Visit the capital, Ulaanbaatar, where traditional Buddhist monasteries sit near modern high-rises; explore the sand dunes of Elsen Tasarkhai on camelback; and celebrate the national holiday called Naadam Festival, which features wrestling, horse racing, and archery.
Naadam Festival, Gobi Desert, 11 nights, from $2,788
The Real Deal: Eleven nights' accommodations, meals, local transportation, activities, and entrance fees, from $2,788 per person—including taxes.
When: July 3-14, 2008
The fine print: International airfare is not included. The starting rate reflects a 15 percent discount. All meals, local transportation, activities, admission fees, and taxes are included. Based on double occupancy; single supplement is $600. U.S. passport holders do not need a visa to enter Mongolia if they stay less than 90 days. However, travelers arriving by way of Beijing need to obtain a visa for China, which is $130 per person. Click here for additional visa information.
Book by: May 15, 2008
Contact: Nomadic Expeditions, 800/998-6634, nomadicexpeditions.com
Why it's a deal: This tour is regularly priced at $3,440. By taking advantage of the 15 percent discount, you'll save $652 per person. Consider, too, that the $2,788 rate breaks down to about $253 a day and includes accommodations, meals, sightseeing, admission fees, and taxes. The package also provides the convenience and reassurance of one-stop shopping and helps put a hard-to-reach country—and its remarkable festival—within reach.
Trip details: The Classic Mongolian Odyssey: The Naadam Festival package includes 11 nights accommodations: three nights at the Ulaanbaatar Hotel, three at ger, or yurt, camps, and five at the Three Camel Lodge.
You'll start in Ulaanbaatar, the capital, visiting major attractions like the Russian-built Zaisan Memorial and the Gandan Monastery, the seat of Buddhism in Mongolia. Then drive an hour to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park to check out the vibrant birds and plant life. From here, you'll drive for two hours to Hustai National Park (a.k.a. Khustain Nuruu National Park), home to the rare Przewalski horse.
Next, you'll travel four or five hours through grasslands until you reach the foothills of the Hogno Han Mountains, where you'll met nomadic horse breeders. The site of the 13th-century capital of the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan, Karakorum, is another two hours away. You will stop by the Shankh Khiid and Erdene Zuu monasteries before embarking on the six-hour drive back to the capital.
From Ulaanbaatar, you'll take a two-hour flight to the Gobi desert to join the celebration of the Naadam Festival, during which athletes compete in the ancient sports of wrestling, archery, and horse racing. You'll also get a chance to view dinosaur fossil sites in the Gobi.
You'll stay five nights at the luxury Three Camel Lodge next to Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park. You'll be sleeping in one of the lodge's 30 gers, nomadic herder-style, handmade, traditional felt tents. Bathroom and shower facilities are in the lodge, about 100 feet from the gers. You'll fly back to Ulaanbaatar to catch your flight home.
Getting there: According to a recent Kayak search, the lowest round-trip fares to Ulaanbaatar in July are $1,591 from Los Angeles (Air China), $1,751 from New York (Air China), $2,078 from Miami (multiple carriers), $2,232 from Houston (multiple carriers), and $2,255 from Chicago (multiple carriers).
Mongolia, air and seven nights, from $2,875
The Real Deal: Round-trip airfare, six nights' accommodations, all meals, sightseeing, and local transportation, from $2,875 per person—plus taxes and fees of about $350 per person.
When: Depart on Wednesdays May 1-31, Aug. 17-Oct. 15, 2008; add $60 for weekend departures; add $350 for June 1-Aug. 16. (Package not valid during the because of limited flight and hotel availability.)
Gateways: L.A., San Francisco; add $140 for Boise, Portland, Seattle; $200 for New York City; $240 for Denver, Salt Lake City; $385 for Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Louisville, Minneapolis; $400 for Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New Orleans, Tampa; additional gateways available.
The fine print: All meals, transportation, and sightseeing are included. Taxes and fuel surcharges are an additional $350 per person. Based on double-quadruple occupancy; no single supplement, as gers are not available for a single person. Deduct $46 per person for groups of 5-10; deduct $76 per person for groups of 10-15; deduct $116 per person for groups of 16 or more. U.S. passport holders do not need a visa to enter Mongolia. However, travelers will be arriving by way of Beijing, so they need to obtain a visa for China, which is $130 per person. Click here for additional visa information.
Contact: Escapes Unlimited, 800/243-7227, escapesltd.com
Why it's a deal: According to a recent Kayak search, the lowest round-trip fares between L.A. and Ulaanbaatar in mid-May start from $1,311 (Air China). For an additional $1,914 with tax, which breaks down to about $319 per person per night, Escapes Unlimited covers not only airfare, but also six nights' accommodations, all meals, transportation, and sightseeing—saving you the headache of having to book everything independently.
Trip details: The Mongolia package includes round-trip airfare to Ulaanbaatar via Beijing on Cathay Pacific and Air China carriers, two nights' hotel accommodations in Ulaanbaatar, and four nights in a ger.
The journey begins in Ulaanbaatar with a tour that includes visits to the Gandan Monastery to see the gold-plated Buddha—a symbol of Mongolian national pride—and to the National History Museum, where artifacts from Mongolia and Central Asia from the Stone Age to the present are on display. You'll stay overnight at the 194-room Chinggis Khan or the 119-room Ulaanbaatar Hotel.
Next, you'll drive about 45 miles to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park to visit a local family of horsemen and go for a horseback ride. For the next four nights, you'll sleep in comfortable gers. Other trip highlights include riding a camel in Elsen Tasarkhai, a region of sand dunes about 175 miles from Ulaanbaatar; exploring the site of the 13th-century capital of the Mongol Empire; enjoying an authentic hot-stone Mongolian barbecue; and catching a glimpse of the Mongolian wild Przewalski horse (a.k.a the Takh) at Hustai National Park.
At the end of the trip, you'll drive back to Ulaanbaatar and stay one more night at the Chinggis Khan or the Ulaanbaatar before catching your flight back home. Or you can choose to extend your stay for an additional $35-$40 per person per night.
Read these guidelines before you book any Real Deal.