The ultimate guide to backpacking Nepal
Nepal is a country sandwiched between India and China, flanked by Bhutan to one side and sharing a border with Tibet. A gateway to Mount Everest, ancient culture and towering Himalayan peaks, yet often overlooked by many travellers in favour of India. Their loss entirely – backpacking through Nepal is a one of a kind adventure.
Nepal’s landscape is truly spectacular, boasting 8 of the 10 highest peaks of the world and home to all kinds of rare and exotic wildlife. It’s an adventurists playground full of endless possibilities, unbelievable food, and best of all, Nepal is seriously affordable!
After being devastated by a 2015 Earthquake, Nepal is slowly regaining popularity with backpackers. Famous amongst mountain enthusiasts, trekkers, wildlife lovers and history buffs, Nepal attracts all kinds of travellers. Whether you’ve come to get a glimpse of a wild tiger, conquer some of the biggest mountains in the world, volunteer your time, go on a meditation and yoga retreat or just experience something completely different and immerse yourself in a unique culture, welcome to Nepal.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about Nepal backpacking!
Jump straight to:
- Best time to visit Nepal
- Nepal visa
- Transport in Nepal
- Nepal accommodation
- Nepal currency
- What to see in Nepal
- Things to do in Nepal
- Trekking in Nepal
- Nepalese food
- Nepalese culture and customs
- Is Nepal safe?
- Nepal travel advice
- Volunteering in Nepal
Best time to visit Nepal
The weather in Nepal can be unpredictable and change rapidly due its proximity to the Himalayan Mountain Range. Nepal’s climate varies with its altitude, ranging anywhere from tropical heat to arctic blizzards. With that said, Nepal still has four main seasons revolving around the summer monsoon.
There’s a high season and low season to consider before you decide what time of year to visit. For most travellers to Nepal the weather plays a very important factor, as trekking is one of this country’s most popular activities.
High season in Nepal (October – November)
The high season in Nepal runs from October to November and sees gorgeous clear skies and warm days that make for optimal trekking conditions. However, you won’t be the only one wanting to visit Nepal during this season, with most travellers wanting to take advantage of those clear mountain views!
High season in Nepal sees thousands of people trekking the popular trails in the Everest and Annapurna regions and overcrowding can become an issue. With more tourists in high season, accommodation in places like Kathmandu and Pokhara often gets booked up early, with prices inflated to their peak.
Low season in Nepal (monsoon Season, May – August)
The monsoon season in Nepal falls roughly from May to August. This is considered Nepal’s low season, as it deters most tourists due to heavy rainfall.
While travelling through Nepal during monsoon season isn’t necessarily a bad idea, trekking can be extremely dangerous. The monsoon rains often bring landslides, with heavy rain creating mud and dangerous conditions on most hiking trails. If you’re travelling through Nepal during the monsoon season you might consider visiting the Mustang and Dolpo regions. The peak of the monsoon season in Nepal usually occurs in July.
Spring season in Nepal (Late February – April)
Another popular time of year to go trekking in Nepal is during the Nepalese springtime, which falls from late February to April. The spring temperatures are comfortable, with gorgeous plants and flowers in full bloom. Trails are less crowded than during high season, however there is slightly more precipitation. In order to avoid obscured mountain views you’ll need to reach higher altitudes and elevation.
Shoulder season in Nepal (September and December)
The shoulder season falls either side of the high season in Nepal in the months of September and December. This can be a fantastic time to travel.
If you’re lucky you’ll be rewarded with peak conditions on all treks, far fewer crowds and much cheaper accommodation. If you’re unlucky during the shoulder season the monsoon might linger longer than usual or winter conditions will arrive earlier than anticipated.
Kathmandu is located in the southern Himalayas surrounded by snow-capped mountains and has a very different climate to other cities in Nepal because of its geographical location. Average temperatures vary greatly, being very hot in the summer months and cold during the winter months. The warmest month in Kathmandu is June, where average temperatures see a high of around 30 degrees celsius. The coldest month is January, with highs of around 18 degrees celsius.
If you’re looking for dry months to visit Kathmandu, October, November, December and January are best.
All foreigners (except for Indians) will require a visa to gain entry to Nepal. But rest assured, the application process is fast, cheap and easy!
Visas upon arrival
Visas are available upon your arrival at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, as well as at any border crossing. Single entry visas are available for purchase for 15/30/90 days and cost $25/$40/$100 (USD). If you want to be granted a visa for Nepal upon arrival ensure that you have:
- A spare passport photo (side note, it’s always a sensible idea to travel with a handful of spare passport photos for spontaneous trips, or in case anything happens to your passport).
- At least 6 months before your passport expires. If you have less than 6 months until expiry on your passport it is extremely unlikely that you will be allowed entry to Nepal.
I can assure you that applying for a visa on arrival is a very smooth process, however depending on how many people are arriving it may take a while!
Applying for a visa online
If you’re more of the organised type and the thought of trying to organise a visa upon arrival seems too risky, you can always apply for a visa online. The website can be found here. For the online visa application process you must:
- Apply for the visa online at least 15 days before your arrival in Nepal.
- Upload one colour passport sized photo, passport details and contact details when filling in the online form.
- Bring the confirmation receipt and all relevant travel documents to show border officials when you touch down in Nepal.
