This winter ride in Mongolia combines the magical unblemished landscapes of the Orkhon Valley, Bayan Gobi Desert and Hustai National Park, home of the famous Przewalski horses.
Declared a heritage site by UNESCO in 2002, the Hustai National Park covers 50 000 hectares of steppe and mountain forest and is home to many species of mammals and birds. The Przewalski horses that live there are a rare and endangered subspecies of wild horse. At one time extinct in the wild, they have now been reintroduced into their native Mongolian habitat. This ride gives you the chance to view them in the wild, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The Orkhon Valley is a World Heritage Site, with breath taking views that go on for miles and miles. Witness the frozen Orkhon Falls and ride across the snow covered Bayan Gobi sand dunes. This is a truly unique opportunity to see wintertime Mongolia and experience the traditional nomadic way of life.
Accommodation throughout the ride is in heated yurts, fully furnished and very comfortable. Three days are spent in a guest yurt with a nomadic family which gives a rare insight into how the people of Mongolia live, especially in the cold winters.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from SL of Bern on 25/05/2017
Your transfer guide will meet you at Ulan Bator airport at 11.30am (please book a flight arriving before 11.05am). Meet your guide and transfer to your hotel for a warm shower and some rest (no lunch included). If you are not arriving before this time you will need to meet your guide at the hotel at 14.00. Visit of the Gandantegchinlin Monastery. Built in 1809, the Gandantegchinlin Monastery - formerly known as the Gandan Monastery - is a Tibetan-style Buddhist monastery located in Ulan Bator. Its name of Tibetan origin can be translated as "Great site full of Joy". Several hundred monks currently reside there. Time for shopping at Naran Tuul market to buy the equipment you might need for this ride (especially fur hats). Dinner and night at your hotel in Ulan Bator.
Breakfast, then drive to the Hustai National Park. The park is best known for hosting the conservation project to protect the endangered Przewalski's horse. Only a few specimens were present in zoos around the world until a breeding and reintroduction program was initiated in 1992, resulting in a wild and sustainable population inside the Khustai park which now stands at about 260 individuals. To observe the horses, it is best to travel by vehicle to the banks of rivers where they come to drink early in the morning and evening. The rest of the day, they disperse into the mountains in search for food. After lunch at Hustai yurt camp, we prepare for our first ride on horseback. This first horse ride is an opportunity to test your own equipment before longer rides in the Orkhon Valley. After the ride, if we did not see the Przewalski horses, we can try and find them again with our vehicle. The rest of the afternoon is devoted to a good warm shower. The Hustai yurt (ger) camp has quite modern showers compared to the rest of the country and even in the heart of winter, you can normally have a hot shower so you should take advantage! Dinner and overnight at ger (yurt) camp.
Breakfast at the yurt camp, then we drive to Karakorum (Kharkhorin). Lunch at Kharkhorin. After lunch we visit the Erdene Zuu Monastery. Dinner and overnight at a yurt camp or with a nomadic family, or in a guesthouse in Kharkhorin depending on the availability (most gercamps / hotels are closed in winter).
After breakfast we drive through the Orkhon Valley. We are progressing slowly on tracks surrounded by the famous landscape of the Orkhon Valley. In winter, the nomads move their yurts and herds to their wintering sites, a location protected from the winds, the hollow of a valley or near the forest. An enclosure is often arranged to gather the herd and allow the animals to keep warm. We arrive at the yurts of the nomadic family where we will spend 4 nights on time for lunch. First horse ride in the Orkhon Valley with our nomadic friends. Dinner and overnight in a guest yurt installed alongside our host family.
Days 5 - 6
During the next two days, we discover the wonderful Orkhon Valley on horseback. Every day, we ride to a different part of the Valley: the famous Orkhon Falls, frozen by the cold, or a pass from where we enjoy a fantastic view over the valley. The precise itinerary depends on the weather, as the climate can be very challenging in winter. We always keep your safety first. As it is impossible to stop for a picnic lunch because of the cold, we do not stop during the day, and we have a late lunch in the yurt when we come back to the camp. Those days are also a wonderful opportunity to discover the traditional way of life of Mongolian nomads: how the whole family cope with winter extreme cold, how babies and children are protected, how they take care of the yaks, horses and sheep herds. The nomadic family will take great care of you, as they are very proud to welcome foreign visitors in wintertime. They will keep a fire burning in the stove at night. Dinners and overnights in a guest yurt installed alongside that of our host family.
