Photographing Mongolia: An Expedition to the Golden Eagle Festival - September 28, 2019 - Atlas Obscura Trips


Photographing Mongolia: An Expedition to the Golden Eagle Festival

Mongolia’s vast steppe, alpine meadows, and snow-capped mountains are a photographer’s dream. Come with us to explore dramatic landscapes and action-packed festivals by foot and on horseback, and through your lens.

We’ll be charting a path across large swaths of Mongolia’s striking terrain. On this remote adventure, photographers will find inspiration at every turn as we encounter one spectacular view and dynamic environment after another.

Along the way, we’ll pass through alpine wilderness and vibrant towns tucked into valleys. We’ll visit with nomadic families, stay in traditional ger camps, dive into the knotted history of the Mongol Empire, and sample traditional foods and drinks including fermented mare’s milk, a local favorite. Our journey will lead us to a sunset search for bands of wild horses and to a large gathering celebrating birds of prey. With our guide, photographer B.A. Van Sise, we’ll capture unforgettable scenes. 


  • Dramatic landscapes: As we journey through national parks, you’ll have many opportunities to marvel at mountains, valleys, and rock formations—and the chance to roam on horseback or by foot and photograph stunning features up close.
  • Eagle festival: At this enormous annual gathering, you’ll have the chance to capture breathtaking shots of contests and birds of prey slicing across the wide-open sky.
  • Overnights in traditional ger camps: Throughout the trip, we'll be spending our nights beneath the stars. We’ll rest up in the great outdoors in these traditional nomadic dwellings similar to yurts.


A $500 deposit is required to secure your spot, in addition to a non-refundable payment of $665 for the flights within Mongolia which we will book for you. We have a limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill quickly. The deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The trip will cost a total of $5,490 (the $500 deposit plus $665 for the internal flights with the remaining $4,325 final payment), which covers all fixed costs including accommodations, local guides, and all meals and activities listed in the itinerary. 


If you have any questions that aren't answered in the itinerary, or would like to chat with someone about whether you think this adventure is the right fit for you, please don't hesitate to contact us! Email us at or give us a call at 646-961-4857 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET.

Day 1
Welcome to Ulaanbaatar!
  • Upon arrival, you’ll be met and brought from the airport to our hotel.
  • We’ll enjoy a welcome meal together and start getting to know each other and our guide on our first night in Mongolia.
Day 2
Ulaanbaatar Explorations
  • After breakfast, we'll spend our day exploring the capital city.
  • First, we’ll visit the restored Gandan Monastery, a Tibetan-style Buddhist monastery home to more than 150 monks. We'll also visit the National Museum of Mongolia, which documents and celebrates cultural heritage, and Sükhbaatar Square. This central square is named for Damdiny Sükhbaatar, often known as the "Father of Mongolia's Revolution," which brought independence from China in 1921.
  • After lunch, we'll test our brain power at the International Intellectual and Puzzle Museum, also known as the IQ Museum. Created by puzzle master Tumen Ulzii, it is a place dedicated to curiosity, logic, and riddles.
  • This evening, we'll enjoy a dinner and a traditional folklore concert, including a performance by Mongolia's national orchestra. 
Caroline Mongrain
Day 3
Khustain Nuruu National Park
  • After breakfast, we’ll depart for Khustain Nuruu National Park. The conservation area’s 195 square miles are home to a coterie of creatures. We’ll keep watch for dozens of mammals, including marmots and the spotted Eurasian lynx, and hundreds of species of birds.
  • Since we’ll be spending the night in the park, we’ll take advantage of the daylight to settle into our ger camp (ger is the Mongolian term for a traditional yurt).
  • Just before sunset, we’ll make our way up into the mountains. You’ll want to get your camera ready, because we’ll be on the lookout for wild horses, or takhi. The majestic animals were introduced to the park in 1992. In the years since, their numbers have stabilized, and they gather as at sundown. On our way, we might also meet some of the horses’ neighbors, such as gazelles, ibex, foxes, or badgers.
  • We’ll come together for dinner at the camp, then settle in for the night beneath the stars.
Day 4
Visit with a Nomadic Family
  • After breakfast at the ger camp, we'll drive to visit a local nomadic family, who will be our hosts for the rest of the day and share a glimpse into their routine.
  • For lunch, we’ll enjoy a cooking class and try our hands at making buuz, traditional Mongolian meat dumplings.
  • In the afternoon, you’ll have several options for exploring in the open air: You can hike in the nearby mountains and meadows, or cross them on horseback. There will be an opportunity to sip airag. Made from fermented mare's milk, the spirit is a favorite drink of Mongolians.
  • Our evening meal will be a traditional Mongolian barbecue called khorkhog, in which bone-in meat is cooked by the steam rising from rocks heaped in a jug.
  • We’ll get a good night’s sleep in our ger camp, which will be set up near our host family.
Day 5
Mountain Walk & Turtle Rock
  • Today after breakfast, we’ll bid farewell to our hosts and continue our journey. Our destination is Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Along the way, we’ll stop to see a towering metal statue of Genghis Khan astride his horse.
  • Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, which is also home to a Buddhist monastery, has two famously photogenic rock formations whose nicknames will make a lot of sense when you see them: Turtle Rock and Praying Lama Rock.
  • You'll have the chance for an evening walk before dinner, before turning in for the night at our ger camp.
Day 6
Full Day in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park
  • Today, we’ll spend the whole day exploring the vast park.
  • Set out for a hike, ride a horse, or spend some time in the monastery and meditation center. Your guide will be glad to offer more options for ways to connect to the surroundings.
  • We’ll regroup for dinner, before returning to Ulaanbaatar for the night.
Rena Chen, courtesy of World Expeditions
Day 7
Journey to Ölgii
  • After breakfast, we’ll head to the airport for a flight to Ölgii, where we’ll get a different view of Mongolia’s history and culture. The country’s westernmost province, Bayan-Ölgii is predominantly Kazakh and Muslim. Descended from Turkic nomads, the Kazakhs train eagles for winter hunts of fox, wolf, and marmot—a tradition stretching back thousands of years. As borders have hardened around China, Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, the Kazakhs don’t roam as freely as they once did, but their culture has endured in this valley, full of clusters of gers.
  • Tonight, we’ll share dinner with Tim Cope, a Russian-speaking Australian author and trekking guide who will recount some of his experiences in this expansive and beautiful country.
Cam Cope, courtesy of World Expeditions
Day 8
Eagle Festival
  • Hunting foxes and hares with the help of specially trained birds of prey is an ancient tradition across the Eurasian steppe. We’ll spend the next two days at the awe-inspiring eagle festival, an annual tradition that draws the best hunters from across the Bayan Ölgii province.
  • A Kazakh guide will introduce us to competitors’ traditional regalia and decorated horses, and we’ll watch as they compete in stunning tests of precision and distance.
  • We’ll enjoy a private concert performed by local artists using traditional Kazakh instruments such as the dombra, a type of lute.
Day 9
Eagle Festival
  • As the eagle festival continues, we’ll watch spectacular ceremonies and contests, from horse racing to archery and buzkashi, a game in which players on horseback race to put a goat carcass in a goal.
  • There will also be an opportunity to visit the museum in Ölgii, which offers a fascinating peek into the region’s culture and history.
Day 10
Altai Tavan Bogd National Park
  • Today, we’ll head west for a daytrip to Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, named for the jagged mountain range that separates China, Russia, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan. Some of the soaring summits, such as Khüiten Peak, which towers more than 14,000 feet, spend the year capped with snow. These heights, alongside lush valleys and glaciers and lakes, will offer ample opportunity for spectacular photographs.
  • We’ll walk in search of ancient petroglyphs and historic Kazakh monuments.
  • After a great day of photography, we’ll return to Ölgii for the evening.
Alastair Rae
Day 11
Fly to Ulaanbaatar
  • This morning, we catch a flight back to Ulaanbaatar.
  • The afternoon is free. Relax in one of the capital city’s sidewalk cafes, do some last-minute shopping, or visit other sights, such as the Winter Palace of the Bogd Khan.
  • Tonight we will have a special group dinner to celebrate the end of our journey.
Day 12
Goodbye to Ulaanbaatar
  • After a last breakfast together, we’ll say goodbye and set out for the airport and home.
The Fine Print



