Mongolia trips across the diverse landscapes to the sightseeing attractions in the Gobi desert, Kharakorum or the Altai mountains are an amazing experience. The most fun and best Mongolia travel experiences is driving offroad outside the capital city of Mongolia. This offroad travel guide will give you the most important information, so that your vacation in Mongolia will be an unforgettable one!
The vast landscapes of Mongolia attracts off-road fanatics from all over the world - after all, the country offers such a multitude of different geographical and climatic zones as perhaps no other country in the world. However, also more challenges come with this variety - sand, rocks, boulders, snow and ice often set high demands even on experienced off-road experts.
Accordingly, we would like to also prepare off-road beginners for the challenges with this offline guide - for them not to shy away from the wonderful and exciting tours Mongolia has to offer. However, this guide is by no means a substitute for a thorough off-road training. If you would like to plan longer off-road adventures in Mongolia, you should definitely complete such training or already have some experience. For lighter tours our guide is definitely a good preparation.
We also recommend an up-to-date first aid course, as well as a recovery course, so you, should your vehicle once stuck, recover it safely. Furthermore, you should of course pay attention to a suitable insurance when renting your SUV.
The right car rental in Mongolia for you
In any case, you should have a picture of how big Mongolia actually is: A two-week tour to major attractions is about 1,500 and 3,000 kilometers long. A three- to four-week round trip amounts to 6,000 kilometers. You should compare the road conditions in no case with those of Western Europe: the country roads of Mongolia are bumpy slopes with potholes and off-road it is not even easier thanks to dust and extreme temperatures. This puts your vehicle to the test and accordingly you should choose the best possible vehicle for your trip. Also keep in mind that there are hardly any good workshops and spare parts outside Ulan Bataar. So technical problems on the road can be a real problem. Therefore, it is all the more important to rent a car from a reliable provider who also provides roadside assistance in case of emergency.
Especially with the car rental saving can be a big mistake. Under no circumstances should you rent a car from private individuals, this easily gets you into insurance problems if a damage occurs, the cars are not well maintained, and in the end you might end up with a stressful disaster. Whether you drive yourself or hire a driver is up to you: for a driver, you have to plan his daily rates and meals. In addition, he is bound to a certain number of hours he is allowed to drive.
There is only one good international provider in Mongolia: SIXT. Therefore they are really recommendable: SIXT has a good network of rental stations (there is also the possibility to book one-way rentals or to return the vehicle at any airport or stop of the Trans-Siberian Railway) and they offer a comprehensive service if your vehicle breaks down.
But there are also really good alternatives to a classic car rental - such as the rental car packages by Escapetomongolia for self-drivers, which are design for at least one or more weeks. Apart from that Followthetracks has an exciting offer: with them you book a detailed self-drive tour in the footsteps of the famous outdoor photographer Max Muench alongside navigation assistance, camping equipment, accommodation and pre-organized activities. In addition, you will receive a photo course and photography lessons along the three routes. Something like an off-road all-inclusive package with a well-thought-out program.
LIQUI MOLY Extreme offers guided 4x4 off-road tours that have a not so tight program, but you have a reliable partner at your side.
For motorcyclists Nomadic Offroad is interesting: They are the best host for off-road enduro tours and also a proper Husqvarna dealer in Mongolia.
The best 4x4 vehicles for Mongolia
A 4x4 vehicle is essential for true off-road driving, but what is actually the difference between a 4x4 and a classic 4x2 car?
In a 4x4, unlike the 4x2 all wheels are directly propelled, which provides more traction. In addition, 4x4 vehicles have a differential lock. There are two types: the central differential lock and separate differential lock for each axle.
Without differential lock, the following can happen in the terrain: as soon as a wheel loses traction (perhaps because a wheel disappears in a hole in the ground), all propulsion power would be transferred to this free-floating wheel. Thus, freeing the car from the hole would be very difficult. When the central differential lock is engaged, this only happens if one wheel, both of the front and rear axle, simultaneously loses traction. In the case of an axle differential lock, this does not occur at all, since the differential is distributed separately on the two axles.
