MongoliaSteppe by Steppe
July 1–13, 2023
Visit Mongolia during the famous the Naadam Festival!
Join us in the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky during the most festive time of year–Naadam!
These national games will be the cherry on top of a journey rich in authentic Mongolian experiences. You’ll roam the steppe and dunes where Genghis Khan forged an empire that forever shaped the modern world. Engage with nomads, enjoy the bustling capital, and learn about the mix of modern shamanism and Buddhism.
Mongolia will open your heart as wide as its endless skies.
Trip at a Glance
- July 1-13, 2023
- Escorted by BJ & Lauren, owners of RetreaTours
- Led by an expert Mongolian guide
- Accompanied by a Buddhist monk for part of the journey to learn more about Mongolia’s modern Buddhist renaissance
- Experience the national Naadam festival as well as a more rural, regional Naadam
- Explore the vast grasslands of the Mongolian Steppe
- Discover the beauty of Khogno Khan National Park & the Mongol Els Sand Dunes
- Relax in remote Jalman Meadows in the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area
- Limited to 15 guests, with limited private room availability
- This journey is triple carbon offset
- $6900 per person (based on double occupancy)
Click to Jump to…
- Itinerary at a Glance
- How is this Mongolia Journey Different?
- Is This Trip Right For Me?
- About Mongolia
- About Buddhism in Mongolia
- Narrative Itinerary
- Price & Inclusions
- Deposit & Payment Details
- Cancellation Policy
- FAQ: Visas, Vaccines & More
- About the Lodging
- Suggested Fitness Requirements and Drive Times
- How to Fly to Mongolia
- Temperatures & Suggested Packing List
- Our Carbon Offset commitment
- Travel Insurance
- About RetreaTours
- Photo album
How to Register
- Review this entire webpage for details
- Complete Registration Questions and Contract
- After you complete your registration, Lauren will email you a link for the deposit
Itinerary at a Glance
July 1 Arrival in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (typically in the mornings); visit to a local museum to lay some cultural groundwork, for those that wish. Otherwise, the day is yours to rest!
July 2 Visit Gandan Monastery, the center of Mongolian Buddhism, as well as the impressive Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue on the way to our first home base: Jalman Meadows, in the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
July 3-4 Our peaceful ger camp at Jalman Meadows offers opportunities for rafting, hiking, horseback riding, sauna-building, birdwatching, or just relaxing in the beautiful scenery!
July 5 Let’s head back to Ulaanbaatar for a half-day city tour and stay overnight in the city, including a folk music concert this afternoon.
July 6-7 We’ll continue west to Khögno Khan National Park and our hidden eco-camp; this is a perfect area for hiking, exploring monastic ruins, and relaxing. For the next few days we’ll be accompanied by a Buddhist monk who will be happy to share his experience during this modern Buddhist renaissance in Mongolia.
July 8 Today we’ll visit Kharkhorin, what was once the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire and home to Erdene Zuu Tibetan Buddhist monastery. On the way we’ll have the opportunity to ride Bactrian camels in the Elsen Tasarkhai, a part of the larger Mongol Els Sand Dune system.
July 9 Onward to the gorgeous Orkhon Valley and our fantastic ger eco-camp on the steppe. Today we have an optional visit to Tovhon temple, a monastery set among the mountains.
July 10 Today we head back to Ulaanbaatar, and on the way we’ll visit a nomadic family to get an insider look at this traditional style of Mongolian life.
July 11 What a privilege to attend the National Naadam Festival! These three games of strength and skill—wrestling, horseracing, and archery—have been part of Mongolia’s cultural fabric for centuries. They are on UNESCO’s list of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity.
July 12 Let’s head out to the countryside to experience a rural Naadam festival, which will allow a closer, more personal look at these fascinating traditions.
July 13 Today we’ll bid farewell to Mongolia & head home–or on to other adventures!
How is this trip different from other journeys to Mongolia?
If you’ve been researching journeys to Mongolia, you’ve probably seen a lot of different tours at a lot of different prices. Here is how this journey is different and worth every penny:
Comfort in Transportation
We use smaller vehicles, with only four to five guests per vehicle when driving across the country. Our vehicles have air-conditioning and are actually comfortable! Many companies use old Russian vans that seat up to ten people and have no A/C (which also means a heck of a lot of dust coming through open windows!)
Comfort and Privacy in Accommodation
We use a mix of comfortable hotels and eco ger camps. We only allow 2 people per ger (you and a roommate), while some companies put 6 to 8 people in one ger! Plus, if you choose to have a private ger, that is an option (on a limited basis on this journey). The gers (yurts) we will stay in can be classified as “glamping,” and we encourage you to read more about them further down this page in the blue “About our Accommodations” box.
