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There are plenty of mixed reviews coming out of the Gobi Desert and for good reason. Due to the vast expanses of this land, there is an exhausting amount of driving involved in a Gobi tour, which leaves little time to see the actual sites. You’ll spend an average of 8 hours / day riding in the back seat of a Russian van bouncing around like you’re in a washing machine. Unfortunately, and much to the surprise of most travellers, there is very little time spent enjoying the actual desert, and more time looking at it through the van window.

gobi desert tour mongolia
Make sure your van is comfortable…you’ll spend a lot of time in it!

Doesn’t sound like fun?

Well, the saving grace really is the last few hours of each day when you arrive at the incredible sites & family homes in the desert. The sand dunes, gorges, cliffs and caves at the end of each day will really make up for the wasted time in the van.

The best experiences are with the families. It’s amazing to be invited in to a ger (traditional Mongolian yurt) and witness the age-old customs of these nomadic people first hand.

gobi desert people
Skinning a goat in the Gobi Desert

Planning:

So, how do you plan for a Gobi Desert Tour? Well the best way is to book it through your guesthouse in Ulan Bator. Almost all of the tourist oriented hostels and guesthouses in the capital can arrange a number of Gobi tour options, as well as tours to all corners of this majestic country.

You first need to find a company/guesthouse that you can trust. We’ve compiled a list below of good operators vs. bad operators based on real traveller’s reports on the ground (not an outdated guidebook).

planning gobi desert trip
Planning a Gobi Desert Trip

Good Operators:

Sun Path Guesthouse – We used them to book our Gobi tour and while the guide wasn’t very informed, the tour itself was superb. We were able to stop for photos when we wanted, our guide helped us find traditional food and drink that we were looking for and she was an excellent cook. Others used this same guesthouse for different tours and had a very positive experience as well. Ask to speak to your guide before setting out to get a feel for his/her level of English. Sun Path has many good guides.

Ger to Ger – Probably the most popular travel agency in Ulan Bator, Ger to Ger is a great community based program which prides itself on giving back to the families who host, and continuing a sustainable relationship between tourists and local families.

Operator To Avoid:

Golden Gobi – We heard a few bad things about the tours put on by this popular backpacker hotel, including worms found in the lunch meat! Not to scare everyone off, but negative reviews have definitely been given about Golden Gobi, other feedback was mediocre at best.

There are plenty of good operators in Ulan Bator so just look around and go for the one that you have a good feeling about. Another option is to have a look on TripAdvisor.com to see honest reviews about tour operators.

Questions To Ask:

Before agreeing to a tour, make sure to ask the following questions to avoid any unwanted surprises.

1. Can I meet the guide and driver before leaving?

2. Can I see the van?

3. Does the driver have experience in the area, a map, and/or a GPS unit? (this is very important)

4. What type of food will be included?

5. Are there any extra costs while on the tour?

6. Are there spare tires & shocks in the vehicle? (a breakdown is almost guaranteed)

gobi desert breakdown
A spare tire, shocks and a someone who knows how to change them is a must

Costs (What We Paid):

We went with Sun Path’s tour and we bargained down to $45/day/person for 6 people in a comfortable van including all entrance fees, 3 meals a day (with snacks), camel riding, accommodation in shared gers, 1.5L water / day / person and basically everything we needed for our 6 day tour.

Travel Companions:

The next thing you need to think about is who you’re going with. If you’ve put together your own group of friends or like-minded travellers then you’re ready for the next step. But if the operator is pairing you up with others, you should seriously consider meeting them before agreeing to the tour. Remember, you will be in a small van with these people for 8 hours / day, sleeping, eating and travelling together, so you better make sure that you get along! A quick meet’n’greet will usually give you a good feel for your new travel companions. If possible, we suggest having a coffee or meal together and make your decision after meeting everyone.

backpackers gobi desert mongolia
Make sure you get along with your travel companions!

Things To Pack For a Gobi Desert Tour:

Here are a few things that we found invaluable while on the Gobi Desert Tour.

1. Moist Towelettes (wet-naps): There are NO showers in the Gobi, unless you’re paying for a top end lodge/tourist ger camp, be prepared to be covered in dirt and dust at the end of each day. A quick rinse off in the wash basin, followed by a rub-down with wet-naps can save the day.

2. Bug Spray/lotion: There are times when the desert is full of flies and mozzies, don’t forget to protect yourself just in case.

3. Sun Screen: Obviously.

4. A Hat. The sun is intense in the desert.

5. A Bandana. Great for putting around your mouth and nose when driving through very dusty areas.

driving gobi desert
A bandana comes in very handy

6. A Sleeping Bag: It’s nice to have because most gers don’t provide sheets and if they do, they usually smell like goat… seriously.

