Three of the best experiences in the South Gobi Desert, Mongolia
The South Gobi Desert offers visitors a huge array of fascinating sites – from archaeological and historical to cultural and adventurous. Our friends on the ground and expert archaeologists provide our clients with insider access into this incredible corner of Mongolia.
1 Khongoryn Els
Accompanied by our favourite private guide, Ariouna, our first stop was the sand dunes of Khongoryn Els, best visited in the early morning or late evening when the air is cool and the skies still. The dunes stretch as far as the eye can see, and as we drove up to the base, their scale became more and more apparent.
Feeling apprehensive but energetic, we started the long climb to the top, slipping down through the sand with each step we took. After a 200m near-vertical climb, we reached the summit and were rewarded with the most spectacular views over the desert, the horizon dotted with Bactrian camels, white gers and wispy clouds in the sky. We also heard the ‘singing’ noise that the dunes are famous for.
As a surprise, our guide had arranged for us to have a sunset picnic, with cold drinks and nibbles, as we sat and took in the sight before us. After many attempts, we decided no photograph could do this scenery justice, and we decided to try and remember these views forever in our minds instead.
2 The Flaming Cliffs at Bayanzag
After an early night, our next stop the following morning was the Flaming Cliffs at Bayanzag. In our opinion, this is the most impressive landscape in the Gobi, and feels out of place, prehistoric and extraordinary. It was first named the ‘Flaming Cliffs’ by Roy Chapman Andrews, the American dinosaur hunter and adventurer who made important discoveries of dinosaur eggs and skeletons here at the base of the vivid-red, jagged cliffs, which stand alone in a vast, empty expanse of land and sky.
One of the region's biggest attractions is its rich assortment of dinosaur bones, with the dry climate helping preserve fossils of 70 and 80 million years old. Ariouna explained to us that sometimes rain can expose fresh dinosaur bones, with the white fragments protruding from the sandy surface. Discovering something that ancient is a very surreal experience, unlike any other you're likely to have on a holiday.
3 The Yol Valley
Our final stop in the South Gobi was the Yol Valley. This pristine region is one of the best places to explore on foot, with magnificent trails and viewpoints, and very few, if any, people in sight. We headed deep into the canyon-like formation, following its rivers and dipping behind its waterfalls, occasionally having to climb over large ice formations still frozen from the cold winter, despite the summer heat now blazing down.
We hiked for a couple of hours, finally ending up at an amazing secret spot to which our guide navigated us, where we soaked in the panoramic vistas of the narrowest part of the gorge before us. For any travellers looking for a real adventure, the South Gobi Desert is like nowhere else.
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