Reasonable Drive Times
We’ve selected varied and interesting landscapes without making you spend most of your day in a vehicle. A lot of tour companies have many 9-10 hours days in a Russian van on their itineraries. Our longest drive is about 5 hours in our private, A/C vehicle.
As with all of our journeys, this experience is triple carbon offset, door-to-door.
Is this trip right for me?
If visiting Mongolia is already on your radar, congratulations–you’ve picked a fascinating place!
But what is it actually like to visit Mongolia, a country where a quarter of the population still actively leads a nomadic life, where 3 million citizens are outnumbered by 70 million livestock? Where you can easily imagine you’ve traveled back in time and you may just encounter Genghis Khan and his army over the next hill?
Here are some practicalities to consider when deciding whether or not to join this tour.
Mongolia is expansive, wide open, and the steppe is seemingly unending. We’ll be driving between our destinations, primarily on paved roads although every journey requires a bit of off-roading to get to our camp. Our more rural drives will still be over flat ground and you shouldn’t find them too jarring, especially since we’ll be in comfortable 4x4s. (You can see our drives times in the blue box below labeled “Suggested Fitness Requirements and Drive Times.”)
This trip does not demand a high level of fitness, although there are optional activities, such as hiking, horseback riding, and rafting that you can undertake at your own discretion and cost. We recommend fully reading the narrative itinerary for a broader picture.
To fully take advantage of the trip as planned, we recommend you be able to walk 1-2 miles unassisted, at a reasonable pace. There are short hikes planned as a group but even those are optional. There is one ~2 mile (one way) walk up a hill to visit a monastery; if you wish to hire a horse, instead, that is an option for you.
Our accommodations are basic, simple, and we’ll primarily be staying in ger camps; a “ger” is a Mongolian yurt, a circular, felt-covered tent. These won’t be the most luxurious lodgings you’ve ever had (or even top 100) but they might be the most memorable. We joke that they might not be 5-star, but they are billion-star accommodations based on the amazing views of the night sky above. We ask that you learn more about them and see photos in the “About our Accommodations (Hotels & Ger Camps)” blue box below.
If you search the internet for information about food in Mongolia, you might wonder if there’s anything on the menu but meat. Mongolians do love this meat, more than any culture we’ve encountered. In fact, our guide tells us that the older generation of Mongolians will poke fun at their grandchildren for eating vegetables, asking, “What are you–a goat?!”
That said, our ger camps and hotel will offer a mix of continental dishes, heavy on Russian salads, meat, and starches like rice, potatoes, or pasta, along with vegetables. Vegetarian dishes are available, but they rely heavily on pasta.
So, you might be thinking: long drives, glamping, and potato salad–we’re not exactly selling this trip, are we? But here is the thing: Mongolia is visually breathtaking, culturally fascinating, and unlike anywhere else you’ll ever visit.
Ulaanbaatar, home to almost half of the country’s residents, is quite a cosmopolitan town, and its museums are rich with heritage and history. The opportunity to engage with nomadic Mongolians in the countryside and learn about their daily life is invaluable. Having the opportunity to witness the Mongolian Naadam games in person is a privilege that few Westerners can claim. We’ll let you read the rest of the itinerary for highlights to get the full picture.
In short: if you’re willing to trade a few creature comforts for the opportunity to experience the real Mongolia, this is the trip for you.
Khogno Khan National Park
A Bit About Mongolia
The Mongolian Empire was arguably one of the most influential, unifying forces that the world has ever seen.
Born a child from hardscrabble nomadic beginnings, the great leader Genghis Khan set historic wheels in motion in 1206 CE when he unified all of the warring tribes of the Mongolian Steppe. The fruits of his future conquests resulted in the largest contiguous land empire in history (second only to the British Empire for total land mass), an empire about the size of the African continent and spread widely across Eurasia. By 1279, this 13,000,000 square-mile empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe.
Within this Empire, Genghis Khan spread his astonishingly anachronistic progressive views, including laws establishing religious freedom and diplomatic immunity. He created the first international postal system and history’s largest free trade zone, he lowered taxes (even abolished them for certain professions), and he created a system for dividing the spoils of war fairly among the citizenry.
Although the Empire grew for a short time after Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, by the end of the century the amassed landholdings were split between disputing family members and became their own factions. What is now geographically considered ‘Mongolia’ was ruled by China’s Qing Dynasty from 1691 until 1911, when Mongolia declared its independence. China, however, did not accept this declaration of independence and invaded Mongolia in 1921.