Breakfast. In the morning, we enjoy our last horse ride through the beautiful landscapes of the Orkhon Valley. Lunch with our hosts, and we have to say goodbye to this so nice nomadic family, to drive through the Orkhon valley towards Khogno Khan / Bayan Gobi Park. Dinner and overnight with a nomadic family.
Breakfast. In the morning, short horseback ride along the spectacular cliffs (2 hours). The contrast between the cliffs and the frozen marshland that borders them is spectacular! Difficult to imagine that in summertime, this area is a Garden of Eden where nomads often gather their herds in this vast wet plain. This horse ride can be turned into a camel ride depending on the way the horses managed to cope with winter weather. The we visit of the Ovgon Khiid Monastery, set in a dramatic scenery. Meals and overnight with a nomadic family.
On the road again to Ulan Bator, through the spectacular landscapes of frozen steppe. Lunch in a small restaurant on the road. Arrival in Ulan Bator then visit the National Museum of Mongolian History. Dinner (not included) and overnight at hotel.
Breakfast and transfer to airport on time for flights departing after 07:00am.
Airport transfers included in
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
The Mongolian horse is small, with a particularly developed forequarters, a short and massive neck. Compared to its size, the Mongolian horse is very strong, and very tough. The horses are almost never shod, except in winter in the Lake Khovsgol region, in order to fix spikes to horses that pull the sleigh on the frozen lake. Almost all colours are possible, including those with very old signs such as zebra stripes. Mongolian nomads do not have a name for their horses, they call them by their colour, and they have dozens of different terms to describe the subtleties of possible colours of their horses. The Mongolian horse has a docile temper, despite spending months of freedom in the steppe it shows a very quiet behaviour as soon as its owner catches it for the ride. The traditional Mongolian saddle has a short base and high pommel and cantle. They are ridden very differently to the Western style, you do not kick to increase speed, simply use voice commands. Reins are held in one hand and the ponies are steered by neck-reining. In trot and canter riders should stand in their stirrups as much as possible.
Must be confident in walk, trot and canter. This is an adventurous ride and riders will be required to participate in horse care, tacking up etc. Must be fit enough for long hours in the saddle in harsh conditions. The minimum age for this ride is 12 years.
We strongly recommend that you wear a riding helmet in compliance with the standards in force in Europe or in your country of origin, as the practice of riding in Mongolia presents specific risks in addition to those related to the usual practice of riding as you know it.
We would like to draw your attention to the following points:
- This ride takes place in remote areas, where the rescue teams - even organized by your repatriation assistance company - can need several hours to reach you.
- There are very few hospitals outside Ulan Bator, and they lack efficient equipment.
- The low level of road infrastructure considerably extends any time of transport to a hospital.
- Mongolian horses live free and even if they are trained, they may have surprising reactions compared to the horses to which you are accustomed because of their strong instincts.
- The saddles used are adapted to the characteristics of the Mongolian horse and are therefore different from the ones you are accustomed to, requiring a period of adaptation during which the risk of fall is higher.
A limited selection of hats are available but MUST be requested before departure as these are not kept at the ride start point.