Extending your stay and visa in Nepal
Like most people who travel to Nepal, you’ll fall in love with this gorgeous country and want to extend your trip!
If you do want to stay in Nepal longer, the process is straightforward. You won’t be the only tourist thinking about extending your visa! Follow these steps and you should be fine, but always check the most up to date information on government websites:
- Fill in the visa extension form that can be located on the Nepal Immigration website.
- Ensure that you’ve filled it out correctly, and then print out the confirmation.
- Find the nearest immigration office to the city you’re currently in.
- Take your passport, confirmation and a spare passport photo to the immigration office.
- Chose from a 15/30/90 day visa extension and pay for it.
- You’re all done! Enjoy your extended stay in Nepal.
Travelling around Nepal
Arriving in Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport can be a tad daunting, especially after a long flight and a bit of jetlag. To say that Kathmandu’s airport is busy and chaotic would be a massive understatement, but it’s good to dive right into the deep end… right?
Stay patient. The gorgeous country of Nepal is just ahead of you; you just need to make it through the jungle of an airport before you can reach freedom. Stay patient and breathe! This is the key to avoiding unnecessary stress and anxiety. Don’t expect to find orderly queues or for anything to be organised.
You will be given some customs forms on the flight into Nepal, so it’s always a good idea to have these filled out before you land to avoid the crowds. Find your way to the immigration hall with all your documents and immigration forms filled out and ready to go.
Once you’re through there are plenty of ATM’s and currency exchanges scattered across the airport. You’ll definitely need to have some local currency handy before you venture into the city, with very limited transport options accepting card payments.
When you exit the airport you’ll find hoards of taxis (some official, some not so) waiting to escort you safely into the city (30-45mins away depending on traffic). It’s always important when travelling to approach taxis with caution, especially if arriving into a big city like Kathmandu late at night.
Make sure that your driver knows where your hostel is located and that you agree on a price before you get into the car. Taxi meters in Nepal aren’t always available and there have been cases of tourists getting ripped off.
Flights to Kathmandu
There is only one international airport in all of Nepal, Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, so entry from any international destination will most likely come through here (unless you’re crossing the Indian or Tibet borders by land). Not all countries fly direct to Kathmandu, although the airport is fast becoming better connected.
When flying into Kathmandu you might consider paying a little bit extra to secure a window seat, as you’ll be spoilt with some of the most incredible views of Mount Everest and the Himalayas. A great introduction to your adventure to Nepal!
While getting into the country is easy, travelling internally within Nepal can be quite a headache and always takes longer than you might anticipate.
If your budget allows for it, flying is undoubtedly the fastest way to travel in Nepal. Although you might be forking out an extra $100 for an internal flight, it’s one way to avoid being cramped on a long bus ride.
However, flights in Nepal see frequent delays and even cancellations due to weather. The weather around the Himalayas is extremely unpredictable and quite often dangerous, especially in monsoon season. If the weather is too cloudy most planes will not fly due to extreme danger, and as the saying goes “even the clouds in Nepal have rocks in them”. Although it might be frustrating having your flight delayed or cancelled, it’s always for good reason. Nepal is notoriously one of the most dangerous places to fly anywhere in the world, boasting the world’s most dangerous airport in the town of Lukla.
If you prefer to save your bucks and stick to on-land travel, then opt to get around by bus. You’ll be spoilt for choice with a range of different options including minibus, local bus, tourist bus, private vans or 4WD. Although Nepal is a relatively small country and the distances covered are not especially far, unpredictable weather, mountainous terrain and old roads can make journeys challenging, and estimated arrival times should always be taken with a pinch of salt.
Buses are an extremely cheap option for travel which the majority of backpackers in Nepal opt for. Buying tickets is easy in most cities, but it’s always recommended that you try and book a few days in advance, especially during peak season.
There is no internal rail network in Nepal. While some travellers do hire cars or motorbikes, this must come with extreme caution and a lot of planning. Nepal has some of the most dangerous roads in the world and very little phone reception in remote areas of the country. Often the vehicles used for hire aren’t in the greatest condition, and the last thing you want to do is to break down in a remote part of Nepal.
Nepal has emerged as a hugely popular backpacking destination, offering adventure and a change in culture that few countries can match. As a result of the tourism boom, accommodation options are easy to find in all of the major destinations and cities, with many different options to suit your needs and budget.
While trekking through the Himalayas you’ll mostly stay in teahouses that are located along the trekking route. Don’t expect much more than a bed, pillow and a blanket. You’ll have access to hot water and some other basic amenities (depending on how high in elevation you are). Some of these teahouses have access to Wi-Fi for a small fee. These traditional mountain houses are extremely charming, and you’ll be sure to enjoy picturesque views while enjoying time huddled around the communal fire with other guests and locals.
If you’re travelling solo in Nepal, hostels are the best place to stay. Travelling alone can get a little lonely at times and hostels are a great place to meet people from all over the world and make some amazing connections.
Solo travellers should be sure to check out Zostel Kathmandu, as it has the best atmosphere of anywhere I found in Nepal! This super affordable hostel is a great place to relax and mingle, with an incredible rooftop bar, charming garden café and friendly staff. Located in the backpacker district of Thamel, you’ll be right in the cultural heart of this bustling city with access to everything it has to offer. Don’t just take my word fot it – it has a rating of 9.4 based on more than 750 reviews from travellers around the globe!
