Mongolia Travel Guide on a Budget
Mongolia, a land of vast landscapes, nomadic culture, and rich history, offers an unforgettable adventure for travelers seeking an off-the-beaten-path destination. As a budget traveler, you can experience the best of Mongolia without breaking the bank by following the tips and recommendations in this comprehensive travel guide.
Getting There and Around
Flights and Overland Travel
To save on airfare, look for deals and discounted flights to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. Booking flights well in advance and being flexible with your travel dates can help you secure the best prices. Alternatively, consider overland travel from neighboring countries, such as Russia or China, using the Trans-Mongolian Railway, which can be a more affordable and scenic option.
Once in Mongolia, public transportation is the most cost-effective way to get around. In Ulaanbaatar, use buses, minibusses, or trolleybuses to navigate the city on a budget. For longer journeys, consider shared taxis, public buses, or trains, which are more affordable than renting a car or booking private tours.
Hostels and Guesthouses
In Ulaanbaatar and other major tourist destinations, you can find budget-friendly hostels and guesthouses that cater to backpackers and budget travelers. These accommodations typically offer dorm-style rooms and basic amenities, providing an affordable and social place to rest after a day of exploring.
One of the most unique accommodation options in Mongolia is staying in a traditional ger (yurt) camp. These circular tents made of felt and wood are used by Mongolia’s nomadic herders and offer a truly authentic experience. Budget ger camps can be found throughout the country, providing a more affordable alternative to luxury ger camps while still offering comfortable beds and basic facilities.
For a truly immersive experience, consider arranging a homestay with a local Mongolian family. This not only provides an affordable accommodation option but also allows you to learn about the local culture, customs, and cuisine firsthand. Many rural families welcome travelers into their homes for a small fee, and some tour operators can help arrange homestays as part of their itineraries.
Budget Attractions and Activities
Ulaanbaatar’s Museums and Monasteries
Many of Ulaanbaatar’s top attractions, such as the Gandantegchinlen Monastery, the National Museum of Mongolia, and the Choijin Lama Temple, have affordable entrance fees or accept donations, making them accessible for budget travelers. These sites offer insight into Mongolia’s rich history, culture, and spiritual traditions.
Hiking and Horse Riding
Mongolia’s vast landscapes provide endless opportunities for outdoor activities on a budget. Hiking and horse riding are popular ways to explore the country’s diverse terrain, from the rolling steppes to the lush forests and towering mountains. Many national parks, such as Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and Khustain Nuruu National Park, offer affordable entry fees and budget-friendly guided horse riding tours.
Visit the Gobi Desert
A trip to Mongolia would not be complete without visiting the Gobi Desert, one of the country’s most iconic landscapes. While organized tours can be expensive, consider joining a group tour or using public transportation to reach popular sites like the Flaming Cliffs, Khongoryn Els sand dunes, and Yolyn Am ice canyon. This can help you save money while still experiencing the desert’s breathtaking beauty.
Explore Ancient Capital Karakorum and Erdene Zuu Monastery
Located in Central Mongolia, the ancient capital of Karakorum and the nearby Erdene Zuu Monastery provide a fascinating glimpse into Mongolia’s rich history. Budget travelers can reach Karakorum by public transportation or shared taxi from Ulaanbaatar. Once there, explore the ruins of the ancient city and visit the impressive Erdene Zuu Monastery, one of Mongolia’s oldest and most significant Buddhist sites. Entrance fees for the monastery are generally affordable, making it an excellent addition to any budget travel itinerary.
Visit Local Markets and Festivals
Mongolia hosts several markets and festivals throughout the year that offer budget travelers unique cultural experiences. In Ulaanbaatar, the bustling Naran Tuul Market is a great place to find affordable souvenirs, traditional clothing, and local street food. If you happen to be in Mongolia during the summer months, don’t miss the famous Naadam Festival, which features traditional sports like horse racing, archery, and wrestling. While attending the festival may require purchasing tickets for some events, many activities and performances are free or inexpensive.
Local Restaurants and Cafes
Mongolian cuisine is generally affordable, especially if you stick to local restaurants and cafes. In Ulaanbaatar and other cities, you’ll find plenty of eateries serving traditional Mongolian dishes like buuz (steamed dumplings), khuushuur (fried dumplings), and tsuivan (noodle stew). These hearty meals are not only delicious but also wallet-friendly.
Street Food and Kiosks
For even more budget-friendly dining options, try street food vendors and kiosks found throughout Mongolia. These small establishments often sell tasty, inexpensive snacks like khuushuur, samsa (meat-filled pastries), and airag (fermented mare’s milk). Eating at these local spots will not only save you money but also provide an authentic culinary experience.
If you have access to cooking facilities at your accommodation, consider buying groceries at local markets and preparing your meals. This can be a cost-effective way to dine while also giving you the opportunity to try your hand at making traditional Mongolian dishes.
Budget Travel Tips
Travel in the Shoulder Season
To save on accommodation and transportation costs, consider visiting Mongolia during the shoulder season (April-May and September-October). During these periods, there are fewer tourists, which often results in lower prices and greater availability of budget accommodations.
Bargain and Negotiate
In Mongolia, it’s common to bargain and negotiate prices, especially at markets and for services like taxis or guided tours. Don’t be afraid to haggle, as it can help you save money and is often expected by locals.
Connect with Other Travelers
Join online forums and social media groups for travelers in Mongolia to exchange tips, advice, and experiences. Connecting with fellow budget travelers can help you find affordable accommodations, transportation, and activities.
Learn Basic Mongolian Phrases
Learning a few basic Mongolian phrases can help you navigate the country more easily and potentially save money. Being able to communicate with locals can help you find better deals, avoid tourist traps, and enhance your overall travel experience.
Traveling to Mongolia on a budget is entirely possible with careful planning and a willingness to embrace local customs and experiences. By following the tips and recommendations in this guide, you can explore Mongolia’s breathtaking landscapes, immerse yourself in its rich culture, and create lasting memories without breaking the bank.