Mongolia has remained unchanged for centuries and epitomizes the great outdoors. An eco-tourist’s paradise, the country is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience for the hardy explorer, although if you’re looking for comfort and Western luxuries, it’s best to travel elsewhere. The most popular activity is horseback riding, the traditional way to get around and the best way to understand Mongolia, its diverse people and their lives in this harsh, breathtaking land.

Hiking, walking, birding, wildlife watching, game fishing, and adventure sports such as whitewater rafting, mountain trekking and biking all have a special flavor here. The rivers rush through steep gorges, the endless steppes stretch past the horizons and lush larch and pine forests are home to a variety of animals and bird species, many of which are unique to the region. Mongolia’s western region holds Alpine heights and the magnificent Holy Peaks of Altai Tavan Bogd which boast challenging climbs to glacier-topped peaks inhabited by snow leopards, golden eagles, ibex, and blue sheep.

Riding experiences here come in two forms, camel treks in the Gobi Desert and horseback safaris through the rest of the country, with the region around the startlingly blue Lake Khovsgol in northern Mongolia one of the most popular areas for tours on horseback. Horseback rides to the minority, nomadic tribes living in settlements around the lake give a chance to explore the traditional customs and lifestyles of these people, and to interact with friendly local families. If horses aren’t your preferred means of transportation, jeep tours of the lake and its residents can be taken on Tours Mongolia. The vast spaces and unique natural formations of the mysterious Gobi Desert are best seen by camel, taking in visits to the hospitable desert tribes with Selena Travel.

The amazing biodiversity in Mongolia may come as a surprise when first experienced, but its huge variety of fauna have had the land mostly to itself for countless millennia. Rare and endangered species include the Gobi bear, the snow leopard and more than 30 species of raptors including the golden eagle, the massive Mongolian grouse and the black vulture. Bird-watching enthusiasts must-visit the Gun Galuut Nature Reserve near Ulan Bator for nine species on the World Red list threatened for extinction, including the white-napped and Siberian cranes. Selena Tours, based in Ulan Bator, runs jeep tours to the reserve, including boat trips on Lake Ikh Gun and visits to local nomadic families.

Walking, trekking and hiking exists all over Mongolia, from the Bogdkhan Mountains and Terelj National Park, both reasonable drives from the capital, to the Gobi Steppes and the isolated Khan Khentii protected area near sacred Burkhan Khaldun peak, the legendary birthplace of Genghis Khan. Mongolia Trekking offers mountaineering and adventure options, as well as hiking, walking tours and winter sports in season. For trekking to the spectacular Altai Mountains or visits to the Kazakh and Tuvan nomadic families, Hovd Tours is a good choice.

Darhad Valley lies just south of Mongolia’s border with Russian Siberia and is inhabited by some of the hardiest people on earth. Their nomadic lifestyle includes seasonal movements of vast herds of yaks, camels, sheep, reindeer, goats, and cattle across the mountain passes and steppes, relying only on ponies for personal transport. Lakes, two rushing rivers, marshes, and rugged wildernesses are surrounding by jagged peaks, and the region is a haven for fishing, with WadersOn offering visits to a variety of locales, both in the region and along the route to the valley.

Eco-tourism is as good as it gets here, with Ger to Ger specialists in nomadic-centric, multi-day trips in all four of Mongolia’s regions. Travelers can choose between organized group tours or custom itineraries taking in all the natural highlights, as well as diverse tribal hotspots and outdoor activities such as riding, trekking, walking, and swimming in the crystal clear lakes. A highlight in the southern region is trekking to the amazing prehistoric ocean canyons once inhabited by tyrannosaurus and other dinosaurs, and the geological formations here are unique to the region. Ih Gazrin Chuluu is another strictly protected area for its Noble Rock Fortress full of geological formations resembling animals, humans and according to the local tribes people, Genghis Khan himself.