Cultural Mongolia with the Naadam Festival
Based on the expeditionary nature of our trips, there may be ongoing enhancements to this itinerary.
Below please find the day-by-day itinerary for this expedition. Unless otherwise noted, daily excursion options are included in the cost of the trip. We do our best to adhere to the scheduled itinerary, but in the spirit of our expeditionary style of travel we may deviate slightly to take full advantage of encounters with the destination and its people, culture, and wildlife.
Depart USAJuly 2
Board your independent flight to Mongolia.
Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaJuly 3
Arrive in Ulaanbaatar and transfer to the Shangri-La Hotel for overnight.
Today tour Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s energetic capital. The country’s political, economic, and social hub, this city of more than one million people is home to nearly half of the Mongolian population. Originally a nomadic Buddhist center when founded in the 17th century, Ulaanbaatar ceremonially changed locations 28 times before settling permanently at its present site in 1778. The city also changed names multiple times until it was officially dubbed “Red Hero” (Ulaanbaatar) in 1924, upon becoming the capital of the new Mongolian People’s Republic. Highlights of your full-day tour include the 19th-century Gandan Monastery, one of the few Buddhist structures that survived destruction by the Communist government in the 1930s. The bejeweled 20-ton Migjid Janraisig statue, a replica of the original copper statue erected in 1911, stands as the monastery’s prime attraction. In the afternoon visit the National History Museum, followed by a visit to the Institute of Archaeology. Return to the hotel for a welcome reception, a cultural performance, and dinner.
Ulaanbaatar / Hustai National ParkJuly 5
After a leisurely breakfast, depart overland to Hustai National Park. En route, make a stop at a ger camp to learn about the lives of nomadic herders. After lunch continue to the park and take a tour of the fascinating Information Center. Check in to the Hustai Ger Camp, your base for two days of exploration. After dinner, enjoy a private presentation from the Director of the new research center.
Hustai National ParkJuly 6
Spend a full day in the park, searching for steppe gazelles, marmots, and other plains species, including Przewalskii’s horses. A highly acclaimed captive breeding program saved these unique horses from certain extinction, and has successfully reintroduced them into the wild. You will also have a special opportunity to visit a local herding family and watch a fascinating Felt Making Ceremony. Felt is typically made at the end of summer, and families usually celebrate the occasion with a party or ceremony.
Hustai National Park / KarakorumJuly 7
Today, travel overland to Karakorum. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the ancient capital of Genghis Khan’s vast empire, which at its height in 1279, covered nearly all of Asia and Europe. En route to Karakorum, take a scenic horseback ride to the ruins of Erdene Khamba Monastery. Explore the lower section, known as the Novice Temple, and the Elder’s Temple, built on top of the mountain. Meet with monks to learn more about the temple, as well as Buddhism in Mongolia. Continue to Dream Land Ger Camp for dinner and overnight.
Karakorum (Local Naadam Festival)July 8
Today attend the inauguration ceremony of Naadam. Known as “the three games of men” the festival consists of wrestling, horse racing, and archery tournaments. Horse races are organized according to age groups (for both horses and riders) and distances of 6 to 16 miles. You will also witness some of the best archers from all over the country compete in this much-revered sport. A highlight of the day is the chance to sample traditional foods, beverages, mingle with locals and an opportunity for great photography. Return to camp for dinner and a private lecture on the Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape.
After breakfast visit Erdene Zuu Monastery. Founded in 1586 by Altai Khaan, Erdene Zuu (Hundred Treasures) is the earliest surviving Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. It once had between 60 and 100 temples, about 300 gers inside the walls and, at its peak, up to 1,000 monks in residence. The monastery went through periods of neglect and prosperity until finally, the Stalinist purges of 1937 put it completely out of business. The monastery remained closed until 1965, when it was permitted to reopen as a museum. After the fall of Communism in Mongolia in 1990, the monastery was turned over to the lamas and Erdene Zuu again became a place of worship. In the late afternoon, attend the closing ceremony of the Naadam Festival. This evening, enjoy a private concert of traditional song and dance at our camp.
