Home to sweeping landscapes and a nomadic culture that pre-dates the age of Genghis Khan, Mongolia offers a stunning array of photographic opportunities. Travel through the vast steppe to capture images of Mongolian horses, traditional ger camps, and camel-herding families. Catch the towering dunes of the Gobi at sunrise and the brilliant Flaming Cliffs at sunset, and spend a thrilling day documenting a celebration of Naadam.
Arrive in Ulaanbaatar and check in to our centrally located hotel.
Spend the morning at a specially arranged photo shoot at the Gandan Monastery, Mongolia's largest functioning Buddhist monastery—one of the few to survive the Stalinist purges during the 1930s. Listen to the horns calling lamas and monks to temple, and capture the monks' daily rituals while visiting the adjoining Megjid Janraisig and Kalachakra Temples. This afternoon, visit the National Museum to get an overview of Mongolia's history and culture. Examine exhibits on nomadic life, including Stone and Bronze Age artifacts, traditional costumes, and sacred relics. Gather for a welcome reception and dinner tonight.
This morning, join a senior government official for an introduction to the current political and economic climate over breakfast. Then drive east to Gün-Galuut, a nature reserve near the Khentii Mountains where the steppe converges with wetlands. Enjoy the rest of the day to explore the area on hikes or an optional horseback ride, photographing stunning vistas and the wildlife of the reserve. Our home here is a camp of a traditional gers, or round, felt-lined tents, set amid lush meadows.
Spend the day exploring the mountains and wetlands of the reserve on a photo hike or an optional horseback ride, and keep an eye out for endangered Argali mountain sheep and a number of endangered crane species. In the afternoon, pay a visit a local nomadic family for a rare chance to photograph everyday life in rural Mongolia. Against the ingenious architecture of the family gers, snap portraits of some of the world’s last nomadic peoples.
Enjoy a morning at leisure before returning to Ulaanbaatar. Along the way, stop to frame a 131-foot-tall Genghis Khan equestrian statue. This afternoon, visit the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum, which displays one of the world’s best collections of Buddhist art and artifacts.
Soar over the vast steppe on a flight to the mystical Gobi, site of some of the most important paleontological discoveries of the 20th century. Over the next four days, photograph the wildlife and varying landscapes of the desert, home to Bactrian camels, Argali mountain sheep, and saker falcons.
Upon arrival, travel to Yolyn Am, or Eagle Valley, a dramatic chasm that cuts a narrow path through the foothills of the arid Altai Mountains. Set out on a photo hike through this lush spot, looking for native vultures called lammergeiers, ibex, and gazelles. Later, visit the local natural history museum.
Drive to the Three Camel Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, voted in 2009 one of the Top 50 Ecolodges by National Geographic Adventure magazine and settle into your deluxe ger.
In the late afternoon, drive to Havtsgait Valley and hike to the hilltop site of ancient rock drawings left by early Gobi settlers. Join in a photo shoot, capturing these striking petroglyphs in their best light.
Today, photograph Mongolia’s most famous festival and sporting event—Naadam—celebrated each summer in villages and towns across the country. Snap portraits of the traditionally-garbed participants who compete in the “three manly sports” (wrestling, archery, and horse racing). Witness the contests up close, taking photographs in the middle of the action. Capture the colorful pomp and pageantry, and zoom in on the whirling excitement of the horse race.
Wake early to capture the sun rising over the vast Gobi landscape. Today, drive to Khongoryn Els (4 hours), a 60-mile stretch of rippling sand dunes that soar up to 600 feet and trace the edge of the Altai range. Ride a camel into the dunes to capture the dazzling sandscape at sunset, and spend the night in a nearby ger camp.
Awaken early to capture scenes of the desert infused with glowing hues of sunrise. After breakfast, encounter the "Singing Sands," known for the uncanny, deep groan the sand emits when the dunes' surface is disturbed. Stop in at the camp of a camel herding family and experience traditional Mongolian hospitality and another chance to photograph the details of daily life here.
After lunch, return to Three Camel Lodge. This evening enjoy a lively music performance.
Drive to Tugregiin Shiree, where paleontologists discovered the famous “Fighting Dinosaurs” fossil in the 1970s. Continue to Bayanzag, also known as the Flaming Cliffs. Here, brilliant red sandstone harbors a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils and eggs. Hike down into the gorge to photograph the breathtaking span of desert landscape and crimson cliffs, and capture the shifting palette of sunset. Then enjoy an al fresco dinner beside the cliffs.
Fly to Ulaanbaatar this morning, arriving in time for lunch at a local restaurant. Venture into the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan, home of Mongolia's last theocrat and eighth Living Buddha. Focus on the architectural details of this ornate monument that somehow escaped destruction during the reign of Stalin. In the evening, enjoy a unique art form during a performance of traditional Mongolian dance and khoomi, or throat singing, and celebrate your Mongolian photo expedition at a farewell dinner.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your return flight home.