With its vast and beautiful landscape and its small population, Mongolia is an increasingly popular destination for tourists from around the world. In an increasingly fast-paced world of constant and overbearing data and communications, many people are attracted to the the vast and wild beauty of the Mongolian land, where animals grazing freely in the pastures, and where magnificent and untouched sceneries can be followed as far as the eye can see. Is is one of the few remaining place where you can find yourself in complete solitude, in a remote and peaceful place far away from the many distractions of modern life, in close communion with nature.
The allure of Mongolia for many is not just for the vastness of this wild and pristine land and its abundant and diverse wildlife. It is also for an endearing culture of nomadic people that has survived almost unchanged for centuries. In many ways, Mongolia truly is the "last frontier”. A sometimes harsh and unforgiving, but in many ways simpler existence has taught these people the true value of life; a meaning that many of us have forgotten, lost in an ultimately unimportant materialistic world of needs and wants. This harshness and a need for cooperation resulted in a culture of tremendous hospitality, making these nomads more accessible and willing to open their doors to strangers. While this hospitality can be refreshing in a world of fences and locked doors, please do not abuse it, and remain courteous and appreciative, keeping in mind that as the Mongolian people increasingly open their doors to the world; this will inevitably change their culture and way of life.
The Mongolian landscape is comprised of a variety of types of terrain, ranging from green prairies to turquoise water lakes, tall mountains and sandy deserts. The rich history of Mongolia is also present throughout the country, where remnants of one of the oldest cultures in the world can be seen. There are many historic places to visit. The Mongolian culture is still present in many countries, remnants of Genghis Khan and of the Mongol Empire of the 13th century, the largest contiguous land empire in history; which emerged from the unification of nomadic tribes in the Mongolian homeland, and stretched from the Sea of Japan, extending northwards into Siberia, eastwards and southwards into the Indian subcontinent, Indochina, and the Iranian plateau, and westwards as far as the Levant and Arabia and Eastern Europe. This rich history is still a source of sovereign pride and nationalism.
Mongolia is nicknamed the "Land of Blue Skies," and with good reason: there are said to be about 250 sunny days throughout each year, so make sure to bring good UV protection. However, rain is not uncommon in certain areas and the weather can change abruptly. Snow can start in the more elevated parts of the country as early as the end of July.
The country has an average elevation of 1580 meters (5,183 feet). The highest elevation is the Khüiten Peak in extreme western side Mongolia on the Chinese border, with an elevation of 4374 meters or 14,350 feet. The altitude, combined with the absence of city lights and pollution provide an incredibly clear sky at night, making for an amazing stargazing experience where one can see the milky way with clear details with the naked eye. The weather in summer varies from region to region and is generally hot during the day, but nights can be cool. The weather is bitterly cold during the winter, dropping down to -40ºC in some parts.
There are a few things to know about traveling to Mongolia. It is a rapidly developing country, but some common infrastructures and comforts of modern society will not be present in remote parts of the country. Running water and showers will not always be available, and out-houses can be a luxury. Wet wipes and toilet paper will become valuable commodities, make sure to carry them with you. Electricity is usually available, but a good flashlight will always be handy. Water will be carried from the well for you, and the yurt will be stocked with firewood for keeping warm at night.
The available miles of paved roads and increasing, but the harshness of the climate is hard on the pavement. In order to reach some of the remote locations, be ready for some bumpy, sometimes lengthy off-road rides, in rugged old-fashioned Russian-built jeeps and 4x4 vans. Although maps, GPS, road signs and roads may not be available, rest assured that your Mongolian driver is incredibly skilled at navigating the land and will get you to your destination. The destination will be worth it!
Be aware that the nomadic ways persist in the culture; most Mongols have their own idea of time; and punctuality is not one of their strong points. Embrace the moment and enjoy your stay, be Zen, things will happen when they are supposed to happen.
If you are lucky enough to visit a Nomad family, please know that gift giving is customary for visitors. Bring with you some candies for the children, and perhaps a small useful gift, and try to be mindful and follow some basic ger protocols.
Less acclaimed and prominent, the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, is a busy and rapidly growing modern city, filled with newly arrived nomads ready to embrace some of the comforts of modern life. Just like in any big city, traffic can be hectic and stores crowded, which will make you appreciate the pristine wildness of the countryside even more. While you will enjoy the comforts of running water, multicultural restaurants and shopping centers, there are many constructions sites and aging Russian-era buildings. The city center is located around the presidential palace and Sükhbaatar Square.
The Mongolian language can be difficult to master because it includes many sounds that are hard to pronounce for foreigners. However, please try to learn some basic vocabulary, and know that locals will very much appreciate the effort.
Part of the uniqueness of the Mongolian culture is the fact that its culture was protected from foreign influences by the iron curtain. Russia protected Mongolia when Chinese forces attacked in 1919. While they suffered greatly from this relationship during the Stalinist repressions between 1937 and 1939, Mongolians benefited from this protectorate until the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1989. The Russian and European influences on Mongolia are still present in the culture, but now Mongolia is a developing country, trying to maintain relationships with belligerent neighbors, and prosper from an incredible amount of natural resources.