Our complete Nepal travel guide: what to see, know and do
If you've made the decision to visit Nepal, great. You'll not regret it. To help you make the most of your holiday, here's our complete Nepal travel guide - full of all the practical information you need to make your trip brilliant.
Mountains, jungles, medieval cities, spiritual sites, travel nirvana and the friendliest people of earth. Yep, there’s a reason why we love Nepal, and you will too.
It’s almost too obvious to speak of the incredible natural scenery, however it really is reason enough to visit Nepal. The soaring Himalayan mountains offer some of the best hiking and mountaineering on the planet, while the steamy plains bordering India provide many of Asia’s best wildlife viewing opportunities. Elsewhere, there’s a perfect array of outdoor activities for those adrenalin seekers among us.
But to us, what makes Nepal so great is the intangible. It’s a spiritual feeling that comes over you the minute you step foot on Nepali soil. You feel it when you're first greeted by an impossibly friendly local - "Namaste" (I bow to the divine in you), you feel it high up in the snowy peaks of the Himalayan mountains, and you feel it in Kathmandu and its stunning historical sites. You feel it everywhere, all the time.
It’s hard to adequately describe the feels, but to truly understand us and Nepal, you have to experience it yourself.
Our complete Nepal travel guide: what to see, know and do
WHAT TO DO IN NEPAL
Unique as they come and different to anywhere we’ve visited, Kathmandu is crazy, chaotic, historic, spiritual, haphazard, enticing and vibrant - yet these words still don’t do this city justice. There are many UNESCO World Heritage sights to see, and equally tasty food to eat!
Learn more about Kathmandu with our comprehensive city guide.
Read about our time exploring Kathmandu's Garden of Dreams.
Pokhara is almost the complete opposite of Kathmandu; relaxed, quiet, with a distinct south east Asian feel. On the banks of Phewa Tal lake, and with the backdrop of the Annapurna Range, it’s no wonder it’s a favourite with backpackers.
Like stepping back in time, this living, breathing open air museum of Newari culture might be a little off the beaten track but well worth the visit.
Nepal’s list of outdoor pursuits is virtually endless.
Famous the world over, the Annapurna Circuit is one of the world’s best treks. Over 17 days, you’ll be treated to striking mountains, fresh air, clear streams, quaint mountain villages and famous Nepali hospitality. If you do one hike in Nepal, make it this. Trust us!
Everest Base Camp
Another famous trek, Everest Base Camp is altogether different than Annapurna, but equally beautiful. Expect to be challenged, especially on the final two days, but expect to witness some of the most beautiful scenery in Nepal.
High in the Sagarmatha National Park lies the Gokyo Lakes, a set of incredible turquoise glacial lakes surrounded by some of the tallest peaks in the world. It’s incredibly beautiful and worth the hike.
Bordering Tibet, Mustang’s terrain reminds of Mars, with high-altitude dessert’s and eroded badlands forming the area. It’s less frequented by tourists but well worth the effort.
CULTUre & HISTORY of nepal
Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Formerly the capital of three kingdoms, each Durbar Square is unique, and made up of temples, idols, statues, open courts and fountains along with other structures.
Boudhanath Stupa is a must visit for anyone wanting to experience Nepal’s spiritual side. Daily, pilgrims visit to walk around the central dome, spin prayer wheels, pray and chant while tourists take it all in.
One of the holiest sites in all of Hinduism, Pashupatinath has existed since 400 A.D and it’s main temple is a masterpiece of Hindu architecture. Only Hindu devotees may enter, but this doesn’t detract from this incredibly spiritual site.
A visit to Kathmandu isn’t complete without a visit to Swayambhunath. Climb the 365 stairs to enjoy stunning views of Kathmandu, and intricate temples complete with Buddhist and Hindu iconography.
Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddha and a must-visit for those interested in Buddhism.
Chitwan National Park
In the steamy lowlands bordering India exists Chitwan National Park. Formally the royal hunting ground, Chitwan is now home to one of the most successful national parks in Asia (zero poaching was achieved in 2015). On safari, you’re likely to see Rhino, Sloth Bears, Crocodile, Gharial, monkeys, and if you’re really lucky, Tiger and Leopard.
