Scientific Tour


Day 1              Arrival in Ulaanbaatar

The contrast between ancient traditions and a 21st century democracy is most visible in Ulaanbaatar, where traditional gers and Buddhist monasteries sit side by side with modern high-rises. Upon arrival at the airport, travelers are welcomed by the guide and transferred to a centrally located hotel within walking distance of various museums and shops. Overnight at the hotel in Ulaanbaatar. (D)

Day 2              Ulaanbaatar/Gun Galuut Nature Reserve

After breakfast, drive to Gandan Monastery, the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia. Woven through Mongolia’s nomadic culture is a rich Tibetan Buddhist tradition in which ancient shamanist practices are still evident. Although Buddhist monasteries were either destroyed or converted into museums during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, Gandan Monastery continued to operate as a showpiece for government officials. However, in spite of the government’s efforts to suppress Buddhism and other religious beliefs, Mongolia’s spirituality persisted and a significant resurgence of Buddhism began in 1990 when Mongolia became a democratic nation.

Strolling through the monastery grounds, hear the low tones of the horns used to call the lamas to the temple and observe their daily rituals, including the reading of sutras, the teachings of the Buddha. Also visit the recently renovated Chenrezi and Kalachakra Temples, as well as the magnificent statue of Migjid Janraisig, “the lord who looks in every direction.” This 25m high statue, gilded in pure gold and clothed with silk and precious stones, completely fills one of Gandan’s temples.

Thereafter, visit the National History Museum for an excellent overview of Mongolia’s history and culture. The newly remodeled museum displays traditional implements of daily nomadic life including Stone and Bronze Age artifacts, historical costumes of Mongolia’s minority tribes, sacred religious relics, and agricultural, fishing, and hunting equipment.

After lunch, drive east of Ulaanbaatar to Gun Galuut Nature Reserve. Founded in 2003, the locally-run reserve is home to more than 60 mammal species and 80 types of birds, including many nationally and globally threatened species, such as the Argali wild mountain sheep, Siberian white crane, White-naped crane, red falcon, and black vulture. Explore the mountain, steppe, river, and wetland ecosystems and learn about the conservation efforts in the area from the reserve rangers. Overnight in a local ger camp. (Ger Camp; B/L/D)

Day 3              Travel to Lake Hovsgol

In the morning, fly to Moron (1.5 hours), the capital of Hovsgol Province. Continue overland to Lake Hovsgol (approximately four hours). It is a long and bumpy ride. Along the way, stop at the Uushgiin Deer Stones, one of the best-preserved monuments of its kind in Mongolia. Dating back thousands of years, the Uushigiin Deer Stones are comprised of 14 magnificently preserved deer stones, lined up from north to south and often referred to as the “graveyard of deer stones.” The front stone is carved with a human face on top and is the only one to have been found. Awareness of the Uushigiin Deer Stones has increased recently as a result of the Smithsonian Institute’s research work at the site. Overnight in a lakeside ger camp. (Ger Camp; B/L/D)

Day 4              Lake Hovsgol/Boating

Mongolia’s largest lake by water volume, Hovsgol extends 136km in length, and 36,5km in width. It is over 267m deep and contains 1-2% of the world’s fresh water. Though fed by over 90 rivers and streams, water exits the lake only through the Egiin River, which eventually flows into Lake Baikal in neighboring Siberia. Known as Mongolia’s “dark blue pearl,” Hovsgol remains untouched by industry and is situated among the most pristine forests, mountains, and meadows in the world. Take a boat cruise through the crystal clear waters of Lake Hovsgol. There also will be opportunities to sample Mongolian horseback riding, kayaking, photographing, and hiking along the lakeshore. (Ger Camp; B/L/D)

Day 5              One Day in the Life of a Mongolian Nomad

In the morning, visit a local nomadic family to experience their warm hospitality firsthand, and learn about the basics of the nomadic lifestyle of Mongolia. There will be demonstration of building a ger, a traditional Mongolian dwelling, and conversation with herders about the centuries old method of observing and predicting local weather. Return to the ger camp in the late afternoon to rest. (Ger Camp; B/L/D)

Day 6              Fly from Moron to Ulaanbaatar/Paleontology lab

After a leisurely morning, drive to Moron (four hours) for your flight to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival transfer to the hotel and in the afternoon visit the dinosaur halls of the Natural History Museum, showcasing the spectacular fossils found in the Gobi Desert. On display are fierce Tarbosaurous fossils (closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex), dinosaur eggs, large Hadrosaur fossils (duck-billed dinosaurs), and many others, all of which illustrate the richness and importance of the paleontological sites in the Gobi. Included is a special behind-the-scenes visit to the paleontological lab of the museum. In the evening enjoy dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight in a hotel in Ulaanbaatar. (B/L/D)

Day 7              Fly to Gobi Desert

In the morning, fly over vast steppe to the Gobi (1.5 hours), Mongolia’s southernmost province of semi-arid desert. Contrary to the sameness that the word ‘desert’ suggests, the Gobi is a fascinating and diverse region, and includes sites of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of the 20th century. Explore the stunning landscapes of the Gobi, habitat for Bactrian camels, Argali mountain sheep, goitered gazelle, Golden Eagles, Saker Falcons, jerboas (similar to kangaroo rats), and many endemic reptiles. The Gobi is also home to some of the Northern Hemisphere’s most rare and elusive mammals, such as the dhole, snow leopard, wild camel, and Gobi bear. (B/L/D)

Day 8              Yol Valley

In the morning we will visit Yol Valley National Park, cradled in the foothills of the Altai Mountains. An ancient river carved this surprisingly green valley, and its remnant streams create ice formations that sometimes persist as late as July. A hike through the valley leads to the habitat of indigenous vulture-like Lammergeiers, Altai snowcocks, ibex, yaks, and Argali mountain sheep. After exploring the area visit a local natural history museum for an overview of the flora and fauna of the region. Enjoy a gourmet dinner prepared by the lodge chef. (B/L/D)

Day 9              Molstog Els/Flaming Cliffs

In the morning visit Moltsog Els, one of the few areas covered by sand in the Gobi. This is also our opportunity to sample ride Mongolia’s two-humped camels.

After lunch, travel to the legendary Flaming Cliffs (one hour), named for the red-orange sandstone that glows brilliantly at sunrise and sunset. It was here in 1923 that Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews and his exploration team from the American Museum of Natural History found the first nest of dinosaur eggs the world had ever seen. To the trained eye, the dramatic formations of the Flaming Cliffs are rich with fossils, and paleontological expeditions continue to make significant discoveries at this site. Enjoy sunset at this magnificent location. (B/L/D)

Day 10                        Arrival in Ulaanbaatar

Fly to Ulaanbaatar in the morning and visit Bogd Khan Winter Palace museum, home of Mongolia’s last theocrat, Bogd Jabzan Damba Hutagt VIII. The museum displays elaborate ceremonial robes and other personal effects of “Mongolia’s 8th Living Buddha.” In the evening enjoy a performance featuring traditional Mongolian dancers and khoomi throat singers, followed by a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (Hotel; B, L, D)

Day 11                        Departure from Ulaanbaatar

After breakfast transfer to the airport for departure. (B)