What about trying a hostel with your significant other? You’ll get a super cool atmosphere that can only be found in hostels, enjoy the company of other travellers (if you’re sick of your partner’s lame jokes) and best of all enjoy a spacious private room for some alone time! For a great queen-sized bed and a gorgeous ensuite, check out Elbrus Home Hostel! Located in Thamel, Elbrus Home Hostel puts on a delicious free breakfast every morning to be enjoyed on the outdoor terrace that’ll give you the fuel you need for a day of exploring Kathmandu. With plenty of tours and travel advice provided by the staff, Elbrus Home Hostel makes for the perfect stay.
If you’re looking for trekking buddies, a great place to start searching is the Sparkling Turtle Backpackers Hostel. Located in the sacred town of Swoyambhu, steps away from Monkey Temple. You’ll wake to the sound of prayer from the monasteries surrounding the area. Known as a trekker’s hub, this hostel is a great place to meet other people wanting to experience the Himalayas!
Nepal backpacking budget
Nepal’s currency is the Nepalese rupee which is roughly $1 USD = 110 NPR as of December 2018. The cost of travelling in Nepal is very cheap, however depending on your budget and itinerary this can vary greatly. It is important to note that while the major cities such as Kathmandu and Pokhara have ATM’s and accept payments on card, in the rural countryside ATM’s become less frequent and some areas don’t accept card payments at all.
Always travel with some cash on you if you’re planning on going off the beaten path a bit, otherwise you could find yourself in a bit of a pickle.
Nepal is a wonderful country that caters to travellers with budgets big and small, from the broke backpacker on a shoestring budget through to those who like luxury. Below is a guide depending on your budget:
Low-budget travel in Nepal
If you’re travelling through Nepal on a budget, 2,000 NPR per person per day ($18 USD) would be enough to cover all of your travel needs and essentials; accommodation, food, water, transport, entertainment and alcohol.
Mid-range budget travel in Nepal
For those that like to travel with a bit more comfort and aren’t as constrained by budget, 3,000 NPR per person per day ($26 USD) is a good guide and would be enough to cover all of your travel needs and essentials; accommodation, food, water, transport, entertainment and alcohol.
High-end budget travel in Nepal
If you want to stay in fancy accommodation, eat at high-end restaurants and enjoy travelling on more of a luxury budget, 4,500 NPR per person per day ($40 USD) is a good amount and would be enough to cover all of your travel needs and essentials; accommodation, food, water, transport, entertainment, alcohol and extra spending money.
Tipping in Nepal
While tipping in Nepal isn’t compulsory, it’s always important to be respectful and understand how far your money can go. Tips will always be greatly appreciated. It’s polite to round up your payments for your rickshaws, taxi’s, restaurants etc. if you can afford it.
While tipping for services and goods is at your discretion, the exception is when you have guides or porters. It’s customary to give them a tip (15% is usually the normal amount) to thank them for their help and expertise.
What to see in Nepal
Nepal 2 week backpacking itinerary
Day 1 – 2: Kathmandu –Arrive in Kathmandu. In most cases your travels will begin and end in Kathmandu, as it is the capital of Nepal and the main entry point to the country. You will need to get the 15-day visa ($25 USD) for Nepal. This can be done upon your arrival at the airport or online.
The sprawling city of Kathmandu is world-renowned for its temples, street food, chaotic atmosphere and for being the gateway to Mount Everest and the Himalayas. Enjoy the sights of Kathmandu over your first few days in Nepal, and organise all of your trekking permits for the days to come.
Day 3: depart Kathmandu and head to Pokhara – Time to leave the city of Kathmandu and head to a very different part of Nepal to see a much quieter and peaceful side to the country. There are two main ways to get from Kathmandu to Pokhara, flight or bus. Once you’ve decided which way to travel to Pokhara take your time. Travel anywhere within Nepal takes a little longer than anticipated, so just enjoy the ride and take in some of the breathtaking scenery along the way.
Day 4 – 5: Pokhara – You’ve arrived in Pokhara! Take a couple of days to enjoy the sights, relax by Phewa Lake and get ready for the upcoming trek. Pokhara is a great destination for travellers pre and post trekking. There are plenty of tour guides here, gear hire shops, comfortable accommodation options and a laid back atmosphere. Find out all the information you need regarding your trek (what permits you’ll need, route conditions etc.), speak to other like minded travellers and get ready for the experience of a lifetime!
Day 6 – 11: trekking in Nepal (Annapurna base camp trek) – It would be a shame to come all the way to Nepal and not do a couple of days trekking. The Annapurna base camp trek is a great beginner’s multi-day trek. The starting point is up to you. If you’re coming from Pokhara you’ll want to take a local bus from Pokhara to Kimchi (3 hours) and begin trekking from there.
For accommodation, you’ll be staying in teahouses. These are huts that have been built for trekkers and are run by locals. The standards are very basic, but you’ll have access to hot water, a delicious dinner made by your hosts and breakfast before you head out on the next day of the journey.
Plastic bottles are banned along the trek for obvious litter reasons, so be sure to bring with you a refillable bottle for your water. All of the teahouses along the trek have access to clean drinking water.
