One of the most popular festivals in Mongolia, the annual Golden Eagle Festival gives tourists the chance to watch on as hunters and eagles compete in three categories: speed, agility, and accuracy.
Every year, thousands of people fly from all over the world to marvel at the skill and bravery of Mongolia’s famous eagle hunters. Over the span of two days, the eagle festival gives tourists the chance to see hunting techniques up close, learn more about these incredible birds, and to support this ancient tradition and the people carrying it on.
The festival marks the start of the hunting season, which happens September to March every year. This is when the eagle’s feathers are at their fullest for the winter. Seeing these birds up close, and having the chance to hold one, is an experience you’ll never forget.
Every event at the festival is ever more awe-inspiring than the last and attending is a great way to learn more about Mongolian culture and traditions.
Especially in western Mongolia, where the majority of the population is ethnically Kazakh and most practice the Islamic faith. The culture and traditions you’ll find here are different from what you’ll find in other parts of the country, making it a unique experience that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Mongolia.
Below we explain everything you need to know about Mongolia’s Golden Eagle Festival, including what it is, where it is, how to attend, and more.
The Golden Eagle Festival in Mongolia is a two-day event where Eagle Hunters from western Mongolia compete for prizes with their trained eagles.
Hunters and their eagles are tested in three categories: speed, agility, and accuracy.
During the competition, hunters launch their eagles into the sky, guiding them using specially designed gloves, whistles, and lures. It’s truly mesmerizing to watch these expertly trained creatures dive through the air in pursuit of their targets.
While at the eagle festival, travelers can indulge in local foods such as buuz (steamed dumplings) and khuushuur (fried pastry). They eat horse in this part of Mongolia, so be prepared to have your tsuvian come with dried horse meat.
Camel races, Mongolian throat singing, and morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) performances are also a part of the experience.
With its vibrant displays of culture and heritage along with some spectacular falconry demonstrations, attending the Golden Eagle Festival is one of the most memorable experiences you can have in Mongolia.
The Golden Eagle Festival is held each year in Bayan-Ulgii, Mongolia, a northwestern province of the country. The festival takes place on Sayat Hill in Bugat Soum, where areas are measured off for the eagles to fly while spectators watch on.
To get to Bayan-Ulgii for the Golden Eagle Festival, travelers need to take a flight from Ulaanbaatar on one of the local airlines, such as Hunnu Air or Aero Mongolia.
Flight schedules change each year and typically there are only a few flights each week available around this time. Tickets sell out quickly and can be expensive, especially during the week of the eagle festival where ticket prices can reach $500 USD.
Additionally, purchasing a ticket for one of these flights on your own, and not through a tour agency, can be confusing. Most domestic Mongolian airlines will only let you book a ticket in person and pay by cash.
Contact us if you need help arranging a flight from Ulaanbaatar to Bayan-Ulgii.
We also recommend booking your hotel as soon as possible. We recommend the Dostyk Hotel Bayan-Ulgii as our top choice for a stay in the city’s central square.
The Golden Eagle Festival happens the first weekend in October.
During this time, eagle hunters from across western Mongolia will travel with their eagle by horse for days just to reach the soum (town) where the festival takes place.
The long, difficult journey for the eagle hunters is worth it for the chance to win the prize money that’s available. This money is an incentive for the eagle hunters to carry on and preserve this ancient tradition.
Pro tip: There is a smaller, more intimate Eagle Festival in the nearby Sagsai Soum the last week of September.
Mongolia’s eagle hunters are Kazakh in ethnicity, making up Mongolia’s largest minority group.
The traditions they use in this practice have been passed on for thousands of years, typically from father to son. Today, these traditions are also being passed on from father to daughter.
The eagle is an important display of strength and pride among eagle hunters. However, it also serves practical purposes such as finding and killing small game during a hunt or assisting with herding livestock for pastoral nomadic tribes.
Eagles have become an iconic symbol in Mongolia thanks to their strong cultural associations with courage, resilience, spirit, and freedom.
Eagle hunters remain a vibrant part of Mongolian culture today through events such as the Golden Eagle Festival where they can proudly showcase their skills to visitors from all over the world.
Most travelers choose to attend the eagle festival through a tour company. This is more expensive than attending on your own (which is possible), but the expense can be worth it considering what we mentioned about flights above.
Tour companies will also book you in a hotel in Ulgii so you can sleep comfortably during the festival, they’ll take care of all the transportation to and from the competitions, and you’ll be with a local guide who can help with translations and explaining the local culture.
We recommend looking for a company that uses guides who are ethnically Kazakh and from western Mongolia for the best experience.
Before you say anything negative about this deep-rooted tradition, remember this: this is not your culture.
Attending the festival with an open mind is an important part of enjoying this experience. The practice of hunting with eagles has been going on for thousands of years – and there’s a reason for that.
While the hunters are known to raid a nest for the eagle they’ll then train, often sending down small children by ropes to do this task, this is a family tradition. Once they reach these well-hidden and hard to reach nests, securing the eagle they will then adopt into their family, the nest is not touched again.
The hunter will then carefully train the Golden Eagle in ways that will ensure it doesn’t lose its natural tendencies.
Once the eagle reaches seven years old, the hunter will then release it back into the wild so the Golden Eagle population can continue to grow and survive.
Hunting is always a topic for debate, but these practices have been essential to the survival of these nomadic herders for thousands of years.
If you don’t agree with any of these practices, and you aren’t willing to try to understand them, no one is forcing you to attend the eagle festival. So, please don’t.
Author: Breanna Wilson
Hi! Sain uu! I’m Breanna, an American travel writer and adventurer living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for more than 5 years. I’ve written for and been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN, Forbes, and the New York Times, among others. Read more of my Mongolia travel articles here.
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