Mountainous Nepal has the highest Himalayan peaks in the world. Yet, the southern part of the country bordering India along the Indo-Gangetic Plain (known as the Terai) is surprisingly low-lying. This gives Nepal a diverse climate. For trekking, the best time to visit Nepal is during October and November, when it's sunny and warm. However, this is high season, when crowds and prices peak. Spring, from March to May, is also popular. It's the best time to see blooming flowers and wildlife. There are benefits of visiting Nepal at other times as well, depending on where you go.
If you plan your trip carefully, Nepal can be a year-round destination. Here's what to consider.
Weather in Nepal
Nepal has four main seasons, but the climate changes according to elevation, which extends from less than 300 feet above sea level to 29,029 feet above sea level (the height of Mount Everest).
Winter, from December to February, is mild in the flat subtropical south but bitterly cold at high altitudes in the north. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is about 15,000 feet above sea level. It has a warm temperate climate with cold, dry winters and hot summers.
The bright and dry winter days are pleasant, but temperatures plunge at night. Heat and humidity rise in mid-May before the onset of the summer monsoon, which sweeps up the Indian subcontinent, in June.
Nepal receives about 80 percent of its rainfall from June to mid-September, although the amount varies depending on location. Pokhara, in the Western Hills (which are west of Kathmandu albeit in the geographic center of Nepal), has particularly high rainfall—more than 120 inches a year—produced by moisture from monsoon winds as they encounter the Annapurna Range directly to the north. This compares to only 12 inches in the Mustang district, bordering Tibet in the rainshadow of the Himalaya. Kathmandu's average annual rainfall is about 60 inches.
Trekking in Nepal
Trekking is the most popular thing to do in Nepal. You may hear that the summer monsoon season isn't suitable for trekking. This isn't entirely true, though. Experienced trekkers can avoid the rain by heading to the north side of the Himalaya mountain range, which is protected from the monsoon.
High mountain trekking is challenging during winter. Fierce cold and snow (possibly blizzards) cause many lodges to shut. High passes may be blocked too—such as Thorong La on the Annapurna Circuit, Ganja La, Cho La, Renjo La, Kongma La, and Gosainkunda-Lauribina Pass. That's not to say it's impossible to trek the iconic Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp in winter—just be prepared for extreme weather conditions and accommodations without heating. (The benefit is a lot fewer people on the trails.)
Treks and hikes at lower elevations can be readily undertaken throughout the year, although you'll need to be careful of leeches during the monsoon season.
Tourists generally avoid visiting Nepal in winter, which is understandable because it does get cold in much of the country. However, this means there are hardly any tourists around, so it's peaceful and cheaper. Sunlit, lakeside Pokhara offers enticing deals for those who don't want to trek.
Kathmandu and Pokhara have similar winter temperatures, which range from about 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) overnight to 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius) during the day. Nepal's winter is quite short, though. So, temperatures tend to be higher in early December and late February. The Annapurna Circuit is most likely to be affected by snowfall in winter.
Treks that don't go above about 15,000 feet above sea level will be most comfortable. Options include the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Poon Hill Trek, Ghorepani Circuit, Royal Trail around Pokhara, Dhampus Trek, Helambu Trek, and the hills around Kathmandu Valley for short and easy hikes. These include Champadevi, Chandragiri, Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, Ranikot, and Nagarkot to Dhulikhel. Read more about what to do in Kathmandu.
Winter is an excellent time to visit the jungles of Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park in southern Nepal's flat planes. You can also hike the Chitwan Hills Trail up to Siraichuli Hill, one of the highest hills in the Mahabharat Range.
Also, February and March are among the best months for paragliding around Pokhara.
Events to check out:
- Pokhara Street Festival at the end of December.
- Tamu Losar, the New Year celebration of the ethnic Tibetan Gurung community on Dec. 31, 2019.
- Sonam Losar, the New Year celebration of the ethnic Tibetan Tamang community on Jan. 25, 2020.
- Basanti Panchami, dedicated to the worship of Goddess Saraswati on Jan. 29, 2020. It also makes the transition from winter to spring.
- Maha Shivratri, dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva on Feb. 21, 2020. The best place to see it is Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, where there are thousands of colorful sadhus (Hindu holy men).
- Gyalpo Losar, the New Year celebration of the Sherpa community on Feb. 24, 2020.
Spring is the second most popular time to visit Nepal and Kathmandu's traveler district, Thamel, is buzzing. The season brings warmer weather that gets quite hot and stifling at lower elevations. Nature comes alive. Dust from the planes and smoke from local fires can cause haze and reduce visibility, though. Thunderstorms are quite common later in the season, as the monsoon approaches. However, conditions remain cold and clear at the higher altitudes, favorable for trekking and mountaineering expeditions.
In Pokhara and Kathmandu, May temperatures reach around 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) during the day and 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celcius) at night.
Head to the higher mountains for Nepal's classic treks in the Annapurna region, Everest region, or Mount Kanchanjunga. If you want to avoid the crowds or up the level of difficulty, choose an offbeat trekking destination such as the Makalu region, Langtang, Manaslu, or the Ganesh Himal region.
The lower areas around Pokhara are the best places to see Nepal's famous rhododendrons in bloom in early spring. They begin blooming above Namche in the Everest region in late spring.
Bardia National Park gets very hot by May but provides the best chance of spotting a tiger, as the animals come out of the jungle for water.
Events to check out:
- Holi, the festival of colors. It will take place on March 9, 2020, in the hills and March 10, 2020, in the Terai region.
- Ghode Jatra on March 24, 2020. The Nepal Army holds a horse race in the Kathmandu Valley to ward off demon Gurumapa.
- Nepalese New Year and Bisket Jatra on April 13, 2020. It's best experienced in Bhaktapur near Kathmandu.
The monsoon arrives by mid-June and remains until near the end of September, deterring most trekkers. Expect it to rain for a couple of hours a day, typically in the afternoon, as well as throughout the night. As it's the low season, generous hotel discounts are available. However, flights to Nepal may be canceled due to bad weather and roads blocked by landslides. Clouds typically cover the spectacular mountain scenery too.
Trekking is ideally undertaken in the rainshadow of the Himalaya at this time of year. This includes remote and isolated places such as Mustang, the Nar Phu Valley, and the Dolpo region. On the Annapurna Circuit, Marsyangai Valley and Tilicho Lake are particularly picturesque, with flourishing greenery and postcard settings.
Thrill-seekers have a reason to visit Nepal during the monsoon—white water rafting. July and August are the best months for beginners, as water levels are lower. The Bhotekoshi river gives the best adrenaline rush. Sunkoshi, Trishuli, Kali Gandaki, and Seti are other major rivers for rafting.
Events to check out:
- Yarthung Horse Festival in Manang in June or July.
- Gai Jatra, a festival in Kathmandu Valley to commemorate the death of loved ones, on Aug. 19, 2019. Family members of the deceased dress as cows or lead a cow through the streets.
- Teej festival for women on Sept. 1, 2019. Thousands of women wearing red come to celebrate at Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu.
After the monsoon withdraws around the third week of September, the skies become clear and the weather stable. The glorious post-monsoon period is the best time to visit Nepal weather-wise. Being high season, there's a great demand for accommodations. Prices leap, and hotels in Kathmandu get booked up. Be prepared to jostle for space on Nepal's classic trekking trails too. Similar to in spring, stick to the off-beat treks to avoid the crowds.
October is also a popular month for white water rafting, while October and November are optimal for paragliding.
Events to check out: