Altai Mountains & West Gobi
The Altai Mountains, Great Lakes and Dunes.
Explore Mongolia’s most diverse region, track Snow Leopards, Argali Sheep, Saiga Antelopes and Ibex, traverse Mongolia’s largest sand dunes, and more.
PRICE On request $$$
SEASON June to September
TRIP TYPE Jeep Safari
ACCOMMODATION Luxury Private Camps
ACTIVITIES Wildlife, birding, hiking, nomadic cultures
DURATION 11 days ex-Ulan Bator
Western Mongolia is a timeless landscape, home to Mongolia’s most fascinating and diverse ethnic groups: the Kazakhs with their hunting eagles, surviving fragments of the Oirat Mongol tribes, and shamanist Tuvans.
In the Great Lakes Basin, there are more extensive sand dunes than anywhere in The Gobi, in landscapes where dunes border great saltwater and freshwater lakes with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
The Altai Mountains are habitat to Snow Leopards. Saiga Antelope still roam the dry steppes, an ice-age survivor, with a bulbous almost trunk-like nose uniquely adapted to extreme cold and heat. With the largest reed-beds in Central Asia and the diversity of landscapes, the Great Lakes Basin and neighboring mountains offer great birding.
We tour the region by Landcruiser, sleeping at our private 360° camps located among vast unspoiled landscapes. Where you will be welcomed by our local community partners.
We would love to tailor a custom trip to the West for you
Down to the details
Below you can find out more information about this trip, including a suggested itinerary, the fitness level required, what is included in the trip package and also some of the other customisation options available.
TO ULAN BATOR & DELUUN
On arrival from overseas you will be met by your guide and driver, and transferred to your hotel in Ulan Bator. To orient yourself we suggest a stroll to central Sukhbaatar Square. The square is flanked by state buildings from the mid Soviet Era, and contains statues of Genghis Khan (seated) and Damdin Sukhbaatar (on horseback). The following day fly out to west Mongolia, either Hovd or Ölgii. There you will be met by your Land Cruiser for the four-hour drive to Deluun. Have your cameras ready for the beautiful Dööröö Lake, with the snowcapped Sair and Tsambagarav mountains serving as backdrop. Depending on the season, your private 360° wilderness ger camp will be set up, ready for three nights of glorious isolation.
HÖKH SERKHIIN NURUU & CHIGERTEI NATIONAL PARKS
One of the days you reach the summer highland pastures of Kazakh nomads near the main ridge of the Altai Mountains, which marks the border with China’s Xinjiang province. There, we will strike up a conversation with these hardy nomads herding their sheep and goats, some of whom are prominent eagle hunters as well as pastoralists. Altai’s Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims and are truly nomadic unlike those in Kazakhstan proper. Camera traps here enable ongoing research into wolverines. The traps also capture images of livestock, birds, occasionally wolves, and the nocturnal Pallas’s cats. Numerous archaeological remains in the area, including kurgans (grave mounds) and Deer Stones, reveal evidence of habitation by Scythians and numerous later cultures. Another day, we will hike into Hökh Serkhiin Nuruu National Park. Wherewith luck you might encounter hundreds of Siberian ibex. The Argali sheep, the world’s largest wild sheep, are also sometimes seen. These are prey animals to snow leopards.
TO HOVD & KHAR US NUUR NATIONAL PARK
Today we break camp and drive the 4-5 hours to Hovd Province, departing Altai proper and entering a region where the majority of inhabitants are not Kazakhs but Mongols. Hovd is an appealing, multi-ethnic town of Halkh Mongols, Myangad Mongols, Kazakhs, and other peoples, hence why it boasts both Buddhist temples and a mosque. Hovd also has a noteworthy local museum, the only university in West Mongolia, and a vibrant local market to explore. The next day, we will continue the drive eastwards to the far side of Khar Us Nuur National Park. Here on the western fringes of the Gobi is Mongolia’s Great Lakes basin, its salt and freshwater lakes serving as the catchment for all rivers flowing down from the Altai Mountains, carrying with them the snow and ice melt from the glaciers. Our destination today is the longest sand dunes in Mongolia, which appear to descend directly into the lake itself. It’s common to see small herds of the rare Saiga antelope in the distance on the Dörgön Plains. Perhaps the lake water appeals for an invigorating swim?
