Nepal is home to some of the most extraordinary landscapes, cultural sites, and people in the entire world. I’ve traveled to many corners of the globe, and nothing beats Nepal. This Nepal travel guide is designed to give you all the information you need to have an unforgettable journey across one of the globes most incredible countries. These Nepal travel tips will not only help you plan your trip but fit into the culture here.
Practical Nepal Travel Advice
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty Nepal travel guide, first, let’s get an overview of the country. The official language of Nepal is Nepalese (similar to Hindi), but there are 123 different languages in this tiny nation. Their currency is the Nepalese Rupee (current Nepalese Rupee exchange rate is found here). Before you get to Nepal, you can carry USD, since the Rupee is hard to find outside of the immediate area. There are ATMs at the airport, so you can grab a little cash after you get through customs.
Located in South Asia, just north of India and butting against China, Nepal is a land-locked country that is stuffed with diversity. The southern portion of Nepal is actually tropical lowlands. While the northern reaches are home to the Himalaya, the world’s tallest, most majestic mountain range. There is also a high-desert in Nepal’s Mustang region.
What is the Climate Like in Nepal?
For such a small nation, Nepal is quite diverse, covering a range of eco-systems and weather patterns. In the mountains, there is a distinct wet and dry season. Winters are typically frigid and most tourism in the mountain regions is not available. The summer (June through September) marks the start of the rainy season in the mountains, and trekking can be dangerous due to landslides.
During the spring and fall months, the weather is quite mild throughout the country. In the lowlands, the summer months can be unbearable, wet, and rainy – making travel difficult. During the winter, temperatures are milder in the southern lowlands, making it an ideal time for a safari.
When to Visit Nepal
It is certainly possible to visit Nepal throughout the year. However, the ideal time to visit Nepal largely depends on what activities you plan to do. If you want to head to the south and visit Chitwan National Park for wildlife spotting or Lumbini (the birthplace of Buddha) the winter may be a better time go.
If you plan on trekking or climbing peaks, there are two distinct seasons. Spring (March through May) is the mountaineering season. This is the best time to visit Nepal if you want to see a mountaineering base camp in action. Temperatures are cooler (it snowed and was quite cold when we visited), but the views are stunning and it is still possible to trek in Nepal. Since the rains haven’t come yet, sometimes the views can be hazy or smoggy, but we didn’t notice that when we visited in spring.
Late September through November is the official trekking season. Teahouses and lodges are typically running at full capacity and trails are crowded. However, the weather is warmer than in the spring and the skies are typically clear most of the day (as opposed to cloudy afternoons in the spring).
Do I Need a Nepal Travel Visa?
Certain citizens of different countries are required to obtain a visa to visit Nepal. Most people can get a visa on arrival. Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, the only “major” international airport in the country, used to be a complete cluster. Long, confusing customs “lines” (read: a pile of people) and multiple stamps made everything horrifically confusing.
Today the process is much simpler. There are (sometimes) working computers you can get your visa application filled out. Next, you’ll want to go to the cashier (clearly labeled) and pay for your visa. Bring cash, preferably USD and check the Nepal Immigration Website for the most up-to-date prices. They’ll hand you a receipt, then you bring the whole pile of papers, plus your passport to a desk and you’re ready to rock.
Is Nepal Safe to Visit?
A lot of people have asked me if it’s safe to travel as a female to Nepal. My answer is 100% yes. Unlike its neighbor to the south, Nepal is quite safe for women. Incidents involving sexual harassment or other issues are few and far between. They do exist though, especially in the southern regions, and it’s perfectly okay to make a huge scene about it. Typically, whatever is going on will immediately stop. I never felt unsafe while traveling in Nepal.
In terms of additional safety concerns, such as political strikes, natural disasters, and other things, Nepal is still quite safe. Political protests are quite normal, and the Nepalese do quite a bit to keep tourists and visitors out of harm’s way.
Of course, it’s always important to watch your belongings, don’t flash money and wealth, and be alert, but in general, Nepal does not have an issue with violent crime.
Getting Medicine and Medical Help in Nepal
Kathmandu has a variety of hospitals which are mostly close to western standards. As a whole, Nepal is well-adopted to tourism and ready to handle the influx of tourists who may become ill.
If you get altitude sickness in Nepal, you may need a helicopter evacuation. This requires special insurance (see below). Typically, choppers will evacuate you to the nearest hospital in the capital of Kathmandu. Doctors are well-versed in treating altitude sickness and other common ailments of the region. However, if you are seriously ill or require surgery, you may have to be evacuated to a neighboring country that can handle the case.
