Welcome to Mongolia! You’ve reached the country’s capital and by far its largest city.
Join an epic journey from the lush Mongolian steppes of the Tuul River Valley to the snow-capped mountains of Tavan Bogd. Explore untamed lands and trek through the remote countryside. Leave your modern contraptions at home and discover what life is like without electricity, running water, or paved roads as you travel from ger to ger. Join our host families as they milk the yaks in the morning, bring in the horses at dusk, and collect prairie chips for the fire at night. This is a rugged trip, so an adventurous spirit, a positive attitude, and physical fitness are necessities.
After meeting and greeting your flight leader and the other students traveling to Mongolia, you’re off to Beijing! This is an easy, nonstop flight across the Pacific – most students find that after dinner and a movie, they’re able to manage dozing off to sleep for a while. So sit back, have a chat with your new friends, and enjoy the flight!
This day is lost as you cross the International Date Line. But don’t worry – you’ll get it back when returning home!
You’ll arrive in Ulaanbaatar early this afternoon. Transfer to the guesthouse for a fun lunch, orientation and a shower before heading out for your first traditional Mongolian meal!
Today, get to know Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, which is home to more than half of the country’s population. Visit the National History Museum of Mongolia, where you’ll learn all about the fascinating history of Chinggis Khaan, his daughters and grandsons who built the world’s largest contiguous empire in history and whose influence on the world’s culture and history is largely underemphasized in Western textbooks. A special highlight is the hall of traditional costumes, which shows the cultural dress of Mongolia’s various ethnic subgroups. In the evening, visit a rousing cultural show that features traditional dances and the one-of-a-kind khoomi throat-singing.
Wake up early for a short drive to Terelj National Park, the most well-known park in central Mongolia, famous for its unique rock formations and stunning views. Stop at the imposing statue of Genghis Khan, astride the largest horse sculpture in the world. Finish your drive to our host family in the park, just past the postcard-friendly Turtle Rock, and settle into this luscious valley for the evening.
In the morning you will take a short hike to a mountainside monastery just out of view of our host family’s gers, or traditional Mongolian tent. You’ll quickly get used to your life in gers, as they’ll be our main form of accommodation throughout the trip. From there you have an unobstructed view of Turtle Rock valley, which you can explore this afternoon, or scour the forest floor for wild strawberries, and get the feel for relaxed rural Mongolian life.
This morning, embark on a river rafting adventure. This relaxed rafting trip winds through the park’s areas that are inaccessible on foot. Spend time after dinner chatting with your host family and learning about their lives, ambitions, and the visitors they see from all over the world.
Take a short drive back to Ulaanbaatar for a hot shower and relaxing lunch. Most of the rest of today will be spent preparing for your trip out to the wilds of Mongolia, starting tomorrow. Enjoy a last Western meal before diving into the local culture of our host village, Sogoog.
Take a short internal flight to Ulgii, the capital of Mongolia’s northwestern province Bayan-Ulgii. Considered by many to be Mongolia’s “Wild West,” this is the historical home of Mongolia’s Kazakh ethnic minority, and has a landscape as stark as it is beautiful. Meet our service partners and important members of the small village of Sogoog. Orient yourself to your service project for the upcoming days, but most importantly, come to understand the peerless formal hospitality of Kazakh culture.
Engage with a locally run NGO to carry out service projects designed in consultation with herding families, village elders and small towns in the region. Though projects may vary based on current needs, you will likely help organize a summer camp for children of local nomadic families, for them to practice their English, improve summer knowledge retention, and possibly teach them about dental hygiene, a rarity in nomadic cultures until our partner NGO began an education program. You may also help provide nourishing vegetables by volunteering in the local town’s “Green Project” gardens, an effort to provide a more balanced diet to the typcal meat-and-dairy heavy diet of the nomads.
In the afternoons and evenings, you will be able to fully immerse in the local culture! Ride camels and hold a Golden Eagle from the world’s last remaining Eagle Hunters. Learn how to sew traditional Kazakh handicrafts, and partake in nomadic dances to the tune of the dombor, a traditional Kazakh instrument. You will play fun competitive games with our hosts, and feel truly welcomed by this generous community.
Say goodbye to your host village as we drive to the entrance to the Altai Tavan Bogd mountain range – Mongolia’s highest peaks, in one of the most remote areas on the planet. Along the drive, you will visit the famous petroglyphs – rock drawings from the Bronze Age that evoke a sense of wonder and timelessness. Basing ourselves at the park’s entrance, we’ll take day hikes through the area, famed for stunningly green alpine lakes, a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and the area’s milky river, called the Tsaagan Gol, which aptly translates to “white river”.