The differential lock can be switched on as desired. On concrete roads, you should definitely disable them. With the axle differential lock, you should first activate the rear lock, then the front one. As a general rule: Use the central differential lock more frequently and the axle differential lock only in difficult situations.
Now here are our 4x4 recommendations for your vehicle choice:
LADA Niva is a good and inexpensive car but only recommended to a limited extent for up to two people and short tours on good slopes. It's really fun to drive and uses little fuel. Because of the low ground clearance it is not good off-road, abrupt bumps quickly lead to a damaged transmission. In addition, the axle bends quickly by harder blows. Small trunk, best complemented by a roof box.
The Russian army uses this 4x4. It seems to be made for Mongolia and drives offroad in a very solid way. Thanks to the gasoline engine, unlike diesel cars, it struggles less with cold weather. The engine ensures proper acceleration. The UAZ Patriot has high ground clearance, good suspension, plenty of space, a very large trunk and a manageable fuel consumption for its category. Also available as an automatic version.
TOYOTA Landcruiser 76/79
A classic by Toyota. It is very sturdy, makes good terrain, has roll bars, drives comfortably, has plenty of space and storage space thanks to the available roof rack. However it has a diesel engine that is more susceptible to ice and cold than a petrol engine.
TOYOTA Landcruiser Prado
The Toyota Landcruiser Prado is a very comfortable off-roader with luxurious interior and very good road handling on concrete. The engine, however, has only moderate power.
Ford Ranger (Diesel) and UAZ Patriot Pickup (Gasoline)
These pickup trucks offer plenty of loading space, especially for bulky items, and are a cheaper alternative to big 4x4s with medium fuel consumption. Ropes, tarpaulins and boxes for the loading area are recommended.
The decision between diesel and gasoline engine is fundamental for you: Diesel engines tend to have problems at low temperatures, fuel filters may clogg. In addition, gasoline in Mongolia is cheaper and often of better quality, as most vehicles have petrol engines.
We strongly discourage from the choosing one of the following vehicles, however they are often offered for rent in Mongolia:
UAZ Buhanka - The classic Russian minibus is world famous. It does not even have power steering, has no air conditioning and the engine sits next to the driver's seat. It also tends to have technical defects. Hands off!
Old Land Cruisers and old Jeeps, such as the Land Cruiser 100 - These vehicles are nearing their end with well over 100,000 kilometers driven, breakdowns are therefore inevitable. A clear "Don't".
Minibuses with two-wheel drive: They lack the necessary ground clearance and four-wheel drive. On sandy slopes they get stuck quickly. Also a no go.
Before you head off: The necessary equipment for your trip
To recover the vehicle and other frequent situation you should have the following equipment. Of course, your vehicle should also have a winch or should you be traveling with several vehicles to be put this equipment to use:
- Tow rope
- Tree saver strap: Never tie the tow rope directly to a tree to avoid damaging it.
- Snatch block: It allows double traction of the winch, allows towing even in confined conditions
- A couple of D-Ring shackles
- Gloves: especially useful when changing hot tires etc., protect your hands from injury during rescue actions, ideally made of sturdy leather and with a good fit
- Highlift / offroad car jack
- Compressor or pump, tire repair kit (or repair spray from Liqui Moly)
- Pressure gauge for the tires
- Jumper cables
- Snow chains, if snow and ice can may be en route
In addition, you should carry the following:
- A good additive, e.g. by Liqui Moly (Octane Plus for a higher octane number in gasoline; Super Diesel Additive, both provide more power and protect the engine from old or low-grade fuel)
- Motor oil: It is always advised to buy and carry at least 1L or enough oil for an oil change already in Ulan Bataar.
- Windscreen Cleaner Concentrate: Due to dust and mosquitoes you will need a lot of windscreen cleaner fluid. Therefore, a concentrate is advisable.