With the help of the Russian Red Army, Mongolia won its independence from China. However, Mongolia was dominated by the Soviet Communist regime from 1921 until 1990. The late 1930’s saw a horrific purge of Mongolian society by the Communists, a purge that saw Tibetan Buddhism all but obliterated and over 18,000 monks summarily executed. Government and military leaders, academics, and anyone thought a threat to Communism in Mongolia was murdered.
The Mongolian Revolution of 1990, inspired by similar revolutions happening in Eastern Europe, led to the peaceful renunciation of Communism, and Mongolia’s first free, multi-party elections were held in July 1990. Today, Tibetan Buddhism is again flourishing and monasteries are being rebuilt. There is also a resurgence of interest in the father of Mongolia, Genghis Khan–an interest that was actively quashed and persecuted for most of the 20th century.
Mongolia’s modern population of 3.1 million is spread over 604,000 square miles; in other words, Mongolia is twice as big as Texas but with 1/8 the population. About a third of the population is still nomadic, tending to the the country’s some 66.5 million heads of livestock (sheep, goat, cattle, horses, and camels).
Traditional sports, played during the time of Genghis Khan, still factor heavily into the culture; the annual Naadam games which you’ll witness include horse racing, archery, and wrestling.
Come with us and explore the country’s wide open spaces and find out why Mongolia is truly the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky.”
About Buddhism in Mongolia (click to open)
Buddhism was originally introduced to Mongolia in the third century BCE during the time of the Indian Emperor Ashoka.
The second wave of Mongolian Buddhism developed under the reign of Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan in the late 13th century. Kublai Khan developed a close relationship with the head of the Sakya school of Buddhism, Drogön Chogyal Phagpa. The fall of the Mongolian Empire saw the decline of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia, until the third wave of Buddhism reached the steppe in the 16th century.
Altan Khan was a distant descendant of Genghis Khan and leader of the Western tribes of the Mongols. Sonam Gyatso, the leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, was invited to Mongolia in the 1570s by Altan Khan. While in Mongolia, Sonam Gyatso was publicly pronounced the reincarnation of Drogön Chogyal Phagpa and given the title “Dalai Lama” (“Ocean Lama” in Mongolian) by Altan Khan.
Altan Khan, then, was revealed as a reincarnation of Kublai Khan, thus refreshing the 13th-century relationship between Kublai Khan and Drogön Chogyal. With this relationship, they formed an alliance that gave Altan Khan the legitimacy of “royalty” for his leadership role and the Gelug school was afforded protection and patronage from Mongolia. This alliance with the Mongols would later prove instrumental in establishing the Gelug order as the rulers of Tibet during the reign of the Fifth Dalai Lama.
Altan Khan awarded the title of Dalai Lama posthumously to Sonam Gyatso’s two previous reincarnations, making Sonam Gyatso the Third Dalai Lama. The Fourth Dalai Lama was born in Mongolia, none other than Altan Khan’s grandson who was enthroned in Tibet in 1601.
Öndör Gegeen Zanabazar, or simply “Zanabazar,” is recognized as the first Bogd Gegeen, or supreme spiritual authority of the Gelug school in Mongolia (also known as the Jetsundamba). Zanabazar (1635–1723) was a prolific sculptor, painter, architect, poet, costume designer, scholar, and linguist, who is credited with launching Mongolia’s seventeenth-century cultural renaissance. To aid in the translation of sacred Tibetan texts, he created the Soyombo script from which arose the Soyombo symbol (Mongolia’s national symbol, seen here).
With the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the Mongols declared their independence from China, choosing the 8th Bogd Gegeen as their “Bogd Khan,” or “holy ruler.” This period lasted until China invaded Mongolia in 1919; with Russian assistance, the Mongols defeated the Chinese forces in 1920. The Bogd Khan became the state leader until his death in 1924, then the Soviet occupation of Mongolia began.
During the nearly 70 years as a Soviet satellite state, Mongolian Buddhism was virtually wiped out. In 1937, the Soviet-allied Mongolian Communist Party banned Buddhism and the government executed nearly 20,000 monks; thousands more were sent to Siberian labor camps and most of the country’s 2,000 monasteries were destroyed.
Mongolia’s peaceful Democratic revolution in 1990 opened the doorway for a Buddhist revival. The 19th Kushok Bakula Rinpoche served as India’s ambassador to Mongolia from 1990 to 2000, and he helped reestablish monasteries and Buddhist learning centers all over the country. This Ladakh-born lama, a reincarnation of one of the 16 Arhats, played a large role in the comeback of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, it is said to have been prophesied that Bakula Arhat would one day come from India to revive Buddhism in Mongolia.