We’ll be camping at the figurative “end of the world” – the actual point on earth farthest from any ocean. Along our hikes, expect to be faced with some of the most stunning views you may ever see as the mountains’ massive grey glacier melts into bright blue lakes which trickle into a mineral-rich river which feeds into fertile green valleys below.
Reconvene in Sogoog to attend a closing ceremony hosted by your village hosts, and reflect on your service projects from the previous week. Say goodbye to the friends you’ll undoubtedly have made here, and enjoy a celebratory final meal with our service partners.
In the morning, make the two-hour return drive to Ulgii and hop back on the plane to Ulaanbaatar. The hustle and bustle of the city may surprise you after your time in the remote west, so relax, reflect, and enjoy the luxuries that city life affords like electricity, hot showers, and flushing toilets.
Today is your last full day in Mongolia! Today is your day to visit Ulaanbaatar’s best souvenir shops to take care of your friends and family back home. Mongolia’s most famous export is cashmere, loomed from the wool of the copious amount of goats found in the region. Find a nice scarf for mom or gloves for dad or just enjoy learning the process that brings cashmere from the goat to the coat. Enjoy a sumptuous final dinner, and take part in a ceremonial closing activity that will change the way you look at yourself, your journey, and your newfound friends.
After an early breakfast, it’s time to say goodbye and continue on to your next adventure. Your memories from Mongolia will last a lifetime!
Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.
The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.
“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.
“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.
For more information, email email@example.com
This program connects seamlessly to all other programs within Asia, and several others around the world! Students often connect this program to others in China, India and Southeast Asia.
Most travelers to Mongolia are granted a 90-day visa on arrival. If traveling on anything other than a US or EU passport, please be sure to contact your Personal Travel Advisor within Rustic Pathways or consult your country’s specifications on Mongolia’s embassy page
Yes. Students on our group flights will be escorted by a Flight Leader, employed by Rustic Pathways. Often schoolteachers, Flight Leaders have been vetted by Rustic Pathways and will escort students from Los Angeles through to Ulaanbaatar.
Our escorted group flights to Mongolia begin in Los Angeles’ LAX international airport on Air China, and route through Beijing to Ulaanbaatar. The flight from Los Angeles to Beijing is about 12 hours and 40 minutes, and the connecting flight to Ulaanbaatar is approximately 3 hours. Students will have a three hour connection in Beijing on the way to Mongolia, leaving enough time to go through transit immigration and get some food before the final leg of their flight. Leaving Mongolia only, students will have a seven hour layover in Beijing before their connection to Los Angeles.
Yes. All departure dates include travel time from and to the US.
This program begins and ends in the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, and travels through central and western Mongolia, specifically to the Terelj National Park to the east of Ulaanbaatar, and to Bayan-Ulgii province in the west where we will complete the bulk of our community service. The hiking portion of the itinerary takes place in Tavan Bogd National Park, also in Bayan-Ulgii province, which borders both Russia and China on the western tip of the country.
Students will fly from Ulaanbaatar to Bayan-Ulgii province in the western country on the ninth day of their program and return to Ulaanbaatar on the twentieth day of their program. Internal flights will be on of Mongolia’s national airlines, Aero Mongolia or Hunnu Air.
Each Rustic Pathways program is staffed by leaders who are certified in First Aid and CPR. Several of our program leaders are also certified as Wilderness First Responders, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Wilderness EMTs, or Life Guards. Given the remote nature of this program in particular, each Western staff will be at least a certified Wilderness First Responder.
Rustic Pathways maintains a minimum of 1 Program Leader for every 7 students. Additionally, each program maintains at least 2 primary program leaders, one male and one female in addition to at least 1 local staff.
Rustic Pathways uses purification techniques to ensure that all drinking water for students is potable and safe to drink. If purification is not available, bottled water will be accessible to students at all times. We ask students to bring reusable water bottles in order to reduce plastic usage.
Students are allowed to bring phones on their Rustic Pathways program, but must abide by our cell phone policy. We understand that cell phones are often also a student’s camera or music player, but we ask that students will not use their phones during group activities, or at any other time where it is disruptive to the group dynamic. If students are unable to abide by this policy, disciplinary action may be taken
Mongolian electrical outlets use the European two round-pin style sockets, or the Type C, E, or F Europlugs. The voltage in Mongolia runs between 220-240 volts, whereas in the US, our voltage is 110-120, so please make sure your adaptor also includes a voltage transformer to account for this increase in electrical current. See http://www.adaptelec.com/index.php?main_page=document_general_info&products_id=168 this website for more information.
