Most travel blogs will tell you that going to Mongolia during the winter is not really a walk in the park. It’s entirely different from your normal winter in the USA or if you’re from the tropics, then Mongolian winters are probably not the ideal snow vacation that you have in mind.
But if you’re an adventurer at heart and no dissuasive measures will stop you from traveling to Mongolia during their winter seasons, then you’ll be happy to know that this country is a beauty to behold despite the harsh, frozen state.
Before you pack up your winter gear, you need to do a lot of research and thinking when it comes to winters in Mongolia.
Why and how cold is Mongolia really?
Climate in Mongolia
To get technical, the climate in Mongolia is strongly continental with long, frigid winters and short, warm summers. Continental climates generally mean that there’s a significant variation in temperatures (aka very cold winters and very hot summers).
Mongolia has four seasons: winter, spring, summer, and autumn. Each season typically lasts for 3 months. Winter starts during early December and will last until February to early March.
Temperatures during the winter season can hit as low as -50°C. In fact, the minimum temperature at night easily drops below -35°C.
If you’re not visiting Mongolia during the summer season from June to August, then most likely you’re still going to need your winter jacket with you. For the rest of the year, temperatures in Mongolia easily dip down to negative degrees.
The temperatures in Mongolia during spring or autumn are most likely the same with temperatures recorded in other countries during the winter season.
You would often hear that in Mongolia, you can experience four seasons in the same day. One might think that’s a gimmick but it’s absolutely true.
Basically, the climate in Mongolia is unbelievably hard to predict and erratic that you can experience all seasons in one day. If you’re in Mongolia during the intermediate seasons in May or September, you would encounter this very often.
Why Is It So Cold?
So why is Mongolia has incredibly cold temperatures and even colder ones during winters?
The direct answer to the question would be the geographical features of the country.
Mongolia is a landlocked country located in middle latitudes. Here, prevailing winds basically blow overland and without bodies of water like seas and oceans to moderate temperatures, it can easily get cold most of the time.
That’s mainly the concept of why most of your favorite beach destinations have a generally warm climate throughout the year.
Also, Mongolia is basically a huge plateau. With its high altitude between 3,300 to 4,900 feet combined with far location to the seas, you’ll have the right recipe for an incredibly cold climate.
Life in the Cold Winter
Numbers might be hard to comprehend especially when you don’t have any experience with harsh winters. The best way to determine how cold it really gets is to see the way locals in Mongolia live through the winter season.
Mongolia receives a lot of workers from other countries like the United States. While Mongolians have been surviving these harsh winters for centuries, immigrants and travelers have a hard time adjusting to it.
Kara Estep, a volunteer in community youth development with the US Peace Corps has a lot to say when it comes to living in this country.
According to her, cold days in Mongolia means that frost would cover her hood and her feet would ache from the ice despite wearing appropriate winter gears.
A 10-minute walk would in Arkhangai Province mean that your hands would have difficulty in functioning despite having heavy-duty gloves.
You’ll see children running around the town heavily bundled up that the small ones can’t even keep their balance. But, no matter how cold and harsh the winter may be, the sense of community of Mongolians shines through.
Since everyone knows how hard it is to be walking around during the coldest days of winter, it’s not strange to see local Mongolians open their door for you for a cup of warm tea and food.
If anyone knows how to survive under harsh climate conditions, it’s the community of Mongolians.
However, there’s more to Mongolian winter than just below freezing temperatures. The harsh climate conditions, combined with the effects of global warming and climate change, are crippling the economy and threatening the food safety of those living in Mongolia.
Livestock and animals now have difficulty in adapting to the even colder climate of Mongolia and they would freeze to death despite their owner’s strong efforts to keep them alive throughout the winter.
Nearly one-third of the population in Mongolia are herders. A harsh winter that is way colder than the usual can have such life-altering effects on the people.
But, Mongolians continue to persist through winter as they always do. In fact, travelers and tourists looking to experience something new are always welcome to visit the country. While the rest of the country is frozen and still, the warm community of Mongolians will very much welcome you and show you around. There’s no better way to belong in a community where their common greeting is asking you if your home is warm enough or inviting you over to their house for a cup of tea before you go on your way.
Tourism in Mongolia During Winter
If you think that there’s not much going on in Mongolia during winter, then you’re absolutely wrong.
Even if the climate is cold, nothing would beat Mongolians into celebrating their festivities and for tourists and travelers, seeing the beauty of a true winter wonderland.
So what can you do in Mongolia during the winter season? Here’s a list of where you could start:
1. Dog-Sledding Trip at Ulaanbaatar
What’s a better way to admire the beauty of this country’s landscape other than taking a dog-sledding trip? Dogs play an important role in nomadic Mongolian life and lately, dog-sledding became one of the major ways to get around the coldest capital in the world.
Get a guided dog-sledding trip as a way for you to explore Ulaanbaatar.
It’s a practical way to go around the city and a fun way too! You’ll also have the chance to cross frozen lakes and rivers which is an amazing way to see and experience Mongolia.
2. Attend the Winter Ice Festival
The Winter Ice Festival in Khuvsgul Lake is one of the things that you really shouldn’t miss when you plan a winter vacation in Mongolia. If you’re already there to conquer the cold, might as well be there during the times that locals go out of their way to celebrate.
Programs for the Ice Festival vary each year depending on how cold it is. There’s an international skating marathon happening that you might be interested to join, horse sleigh races, and other winter sports.
You can even join the local competition of Sumo! But the highlight of this festival is definitely creating your own ice sculpture and seeing other people make their own ice art.
3. Explore the Terelj National Park
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is a destination worth visiting at any time of the year but, going here during the winter season is absolutely beautiful and arguably even better than coming here during summer.
Just witnessing the granite stone mountains towering out of the snow-covered valleys is breathtaking. If you’re looking for a place to get that picturesque view of Mongolia, then this place will definitely cover you on that. While you’re there, another dog-sledding adventure is hard to pass!
4. Learn All About the Eagle Hunters
The Kazakh people live in the majority of the Western parts of Mongolia and their culture is still very much alive.
Pay a visit to the Bayan-Olgii Province to know about their hunting culture using golden eagles, a form of falconry.
Winter is their primary hunting season which they start off with the Golden Eagle Festivals in September and October. You don’t really need to book a tour to go here.
If you know how to be friendly with the locals then they would gladly offer you to visit the eagle hunters and their families. They’ll even let you be a part of a hunt and hold the eagle by yourself.
5. Camel Festival
Aside from the Ice Festival in Khuvsgul Lake, the Camel Festival in Buglan Village, South Gobi is another famous Mongolian winter festival that locals and travelers go to.
It’s annually held during the 6th and 7th of March in Gobi Desert as a way to celebrate the endangered 2 humped camels or Bactrian.
This tradition started when the locals decided back in the late 90s to conserve the camel species and promote the winter tourism in Mongolia. The Camel Festival showcases the Mongolian camel culture.
If you’re thinking about the camels in Egypt, then Mongolian camels will absolutely shock and delight you. Instead of being able to survive a staggering heat in the deserts, Mongolian camels can withstand the freezing climate.
The closest description you’re going to get is that they all look like alpacas with their fur! The Camel Festival is a great opportunity for you to get to know the cultural heritage of the herders and enjoy the local life.