Mongolia Photography Tour 2018
Mongolia is a truly spectacular land, filled with jaw-dropping landscapes, unique, yet well preserved cultures, and by far the most welcoming people you'll meet on the planet.
Getting to Mongolia
Our clients only need to take care of airfare to the main city of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. All other travel (including air travel) within the country is arranged and taken care of by us.
MIAT Airlines and Air China are the main airways for transfer to Ulaanbaatar. The following cities have direct flights to Ulaanbaatar:
*Beijing - Air China and MIAT (daily)
*Frankfurt - MIAT (2 flights per week)
*Hong Kong - MIAT (5 flights per week)
*Seoul - MIAT and Korean Airlines (daily)
*Tokyo - MIAT (5 flights per week)
We are happy to assist with recommending the best flight options.
Transportation within Mongolia
Toyota Landcruisers or Lexus AWD SUVs
Mongolia is a vast land with paved roads being limited to the main city of Ulaanbaatar and through connecting provinces. Most of our travel is on unmarked dirt or gravel roads.
Mongolia is mostly an off-road adventure.
We only use comfortable, modern, air-conditioned SUVs. The majority of the cars we use are Lexus AWD and Landcruisers.
We really do believe in it being about the journey. In Mongolia, we are excited each day for when we're in the car. The most unexpected happens along the way - perhaps it's a baby sheep standing for the first time, wild horses crossing the road, or a nomad family shearing sheep with the entire community- no day will be the same.
There will a couple of long driving days - some for 5-6 hours, some quite bumpy roads, but never a dull moment. We enjoy our long drives most of all - it was a chance to see breathtaking scenery and stop at our leisure for pictures. Especially as a photographer, experiencing the ever-changing landscape creates endless possibilities.
Each car will have two clients. Our guide and lead photographer, Todd Rafalovich will alternate between cars throughout the day, ensuring quality time with both the guide as well as Todd.
Our expert, professional drivers have been navigating the Mongolian roads for over 20 years and knows Mongolian roads inside and out. This is a vast land that is not suited for self-drivers. Not only do our drivers do their best to make the ride comfortable, safe and reliable, they make it possible for the photographer to relax and focus on images.
They are also experienced with working with professional photographers. This is important because there will be a lot of impromptu stops.
They are patient with the many requests along the way, as well as keeping an eye out for potential photographic opportunities.
Our drivers own their own cars. They are very familiar with their vehicles and take pride in keeping them clean and maintained along the trip.
Although our drivers may speak only a little English, you'll be amazed with how quickly you'll form your own connections with them in no time.
We will have a very experienced English speaking guide, whom is passionate about the history and culture of Mongolia. The first part of his life was spent as a nomad - he will give you special insight into the culture that other guides can't provide.
Our guide will help you navigate through the unique customs that Mongolians still retain, serve as your translator in speaking with Nomadic people, and even serve as your personal guide on horseback, if desired.
He has studied in the US and is familiar with western customs.
For a photographer, our guide does a wonderful job of speaking to the locals and putting them at ease, which makes for amazing portraits. He is at ease assisting photographers with holding flash units, helping with lighting, etc.
Mongolia is known for their hospitality, both in the city and countryside. The further you get from the city, the more hospitable you'll find your hosts. Hospitality is a way of survival for the nomadic people - a stop into a fellow nomad's home is a way for other nomads to travel long distances. Visits are met with milk tea, snacks, and perhaps a bed for a nap. Traveling in Mongolia is for the adventurous, but we aim to make it as comfortable as possible.
In the city of Ulaanbaatar, you will be staying at the city's only 5 star hotel, the Shangri-La. We found that the hotels below this level aren't nearly as comfortable and accommodating as the Shangri-La. It is a hotel that is rarely used for tour groups, and incurs a premium for most tours.
In the countryside, we will be staying at a combination of ger camps and homestays. We'll be moving throughout the Gobi desert and Central Mongolia up to the North at a relaxed, leisurely pace - staying 1-2 nights at each location.
Ger camps are a collection of gers (usually 10-30) that share a central restaurant, hot showers, and electricity. Each person/couple will have their own individual ger.
Built for tourists, it's a good place to refresh after a couple of days at more rustic accommodations.
At some ger camps, it is an option to have a bathroom ensuite - you will be booked into a deluxe accommodation if available.
At homestays, we will be staying alongside nomads. Theses families have additional gers set up next to their own for the sole purpose of hosting guests (think B&B Mongolian style). Each couple/ person will have their own private ger. Toilets are usually a sanitized hole in the ground (you're in the middle of nowhere!).
Homestays will be one of the most memorable experiences of your trip. This is your opportunity to really live with a nomadic family to see and experience their life up close.
We have personal connections with many of our homestay families.
These will be your best opportunities to take photos and portraits of nomads. The nomads love getting their picture taken and are ready and willing subject matters. This is when you'll learn the most from Todd's portraiture teaching.
Although we adore the charm and coziness of Mongolian gers, we consider it one level above camping, as far as comfort goes. The gers are simple and functional - usually a bed with a simple mattress, a desk, and chair . In spite of this, we always managed to get a good night's sleep.
We provide full size pillows (you'll thank us for this later!).
We place hot water bottles into your bed to warm it up before you crawl into it on chilly evenings.
We provide you with extra blankets and sleeping bags to ensure a warm night.
Staff heats up the ger in the evening as well as in the morning before you rise.
Food at Ger Camps
Ger camp meals consist of set menus - a three course meal consisting of a simple salad, a beef or mutton entree, and yogurt, or a simple fruit dessert. We found them to be slightly more westernized than food at the homestays.
Food at Homestays
Food at homestays can include fresh beef/mutton dumplings, fried rice, fresh pasta, and hearty stews.