Mongolia is known as “the land of blue skies” and sees more than 260 sunny days a year. While winters make Ulaanbaatar the world’s coldest capital, summers are generally mild, sunny and warm with temperatures averaging around 64 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, though on occasion in Western Mongolia, nights can cool down to near freezing, so students should come prepared for a wide range of temperatures. Chilly nights can be expected especially during the hiking portion of the trip in western Mongolia.
As one of our most advanced and rustic programs, students should be prepared for very basic living accommodations and amenities. For most of the program, students will be sleeping on mats on the floor in traditional Mongolian gers, or canvas tents, separated by gender. While in Ulaanbaatar, students will stay at a comfortable guesthouse with western-style toilets and hot showers.
Students will be eating traditional nomadic fare – meat (goat/sheep), dairy (salted milk tea), rice and hearty vegetables. Vegetarians and most allergies can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please note that strict vegans can not be accommodated and each allergy will be evaluated individually to ensure that a student can be accommodated safely.
The guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar may be the only modern toilet facilities you see during your time in Mongolia. Here, we’ll enjoy the luxury of western toilets and hot showers. Countryside portions will have pit toilets (or open grassland when hiking) and bucket showers every day or two. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are a vital part of the packing list!
This program is truly Off the Map, so access to Internet will be rare. Parents will receive an email notifying them of their child’s safe arrival into the country, but following that, as a rule of thumb, we want parents to know that no news is good news. Students will have brief access to Internet in Ulaanbaatar. Phone service is fleeting in western Mongolia, and while staff will have a functioning phone in the case of an emergency, student phones will most likely not work.
Hand washing will be available during the most remote part of the trip, so bringing bio-degradable soap is advised. Laundry services will otherwise be available at end of the trip prior to departure.
This is a travel-intensive program, but Mongolia’s vast landscape is what you’re coming to see! We’ve arranged the itinerary to cut down as much as possible on lengthy van rides and added the internal flight to afford students the opportunity to see one of Mongolia’s most far-flung provinces in the span of just three weeks. Van rides are between 2-10 hours in length.
Transportation within Mongolia is varied. Students will most-often be traveling in hired vans, and will take one internal flight from Ulaanbaatar to the Bayan-Ulgii province in western Mongolia.
Rustic Pathways takes our students’ safety very seriously, and has taken various steps to make sure that our programs operate in the safest way possible. On this program in particular, each Western staff will be a certified Wilderness First Responder, as well as certified in First Aid and CPR. In addition, the cost of the program includes a membership with HX Global, a leading provider of medical evacuation and travel services in the world. We have recently greatly reduced the risk of injury during the horseback riding portion of the trip by making it an optional half-day activity rather than a two-day trek. Our itinerary has been created keeping access to medical care in mind, and while some of the locations we visit are indeed “Off the Map,” modern medical facilities can be reached at any point on the program.
Please consult with a travel doctor or your family physician for immunization and other medical recommendations, based on the area(s) where you will be traveling and on your own medical history. In addition to consulting with a medical professional, please visit the HX Global and Center for Disease Control websites for country specific information around immunizations and traveler’s health. Please let us know if you have specific questions.
HX Global is one of the world’s leading providers of medical evacuation and travel services. All participants traveling with Rustic Pathways will have access to HX Global benefits through Rustic Pathways’ membership.
As a member you will have access to HX Global’s extensive travel information database to help you make informed decisions prior to travel. Additionally, all travelers who travel outside their country of residence will have access to medical evacuation support during their program. For more information please visit our HX Global webpage.
Given the amount of travel on this program, this varies. Each program leader will have a copy of our Risk Management Plan, which details how to reach the nearest medical facility at each point of the trip. Generally, we are within 2-4 hours from a local or Western clinic or hospital, and within a day’s journey to a Western-style medical facility. While this is one of our more remote programs, we are able to work closely with ISOS and the SOS clinic in Ulaanbaatar to determine prevention, treatment, and evacuation plans.
Nearly all dietary restrictions and allergies can be accommodated on this program, though please note that strict vegans will likely not be accommodated, due to a lack of food options available in certain parts of the country.
Mosquitoes are a common pest during the summer in western Mongolia, specifically during our time in the Bayan-Ulgii province. Mosquitos here tend to swarm for 1-2 weeks during the summer and it’s hard to know during which weeks those will be, as it depends on the level of snowmelt from the winter. There is also a chance of tick bite while in Terelj National Park. Students are required to bring insect repellent with at least 15% DEET or higher. A head net for insects, which can be worn over a hat, is also an advisable idea.