7. A Car Pillow: Remember, 8 hours / day of driving on bumpy roads, you’re going to want something to protect your head when it slams against the window.

8. Snacks: There are sometimes long breaks in between meals. Pick up some road snacks at the State Department Store in Ulan Bator. There are a couple of small shops in little villages along the way, but they only sell very basic goods.

9. Extra Water: 1.5 litres each / day just isn’t enough. Grab yourself an extra 1.5L/day in the capital before you leave and then get more along the way if you need.

10. Laundry Detergent: After 4 days, your clothes will smell like goat, sheep and camel, so unless you carry an entire wardrobe on your back, consider bringing some soap.

11. Toilet Paper: Ger camps don’t have any.

12. Motion Sickness Pills: If you’re susceptible to car sickness, then you’ll most likely feel nauseous once or twice on this trip. Bring some pills.

13. A Book: Especially if you can read during roller coaster rides, it’s a great way to pass the time in the van. Late at night or when waiting for dinner, it’s nice to have some reading material.

14. A Bottle Of Vodka (or 4): The bottle of vodka has many different uses. You can offer some to the elders at the ger camps, and you can ward off any unwanted bacteria by taking a shot after eating potentially dodgy desert meat.

15. A headlamp or flashlight: The majority of the gers won’t have electricity. Candlelight is nice, but when you need to find something in your bag or do a midnight toilet run, it’s a must have.

16. A Deck Of Cards: You’ll be spending a lot of time chatting and hanging out with your tour mates at the end of each day. Cards (or some other game) are a great way to connect with your new friends.

17. An Mp3 Player: The Mongolian horse music is great on day one, but after the same 6 songs are repeated for 6 days, you’ll probably want to hear some of your own tunes.

The Accommodation:

In the desert, the only place to sleep is in a ger, or in your van! The gers are typically pretty comfortable with individual small beds with thin mattresses. Usually the whole tour will sleep together in one ger. You’ll want to bring your own sleeping bag, or rent one from Ulan Batar…who knows how often the blankets in the desert are washed, if ever.

ger in gobi desert
Accommodation in the Gobi Desert – love the view

Brace yourself for outhouse (long-drop) style toilets. Unless you’re in the capital, or other bigger cities, this is the typical toilet in Mongolia.

toilet in gobi desert
Get prepared for the toilet situation!

Go!

Once you’ve found an operator that you trust, met your guide & driver and packed your bags, all that’s left to do is head out and enjoy the diverse Gobi Desert!

Apart from hiring a car and driving yourself (aka, getting lost in the desert), taking a Gobi Desert tour is your only option. This tour is basically just a few like-minded travellers getting together and hiring a guide and driver to show them around. It feels more like a road trip than a tour and you’ll be free to do as you please much of the time. Definitely speak up if there are any detours or particular local experiences you wish to have, most guides & drivers are very accommodating.

gobi desert local people
Meeting the local people of the Gobi Desert is a highlight

Backpacking through Mongolia is amazing and a Gobi desert tour is a definite must while in this nomadic land. Despite the many hours in the van, this is one adventure you won’t want to miss out on.

For more information, check out our articles:

Good Times In The Gobi Desert, Part #1

Good Times In The Gobi, Part #2

Also, check out our Video of the Gobi Desert Tour!

What do you think, does this sound like the kind of tour you’d like to go on? Share with us!

Like it? Pin it!

Backpacker’s Guide to a Gobi Desert Tour in Mongolia

 

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36 thoughts on “Backpacker’s Guide to a Gobi Desert Tour in Mongolia

  1. Hi guys! Thanks for this info! Do you think it’s possible to do this kind of tour independently, just to hire a driver in Ulan Batar who would also know a place to sleep, I mean a ger, without paying $45 per day. It’s not the most expensive trip I’ve seen, but what if we want to stay in the desert longer, like 10+ days? This would be too much for our budget. Thanks for any tips and advice!

    1. Hi Ivana,

      You could definitely hire a private car and driver, but I think you would end up spending more than $45/person/day. The distances here are vast, which costs a lot in petrol, plus you’ll have to pay for accommodation (unless you have it included in the tour), plus food, plus the driver and/or guide’s fee. I honestly think it makes sense to do the tour, and usually we opt for doing things independently!

      Also, we recommend a guide for this so that you can actually communicate and learn some things from the nomads, there’s really not a lot of English spoken outside of UB.

      I hope this helps. You could definitely try to get a better price in UB though! Good luck guys and don’t miss out on the Gobi 🙂

      1. Thanks a lot for this! Yeah, we are not tour lovers too but in some places you just cannot do it without them 🙂
        The language shouldn’t be a problem, I can speak Russian. Although, I heard in some villages in Mongolia nowadays they don’t speak Russian anymore.
        Thanks again and have a great time!

