The Complete Guide To Visiting Mongolia’s Mystical Tsaatan Reindeer Herders
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Deep in the heart of the Mongolian Taiga lives one of the most unique communities in the world, the Tsaatan reindeer herders. For centuries the Tsaatan have survived tucked into the forests of Northern Mongolia, isolated from society and surrounded by their faithful herd of reindeer.
To visit the Tsaatan is to witness something magical. A relationship between humans and animals that has stood the test of time, and a culture that has a deep respect for the earth and all of its gifts.
But the journey here is an arduous one. It requires days of travel on bumpy dirt roads, across rivers, over mountains, and, when the road ends, a horse awaits, where your final hours will be spent in the saddle traversing knee-deep mud and blazing your way through the forest.
Along the way you’ll see some of the most pristine landscapes in the world, gaze upon views that will make your jaw drop, see stunning wild horses, yaks, and golden eagles, meet incredible local people who will welcome you into their home with open arms, and experience for yourself the joys and hardships of nomadic life in Mongolia.
Are you ready to start your journey?
Read More From Mongolia
- The Ultimate 10-Day Mongolia Itinerary: Off The Beaten Path Through The Mongolian Taiga with Tour Mongolia
Who Are The Tsaatan Reindeer People?
Originally from the Russian region of Tuva, the Tsaatan people live on the border of Mongolia and Russia in an area called the taiga. The taiga, in lamens terms, is a snow forest (in winter) or swamp forest (in summer) that forms a border between the arctic tundra and the grasslands.
You can find taiga in any of the world’s northern-most countries including Russia, Mongolia, the Nordic countries in Europe, Canada and the US (Alaska). The taiga is actually the world’s second largest biome (apart from the ocean), which is crazy considering I had never even heard of it before my trip to Mongolia.
While the taiga may seem like a cold and unforgiving environment to you, it’s the perfect place for the reindeer that the Tsaatan have grown to love and care for like family. And where their reindeer thrive, they thrive.
The Tsaatan and their reindeer have an incredible symbiotic relationship, each dependent on the other for survival. Without the reindeer, the Tsaatan could never survive in the taiga, and without the Tsaatan, the reindeer would die off at the paws of wolves.
That being said, it’s worth noting that the Tsaatan reindeer are completely domesticated, and are not just used to humans but are now dependent on them for survival. There are no wild reindeer living in Mongolia.
The Tsaatan use their reindeer for milk (including yogurt, and cheese) and transportation while the reindeer use the Tsaatan for safety and protection from predators. This symbiotic relationship necessitates that the Tsaatan live as nomads, moving with their reindeer as they graze on a very specific kind of arctic moss.
The taiga extends from Mongolia into Russia, and, in the past, the Tsaatan used to migrate freely between the two countries. However, Russia’s involvement in World War Two ended that lifestyle as food shortages and fear of having their reindeer requisitioned by the government lead the Tsaatan people to move permanently into Mongolia.
While the Tsaatan have lived exclusively in Mongolia for almost 70 years now, they still speak their native language of Tuvan, making communication difficult for most everyone who comes to visit, Mongolians included. Very few Tsaatan I met at camp could speak Mongolian, so I was glad to have a guide who could understand their native language.
Daily Life At The Tsaatan Reindeer Camp
The Tsaatan people live almost completely off the land. Teepees are made from long skinny tree trunks around which is stretched a waterproof canvas covering. Beds are made from logs, warmth comes from a wood-fired stove, and dairy for sustenance from the reindeer. The reindeer are considered part of the family, so they are rarely eaten for meat.
Every few weeks a family will send one of their members into town, a 20-kilometer ride by reindeer, to buy supplies and food that can’t be sourced at camp. Typical purchases would be flour, rice, vegetables, or clothes.
With the advent of tourism to the Tsaatan community, they can also now have guides bring in some supplies with the tourists. Tourists can also leave their leftover food with the Tsaatan family they stayed with, making life more convenient for both tourists and local families. We don’t have to carry our leftover food back with us and they don’t have to make a separate trip into town, win-win.
A typical day for the Tsaatan includes waking up, lighting a fire in the stove, and then heading out to milk the reindeer. After milking the families gather in their teepees and make milk tea and breakfast on the stove. Following breakfast, the families let their reindeer loose and a few people work together to herd them away from camp to their grazing area where they are free to eat and wander the day away.