Finding medicine in Nepal is quite easy. I came down with a nasty case of the Khumbu Cough (a high-altitude cough induced by the dry, thin air). I ran out of cough medicine and needed to re-up in Kathmandu. It was easy to find a pharmacy and have them help me select medicine. The whole bottle costed less than a dollar and had me well on my way to feeling better in no time. However, always bring some medicine to treat common ailments, as well as any prescriptions from home.
Travel Insurance for Nepal
It’s always a good idea to get traveler’s insurance. We actually needed it in Nepal, when our luggage got lost en route. However, if you’re planning on doing any adventurous activity in Nepal, such as trekking, skydiving, climbing, or mountaineering, then you will certainly want to carry an insurance policy that not only covers you for the activity you are doing but the elevation you are doing it at.
For trekking, it’s important to have helicopter rescue insurance for the height at which you are traveling. World Nomads offers reasonable plans that work well and aren’t a hassle to deal with.
Trekking in Nepal? Read this first:
- How to Hire a Local Guide in Nepal
- Incredible Trekking Tips for Your Nepal Adventure
- How to Train for Everest Basecamp Like a Champ
Where to Stay in Nepal
Everyone flying into Nepal will make their way to Kathmandu. Known as “Dust-man-du” by the locals, Kathmandu seems like a hectic place for the uninitiated. Therefore, you’ll certainly want to have some accommodation booked before you touch the ground.
Kathmandu is plagued by rolling blackouts. This means that food sanitation often suffers and it isn’t uncommon to get a case of traveler’s tummy. We didn’t experience any problems, but we also too some precautions in order to better our chances. First, we stayed in a hotel with a backup generator.
The tourist district of Kathmandu, called Thamel, is used to managing the rolling blackouts. The hotels and hostels in Thamel are used to dealing with tourists and are conscious of providing safe food, plenty of shopping, and fresh drinking water. Accommodation ranges from a few bucks a night for a bunk to a four-star experience.
What to Do in Nepal
One of the most surprising Nepal travel tips is to plan to do more than just trek. Nepal is home to 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, offers a variety of different cultural regions to explore, and there are adventure travel opportunities around every corner. Here is a look at a few cities worth spending some time in.
Wander the Cultural Sites of Kathmandu
Kathmandu is one of the more surprising cities I’ve visited. As a nature lover, bustling capital cities typically give me quite a bit of anxiety. Yes, the dusty roads, constant construction, and crowded streets are a lot to take in, but Kathmandu is actually a pleasant place to visit. There are 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites here, each one has its own flavor.
Visit the Adventure Capital of Pokhara
Pokhara, located on the scenic Phewa Tal Lake, is the adventure hub of Nepal. You can indulge in plenty of adventurous things to do in Nepal right in Pokhara. Canoe the lake, go paragliding, try rock climbing, or use this spot as a home base for trekking the Annapurna region.
The Birthplace of the Buddha
In the southern border of India and Nepal, legend has it that the Buddha was born in the small town of Lumbini. Visit the famous Bodhi Tree where Buddha was said to do his teaching and experience the incredible spirituality of this sacred town.
Adventurous Things to Do in Nepal
You can’t create a Nepal travel guide without brining up adventurous things to do in Nepal. In terms of exciting outdoor activities, Nepal has it all. Nepal is most known for world-class trekking in the Himalaya, but there are several other adventurous outdoor activities in Nepal worth noting.
- Spot rhino and other wildlife on a safari in Chitawan National Park
- Try tandem paragliding in Pokhara
- Whitewater raft Nepal’s Trishuli River (multi-day and single-day rafting trips available)
- Rock climb in the Khumbu Region
- Take a scenic helicopter flight in the Himalaya
- Summit a mountain. There are a lot of non-technical mountains to summit in Nepal, they are called trekking peaks. Check out Island Peak or Mera Peak.
Trekking Regions in Nepal
Okay, so one of my favorite Nepal travel tips? Go trek! It turns out there is amazing trekking for any ability on any timeframe in Nepal. If you only have a few days, hit up Poon Hill. More adventurous trekkers can do the Three Passes Loop in the Khumbu or even jump on a “trekking peak” which doesn’t require a lot of special gear. Here’s a look at a few of the most popular trekking regions.
Annapurna Region: Annapurna Base Camp and Beyond
Home to iconic treks such as Poon Hill, the Annapurna Circuit, and Annapurna Base Camp. Enjoy high-altitude trekking (but not as high as the Khumbu) that also boasts amenities such as hot springs!