Make sure you bring enough warm clothes with you for the trek. If you’re trekking early in the morning, or as soon as the sun goes down, it does get quite cold in the mountains. The Annapurna base camp trek is a truly remarkable experience and will give you some of the most breathtaking views in all of Nepal.
Day 12 – 14: slowly make your way back to Kathmandu – You’ve spent the past 6 days trekking through the mountains, it’s definitely time to put your feet up and relax. Pokhara has some amazing massage parlours, so indulge yourself. Organise your transport back to the capital city ahead of your international flight home.
Nepal one month backpacking itinerary
Day 1 – 3: Kathmandu – Arrive in Kathmandu. In most cases your travels will begin and end in Kathmandu, as it is the capital of Nepal and the main entry point to the country. You will need to get the 30-day visa ($40 USD) for Nepal. This can be done upon your arrival at the airport or online.
The sprawling city of Kathmandu is world-renowned for its temples, street food, chaotic atmosphere and for being the gateway to Mount Everest and the Himalayas. Enjoy the sights of Kathmandu over your first few days in the city, and then start to learn about the culture of the Nepalese people. Kathmandu is bustling with energy, and is a great place to try different food and socialise with locals. While you’re in Kathmandu you’ll want to organise all your trekking permits, trekking gear and prepare yourself for life in the mountains. A great place to start is the tourist district known as Thamel.
Before you leave Kathmandu, talk to your accommodation about their luggage storage options. Most backpackers who come to Kathmandu use it as a base for trekking, and leave their luggage in a safe and secure storage locker at their hostel for a small price per day.
Day 4: travel from Kathmandu to Lukla – Fly from Kathmandu to Lukla. It is strongly advised that you book your flight for early in the morning, as the afternoon flights can often be delayed or even cancelled due to weather conditions. You’re only allowed 10kg of luggage for the flight, so only pack what you need for your trek. If you don’t need it, leave it with the rest of your belongings.
Day 5 – 16: trekking to Mount Everest base camp – You’ll be walking anywhere from 4-8 hours a day for 12 days to reach Mount Everest base camp.
Your accommodation on this trek will again be in teahouses – huts built for trekkers and run by locals. The standards in these teahouses are very basic, but you’ll have access to hot water, a delicious dinner made by your hosts and breakfast before you head out on the next leg of your journey.
The journey to Mount Everest is nothing short of exhilarating, but it’s challenging. You don’t need to be Superman to trek along this route, but good basic fitness always helps! The biggest obstacle to overcome isn’t your fitness level, but instead preventing altitude sickness, which can easily ruin your trek and force you to stop entirely. This is extremely common, and although contrary to popular belief can happen to anyone regardless of age or fitness level.
These are some great tips to help prevent you from altitude sickness:
- Acclimatise to your elevation. Take a day to rest before heading up to higher elevation.
- Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. This is the most important step.
- Take your time! Watch your trekking pace. It’s not a race.
Watch for signs of altitude sickness, which include headaches, loss of appetite, fatigue, dizziness and trouble sleeping. Many of the teahouse owners give great advice on altitude sickness, and there are a few stops along the route with international doctors.
Day 17: Lukla to Pokhara travel day – Organise a flight to get yourself from Lukla to Pokhara. Once you get to Pokhara it’s time to put your feet up and relax after the long Everest base camp trek. Pokhara has some amazing massage spots around town that can help with some of those sore muscles!
Day 18 – 20: Pokhara – Spend a couple of days exploring the peaceful city of Pokhara. You can rent a boat and take a scenic tour of Phewa Lake, enjoy the gorgeous views over Pokhara atop of Peace Stupa or even get an adrenaline rush and go white water rafting!
Pokhara has a plethora of things to see and do, but is also a great place to chill out, relax and do very little. Enjoy the slow pace and finer things in life.
Day 21: Pokhara to Chitwan National Park – The easiest way to get from Pokhara to Chitwan is via the tourist bus which departs at 7:30am. This can take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours depending on the road conditions and weather. The main bus terminal in Chitwan is the Bachhauli Bus Park, which will be your final destination.
Day 22 – 25: Chitwan National Park jungle safari – So we’ve trekked to the base of Mount Everest. Explored the chaotic capital city Kathmandu. Enjoyed the peacefulness of Pokhara. It’s now time to experience a completely different side to Nepal. Chitwan National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site which is world famous for its incredible bio-diversity and wildlife. Home to more than 450 species of birds, elephants, Bengal tigers, one-horned rhinoceros’ and crocodiles, Chitwan National Park is one of Nepal’s greatest treasures.
Here you’ll find a range of activities ranging from jeep safaris, cultural programs, jungle treks and much more.
Day 26: Chitwan National Park back to Kathmandu – Head back to Bachhauli Bus Park, the main bus terminal in Chitwan, and catch the tourist bus headed to Kathmandu. You can’t miss them. The bus journey is long, but scenic! Bring plenty of snacks and water along for the ride.
Day 27: Kathmandu mountain flight – So we’re back in Kathmandu, where we began our journey in Nepal. This time however, we’ve come to see the roof of the world. In Kathmandu you can embark on an incredible scenic mountain flight that will take you over Mount Everest. These Himalayan flights offer unbeatable views of the largest mountain range in the world and are designed for tourists, with plenty of window space for viewing. This is a round trip flight starting and ending in Kathmandu. It takes 1-2 hours.