Karakorum / UlaanbaatarJuly 10
After an early breakfast, drive to Ulaanbaatar. Today gives you the opportunity to enjoy much of Mongolia’s landscape during the drive to Ulaanbaatar. Along the way, we may experience additional horse races and stop to visit with a local herding family. En route, make a stop at Hui Doloo Khudag on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar to watch a horse race. Check in to the Shangri-La Hotel for dinner and overnight.
Ulaanbaatar (State Naadam Festival)July 11
Today is dedicated to the splendid, national Naadam Festival. Attend the opening ceremony at the Mongolian State Academic Theatre featuring fantastic performances by dancers, athletes, horse riders, and musicians. The largest and most widely watched traditional festival among Mongols, Naadam formally commemorates the 1921 revolution when Mongolia formally declared its independence from China. In 2010, the festival was inscribed on the representative list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. After the ceremony, watch Mongolia’s top athletes compete at the “three games of men.” Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight.
Ulaanbaatar / Dalanzadgad / Gobi Gurvansaikhan National ParkJuly 12
Transfer to the airport for our short flight to the Gobi Desert—Asia’s largest desert—which covers some 500,000 square miles of southern Mongolia and north/northwest China. After landing in Dalanzadgad, travel overland to our ger desert camp, Three Camel Lodge, arriving in time for lunch. The camp borders Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Mongolia’s largest national park, at nearly 16,800 square miles. In the afternoon visit a local herder family and learn how to make the traditional cookie locally known as “boortsog.” Flattened dough is deep-fried to a golden brown, and offered to travelers as a welcome snack, along with tea or milk. Return to the lodge for dinner and overnight.
Gobi Gurvansaikhan National ParkJuly 13
This morning, travel into the park to scenic Yol Valley, a rare swath of green in the middle of the desert. Explore the valley on foot to search for resident wildlife; the area is especially rich in raptors and you are likely to see impressive bearded vultures soaring overhead. Wild sheep and goats graze on the high cliff walls while along the lower slopes, watch for long-tailed ground squirrels and the intriguing Daurian pika. Make a stop at the local Natural History Museum to learn more about the desert’s surprisingly diverse array of bird and animal life, including the legendary snow leopard and the Gobi bear—the world’s only desert-dwelling bear. Spend the afternoon at leisure, or learn how to play several Mongolian games utilizing shagai, crafted from the ankle bones of sheep or goats.
Flaming CliffsJuly 14
After a leisurely breakfast, drive to the Flaming Cliffs site, a hauntingly beautiful landscape of red sandstone canyons, eroded by wind and time. In 1922 the American Museum of Natural History expedition, led by the famous explorer Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews, first put this area on the map as the site of several significant dinosaur excavations. It was here that Andrews first proved dinosaurs came from eggs and excavated the first complete dinosaur skeleton. You will also make a stop at Moltsog Sand Dune to visit with a family that breeds camels. Here, you have the opportunity to ride on a bactrian camel (Mongolian two-humped camel) through the massive dunes, giving you an exceptional insight into a way of life that has endured in Central Asia for centuries. The hardy camels offer a comfortable ride as they gently saunter through this timeless scene. Return to our camp for dinner and overnight.
Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park / Ulaanbaatar / Tuul RiverJuly 15
This morning return to the airport for our flight to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival, board local vehicles to the Tuul Riverside Lodge, an intimate and fully sustainable traditional Mongolian ger camp set amidst rolling hills above the Tuul River, located at the border of Gorkhi-Tereij National Park. After lunch attend an archery lesson and learn about the construction of bows—traditionally made from wood, animal sinew, bone, and glue made from fish bladders in a process that can take up to a year.
Tuul RiverJuly 16
This morning saddle up your horse and take a ride through the rolling hills and across the mighty Tuul River. On the way, visit with a herder family to learn more about this traditional Mongolian lifestyle. Learn how to make arkhi, a light liquor made from cow’s milk.
Tuul RiverJuly 17
Today, learn how to make Mongolian buuz, (steamed dumplings), then enjoy your handiwork during lunch. In the afternoon, meet with a representative from WWF to learn about Mongolian wildlife and conservation efforts. Attend a special farewell dinner this evening, with a traditional Mongolian barbecue and a fireside performance from a local shaman.
Tuul River / Ulaanbaatar / USAJuly 18
After a leisurely breakfast, transfer to Ulaanbaatar’s Chinggis Khaan International Airport and board your independent homeward flight.