Ultimate Guide to travelling Nepal

Know before you go:

Population: 29.3 million (2017)

Capital: Kathmandu

Language: 123 languages are spoken in the country as a first language. Nepali is the official language of the nation. English is commonly used

Religion: Hindu 81.3%, Buddhism 9.04%, Islam 4.39%, Kirat 3.04% Christianity1.41% Others 0.78%

Currency: Nepalese Rupee

Time zone: UTC+5:45

Drives on: Left

Fun Fact: Eight of the world’s ten highest mountains can be found in Nepal, including Everest, the tallest in the world,

You will find ATMs in major cities and towns. Nepal is a cash country and you should carry cash if travelling outside of these cities and towns.

When to go

Autumn and Spring are the best months for hiking in Nepal. Warmer temperatures, little rain and clear skies make both seasons more popular with visitors. A downside to visiting or hiking at this time of the year is the trails are busier and guesthouses and tea houses are more expensive. If you want to avoid the crowds try visiting just before or after each season starts. Nepal can be visited all year round and each season will offer you different benefits.

Autumn (late Sept - late Nov) is effectively Nepal’s peak season and is the most popular time of the year for trekkers to visit Nepal. Moderate temperatures, little rainfall and best visibility attract many visitors to the region. Trails are busier, prices are higher and finding accommodation can be harder.

Winter (Dec - late Jan) brings crystal clear skies but much colder weather cutting off most high treks. This is a great time of the year for hiking in the foothills and to visit some of Nepal’s viewing points. It is also a good time of the year to visit either one or both of Nepal’s national parks.

Spring (Feb - mid-April) Similar to autumn the spring season brings consistent warmer temperatures and days are getting longer. This is a popular time for hikers to visit and trails and guesthouses will be busy. A potential downside to visiting in Spring are hazy skies obstructing views but trekkers can normally trek above the haze. A positive however is that the long grass in the national parks is cut back in Spring which makes it easier to spot wildlife.

Pre Monsoon (mid-April - late May) Temperatures are starting to rise and rain and humidity are increasing. Afternoon showers are more common. Trails are less busy meaning hikers can get some good deals. Temperatures up high are moderate and clear days aren’t uncommon.

Monsoon (June - late Sept) The weather is hot and it rains every day with the chance of evening thunderstorms. The weather brings fresh clean air, flowers and lots of greenery. Beware that some routes may be affected by landslides and journeys may take longer.

Accommodation

In tourist hotspots like Kathmandu, Pokhara or Chitwan visitors can choose from a range of hotels, guesthouses or hostels although guesthouses are the most common and easiest found. Guesthouses range from the most basic to pretty well established small hotels and offer a wide variety of rooms including double, twin and sometimes dorm rooms. Prices vary from place to place and from season to season but there is a lot of competition between budget accommodation keeping prices low.

For those who are planning to spend time trekking in the mountains, you will likely stay in tea houses which will be dotted along the trail. Tea houses offer very basic rooms very cheap and will have a kitchen with a breakfast and dinner menu to refuel after a day’s hiking. The food on offer will be pretty basic but you will get a good idea of how the people in the mountains live and eat. Not all tea houses will have hot showers and the ones that do may charge extra to use them. The same goes for electricity, some places may charge extra. Bedrooms most likely won’t be heated but you will be given lots of blankets and in colder times have your sleeping bag with you. Some luxury items are available such as wifi and bottles of beer or chocolate but note that the higher you go the higher the price goes!

Hikers can also plan a camping trip through the mountains. This can be achieved solo or with the help of tour guides and Sherpas who can help guide, carry luggage and cook.

Visitors who want to get a real taste of Nepal can opt to stay at a homestay for a period of time. Spend some time living with a Nepalese family and experience an authentic look at Nepalese life.

Top Destinations

Pokhara, Chitwan National Park, Annapurna Circuit, Everest Base Camp

How to get around

Your love of Nepal may be tested when you begin trying to move around the country! Bumpy slow-moving roads make journeys that should take an hour or two take 8 hours plus. Distances may look short on the maps but in reality, you should allow at least one hour for every 20km you need to travel. If you are travelling in pre-monsoon or monsoon roads and routes can be affected by landslides.

Buses

Public bus

Getting on a public bus in Nepal is an experience you’ll never forget but likely want to. Many of the public buses are old, worn and their suspension non-existent. With the road conditions so bad this can make for a slow, unpleasant rocky ride. Buses are always overcrowded, hot and will have Bollywood styled music blaring for the entirety of your journey. Expect your bus to make stops for passengers getting off and on, tea stops and for meal stops. You can catch the bus at an open-air bus station or bus park or hail down a bus on the side of the road. If you want to get a seat on the bus you will want to be one of the first passengers otherwise you will be left standing squashed with the rest of the passengers. If you have sizable luggage it will be stowed on the roof, make sure you have your locks on your bags to avoid your belongings being stolen.

