A big, wide country that has much and little. Lots of scenic beauty, a rich cultural heritage and an almost limitless hospitality.

Only few people, though – With an average of less than 2 people per square kilometre, Mongolia is the most sparsely populated area in the world after Greenland. Of the more than 3 million inhabitants, 1.7 million live in cities, 1.3 million of them in the capital Ulaanbaatar. The capital translates to “Red Hero”, thus houses almost half of the entire population of the country, which is almost five times the size of Germany. Besides Ulaanbaatar Important cities are Erdenet with 79,649 inhabitants, Darchan with 72,386 inhabitants and Choibalsan with 44,367 inhabitants.

About 85% of the population speak the official language of Khalkha Mongol, while there are other minority Mongolian and Turkic languages. The minorities are predominantly Kazakh and Tungusian ethnic groups.

Geographically, Mongolia can be divided from north to south into four regions: mountains, forest steppe, mountain steppe and (semi-) desert.

Facts and Figures

  • Capital: Ulaanbaatar
  • Int. License plate: MN
  • Area: 1,564.116 km2
  • Population: approx. 3 million
  • Population density: 1.9 p.e./km2
  • Official language: Mongolian
  • Foreign languages: Russian, English, German
  • Religion: mostly Buddhism, besides also Christians, Muslims, followers of pre-Buddhist religions and relatively many atheists
  • Currency: 1 Tugrug (MNT) = 100 Mungh
  • Time difference to CET: +7 h
  • Electrical current: 220 Volt/50 Hertz alternating current
  • Visa requirement: Yes (visa requirement as of 1 January 2016)
  • Travel documents: Passport

A typical Mongolian life is closely related to its animals. Despite the increasing urbanization, a large part of the population still lives as nomads. The tradition of the steppe is not yet dying. Even in the cities, the majority of Mongols live in a ger – a yurt – whose door always faces south.

For centuries, Mongolia has been closely associated with Tibet and its Buddhist orientation. Despite decades of association with the Soviet Union and the ban on all religions during the communist period of the country, the vast majority of the population describes themselves as Buddhist. Or precisely because of this, since 1990 there has been a revival of Buddhism, monasteries and temples have been renovated and rebuilt.

Climate and best time to travel

Mongolia is also known as the country of blue skies. Not by chance, because with an average of more than 250 days of sunshine you have already earned such a title. But it is also a country of extremes – in terms of temperatures: hot to hot summers and very cold winters, characteristic of a strong continental climate. The average annual temperature is at freezing point. On some winter nights you can measure as low as -40C in Mongolia, in summer as high as +40C in the Gobi Desert and even in the capital as high as +30C. In some regions, the temperature difference between day and night can be as high as 30 degrees in extreme cases. A plus point on travel, however, is the very low amount of precipitation, so the holiday does not fall into the water so quickly.

Average summer temperature: +20C (+65F)

Average temperature in winter: -24C (-13F)

Average annual rainfall: 200-220mm (80-90% of rainfall is from May to September)

Mongolia has four seasons and these are very different. Winter begins in November and lasts from February, spring from March to mid-May, summer from mid-May to late August and autumn finally in September and October.

Winter: From November to February it is really cold. The Mongols call the extreme weather conditions with snowstorms and freezing winds Zud. Temperatures down to -40°C. Nevertheless, a trip in winter can be an experience in itself – because who knows first-hand what it means to live in a ger in winter? The Mongols don’t even think winter is that bad. The hardest months to bear are March and April, when the herd is starved and thin after a long winter and struggles due to the lack of rainfall.

Spring: Spring can still be very windy – including unexpected snowstorms – so never forget the wind chill factor when quoting temperatures on weather pages. With wind, 0C can quickly feel like -5C. In northern Mongolia, especially in Khentii and Khovsgol, rainfall can be expected during this period. Otherwise, spring is mostly sunny and humidity at zero.

Summer: Summer is the best time to travel. It can start in mid-May. At the beginning of May there may still be snowfall – especially in the north. The weather in June is mostly good and mostly dry – especially in the central and southern regions. July is the peak time of travel, not only because of the weather, but also because the Naadam festival falls in this month. (More information on the Naadam festival see below) In August there may be increased rainfall in the north and in the central country. However, this also brings benefits, because with the wetness the dry land transforms, rivers fill up and the steppe is enveloped in fertile greenery. Disadvantage: Some roads become muddy and difficult to pass and mosquitoes enjoy the increased humidity.

Autumn: The autumn months are difficult to estimate. One moment you may be walking around in your T-shirt, the next you change into a thick sweater and put your feet in warm boots. The splendour of colours especially in the north of the country with its forests is beautiful to look at and elsewhere the quiet season of autumn has its charm. Only the weather is a bit hard to estimate. So be prepared for anything.