Modern Mongolia is currently experiencing a true Buddhist renaissance. The monastic population has grown from 110 monks in 1990 to over 3000 today, and reconstruction is underway at many historic monasteries that were decimated in the Communist purges. Freedom of religion has returned to Mongolia, a freedom that Genghis Khan first afforded all Mongols in the 13th century.
Detailed Daily Itinerary
Arriving in Ulaanbaatar
Sain baina uu and welcome to Mongolia, the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky! You’ll be picked up at the airport and driven to our centrally located hotel in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Most flights arrive in the morning, so after a late morning & early afternoon rest, we can start our adventure slowly with a visit to a local cultural museum. These visuals will help lay the groundwork and build an understanding for the sites you will encounter during this journey.
On the morning of July 2nd we’ll say goodbye to the city and head out to the countryside. Before we leave the city, we’ll pay our respects at Gandan Monastery, the center of Tibetan Buddhism in all of Mongolia. Mongolia has a rich and complicated history with Tibetan Buddhism.
Buddhism was introduced to the Mongolian steppe in the first millennium CE; in the 13th century, Tibetan Buddhism became the state religion of the Yuan Empire (which was established by Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan). After the collapse of the Mongolian Empire, though, shamanism once again ruled the steppe.
However, in the late 1500’s, Mongolian military leader Altan Khan brought Tibetan Buddhism back to Mongolia in a big way. It was Altan Khan, in fact, that created the title of “Dalai Lama” (“Dalai” being Mongolian for “Ocean”). It was the patronage of Mongolia which propelled the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism into political power in Tibet.
Gandan Monastery was one of the few monasteries to escape destruction by the Communists, and it was kept open as a ‘showpiece’ to visiting foreign dignitaries. With the fall of Communism in 1990, Gandan became a fully functional monastery once again. One of the highlights of Gandan is the 87′ (26.5m) statue of Avalokitesvara; this statue of the Buddha of Compassion is said to be the tallest indoor statue in the whole world.
On our way to Jalman Meadows, we’ll stop at another breathtaking statue–the Genghis Khan Equestrian Statue. This 131’ (40m) statue, a silver giant rising out of the steppe, was erected in 2008 to honor the founding father of Mongolia, and there is a small but interesting museum in the statue’s base.
Finally, we’ll make our way to our hidden gem of an eco-camp: Jalman Meadows. This will be your first experience in a traditional Mongolian ger!
Ger is the Mongolian equivalent of the Russian word “yurt.” Gers are portable felt tents, round in shape, and perfectly suited to nomadic life on the steppe and Mongolian climatic conditions. Mongolians have been living in gers for thousands of years, long before the Mongolian Empire was even formed. In fact, early on in Genghis Khan’s military career, he named his first large group of followers “People of the Felt Walls.”
Jalman Meadows is nestled within the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area, one of Mongolia’s true wilderness areas that extends all the way up to the Russian-Siberian frontier. This area constitutes the transition zone of steppe and the southernmost reaches of the forests of Siberia. There are steppe valleys, lush meadows along the Tuul River and extensive larch forests with patches of birch.
This will be our home for the next 3 nights and a perfect place to unplug and settle into the rhythms of nomadic life. In fact, there is a nomadic family nearby who can show you how they milk their cows (and horses!) and show you the delicious art of crafting Mongolian dairy products. Did you know that you can distill vodka from yogurt?!
You’ll have plenty of opportunity for rest, exploration, and adventure in Jalman Meadows. Optional activities include hiking, horseback riding, and rafting along the river (half-day or full-day trips, wherein a yak pulls the raft upstream on a cart!) You can even build your own sauna ger at the river’s edge. We’ll come together for homemade meals, and our amazing guide will share stories of Mongolian history and culture.
Back to the Capital
On the morning of July 5th, we’ll retrace our steps back to the capital (3-hour drive) and we’ll spend the night in Ulaanbaatar before heading out west tomorrow.
We’ll enjoy the afternoon in the city, taking advantage of the wonderful museums downtown. We can also take in a traditional folk music concert later this afternoon.
On July 6th, we’ll drive west from Ulaanbaatar toward Khogno Tarna National Park (better known as Khogno Khan, a total of ~4.5-hours driving). Our eco-camp for the next 2 nights is at the base of Khogno Khan mountain, providing wonderful hiking opportunities to nearby 17th-century monastic ruins. This area is on the border of three provinces and contains the beauty of the steppe, the forest, and the desert.