Day 28: say goodbye to Nepal and fly home – Sadly all good things must come to end, but what an incredible month in one of the most incredible countries in the world. You always have the option of extending your visa while in Nepal if you still want to see more or go for another trek!
Things to do in Nepal
For such a small country, there is so much to see and do while travelling through Nepal. Mountains. Jungles. Medieval cities. Friendly citizens. Incredible food. There are a million reasons to fall in love with Nepal. When it comes to things to do in Nepal the first thing that comes to mind is the Himalayas, and while the mountains are the obvious tourist draw, this country has so much more to offer than its soaring peaks. Here are some amazing cities and towns to visit during your time in Nepal:
The starting point for most travellers in Nepal. Get ready for sensory overload, organised chaos and a wow factor that few other cities can come close to. There’s just so much to see and do, food to eat and spices to smell here in Nepal’s capital city. Kathmandu can be a little overwhelming at first, but you’ll learn to love it in no time. We recommend spending 3 days in Kathmandu to really learn your way around and appreciate its beauty. Here are some great things to do in Kathmandu.
A great area to explore while in Kathmandu is Thamel. Thamel is known as Kathmandu’s backpacker district, full of amazing bars, shops, hostels and restaurants all bustling with an incredible energy and atmosphere. Thamel is a great place to head if you’re travelling solo and looking to meet other like-minded travellers in Nepal. Find out about the hidden treasures and gems around Nepal, compare ideas and experiences or even form lifelong friendships and relationships – I met my fiancé in a hostel in Positano and we then travelled for 2 years together all around the world!
- Kathmandu Durbar Square
Kathmandu Durbar Square is the best-known and most famous attraction in Kathmandu, located in the old town of the city. It is one of the three Durbar Squares located in the Kathmandu Valley and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It houses a cluster of more than 50 temples, with some dating back to the 12th century. The word “Durbar” is the Nepalese word for Palace, with Durbar Square once being the royal palace square of Malla Kings.
Today the square is still active and lively, filled with people worshiping shrines and selling goods. During the recent 2015 earthquake that devastated Nepal, the southern portion of the square suffered a lot of structural damage, with many temples destroyed.
Located in the heart of the city, admission is only 1,000 NPR and you may be asked to show some form of ID to be allowed entry. There are some rules you should follow before you step into any place of worship. Firstly, be sure to dress respectfully and not to have too much skin showing. Never touch a child’s head, for the Nepalese consider the head of a child to be holy and noble.
- Boudhanath Stupa
Boudhanath Stupa is the largest circular pagoda in the world, standing at 38 metres high. It’s the holy centre of Buddhism in Nepal. On each side of Boudhanath Stupa is a pair of all-seeing eyes of the Buddha, which symbolise awareness.
Built in the 8th century, the Boudhanath Stupa is located along the ancient trade road between Tibet and Nepal, a place for those on the road to stop for prayer. This landmark and its surrounding areas are considered holy land for both Nepalese and Tibetan buddhists.
To really appreciate the significance of this landmark of Kathmandu, be sure to come early in the morning or just as dusk falls over the city to observe devout Buddhists in prayer.
Located 11 kilometres from the city centre, Boudhanath Stupa suffered structural damage in the 2015 earthquake, which severely cracked its spire. As a result of the damage sustained to the whole structure above the dome, some of the religious relics it once contained needed to be removed to avoid further damage.
- Pashupatinath Temple
The Pashupatinath Temple is a world famous and sacred Hindu temple in Nepal, built to worship the Hindu god Shiva located on the banks of the Bagmati River.
The largest Hindu temple in all of Nepal and yet another UNESCO World Heritage listed site, this holy temple is visited by thousands of people from all over the world who come to pay homage and learn about Hindu culture.
However, Pashupatinath is more than just a religious destination, with the whole area full of incredible art and culture, offering peace and devotion.
- Swayambhunath Temple
Swayambhunath Temple is located atop of a hill west of Kathmandu city centre and is best known by tourists as ‘monkey temple’. You’ll walk up more than 350 steps to reach this temple that has been in use since the 5th century.
As its name suggests, Swayambhunath Temple is home to hundreds of monkeys, which are considered holy by the Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus that practice here. According to Nepalese legend, Manjushree, the bodhisattva of wisdom, was building the temple when all the lice in his hair transformed into the monkeys that now populate the temple.
The views from the steps overlooking Kathmandu Valley are simply jaw dropping, so you’ll definitely want to have your camera at the ready. Just hold on tight so the cheeky monkeys don’t snatch it from you!
Pokhara is a tranquil city that is much loved by travellers for it’s laid back vibe, proximity to the Annapurna region and its peaceful atmosphere. Here are some incredible things to do while in Pokhara.
- Trekking and hiking
On a clear day in Pokhara, the Annapurna panorama is visible from town, providing one of the most breathtaking views in Nepal. Pokhara has been used as a base for trekkers in Nepal for hundreds of years due to it proximity to the famous Annapurna circuit trek.
