Nepal travel tips: everything you need to know before visiting
Looking for Nepal travel tips? You've come to the perfect place! Here are all the essential things you need to know before you visit Nepal.
If you've been following our blog for a while, you already know that Nepal is our favourite country in the world.
From the rabbit warren of Kathmandu to the dramatic peaks of the world's tallest mountains, and the friendly smiles locals to the delicious belly-warming food - there's just so much to love about this beautiful country.
But before you start planning your own epic Nepal experiences, it can help to know a little more about what to expect - especially from those who have been before! Here's everything we wish we had known before our Nepal travels, to help you plan the best trip ever.
everything you need to know before visiting Nepal
VISAS AND ENTRY REQUIREMENTS for nepal
ALL TOURISTS REQUIRE A VISA TO ENTER NEPAL
These are available on arrival at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International airport as well as all land border crossings. Single-entry visas are available for 15/30/90 days, and (at 8/1/2018) cost US$25/40/100.
You’ll need to ensure you have a passport photo with you and at least six months left on your passport. We can vouch that the on-arrival process is a smooth one, however, if you’re worried you can also apply for a visa online up to 15 days before your arrival.
YOU CAN EXTEND YOUR VISA PRETTY EASILY
It only took a couple of days before we realised we’d fallen head over heels for Nepal and wanted to extend our 30 day visa to spend more time there. If you need to do the same, the process goes a little something like this:
- Fill in this visa extension form on the Nepal Immigration website
- Print the confirmation
- Take the confirmation, a copy of your passport, a passport photo, and your passport with you to the Immigration office (we went to the one in Pokhara, but there’s also one in Kathmandu too).
- Be prepared to wait, particularly if there are other people being served too. Our whole process took a few hours in total!
- Quick interview with an immigration officer, pay US$30 for a 15-day extension (longer options are also available), wait a little longer, then…
- You’re set!
Note: you’ll probably come across many backpackers who are tempted to simply overstay their visa as the fine is quite cheap at US$3 per day, plus a US$2 per day extension fee (so $5 altogether) - however we definitely don’t recommend risking an overstay on your record, in case it causes further issues down the line (like say, you want to come back again another time!).
Nepal's currency is the Nepalese Rupee (NPR). At the time of publishing (7 March 2018), the exchange is roughly:
1 GBP - 145.02.51 NPR // 1 USD - 104.32 NPR
Keep up to date on the latest currency conversion at xe.com
EFTPOS and ATMs are widely available in big cities, but not in rural areas
You won't have any troubles getting money out in city areas like Kathmandu or Pokhara, however ATMs and card facilities become far less frequent as you move out of them. If you're going hiking for a couple of weeks, plan ahead and take all the cash you'll need out ahead of time (or you're going to be very hungry!). Note: Most ATMs have a maximum withdrawal limit of 10,000NPRs, however some NABIL machines have a 35,000NPR limit.
NEPAL IS VERY AFFORDABLE
Nepal is one of those destinations that caters to budgets of all sizes, from cheap backpacker right through to luxury stays. Travelling Nepal on a budget is definitely do-able (we did!), and chances are you won't need to spend more than about $30 per day. Just be aware that organised treks tend to be pretty expensive, so you'll need to factor that into your planning.
As a guide, here's what some things cost in Nepal:
Cup of chai ~ 70 NPR
A cold beer ~ 200-300 NPR
Simple meal ~ 300-400 NPR
A dorm room in a Kathmandu hostel ~ £5-10
Check out our Nepal travel guide for a more comprehensive breakdown of what things cost.
TIPS ARE WELCOME BUT NOT EXPECTED
Officially, there isn't a strong tipping culture in Nepal (aside from those who work in the trekking sector) - however they are greatly appreciated by the local population. Rounding payments up for taxi and rickshaw drivers is fine, and if a 10% service charge isn't included on bills already, tipping for service in restaurants is at your discretion.
