With temperatures that drop below -30°C (-22°F), there are a few things you need to know about traveling to Mongolia during the winter season. Plus, I share my packing essentials for surviving Mongolia’s winter months, even when it seems impossible.
I have a confession to make. Even though Mongolia is my home, I don’t spend all winter here. I do, however, try to spend at least a few months here between November and April. That lovely time of year when temperatures are at their lowest and days are at their shortest.
I leave during this time because winter in Mongolia is long. And harsh. And there’s air pollution. And everyone in the city starts to get on edge by the end of it, after months and months of relentlessly cold temperatures and bad breathing conditions. It’s not an easy life living in the world’s coldest capital city.
But it is a fascinating one. One that constantly amazes me by seeing the resilience of the Mongolian people firsthand. Even though temperatures are somewhere between -20°C (-4°F) and -30°C (-22°F), people still walk the streets and life goes on. People still need to go to work, children still have school, and bars and restaurants are still full of life. It’s quite inspiring.
It’s also taught me a lot. Like, investing in the right gear is never a bad investment. And, taking your time to put on each and every layer is always worth the hassle.
Below, I’ve put together a quick list of my winter packing essentials.
Once you’ve browsed through my packing list, be sure to read my tips and advice on what you need to know when you travel in Mongolia in winter.
Maybe you’ll agree with me when I say Mongolia’s low season is actually not such a bad time to travel here, after all!
Mongolian winter typically spans from November to March, with the coldest months being December, January, and February. During this period, temperatures can plummet to well below freezing, often reaching -20°C (-4°F) or even lower in Ulaanbaatar. Outside of the capital, temperatures can reach even lower.
Can you imagine being in a place where -40°C (-40°F) is the norm? Well, that’s the reality of winter in the Gobi Desert.
Back in Ulaanbaatar, the city is often affected by frigid air masses from Siberia in Russia. These air masses can bring bitterly cold temperatures, especially in the evenings and overnight.
Additionally, Ulaanbaatar is situated at a high altitude. It sits at an average elevation of around 1,350 meters (4,430 feet) above sea level. The higher the altitude, the colder the temperatures tend to be, as the air at higher altitudes is thinner and can’t retain heat as effectively.
Plus, being a landlocked country, Mongolia doesn’t have the benefit that being located near a significant body of water provides. Water bodies typically have a moderating effect on temperatures, but in the absence of such influences, temperatures can swing more drastically between seasons.
The combination of these factors creates a unique climate in Ulaanbaatar that results in extremely cold winters, earning it the distinction of being the coldest capital city in the world.
Travelers visiting during the winter should be prepared for harsh conditions, dress warmly in layers, and take necessary precautions to stay safe in such cold weather. Never walk outside without gloves or something covering your ears. Ever.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of reasons to consider visiting Mongolia in winter.
From witnessing the serene expanse of the Gobi Desert draped in snow to bundling up like a real nomad in fox furs and taking your Golden Eagle out for a hunt, the experiences in winter are magnificent.
What’s more, since this is Mongolia’s low travel season, this is when tours, hotels, guide rates, and drivers are available at their cheapest rates. This is when traveling in Mongolia is at its most budget-friendly.
Mongolia offers some of the most unique winter experiences in the world. With its nomadic culture, vast landscapes, and fewer tourists, this is really your time to get to know the country on an intimate and authentic level. Whether you attend the annual Ice Festival, soak in the celebrations of Tsagaan Sar, try your hand at Eagle Hunting, or jump on a dog sled, you can enjoy a sense of remoteness and tranquility that’s hard to find elsewhere.
You can also ice fish, drive across a frozen Lake Khuvsgul, go ice skating, seek out Mongolia’s hot springs, and go out in search of snow leopards, Siberian ibex, and various bird species that endure and thrive in these cold months.
While not as famous as Iceland or Finland for the Northern Lights, Mongolia does offer opportunities to see this natural phenomenon, and the lack of light pollution in rural areas can make for stunning displays. In fact, the red shade you’ll find lighting up the sky over Mongolia is the rarest color in the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis.
Mongolia in the winter provides the same authentic experience as it does in the summertime when most tourists come to live with nomadic herding families. Come winter, these families will appreciate the extra hands (and income) even more. They’ll even have more time to take you on horseback riding adventures, show you more of the land’s pristine natural beauty, and give you your fair share of fatty Mongolian meat to keep you warm from the inside out.
Compared to more popular winter destinations like Iceland and Finland, Mongolia is less crowded in the winter months. This allows you to enjoy its unique attractions without the hordes of tourists you’ll find in the more popular summer months.
Ultimately, the choice between Mongolia and other top winter destinations like Iceland, Finland, or Denmark depends on your preferences for travel experiences. If you’re seeking a truly unique and off-the-beaten-path winter adventure, Mongolia might be the perfect choice.
The daily budget for a trip to Mongolia can vary widely based on various factors such as travel style, accommodation preferences, dining choices, activities planned, and personal spending habits.
However, here’s a rough estimate to consider when budgeting for your winter trip to Mongolia.
If you’re on a strict budget, staying in hostels or guesthouses, eating mostly at local eateries, using public transport, and engaging in mostly free or low-cost activities, you might aim for a budget of around $30 to $50 per day.
For mid-range travelers seeking a balance between comfort and cost, staying in mid-range hotels or guesthouses, enjoying a mix of local and mid-range dining options, using some private transport for convenience, and participating in a variety of activities, a daily budget of $60 to $100 should be suitable.
Travelers looking for more comfort, staying in higher-end hotels or accommodations, dining at nicer restaurants, engaging in more guided tours or activities, and having more flexibility with transportation might expect to spend $100 to $200 or more per day.
Remember, these estimates are approximate and can fluctuate based on personal choices, currency exchange rates, specific locations visited, and any unforeseen expenses that may arise during your trip. It’s wise to have a buffer in your budget for unexpected costs or emergencies.
Before your trip, researching specific costs, prices of accommodations, transportation, and activities you plan to do in Mongolia during the winter can help you create a more accurate and personalized budget.
For more information on where you can find currency exchange kiosks and ATM machines, read this Mongolia guide.
A winter road trip in Mongolia can be an incredible adventure, although it requires careful planning due to weather conditions and road accessibility.
Here’s a suggested route for a memorable winter road trip around Central Mongolia.
Before departing Ulaanbaatar on any sort of winter adventure, please check the following.
Vehicle and Equipment: Ensure you have a suitable 4WD vehicle, winter tires, and necessary equipment for extreme weather conditions.
Supplies: Stock up on food, water, fuel, and warm clothing as facilities may be limited in remote areas.
Weather and Road Conditions: Stay updated on weather forecasts and road conditions as they can change rapidly during winter. Always prioritize safety, and be prepared for challenging driving conditions, limited services, and the possibility of encountering snow or ice-covered roads. It’s advisable to have some knowledge of winter driving and outdoor survival skills when embarking on such a trip.
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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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