Food and Drinks

The Mongols love their tea – the Suutei Tsai, tea with salt and milk. And they are not averse to alcohol either – they prefer to drink Airag, a homemade drink made from fermented mare’s milk with an alcohol content of 3% and vodka. Naturally, the cuisine is heavily meat-intensive – a country with large herds and very little cultivation naturally lives on meat. Especially mutton and beef are consumed, but marmot also likes to come to the table. There are also potatoes, carrots, rice and pasta. Fresh fruit and vegetables are now available all year round.

Entry requirements

Entry and exit for foreigners is possible either via the international airport of Ulaanbaatar or – coming by train from Russia – in Sukhbaatar and coming from China in Zamyn Uud. Crossing the border by car is also possible at the Altanbulag/Khiagt, Tsgaan-Nuur/Tashanta, and Zamynd-Uud/Ereen border crossings. All other border crossings are only open to nationals of Mongolia and the relevant bordering country. If Austrian citizens living in China or Russia intend to use these border crossings, it is advisable to clarify the question of crossing the border with the responsible Mongolian representative authority.

Since January 1, 2016, Austrian and German citizens have also had to have a visa – for Swiss citizens this was already the case. For a tourist visa you need a passport that is at least 6 months old with at least two blank pages and an invitation or proof of at least one hotel reservation in Mongolia. You can find the application form here:

Registration is mandatory for stays of 30 days or more. Registration must be made at the Foreign Citizens’ Bureau in Ulaanbaatar within 7 days of arrival. Before leaving the country, a police deregistration is required as well as an exit visa, which is issued by the consular department in the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Failure to do so will result in being rejected when leaving the country and an administrative penalty.

Health and Vaccinations

The quality of the medical care does not correspond to the European standard. It is strongly recommended that you take a first-aid kit with you, which not only contains medicines that you need on a regular basis, but also medicines for typical travel-related illnesses. Our guides are not allowed to administer medication and only have a first aid kit with them.

By following basic hygiene rules (washing hands, avoiding raw foods), most health problems can be avoided. It is recommended to only drink bottled or boiled water. Fruit and vegetables should only be eaten peeled and cooked.

Tuberculosis is widespread, and other dangerous infectious diseases such as anthrax, hand, foot and mouth disease also occur in isolated cases. Cases of the plague have even been reported in remote rural areas in the past.

No vaccinations are required to enter Mongolia. However, protection against diphtheria, tetanus, polio and hepatitis A and B is recommended. Please consult your doctor or a tropical medicine specialist for advice on this.

Good to know

Pickpockets may occasionally occur in places in the capital that are heavily frequented by foreigners. The streets of the capital are more dangerous at night. Unlicensed taxis charge exaggerated prices or allow accomplices on the way, who then rob the passengers. Greater caution is called for here. Otherwise, Mongolia is quite a safe travel destination.

The import of the national currency is forbidden, the carrying of foreign currency is allowed without limit, but is subject to declaration. Undeclared foreign currency may be confiscated upon departure. It is advisable to bring dollars or euros in cash or traveller’s cheques. Credit cards are not always accepted. Personal items may be imported duty-free (including 600 cigarettes and 2 litres of alcohol). Customs and foreign exchange declarations must be presented at the time of departure.

The national currency is freely convertible. It is recommended to exchange money only in banks or official exchange offices. In rural areas, it is often not possible to exchange foreign currencies. Sufficient local currency should therefore be exchanged in Ulaanbaatar before travelling inland.

In Ulaanbaatar it is possible to fix the local currency at ATMs with credit cards, sometimes also with Maestro cards, and in larger banks it is possible to withdraw money with credit cards. Large hotels, restaurants and shops frequented by foreigners (larger supermarkets, souvenir shops and cashmere shops) accept the usual credit cards.

The export of the national currency is prohibited, the carrying of foreign currency is allowed up to the amount declared at the time of entry. When exporting, the authorities often search for antiques, precious minerals, metals and hunting trophies. Hunters are allowed to bring in and out their personal hunting weapons, including ammunition.

The Naadam-Celebration

Naadam Festival is one of the most important festivals in Mongolia and at the same time an excellent opportunity to experience the culture of the country and its people. Its full name is Eriin Gurwan Naadam (эрийн гурванадам; The Three Male Games). During the Naadam festival, the three major national sports are celebrated over 2 days: horse racing, wrestling and archery. And not only in Ulaan Baatar but throughout the country. Around the sporting activities there is food, music, crafts and lots of culture to experience. Here you can fully immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle with the Mongols. The most important Naadam festival takes place on national holidays 11. and July 12th, but there are different smaller Naadam festivals in other regions of the country.

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