Trekking in the Khumbu: Everest Basecamp and Gokyo Lakes
The Khumbu region of Nepal is the mother of all trekking regions. It’s home to iconic mountains such as Cho Oyo, Nuptse, Lhotse, and Everest herself. In fact, the Tibetan name for Everest, Chomolungma, means “Goddess Mother of the World.” All treks from this iconic region of Nepal start with a scenic (and hair rising) flight into Lukla, dubbed the most dangerous airport in the world.
Explore the Mustang Region
Mustang, pronounced “moo-stang” is a remote area of Nepal consisting of high-altitude desert. There are far fewer tourists here, but the remote region is full of cultural history, stemming way back into the ages of the Tibetan Empire. Fees to trek here are quite steep, but its beauty is unlike any other trekking region in Nepal.
The Low Elevations of Langtang Valley
The Langtang Valley is a lesser-trekked cultural hub that hosts a variety of trekking routes suitable for those not looking to head into altitude. There are several temples and cultural sites along Langtang trekking routes, making it a suitable option for those looking to have a more meditative experience.
Check out this list of the best treks in Nepal for any ability.
Amazing Cultural Heritage Sites in Nepal
Nepal offers an eclectic mix of cultures and heritage. With temples around almost every bend, it can get a little overwhelming to sort things out. Here’s a look at some of the top cultural heritage sites in Nepal and where to find them.
The Boudhanath Stupa is the most stunning cultural heritage site in Nepal. Located in Kathmandu, the stupa towers above the city and is strewn with countless prayer flags. Hindus, Buddhists, and tourists all flock to this absolutely iconic place.
Toutes as one of the holiest Hindu temples, devouts flock to this Kathmandu temple complex for various holidays and celebrations. It’s considered an honor to be cremated here and your ashes spread into the river. Non-Hindu visitors are welcome to explore the exterior but are not allowed inside.
Swayambhunath Temple or The Monkey Temple
Like a shining beacon, this temple is illuminated on the highest part of the hillsides of Kathmandu. There are plenty of monkeys here, but the most exciting thing to see are the temples scattered amongst the trees offering breathtaking views of Kathmandu.
For a head-to-head battle of the best stone and wood craftsmanship head to Durbar Square in Kathmandu. Once the center of the capital of three kingdoms, this iconic square is a sight to behold.
Experience the spiritual city of Lumbini and walk in Buddha’s footsteps. Meditate by the Bodhi Tree and watch as religious pilgrims pay their respect to the birthplace of Buddha.
Tengboche Buddhist Temple
Located high in the Khumbu region, this temple is a last-stop for many mountaineers and Sherpa before climbing Everest. It is a beautiful site, especially considering all material must be brought up and made by hand, without the use of power tools.
What to Budget in Nepal
Nepal is an extremely budget-friendly place to visit. Accommodation, food, and tours do not cost that much, even with special pricing for tourists. If you’re on a guided trip (which I highly recommend for various reasons) you won’t have to pay for much after the cost of your tour. Other daily cost considerations are:
- Food: around $10 per person per day is plenty
- Alcohol: A large bottle of beer costs around $2 at a restaurant, cheaper at a store. Liquor is harder to come by and more expensive unless you like local rum, which is around $2 for a small bottle.
- Accommodation: Varies depending on location and accommodation type, but $20-30 will get you a nice, private room in a guest house with a bath and hot water in Thamel, the backpacker’s area.
- Trekking: Again, it depends on what you are going for. We paid around $1,100 for a 13-day trek, including all accommodation, meals (except for our time in Kathmandu), trekking permits, guide fees, porter fees, flight to Lukla, and a day tour of Kathmandu through Trekking Planner Nepal. This was about mid-range for what other options we say.
- Transportation: Varies depending on the type. A round-trip flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is roughly $200. Busses are less than $1 and taxis around major cities cost between $2-$10 depending on where you are headed.
Where to Stay: Types of Accommodations
When it comes to Accommodation for trekking, one of the best travel tips for Nepal is to hire a local guide. They will take care of getting you the best room for the best price.
In towns and cities, guest houses are a reasonable option. Typically, these places range from budget-friendly (just a few dollars a night for dorm) to around $20 to $30 a night for a double-occupancy room with a few luxuries.
Pricier hotel resorts do exist, but they aren’t the quality you are used to. However, they are significantly cheaper. (think around $50 a night). Most tourists and travelers stay in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. There are a few reasons for this and one is rolling blackouts. Most hotels and guest houses have generators so there is backup power. This is important for refrigeration and sanitation as well as hot water. Always be sure to ask about this before booking
Hotels and Resorts
Most major resorts and hotels are located in the outskirts of the city, with a few exceptions. Expect mild luxury, but for the price, you aren’t getting anything much different than what you would at a high-end guest house. These options are only available in Kathmandu.