- Ample water and food for three days (Buy 5L canisters andfill up in your refillable water bottle, please do not buy small plastic bottles to avoid garbage)
- Appropriate clothing and footwear (see also: The Ultimate Camping Guide to Mongolia)
- Mobile phone and charging adapter for the car, additional power bank (a solar charger makes sense)
- First aid kit
For camping we recommend a roof tent:
The tents by IKamper are by far the best roof tents. They are robust against wind and are quick and easy to set up. They have a comfortable mattress and are very spacious for up to 4 people.
The Heimplanet tent "The Cave" is a very good regular tent. It is very stable against wind and fast to set up.
Go for good quality with your equipment, in case of emergency you want to be able to rely on it.
You're almost good to go!
Before you "hit the road", you should get to know your vehicle well and know some basics:
You should get to know your vehicle and first check how it behaves in the field. What are the dimensions of the vehicle? Where is the lowest point? How deep could you drive into the water (see the manual for this)? Which slope can you drive without the vehicle sitting on the ground? If you drive a slope, when would the vehicle sit in the middle? When you drive down a hang, when would the vehicle sit on the ground in the back area? Where is the oil sump? Knowing these dimensions is essential to properly assess the upcoming off-road situations.
Check the tire pressure before you drive off. Secure your cargo as good as possible and do not overload the roof. Unevenly distributed payload can unbalance your vehicle off-road. Even inside the vehicle, everything has to be well stowed, offroad absolutelty nothing must tumble through the vehicle interior. Also check if you have a spare tire with you, check the oil and coolant level and the brakes.
Let someone know where you are going and when you are about to arrive. So at least someone knows where to look for you, if you should not arrive. Deposite a route plan e.g. at your hotel or with friends and family.
Now you are perfectly prepared and ready to go!
Oh, you want to drive in a convoy? Then discuss in advance: What does the route look like? Where do you plan to take breaks? How do you communicate with each other? The most experienced driver should drive in the back of the column, so he can help others, if they have problems facing obstacles. Watch out for each other, do not lose yourself but also keep the necessary distance at obstacles, if someone has to brake abruptly.
As a basic rule, stick to to already created tracks while offroad and only drive cross-country, if there is no other option. Make sure that you influence your environment as little as possible and not to leave traces or even damage. Nature, animals and people go first, so always take care and behave as sustainable as possible. Soil erosion is a big problem in Mongolia, you are playing into it by tearing up the top layer of earth. So think well, where to drive!
Always wear a seat belt, even if you navigate very slowly.
Every small village has at least one petrol station. Fill up regularly, preferably already if your tank is only 2/3 full. Like this you don't need an additional canister. Fuel in remote gas stations is often a bit older so in order to protect the engine, you should use a good additive (gasoline: Ocean Plus and Injection Cleaner by LIQUI MOLY, Diesel: Super Diesel Additive from LIQUI MOLY available in the LIQUI MOLY shop next to the Blue Sky Tower in the center of Ulaanbaatar). This protects the engine against corrosion, bacteria, water and low ocean or cetane numbers.
Drive as slowly as possible and as fast as necessary. Only drive in daylight. Always keep both hands on the steering wheel, even when reversing. Do not control the vehicle abruptly but as softly and smoothly as possible.
As the terrain becomes more difficult, you should get to know it in advance. Use Goolge Maps / maps.me or Polar Step in satellite view mode to estimate the soil structures and obstacles, but also conside the weather conditions. The weather has a big influence on the current soil structure. The fact that a route was navigable the day before does not mean that it is today.
Know your limits and try to think a step ahead, think about possible scenarios and how you could solve and get out of them. Fear sometimes is a good partner. If you doubt a thing too much, let it be. The fact that a car and driver in front of you can tackle an obstacle may be due to the better car and/or their experience.
Keep the window closed in difficult terrain: if the vehicle should roll over, there's not the chance that you were holding a body part out of the window. In addition, no branches could penetrate into the interior and hurt you.
If you lose overview in a situation, leave the car and check the terrain on foot. Your co-driver can also assist you, leave the car and guide you through difficult terrain while you drive.