During the day families hang out together drinking tea and tending to different household chores such as making yogurt, cheese, and bread, hunting for meat, or gathering berries from the woods (in the summer).
In the evening the families go out to get the reindeer from their grazing area and herd them back to camp where they are tied up for the night. After that comes dinner followed by a final night check of the reindeer before going to bed.
On a daily basis, the life of a Tsaatan is a simple one, yet hardship can strike in an instant. Wolf attacks are a nightly threat to the reindeer, sickness can bring down a family, worsening conditions such as a lack of food for the reindeer or an increased presence of wolves in the area can force a move sooner than expected.
The Tsaatan typically move camp 7-8 times per year, a massive endeavor considering all of their belongings (teepees, stoves, pots, utensils, clothes, etc.) have to be transported at once on the back of a reindeer. I can only imagine what an enormous task it is to pack up your family and all your stuff on the back of a reindeer and then move multiple families with a combined 100-200 reindeer across the taiga at the same time. What an epic spectacle that must be.
Why Should You Visit The Tsaatan Reindeer Herders?
1. Meet the Reindeer
This one’s pretty obvious, but how often do you get to opportunity to meet a real live Rudolph?! And you’ll not only get to have the experience of a lifetime getting up close and personal with a herd of reindeer, but you could also get the opportunity to ride or milk a reindeer as well.
For reals, as far as I know, there are only two places in the world where you can meet domesticated reindeer, here in Mongolia and in the Nordics.
2. Experience the Nomadic Herder Lifestyle
The lifestyle and culture of the Tsaatan people is incredibly unique. Experience what it’s like to spend your days tending to animals and making all of your food from scratch, including milking the reindeer and using the subsequent milk to make butter, cheese, and yogurt.
Experience life unplugged. What do you do when there’s no access to electricity, internet, or phone service? How do you entertain yourself all day without a TV or even access to books? To us these are challenges, to the Tsaatan people, it’s just life. They don’t know any different.
What To Expect When Visiting the Tsaatan Community
Expect to be surrounded by beautiful landscapes. Expect incredibly personal encounters with reindeer and the local families. But most of all expect to be pushed out of your comfort zone.
Do not expect comfort, in any way, shape, or form. Accommodation is in a teepee with no floor, wooden beds made out of logs, and a hole in the top where the stove pipe comes out, which incidentally lets water in when it rains.
Toilets are nonexistent, and the one that’s there is simply a hole in the ground with no walls, roof, or other forms of privacy. And yes, that’s correct, there is only one toilet for the whole camp (well, at least the section we were staying in any way). Surprisingly, given that fact, I never had to wait to use it.
There are zero facilities of any kind. No running water, no electricity, no internet, and no phone service. They do have solar panels which they use to charge a battery that can power one lightbulb in each teepee at night.
Water is taken from the stream and boiled for drinking.
Do not expect to be entertained while visiting the Tsaatan people. Your time here will mostly be spent observing their daily life, not so much participating in it. The first full day I spent there I was actually a bit bored as after the reindeer went off to graze for the day there wasn’t anything for me to do.
Expect cold weather, even in the summertime. While during the day it might get up to 80 degrees F (27 C) at night it will be close to freezing. Bring a winter jacket and hat to keep warm.
Expect to be met with wet, swampy conditions. In the summer, with all the snow melt, the ground is absolutely saturated with water and the mud can get really deep in sections. Come prepared with waterproof boots.
Do not expect to be able to bring a ton of luggage. Transportation to the reindeer camps is by horse, and your packhorse can’t carry large hard-cased luggage. Pack only the necessities in a small soft backpack or duffle bag.
Expect multiple long uncomfortable travel days to get here. Transportation to the nearest village is on bumpy dirt roads, and once you get to the village you’ll face another 3-5 hours on horseback to make it to camp.
Have I deterred you yet?
I hope not, because enduring these conditions is 110% worth it for the experience of meeting the Tsaatan and their reindeer. That being said I realize that this trip is not for everyone so if I lost you here, thanks for reading this far!
For those of you who are down for this epic adventure, you’re awesome. Now let’s get to trip planning.
East vs. West Taiga
There are two separate communities of reindeer herders in Mongolia, the Tsaatan of the East Taiga and the Tsaatan of the West Taiga. Culturally, the two communities are identical, it’s the landscape that’s the differentiating factor.