The exception to this is trekking, where it is customary to tip and additional 10-15% for each guide and port to thank them for a job well done.
YOU CAN'T TAKE MONEY OUT OF THE COUNTRY
While exchanging your money in Nepal is totally fine, be sure to exchange all of your Nepalese Rupees back to your own currency before you leave. It’s actually illegal to take the currency out of the country, and Nepalese Rupees aren’t accepted (or exchanged) anywhere else.
YOU CAN HAGGLE - BUT ALWAYS BE RESPECTFUL
Haggling is a totally normal, and expected, part of life in Nepal - as long as it's done with respect. If you're after a specific item, walk around a few market stalls and gauge what the general asking price for the item, before negotiating with the one you'd like. Nepal is a respect-based culture, so be sure to remain courteous and friendly, and always keep
Plan your trip: our complete nepal travel guide: what to see, know, and do
TREKKING IN NEPAL
YOU NEED A TREKKING PERMIT
If you want to trek in any of Nepal’s national parks (duh, of course you do), you need to organise a TIMS (Trekkers Information Management Systems) card. This is basically a trekking card for all hikes in the country, while you’ll also need specific permits for some of the more remote treks (like Mustang, Dolpa, and Kanchanjunga). If you’re booked on a group trek, the tour operator should organise this on your behalf, however, trekkers going it alone will need to register at the Nepal Tourism Office.
MAKE SURE YOU CHECK THE BEST TIME TO TREK IN NEPAL
Nepal’s seasons vary dramatically and tend to revolve around the summer monsoon period. For trekking, we recommend timing your visit for the post-monsoon season (late September to late November) when the weather is clear and dry, and the visibility to the mountains is clearest. While peak season means it will be busier, now really is the best time to enjoy Nepal at it’s absolute finest.
If you’re keen to avoid the crowds, Spring (February to April) can also be a good time to visit, with long days and warm weather. Be aware that this is also the time for crop burn-offs, which can mean that the visibility of the mountains can be pretty average, especially in the Kathmandu valley and Pokhara areas.
BUY YOUR HIKING CLOTHES IN KATHMANDU
Unless you're already a keen hiker with all of the gear already, there’s absolutely no need to go and buy oodles of expensive mountain gear BEFORE you arrive in Kathmandu. The tourist area of Thamel is basically the hiking clothing capital of the world, and (not that we condone it!) the Nepalese are masters at producing brilliant quality replicas of well-known outdoor brands, for a fraction of the original cost.
Our advice? Buy the important stuff (aka the stuff that will keep you warm and alive, and you absolutely need to have in perfect quality), like sturdy hiking boots, an appropriate down jacket, and a few pairs of high-quality woollen thermals before you arrive, and then get everything else there. We bought all our fleece-lined pants, polar-fleece jackets, beanies, gloves, and scarves in Thamel and were snug as mountain yaks (is that a thing?!) the entire way through the Annapurna Circuit.
ALWAYS TREK WITH A GUIDE OR GROUP
While you may be tempted to saunter off into the mountains to find yourself, you need to remember that these mountains are wild, unpredictable, and the altitude is a serious matter. Unfortunately, despite Nepal generally being a very safe country, there have also been a number of unexplained disappearances of solo trekkers in recent years. At the very least, hire yourself a guide from a reputable trekking agency in Kathmandu, who can help you with registering your permits, navigation and acclimatisation too.
Trekking with a group also gives you a ready-made friendship and support group, which is invaluable on tough days where the ascent feels endless. The evenings we spent playing cards by the crackling fire in various teahouses with our group are some of our favourite mountain memories too!
Nepal trekking: our top tips for conquering the Annapurna Circuit
YOUR HIKE WILL BE FREEZING AT TIMES, REGARDLESS OF SEASON
Even if you’re travelling to Nepal in the height of summer humidity, be aware that any hike above 3,000m in altitude will be cold. The higher you climb, the colder the air around you will be - and as you approach the summit of Everest Base Camp or Thorong La Pass (Annapurna Circuit), temperatures can be -10c all year around. Be prepared; thermals and an adequate jacket are a must.
