Example Itinerary

Mongolia's Naadam Festival & Altai Mountains

Duration
13 days / 12 nights
Price Per Person
Interests
Sports, Celebrations
Destinations
Mongolia

Visit Mongolia during one of the most exciting times of year for Naadam Festival. This is a time when the "Three Games of Men" are contested throughout the country in the disciplines of Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery. An expression of Mongolia's nomadic culture, Naadam involves participants traveling to the countryside and camping out under the night sky, reuniting with family and celebrating nomadic arts such as singing and dancing. In this two-week itinerary, you'll join locals by journeying from Ulaanbaatar to Khovd, and from there visiting rural communities to observe the most authentic of the games. Your immersion in the festivities doesn't end there, as you'll also camp out in a luxury ger in the countryside, exploring Mongolia's spectacular national parks and the dramatic scenery of the Altai Mountains.

This itinerary is an example. It’s designed to inspire you and provide you with thoughtfully curated ideas. You can choose to do this exact itinerary or completely personalize it. All trips are 100% bespoke.

Highlights

  • Festivals: Attend the Naadam Games in Khovd as well as in rural communities outside the city in Buyant, Duut Mankhan, Chandman, or Dörgön. You'll also watch traditional horse racing on the Hui Doloon Hudag Plains, just outside of Ulaanbaatar.
  • National Parks: Mongolia's natural playgrounds include Khar Us Nuur National Park, Hökh Serkhiin Nuruu National Park and Chigertei National Park - known for their incredible landscapes, superlative hiking trails and endemic wildlife.
  • Accommodation: The most authentic place to stay is in private ger camps along the Buyant River or on the edge of Chigertei Lake, which are the summer highland pastures of Kazakh nomads.

Day-by-Day

Day 1

Ulaanbaatar

Arrive into Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, then transfer to your hotel. Depending on the time of your arrival, there is an option to walk with your guide to nearby Sukhbaatar Square. Named for revolutionary hero Damdin Sükhbaata, who declared Mongolia’s final independence from China, this is the city’s main square and home to notable landmarks such as parliamentary buildings, the National Museum of Mongolia and a statue of Genghis Khan.

Hotel Options
Why We Love This Hotel

Location: Situated in the heart of Ulaanbaatar, this cosmopolitan hotel overlooks Nayramdal Park to the south and Great Chinggis Khaan Square to the north, and is just a 40-minute drive from Chinggis Khan International Airport.

History: This luxury hotel, which features both contemporary and indigenous design and includes nine large venue spaces, opened its doors for business and leisure guests in 2015, making it a recent addition to this historic city.

Service: The Shangri-La Ulaanbaatar - as with all of the esteemed Shangri-La locations - offers exceptional service to all guests. For even more exclusive and personalized service, guests at the Shangri-La Ulaanbaatar can become part of the exciting Horizon Club, which includes express check-in and check-out, a private lounge, complimentary breakfast and cocktails, and use of a meeting room.

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Shangri-La Ulaanbaatar Preferred Hotel

Day 2

Ulaanbaatar

After breakfast, you’ll start your tour of Ulaanbaatar with a visit to the Gandan Lamasery, the only remaining active monastery in the country, which is designed in a typical Chinese and Tibetan style, where the lamas here wear red. Next is the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs and its impressive collection of native fossils, many of which have been recovered from private collectors overseas. After lunch, continue to the Bogd Khan Winter Palace. Bogd Khan was the theocratic leader of Mongolia until 1924. When he passed away, the new Bolshevik government decided the reincarnations should discontinue.

Ulaanbaatar
Ulaanbaatar

Day 3

Khovd

Today, you’ll leave Ulaanbaatar for Khovd, in the far west of Mongolia, via a two- or three-hour flight. Upon arrival into Khovd, you’ll have time to explore at your leisure; the city is known for its history and culture, as well as its rich natural beauty. Khovd is a great base for exploring the region, especially to visit different communities during Naadam Festival.

Hotel Options
About

A basic yet clean and comfortable hotel of international standard, the Steppe Hotel is amongst the best choices in Khovd. Rooms are spacious with king or twin bedding, and attached modern bathroom with separate shower and bath.

This accommodation has been personally vetted by the Remote Lands team and is the best available in the area. More information on this property is available on the “Hotels” tab at the top of the page.

Day 4

Khovd

For your first taste of the rural Naadam Games, you’ll drive out of town to nearby communities, such as Buyant, Duut Mankhan, Chandman, or Dörgön. Here, you’ll see locals dressed up in their best attire, community members in the diaspora who have come to be with their kin, as well as the trio of “manly games” - wrestling, horse racing and archery. Nomads train horses for three weeks until they can gallop at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. Children under 12 are recruited as jockeys, while older family members are judged on their equestrian training skills. Both shame and fame will happen. 

Day 5

Khovd

Khovd is a city known for its diversity, with populations of Halkh Mongols, Myangad Mongols and Kazakhs, to name but a few ethnic groups. This is why you’ll see Buddhist temples alongside mosques, as the Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims. As the provincial capital, this is where many Naadam competitors gather to participate in the Naadam Games, which have been practiced since the medieval heyday of the Mongol Empire. Aside from the competitions, there’s plenty else to see, such as horsehead fiddle players and local throat singers.

