Central Mongolia is a land of contrasts. At its heart is Ulan Bator, the country’s capital and largest city where ancient tradition and 21st century democracy coexist, and traditional yurts and Buddhist monasteries sit side by side with modern high rises to create a fascinating juxtaposition. It is worth a visit to the National Museum, which houses an excellent overview of Mongolia’s history and culture, as well as the Gandan Monastery, where Buddhist blessings and the art of sand mandala are experienced first hand.

Drive outside of Ulan Bator, and a few hills later, find the vast landscapes of central Mongolia and Khan Khentii. This is Chinggis Khan territory, as evident by the massive Chinggis Khan Esquestrian Statue in Tsonjin Boldog outside of Ulan Bator, so it is only appropriate that this area is best explored by horseback. Named for the Khentii Mountain Range and home of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, the dramatic landscapes of mountainous terrain descend into forests surrounded by wildflowers and marshlands, revealing stunning historical sites, unique geological formations, and natural habitats of various indigenous bird and plant life. This is the locals’ playground, begging to be trekked and perfect for rock climbing, swimming, rafting, camping, and soaking in hot springs. A true gem within Khan Khentii—accessible only by foot, horse, or helicopter—is Hagiin Har Lake. Recently known only to local hunters and free from any human settlers, this pristine lake is one of the country’s best-kept secrets and the perfect place to experience the true wilderness of central Mongolia.