ALTITUDE SICKNESS IS NO JOKE
If you’ve been following us for a while, you’d already know all about Mim’s battles with altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. For those who haven’t heard the tale yet: she got advanced altitude sickness which progressed into pulmonary oedema (your lungs fill up with blood - gross, and life-threatening), and had to be evacuated off the mountain pretty quickly.
This is an extreme case, sure, but it’s also not uncommon. Before you head off on your trek, visit the doctor to get a prescription for Diamox, and discuss how best to manage altitude. While on the mountain, drink lots of water, continue to eat even if you lose your appetite, and go slow. Successful mountain summits are all about channelling the tortoise - slow and steady.
FOOD AND DRINK in Nepal
DHAL BHAT POWER, 24 HOUR
This is a delicious traditional meal found throughout Nepal, India, and Bangladesh; a heavy lentil-based soup eaten with rice, curry, veggies and spices that locals will eat at least once a day. Seriously. It's a heavy, stomach-lining meal designed to give power up the mountain or a day's work. We asked our guides what their favourite meal was and the answer was always the same: Dhal Bhat.
THE FOOD IS EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD
Influenced by its Indian and Tibetan neighbours, Nepalese cuisine is rich in flavour, aroma, and basically absolutely bloody delicious. Rice, lentils, chickpeas and corns are used extensively (hooray, gluten-free eaters!), and it's possible to have an extremely filling, flavoursome meal for a few dollars.
If you're craving a taste of home, the restaurants in Thamel are set up to cater for travellers, and you'll find plenty of familiar meals. After 3 months of travelling through Southeast Asia (and battling a parasite), we landed in Nepal and promptly enjoyed one of the best chicken Cordon Bleu's of our entire lives (this was pre flexi-vegetarian days!).
EAT ALL THE MOMOS
Momos, Nepal's version of the dumpling but with curry spices, are worth making the trip for alone. Delicious steamed (or fried, if you're feeling gluttonous!) buns full of either ground meat, veggies, or cheese, these are honestly so tasty we challenge you to try and stop at just one plate. Yangling, in our opinion, serves up the best ones!
MCDONALDS DOESN'T EXIST HERE
This is one country that is blessedly free from the Golden Arches, and we’re mighty happy about it! The food in Nepal is seriously good, and if the burger cravings become too strong many of the restaurants in Thamel cater to western taste buds extremely well.
Discover why you need to visit Nepal
CULTURE in nepal
NEPAL IS FULL OF UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
If it’s a cultural extravaganza you’re after, Nepal is not going to disappoint! This is the birthplace of Buddha, and the home of ancient kingdoms and spirituality, and there are many World Heritage sites scattered throughout the country. Highlights include the Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan Durbar Squares (formerly royal kingdoms), the ancient Swayambhunath and Boudhanath Buddhist Stupas, Pashupatinath hindu temple, Lumbini (the birthplace of Buddha himself), and the conservation success story of the Chitwan national park.
AVOID FAKE TOURIST GUIDES
Keep an eye out for over-friendly locals at popular tourist spots around Kathmandu, like the Durbar Squares, Pashupatinath, and Swayambhunath and Boudhanath Stupas, who approach you and begin sharing the history of the site. Often these are unofficial touts, and once they've finished your "tour", they'll demand money for their time. In short, if someone approaches you and begins to lecture you about the place you're at, politely cut them off and ask how much their tour is going to cost you.
IT'S A RIGHT-HANDED WORLD
In Nepal (and many other neighbouring Asian countries), the left hand is seen, literally, as the poop hand. Its purpose is solely reserved for more hygienic (aka wiping after the toilet) times, while your right is dedicated to eating, hand-shaking, and other polite, social functions. Don’t cause offence or embarrassment by getting them confused!