CAMEL SAFARI AT MONGOL SANDS
Your day unfolds with a spectacular camel safari across the sand beaches of Dörgön Lake. The ‘Mongol Sands’ run from the lakes all the way along the Zavkhan River – you might call it the Mongolian Riviera! In the distance beyond the blue mirrored waters you’ll spot the Jargalant Hairkhan massif, often still snow-capped into July. The area is a paradise for birders, with Mongolian gulls and sometimes the rare Relict gull making an appearance.
TO HOVD & ULAN BATOR
In the morning you will set off for Chandmani village, where locals claim the Mongolian art of throat-singing originates. Taking a different route around the peaks of Jargalant Hairkhan, past local herders with their gers (yurts) on both sides of the mountain, we will descend to the shoreline of Khar Us Lake. The site of Central Asia’s largest reedbeds, it has an abundance of water birds. We will stop here a while before continuing on to Hovd. The following day you will transfer to the nearby airport and fly back to the capital, most likely land around mid-afternoon, for the transfer to your hotel in downtown Ulan Bator.
You will spend a day taking in the highlights of Ulan Bator, such as Gandan Monastery, the busiest Buddhist site in Mongolia, and the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan. Bogd was the theocratic leader of Mongolia and the eighth of his line. After lunch in a local restaurant, you’ll visit the National Museum of Mongolia to admire its ethnographic collections of nomadic culture and examine the history which led to the imperial era of Genghis Khan. In the evening, you’ll enjoy the Tumen Ekh Folk Concert followed by dinner. On the final day, you will be transferred to the airport or station in time for your international flight or train to your onward destination.
This is a moderately paced trip, avoiding long back-to-back jeep travel days. We like to spend a couple of days in most locations in order to explore the area and visit with the locals.
Travel days are generally limited to 5 hours of driving time, occasionally 6 – 7 hours may be required.
Activities include day hikes, length can be tailored to your fitness; the ability to hike 10 or 12 km (6-7 miles) in rugged terrain will enable you to make the most of this trip.
There is an optional 10km camel ride which will require 2 or 3 hours in the saddle (helmets provided), alternatively you can walk, or take the vehicles the long way round. Horse riding can also be arranged with some host families.
- All overnight accommodation outside of Ulan Bator.
- All transport and activities as per itinerary.
- All meals outside Ulan Bator.
- Camp entourage including cook and guide.
- National Park entry fee.
- Domestic flights.
- Air or train tickets to/from Mongolia.
- Hotels in Ulan Bator.
It is possible to enter or exit Mongolia through the Russian parts of Altai, which adds just a few days to your total journey. Making the trip into a circle, instead of back-tracking to/from Ulan Bator. Around Ulan Bator there are options adding the Khan Khentii and Hustai National Park. Please, just enquire for these options.
Ulan Bator Arrangements
Our trips can be customized and combined in a modular fashion. Your stay in Ulaanbaatar will be quoted separately, allowing you the choice of hotels and experiences matching your entries and exits in our capital.
All Ulan Bator services include:
- private chauffeur service to and from the airport at the start and end of your trip;
- city guide and private driver available as required;
- the services of our Ulaanbaatar guest relations team;
There are some seasonal variations of this itinerary depending on the location of host communities and other local conditions. The trip may operate in the reverse direction, due to flight schedules at the time of booking.
The region is remote, we will be up to 6 hours drive from the major towns and regional airports. Domestic flights to Ulan Bator may not be daily. Comprehensive emergency medical and evacuation insurance is required.
Our conservation partners for this journey is the Altai Institute.
The Altai Institute practice people-centred conservation, meaning local communities are incentivized to protect wildlife, and supported in diversifying their pastoral livelihoods.
We have partnered to assist develop community based tourism.