- Encounters with locals
- Nature Reserve / Wildlife Observation / Safari
- Hiking / Trekking
- Unesco World Heritage
This fascinating desert – one of the world's largest and harshest – once formed part of the famous Silk Road.
Almost entirely covered in rocks (and not sand – contrary to popular belief) the Gobi offers a wide range of different landscape types, ranging from sand dunes to mountains, and including immense plains and arid steppes dotted with oases and lakes.
From Beijing, It's possible to get the cities of Baotou, Hohhot and Jining, which lie at the gateway to the Gobi Desert. The Trans-Mongolian Railway – the Mongolian equivalent of the Trans-Siberian – actually crosses the desert, connecting the city of Jining to the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar. If you're a keen hiker you can head off to explore the Gobi on foot. Alternatively, you can do it by 4x4, on horseback … or even by camel!
When you visit Mongolia, the sheer immensity of the country will compel you not to try to see too much. Travelling between different places can take a very long time; and because of the road and driving conditions, unforeseen complications are not uncommon. I was easily able to organise return travel to the desert from Ulaanbaatar; and once there, I managed to travel around by jeep, on horseback and by camel. I particularly recommend the latter as it's the natural form of transport used by the nomads who inhabit the area.
I strongly suggest visiting the Gurvansaikhan Mountains, the Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag, and the canyon of Yolyn Am, where there are enormous blocks of ice to be seen, even at the height of summer. What I found most impressive of all, however, was the trip across the Khongoryn Els sand dunes – veritable mountains of sand extending for 180 km. There are some important fossil sites for fans of archaeology to enjoy there, with a petrified forest, fossilised eggs and fossilised dinosaur skeletons.
The Gobi Desert is, without doubt, one of the least populated areas in the world, a place where you're more likely to stumble across an animal than another human being. Apart from at touristy sites such as Yolyn Am, I barely crossed another living soul during my tour of Mongolia. I must admit the desert is incredible, with arid steppes, mountains, dunes that stretch out towards the horizon and a pebbled soil rather than the usual sand. Speaking for myself, I spent most of my time in this stony desert and in the mountains surrounding Yolyn Am.
The desert is hostile. A hot, scorching sun and vast, flat, arid expanses where vegetation is sparse. On the other hand, once you climb the small mountains around Yolym Am, you'll find rolling hills with a view over the distant sand dunes. Remember to take warm clothes as the nights are as cold as the days are hot.
The Gobi is also great for spotting animals, be it horses, goats, yaks and camels; the wildlife is certainly diverse!