  2. Excellent … a very useful guide for a trek that I will be looking to do in the very near future. Journalling would be a great way to pass the time as well!

    1. Hi Emily,

      We were in Mongolia in July/August.
      Not sure about bargaining tips…just try your best to get them down in the price – but not too low as you don’t want to end up with not much to eat for meals or having them scrimp out on things 🙂

      Enjoy!

      1. Thanks for your extremely useful blog post concerning Gobi tours book out of Ulaanbaatar. My wife and I are leaving the States in just a few days for a quick two-week (12 days actually) Mongolian vacation. I never know my schedule for the upcoming month until the second week of the previous month so the trip planning has been a bit hurried and last minute, at least for Mongolia in May it seems.

        We thought visiting Mongolia in May would be a nice easy shoulder-season vacation but to our surprise many things are closed until June and the flight schedules are very thin and infrequent making planning a quick itinerary in such a vast country extremely difficult. We have also been shocked by the outrageous prices we have been quoted by tour operators in Mongolia. Many operators have been asking us to pay in excess of $1000 dollars a day to sleep in our own tent or on the floor in a family Ger. All of this in a very poor developing Asian country!?? It’s a bit mind-boggling that roughing-it in Mongolia should cost more than traveling about in luxury and style in a very high-cost, highly developed country like Norway, Switzerland etc. I know fuel probably costs a lot of money and most things in Mongolia that don’t derive from a goat, horse, yak etc probably have to be imported from abroad but WOW! The tour operators are asking outrageous sums from Americans inquiring online. We had heard good things about SunPath in UB from elsewhere on the internet as well. We contacted them about a four-day tour in the Gobi, we want to see the sights around Dalanzadgad, and they quoted me $320 PER PERSON, PER DAY! A far cry from the $45 you were able to negotiate. Additionally they didn’t even want to take us to Dalanzadgad and recommended somewhere they were calling the “semi” Gobi due to its proximity. ‘Semi” Gobi? What is the heck is that and why pay $640 dollars a day to see it? Did your tour visit the typical Gobi attractions around Dalanzadgad (Khongoryn Els, Yolyn Am, Bayanzag, etc.) or did you guys opt for a SunPath tour of the “semi-Gobi” ?

        Thanks again for the great post!

        1. Sorry for the delayed reply, we were in Cuba without internet until recently.

          Wow, what outrageous prices!

          We went for 5 nights, $45/person/day including everything. We saw all of the sites that you mentioned above. However, it does take a long time to get to them, so I’m not sure how many days you suggested to Sunpath?

          Regardless, that is way overpriced, which always seems to happen when one tries to book online.

          I hope everything works out.

  3. Just want to know if you guys recommend sorting it out once we’re out there or online beforehand?
    Thanks, Megan

  4. Hi
    This has been amazingly helpful. I am normally allergic to travel blogs but this is JUST what I need to know. How many days do you think I need in Ulaanbaatar to organise a Gobi trip? I am going to the West (hopefully – still looking for a good tour operator who isn’t charging the earth) for about 3 weeks so don’t have much time left as I only get a 30 day visa.
    Have you got any tips for organising a trek in the west?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Caroline,

      Oh no, why are you allergic to travel blogs?! haha

      We had our trip organized within a day. It depends on how you feel about the company, whether or not they have availability, how fast you can come to an agreement on price/activities, etc. We haven’t gone west actually! Enjoy.

  5. I’m planning to hire a Toyota land cruiser neat year, prob. last 2 weeks in May and travelling on my own. Anything in particular I need to be concerned about at that time of the year in the Gobi desert or anywhere else?

    1. May is a good time to be in Mongolia. May – September is good actually. Always take the usual precautions though – lots of drinking water, a GPS (definitely), food, warm gear as it gets cold at night. Check with locals before setting off.

      Enjoy!

  6. Hello!
    Thank you so much for such a detailed post! I’m actually going with Sunpath on a very similar (or possibly) the same tour in about ten days! This post was so helpful!
    I have one quick question though, if you’ll indulge me…I’m trying to figure out what to do about charging electronics. Like you, I run a travel blog and want to document my journey. Were you able to charge cameras or ipods at any point?

    1. Hi Grace!
      That’s so exciting that you’re taking off into the Gobi 🙂 Some of the gers that you’ll stay in will have an option for charging – they have tv’s in there! I would recommend bringing an extra battery for your camera if possible, a solar charger would be good! Have fun.