These are the most common types of accommodation. Most include a breakfast of some sort, have access to filtered water, and provide all the amenities you need. They are reasonably priced and excellent options both before and after your adventures.
Lodges and Teahouses
These basic accommodations include an un-conditioned room (usually 2 single beds) and sometimes a bathroom. There is a common area with a hearth where you can relax and meet other travelers. They vary greatly in quality, but overall, are mostly the same. This is your only option when trekking. Prices range from $3 a night to $10 a night depending on location.
Transportation in Nepal
One thing to keep in mind when traveling in Nepal is that it takes a significant amount of time to get from point A to point B. Busses and roads outside of major towns and cities are extremely dangerous, especially at night.
Head-on collisions are common and it isn’t recommended to take busses unless you know what you’re doing. Plane travel (on small, prop planes) is a great way to quickly hop from town to town. Keep in mind that the planes do not fly in inclement weather, so book the first flight out for your best chances.
Taxis are generally safe, just be sure to negotiate a price before you get going. Private cars are another option and are typically booked through a tour company or at your guesthouse.
Must-Try Foods in Nepal
If the culture and scenery weren’t enough, Nepal has some incredible eats! Nepalese cuisine is spicey, savory, and down-right delicious. Most people eat vegetarian in Nepal to avoid the dreaded Kathmandu Quick Step (essentially, traveler’s diarrhea). One of the best Nepal travel tips is to eat locally! Here’s a look at some must-try foods in Nepal.
- Dal Bhat. Nepalese run on Dal Bhat. Often the cheapest menu item, this staple meal is a mix of spiced lentils, curried veggies, rice and papadam (a thin, fried, chip).
- Momos. Momos are Tibetan dumplings that are simply delicious. You can get them fried or steamed and they are a tasty treat.
- Newari Cuisine. One of Nepal’s most unique indigenous cultures is the Newari people. The intense, deep, spicy flavors of their cuisine are almost impossible to replicate (or even find) at home. So dig in! Go for the spicy potatoes!
- Samosas. A famous South Asia street specialty, these savory fried pastries are delish!
- Sel Roti. Donut meets bagel with this fried treat. These are sweet and made during religious festivals out of rice flour. Deep-fried, crunchy, goodness!
Nepal Packing List
Aside from the normal packing for any trip to a mountainous region, be sure to pack these additional items with you on your trip to Nepal:
- Water filtration. Bring 2 methods in case one breaks. Nepal does not have a way to dispose of your plastic water bottles, and it is a huge problem in the country. Do your part and filter your water.
- Extra battery charger for your phone or camera for high-altitude (you’ll have to pay to use electricity otherwise).
- Modest clothing covering your shoulders and knees for temples.
- USD for your visa fee.
- Extra passport photos. We took 3 and needed 2.
- Clothing for trekking in the mountains. The key is layers and wearing non-cotton clothing.
- A day pack for trekking.
- Plenty of sunscreen.
- A reusable grocery bag for shopping (don’t use unnecessary plastic)
- Hand sanitizer, poo shovel and toilet paper (ladies, a pee funnel and pee cloth are really helpful for travel).
Complete Nepal trekking packing list coming soon!
Nepal Travel Tips
What is a Nepal travel guide without a few specific local tips to travel more effectively (and less offensively)? Here’s a look a few quirky things about Nepal as well as some cultural queues.
If you plan on visiting the iconic Himalayan mountains, you’ll want to make sure you properly acclimatize for the altitude. Many people visit Nepal to trek but don’t realize just how difficult hiking in the thin air can be. Remember to take your time while ascending into altitude. Your daily walking isn’t about distance, but it’s more about elevation. Try to only ascend 1,500 feet max per day. Plan rest day halfway through so your body can adjust.
Learn some Language
Although you can find English throughout Nepal, learn some local Nepali phrases before you head to Nepal. It’s a sign of respect and you never know who may invite you into their home by simply being culturally sensitive.
Don’t Point Your Feet
Pointing the soles of your feet at someone is considered rude in Nepal. Make sure if you cross your legs or sit with your legs outward that the soles of your feet aren’t pointed at someone.
You may have heard that Mount Everest has essentially turned into a giant toilet. Do your part if you plan on trekking. Use a provided toilet (usually a shack with a slat in the floor and some pine needles to sprinkle over your doo-doo). If you do have to go, be sure to bring a toilet kit and follow LNT principals.
Like most parts of the world, expect the bathroom situation to be sub-par at best. So bring along your own TP, pee rag, and hand sanitizer.
