Mongolia is the dramatic stage for wild, off-the-beaten track adventures, and the nomadic culture of the steppes has hardly changed since the days of Chinggis (Ghengis) Khan. Travel in this epic land can be inspiring, mesmerizing, even life-affirming, but one thing a trip to Mongolia is unlikely to be is cheap.
For steppe sightseeing you’ll probably need to hire a 4WD vehicle, a driver and a guide (since drivers rarely speak English). Fuel costs are a major expense because of the big distances between sights, and gasoline, which is imported from Russia, has increased in price by over 60% since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, along with inflation and labor costs.
Other costs to cover include accommodation – usually at ger (yurt) camps, in homestays or in township hotels – plus food for your whole party, driver and guide included. Throw in extras such as horse and camel treks, cultural activities and homestays and the costs will quickly mount up.
The phrase "you get what you pay for" is particularly apt for Mongolia travel. Rather than trying to keep costs as low as possible, instead aim to spend your money wisely. Using established operators, you’ll get more bang for your buck, and have an adventure you’ll never forget. Try these tips to get more from your trip for less.
A guide to daily costs in Mongolia
Dorm bed in Ulaanbaatar: US$10–20
Basic room for two in Ulaanbaatar: US$60–150
A homestay night in a ger: from US$40
A Ulaanbaatar–Kharkhorin bus ticket: US$7 one-way
Cup of coffee: US$2–3
Khuushuur (fried mutton pancakes) at a local restaurant: US$1
A sit-down dinner for two: US$20–60
Beer/pint at a pub in Ulaanbaatar: US$3
Average daily cost per person (including meals, accommodation and car and driver hire): US$60–200
1. Be aware that there is no cheaper "off season"
Travel costs in Mongolia tend to be similar whenever you visit, and there isn’t really a "cheap" season. Travel here is more about times when it’s easier to travel, such as the summer when there are more services and tours, and times when it’s harder, such as in winter when the supply of guides dwindles and ger camps go into hibernation.
2. See if your country has a visa waiver
The Mongolian government has declared 2023, 2024 and 2025 as "the years to visit Mongolia", with new visa conditions for many nationalities (on top of the existing rules allowing visa-free entry for American and Canadian citizens). Citizens of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, most of Europe and a number of other countries get 30 days of visa-free travel so there’s no need to fork out for a visa unless you’re planning a longer stay.
3. Team up with other travelers
Generally, the more people you can squeeze into a 4WD vehicle, the lower the cost of the tour per person. Most 4WD can only carry two or three passengers once the driver and guide are accounted for, but rugged 4WD vans can carry up to six passengers and are typically used by more budget-oriented tour operators.
In the past, backpackers could easily hook up with other travelers in Ulaanbaatar’s hostels to split the cost of tours, but following the pandemic and the suspension of the Trans-Mongolian Railway, the supply of budget-minded backpackers passing through from China and Russia has all but dried up.
Your best chances of finding other travelers are during the peak season, from the very end of June to about three weeks after the Naadam Festival in early August. You can also try contacting tour operators in advance to ask if they can add you to a group with others. Alternatively, consider putting the word out via social media and forming your own crew.
4. Book through a guesthouse for no-frills tours
The cheapest tours are generally run by hostels and guesthouses in Ulaanbaatar rather than by established tour companies. These tours tend to follow the same standard highlights itinerary, taking in the Gobi, Kharkhorin, Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur and Khövsgöl.
Be aware that budget guesthouses economize on everything, including guides, so you’ll likely be led around by an English-speaking Mongolian student on a summer break rather than a travel specialist. These operators tend to be less sustainably-minded, too.
5. Do less driving and more experiencing
Mongolia is three times the size of France, but the top speed you can hope to achieve on the grasslands is 40 to 50km/h (25 to 31mph). If you try to see too much of the country, you’ll spend all day every day on the move and blow a fortune on fuel. It’s much better to focus on one region and keep driving to a minimum.
Alternatively, eschew the 4WD tour altogether and put your money towards a three- or four-day stay at a ger camp in a truly special location such as Jalman Meadows, a three-hour drive east of Ulaanbaatar. Try to stay put long enough to savor the serenity of the Mongolian landscape; it might save you money too.
6. Consider hiring just a driver without a guide
If you don’t mind making regular use of translation apps to communicate, you could consider forgoing the expense of a guide, hiring just a driver and vehicle. Although this might bring down the cost of the trip, be aware that some drivers will ask for more money because they will have to take on more logistical work, such as arranging accommodations and activities.
Note that it generally costs far more to hire a car and drive yourself than it does to hire a car with a driver. In Mongolia the going is tough, and so insurance and liability come at a hefty premium.
7. Bring your own tent to cut down accommodation costs in remote areas
Bringing your own tent is a good way to save money on ger camps and homestays when out in the Mongolian wilderness. For this to work, your driver should also have their own tent, or be willing to sleep in their vehicle. Wild camping is permitted just about anywhere – just remember the "leave no trace" philosophy. Tents can be easily purchased in Ulaanbaatar before you head for the wilds.
8. Check if your Ulaanbaatar accommodation offers free airport pick-ups
Opened in 2021, Chinggis Khaan International Airport is 52km (32 miles) south of Ulaanbaatar, and some hotels will pick you up from the airport for free if you are staying with them for a few days. If not, the cheapest way to reach the city is by shuttle bus, about a sixth of the price of taking a taxi.
9. Take the bus to sights close to Ulaanbaatar
Public transport connects Mongolia’s provincial capitals but it isn’t much use for steppe sightseeing – to see most of the country, you’ll still need to hire a 4WD and driver. However, using Ulaanbaatar as a base, you can take advantage of several public bus routes out to popular tourist destinations such as Terelj, Khövsgöl and Kharkhorin. It’s a good way to experience some independent travel and meet the locals.
10. Travel like a Mongolian tourist
Although tourism from overseas dried up during the pandemic, city-dwelling Mongolians embarked en masse on their own road trips into the countryside. This has led to a boom in cheaper, fixed-location ger camps catering for locals on popular (but often crowded) routes where there are paved roads, such as the steppe areas west of Ulaanbaatar. Go with the local flow and you’ll likely save money on the ger experience.
11. Eat meals in local canteens to save
Basic Mongolian restaurants called guanz serve up local specialties such as buuz (steamed mutton dumplings) and tsuivan (fried noodles) along with soups and various meat-based creations. Meals are easy on the wallet, but don’t expect gourmet fare.