  7. I’m going on the same tour with Sunpath in about 10 days and was just wondering if there will be anywhere to charge electronics like cameras or ipods while out in the Gobi? Thanks! Great and super helpful post!

  8. Hi, thanks for this amazingly helpful blog! We’re visiting Mongolia this summer (my wife and I with our two sons, aged 10 and 7). Is it going to be realistic to take the kids out to the Gobi, do you think? They’re pretty seasoned travellers (we live in Beijing so they’re not coddled westerners), but I don’t know whether hours every day in a van is going to become a nightmare. Will we be able to hire a van for just the four of us, and take it more slowly? If we just went off for three days, would we get anywhere?

    Any thoughts appreciated!!

    1. Hi Andy,

      The days in the van were long to be honest. But, that’s how you get to all of the good stuff! It takes a few days to get out there. You could request that you spend a night in a random spot just to break up the journey though? Chat to the tour companies and see what they can do. Also, day 2 will bring you to the sand dunes (which are amazing), so maybe you could do just a 3 day trip or something? Good luck and enjoy, it’s quite the experience.

    2. Hi Andy,

      I don’t know if you’ll read this, but my husband and I are taking our 2 sons (also 10 and 7!) to Mongolia this summer as well. We want to do a Gobi tour……I’m hoping to perhaps find another family that we could tour with so our boys would have some other kids to play with. Our kids are also seasoned travelers but it’s always more fun for them with other kids around.

      We’ll be there in August……if that happens to be when you’ll be there, too, maybe we can try to connect somehow?!

      Cheers,
      Meghan

  9. Hello guys! Thanks for your great blog!
    I am planning to be in Ulan Bator by 9th August (coming from Russian Transiberian train) and I have only 5 days before my flight back to Europe on the 14th. Do you think it is still feasible to do a short Gobi Tour of i.e. 3-4 days?
    Any advice and recommmendation will be appreciated!

  10. Thank you for your very useful advice and info! I am plannign a trip as well to Gobi Desert in august but I found very different opinions regarding the time necessary to take a trip to the Gobi. As we only have 2 weeks in Mongolia, you would like to spare time to visit another region as well. Do you think a 4 days trip is realistic?
    Thansk for your feedback !
    Elo

    1. Hi Andy, thanks for the great post. I know someone asked about charging your camera/phones, but just to reconfirm, there are charging points out there in every ger if I were to spend about 5 days on the trip on Gobi?

      Hey Elo, if you are reading this, maybe you like to delay till end Sept so we could plan a trip together (2 of us here) to catch the eagle festival and tour Gobi to keep the cost down? Let me know 🙂

      1. Hey Suhaimi,

        I am also planning to do the Gobi tour in Sept (just solo) as well as the eagle festival – would love to join up with you guys if you’re still keen to keep costs down 🙂

        1. Heya Jaydn,

          Thanks for the reply. We got the quote for this tour

          http://www.tourinmongolia.com/the-eagle-festival-tour.html

          We aint sure how exciting the first half of this just to see lakes lol but the tour operator went MIA when I told her there is no departing flight back to UB on day 16, hence we had to shelve the plan. I enquired the cost remains the same, just that they will pair you up to make the numbers and travel in that Russian van.

          The blog price here stated at 45/day is really a steal. If you book online that might cost much more, perhaps making booking personally there is cheaper? I really do not know

          FYI, there are 2 eagle festival, one is of smaller scale in mid Sept and the bigger one is in the first week of Oct.

          Sorry had to drop out of this and stay safe on the road 🙂

          1. Hey Jaydn and Suhaimi,
            I m also traveling to mongolia in september. It would be great if we could create a group to low the prices 🙂 When do you plan to make a the tour? Is the eagle festival-tour fix? Isn’t anyone excided about the horse-riding tour (11 Days?) Would be great to hear from you both.

        2. Hey Jaydn and Suhaimi,

          I m also traveling to mongolia in September. It would be nice to creat a group to low the prices, when do you want to make the tour? I think that the horse riding tour also sounds really great!! (10-11 days).
          Look forward to hear from you guys 🙂

  11. Nice blog; thank you.
    My wife and I plan to spend just 3 nights/two days in Mongolia in August of next year.
    We would like a day tip from Ulan Batar, just the two of us, not other tourists. We basically just want to see nature and the countryside, and would hope to meet with people.

    We will stay at a hotel in Ulan Bator, not yet sure which. It seems that booking something online is way too expensive. So, once we arrive, where should we go to arrange for a driver/guide? Is there a street or area in the center of town with travel agencies to book such a day trip?
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Jimmy,

      I would speak with your hotel / hostel in UB about booking a driver and a guide. Terelj National Park is close to UB for a good day trip, and it’s beautiful. You can take the bus there.

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