The different obstacles:
On unpaved roads, corrugations form quite quickly. At at least 20 km/h the bumpy driving becomes annoying, it becomes a little better over 70 km/h because the vehicle skips the depressions in between, but at the same time the car has minimal grip. You can easily lose control when braking or during abrupt steering maneuvers. So as usual: drive as slowly as possible and as fast as necessary!
In deep mud you should keep a constant momentum, drive in second or third gear. If your wheels spin, get off the gas and wait for the tires to regain grip. If there is a trace, use it. Avoid too deep ruts by driving parallely. If you have to drive in these tracks make sure you know which way your front wheels are pointing. Otherwise you might push mud in front of you with crossed tires. If you drive up a muddy mountain, keep in mind that you need more momentum due to the descending traction. However, you must absolutely avoid that the wheels spin or to lose your momentum. After crossing the muddy area you should check the cooler, there may be no mud on it. Roughly clean the wheels, as it may disturbs their balance on asphalt.
If you drive through rocks, you should definitely get out and check the situation first. Otherwise it can easily happen that you damage your vehicle on an obstacle you haven't seen. If you have a passenger, they can guide you from the outside. Drive slowly and in the lowest gear. Keep your eyes open for holes and rocks that could throw your vehicle off balance. If you slide, steer downhill and lightly accelerate to win control again. If the obstacle is too steep and you lose grip on the front wheels, stop immediately, roll back a bit and look for another way. As already described, three wheels must always be in contact with the ground.
Drive in low gear with constant momentum, it makes sense to lower the tire pressure (0.8 to 1.0 bar tire pressure depending on the load). This will give you more friction and grip. Do not steer against the resistance, the tires will find their way themselves. Again, if the wheels spin, get off the gas and wait until the wheels regain grip. If you're stuck, do not try to accelerate, or you'll dig yourself even deeper. Try to go backwards instead. If you need to stop in the sand, it's best to do so on a sligh descent. Like this it is easier to start off again. Do not change gear if possible. Do not brake, this creates small hills of sand in front of the tires and makes starting again more difficult. Just let the vehicle roll until it stops, unless you have to avoid a collision.
Explore the area on foot first: you need to know what lies behind the hill. Always drive up a hill directly, not diagonally, otherwise it will be easier for you to roll over sideways. Use as high a gear as possible and do not switch gears, do not steer abruptly but deliberately and slowly. Plan in advance: If your climb does not work, you should know how to get out of the situation.
First of all, use the lowest possible gear on the descent and do not switch gears. Brake slowly and carefully, possibly at intervals. Drive as natural a route as possible, do not fight against the terrain. If the vehicle slips, do not brake abruptly but accelerate a little bit to regain control. Do not roll with the clutch depressed. Do not steer heavily when descending steeply, otherwise you might slip sideways.
In general: Only drive through water if there is no other option. You must check the depth before driving into it. In slow-flowing water you can wade in and use a stick. If you can not wade through the water (due to current, depth) then you should not ride through it! If you know about the depth, check if your vehicle can enter such a depth of water (see manual for this). If water gets into the air intake of the engine it will destroy the engine. That's why there are snorkels that increase the height of the air intake. But even with a snorkel you can not go into very deep water.
When the engine gets into the water, it cools down abruptly, which can cause cracks in the material. Therefore: if the engine is hot, turn it off and let it cool down first. With a silicone spray you can also protect important electrical parts from water. Now you can drive into it, but only if vehicles in front have alread left the water again. Unfasten your seat belt before you drive in, you might need to get out of the vehicle quickly. Close the windows and set the air condition to maximum, this results in an increased cabin pressure, which additionally avoids water ingress. Drive very slowly into the water and then accelerate a bit. Keep a steady pace, so a small wave forms in front of you, which makes driving easier. Accelerate a little less when leaving the water.
Snow and ice:
Use snow chains if available. As in water, it may be necessary to find out the depth of the snow in advance.
Drive in the highest possible gear on icy surfaces, drive with a constant momentum and do not let the wheels stand still.
If one or more tires lose grip, get off the gas until they grip again. Brake slowly and carefully, never abruptly, otherwise you will start to spin. Before bends, you should slow down, steer slowly through the corner and accelerate only when you are out of the bend again. Do not sir and accelerate at the same time.