The weight limit for this ride is 209 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Guest-yurts with nomadic families: This accommodation is a unique opportunity to share and discover the traditional way of life of the nomadic herders in Mongolia. 2 or 3 guest-yurts are set close to the the family's yurt, surrounded by the free-roaming horses, yacks, sheep and goats. A guest-yurts will contain 4 or 5 single beds, heated with a traditional stove and meals are served either in the family's yurt or outside, weather permitting. Your host will prepare traditional Mongolian dishes and it can be interesting to see how women cook only with the central stove of the yurt. For your comfort, a shower tent is provided close to the yurts where water can be heated on the stove. Dry toilets are also at your disposal. You will be offered some tea mixed with milk and salt. You will soon get used to it, but you will also find "Lipton" tea in the yurt (ger) camps. Touristic Yurt camps (Ger camps): These are the most comfortable accommodation in Mongolian countryside. You will sleep in traditional yurts (called gers in Mongolia), furnished with single beds (from 2 to 5 beds / yurt), small tables and a stove. It is very difficult - or impossible - to have single yurts in most of the camps, so be ready to share your yurt with other travellers from the group. Some camps offer yurts with double beds, but it can not be guaranteed. You can find showers, washbasins and toilets in a separate building and a restaurant provides breakfast and meals. Good to know: Yurt camps are the most comfortable accommodation available in Mongolia, but don't expect luxury: hot water in the showers is often unpredictable, electrical standards are "unique" and food at the restaurants relies on good supply conditions due to their remote situation. Yurt camps offer simple international food, adapted to their different clients: Mongolian people and tourists from European, American and other Asian countries (China, Korea, Japan).
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
All British and European passport holders must have a Mongolian visa. A Mongolian visa (for up to 30 days stay) is normally valid for six months from the date of issue and should be obtained from your nearest Mongolian Embassy before travelling. Your passport must be valid for more than six months after the date you intend to enter Mongolia.
Mongolian embassy in the UK can be contacted at:
Address: 7 Kensington Court, London W8 5DL, Telephone: (020) 7937 0150, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.embassyofmongolia.co.uk/
In the UK the British Foreign Office gives travel advice on 0207 008 0232/0233 or at www.fco.gov.uk.
The British Embassy in Mongolia can be found at: 30 Enkh Taivny Gudamzh, (P O Box 703), Ulaanbaatar 13, Mongolia
Telephone: (976) (11) 458133
Office Hours Local Time:
Mon-Thurs: 0830-1300 & 1400-1700, Fri: 0830-1330
Ulan Bator (Ulaanbaatar) has a continental climate with dry winters and short cool summers.
For up to date information on specific health concerns please contact the Medical Advisors For Travellers Abroad. Their website can be found at www.masta.org. You should also consult your G.P.
Electricity is 220 volts (U.K is 230) and most appliances can be plugged in with appropriate adaptors.
Your hosts now have an invertor which runs off the vehicle battery and produces 230V, into which any UK mains electric appliance can be plugged (good for charging camera, ipod etc). There is also a battery charger, which can charge ordinary rechargeable AA and AAA batteries.
Most yurt camps have electricity and you can charge phones and cameras in the evening.
Keep in mind that your clothes have to be large: the air between the layers will keep you warm, so don’t take too small sizes.
Merino wool top“1st layer” (and for nights),
Thin polar fleece jumper “2nd layer” (and for nights),
Thick polar fleece jumper “2nd layer”,
Softshell jacket (for the evening, and as possible “2nd layer”),
Very warm down jacket + Gore Tex windbreaker or ski jacket (“3rd layer”),
Being unlikely to encounter wet conditions, a lightweight windbreaker in addition to a very warm down jacket should suffice.
Merino wool “1st layer” tights (and for nights),
Polar fleece trousers (for evenings and nights),
Softshell breeches, or ski pants as 2nd+3rd layer,
A polar hood covering head + nose + neck
A very warm hat or a chapka
A polar beanie for the nights
Silk or merino under-gloves
Very warm gloves (ice-climbing gloves are very suitable as they are designed to be warm, waterproof with good grip control)
Very warm boots (Baffin or Sorel brands are OK)
Very warm merino socks
Personal toilet bag with small towel,
High protection sun screen and lipstick,
Soothing drops for the eyes,
Tissues and wipes + mineral water facial sprays as it will be impossible to have a shower during most of the trip,
Personal medication (muscular ache, diarrhoea, sunburn…),
Soap and shampoo (biodegradable if possible),
Antibacterial product for hands,
Sleeping bag (comfort temperature -5°C/-10°C),
Thermolite sleeping bag liner,
Inflatable pillow if required,
Hand and feet warmers (plan to use a pair of feet warmers + a pair of hands warmers per day).