On a brighter note, even though a 140km journey may take you 8 or more hours to complete they are very cheap and will bring you all around the country.

Tourist buses

Tourist buses are newer, in better condition and are normally only filled to capacity meaning an overall more comfortable and safer journey. Tourist buses also don’t stop every couple of minutes to collect passengers meaning a slighter quicker journey although they get caught up in the same traffic as everyone else. Regular tourist buses connect Kathmandu with Pokhara, Chitwan and Sonauli and also connect Pokhara with Chitwan. Although regular they fill up fast and booking in advance is advised.

Express buses

Day and night express buses are available for long-distance journeys. They stop only at scheduled stops and can be and should be pre-booked. Tourists are advised to stick to daily express bus routes as it is more common for luggage to go missing at night and not uncommon for the bus driver to fall asleep at the wheel ending in an accident. Express buses are a step up from public buses but expect the same traffic, blaring music and regular meal stops.

Air

By plane

Take off and land on some of the most unique and dangerous airstrips in the world! There are many routes in which you can fly to in Nepal shaving hours off your journeys. Considering the state of the roads and long bus journeys, flying can be a good alternative to road travel. Be warned though that Nepal’s air safety records won’t have you feeling comfortable when you’re in the air. Lukla is commonly referred to as one of the most dangerous airports in the world with a 700m drop off a cliff if the pilot gets it wrong but fear not as only experienced pilots are allowed to land here. They must have made at least 100 landings and takeoffs on short runways and worked in such conditions for at least a year in Nepal.

There are many airports in Nepal in several locations such as Pokhara, Lukla, Bharatpur, Jomsom, Janakpur, Biratnagar and Nepaljung.

Flying is popular among those going to Everest on the Lukla flight or for those flying into Jomsom on the Annapurna Circuit or from Kathmandu to Pokhara.

By Helicopter

For hiking parties that are short on time helicopters can be chartered to drop them to villages that would otherwise take several days driving or more walking.

4WD

You can travel by 4WD to more excluded parts that bus or other transport can’t take you to. Many of the villages in the mountains are being connected by dirt roads to make getting supplies to the villages easier. There was a lot of road construction on the Annapurna Circuit when I was there in 2017. It is possible to charter a 4WD to take you to a village along your chosen trail which can save you several days hiking. If you are travelling solo or in a small group try finding a 4WD that is taking supplies from the town where your trail begins to the village where you want to go and make a deal with the driver. Be prepared for a pretty bumpy, very unconformable long day. The tracks can be in very bad condition meaning even short distances can take a long time.

Trucks

It is possible to flag down a truck and negotiate a fee to bring you to where you want to go. It isn’t the safest option and you need to pay extra attention to your luggage but it might get you out of a sticky situation if you’re stuck. Read about my truck experience here.

Taxi

Taxis are a good option for those travelling in bigger cities like Kathmandu or Pokhara. Most drivers will negotiate a fare with you as they can charge more by not using their meters.

Must-do experiences

Hiking in the Himalayas - Stay in a teahouse - Visit Pohkara - Visit Chitwan National Park -

Try the local food

You won’t make it through your trip without hearing ‘dal bhat - 24-hour power’ and for good reason, it is the Nepalese national dish. On a big silver tray, you will be served steamed rice, a curried lentil soup (dal), a veggie curry, pickled vegetables and greens or a ‘sak’ along with a poppadom. Normally sold very cheap they can range from very tasty to very bland.

Road Food

Normally when your bus stops for a meal break you will find that the restaurant only serves a dhal bhat. Some places will sell pakoras and samosas.

Food in Teahouses

You will find that most tea houses offer similar menus consisting of a mix of local and western food. The cheapest and most filling option is the Dal Bhat as refills are normally offered for free. You will find a range of fried potatoes, fried rice, chow mein, momos, different pasta and Indian dishes, heated frozen pizzas and burgers and chips. For breakfast, you can order pretty standard but basic western dishes like eggs and toast, muesli, oats, pancakes or fried potatoes. The quality of food can greatly vary from tea house to tea house.

Nightlife


Much to my surprise, the nightlife in Kathmandu is surprisingly good. There are lots of bars in Thamel and even some clubs. The live music scene is good. Be sure to check out

The Purple Haze Rock bar, for some great live music

Sam’s bar for some cheeky cocktails

The Reggae bar for some chilled vibes

Everest Irish Pub for a traditional pub with good sports

Shisha Lounge and Bar for live music and food

Tom and Jerry’s for a game of pool and to meet other backpackers


Pohkara also has some great options. Be sure to check out

The Busy Bee Cafe for a place to meet other travellers and live music

Silk Road for one of their famous Thirsty Camels

The Old Blues Bar for live reggae and blues

All That Jazz for all your jazz needs

Movie Garden for an outdoor movie experience you won’t forget

The Irish Pub for all your sports needs