That said, please avoid the Suaraha Elephant Breeding Centre - where elephants are bred for elephant rides, and we witnessed some pretty heartbreaking scenes of cruelty. Read more about animal-friendly travel here.
WHEN TO VISIT NEPAL
Nepal has four main seasons revolving around the summer monsoon.
We recommend visiting post-monsoon (late Sept - late Nov), when the weather is clear and dry, the air clean and mountains most visible. Despite being peak season, it really is the best time to enjoy Nepal at it’s finest, wherever you chose to visit.
If this doesn’t suit, Spring (Feb - mid April) can also be a good time to visit. The days are longer and the weather warmer, which make for perfect hiking conditions. However, due to crop burn off, the perfect days are somewhat ruined by a haze which sits over most of Nepal. Visibility, especially in the Kathmandu valley, and Pokhara, can be low, and tourist can be more prone to illness.
The monsoon period occurs during mid-June to mid-September, at which Nepal comes alive. Sure, it’s not great to hike during this period, but you’ll be visiting during a fascinating time when very few tourists are around.
ACCOMMODATION IN NEPAL
If you’re worried about going without a bed in Nepal, don’t be - here are accommodation options literally everywhere. Established tourist centres offer the greatest variety, including Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan, where you’ll find everything from 5 star to basic.
Prices vary dramatically, depending on where you stay and when. Trekking lodges can cost as little as a few dollars a night, while a safari lodge in Chitwan may set you back $250 a night. For the most part, accommodation in Nepal is extremely affordable, and the most common form of accommodation - guest houses, will set charge between $5 - $35 per night.
If you’re travelling outside of high season, prices can drop, so always ask if any discount is applicable.
On the whole, accommodation in Nepal is pretty standard. Most places have a range of rooms, from budget to doubles with en suite. Beware, that cheaper accommodation is of a poor standard; if you’re backpacking, this might be okay, but otherwise, invest a few extra dollars for something nicer.
WE RECOMMEND USING HOTELS COMBINED TO SEARCH AND BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION IN NEPAL
You can also use Agoda and Booking.com to find the accommodation you’re looking for.
Almost all accommodation is referred to as ‘guesthouse’, and there are varying levels of guesthouse in Nepal, from extreme budget to well appointed. Guesthouses that cater to tourists are well organised: most innkeepers speak excellent English, and can arrange anything for you from laundry to trekking/porter hire (which comes in very handy).
Nepal, and especially in Kathmandu, has daily power cuts (load shedding). This often means no hot water or electricity for up to eight hours, so we recommend checking whether your guesthouse of choice has constant hot water and continuous electricity.
Budget guesthouses in Nepal and Pokhara are generally cheap and cheerful, but with enough of the bare essentials to make life okay. Most provide hot running water (if you’re lucky!), flush toilets, clean sheets and blankets.
If you go outside the main tourist areas, be prepared to do with a lot less, including hot water. But for the low prices, they’re generally worth it.
Located predominantly in Kathmandu and Pokhara, mid-range guesthouses are generally larger and better appointed (think fan/Aircon, TV). Prices can be almost triple the price of budget guesthouses, however in many cases, such as after a long trek, it’s absolutely worth it.
HOTELS AND RESORTS
While not of the standard of resorts in south east Asia or Europe, hotels and resorts in Nepal are decent enough. Again, prices are far cheaper than many similar properties around the world, so if you have the budget, stay somewhere nicer.
The accommodation of choice (not that you have any) while trekking through the Himalaya, teahouses are generally comfortable but very basic. Don’t expect anything more than a bed, a pillow and, if you’re lucky a woollen blanket. Amenities are often basic, and showers are more often than not cold (although this is changing with solar technology).
While teahouses may sound dire, you’ve got to remember where you are. And to be honest, they were our favourite type of accommodation while in Nepal, as each night, we huddled around the communal fire with fellow guests, eating food, drinking tea and chatting about the incredible moments we were experiencing.
BE INSPIRED: WHY YOU NEED TO VISIT NEPAL IN 2017
HOW TO GET AROUND NEPAL
Ah, the one part of Nepal we never want to deal with again - transport. Getting around Nepal is tough. Really tough.