Here we’ll be joined by a Mongolian Buddhist monk for a few days, who will tell us more about this remarkable renaissance of Buddhism currently happening. Mongolia has a long and fascinating history of Buddhism since the 3rd century BCE, but it was virtually eliminated during the 70-year rule of the Soviet-allied Mongolian Communist Party in the 20th century.
We can ride the majestic Bactrian camels that are native to Mongolia here in the Mongol Els sand dunes of Elsen Tasarkhai; this area is also called the “Mini-Gobi” or Bayan Gobi (“Rich Desert”). The Mongol Els Sand Dunes are a perfect place to get a taste of the Gobi desert without spending an extra 25 hours (!) in a vehicle to get to the South Gobi. These two-humped camels are the largest camels on the planet, and in our opinion, they’re also the most beautiful!
Kharkhorin & Erdene Zuu
On the 8th, we’ll head 2 hours to the city of Kharkhorin. In the 13th century, this site was the home of Kharkhorum, the first capital of the Mongol Empire, built strategically at an intersection of the Silk Road routes in the area. We’ll visit a fascinating museum here to learn more about this progressive city built by Genghis Khan’s son Ogodei. Home to Christian churches, Muslim mosques, pagan temples, and Buddhist temples, Kharkhorum was most likely the most religiously open and tolerant city in the world at the time.
We’ll also visit the nearby monastery complex of Erdene Zuu. The Tibetan Buddhist monastery Erdene Zuu was originally established in 1585, but rebuilt multiple times through the following centuries. The few temples here that survived the Communist purges of the 1930s were converted to a museum; today, it is both a functional monastery and a truly beautiful museum. The grounds, surrounded by 108 stupas along a wall, are home to a Chinese-style temple, a Tibetan-style temple, and a traditional Mongolian ger temple.
We’ll depart from our hotel on the 9th and head to the breathtaking Orkhon Valley. Perched on a picturesque hill, our ecocamp is the perfect place to relax and watch the sun set over the steppe, over the nomads gers and their grazing livestock. (This is where the photo at the very top of this page was taken!)
UNESCO recognizes this valley as being inhabited continuously for the past 62,000 years; borrowing from UNESCO, “The Orkhon Valley clearly demonstrates how a strong and persistent nomadic culture led to the development of extensive trade networks and the creation of large administrative, commercial, military and religious centers. The empires that these urban centers supported undoubtedly influenced societies across Asia and into Europe and in turn absorbed influence from both east and west in a true interchange of human values.”
Back to UB
The next morning we’ll start back to Ulaanbaatar, visiting a nomadic family along the way. We’ll learn more about this traditional Mongolian lifestyle, still followed by more than a third of the population. We’ll learn about the rhythms of nomadic life, following grass and shelter along the steppe year round, and the endless preparations that must be made in the summer to survive the long, cold Mongolian winters.
You’ll enjoy the overwhelming kindness of true nomad hospitality, and this may be a perfect opportunity to try some authentic Mongolian dairy products. Perhaps you’ll try the quintessential Mongolian drink, airag–fermented horse milk.
We’ll have this afternoon in Ulaanbaatar to continue our explorations and hit whatever remaining museums tickle our fancy. Don’t forget about shopping, too: Mongolia is absolutely famous for its cashmere. But no matter what, get a good night’s sleep tonight because tomorrow is Naadam!
National Naadam Festival
Naadam celebrates the traditional Mongolian games of wrestling, horse racing, and archery. The games of Naadam are listed by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” and they were described in 13th-century book The Secret History of the Mongols. The National Naadam is held on July 11. We’ll witness the stately opening ceremonies and the first round of Mongolian wrestling, a site you’ll not soon forget.
Mongolian wrestling is mesmerizing to witness; the first wrestler to touch the ground with any body part other than his hands or feet loses. While the skills are remarkable, the pageantry around the wrestling matches is even more captivating. Mongolia takes its wrestling very seriously, and the current Mongolian president was a wrestler. Naadam must be seen–and the energy must be felt–to be believed!
On the 12th we’ll head into the countryside about 2 hours to witness a rural Naadam. These Naadams are a incredibly fun because of the more intimate scale and the ability to get closer to the action.
The horse races are a cross-country event, with 6-year-old to 13-year-old jockeys (yes, you read that right!) racing horses for 15–30 km (10–18 miles).
On the evening of the 12th, we’ll enjoy our final dinner together in Mongolia, reflecting on all we’ve experienced together in this fascinating country. The tour ends after breakfast tomorrow, but we know for certain Mongolia will have a place in your heart forever!
Please click the title of the desired tab to open it.
Price & What is Included
This journey is $6900, based on double occupancy.
If you prefer to have your own private room (that is, no roommate), the supplement is $1095 USD and will be added to your last payment. (Click here to understand why this supplement is necessary).
