Mongolia is one of these countries that was on our bucket list for a very long time. We heard about Mongolia from other overlanders, we’ve seen videos, we read blog posts and knew for sure, once in life we want to travel through Mongolia. This year our dream came true. We had the opportunity to explore this fascinating country. In this post we share the best places to visit in Mongolia.
About two years ago we started planning our road trip around the world. It may sound crazy but well, we only have one life. We love to explore new countries, we love nature and we love to meet people. The world has so much to offer and we have the opportunity to discover the world. So why should we wait.
It all started with this simple sentence: “How about travelling around the world with our own vehicle.” This summer our big dream came true. Well, at least we started to fulfill our big dream. We bought a camper in Australia, shipped it to South Korea, took the ferry to Russia and also drove around fascinating Mongolia. Read on and follow us to the best places in Mongolia.
Mongolia, here we come
For five weeks we are cruising around fascinating Mongolia with our Toyota LandCruiser Camper. Spectacular landscapes, cultural highlights, adventurous routes, super-friendly people and countless animal herds accompany us on our journey off the beaten paths.
Do you want to know which are the best places to visit in Mongolia?
Every single day on our offroad adventure in Mongolia we are fascinated by this amazing country and its people. We are blessed with beautiful landscapes, huge sand dunes, deep gorges and crystal clear mountain lakes, herds of yaks, sheep and cows. Every day we experience something new and we meet the locals while camping.
Mongolia is a great country to explore with an offroad vehicle. Only a few streets are paved and there is a lot of offroad driving. After rain the dirt roads turn into slippery, muddy tracks. In that case a 4WD vehicle comes in handy. Well, we definitely prefer our Toyota LandCruiser to drive around Mongolia. The locals seem to think different. They drive challenging off-road tracks with their Toyota Prius Hybrid vehicles and master them too. Even if these vehicles have no four-wheel drive and only very limited clearance, they manage to get almost everywhere too. Their advantage is, they never travel alone and the Prius is a light vehicle. If they get stuck all passengers get out and with united power they push the vehicle over the rocks.
We need a visa to visit Mongolia
To enter Mongolia we need a visa. We have two options. We can either apply for a visa in Irkutsk or at the Russian-Mongolian border. After we did some research, we found out that the second option can be a bit risky if the border is understaffed. As we want to visit Irkutsk anyway, we apply for our visa at the Consulate General of Mongolia in Irkutsk where we get a 30 day visa within an hour. Our Mongolian adventure can start now.
Our highlights and tips for the best places to visit in Mongolia
Travelling with the own vehicle has many advantages. We have an offroad vehicle with a camping setup and we can go almost everywhere. That’s what we love about travelling with our camper, we have the flexibility to go wherever you want and how long we want (well, at least almost. Our visa is limiting our stay, of course.)
Camping in Mongolia is super easy. We normally just park on a big field, on a hill or near a river or lake and set up camp. But don’t worry if you don’t have your own overlanding vehicle. You can easily book a tour to explore fascinating Mongolia.
In this post you will find ideas to plan your trip to the best places to visit in Mongolia.
Crossing the border from Russia to Mongolia
We cross the border from Kyachta in Russia to Altanbulag in Mongolia. This is the central border, approximately 350 km north of Ulaanbaatar. The road from the border to Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia is sealed all the way through. The road condition varies. Some parts are well maintained others have millions of potholes and we have to be careful not to hit too many. It’s like driving over a mine field.
For many travelers Ulaanbaatar is the first stop in Mongolia. If you travel from Ulan Ude in Russia to Mongolia, it’s the first stop of your trip.
Amazing Amarbayasgalant Monastery
Before we are heading to Ulaanbaatar we do a detour to the Amarbayasgalant monastery. This monastery is definitely one of the best places to visit in Mongolia. We drive to Darchan, the third largest city in Mongolia. Just a few kilometers after we pass Darchan we head west.
As soon as we hit the dirt road we find ourselves smiling. Wow, this is exactely how we imagined Mongolia. Wide open spaces, huge fields and multiple dirt tracks leading somewhere.
We follow the tracks and luckily our free navigation app Maps.me knows the direction. After a two hour drive through this amazing landscape we finally reach Amarbayasgalant Monastery. The monastery is UNESCO world heritage listed. It’s late afternoon therefore we postpone our visit to the next day. On a small hill we find the perfect spot to camp.