I visited the East Taiga, which is where most tourists end up going as it’s the easiest to get to. The landscape here is diverse and ranges from open taiga valleys to dense mountain forests. To reach the East Taiga summer camp by horse takes between 3-5 hours depending on your speed and the conditions of the trail.
The West Taiga community is harder to access as the landscape here is more rugged and the trail harder and more dangerous to navigate. This area is characterized by steep, mountainous terrain blanketed in a dense pine forest. The slopes are rocky instead of muddy, and the rivers are raging, so much so that it’s not uncommon for them to be impassible at certain times of the year.
Both the East and West Taiga camps are home to around 20 Tsaatan families respectively.
In terms of which taiga you should visit, it really doesn’t matter. They’re both gorgeous and offer equally amazing experiences for tourists.
My only caveat is that if you’ve never ridden a horse before, or have very limited experience riding, I would NOT recommend attempting to go the West Taiga as the route is quite treacherous. Which is saying something as the route to the East Taiga camp was certainly no walk in the park.
How To Plan A Trip To Mongolia’s Tsaatan Reindeer Herders
Option 1: Contact Tour Mongolia or another Tsaatan Community & Visitors Center (TCVC) endorsed tour operator
This is by far your best option for visiting the Tsaatan reindeer herders. By booking through a TCVC approved tour operator you’re guaranteed an easy and stress-free trip planning process that results in an amazing trip for both you and the local Tsaatan community.
Not surprisingly, given how easy and hassle-free booking with a reputable tour company is, booking through a tour company also just so happens to be the most expensive option. Not all of the best things in life are free my friends.
Tour Mongolia is the company that I personally did my tour with and I had a great experience. They took care of everything for me, including arranging flights to and from Moron, securing border permits, arranging an English speaking guide, a driver, and local horse guide, providing transportation, food, and accommodation, and helping me to communicate with the local Tsaatan people once at the taiga camp.
Without a guide and driver, it is 100% impossible to reach the Tsaatan camps. This is not a trip that you can do independently. A knife to the heart for some of you I know, but that’s just the way it is.
The trail is too deep in mud to hike there, so you have to take a horse, trails aren’t marked and camps move around all the time so you need a guide to show you the way, and communication is impossible without a translator versed in the local language of Tuvan, so an English speaking guide who knows both Tuvan and Mongolian is crucial to make the experience of meeting the Tsaatan families worthwhile.
While there are many tour companies that offer tours to the Tsaatan reindeer herders, only a select few actually work in conjunction with the Tsaatan families themselves.
Keep in mind when you’re planning your trip here that the Tsaatan are not a tourist attraction.
They are not herding reindeer and living in teepees as some sort of tourist gimmick. The Tsaatan are just living their daily lives, doing exactly the same thing they would do regardless of whether people like us came to see them or not.
This is why it’s so important to make sure that the tour company you travel with has developed a relationship with the Tsaatan people, and works with them to make tourism mutually beneficial for everyone not just for the company themselves.
Tour Mongolia and the other companies listed on the TCVC website are the only tour operators that have active partnerships with the Tsaatan community. My guide grew up in Tsagaannuur Village just outside the entrance to the Taiga, and personally knew many members of the Tsaatan community.
As a result, riding into the Tsaatan camp we were welcomed as old friends. The community leaders, Ganbaa and his wife Purvee, welcomed us personally into their home, where we sat sharing milk tea and a snack of reindeer cheese and homemade bread. My guide helped me to introduce myself and acted as a translator between Ganbaa, Purvee, and I to help us get to know each other.
I know I wouldn’t have felt right not being able to communicate with the family whose home I was sharing for 3 nights.
Option 2: Contact the TCVC directly or their English speaking liaison, Zaya
The Tsaatan Community & Visitors Center (TCVC) is the Tsaatan community owned and operated center located in Tsagaannuur Village that forms a link between the reindeer herders and the tourists who come to visit them.
Their goals are to maximize the economic benefits of tourism for the Tsaatan people by coordinating with tour companies and providing services such as local guides, horses, and chefs, to protect the environment of the taiga, to provide training and education to the locals to help them increase their household income, and to act as a political vehicle for the Tsaatan people to communicate with the Mongolian government and have representation on a larger scale.