There are only 7 private gers (rooms) available on this journey which will be released on a first-come, first-served basis. (November 19 update: there are only 4 private rooms left).
Please note that we cannot guarantee you a roommate for this trip, and if you room alone, you will be responsible for the single supplement.
- All transportation within Mongolia in an air-conditioned vehicle, including airport pickup and drop-off
- All lodging (a mix of hotel and ger eco-camps)
- All meals starting with dinner on July 1st.
- Drinking water
- All site entrance fees
- All tips at hotels and restaurants
- All tips to local guides and drivers
- Mongolian cultural performance
- National Naadam festival
Price does not include:
- International airfare (although will be more than happy to help you decide on arrangements)
- Travel insurance (required)
- Additional activities at Jalman Meadows, such as rafting and horseback riding
- Optional horseback riding in Orkhon Valley to monastery
- Photography/videography fees at sites
A minimum of 10 guests need to register for this journey before we can move ahead and advise on international flights. Please do not buy any airfare until you hear from us. If the minimum number of guests does not register 3 months before the journey, your payments, including your deposit, will be refunded in full.
Deposit & Payments
Please refer to the Price tab for specific information about price & what is included on your journey.
The non-refundable deposit for this journey is $1000 USD and reserves your spot. The 2nd installment of $3000 is due by January 15, 2023 and the balance is due by March 1, 2023.
We accept payments via check, Zelle, and credit card from our American guests, and we accept bank wires and Wise.com transfers for our international guests.
- Paying by Check: Checks can be made out to RetreaTours and sent to 8821 NW 14 Street, Pembroke Pines, FL 33024.
- Paying by Credit Card, Debit Card, or PayPal balance: You can pay the balance with credit card, debit card, or PayPal balance through the button below. Note that you do not have to pay with your PayPal balance; please click here if you’d like further instruction.
We will email you an invoice (via PayPal) about a week before each due date.
We do everything in our power to do right by our guests. We are proud to say that in the wake of our COVID-related trip cancellations through 2020 and 2021, we were able to offer each of our guests the choice of a 100% credit, if not a full refund.
We’ve re-examined each trip and done our best to reduce the deposit amounts as much as possible. Upon your registration, your deposit immediately goes toward reserving your space for flights, hotels, and excursions that must be booked months in advance and are often non-refundable.
Cancellation by our guests
The cancellation charges are as follows unless otherwise indicated on the detailed itinerary for each trip. All cancellations must be received via e-mail or US mail.
- Cancellations prior to 120 days to departure, money will be refunded minus the non-refundable deposit.
- Cancellations received 61 to 119 days prior to departure are subject to a penalty of 50% of the total cost of the trip.
- Cancellations received 60 days or fewer prior to trip departure will forfeit the entire cost of the trip.
If a trip is cancelled by RetreaTours
When a tour is cancelled in the case of force majeure, the Tour Participant will receive a refund minus any funds that we are unable to recover from any supplier.
You can see the full cancellation policy in our contract here.
FAQ: Visas, Vaccines, Food, Money & more.
- Passport and Visa information
- Health & Vaccines, Altitude, Travel Insurance
- Money & How to Get Local Currency
- Communication / Internet Connectivity
- What do I need to know about the visa?
Your passport MUST be valid at least 6 months beyond the end date of the trip, and you’ll need two empty pages in the Visas section of your passport (make sure they are in the Visa section, not the Amendment or Endorsement section).
American, Canadians, and citizens of the U.K. will receive a visa upon arrival; there’s nothing you need to do before you arrive to Mongolia. For other countries, please check visalist.io to see what your Mongolian visa requirements are.
- Can my dietary needs be accommodated?
Mongolia is a culture that loves its meat. However, it is possible to request vegetarian food for at our ger camps and hotels; vegetarians, though, maybe wish to bring snacks to supplement their diet, in the way of nuts, protein bars, or veg “jerky.” Most vegetarian meals consist of pasta.
A typical meal at the camps typically consists of a meat-based protein (mostly chicken and beef, with occasional pork or turkey), a starch (rice or pasta) and vegetables, in addition to a salad and soup starter and usually a dessert. Breakfasts are typically buffet-style and include eggs, fruit, grains, and local dairy products.
Within Mongolia’s traditional nomadic animal husbandry culture, meat and dairy are dietary staples. The growing season is about 100 days, and because of the harsh climate much of the year, it is unsuited to most cultivation. In fact, only 1% of the arable land in Mongolia is actually cultivated with crops!
Wine and beer and, of course, vodka, is available at all of our camps and hotels (not included in the trip).
