number of ethnic Kazakhs carry on a 6,000-year-old tradition — hunting with magnificent golden eagles, one of the world’s largest predatory birds. Attend the annual Golden Eagle Festival in Mongolia, where eagle hunters display their birds’ speed, skill, and training, as well as the deep bond that forms between bird and human. Along the way, explore Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, with its Buddhist and nomadic heritage, and the fabled Gobi Desert.
Travels to: Mongolia
Days 1-2: Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia)
Begin in Ulaanbaatar, capital of Mongolia, where the centuries-old Buddhist heritage is still vital. Pay a visit to Gandan Monastery, the “Great Place of Complete Joy,” and explore both the National History Museum and Natural History Museum.
- Ulaanbaatar, capital and most important city in Mongolia
- Gandan Monastery, with the 20-ton gilded statue of “the Lord Who Looks in Every Direction”
- Natural History Museum, which displays a selection of dinosaur bones and nests discovered by the many expeditions that have combed the Gobi Desert
Days 3-5: South Gobi
Fly to the remote South Gobi Desert to discover the Flaming Cliffs, green Yolyn Am Canyon, and climb the sand dunes at Moltsog Els. Explore the habitat of the Lammergeier, a huge, bearded vulture. Along the way, encounter nomads who call this formidable environment home.
- Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia’s premier ger camp in the Gobi
- Moltsog Els, one of the Gobi’s rare regions of sand dunes
- Flaming Cliffs, where the first nest of dinosaur eggs was discovered
- Yolyn Am (Vulture’s Mouth) Canyon
Days 6-7: Ulaanbaatar, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
Fly back to the capital to visit the Bogd Khaan Winter Palace, with its six remaining temples and ceremonial gate. The next day take a day trip to beautiful, alpine Gorkhi-Terelj National Park to get a sense of the huge distances and enormous sky that nomads have contended with for eons.
- Bogd Khaan Winter Palace, former home of Mongolia’s Last Living Buddha
- Sweeping alpine landscape of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
- Aryapala Meditation Temple, graced with majestic views and profound quiet
Days 8-10: Ulgii, Golden Eagle Festival
Fly to Bayan-Ulgii, the westernmost province of Mongolia and remote home of Kazakh nomads who hunt with golden eagles. Attend the opening ceremony of the Golden Eagle Festival, when participants parade on horseback with their eagles, displaying their elaborate and beautiful hunting outfits and accessories. During competitions, the golden eagles are evaluated for their speed and agility, skill at hitting a target, diving speed, and gripping technique. Visit with Kazakh families in a nearby valley, hearing about their way of life in the Mongolian outback.
- Golden Eagle Opening Ceremony procession of mounted eagle hunters carrying their eagles
- Competitions in speed, agility, and hunting technique
- Evening performance of traditional Kazakh music, dance, and song
- Intense horse games such as Tenge Ilu, where mounted competitors pick up money from the ground — at a full gallop
- Awards ceremony and celebratory dinner
Days 11-12: Ulaanbaatar
Return to Ulaanbaatar for a festive farewell dinner to toast your adventure on the high steppe of Mongolia. Enjoy a performance of Mongolian throat-singing, the eerie-sounding musical tradition of Mongolia.
- Cultural performance of traditional throat-singing
Dates & Prices
Small group tour – max 16 travelers.
Land Tour Price, Per Person. Based on double occupancy and a minimum group size of 6 travelers.
Please note: only two ‘full trip’ single supplements are available on this program due to limited ger camp space in Ulgii. After the maximum is reached, single travelers will be allocated a partial single supplement, which does not include single accommodations in Ulgii. Call for availability.
- Accommodations, as noted in the itinerary.
- Most meals, as noted in the itinerary.
- A daily supply of bottled water.
- Arrival/departure airport transfers on the tour start/end date. MIR will arrange for all travelers to be met upon arrival and seen off upon departure whether or not we make your flight arrangements.
- Ground transportation throughout tour by private van or coach. (Type of vehicle depends on group size.)
- Services of experienced, English-speaking local guides, drivers, and other staff, including a MIR Tour Manager.
- Guided sightseeing tours and entrance fees, as outlined in the itinerary.
- Special events, excursions, and cultural performances, as outlined in the itinerary.
- Gratuities to local guides, drivers, and other service personnel, including servers at group meals.
- Baggage handling, where available.
- Complete pre-departure information, including detailed packing list, reading list, and Touring with MIR handbook with country-specific information, maps, and travel tips.
- Final document packet, including luggage tags, final updates, and more.
- Assistance booking your custom flight arrangements, on request. (Please note, international airfare is not included in the land tour cost.)
- International airfare and taxes/fuel surcharges.
- Internal airfare. (Internal airfare is quoted separately and subject to change by airlines.)
- Meals and drinks not specified as included in the itinerary.
- Single supplement (or partial single supplement where applicable), if requested or required.
- Gratuities to Tour Manager.
- Expenses incurred as a result of delay, modification, or extension of a tour due to causes beyond MIR’s control.
- Travel insurance, including cancellation, medical, and evacuation insurance.
- Visa and/or passport fees, excess-baggage charges, airport departure taxes, vaccination and other medical costs.
- Optional pre- or post-tour extensions.
- Items of a personal nature, such as phone calls, email, laundry, and alcohol.
Level 4: Rigorous
This intentionally adventuresome small group tour features rustic accommodations, often without reliably constant electricity, with challenging overland travel including rough off-road conditions, long days walking and standing while touring, unpaved sidewalks and streets, uneven surfaces and steps, absent handrails, significant stair-climbing, and absence of elevators. Only those very fit to travel and who are willing to accept local standards of amenities and services, and the physical challenges of the program, should consider joining. Conditions are expected to be particularly challenging in western Ulgii, where the Golden Eagle Festival is held. We strongly encourage you to speak with us about any questions you may have regarding the rigors of this trip or destination when considering this tour.
Six nights are spent in ger camps – all gers are heated only by wood stoves. Three nights will be spent in gers with shared pit toilets and no running water in Ulgii; and three nights will be spent at the Three Camel Lodge Ger Camp in the Gobi, where all gers offer en-suite toilet, sink, and shower. If you rely on electricity for CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) or for any other reason, you must have your own battery or other back-up since electricity is not a reliable constant throughout the itinerary – or please reconsider participation.
Ulgii camp conditions are rustic, and the temporary camps lack a central building with running water and electricity. Pit toilets are set up in a separate tent away from sleeping gers, and meals are taken in a central, larger dining ger. Ground conditions can be uneven or soggy/muddy. Electricity is extremely limited. Do not expect flush toilets or shower facilities in this remote part of Mongolia. Camp-style showers (warm water ‘bucket’ showers) may be available, but should not be relied on.
Travelers must be able to walk two to three miles a day, with some hiking, while keeping up with fellow travelers on a variety of terrain including through grass and dirt (possibly soggy ground), on dirt paths, across gravel and stony scrub, shallow streams, smooth stones, and the like. Overland drives in Mongolia will involve very rough and bumpy drives over dusty and unpaved tracks in basic vans, Russian jeeps, or other vehicles. During city touring you’re likely to encounter uneven surfaces and attractions accessible only via steep staircases. Museums generally do not have elevators.
In Mongolia, the airline infrastructure is not as developed as it is in the west. Flight schedules change constantly, and there is a strong likelihood that the program will have moderate to significant routing and timing changes based on changing flight schedules
Other challenges include overall shortcomings in the tourism infrastructure in remote Mongolia. Past travelers have also encountered challenges with plumbing, bureaucratic service, variety of locally available foods, and availability and quality of public restrooms.