ALWAYS DRESS APPROPRIATELY (ESPECIALLY AT TEMPLES)
Religion is a hugely important part of the local culture here, and the Nepalese tend to be quite conservative when it comes to their dress. Cover those knees and shoulders!
BE AWARE OF TEMPLE CUSTOMS
Nepal is a deeply spiritual and religious country. When visiting its holy sites and temples, it’s important to take note of a few basic customs to show your respect:
- Always navigate clockwise around temples - and yes, that means walk around the temple again to get to something behind you, if needed!
- Always remove your shoes when entering temples or a local’s home. Shoes are considered the most degrading form of clothing, so this is an important one
- Some temples are only accessible to those who follow Hinduism or Buddhism. Make sure you read the signage before you go ahead and walk in
- Always check if it’s alright to take photographs inside temples - this is generally sacred ground, and while some will allow it, others will ask you to put your camera away
- Keep your displays of affection to a minimum, and keep your voice down - the world doesn’t need Logan Paul 2.0
nepal inspiration: 30 photos that will make you want to visit Nepal
GENERAL HEALTH AND SAFETY in nepal
IT'S PRETTY SAFE
Overall, Nepal is ranked as one of the safer countriesfor travel. Politically, after a few years of Maoist turmoil, the country has now made great strides in political stability and is largely peaceful, although demonstrations might still occur (don’t get involved in these).
The locals here are friendly and generous and realise that tourism is a mainstay of their economy. Travellers will find themselves welcomed warmly, and with little to worry about in terms of personal safety. Keep normal safety precautions in mind; tell people where you’re going, don’t trek alone or walk by yourself late at night, keep your valuables out of sight, and avoid travelling on night buses. For women, the risk of sexual harassment is quite low, but it’s still advised that you don’t trek solo with a male guide and keep your clothing conservative.
KATHMANDU'S AIR ISN'T THE CLEANEST
Despite being known for its pristine landscapes and mountain ranges, sadly Nepal’s air quality is some of the worst in the world. This is particularly true for Kathmandu, which was named as the 7th most polluted city in the world in 2017. Here, you’ll find streets crowded with traffic, smoke, dust, and potholes, and sadly, a growing level of plastic pollution (although local organisations like Clean Up Nepal are working to address it).
If you’re sensitive to irritants in the air, it might be worth grabbing a face mask for particularly hazy days. Thankfully though, once you head out of the city and into the mountains the air quality improves drastically.
DON'T DRINK THE TAP WATER
Crisp glacials streams in the mountains aside, it won’t take you long to realise that the overall water quality in Nepal (particularly in Kathmandu) isn’t the greatest. Using it to shower is totally fine, but be warned that the water from the tap can be a funny colour and often smells…. different.
There’s nothing worse than trying to adventure when you have Nepal-belly (trust us, we’ve been there), so be safe and take extra precautions. Most trekking paths will have clean water tanks, but we recommend still using water purification tablets or investing in a SteriPen or Water To Go bottle too.
ALWAYS PACK TOILET PAPER
This pretty much extends to most countries in Asia and the subcontinent; a roll of toilet paper in your day pack will NEVER be something you regret. Whether it’s for toilet time when there’s no paper in sight, to sneeze into on dusty roads, or to wipe grubby fingers before food, you’ll be grateful it’s there every. single. time.
THE SOONER YOU GET OVER SQUATTING, THE BETTER
When you’re used to sitting on a porcelain throne, squatting over a somewhat unsavoury hole in the ground for toilet time can be a little very off-putting the first few times. But the reality is that squat toilets are common throughout this part of the world, and the sooner you can get over the squeamishness of it all and get on with doing your business, the better. Plus, did you know that squatting is actually better for you and your insides?
TAKE HAND SANITISER
Clean water isn’t always available, not all bathrooms will have sinks, and long days of trekking will definitely leave you grubby. Carrying a bottle of hand sanitiser in your daypack means you’ll always be able to clean your hands before meals or post-toilet with no stress at all.
