Road trip across the Gobi Desert

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State of tourism sector

The Gobi Desert is spread across two countries, Mongolia and China. Despite the growing popularity of this destination and the ballooning numbers of visitors, it is still too early to speak of a developed tourism infrastructure.

Hotels and camping sites can be found along the main roads and near the most popular attractions. Ulaanbaatar and its suburbs as well as Mongolia’s ancient capital Kharkorin have places to stay, but the deeper you move into the desert, the fewer accommodation options you’ll encounter.

The best method of travelling the country and the desert are SUVs and jeeps. While public transport exists and is quite cheap, it won’t get you far.

There are many agencies that specialise in offbeat trips and adventure tourism and that like what they do, so if you have no potential travel companions, such agencies are an option to consider. If you use their services, all the details will be ironed out by the organisers.

Getting there

There are several ways to reach the Gobi Desert. There are direct flights to Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar from Europe (for example, Germany), and tourists travelling from the US can fly transit through Turkey.

The route suggested by the team of the Anthropogeos project offers a particularly in-depth and exciting itinerary. The project’s editor-in-chief and head of the Gobi expedition Sardar Sardarov created the route that runs around 3,000 km (1,800 mi) across the desert.

Solitary travel or even a one-car trip are not an option for Gobi due to safety reasons. The caravan should have at least two vehicles.

Getting ready

In addition to the camping equipment, clothes, and food, remember the importance of other things and take medications, lots of water, spare tires, and some fuel for your car.

It would benefit you to learn at least a few common Mongolian words and phrases. English speakers are virtually non-existent in the desert and if you have no plans for a local guide, make sure to learn such words as “water,” “fuel,” “bathroom.”

All the maps and necessary apps should be downloaded to be used offline. Figure out how to use them in the offline mode because lack of good mobile connection is certainly in the cards. 

When to go

The best time to visit the Gobi Desert is from April to mid-June when the weather permits comfortable camping.

What to see

  • Khermen Tsav canyon — a 20-km (12-mi) canyon that was formed out of red mud rocks by erosion. The canyon is up 200 m (620 ft) high. In the centre of the canyon is a green oasis unseen from above. In the early 20th century, a paleontological expedition worked there, discovering many dinosaur skeletons and petrified eggs. The search for such artefacts continues to this day.
  • The Flaming Cliffs (Bayanzag) – the famous Martian landscapes. These have also been created by nature out of red mud. This must be one of Gobi Desert’s most popular tourist spots, and one can even find small camping grounds nearby. The ride from the town of Bulgan is just 15 km (9 mi), so it’s a good option for a one-day trip if you prefer to spend the night closer to civilization. People come here for sunsets: in the light of the setting Sun, these views acquire truly cosmic colours.
  • Khongoryn Els — the tallest sand dunes of Gobi. The sight of yellow sand is rare in this desert. Gobi mostly consists of rocky plateaus, and the sandy part accounts for no more than 3% of its territory. The more remarkable, then, are these golden dunes. The sand-drifts stretch for 15-18 km (9-11 mi), reaching up to 300 m (930 ft) in height. The dunes are located on the territory of the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park and border the Gobi Nature Reserve.
  • Yolyn Am gorge is on the outskirts of the desert, and it’s an excellent location for a change of perspective: the gorge is much cooler than the desert and is covered with snow almost year-round. The valley lies at the height of 2,109 m (6,638 ft), surrounded by the peaks 2,815 m (8,726 ft) high. It is a wonderful place for hiking or horse-riding.

Camps and facilities

The level of service in Mongolia is getting better every year, and places that lacked a road yesterday, may have both a pavement and a hotel today.

There are decent hotels along the major paved roads in the north of the country, and popular tourist destinations offer nomad tent camping sites. The latter have no facilities: expect no shower and the bathroom will be outside.

Another trick suggested by experienced travellers is to search by location on social media. It’s a great way to find people who help tourists by providing them with transportation and accommodation and helping with issues at hand.

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