While not a big country, it can take hours to travel even small distances. The roads are some of the worst we’ve encountered, and public buses are often crowded, uncomfortable and prone to break down.
Nepal has a shocking road and air safety record, and accidents are very common.
It’s for this reason we recommend always booking a tourist bus to get from A to B. It is possible to hire a motorcycle, charter a taxi, car or 4WD, or catch a flight.
In Nepal, the roads are shocking and windy, the traffic is appalling, buses stop often for meal/tea stops, and a breakdown/flat tyre will no doubt occur. To put bus travel into perspective, we never spent less than 7hrs on a bus; to travel around 200kms (Kathmandu - Pokhara). Be prepared for a slow, long journey!
We’re only going to mention tourist buses because we really feel you shouldn’t take public buses great distances in Nepal (they’re okay in Kathmandu, or into rural areas). Tourist buses connect Kathmandu with Pokhara, Sauraha (Chitwan National Park) and Sonauli, as well as Pokhara with Sauraha and Sonauli. Expect a day (6-9hrs) to travel to any of these destinations.
The buses are in okay condition (read: better than public buses) and you’ll often have your own seat. This means a far more comfortable journey, even with the incredibly long travel times. We found bus travel in Nepal the perfect time to read a book, listen to a podcast or sleep.
Tourist buses often stop twice on the way to their destination, so you’ll never be short of food or water. However, we recommend stocking up on the delicious baked goods from Kathmandu or Pokhara before you depart.
Tourist buses can be booked through agents or accommodation providers, or at bus stations. We do recommend purchasing at least two days in advance, especially in peak periods.
It’s unlikely you’ll need to travel by 4WD unless you’re up in the mountains. It’s a rough and tumble ride, often on extremely dangerous roads. But then again, it’s kinda fun! 4WD rides will often be organised in villages, or with your tour guides/porters.
Despite the relatively small size of Nepal, air travel is an essential part of the transport network. Unfortunately, the air safety record is worse than the road safety record, so you’re essentially placing your life in the hands of the weather gods and pilot skill. We’ve flown twice in Nepal, and both were exhilarating and scary. Be prepared!
As a tourist in Nepal, it’s likely you’ll need to fly at one point; from Kathmandu to Lukla (Everest Base Camp trek), or Jomson to Pokhara (Annapurna Circuit trek). Flights are generally organised as part of a tour/hike, however if booking yourself, look into one of the following companies: Buddha Air, Sita Air and Yeti Airlines. Be prepared for delays, often as a result of bad weather. It’s advisable to organise through a travel agent, and well in advance of your departure date during peak trekking season.
An hour-long scenic loop from Kathmandu, the “Everest Experience” is popular among tourists who want to get an armchair view of Mt. Everest.
There are many companies that offer chartered helicopter services. These are quite expensive, and are often used by the injured, sick, elderly, or those wanting to save several days trekking. It can be quite expensive, so it’s up to you if you see benefit.
PHOTOGRAPHY: 30 PHOTOS THAT WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO VISIT NEPAL
HOW TO GET AROUND CITIES IN NEPAL
Like most of Nepal, the transport network within cities is very limited, slow and outdated. That’s not to say don’t use it, as it can be a lot of fun and a great way to meet the locals.
Taxi’s are the best form of transport within cities. They’re much quicker and more comfortable than a bus, and quite a bit of fun zipping through the chaotic Kathmandu traffic. You’ll almost always have to negotiate a fare, but they’re generally cheap.
Within the cities such as Kathmandu or Pokhara, local buses are a super cheap, but often a crowded alternative to a taxi. It’s an experience, to say the least, for those intrepid souls. Always establish the fare before getting on board.
HOW TO GET THERE/AWAY
Almost all international arrivals into Nepal are through Kathmandu’s international airport. If travelling over peak periods, book flights months in advance as routes fill up. Only a small number of international airlines fly to Nepal, including Qatar, KLM and Malaysian.
Depending on the time of year, the cost of airfares vary. The timing of the high, low and shoulder seasons differ from airline to airline, and don’t always coincide with tourist seasons.