YOU REALLY DO NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE
We’re always surprised by how many people are still travelling these days without travel insurance. To us, it’s as essential to travel as buying a plane ticket, backpack or accommodation, and we’ve never gone without it. Sure, it might be a policy just in case the ‘worst case’ moments appear, but as the 2015 earthquake shows: the unexpected can, and does, happen.
Adequate insurance provides you with medical coverage if you get sick or break your leg on the side of a mountain, your camera full of epic hiking shots is damaged or stolen, your flights are cancelled, or you get caught up in a natural disaster. It’s an insurance against potential issues that arise when you’re on the road, and can save your life (or at the very least, a lifetime of debt).
READ MORE: WHY YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE
ELECTRICITY AND STAYING CONNECTED
BE AWARE OF THE LOADSHEDDING SCHEDULE
Nepal’s power production doesn’t always meet the demands of its almost 30 million residents, which means that planned rolling power outages (load shedding) occur every day to mitigate this. These happen on a schedule, so be sure to ask your host or hotel reception for the blackout times to help you plan around them. Generally they happen in the early morning and again in the afternoon, and last for a few hours at a time. Note that when the power goes off, the wifi will as well!
Most big hotels, hostels and restaurants operate using a backup generator, so you may not have any issues, but it’s worth making sure you plan charging your gear (especially cameras!) around the blackouts just in case. A flashlight is also advisable in case blackouts extend to darker hours.
A solar-powered charger, like this one by Anker is also very handy for keeping your mobile charged in a pinch - plus you can keep your gear charging as you hike through the mountains by attaching it to the front of your daypack!
BUY A LOCAL SIM AND YOU WON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT POWER CUTS
If you’re worried about staying connected when the wifi drops out, it’s definitely worth investing in a local sim card. A starter sim with NCell will set you back about NPR99 (and comes with some starter credit) and you can top them up with as much data as you like on the cheap. As a guide, 1GB of data is around NPR790, and 5GB comes in at NPR2,250. We found having our own sim was invaluable in those times when the wifi was off for longer than expected or we had to send an urgent email right as it crashed (the joys of travelling with your business!).
HOW TO GET TO NEPAL
CROSSING LAND BORDERS
There are numerous border crossings between India in the south of Nepal, and these 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.
ARRIVING BY AIR
If you're not entering via a land crossing, your arrival into Nepal will happen via Tribhuvan, Kathmandu's International Airport. If you're travelling over peak periods, book your flights a few months in advance as routes will fill up. Only a small number of international airlines fly to Nepal, including Qatar, KLM and Malaysian.
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.
accommodation in nepal
THE ACCOMMODATION IS VARIED AND PLENTIFUL
Nepal is no stranger to tourists, and no matter where you are, you'll find a place to rest your head at night. You'll find the greatest variety of options in the most popular tourist spots of Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Chitwan, where everything from luxurious 5-star accommodation to basic guesthouses is available.
Prices will vary quite substantially across the trekking seasons and regions, but for the most part accommodation here is extremely affordable. Teahouses on trekking paths can cost as little as a few dollars a night, while a safari lodge in Chitwan may set you back $250 a night. The most common form of accommodation - guest houses - will set you back between $5 - $35 per night.
If you’re travelling outside of high season, prices can drop, so always ask if any discount is applicable.
how to get around nepal
BUS TRANSPORT IS THE MOST COMMON WAY TO GET AROUND
Ah, the one part of Nepal we never want to deal with again - transport.
Getting around Nepal is tough. Really tough.
Tourist buses are the most common way to get between cities in Nepal, and the journeys can be long and arduous. The roads are shocking and winding, 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 making mention of tourist buses because we really feel you shouldn’t take public buses great distances in Nepal (though they're fine around Kathmandu).
You'll need to organise your bus tickets a couple of days in advance, and they can be booked through agents or accommodation providers, or at bus stations.
Do you have any other Nepal travel tips? Anything we've missed? Let us know in the comments below and help out your fellow travellers.
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