Since their inception in 2006 the TCVC has helped to increase household incomes by 400%, helping many families achieve economic self-sufficiency and live above the poverty line for the first time their history, provided the Tsaatan with improved access to health care and communication devices such as two-way radios and satellite phones, created a scholarship fund to help local children attend school, and given the Tsaatan community a voice within the government and media.
In addition to all the awesome things the TCVC has done for the Tsaatan community, they can also do some awesome things for you as well. The TCVC offers tons of services to tourists who don’t want to book through a tour operator such as renting horses, providing you with a local guide, arranging your accommodation in a Tsaatan teepee, providing you with a cook or even offering you a meal kit if you want to cook your own food.
All services come at a price of course, but it’s much cheaper than booking a packaged tour and 100% of your money goes directly to the Tsaatan community.
The one major aspect of your trip you’d be missing out on by going this route is having an English speaking guide who can help you to communicate with the local families. Going this route also means that you are responsible for securing your own border permit and providing your own transportation from Ulaanbaatar to Tsagaannuur Village, a minimum 2-day journey by car.
To arrange a trip to the Tsaatan camp with the TCVC you can either contact them by email at email@example.com or contact Zaya, the Tsaatan’s only English speaking community member at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her at +976 99770480. To reach Zaya it’s best to make contact between November and April when the Tsaatan are at their winter camp and she has access to internet and phone signal.
For more information about the Tsaatan Community & Visitor’s Center and how they can help you plan your trip, check out their website here.
Option 3: Book Through 99 Guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar
I had read some negative reviews about people who had just shown up in Ulaanbaatar or Moron and booked a tour to the Tsaatan through their guesthouse, so naturally, I shied away from this option. But, if you have the time to wait until you make it to Ulaanbaatar to put together your trip I can definitely recommend booking through Mun from 99 Guesthouse.
As luck would have it I stayed at one of the best hostels in Ulaanbaatar to book tours through, especially to the taiga, 99 Guesthouse. Not only is 99 Guesthouse a great hostel to stay at in Ulaanbaatar, but the owner, Mun, personally knows many of the Tsaatan families in the East Taiga.
Mun visits the East Taiga every year and can arrange awesome, affordable tours to the Tsaatan community for his guests. I actually ran into a group of tourists who I had previously met at 99 Guesthouse at the Tsaatan camp.
They booked their taiga tour with Mun, and when I asked them how their tour it was going they said it was going great. They had a nice English speaking guide, a good driver with a large Russian van, nice horses, and all accommodation and food arranged as part of their tour.
The only difference was that they had to take an overnight bus to and from Moron at the start and end of their trip instead of a flight and took a more direct route to Tsagaannuur Village due to their short schedule.
How To Decide Which Option Is For You?
Option 1 is for you if: You have limited vacation time and need to book your trip ahead of time and/or you want an easy and hassle-free trip where everything is taken care of.
Option 2 is for you if: You have lots of time in Mongolia, are traveling on a budget, and are super adventurous and willing to figure out transportation, border permits, and communication on your own.
Option 3 is for you if: you have a more flexible schedule, are traveling on a budget, and don’t mind taking local transportation.
How To Get To The Mongolian Taiga
There are 3 legs to any taiga journey.
1. Ulaanbaatar – Moron
2. Moron – Tsagaannuur Village
3. Tsagaannuur Village – Tsaatan Camp
Most likely you’ll have at least the last two thirds, if not all of your transportation to the taiga taken care of as any tour whether it’s booked through a tour company or a hostel will have this covered, but you might have to do step one on your own, getting yourself from Ulaanbaatar to Moron, Mongolia’s northernmost city.
Step 1: Ulaanbaatar – Moron
There are two options for traveling to Moron from Ulaanbaatar, take a 1 hour and 15-minute flight or a 12-hour bus. If you’re planning your trip from Ulaanbaatar and haven’t booked ahead of time you’ll probably have to take the bus as there are only a couple flights a day to Moron on small planes and they usually fill up fast.
A public bus from Ulaanbaatar to Moron costs around $30 US dollars one way while flights costs $200-300 round trip.
Step 2: Moron – Tsagaannuur Village
Once you’ve made it Moron, if you’ve got a guide already they will pick you up at either the bus station or the airport depending on which mode of transport you took, and take care of the rest of your transportation from there.