Please include any special dietary allergies or needs on your registration, or reach out to us with any questions you may have before registration.
- Can I drink the water?
In a word, No. Although many cities around the world are getting more advanced public water systems, we don’t recommend it. Not only from a pathogen standpoint, but it’s a different set of bacteria than your body is used to. Why risk an upset stomach if you don’t have to? We recommend drinking only bottled water, and you will want to rinse your toothbrush off in bottled water. If you’d like to bring a reusable bottle and a means of sterilization to save on plastic water bottle consumption, you are more than welcome. Otherwise, we will have access to bottled water at all times.
- What vaccines do I need?
RetreaTours requires COVID-19 vaccine plus booster for this journey. No other vaccines are required to enter Mongolia, but we suggest you work with your physician or your area’s travel health expert to decide what options are best for you. You can read the American CDC’s recommendations here and the UK’s NHS recommendations here.
- What about malaria?
Malaria is not a risk in Mongolia, but again, we request that you work with your physician or travel doctor when making these choices. Please see our blog about this topic for more information.
- What are the physical requirements for this trip?
Please see the separate section on this page titled “Suggested Fitness Requirements.”
- Do I need travel insurance?
Travel insurance is required on this trip; please see the separate “Travel Insurance” toggle on this page.
- How much money should I bring?
All of your meals and transportation are covered, so you just have to gauge how much you want to spend on extras, such as alcohol and souvenirs. After registration, we’ll let you know how much some of the optional activities cost. You may also want to shop in Mongolia, famous for its cashmere!
- How do I get the local currency?
You can either exchange cash in Mongolia or use a local ATMs. Just make sure you call your bank and credit card company to let them know you’ll be traveling in Mongolia so they don’t put a hold on your card when they see it being used halfway across the world.
- What kind of hotels will we be staying at?
Please see the separate “About our Accommodations” toggle on this page.
- Will I be able to charge my electronics (phone, iPad, etc)?
Yes, just be sure to bring along a Universal Travel Adaptor that can go with you anywhere in the world! Some of the eco-camps will not have electricity within the ger, and you will need to charge your devices in the restaurant or lounge ger. We highly recommend bringing a portable battery charger such as this one.
- How can my family get ahold of me in an emergency?
Before the trip begins we will give you the contact information for our guide and our partner travel office in Ulaanbaatar; in addition, we will give you an American number good for text messages and voicemails (when we have internet access). An international phone plan will work in the cities on major roads, but we will be out of cell signal reach at some of our remote camps.
- About the Wifi
You will have wifi at our hotels in Ulaanbaatar. However, please understand that you will not be connected to the internet during periods of this trip, mostly during our stay at the eco-camps.
About our Accommodations (Hotels & Ger Camps)
During our time together in Mongolia, we’ll be staying at mix of a modern hotel and ger camps:
- Ulaanbaatar – Bayangol Hotel (by the by, this is where the current Nechung Oracle, the Dalai Lama’s personal Oracle, spends many of his summers. This hotel is where we had the good fortune to have a private audience with him in 2019, while he was in possession of Padmasambhava relics!)
- Hogno Khan Mountains – Khogno Khan eco-camp
- Kharhorin – Dreamland camp
- Orkhon Valley – Ursa Major Geolodge
- Jalman Meadows, Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area – Jalman Meadows Wilderness Camp
Please understand that lodging is extremely simple and spare in Mongolia.
We’ll be staying in a hotel in Ulaanbaatar (5 total nights, non-consecutive), complete with an ensuite bathroom (with western toilet and hot water), air conditioning, and wifi.
In our other destinations, we are staying at camps composed of gers, which are traditional round, felt Mongolian tents. These camps have been carefully chosen based on their location, their amenities, and their environmentally-sound practices.
None of the gers have an attached bathroom, and the toilet can sometimes be 100 to 200 feet from your tent. Three of the ger camps have shower options (2 modern, 1 more traditional), and our one night in Orkhon Valley offers hot towels but no shower facilities.
It is rare that a ger has one big bed, so couples will mostly sleep in two twin beds within the gers.
The gers are simple but comfortable. However, as they are tents in an eco-camp, it is reasonable to expect a few insects in your ger; don’t worry, nothing dangerous, just a small beetle here or daddy long legs there.
At times, there may only be charging stations in the main ger, and electricity may not be provided 24/7. For those of you with CPAP machines, we can devise a way to charge your machine from our 4×4 vehicles but we cannot guarantee a steady electricity supply at night.
Please read more about the history of gers here.
Please see the photos below of the interiors of the typical gers we’ll be staying in.
