Mongolia is a big, beautiful and vast country that everyone should add to their travel list. Not only are the landscapes stunning (so many mountains!), but the nomadic people of the land are also very friendly and welcoming. If you’re lucky, you may even get invited into one of their homes – traditional ‘ger’ tents that can be packed up and moved in a day.
Despite its huge land mass of approximately 1.565 million km², the population of Mongolia is only a little over 3 million. Tourist numbers in Mongolia are also relatively small but growing and provide an important source of revenue for the country. A popular time to visit is during the famous Nadaam Festival in July, which in 2010 was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage event. At this festival, Mongolians compete in a number of traditional sports, such as wrestling, horse racing and archery.
Mongolia’s capital city, Ulan Bator, is the country’s main access point. For this reason, most travellers here are likely to pass through this town of approximately 1 million people. Although this city is interesting on its own, most visitors to Ulan Bator will continue on to do tours of places nearby (in Mongolian terms), such as the Gobi Desert, Terelj National Park and the White Lake. Others choose to go much further afield to places such as Ölgii, Khovd and the Altai Mountains in the far-west, or to Choibalsan in the east. In Mongolia, however, it is usually the journey rather than the destination that makes the experience particularly spectacular.
Those travelling outside of Ulan Bator should be aware that, although the Government has embarked on an ambitious project to construct a nationwide highway, most of Mongolia’s roads are unpaved and sometimes even change with the weather! The most common way to get around the countryside is to either go on a group tour or hire a driver. While hitchhiking is also an option, travellers should be aware that there is usually not much traffic on the roads outside of the main paved roads and so it may be quite difficult to find a ride.
Tourist season in Mongolia is usually from June to September when the temperatures are warmer. In late September tourism usually starts to drop off ahead of the cold season, which roughly runs from November to February. During winter the temperatures in Ulan Bator, the world’s coldest capital, can get as low as -30 degrees Celsius, with the temperatures outside of the capital city dropping even lower. During this period most of the ger camps are closed and camping is not wise, so it’s important for travellers to find a warm hostel or other accommodation to stay in.
Travellers should have no trouble finding a hostel in Ulan Bator, where hostels and guesthouses with hostel-style dorms are both plentiful and cheap. Here the price of a dorm bed typically starts from about USD$5 per night and a private room starts from about USD$9 per night, per person. Most of Ulan Bator’s attractions and sights are within walking distance from the city centre, so paying a little extra to stay somewhere more central, for example near the State Department Store or Chingghis Statue is probably worthwhile. Hostels in Mongolia are quite standard, with all the usual amenities such as bunk beds, western toilets and showers with hot water. Shared kitchens may be quite small since local food is cheap to purchase and common areas are provided but are not catered towards the ‘partygoing’ traveller.
Outside of Ulan Bator hostels are unfortunately few and far between, though many of the guesthouses in the larger towns / regional capitals may offer shared rooms. During summer traditional ger camps are also available across the country. Beds in these also start from about USD$5 per night. Those staying in guesthouses and ger camps outside of Ulan Bator should expect outdoor ‘long drop’ style toilets (i.e. a hole in the ground) and no showers.
Hi, I'm Cat MacGregor,
the Hostelz.com local expert for Mongolia hostels. Welcome.