If you don’t have a guide I’d suggest you stay at a guest house in Moron and inquire there about arranging a driver to take you to Tsagaannuur Village. Public transportation to Tsagaannuur is scarce so you’re better off just hiring a driver.
Hiring a driver from Moron to Tsagaannuur will cost you $100-200 in fuel plus $30-50 dollars a day for the driver.
You can see how this trip can add up quickly, even doing everything independently. It’s part of the reason why all the organized tours to the taiga are so expensive as they have to cover their costs and then make a profit on top of that.
Fuel is astronomically expensive in Mongolia so any type of overland journey by car or bus is going to cost a pretty penny. Transportation costs add up fast when you have to travel long distances, and the journey from Moron to the taiga is over 300 kilometers.
Step 3: Tsagaannuur Village – Tsaatan Camp
If you’re opting to go totally independent on this trip, once in Tsagaannuur Village you can stop by the TCVC to arrange horses and a guide to take you to the Tsaatan camp.
Horse Trekking to the Tsaatan Reindeer Herders
From Tsagaannuur Village the route to the Tsaatan camp is passable only by horse. The ride is 20 – 30 kilometers long and takes anywhere from 3-5 hours to complete depending upon your speed and skill level on horseback.
You’ll be riding on sturdy, sure-footed Mongolian horses over valleys, across streams, through forests, and up and down mountains. Mongolian horses are short and stocky, think Mustang in the US, and know the local terrain better than you ever could. So, when in doubt, trust your horse.
I absolutely loved every second of the ride to and from the Tsaatan camp. Of course, having ridden horses since I was 5 years old I might be a tad biased, but even the other tourists I met at camp who had never ridden before said that the horse ride was way better than the van ride to Tsagaannuur.
You’ll be riding in traditional Russian saddles, which are made of a wood frame wrapped in leather and heavily padded with cushions over the seat. In the front, there’s handle for you to grab on to if you ever feel unbalanced. I found the saddles to be really comfortable.
The only issue you might have is that due to the length of the ride, you might find that your knees become painful or stiff from being bent in the same position for such a long time and absorbing all the shock from the horse’s motion. This is totally normal and happened to me as well as I’m not used to being the saddle for such a continuous amount of time.
To combat this it helps to take your feet out of the stirrups and stretch your legs out straight from time to time. You can also ask your guide to stop and take breaks if you need. We stopped once next to a stream to take a rest and drink some water, but if you need to stop more than once feel free to ask your guide.
If you have a lot of experience riding horses, like I do, you can actually trot and canter a bit during the first part of the ride if you want to. My itinerary said otherwise, but the first third of the trail is both wide and relatively flat as you’re riding in the valley at this point.
After about 45 minutes you enter the forest and the trail narrows as it climbs up the mountain. From then on you’ll only be walking as the terrain is either too steep or too muddy to go at a faster pace.
The guides here are used to dealing with tourists that don’t know how to ride horses, so if you’ve never done something like this before, don’t worry. Most of the tour guides are really good at gauging your riding ability won’t put you in any situation that would compromise your safety.
Accommodation & Facilities in the Tsaatan Community
After several hours in the saddle, finally seeing the Tsaatan teepees and herds of reindeer scattered amongst the valley was the most amazing sight. Upon arriving at the reindeer camp we were greeted by the tribal leaders, Ganba and Purve, who welcomed us into their teepee with milk tea, reindeer cheese, and fresh bread.
When offered food in a local’s home in Mongolia always accept using either both hands, or just your right hand, but never your left. For reasons that neither my guide nor Google has revealed to me, the right hand is the good hand in Mongolian culture and so it is used to receive food and gifts. I’m not sure what the left hand ever did to deserve such a bad reputation, but hey, when in Mongolia, do as the Mongolians do.
As you’re offered tea and snacks by the Tsaatan families, always, always, always at least try everything they give to you. You should do this anytime anyone offers you food in their home no matter what country you’re in, but it’s especially important in Mongolia. It’s considered extremely rude to blatantly turn down an offer of food.
I personally thought that the bread and cheese they served was delicious and could have snacked on it all afternoon. The milk tea, on the other hand, I could live without. Luckily, I’ve had enough of it now after traveling in both Tibet and Mongolia that I’ve gotten more used to it and can drink an entire bowl when offered.