The Higher the Altitude, the Higher the Prices
Okay, so it’s pretty incredible to see what porters carry up to these remote villages that are only accessible by foot. As such, all goods, from TP to Snickers bars, go up substantially in price the higher you go. Snag snacks and other items in Kathmandu or at lower altitude towns.
ATMs in Nepal
The ATM situation in Nepal is frustrating at best. Be sure to take out the max amount or 30,000 NPR when you can (at the airport or near tourist attractions). Not all ATMs will take your cards, these machines tend to have a mind of their own. If one doesn’t work, try another. Remember to always double-check your bank statements.
Opt for a Room Without a Bathroom
Many of the trekking teahouses offer rooms with private bathrooms. Although this may sound great, it actually isn’t. You see, the wastewater lines do not have P-traps, which essentially have a small amount of water in them to keep nasty sewer gas smell at bay. The result? Your room will smell like a waste line, which isn’t the most pleasant thing in the universe.
Knock Off Outdoor Gear
I have never seen so much cheap outdoor gear in Nepal. It’s all Chinese knock offs. If you aren’t into the outdoors, or you need a cheap pair of whatever, then great! Go for it! But keep in mind this stuff isn’t made to last.
Flights in Nepal are frequently grounded due to bad weather. You can easily get stuck in a place like Lukla for many days due to clouds. This is because this airport is dangerous and doesn’t have a control tower. Pilots fly with their eyes in Nepal, not their radar. Be sure to buffer in a few extra days for your Nepal itinerary so things don’t go haywire.
Hire a Guide Locally
Tourism is the heart of the Nepali economy. My number one travel tip for Nepal is to hire a local guide through a local guiding company. This way you are keeping the money locally and supporting local business. Travelers and trekkers who do not hire a guide are served last, given crappier rooms, charged higher prices, and not seen as being respectful. Here’s how to hire a local guide.
Prepare for Rolling Blackouts
Kathmandu still experiences load shedding or rolling blackouts. This can cause problems with food sanitation, hot water, and safety concerns. Be sure to stay at a place that has a backup generator (you can always ask) and eat at restaurants designed for tourists.
Connecting with Everest Link
Everest Link is a wifi and data network that brings data to the mountainous regions. I didn’t use it, and if there’s a storm, chances are it won’t be working anyway. It is an option and you can purchase cards at teahouses. However, don’t forget to unwind.
Respect the Prayer Wheels
Although Hinduism is the primary religion of Nepal, Tibetan Buddhist influence is seemingly everywhere. Respect these traditions by understanding how to use them. Always circumnavigate temples and stupas in a clockwise direction. It is common practice to cirlce stupas or spin prayer wheels three times in the clockwise direction.
Om Mani Padme Hum is a common Buddhist mantra, that is often chanted when utilizing stupas and prayer wheels. Its translation varies greatly, but it roughly means “the jewel is in the lotus.” Its repetition is thought to invoke a loving and unconditional compassion for others, the land, the sky, the present, and the self.
Avoid the Street Food, Sort of
Unlike other parts of Asia, the lack of refrigeration means that there are food sanitation issues throughout Nepal. Therefore, it isn’t advised to eat street food (and trust me, I eat a lot of street food, but I would be very wary here). An alternative would be to sign up for a reputable street food tour, where locals take you to safe street food stalls.
Be a Vegetarian
For the same reasons mentioned above, avoid meat in Nepal. Trust me, the first time you see pig parts in the open being carried up a hill, days away from the nearest road, you’ll probably think twice about eating meat. Avoid travelers’ tummy by sticking to veggies.
Filtering Water in Nepal
The tap water is unsafe to drink anywhere in Nepal, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy plastic bottles (remember, Nepal has a huge trash problem). Use a bag filter such as a Sawyer Filter. Or purchase a water bottle and filter in one, like a Grayl Geopress. The SteriPen is an option as well, but SteriPens don’t thrive at high altitude, so take a backup.
Embrace Tatu Pani
Tatu pani means hot water. You can up the temperature of your teahouse sleeping situation by getting a water bottle filled with hot water for a small fee. Keep it in your sleeping bag at night for added warmth. In the morning, pour it through your filter system and voila! You’ve got safe water to drink.
Bargaining in Nepal
If the price isn’t listed or labeled, bargaining is a welcomed practice in Nepal. Just keep in mind, that although bargaining is a cultural norm here, Nepal is one of the poorest nations in the world. Haggling is a tradition is fine, especially if you think that you’re overpaying for something, but overall, keep the big picture in mind as you discuss prices.
With so many incredible sights and a diverse mix of people, Nepal is one of the most amazing countries to visit in the world. This Nepal travel guide is aimed to help you be a more informed traveler. So get out there and have an adventure and be in the know for your visit to Nepal.