After a windy night on the hill we get up early. We still can’t believe that we are here. To visit Mongolia was one of our big dreams.
The Amarbayasgalant Monastery is one of the most important monasteries in Mongolia. In the past, more than 6’000 monks did pray in about 50 temples.
After visiting the Monastery we are looking for another camp spot and find a great place right next to a creek. Unfortunately the weather is changing fast and in the evening it starts to rain. The whole night, heavy rain is hammering onto our roof. And also in the morning, the rain doesn’t stop. After breakfast we decide to drive to Ulaanbaatar. The tracks got super slippery from the heavy rain and Marcel has to concentrate not to slip off the track. We drive through fertile valleys and we like this part of Mongolia a lot, even if the conditions are all but perfect. After a few hours we finally get back to sealed roads. Oh man, we are so glad that we made it without damaging our LandCruiser or getting stuck.
Why Ulaanbaatar is one of the best places to visit in Mongolia
Ulaanbaatar is so different to the rest of the country. The modern city is a complete contrast to the countryside. Ulaanbaatar is growing fast and today more than 1 million people live in the capital city of Mongolia.
We spend a few days in Ulaanbaatar to explore the city with its great attractions (historical buildings), we stock up on food, fuel, water and meeting other overlanders. The Oasis Guesthouse is where overlanders meet. We are lucky to find a spot. It is currently very busy. It feels so good to meet like minded people, have a decent shower and many great talks with travelers. After a few days we decide to head on. It’s hard to leave because we have to say goodbye to new friends.
If you visit Ulaanbaatar we recommend to take a taxi or bus to get into the city. Traffic is horrible and it takes hours to drive through the city. It took us two hours to do 3 km. Crazy!
Accommodation in Ulaanbaatar
Hotel Nine Ulaanbaatar – Address: Amar street 2, Sukhbaatar district, Ulaanbaatar
New hotel on central location. Approx. 5 walking minutes to the Sukhbaatar place. Good value for money, free WLAN and shuttle service.
Chinggis Khan Statue and Gorkhi Terelj National Park
Our next thing to do in Mongolia is visiting the Chinggis Khan statue east of Ulaanbaatar. The statue is huge and very worth to see.
Also east of Ulaanbaatar is the Gorkhi Terelj National Park. We leave the modern city behind and dive into another world. No more modern cars but lots of Ox carts. We check out the Turtle Rock, which is one of the tourist attractions and visit a small monastery. We also find great camping spots along the Tuul and Terelj river.
A regular sight when camping in Mongolia. Local nomads transporting their possesions on ox carts to a new camp.
Horizons Unlimited Meeting – Catching up with overlanders
Before we came to Mongolia, we already knew that the Horizons Unlimited Meeting is taking place in Ulaanbaatar. Therefore we timed our trip to join this fantastic event. We are very glad we did, because we met great people. It is so cool to share travel stories and learn about others and their nomadic life.
Best things to do in Mongolia – Join the traditional Nadaam Festival
One of the activities at the Horizons Unlimited Meeting was to join one of the traditional Nadaam Festivals. On a huge festival area we can witness the different competitions like archery, horse racing and wrestling.
Eej Khad – Adventurous drive to a weird attraction
After an amazing weekend with like-minded people we are heading south. We read in our guide book that Eej Khad is a very important place for locals. For us the holy place was not too interesting as it is just a big rock. But it was still worth to go as we enjoyed the drive to Eej Khad a lot.
Baga Gazarin Chulu rock formations
For great views it is totally worth to drive to the Baga Gazarin Chulu rock formations. It’s a bit tricky to get there as it is not well sign-posted. Or maybe we haven’t seen any signs or couldn’t read them. We leave the small town Delgertsogt and drive with the help of our navigation app. There are many tracks and it’s pretty hard to take the right one. We have to turn around twice before we finally get to Baga Gazarin Chulu.
The main attraction at Baga Gazarin Chulu are the rock formation and the ruins of an old monastery. We climb up the hill and enjoy an beautiful view over the landscape.
From the top of the hill we also see that dark clouds are rolling in. We decide to head on and leave the valley before the next big rain is coming.
Our next stop is the Yolyn Am Canyon – One of the best places to visit in Mongolia
After leaving Baga Gazarin Chulu we also leave the black clouds behind us. Once we get back to sealed roads, we can drive a lot faster. We pass the town of Mandalgobi and Dalanzadgad. A few kilometers south of Dalanzadgad we find a great spot to camp.