Back on the road:
Check the vehicle for damages: are the tires in ok? Is there dirt hanging from the car? Clean the vehicle from the most of it. Check if baggage has come loose. Adjust the tire pressure back to street level. Start driving slowly, so that dirt and mud can come loose.
The best off-road routes:
The following route suggestions might be helpful for your planning. These tours can easily be driven within the specified time periods and include great driving experiences as well as important sights of Mongolia.
Route 1: Ulaanbaatar - Gobi desert - Ulaanbaatar (1 Week):
This route takes you from the capital to the south of Mongolia and the Gobi Desert and back within a week. Accordingly, you will get to know the dry areas of Mongolia and their many facets.
Day 1: Preparations and getting your supplies together in Ulaanbaatar. Also the right time to go through this off-road guide once again.
Day 2: Drive to Ikh Gazriin Chuluu, an impressive granite mountain in the Gobi Desert.
Day 3: You pass the city of Dalanzadgad (stop there if you need errands) to Yolin Am, a popular canyon.
Day 4: Continue to the impressive Khongor Els sand dunes.
Day 5: The next stop for you is the Bayanzac cliffs, also called Flaming Cliffs. They are especially known for their past fossil finds.
Day 6: Continue to the White Stupa, a very impressive rock formation shaped by the wind over thousands of years.
Day 7: The journey will take you back to your starting point, Ulaanbaatar.
Route 2: Ulaanbaatar - Central Mongolia - Ulaanbaatar (1 week):
On this itinerary, you will get to see Central Mongolia with its historic sites and stunning nature.
Day 1: Preparations and getting your supplies together in Ulaanbaatar.
Day 2: The first day of travelling will take you to Khustain National Park with its very famous wild horses.
Day 3: You continue on to Elsen Tasarkhai, beautiful sand dunes that stand out for their stark contrast to the surrounding area.
Day 4: Drive to Kharakhorum, the former capital of the Mongolian Empire. Prepare for some cultural program!
Day 5: The next destination is Ugii Lake, which is perfect for swimming in the summertime and is also known for its fish and bird populations.
Day 6: It's back to Ulaanbaatar.
Route 3: Ulaanbaatar - Khuvsgul Lake - Central Mongolia - Ulaanbaatar (2 weeks):
This slightly longer trip runs through Northern Mongolia to Khuvsgul Lake, then further south to Central Mongolia and offers exciting, scenic changes.
Day 1: Preparations and getting your supplies together in Ulaanbaatar.
Day 2: Visit of Amarbayasgalant monastery, one of the three largest Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia.
Day 3: Continue to Uran Tolgoo & Tulga Uul Natural Monument, where you experience extinct volcanoes in a beautiful green landscape.
Day 4: You will reach the first main destination of the trip, Khuvsgul Lake, the largest lake of Mongolia, which is surrounded by an impressive mountain landscape.
Day 5: You spend another day at Khusvgul Lake.
Day 6: Continue on to Murun and Ikh-Uul and further to Uubalan. Rest in this area or possibly at Lake Ugii.
Day 7: You travel to Tsetserleg, a town near the Khangai Mountains
Day 8: Continue to Kharakhorum, the former capital of the Mongolian Empire
Day 9: Explore the beautiful Orkhon Valley and visit the Orkhon Waterfall
Day 10: Drive to Elsen Tasarkhai sand dunes
Day 11: This day leads you to the Khustain National Park and its wild horses
Day 12: Back to Ulaanbaatar.
Roadside assistance: MAS Mongolian Road Side Service (Tel 976/ 70006000), basically a mini ADAC for Mongolia
Recommended workshop: Liqui Moly workshop (Tel 976 / 80002325) in the center of Ulan Bataars next to Toyota Tavan Bogd. The workshop offers a broad variety of high quality product, filters and services.
Workshop for motorcycles: Husqvarna Mongolia in Viva City (Tel 976/ 8611 1122): ideal for enduros like Husqvarna, KTM, Yamaha etc.
Author: Stefan Zehentmeier
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