There are so many camels in the Gobi desert that you'll spot them all over the place as you drive along the major roads!
So you're bound to ask "when's the best time to go camel trekking in the Gobi Desert?". Most people say around September. Which is fair enough - April and May have high winds (not fun when you're surrounded by sand!), whilst June/July/August are scorching hot. However, what they don't know about is the camel festival! It takes place in early March at the small town of Bulgan. And I was told that it's a once in a lifetime experience.
If you're there during festival time, plan your journey well, because the city's unaccustomed to tourists and hotels are few and far between - if there are any at all. There is a tourist camp 15 km away, where you can stay and get information. Otherwise, ask the nomads if they can put you up: hospitality is ingrained in their culture and it's unlikely you'll be turned away.
The advantage of going in March: an excursion into an icy desert is a breath-taking and memorable experience.
The disadvantage of going in March: the Gobi Desert temperatures, both day and night, are well below zero... So you'll need to wrap up well! The average daytime temperature is -5°. There's little wind and the dry cold makes it bearable.
There are several ways you can organise a camel trek during a trip to Mongolia :
- You can organise it in advance via an agency. Choose wisely - using a local agency can be a great option, but make sure they know what they're doing.
- Or if you're like me and love a good adventure, you can head straight to Bulgan, a camel herding town . You'll find locals who'll help you organise an excursion, plus you'll know how your money's being spent. If you go for this option, the average cost (when I was there) was £10 a day for a camel + £10 a day for the guide. You'll need to work how many days you plan to take, plus how many additional camels you'll need to carry your belongings/tents/food etc. Personally, I think it's a reasonable price and you'll be helping the locals to glean a living!
- If you're adventurous and lucky whilst doing a bit of Couch Surfing in Ulaanbaatar (or Ulan Bator/Ulaanbaatar) your may find that your host has a contact in-situ. Perfect solution! That's what happened to me and I ended up staying with nomads in a yurt... Unforgettable!
Try to keep your options open. Depending on the length of your trip, you can ask your guide if it's possible to camp by an oasis or a lake, visit a particular location and so forth!
- Sand gets EVERYWHERE. Wear long trousers and socks. Tuck your trousers into your socks and you'll keep the sand out! Very elegant!
- Pack a muscle pain cream. Even if camels are relatively comfortable to ride, you'll be sat between two humps with your legs wide apart and you may feel a bit achy at the end of the day...
- A camel is like a horse, but different nonetheless. They're slower, quieter and will go at their own pace without giving you a second thought. Be warned that they'll sense it if you're nervous, which may freak them out and, yes, camels can bolt! Be confident and firmly hold the reigns. That way you can enjoy a ride on an extremely zen camel!
- Don't forget: scarf (to protect your mouth and nose from the sand), hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, gloves.
- For those who are going on a camel ride for the first time: when they stand up it's with their back legs first! Beware of falling forward and hold on. Keep a grip on your kit (especially cameras - mine fell off and the scratched lens remains to this day...).
There you are! Are you ready? Enjoy!