Visitors will be delighted with the fresh yogurt with jam, milk tea, fresh cream, and fried biscuits.
It's amazing what can be done with the few ingredients they have.
We travel with a personal cook - one of our drivers is an experienced chef and will be preparing our picnic meals. Though a big part of the experience is eating the local cuisine, in the cases when you want something more westernized, we have various options for cooking. Some people love eggs for breakfast, and this provides us the opportunity to offer this. This is unique to our photography tour.
We prepare and refill snack packs for the road, consisting of real coffee from a coffee press, sodas, unlimited bottled water, dried fruit and nuts, beef jerky, chips, and other munchies. During pre-trip planning, we'll find out your favorite snacks and do our best to have them on hand for you during the trip.
Beer & Alcohol
You will have the opportunity to sample Mongolian drinks - lots of surprisingly drinkable vodka made from distilled mare's milk and local beer. Most drinks are included - let us know if you like a certain kind of drink and we'll try to accommodate.
Gers are simple housing structures that are easily moved. Nomadic families move 2-3 times each year for their livestock and the ger structure is easy to relocate (can be packed and moved on the back of camels).
In spite of their relative simpleness, a ger is quite cozy, yet spacious - they are lined with wool felt to insulate them, and the decor inside is simple.
Each ger has a wood burning stove, which is used to warm up the ger on chilly evenings and are heated up by staff in the mornings before you rise out of bed.
Gift exchanging is a special Buddhist tradition that shows appreciation and is meant to be a small token given to your host. During pre-trip planning, we will provide you with a comprehensive list of the most cherished overseas presents that you may wish to bring for your new nomad friends.
A special gift to leave behind
We travel with printers that print out 4x6 high quality images. It is a great treat to see people's faces when you give them a print of their family and other pictures of their life you have taken. We believe this makes for a much more personal, intimate experience. All clients will have access to the printers throughout the day. This is unique to our tour.
These trips are designed to accommodate all levels of photographers, with all different gear and passions.
We have limited each tour to 4 participants to ensure a private, intimate trip. You're creating unique images because you're in a small setting and keeps the subjects relaxed. With larger tours, we've found that it can be overwhelming to have 12 cameras all snapping at them.
Instead, we've taken a much more different approach that suits our personal style better. A smaller group ensures more 1:1 instruction time and flexibility with activities along the way. We'll be sticking to a fairly flexible itinerary - we know where we'll sleep each night and how we'll get there, but the rest of the day will flow around the activities you desire. Participants will have the opportunity to break away on their own, or participate as much or as little as desired.
We have a gear technician that can help with image backup, teach post-production techniques, troubleshoot technical problems (Canon only issues, unless we have advance notice of your gear) and help you to use your camera better from a technical perspective.
We welcome drones as well - Mongolia is the place to fly them! We recommend bringing a minimum of 3 batteries for each drone.
Mongolia is a place with plenty or little to do. We'll be stopping at the most important historic and cultural sights. During the day, you may enjoy just spending time with the nomads, observing and experiencing their daily life, cuddling with baby animals or being a little more active with some of the activities below:
Participating in daily nomadic life - By far our favorite activity, this allows you to really live with the nomads - milk yaks alongside of them (or attempt!), participate in making the day's meal, tend and round up the livestock, or just observe and enjoy the scenery.
Horseback riding - Mongolians revere horses, and they should - in a country with almost as many horses as people, the animal is truly loved and respected. The Mongolian horses are smaller, stockier, and half wild. There will be multiple opportunities to ride, if desired. Each family that we encounter has their own team of horses. The rides are all guided and can accommodate all levels (even beginners will feel comfortable). Helmets are provided.
Camel riding - Mongolia is known for having herds of double humped camels. Nomads rely on these strong livestock to carry their belongings to their summer or winter home. Riding on one will be an experience you'll never forget
Trekking/Walking/Hiking - Mongolia is full of places to explore. Walk with our guide or find your own path among the valleys and mountains during the days.
Archery - Mongolians are expert archers; they can even ride horseback at the same time! There will be many opportunities to hone your archery skills or try it for the first time.
Fly Fishing or spin casting (instruction included) - Todd is an advanced fly fisherman, and welcomes the opportunity to spend time with a participant teaching the art of fly fishing. The streams and rivers we will be near on the trip are overflowing with fish - these rivers are untouched and not heavily fished, so the fish are very willing to bite!
Kayaking/Boating/Canoeing - All available when on the days we spend on the lake or river.
Visiting active monasteries - We'll have the opportunity to visit multiple active Tibetan Buddhist monasteries where the photographic opportunities abound while listening to chanting monks.
All activities are included.
Mongolia Photography Tour
$7500 USD per person
$4000 USD deposit required to reserve space
We kindly request to have a phone or Skype conversation with each person prior to booking.
Gobi Desert, Central and Northern Mongolia, Lake Khovsgol
Gobi Desert, Central and Northern Mongolia, Lake Khovsgol, Naadam Festival
Optional Travel to Western Mongolia
We have an optional add on at the end of each tour to visit Western Mongolia, an even more rugged land filled with snow capped mountains, 10,000 year old petroglyphs, and the last remaining eagle hunters.
Travel to the west is yet even more adventurous - accommodations will be camping style - in specially outfitted camping vehicles.
The extension will be an additional 4 nights/ 5 days.
*All accommodation, including 3 city nights, and 8 nights at ger camps and homestays
*All meals, snacks, water, beer and soft drinks
*All in-country flights
*Professional Mongolian guide and driver
*1:1 education from Todd Rafalovich
*Tech and gear support
*Additional alcohol drinks at ger camps
*Souvenirs and items of a personal nature
*Additional snacks outside of what we provide
*Tips and gratuities