We are in contact with Noemi and Cyrill, another Swiss couple, that is overlanding from Russia to Europe. We already met them in Vladivostok a couple of weeks ago. It’s so cool to catch up here in Mongolia.
Our camp is a bit exposed and during the night the wind is picking up. In the morning the wind is gone and all coulds are gone too. After brekkie we are ready for another day of adventure. We are heading to Yolyn Am Canyon.
We try to find a direct route and we enjoy the offroad driving. According to the map Yolyn Am Canyon is supposed to be on the other side of this valley. We drive as far as we can but the valley is getting pretty narrow. Due to heavy rain the river bed is soft, wet and washouts have formed steps that we cannot cross. We decide to turn back and try another route.
Even if we have to do a detour, it was cool to drive into the unknown valley.
Dungeneegiin Am or better known as Ice Canyon
We drive from one canyon to the next. Another highlight is waiting.
When we did the planning of our trip, we put together a list of the best places to visit in Mongolia. One of these best places is Dungeneegiin Am or better known as Ice Canyon. On the way to the canyon we drive on dirt tracks through valleys and over plateaus. The landscape reminds us of some remote areas in Central Australia.
This is the Ice Canyon. Spectacular! We absolutely love it.
The Gobi Desert – One of the best places to visit in Mongolia
The Gobi Desert is waiting. Before we head to the huge desert we discuss with Noemi and Cyrill which route we take. There are different options. We choose the longer and more remote route that is supposed to be more interesting.
We are totally happy that we decided for this route. The landscape between Bayan and Noyon is extremely fascinating.
Some tracks lead through dry river beds others over hills.
After days of driving we reach the famous Khongaryn Els sand dunes. In our guide book we read that the dunes are 100 km wide and almost 100 m high. The huge dunes in the distance look unreal. We know that there is a small passage through the dunes. At the moment it’s hard to imagine but well, we try our luck.
We are slowly getting closer to the dunes. Wow! What a great place to set up camp. We sleep between the dunes and enjoy this amazing country. An yes. There is a passage that leads through the huge sand dunes. It’s formed by water and looks a bit like a dry river bed passing between the mountains of sand.
Flaming Cliffs at Bayanzag
Wind and water have created an incredible landscape at the Flaming Cliffs. We are so glad we did this trip and we are looking forward to the next couple of weeks.
We wanted to see the colours changing when the sun sets, therefore we camped in front of the Flaming Cliffs. Unfortunately clouds were rolling in in the late afternoon and it started to rain in the night. After a good nights sleep we continued our tour through the Gobi Desert.
We follow the track and than it happenes. We get stuck in the mud of the Gobi Desert. You can read all about our mishap and how we recovered our Troopy here: Ups, we got stuck in the mud
The ruins of the Ongi Monastery
After our unexpected adventure in the Gobi Desert, we are ready to move on. We drive a couple of hours to the north and set up camp. A huge thunderstorm forces us to stay in our camper. Luckily the next day the sun is back and we stop at the Ongi Monastery.
In the blooming years the Ongi Monastery was large and up to 1’000 monks were living here. Today only some ruins are left. The remaining walls give us an idea about the real size of the Ongi Monastery.
In the meantime we are no longer in the Gobi Desert. We get back to sealed roads. We cross “the highway” and head north to Tsetserleg and Kharkhorin. The Erdene Zuu Monastery near Kharkhorin ist one of the Top 10 things to visit in Mongolia. We have not seen many tourists so far but it seems that all tour buses stop here.
The first building has been build in 1586. We learn that in 1872 more than 10’000 monks lived in the monastery with almost 500 building that were part of the whole complex. Almost all buildings have been destroyed during the policital depression.
Nowadays Erdene Zuu is a museum with interesting historical artifacts. We walk around the complex and finish our tour at the Lavran temple which is still an active temple.
Impressive landscape in the Orkhon Valley
From Kharkhorin we are heading to the Orkhon Valley. Once more we find a great offroad track that follows the Orkhon river. The landscape in the Orkhon Valley is stunning and we could spend weeks in the area as there are so many great places to camp. We hope to return one day to explore more of this fascinating country.
The track along the river is pretty muddy and bumpy. After an adventurous drive we finally reach the parking lot to visit the Orkhon waterfall. To get to the waterfall we need to walk about 10 minutes. The waterfall is about 20 meters high and shortly after the two rivers Ulaan Gol and Orkhon meet.
