46.8625° N, 103.8467° E
For years Mongolia has been at the top of our Adventure Bucketlist. With its wide open landscape, lack of people and incredible natural areas, this landlocked country has always played to our dreams of a completely off the beaten path escape. And after diving into the country's history, culture and possible adventures, we are now even more excited to one day explore it for ourselves (maybe with a camel or horse?).
So if you are curious about Mongolia, read on for some useful and interesting information, as well as the low-down on the types of places you can explore within the massive country.
Mongolia is a landlocked country in Eastern Asia, with Russia located to the north and China to the south.
At around 1,564,116 square kilometers (603,909 square miles), Mongolia is the 18th-largest and the most sparsely populated sovereign state in the world, with a population of only 3.3 million people.
It is also the world's second-largest landlocked country in the world, just behind Kazakhstan.
The country contains very little arable land. This is due to the fact that much of it is covered by grassy steppe. There are also mountains to the north and west, and the Gobi Desert to the south.
Ulaanbaatar, the capital and largest city, is home to about 45% of the country's population. Ulaanbaatar also shares the rank of the world's coldest capital city with Moscow, Ottawa, and Nur-Sultan (in Kazakhstan).
Approximately 30% of the population is still nomadic or semi-nomadic.
In 1206, Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous land empire in history. His grandson Kublai Khan conquered China and established the Yuan dynasty. After the collapse of the Yuan dynasty, the Mongols retreated to Mongolia and resumed their earlier pattern of factional conflict.
All facts from here.
The two-humped Bactrian camel is indigenous to Mongolia and is currently endangered - its population has been steadily declining over the past twelve years. The country is also home to about one-third of the worlds snow leopards, which are considered “threatened.” Also, a snow leopard cannot roar or purr (then is it even a cat?...)
Interestingly enough, during winter you will find street vendors selling ice cream on the street from paper boxes. Guess there is no need for a freezer at -30 degrees Celsius or -22 degrees Fahrenheit.
Genghis Khan is considered the founding father of Mongolia. He came to power by uniting many of the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia and establishing the largest empire in the world, exceeded only by the British Empire in the 19th century.
In the same vein, there is a 40-meter (131-foot) statue of Genghis Khan just outside the capital of Ulaanbaatar. That statue, while massive and beautiful on its own, also takes the title for largest horse statue in the world.
Mongolia is a hotbed for paleontology: in the 1920s, fossilized dinosaur remains were found in the Gobi Desert, along with the first dinosaur eggs. Many dinosaur fossils still lie exposed in the desert today.
More fun facts can be found here.
| Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park: this park, at nearly 27,000 square kilometers, is the largest national park in Mongolia. The park is named for the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains, which translates to the Three Beauties. The park lies on the northern edge of the Gobi desert. The higher elevations contain areas of steppe and reach up to 2,600 meters (~8530 feet) high. You can (if you are reaaaally lucky) possibly even spot the elusive snow leopard - which calls the park home, as well as the endangered Bactrian camel. With so much area to explore, this is the PERFECT park to go adventuring in - either through day hikes, or overnight backpacking trips.
| Gorkhi-Terelj National Park: located under 50 kilometers from the capital of Ulaanbataar, this park is a great spot for a day trip or two-day excursion. While a small southern portion of the park is developed for tourists (souvenir shops, camels for rent, etc.), most of the park is entirely undeveloped. Some amazing things to explore are Khagiin Khar Lake, a 20-meter deep glacial lake 80 kilometers upstream from the tourist camps, and the Yestii Hot Water Springs, a natural hot spring about 18 km further up from the lake.
| Tsambagarav Uul National Park: located way in the northwestern corner of the country, this park can be a bit tough to get to - but that only means you will likely have it all to yourself once you arrive. The park is home to two mountains (both part of the Altai Mountain Range): Tsast Uul, the tallest peak at 4,193 meters (13,757 feet), and Tsambagarav. Both mountains are considered sacred in Mongolia.
| Khoton Nuur: this large freshwater lake (total size: 19 square miles) is the perfect spot for some stunning camping and exploring. Spend a day or two wandering around the shores of the lake, or head deeper into the nearby valleys that eventually lead to China. Other lakes to explore nearby are Khurgan Lake and Dayan Lake. All three are located in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, which is home to the Mongolian side of the Tavan Bogd massif, which is divided by the triple border with Russia and China in the Altai Mountains (and home to Mongolia’s highest peak: Khüiten Peak, which sits at 4,374 meters), as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Site Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai, which encompasses over 10,000 petroglyphs.
| Trekking around Mt. Kharkhiraa: if you are looking to spend a week or two in the backcountry of Mongolia, then this is one of the best areas to do it. There are a couple of tour companies out there that you could go with, or if you feel like you have the know-how and skills, head off on your own into some seriously remote valleys (where snow leopards are more common), over high snow-covered passes and across various rushing rivers.
| Finally, bikepacking in Mongolia! In the words of one bikepacker, “Mongolia is a backcountry bikepacker's paradise. For a start, just ten percent of its network of roads is paved. Next up, it's one of the least densely populated countries in the world. Best of all, land use is shared. This means you can both ride and camp almost anywhere you like.” The country is big (remember: ranked 18th in size), so there are a lot of places to explore.