Mongolia is one of those countries that’s on everybody’s bucket list, but not many people actually seem to visit. For those travellers on a budget, it’s an expensive destination because it’s almost impossible to get around with public transport (it doesn’t really exist outside of the capital city), so you’ll need to book a tour. Here’s everything you need to know before you, to help you save money and to make sure you make the most of that once in a lifetime experience!
Booking your tour
When looking at tours for Mongolia online they are impossibly expensive, I’m talking thousands of dollars. Luckily, you can book tours when you arrive in the country for a quarter of that price. The average cost is $55 per day, that includes your guide, driver, transport and all fuel costs, accommodation, entrance tickets, food, water, and any equipment you might need.
We got lucky with ours, it worked out as only $35 per day! Most guesthouses and tour agencies offer very similar prices and packages, it’s worth shopping around to find the best deal. Go with a list of the things you want to see, and don’t compromise too much on your itinerary if you have certain places in mind. We booked through Golden Gobi and I would absolutely recommend them, partly due to the price but mostly because Jarra and Marsha (our guide and driver) were so fantastic.
The price of the tour ($525) included everything: guide, driver, transport and fuel, accommodation, three meals a day, all activities, equipment, park fees and entrance tickets. On top of this, I spent an extra $75 (over the whole trip) on things I really could have lived without, e.g. too many snacks and a litre of Chinggis vodka per day!?
So the total cost for everything was $600 ($40 per day). It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the tours I was looking at before arriving in the country when I expected to pay at least $1000.
What to pack
I was able to leave some belongings behind in Golden Gobi, but because I packed so light for my entire trip abroad I didn’t need to, but the option is there if you don’t want to take all your belongings.
We went in October and it was bloody freezing, especially once the sun had set. Pack as many warm and waterproof clothes as you have so you can survive sitting on a horse for 4 hours in a snowstorm if needed.
Golden Gobi provided us with two sleeping bags each, but if you have a very good one then bring that, if not at least bring a sleeping bag liner. Most gers had mattresses but the few times we slept on the floor an inflatable camping mat would have been ideal.
Choosing your route
We started in Ulaanbaatar, spent 8 days in Central Mongolia (White Lake, Eight Lakes, and Karakhorum) and then drove south to the Gobi Desert (Flaming Cliffs, Singing Dunes, Vulture Canyon, the White Stupa, and Tsagaan Suvarga). It was October and this was the best route because while it started out very cold it was much warmer in the Gobi desert, going the other way would have sucked.
What to eat
I’m not going to sugar coat this… The food in Mongolia is awful. That’s why we bought so many snacks. The only meat we ate was mutton (which is 90% fat and gristle), the only vegetables we had were potatoes and carrots. Luckily Jarra was the best chef that Golden Gobi has and she got very creative, she even made sushi for us one night! Breakfast was sometimes eggs, mostly bread. The best thing we had was vegetarian Khuushuur, basically a Mongolian empanada that we helped make.
Most nights we stayed in a tourist ger camp which meant a cosy ger, a wood fire, 6 beds and a decent toilet outside. On three occasions we spent the night with a family, on their floor or camping outside. Golden Gobi provided two sleeping bags each (it gets damn cold in those gets once the poi fire burns itself out) but bring a camping mat, it sounded like most groups spent more nights on floors than we did and it’s not comfortable.