In Pokhara there’s an abundance of travel agents who can help organise everything you’ll need; buses, permits, guides and porters. They will provide the best information on which hikes you can do, up to date information on the condition of the trails and all the highlights of the region. With so many travel agents located in the city, shop around to ensure you get the best price, because if there’s one thing the Nepalese love to do, it’s haggle!
- Phewa Lake
In the heart of Pokhara is Phewa Lake, the second largest lake in Nepal and one of the gems of Pokhara. Offering stunning mountain views from the lakeside, Phewa Lake is a great place to sit back and enjoy the scenery. You can take boat trips across the lake with many tour agents offering services. Although the lake is gorgeous, swimming here isn’t recommended as the water is polluted.
- Meditation / yoga retreats
While many people travel to Bali to enjoy a meditation or yoga retreat, Nepal is a great place to seek out these activities. There are several yoga and meditation courses available around Pokhara ranging anywhere from beginner classes all the way up to intensive retreats. If you’re interested, a lot of travellers come to Pokhara for the 10 day Vipassana, a meditation retreat where you’re unable to talk for the entire duration of your stay!
If you’re like us, then food is an amazing aspect of travelling and one of the highlights of every trip. In Pokhara there are dining options to suit all budgets. There are plenty of amazing restaurants and cafes located along the lake and in town, so be sure to explore and try some of them!
Bandipur is a peaceful and quiet hilltop town in the Tanahun district of Nepal. Located between Kathmandu and Pokhara, Bandipur is the perfect spot to break up the trip between the cities. Bandipur isn’t a place for adventure or a fast paced environment, but a place for reflection and relaxation. While you’re in Bandipur be sure to check out some of these places:
- Bandipur Bazaar
Located in the heart of Bandipur is the Bandipur Bazaar, a step back through time. This is not a typical tourist bazaar with souvenir shops or huge crowds of shoppers, but instead an incredible collection of buildings, artwork and busy locals. Taking a stroll through the Bandipur Bazaar provides an amazing insight into the local way of life, without the chaos and crowds of cities such as Kathmandu.
- Gurunche Hill
This is one of the best spots to enjoy an unforgettable sunset while in Bandipur. You might need to ask a local to point you in the right direction of Gurunche Hill. There’s a hike you can take to reach the top, which isn’t overly strenuous and is about a 25-minute climb. Once you reach the top you’ll be rewarded with incredible views and a small temple dedicated to the goddess of light. Relax and enjoy a gorgeous sunset over the town of Bandipur.
Trekking in Nepal
While all of these cities are incredible places to visit, no guide to Nepal would be complete without mentioning its world-class trekking. Every year Nepal attracts hundreds of thousands of trekkers who come to experience its unbelievable scenery, but knowing which hike to choose can be tricky and overwhelming. It’s a fantastic dilemma to have, and to be honest you can’t really choose wrong because they’re all amazing in their own way.
As a matter of safety it is never recommended to trek solo anywhere in the world, regardless of your fitness or level of expertise. If you’re travelling solo there’s no need to fear, you definitely won’t be alone! You have a range of trekking opportunities available to you. Firstly you could consider a group trek, offered at most travel agencies across Kathmandu. Secondly, talk with other backpackers in hostels. Most travellers who come to Nepal want to trek and see the Himalayas, and hostels are the best place to find other like-minded solo travellers who will also be looking for a few buddies to trek with. Another great option to consider is hiring a guide for your trek. They offer unbelievable knowledge and expertise on the area and will be great company for your trek.
Before you head out into the mountains you’ll be required to get a trekking permit. One of the things you’ll need is a TIMS Card (Trekkers’ Information Management Systems). This is a basic permit that you will need to have with you for all treks in Nepal. You’ll also need to get more specific permits for certain areas which all vary in cost.
You can get your TIMS card at the Nepal Tourism Board office in Kathmandu. When you apply for your permit, you’ll need to provide basic information such as an emergency contact number, trekking route, insurance policy and trekking dates. The TIMS cards cost 2000 NRP. For all of your permit questions and queries, the Nepal Tourism Board is there to help! They are quick and efficient and will be able to instruct you on what permit you need for what trek.
Now you’re ready to start trekking, but before you select which trek you’d like to embark on, have a think about the following factors:
- What difficulty can you handle?
- How many days do you want to trek?
- Are you on a tight budget?
- Do you want a remote trek or to stick to the more touristy ones?
- What season are you travelling in? Some treks are not recommended during the monsoon season.
While everyone will offer their two cents and tell you which trek they think is the best, including every travel agent around Kathmandu looking for a sale, it all comes down to your own personal preference.
Once you’ve had some time to think about the above factors it’s time to choose which trek! Feeling a tad overwhelmed? Don’t worry, we’ve selected some of our favourite trekking destinations in Nepal that will hopefully give you some information that might help you decide which trek is the right one for you.
Everest base camp trek – 12 days
What could be more awe inspiring than standing face to face with the highest mountain on the planet? The Everest base camp trek is an amazing experience that will completely take your breath away and steal your heart. While on this trek you’ll have the option of staying in guesthouses, teahouses and lodges.
Walking in the footsteps of legendary mountaineers is an incredible feeling, and this is undeniably one of the best treks anywhere in the world.
The highest elevation reached on the Everest base camp trek is 5,600 metres and its difficulty is ranked as ‘medium’. It requires just a TIMS permit.