WE RECOMMEND USING SKYSCANNER TO SEARCH AND BOOK YOUR FLIGHTS TO NEPAL
Note: Nepal’s airport is extremely old and inefficient, so be prepared to wait for immigration/visas, baggage, and baggage checks.
A lot of travellers to Nepal combine their visit with a trip to India, via overland. Although we haven’t done this route, we’ve heard from many travellers that it’s relatively pain free. You can book tours/buses through travel agents in Nepal.
There are numerous border crossings between India in the south of Nepal, and can be navigated fairly easily, especially when organised through tour agencies.
The three most common border crossings for tourists include: Sonauli/Belahiya, reachable from Delhi, Varanasi and most of North India (via Gorakhpur); Raxaul/Birgunj, accessible from Bodhgaya and Kolkata via Patna; and Kakarbhitta, serving Darjeeling and Kolkata via Siliguri.
As always, be aware of any scams while crossing the border, including petty theft and money exchange scams.
KEEP READING: TRAVEL LIKE A PRO - OUR PRE DEPARTURE GUIDE
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS FOR NEPAL
All tourists needs a visa to enter Nepal. Visas are available on arrival at Kathmandu’s international airport and at all land border crossings, as long as you have a passport photo and six months left on your passport.
The visa fee must be paid in a foreign currency, and we recommend USD.
There’s no need to be stressed about getting a visa for Nepal - the whole process is easy.
MONEY AND COSTS OF THINGS IN NEPAL
Like similar countries within the region, Nepal is an extremely affordable destination which caters for all types of tourist, from budget through to luxury.
Despite the fact that being a tourist in Nepal is cheap, the costs for hiking/mountaineering can be quite large. Keep that in mind when budgeting your trip.
The official currency of Nepal is the Nepalese Rupee. We recommend carrying a combination of Nepalese Rupee and American dollars at any time.
Nepal has both coins and notes, however we’ve only ever dealt with notes. Notes from from 1 - 1000.
You can find ATMs just about anywhere in most cities and larger towns, however you may struggle in rural areas. Most ATMs have a maximum withdrawal limit of 10,000Rs, however some NABIL machines have a 35,000Rs limit.
The 10,000Rs limit can get very frustrating, and can cost a lot in bank fees, however we do recommend getting out as much money as possible each time you visit an ATM; that way you’ll be covered should any issues arise (political, social etc.).
Credit cards are widely accepted throughout Nepal at most tourist class hotels, restaurants, airlines, and tour agents. Again, fees do apply.
Money exchange offices are readily available just about all the major tourism areas in Nepal, and exchange rates are generally competitive. It’s worth shopping around for the best rate, or negotiating. While all major currencies are accepted, USD, Euros or Pounds are the best.
COST OF THINGS IN NEPAL
FOOD & DRINKS
Snacks | 50 - 200Rs
Inexpensive meal | 180 - 300Rs
Three course meal | 800Rs
Beer | 200Rs
Water | 20Rs
Soft Drink | 50Rs
Note: It’s important to remember that the higher you go, the more expensive things become. So be prepared to pay up to 10 times more than in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
Teahouse/Trekking lodge | 500 - 2,500Rs
Guest house | 400 - 2,500Rs
3 star double room | 2,000 - 8,000Rs
Luxury accommodation | 15,000 - 25,000Rs
Local Bus | 20 - 50Rs
Taxi | 45Rs (per KM)
Tourist Bus | 800 - 2000Rs (Kathmandu - Pokhara/Chitwan)
Everest Experience Flight | $199 USD
Porter/guide | 1,500 - 2,500Rs per day
Organised trek | 6000 - 8000Rs per day
Trekking permit | 50,000Rs
Note: Guides and porters will expect (and we think deserve) a tip at the completion of any trek/tour. The going rate is whatever you feel applicable, however it’s generally about $3-4 USD per day for guides, and $2-3 per day for porters.
IS NEPAL SAFE?