If you don’t like the tea and snacks, just take a sip or a bite, and then leave the rest in the bowl. They won’t be offended as long as you’ve tried it. The families here are used to hosting tourists and are very aware that reindeer cheese and reindeer milk tea are not always compatible with travelers’ palates.
After meeting some of the locals, we were shown to our private teepee for the night. Each teepee comes equipped with 4 beds and a stove in the middle. Beds are made out of logs, with a comforter on top for some padding. Teepees are shared between travelers and guides. Since I was traveling alone, I shared my teepee with my English speaking guide from Tour Mongolia and my local horse guide.
Accommodations at the Tsaatan camp are extremely basic. Like, you’re basically camping, but with a sturdier tent basic. Teepees have log beds, a wood-fired stove with a long pipe that funnels the smoke out a hole in the top of the teepee, and one lightbulb charged by a solar-powered battery during the day.
As for facilities, there are none. The toilet is a hole dug on the side of the mountain with two logs placed on either side as footholds. There’s no shower, no running water, no electricity, no phone service, and no internet. In the rare case of an emergency, a couple of the families have satellite phones you can use to call for help.
As for food and water, water is fetched from the stream that runs through camp and is boiled for drinking. The only food available is what you and your guides bring with you from Tsagaannuur Village. There’s no refrigeration at camp, so if you come in the summer when it’s hot your guide might have to dry the meat you brought to prevent it from spoiling.
If you make the trip independent of an organized tour, meaning you have just a local horse guide and no English speaking guide, you’ll either have to arrange for one of the Tsaatan families to cook for you (which you can do through the TCVC) or bring your own camping stove and food and cook for yourself.
You can also bring your own tent and camp next to the Tsaatan teepees. Just make sure you arrange everything through the TCVC so that they can notify the community that you’re coming.
Expect to be camping for your entire trip to the Tsaatan reindeer herders, regardless of if you’re in a tent or not, and you’ll have a great time!
Things To Do at the Tsaatan Camp
When visiting the Tsaatan families, do not expect them to entertain you. They invite tourists to come and observe their unique way of life, but there’s nothing specifically planned by the families to entertain us tourists. Not that there should be, but just know that the nomadic lifestyle is extremely laid back and that you need to be ok with being more of a quiet observer than an active participant.
Also, an important thing to note is that the reindeer are let loose to graze during the day away from camp, so you’re only time to interact with them is in the morning and evening. That being said, of course, there are some amazing things that you can do at the Tsaatan camp with the assistance of your guide.
1. Meet the locals
Ask your guide to take you around to meet some more of the local Tsaatan families so you can learn more about their lifestyle and culture. Your English speaking guide can help you to communicate.
If you’re interested in the local religion of Shamanism, you can also ask your guide if it’s possible to meet with the local Shaman. As long as they’re available the Shaman will be happy to meet with you and answer any questions you might have about Shamanism.
2. Help with select chores
While most of the chores at the reindeer camp are best handled by the Tsaatan locals, there are a few things you can help with including tieing the reindeer up at night when they come back from grazing, milking the reindeer, and learning how to make bread.
3. Ride a reindeer
If your guide hasn’t already arranged this, you can ask him or her if it’s possible to ride one of the reindeer. This is a once in a lifetime experience that you should definitely take advantage of if given the chance.
Riding a reindeer is a lot different from riding a horse so you’ll need some assistance from your guide to do this. The reindeer I rode was not very subtle about wanting to stay with his herd, so my horse guide had to lead me around the camp on the reindeer. Think of it as a more epic version of a pony ride.
4. Take lots of photos
The Tsaatan camp is a photographer’s paradise. Between the mountains, the teepees and the reindeer it’s pretty much impossible not to get some amazing photos. It’s really easy to get shutter happy when photographing this place.
As always when photographing the local people or their animals make sure that you ask for permission before whipping out your camera and snapping away. It’s just the right thing to do.
You never want to make someone feel like a zoo animal by taking tons of photos without making an effort to personally interact with them first. As an expat in China, I know all too well what that feels like, and it’s not nice.
Another important thing to note. If you’re a professional photographer, or videographer and intend to use your photos and video of the Tsaatan for commercial purposes, you must secure a contract with the Tsaatan ahead of time. Contracts for commercial photography and videography can be obtained through the TCVC.
