11 Tips for Budget Travelers in Mongolia

Mongolia is the scene of wild, off-the-beaten-track adventure, and the nomadic culture of the steppes has changed little since the days of Genghis Khan. Traveling in this epic land can be exhilarating, fascinating, and even life-affirming, but it’s unlikely that a trip to Mongolia will be cheap.

For prairie tours, you may need to hire a 4WD, a driver and a guide (as drivers rarely speak English). Because of the distance between attractions, fuel costs are a major expense, with the price of petrol imported from Russia rising more than 60 percent since the Ukraine conflict erupted, along with inflation and labor costs.

Other costs to pay include accommodation – usually yurt (yurt) camp, homestay or town hotel – and food for the whole group, including driver and guide. Add in extras like horse and camel trekking, cultural activities and homestay, and the cost can quickly add up.

The phrase “you get what you pay for” is especially applicable to Mongolian travel. Rather than trying to keep costs as low as possible, spend your money wisely. With a proven operator, you’ll get more bang for your buck and enjoy an adventure you’ll never forget. Try these tips to make your trip less rewarding.

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A Guide to Daily Expenses in Mongolia

Beds in Ulaanbaatar Dormitory: $10-20
Basic room for two in Ulaanbaatar: $60-150
Spend a night with a host family yurt: from $40
Ulaanbaatar-Khalhorin bus ticket: USD 7 one way
a cup of coffee: 2–3 dollars
Hushur Local restaurants (fried lamb patties): 1
A sit-down dinner for two: $20-60
Beers/pints in Ulaanbaatar bars: $3

Average daily cost per person (including meals, accommodation, and car and driver rental): $60-200

Camps and guides are in short supply throughout winter © chantal / Getty Images

1. Beware, there is no cheaper “off-season”

Travel costs tend to be similar for each visit to Mongolia, and there is no real “cheap” season. Travel here is more convenient when travel is more convenient, such as summer, when there are more services and tours, and when travel is more difficult, such as winter, when the supply of tour guides is reduced, yurt The camp goes into hibernation.

2. See if your country has a visa-free policy

The Mongolian government has declared 2023, 2024, and 2025 the “Visit Mongolia Years” and has introduced new visa conditions for citizens of many countries (in addition to the existing rules that allow visa-free entry for US and Canadian citizens). Citizens of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, most European countries and many other countries enjoy visa-free travel for 30 days, so unless you plan to stay longer, you don’t need to pay for a visa.

3. Team up with other travelers

Generally speaking, the more people your 4WD can squeeze into, the lower your travel cost per person. Most 4WDs carry only two to three passengers if you include the driver and guide, but rugged 4WDs can carry up to six passengers and are usually used by tour operators on a larger budget.

In the past, backpackers could easily connect with other travelers at hostels in Ulaanbaatar to split travel costs, but with the pandemic and the suspension of the Trans-Mongolian Railway, the supply of budget-conscious backpackers from China and Russia has dwindled up. Everything is drying up.

The best chance of finding other travelers is during high season, from late June to early August, about three weeks after the Naadam festival. You can also try contacting the travel agency ahead of time and ask if they can add you to a group with other people. Or, consider spreading the word through social media and building your own team.

A man walks along the top of a desert dune
Affordable tours will visit places like the Gobi Desert © Galyna Andrushko / Shutterstock

4. Book a simple tour through the hotel

The cheapest tours are usually run by hotels and guesthouses in Ulaanbaatar rather than established tour companies. These trips tend to follow the same standard itinerary of highlights, including the Gobi, Khar and Lam, Tekinchagannur and Khuvsgul.

Be aware that budget hotels are cheap on everything, including guides, so you’re more likely to be shown by an English-speaking Mongolian student than a travel expert during your summer vacation. These operators also tend to be less focused on sustainability.

5. Drive less, experience more

Mongolia is three times the size of France, but the top speed you can reach on the steppe is 40-50 km/h (25-31 mph). If you want to see too much of the country, you’re going to spend all day on the road every day and spend a fortune on fuel. It’s best to focus on one area and minimize driving.

Or, avoid the 4WD tour altogether and instead spend your money on a three- or four-day stay. yurt Camp in a truly special spot, such as Jalman Meadows, a three-hour drive east of Ulaanbaatar. Try to stay in place long enough to savor the serenity of the Mongolian landscape; it might save you money, too.

6. Consider hiring just a driver instead of a guide

If you don’t mind using a translation app constantly to communicate, you might consider forgoing the cost of a tour guide and just hiring a driver and vehicle. While this may reduce travel costs, be aware that some drivers will ask for more money as they will have to take on more logistics such as arranging accommodation and activities.

Note that renting a car with a driver is usually much more expensive than renting a car with a driver. Life is tough in Mongolia, so insurance and liability premiums are high.

A green camping tent and a pointed white bell tent stand next to two 4x4 buses
Setting up your own tent is cheaper than sleeping in a yurt © Julian Elliott Photography / Getty Images

7. Bring your own tent to save the cost of accommodation in remote areas

Bringing your own tent is a great way to save money yurt Camps and homestays in the Mongolian wilderness. For this, your driver should also have his own tent, or be willing to sleep in his own car. Backcountry camping is allowed almost anywhere – just remember the “leave no trace” philosophy. You can easily buy a tent in Ulaanbaatar before heading out into the wild.

8. Check if your accommodation in Ulaanbaatar offers free airport pick-up

Chinggis Khaan International Airport, which opened in 2021, is 52 kilometers (32 miles) south of Ulaanbaatar, and some hotels will pick you up for free if you stay a few days. If not, the cheapest way to get to the city is by shuttle bus, which is about one-sixth the cost of taking a taxi.

9. Take a bus to nearby attractions in Ulaanbaatar

Public transport connects Mongolia’s provincial capitals, but isn’t much use for steppe sightseeing—you’ll still need to hire a 4WD and driver to see most of the country. However, with Ulaanbaatar as your base, you can take advantage of several public bus routes to popular tourist destinations such as Terelj, Khuvsgul and Khalherim. It’s a great way to experience some independent travel and meet the locals.

10. Travel like a Mongolian tourist

While overseas tourism has dried up during the pandemic, city-dwelling Mongolians are taking their own country road trips en masse.This led to a boom in cheaper, fixed locations yurt Camps that serve locals on popular (but often crowded) routes with paved roads, such as the steppe areas west of Ulaanbaatar.Follow local trends and you may save money yurt experience.

11. Eating at local eateries saves money

Basic Mongolian restaurant called Guanz Offers local specialties such as boz (mutton steamed dumplings) and Tesuiba (fried noodles) as well as soup and various meat products. It’s cheap to eat out, but don’t expect gourmet food.

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