Pocket knife and lighter (in the registered luggage),
Fire starter cubes (to be able to start the fire in your stove easily by yourself during the night if needed – carry in your registered luggage),
Camera + batteries + powerbank
Electric adaptor if needed,
A sheepskin can help with keeping warm in the saddle
This is an 10 day/9 night programme on set dates from October to April. In early February there will be a special itinerary to include a celebration of the Mongolian New Year - the Tsagaan Sar.
Runs every Monday from October 2019 to April 2020 (subject to availability, please speak to your travel advisor)
Confirmed departure: 6 April
|Riding days||Product item description||£|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||small group supplement 2 - 3 riders||175|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||single supplement for 2 nights in Ulan Bator||69|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||Extra night single room in Ulan Bator||69|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||extra night double pp in Ulan Bator||44|
|Riding days||Product item description||€|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||small group supplement 2 - 3 riders||199|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||single supplement for 2 nights in Ulan Bator||80|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||Extra night single room in Ulan Bator||80|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||extra night double pp in Ulan Bator||50|
|Riding days||Product item description||$|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||small group supplement 2 - 3 riders||225|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||single supplement for 2 nights in Ulan Bator||93|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||Extra night single room in Ulan Bator||93|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||extra night double pp in Ulan Bator||58|
|Riding days||Product item description||SEK|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||small group supplement 2 - 3 riders||2,145|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||single supplement for 2 nights in Ulan Bator||859|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||Extra night single room in Ulan Bator||859|
|2019/2020||10d/9n||8||extra night double pp in Ulan Bator||539|
How to establish contact with a nomadic family
Simple tips will help you, especially with the children;
- Be creative, do not stay in a role of simple spectator, get involved: for example, if you take some paper and coloured pencils, do not distribute them to the children as a Santa Claus, sit with them and draw too. You'll be guaranteed some giggles when you will compare your drawings! You can also try origami which will amaze the children and their and parents.
- Learn simple magic tricks before leaving, your success is guaranteed, in the evening around the stove!
- Ask your guide to teach you how to play jacks and other traditional games for the evenings in the yurt with your nomadic friends.
- Dare to sing, the Mongols adore it and the evening can end in a crazy karaoke!!!
- Ask the women if you can help them to milk animals, to prepare the meal...
- Ask the men if you can help them with the herds...
Above all, be curious and open minded, try as much as possible to be an actor instead of a spectator, so that this journey turns into a real human adventure for you, reinventing the simplicity and the happiness to be together...
The Orkhon Valley:
Classified in 2004 as World Heritage Site by UNESCO as the cradle of nomadic Mongolia, the "cultural landscape of the Orkhon Valley", about 121,967 hectares, covers an extensive area of pastureland that stretches approximately 80km from long and 15 km wide on both banks of the Orkhon river. The site also includes Karakorum.
Grasslands are still used today by Mongolian nomadic herders, and many families keep perpetuating the traditional way of life. In the valleys and around the rivers are nestled yurts that house the nomadic families. In the wild, herds of horses, yaks, sheep and goats are moving in these protected areas.
The Orkhon Falls are actually the Ulaan Tsutgalan River Falls. The river falls into a spectacular canyon formed after an earthquake and a volcanic eruption more than 20 000 years ago, forming a cascade of 20m high and 10m wide.
The site is enchanted by the contrast between the whiteness of the foam and the black rock that forms the canyon walls. Going down along the walls to the foot of the fall, you will discover trees and flowers (wild peonies in June) that take advantage of the abundance of water to grow.
Mongolia is a huge landlocked country, more than six times the size of the UK, sandwiched between Russia and China. It is also one of the highest countries in the world, with an average elevation of 1580m. Mongolia can be divided into six distinct zones including desert, steppe, mountain and taiga. The southern third of Mongolia is dominated by the Gobi Desert.
The name 'Mongolia' has always stirred up visions of the untamed - Genghis Khan, camels wandering the Gobi Desert and wild horses galloping across the steppes. Even today, outside of Ulaan Baatar you may get the feeling you've stepped into another century rather than another country.
Mongolia is seven or eight hours ahead of GMT depending on which part of the country you are in. They use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.
The major religion is Tibetan Buddhism.