5. Observe a shamanic ritual ceremony
Shamanic ritual ceremonies are held on either the new or full moon when it’s said that the realms of the ordinary and the spirit are the thinnest. The ceremony often consists of fire, which is believed to be the most rapid form of healing and transformation.
During the ceremony, people put their old beliefs and past turmoil into the fire, which thus turns them over to the spirit and releases them of their old ways. The purpose of the ceremony is to provide a vehicle for transformation and rebirth.
6. Horse trek to the frozen valley
Depending on how many days you’re spending at the Tsaatan camp, you might be able to go trekking on horseback to an area of the taiga called the frozen valley, or frozen lake. There’s nothing super special about this destination as it’s just a small section of the valley that remains covered in snow all year long, but the journey there and back is gorgeous.
It took us 3 hours to ride to the frozen valley, riding up and down mountains and past beautiful taiga lakes. Once there we had a picnic on the grass and picked the most delicious fresh blueberries from the side of the mountain.
If you have two full days at the Tsaatan camp and enjoy horseback riding I would recommend you ask your guide about taking one of the days to go on a horse trek. It’s an amazing way to explore the countryside and experience more of the Mongolian horse-centric lifestyle.
What To Bring On Your Trip to the Mongolian Taiga
Here are the essentials you should make sure to pack for your trip the Tsaatan reindeer herders.
1. Riding Boots
These don’t have to be professional riding boots like an equestrian would have, but you should have some sort of durable fitted boot with a heel. Hiking boots could work as long as they’re not too clunky to fit in the stirrups, but your best bet, if you don’t have leather riding boots, is just to wear rubber rain boots. This is what we rode in when we trekked to the frozen valley as it was too wet to wear our leather boots.
2. Waterproof Boots
You’ll need some sort of waterproof boot for walking around at camp. It’s super wet and boggy there in the summer, so much so that even the local Tsaatan people wear rubber boots. Any rubber rain boot or waterproof hiking boot will suffice.
3. A Long Rain Jacket or Poncho
The weather is super unpredictable on the taiga, so make sure you come prepared for rain. It rained two of the 4 days I spent in the taiga. A long jacket or poncho is best as it will keep you dry even when riding.
4. A Hat with a Brim and Chinstrap
You’ll want a hat for horseback riding. Helmets are not provided and, as a girl, if you don’t have a hat your hair will most definitely get caught on tree branches riding through the forest. I speak from experience. The chinstrap is so that you hat doesn’t fly off when riding.
5. Riding Gloves
You’ll definitely want to bring a pair of gloves with some sort of grip on the palm for horseback riding. They’ll protect your hands both from getting rubs from the reins and from getting scratched up while holding tree branches out of the way and walking through bushes.
6. Down Jacket
If you have a down jacket, bring it. Temperatures dip close to freezing here at night so the early mornings and evenings will be cold, even in the summer. I stayed at the Tsaatan camp in August and definitely wished I had brought my down jacket.
7. Warm Sleeping Bag
You’ll want to bring a sleeping bag rated to 0 degrees F or -18 degrees C. I severely regretted my sleeping bag choice of a 32 degrees F 0 degrees C bag. Luckily the teepee we stayed in had extra blankets to supplement my poor sleeping bag choice.
How Much Does It Cost To Travel To The Tsaatan Reindeer Herders?
All prices are calculated based on a round trip from Ulaanbaatar to the Tsaatan camp and back.
Booking Ahead With A Tour Operator
You’re gonna want to sit down for this one. A 1-2 week tour with a reputable TCVC endorsed tour operator will cost you around $200 – $300 US dollars per person per day. I know, I can hear you gulping through the screen.
This price includes all transportation to and from the taiga, all your accommodation, all your food, as well as the cost of your guides and driver. An all-inclusive trip like this is one that you’ll probably need to save up for.
Planning Independently Through The TCVC
If you’re planning on traveling independently to Tsagaannuur Village and then hiring horses and a local guide to take you to the Tsaatan camp you can expect to pay $50 – $70 per person per day depending on the size of your group.
Booking Through 99 Guesthouse or Another Reputable Hostel
Arranging your tour through Mun from 99 Guesthouse you can expect to pay between $70 – $100 per person per day depending on the size of your group.
Read More From Mongolia
- The Ultimate 10-Day Mongolia Itinerary: Off The Beaten Path Through The Mongolian Taiga with Tour Mongolia
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