  • Lodging in double-accommodation rooms in modern, well-equipped hotels and basic but comfortable ger camps throughout the trip. (A limited number of single rooms are available at a supplementary cost of $550. Please note that one night is spent at a homestay where single rooms are not available.) 
  • 11 breakfasts, 9 lunches, and 11 diners. 
  • All entrance fees, activities, and excursions.
  • Internal flights 
  • Private transportation throughout the trip and airport transfers.
  • Informal, in-the-field photography instruction by photographer B.A. Van Sise. 
  • Local guides accompanying the entire trip.
  • A full briefing packet for each explorer, including country information, final itinerary, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans, excited to explore all that this unique region has to offer!
  • Please email us at with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, flight planning, and payment, or call us at 646-961-4857 anytime between 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. ET.


Itineraries and pricing are subject to change. This particular tour has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, and schedules and availabilities may change in coming months due to inclement weather, forces of nature, and other circumstances beyond our control.


In cities or large towns you will be accommodated in 3- to 4-star, twin-share hotels that are centrally located, atmospheric, and reliable. While in the more remote regions, we will be staying in ger camps. A ger is a circular felt yurt used by nomadic people. Warm in winter and cool in summer, these camps offer a unique and awesome cultural experience.

The ger camps provide basic but comfortable accommodation. Gers typically include four beds around the perimeter of the ger, with a wood-burning stove and low table in the center. The potbelly stoves can generate quite a temperature inside the ger. Wooden floors are generally provided. There are basic shower and washing facilities available, and hot water is supplied to all gers. Washing facilities are separate in men’s and women’s shower and toilet blocks. All bedding is provided at the ger camps and you will not be expected to bring your own sleeping bag. 


Adventure is always accompanied by an element of the unexpected. The most important thing to bring with you is a flexible, positive, and open-minded attitude. During this trip, you will be staying in three-star accommodations, while also spending time in areas with less predictable facilities. We recommend a medium level of physical fitness, since we'll be embarking on very active days together. You should be comfortable walking between three and five miles per day without difficulty, and spending extended periods of time on your feet. There will be several walks and optional horseback rides. If you're uncertain about whether this trip is a good fit, please contact us and we'd be happy to discuss with you further. 


You will be charged a nonrefundable $500 deposit to hold your space on the trip, as well as a non-refundable payment of $665 for the flights within Mongolia which we will book for you. The final payment will be due by June 29, 2019. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. 


  • International airfare to/from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  • Travel insurance (required).
  • Baggage charges.
  • Tips and gratuities.
  • Camera and video fees at sites and monuments.
  • Additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
  • If applicable, application for a Mongolia visa.

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