Annapurna circuit trek – 13 / 15 days
Another world-famous trekking route is the Annapurna circuit trek that covers a vast range of terrains. On this route you’ll pass through jungle, lush valleys, high alpines and steep peaks, and will have some great opportunities to meet locals in the villages you’ll pass through.
A classic popular trek in Nepal, you can’t go wrong with the Annapurna circuit. The highest elevation reached is 5,416 metres and this is ranked as a ‘moderate’ trek. You’ll require a TIMS permit and an ACAP permit for this trek.
Poon Hill trek – 3 / 6 days
If you’re time poor in Nepal but still want to get a trek in, then Poon Hill is a fantastic option! The Poon Hill trek provides gorgeous views of the Dhaulagiri mountain ranges and the Annapurna region, and is a great starter trek to try in Nepal.
The highest elevation reached on the Poon Hill Trek is 3,210 metres and this is ranked as an ‘easy’ trek. It requires just a TIMS permit.
Annapurna base camp trek – 6 / 11 days
The Annapurna base camp trek takes you to the base of Mount Annapurna and is simply breathtaking as you pass through picturesque valleys and villages. In comparison with some of the other treks in Nepal, the Annapurna has a low elevation, which is good for people who suffer from altitude sickness.
The highest elevation reached is 4,320 metres and this is ranked as a ‘moderate’ trek. You’ll require a TIMS permit and an ACAP permit for this trek.
Langtang trek – 7 / 12 days
The Langtang trek is one of the most popular treks for its incredible vantage points and views over the Annapurna region. Highlights include the chance to walk past beautiful glaciers and stunning panoramic mountain views.
The highest elevation reached on the Langtang Trek is 4,984 metres and this is ranked as a ‘moderate’ trek. You’ll require just a TIMS permit for this trek.
You’re probably curious about Nepalese cuisine. Due to its geographical location, Nepalese food takes influences from its neighbours India and Tibet, but it still has its own unique and distinctive flavours and dishes. Nepalese cuisine is delicious, but you’ll need to know a few quick facts about what to expect when eating the food in Nepal.
Firstly, Nepal is a vegetarian friendly country. The main staples are rice, lentils and chickpeas. Most Nepalese people are Hindu – they don’t eat beef and the majority of food in Nepal is vegetarian. Secondly, the Nepali love to use a lot of spice in their dishes. If you’re not the biggest fan of spice you could be in for a bit of a shock, but Nepali food is very rich in flavour.
These are the 5 foods you’ll definitely want to sink your teeth into during your travels through Nepal.
- Dhal bhat
Dhal bhat is the most famous food in all of Nepal, and you’ll undoubtedly become very familiar with this dish. Dhal Bat consists of lentil soup, rice and delicious curried vegetables. If you’re planning on doing any trekking while in Nepal, you’ll probably eat dhal bhat twice daily, especially if you’re staying in homestays and guesthouses along the trekking route.
Another delicious stable of Nepalese cuisine, and a favourite among travellers, are momos. Momos are best described as a Nepalese dumpling, typically filled with buffalo meat or vegetables. Momos are part of the Tibetan influence, they can be found all over Nepal and make for a fantastic afternoon snack. Momos can be served fried, steamed or in a bowl of curry, so it’s best to try them every which way!
Lassi is a popular sweet yoghurt drink and is quite simply delicious! It’s sweet and refreshing and can be found anywhere on the streets in the major cities.
If you’re drinking a lassi from a street vendor (most likely) try and make sure it has been made from purified water to avoid getting sick!
Rice is the foundation of many meals in Nepal, and the fried version is known as pulao. Seasoned deliciously with turmeric and cumin, pulao is often served with yoghurt and papadoms. Pulao is most commonly served as a vegetarian dish.
Thukpa is a thick noodle soup that can include meat, egg or just vegetables. This dish is influenced by both Tibetan and Chinese culture, with the rich meat broth made from a variety of different meats such as yak, goat, lamb and chicken.
This is a very popular winter dish that will keep your belly nice and warm. It’s Nepalese comfort food at its finest, and we promise you’ll be having this soup more than once during your trip to Nepal!
Nepalese culture and customs
Nepalese people and religion in Nepal
First and foremost, when you get to Nepal you’ll want to know how to greet the locals. In Nepal the traditional manner of greeting involves placing both your palms together in a prayer like style and saying “Namaste”.
The Nepali people are spiritual, and spirituality is central to the Nepali way of life. The religion in Nepal is mixed, however the majority of Nepali people identify as Hindu. It is not uncommon for Hindus in Nepal to also identify and practice Buddhism simultaneously.
While visiting temples, stupas and religious sites will be some of the highlights of your time in Nepal, it’s important to be respectful to Nepali culture and customs. Show respect by dressing conservatively on the days you plan on visiting religious sites or places of worship. Women should have their knees and shoulders covered and men should have long pants and no singlets, regardless of the temperature.
If you’re travelling Nepal as a couple, be conscious that locals may frown upon public displays of affection, so as a sign of respect save that lovin’ for private!
Around 80% of the population identify as Hindu, 10% as Buddhist and the other 10% of the population is made up of Muslims, Christians and other religions. Buddhism in Nepal is usually concentrated in areas with big Tibetan cultural influences. Nepal hasn’t seen major inter-religious conflicts, with very little judgement between faiths. Spirituality is central to the Nepali way of life, and there is a lot of intermingling between the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal.