Nepal is generally a very safe country for tourists. In fact, we’ll go as far as saying it’s right up there with the safest places we’ve visited. This doesn’t mean you should become complacent; follow these general rules when travelling in Nepal:
Register with your embassy/Government, especially if you plan on trekking
Avoid trekking alone, especially if you’re a woman
Make yourself aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness when trekking, and follow guidelines for safe acclimatisation
Take photocopies of your passport, tickets, visa and trekking permits
Be aware of your belongings at all times, petty theft does occur in many popular tourist sites
While Nepalis are extremely nice, some exist to scam the many tourists. While we didn’t encounter any scams, here are some common scams to be aware of, according to Lonely Planet:
Deals offered by gem dealers that involve you buying stones to sell for a ‘vast profit’ at home. The dealers normally claim they are not able to export the stones without paying heavy taxes, so you take them and meet another dealer when you get home, who will sell them to a local contact and you both share the profit. Except they don’t. And you don’t.
Children or young mothers asking for milk. You buy the powdered milk at a designated store at an inflated price, the child then returns the milk and pockets some of the mark-up.
Be wary of kids who seem to know the capital of any country you can think of; they are charming but a request for money will arrive at some point.
‘Holy men’ who do their best to plant a tika (a red paste denoting a blessing) on your forehead, only to then demand significant payment.
Credit card scams are not unheard of; travellers have bought souvenirs and then found thousands of dollars worth of internet porn subscriptions chalked up on their bill.
In 2015, Nepal experienced a large earthquake which killed over 9,000 people. Earthquakes, and as a result, landslides, are common. When visiting, be on alert for any sign of danger and follow the locals lead if something does occur. If you're concerned, read our post on what Nepal's like now.
Transport options in Nepal can be dangerous, with poor infrastructure, poor equipment and poor safety regulations meaning accidents are common. In many ways, if you want to get anywhere, you’ve got to place your life in your driver/pilots hands. Mitigate the likelihood by always taking tourist buses, or reputable airlines.
You need to take your health seriously in Nepal, especially when trekking. Altitude sickness is a thing here; ignore the symptoms at your own peril. When visiting Nepal, we can’t emphasise enough the need to purchase travel insurance.
BOOK WORLD NOMADS TRAVEL INSURANCE TODAY
Kathmandu has the best facilities in the country, however standards drop the further you get out of the city. In mountainous areas, trekkers who do become unwell are generally evacuated to Kathmandu or Pokhara for further treatment.
We recommend speaking with your GP and obtaining medication BEFORE you travel to Nepal. Essential antibiotics, pain relief, anti-inflammatory and acclimatisation medication are essential. Fortunately, there are many chemists in Kathmandu offering a vast range of medication, and this can be a good place to stock up if in need.
Altitude sickness becomes a major risk to humans above 2,500m and kills many trekkers each year. Symptoms include feeling short of breath, headaches, vomiting, difficulty sleeping, gastro, and the onset of fluid on the lungs (heaving, relentless coughing).
Having personally dealt with severe altitude sickness while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, we can’t stress the need to learn the symptoms and treatment methods.
Make sure you acclimatise to the altitude (ie. don’t rush), take diamox, and if any symptoms occur, speak with your guide, or a doctor.
There are numerous border crossings between India in the south of Nepal, and can be navigated fairly easily, especially when organised through tour agencies. The three most common border crossings for tourists include: Sonauli/Belahiya, reachable from Delhi, Varanasi and most of North India (via Gorakhpur); Raxaul/Birgunj, accessible from Bodhgaya and Kolkata via Patna; and Kakarbhitta, serving Darjeeling and Kolkata via Siliguri.
As always, be aware of any scams while crossing the border, including petty theft and money exchange scams.
INTERNET & POWER
Power in Nepal
Load shedding is a fact of life in Nepal, and one which can be very frustrating for tourists. Be prepared for daily power cuts, sometimes up to 8-16 hrs per day.
Hotels will post a schedule of power cut times, so keep an eye out or ask your hotelier. If you’re worried, book a hotel/guesthouse with a generator.
Check out this website for all load shedding dates and times.
Internet in Nepal
Don’t expect super fast internet in Nepal. Internet access is available in almost all cities and towns, and is becoming more widely available on main trekking routes. In Kathmandu, many cafes offer a fast connection, but are at the mercy of load shedding. Nepal does have 3G phone reception and sim cards are very cheap to purchase. We recommend grabbing a sim card with data to avoid using wi-fi services.
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