Suggested Fitness Requirements & Drive Times
This isn’t a very rigorous journey, although there are physical activities you can add on: horseback riding, rafting, and hiking, as well as camel riding. All physical activities are optional, and we’ll let you know what to expect before each activity!
To take full advantage of this journey, we suggest being able to walk 1-2 miles at a time without stopping, at your own pace. There is one ~2 mile (one way) walk up a hill to visit a monastery; if you wish to hire a horse, instead, that is an option for you.
We will be driving for several multi-hour stretches times on this trip, so guests should be able to sit in a vehicle for up to 5 hours at a time (although we can stop for bathroom breaks and leg-stretching along the way).
Most of the roads we will use between destinations are paved, but we will also be offroading as we get close to our eco-camps. These rides will be across flat, grassy steppe and you should not find them to be jarring or uncomfortable.
This itinerary was specifically created to reduce the amount of time spent in vehicles. Here are our estimated drive times:
- Ulaanbaatar to Jalman Meadows: 3 hours
- Jalman Meadows, return to Ulaanbaatar: 3 hours
- Ulaanbaatar to Khogno Khan: 4.5 hours
- Khogno Khan to Kharkhorin; 90 minutes
- Kharkorin to Orkhon Valley: 2.5 hours
- Orkhon Valley to Ulaanbaatar; 6 hours
About your International Flights (How to Fly to Mongolia)
We are more than happy to recommend international flights, but ultimately you will make the purchase yourself.
How do I fly to Mongolia?
There are flights to Ulaanbaatar from the following hubs:
- Seoul, S. Korea
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Beijing, China
- occasionally Frankfurt, Germany
When must I arrive in Ulaanbaatar / where will I stay?
Flights typically arrive in the morning to Ulaanbaatar, so we’ve planned the first day (July 1) accordingly. We’ll depart from Ulaanbaatar on the morning of July 2nd, so anytime you wish to arrive on the 1st will be alright.
If you wish to arrive early, we can help you with hotel reservations.
What time should I book my departing flight from Ulaanbaatar?
The trip is technically finished after breakfast on 13th, although most flights will leave early in the morning. Anytime after 9 PM on July 12th would be ok to leave, if that fits your schedule the best.
Temperatures & Suggested Packing List
Temperatures will range between 50°F and 75°F, so we will supply you with a recommended packing list before the journey that will rely on layers!
Our Carbon Negative Commitment
RetreaTours is Climate Positive!
We purchase triple carbon offsets for your travels with us—that’s from your home, through the entire tour, and back to your home again, times three!
RetreaTours is officially a Carbonfree® Partner with Carbonfund.org, as well as a partner with Cool Effect.
You may have heard the term “carbon neutral,” which means that a company offsets as much carbon as it produces. With this 300% offset, RetreaTours is actually offsetting more carbon than we produce each year, making us “carbon negative” (or “climate positive,” which has a nicer ring to it!)
Since 2012 we’ve focused on making travel safe and easy for our guests; with our triple carbon offset tours, we’re pleased to make our trips as sustainable as they are memorable.
Please see more at RetreaTours.com/CarbonNegative
If you are traveling with RetreaTours, we require that each guest carries travel insurance that covers emergency medical treatment and emergency evacuation and repatriation.
We suggest trip cancellation insurance, as well, as you never know what obstacles life can toss at you leading up to a trip. However, we do not require this coverage, we only suggest it highly.
Please visit RetreaTours.com/travel-insurance to learn more and see some places to start your search.
We ask that you carefully consider your choice in travel insurance. What works for some people may not work for others, particularly if you have any pre-existing conditions. Please do take the time to consider the best policy for your individual needs.
It may also be a good idea to check with your credit card companies, especially American Express, to see if they offer any medical coverage for travel.
About BJ and Lauren of RetreaTours
You’ll be joined on this journey by BJ & Lauren, owners of RetreaTours–and we are so excited to show you the wonders of Mongolia!
BJ Graf and Lauren Rathvon have traveled the globe year-round since January 2013, researching, designing, and leading impactful journeys. We are deeply grateful for the trust that our guests place in us to save them time and resources while they enjoy a memorable journey.
We are committed not only to our guests, but to our host destinations and the planet. We engage with local businesses and guides to keep money within the community, and we triple carbon-offset each of our tours.
You can read more about our story here. We invite you to visit our Testimonials page to see what other people have to say about us!
Please write Lauren@RetreaTours.com for any questions you may have about this journey. If you have not received a reply within 48 hours, please do check your spam folder.
Please click a photo to see an enlarged version of these photos BJ and Lauren took in Mongolia; you can use your arrow keys or mouse to navigate within the album.