On the way back we get to this unstable bridge. Man, it looks scary. We are pretty nervous and hope that the bridge holds one more time.
It does and we made it! But, well, just about. We heard of other overlanders that a couple of months later the bridge collapsed.
Tsetserleg in Central Mongolia
We are back to civilisation. Tsetserleg is a town with a population of almost 20’000. From the top of the monastery we have a great overview.
Khorgo Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park
After a short stop in Tsetserleg we are heading further to the Khorgo Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park. It’s not easy to get to the lake. The tracks are either muddy, bumpy or steep. We luckily have the perfect vehicle for this terrain.
Once we reach the lake we drive along the shore and enjoy the beautiful weather. Our campspot is amazing and we decide to spend an extra day up here. This area is also popular for horse riding.
After a super relaxing day at the lake we head on. On the way back we stop at the Khorgo volcano. A small track is going up to the crater rim on 2’240 m. We walk once around the rim and sometimes we can see the lake in the distance.
It’s said that the last eruption was about 7’700 years ago. A huge lava field remains from that time. We also learn that the volcano is responsible for the existence of Lake Terkhin Tsagaan Nuur. Lava blocked the river and created a dam. The result is a 16 km long lake.
Along the South Route through the Altai to the Russian border
It’s time to head west. After visiting the volcano Khorgo Terkiin Tsagaan Nuur we decided to take the South Route. There is currently a lot of roadwork going on in Mongolia. The road we take to get to Uliastay looks like a sealed road on the map. But it’s not. There is either just a track or we are following the newly build road. It is slow traveling which has it’s advantages too. We have more time to enjoy the amazing landscape.
And the best ist, the landscape is changing constantly. The Altai region is definitely one of the best places to visit in Mongolia.
Some parts of the South Route are brand new and driving on this road is luxury. We notice that the land is getting more hilly and sparce. And there is snow on the mountain peaks. We are in the Altai region where many mountains are higher than 4’000 m.
It is getting cold and there is a constant wind blowing.
Finding a campspot is not difficult in Mongolia. There is so much space and sometimes it’s hard to decide where to stop. Many times we are not alone for too long. There is either a Mongolian family who is checking out who is camping next to their ger or there are animals. These friendly horses came by to say hello before they had their afternoon snack.
After a quiet but freezing cold night we do not want to get up. But we know, we have to. We want to get to the russian border within the next couple of days. We have to say goodbye to this beautiful area and hope to come back one day.
Our last stop in Mongolia is Ölgii. Ölgii is the last town before we cross the border. The atmosphere is different than in other towns in Mongolia. Many Kazakh people live here who believe in the Islam. That’s why there are several mosques in the area.
We spend a few hours in Ölgii, have a last cappuccino in a café before we are looking for a place to camp. It’s only 100 km to the border. It’s a cold, windy night and we are so happy that we don’t have to sleep in a tent.
It’s time to say goodbye
Bye bye, Mongolia. Our last morning in Mongolia is crazy. On the way to the border we experience the first snow storm and we are glad that we are getting closer to Europe. We are not properly equipped for cold weather and therefore we are speeding up a bit.
When driving our last kilometers on Mongolian land we realise once more how beautiful this world is.
Are you looking for a place to stay in Ulaanbaatar?
Most tourists start their Mongolia adventure in the capital city Ulaanbaatar. There is a wide range of accommodation and we recommend to stay central. Traffic in Ulaanbaatar is crazy and if you don’t want to loose lots of time in traffic jams we recommend to stay in a centrally located hostel or hotel.
For overlanders the Oasis Guesthouse is a great place to stay. We met many overlanders and like-minded people, we shared travel stories and had lots of fun.
Accommodation in Ulaanbaatar
Hotel Nine Ulaanbaatar – Address: Amar street 2, Sukhbaatar district, Ulaanbaatar
New hotel in central location, 5 minutes to walk to the Sukhbaatar Place, great value for money, free WiFi and Shuttle Service.
Wild Camping in Mongolia
As we said before, it is easy to find a great campspot in Mongolia. In this post you find 14 Camping tips from other overlanders. There are some pretty spectacular spots in there.
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Have you ever been to Mongolia? What would you call the best place to visit in Mongolia? Share your story wish us and drop us a line in the comments below.