Personal gifts, laundry, Internet costs (free in the Ulaanbaatar guesthouse), phone calls, luggage overage costs, and snacks are not included. Please note, that the internal airline allows a maximum of 15 kg for the combined weight of a carry on and checked bag. Overage charges are about $1.50 per kilo over, and students are responsible for this cost. All other costs (accommodation, meals, in-country transportation, and activities) are included in the program price.
Students are recommended to bring between $200-$300 for spending money, and a credit card for emergencies if possible. In addition to purchasing local crafts for souvenirs, buying some snacks when available, and covering the cost of laundry, this also should cover any incidentals during the trip. Should a student need to see a doctor while away, he or she will be responsible for those costs. The costs at the local clinic are about $90 USD for a consultation with a local doctor and about $200 USD for a consultation with an expat doctor. These costs are almost always reimbursed by your travel insurance provider.
Students will have the opportunity to earn up to 25 community service hours during this program. Please refer to our Community Service Hour Awards webpage for more information on how service hours are awarded.
Rustic Pathways works with local community leaders and organizations to identify and prioritize the needs of each community. In the past, Rustic Pathways has partnered with a local NGO to provide support to rural education projects in western Mongolia.
Students are required to bring a sleeping bag rated to at least 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but preferably to 0 or -10 degrees Fahrenheit, and also a compressible sleeping pad. Students will use their sleeping bag nearly every night in the gers and on the hiking portion of the trip. A compressible backpacking sleeping bag is recommended. Please note, that the internal airline allows a maximum of 15 kg for the combined weight of a carry on and checked bag. Overage charges are about $1.50 per kilo over, and students are responsible for this cost.
As this is one of our most rustic and remote programs, comfort in the outdoors and with hiking will benefit students greatly, but no prior experience is required.
Given the remoteness and length of this program, students need to have a mature understanding of the challenges they may face during their time in Mongolia. Many modern comforts are not available in Mongolia: hot showers are few and far between, cell and Internet service is sparse and infrequent, laundry services are few, and Western food is a delicacy not often available. Students who enjoy a challenge and are looking for a sincerely unique international experience will thrive here, but students under 16 may lack the maturity necessary to sustain the program.
There are several opportunities for hiking during the last week of this program. Students will be expected to hike several hours through mostly flat and sometimes hilly terrain, but students should be comfortable with extended hiking and be physically fit.
About a month before you travel, the Country Director of Mongolia will send out an email packed with important information and a long list of books and movies to help you get excited and prepared for your travels. As a good starter though, check out Mongolia In Depth: A Peace Corps Publication for a brief overview of Mongolia’s history, climate, and living conditions.
While in Mongolia, we’ll be living as the Mongolians do. It’s a slow pace of life, often huddled around a campfire where an instrument is more than welcome. You’ll have to travel with it and will be fully responsible for it, so something easy to carry works best.
Packing the right gear (and the right amounts) is the first step to an incredible travel experience. Follow these tips to pack like a pro:
Travel light. Pack only the essentials. You’ll need less than you think!
Bring the right clothes. Pack clothes that are culturally appropriate for your destination and acceptable for service projects. This means not packing shorts, which are not appropriate for Mongolia, bringing weather appropriate clothes, and appropriate footwear.
Leave your valuables behind. While traveling, it’s easier for things to get lost, stolen, or damaged. Keep any prized possessions safe at home.
Check with TSA. Make sure your luggage complies with TSA regulations, especially your carry-on. Useful tip: Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up after security.
Extra paperwork? If you need additional forms filled out to get credit for your service hours, no problem! Bring these forms with you so they can be completed in-country.
A school backpack or similar sized bag is ideal.
A 50-70 Liter duffel bag or backpack is ideal.
(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)
Welcome to Mongolia! You’ve reached the country’s capital and by far its largest city.
Drive to Terelj National Park for adventures in horseback riding, archery, and rafting.
Take a short flight to Ulgii, the Wild West of Mongolia.
Welcome to ger life! This small village will be your home as you help a locally run NGO with various projects in the area.
Spend some time exploring the crystal blue lakes, mineral-rich white rivers, and ancient petroglyphs all found in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our Everest. Your trip culminates with a day hike up the smallest of Mongolia’s five highest peaks. The steep peak of Malchin reaches 13,000 feet and overlooks Russia, Mongolia, and China.