Khovd
Khovd

Day 6

Khovd

Next, you’ll take an excursion to the West Gobi and the nearby oasis of Khar Us Nuur National Park. Once inside the park, head to the southeast and you’ll reach Jargalant Khairkhan Mountain, whose ravines and valleys make for a great hike. There’s an abundance of wildlife here and you may spot bearded vultures (also known as lammergeiers), goitered gazelles and critically endangered saiga antelopes. The lakes here are fed by glacial runoff from the Altai Mountains, creating a paradoxical environment of lakes and desert; this results in swathes of reed beds, which in turn attract water birds from all over Eurasia. Return to Khovd in the evening. 

Day 7

Deluun

Leave Khovd behind as you aim for you next destination: the Bayan-Ölgii province and the land of the Kazakhs. Your journey from Khovd to the small Kazakh village of Deluun takes around four hours, but the drive is very scenic, particularly the vistas of Dööröö Lake with Sair Mountain in the background. Located on the west side of Hökh Serkhiin Nuruu National Park, Deluun is where you'll stay in private ger accommodation either along the Buyant River or on the edge of Chigertei Lake.

Hotel Options
About

Camping is the best accommodation option in this remote region. The basic ger tents typically have a separate western-style bathroom tent, twin beds, wooden furniture, and heaters.

This accommodation has been personally vetted by the Remote Lands team and is the best available in the area. More information on this property is available on the “Hotels” tab at the top of the page.

Day 8

Deluun

Start your morning on foot with a walk up to Ikh Yamaat (Big Goat) Valley. Here, you're likely to encounter the Siberian ibex and perhaps even the argali sheep - the largest wild sheep in the world. In July, argali ewes gather by the hundreds with their newborn lambs on the plains below the mountains. If you're really lucky, you may even spot an elusive snow leopard preying on the sheep, although this is extremely rare. If you pop by the Altai Research Institute, you can learn of the work of Dr. Barry Rosenbaum, who has been conducting wildlife research here for over a decade. There is also an opportunity to meet some of the famous eagle hunters which call this area home.

Bayan Olgi
Bayan Olgi

Day 9

Deluun

Heading upstream for an hour or two, along the Buyant and Chigertei Rivers, then passing Chigertei Lake, you'll reach the summer highland pastures of Kazakh nomads. Located near the main ridge of the Altai Mountains, which marks the border with China, the remote community is focused on herding sheep and goats, as well as eagle hunting. Unlike the Kazakhs of Kazakhstan, the nomads here have retained their traditional pastoralist culture. 

This area is where Chigertei National Park bleeds into Keketuohai National Park on the China side, which is nicknamed the "Yosemite of China." Camera traps record data on wolverines, wolves and Pallas' cats, as well as livestock and birdlife. There are also archaeological remains of ancient cultures such as the Scythians in this region - tribes and warriors which had influence all over Central Asia from 900 BC to around 200 BC.

Day 10

Bayan Olgi

Driving four hours in a northwestly directon, you'll come to Ölgii, the capital of Bayan-Ölgii province. After the morning's drive, you'll enjoy a leisurely lunch at a local restaurant in town. Ölgii is a small town with a bazaar, mosque, local museum and handicrafts shops. The majority of the population here are ethnic kazakhs.

Day 11

Hustai National Park

Transfer 90 minutes to Ölgii airport, where you'll take a domestic flight back to Ulaanbaatar. Your guide will meet you arrival, then you'll drive an hour west out of the city to the Hui Doloon Hudag Plains. These grasslands are where horse races take place each July. Once you're settled into your modernized ger, you'll spend the evening relaxing in the natural surrounds or, if you're feeling more adventurous, with an exploration of the landscape with your guide. 

Hotel Options
Why We Love This Hotel

Location: An hour’s drive from Ulaanbaatar city, this is the absolute prime location for enjoying the seasonal nature in the area.

History: The cottages remain true to traditional Mongolia and are styled after the famous Gers that are the typical style of accommodation traditionally available for travelers. The circular cottages recall to the traditional weaving and shape of the Ger.

Service: HS Khaan Resort provides high-end cottages with all the modern-day comforts guests require and beyond.

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HS Khaan Resort Preferred Hotel
Hustai National Park
Hustai National Park

Day 12

Hustai National Park

Your final full day in Mongolia is a trip out to Hustai National Park, which is less than an hour's drive south the Hui Doloon Hudag Plains. Meet herders and community members for a traditional lunch of buuz and hushuur (meat pastries and dumplings) prepared by your hosts, who are involved in conservation at Hustai. After lunch, venture into the center of the park, where you can encounter wapiti deer (elk) and Przewalski's horses, which are known as "takhi" (spirit or worthy of worship) in Mongol. The Przewalski's horse became extinct in Mongolia in the 1960s, but through connections with zoos across the world, numbers have been released back in their homeland and the horses are wild once more.

Day 13

Departure

Depart Hui Doloon Hudag and make the two-hour return journey to capital Ulaanbaatar to catch your onward flight.

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