Is Nepal safe?
While mainstream media services will often tell you about the dangers of travel in Nepal and other developing countries, the reality is the risk of danger can be anywhere, including your own hometown! The point is, don’t do yourself the disservice of not travelling to a destination and having an amazing experience based on a few bad stories.
So, is Nepal safe? Nepal is a warm and welcoming place full of generous and friendly people. The Nepali people believe strongly in Karma, meaning whatever actions you put out into the universe will be received back onto you.
Petty crime can be an issue in Nepal. It’s a good idea not to show off anything overly valuable. This includes having an expensive camera, flashy jewellery, mobile phone and an easily accessible wallet. Although you should be fine during your time in Nepal as most people are, it’s still important to be aware of your surroundings, be responsible and smart.
Nepal has a lot of trouble with electricity and often has citywide blackouts and power outages. It’s a great idea to carry a flashlight with you just in case you find yourself in a dark area. It should go without saying, but it is extremely important to avoid walking alone at night during one of these power outages, which is the same for any city in the world.
With these power outages also comes very spotty internet and Wi-Fi access, which can pose some potential complications to communicating with friends and family back home. It’s always smart to give your emergency contacts back home a detailed itinerary of where you’ll be in case something does go wrong. You can also buy a local SIM card for your phone while you’re in Nepal. This is a great way to keep your phone active when you’re outside of regular Wi-Fi access and in more remote areas of the country.
Probably the biggest issue backpackers face is dreaded diarrhoea. It can be a problem due to poor sanitation, so you need to be careful with food and water consumption. While diarrhoea is usually self-limiting, one of the biggest risks is dehydration. When packing for Nepal, make sure you have a decent first aid kit with a supply of oral re-hydration salts, as even the most veteran travellers can have a case of the runs! Always take out travel insurance to cover the costs of hospital treatment, emergency evacuations and stolen/lost goods.
Nepal travel advice
Vaccinations for Nepal
The main recommended vaccinations for Nepal are for Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Measles and Meningitis. Speak to your local GP or visit a travel doctor beforehand to get the most up to date information and ensure you’re protected for the regions you’ll be visiting. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Backpacking Nepal alone
Solo female travellers do sometimes receive unwanted attention in Nepal, mostly in the form of cat-calls or even huge romantic gestures like marriage proposals! If you’re travelling through Nepal solo, stay in hostels and buddy up with other solo travellers. Don’t worry, solo travellers are never really alone!
If you’re looking to do a trek and don’t have any buddies to accompany you, it’s a great idea to hire a guide. It’s important to note that every year some solo trekkers do go missing while in Nepal. It is hugely important that when choosing a guide for your trek, you feel 100% comfortable with them. Meet with several guides; ask about their background, references and for their identification, find out their license number and pass along these details to your emergency contacts.
Volunteering in Nepal
Nepal suffered a devastating earthquake in 2015, and major tourist areas of Kathmandu have been slowly rebuilt and fixed by the local people with the help of volunteers from all over the world. However, much of the country is still in desperate need of helping hands to rebuild areas that were destroyed and are yet to recover. Over 8,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were injured. Countless lost their homes, families and places of worship. Entire villages were reduced to nothing but rubble, all in a matter of minutes. The country is still feeling the impact of this shocking disaster, so volunteering your time in Nepal will make a huge difference.
If you’re looking to volunteer in Nepal there are some amazing organisations that you can look into.
Projects Abroad offers volunteer programs all over the world. It’s a great place to start your volunteer planning and thinking about what options are available to you. With Projects Abroad you can help rebuild schools and homes that were damaged, work in educational support for children in need, medical internships or even help with wildlife conservation. There’s bound to be a programme that interests you, suiting your budget and time restrictions. If you’re not sure where you want to start, they’ve got a friendly team that would love to hear from you! Shoot them an email and take the first step towards volunteering in Nepal.
Tourism brings revenue to Nepal but sadly it does have negative impacts, like declining forest along trekking trails and a rise in sex trafficking. If you want to volunteer in Nepal, consider how your skill set may be best suited. It’s important to be passionate about the work and to do your research to ensure the organisation has the same values as you.
Hundreds of volunteers come to Nepal and do incredible work in conservation and development. Below is a list of some great volunteering organisations to consider:
- Child Rescue Nepal is an amazing organisation that helps to improve the lives of children who have been abandoned, abused or used in trafficking.
- Community Action Treks is an organisation that offers various treks and hikes that contribute to community action in Nepal.
- Helping Hands places medical volunteers at clinics all around Nepal.
- Rural Assistance Nepal helps to arrange placements and volunteering opportunities in education and health care around Nepal.
If English is your first language (or you’re fluent) then why not consider teaching English in Nepal? There are a few courses you can take that will give you your TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification. Depending on where you’re located, your hometown might offer a course or you’ll be able to find an online one. Teaching English can be an extremely rewarding experience, and a great way to make friends and learn about local cultures and customs.
About the author
My name is Louis Cuthbert and I’ve been travelling the globe for the last two and a half years documenting my adventures. Follow me on Instagram @one_globe_travels.