Planning Your Trip
Things to Do
Hiking in Nepal
There's a lot to love about small, landlocked Nepal, with its numerous wildlife-filled national parks, ancient Hindu and Buddhist cultures, and more than its fair share of the tallest mountains on Earth. Sandwiched between India to the south and China (Tibet) to the north, the South Asian country's landscape and culture shares similarities with its neighbors, but is also distinctly different. And, despite looking small on the map, its mountainous geography and limited road networks mean that Nepal is stunningly diverse. Popular among trekkers and mountaineers, Nepal is also a fun destination for families, couples, high-budget travelers, and anyone else looking to be surprised and impressed.
Nevertheless, Nepal is a low-income developing country and faces some serious infrastructure challenges. Travelers will have a better time if they're not in a hurry and learn to go with the flow. Here are some important tips for getting the most out of your trip to Nepal.
Planning Your Trip
- Best time to visit: For most outdoor activities in most parts of the country, the best time to visit is from September to November, and from March to May. Winter (December to February) is comfortable at lower altitudes. Traveling during monsoon season (June to August) is not advised, except to areas in the Himalayan rainshadow (Mustang, Dolpo, and others).
- Languages: Nepali and Newari in Kathmandu. Elsewhere, many indigenous and regional languages are spoken, including Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Gurung, Tamang, and Sherpa. English is spoken as a second language by educated professionals in the main cities.
- Currency: Nepali Rupee (NPR)
- Getting around: Take domestic flights for longer distances, local and tourist buses between the main cities, and private taxis within cities and along major highways.
- Know before you go: Not all of Nepal is at high altitude. It ranges from not much more than sea level on the plains bordering India to 2,700 feet in Pokhara, 4,600 feet in Kathmandu, and 29,000 feet at the summit of Everest. This means how you pack and what you wear should depend on where you're going, and in which season.
Things To Do
Nepal is famous as a mountain adventure playground, and whether you're into high-altitude mountain climbing or gentle walks in the hills, you'll find it. In addition to hiking, you can go whitewater rafting and kayaking, paragliding, zip lining, bungee jumping, and more. But you don't have to be ultra-athletic to enjoy Nepal, as the towns and cities offer cultural and artistic attractions, while the national parks have wildlife safaris and bird watching.
- Go trekking. Trekking trails follow the mountainous paths that Nepalis have been using for centuries, and range from lower-altitude day walks near the main cities to multi-week adventures high in the mountains.
- Tour the temples of Kathmandu. Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, is an ancient city that has traditionally been at the crossroads of trade routes and culture. Its combined Hindu and Buddhist traditions can best be seen in the multitude of temples throughout the Kathmandu Valley, including Boudhanath Stupa, Swayambhunath Stupa, Pashupatinath Temple, and the Durbar Squares in Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.
- Join a jungle safari. Spot rhinos, crocodiles, elephants, monkeys, birds, deer, and perhaps even the Royal Bengal Tiger in Nepal's jungle parks, including Chitwan, Bardia, and Koshi Tappu.
What to Eat and Drink
The staple foods of the Nepali diet are rice and lentil curry, a dish called dal bhat. Most Nepali people will eat dal bhat at least once a day; it may be a simple meal of just rice, lentils, and a pickle, or it may be a more elaborate affair with vegetable and meat curries (chicken, mutton, or buffalo), salad, curd, papad, and fruit. Dal bhat is available in restaurants and food establishments throughout the country, and may have regional variations in the type of lentil or vegetables used. Nepali curries are generally much less creamy or buttery than those eaten in neighboring Northern India. Vegetarianism isn't that common, although vegetarian food is easy to find (vegan food less so).
Nepali cuisine also has Tibetan influences, and a favorite snack among Nepalis belonging to various ethnic groups is Tibetan momos. These are small dumplings filled with meat or vegetables and served steamed, fried, or in a soup.
In terms of alcoholic beverages, locally produced beer brands are popular everywhere (particularly Gorkha and Everest brands), but in rural areas it's more common for locals to drink and serve homemade rice wine, called chhang or raksi.
Where to Stay
Almost all visitors to Nepal will arrive in, or pass through, Kathmandu. In the capital, the central Thamel district is most popular with travelers—this is where the greatest concentration of hotels, tour companies, restaurants, and shops can be found. Other areas with good quality hotels and guesthouses include Patan, Boudha, Lazimpat, and Bhaktapur.
Beyond the capital, Pokhara and the small towns around the Chitwan National Park are popular and offer a good range of accommodation, from high-end resorts to mid-range hotels and homestays. Pokhara is an especially scenic city because it's set on a lake (Phewa Tal) and is right beside the Annapurna range. Should you stay here, try to get a room with a lake and/or mountain view. Safari lodges around Chitwan often offer all-inclusive packages, or at least jungle safari services for an extra fee.
In rural and mountainous areas, it's not hard to find accommodation, but standards vary enormously. "Teahouses" offer basic accommodation in popular trekking areas, usually with private rooms, shared toilets, and home-cooked meals.
Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport is the only international airport in Nepal. Direct flights arrive from a variety of Asian and Middle Eastern cities, including Istanbul, Dubai, Qatar, Delhi, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. To reach Nepal from further afield, such as North America and Europe, it's usually necessary to connect to a flight from one of these other cities first. There are also regular flights to/from Lhasa (Tibet) and Paro (Bhutan).
To enter Nepal overland, there are a number of border crossings along the India border, and limited options on the northern border with China (Tibet). Long-distance buses operate from Delhi, but these can take more than 30 hours, so are only a good option if you're on a very tight budget. Other buses can be taken from places in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal states in India. Be aware, though, that some border crossing points are only open to Nepali and Indian citizens (it's an open border). Citizens of other countries are only permitted at a few select crossings.
The land border with Tibet is only really a possibility if you've arranged a Tibet tour with a Nepal or China-based tour company, and shouldn't be relied upon as a general entry point. The border is often closed, with little or no notice, by the Chinese authorities.
Culture and Customs
- You'll rarely, if ever, be pressured into leaving a tip, but it is certainly welcome as most Nepalis earn very low wages. When tipping in a restaurant, it's polite to round up the bill to the nearest round number, or to leave about 10 percent in change. When tipping a guide, porter, driver (except short-distance taxi driver), or someone else who has provided you a service, it's better to give this to them directly, at the end of their service. If you give it to their company with the request that the tip be passed on, there's a high chance your guide won't receive it. Again, about 10 percent of the total cost of the service is appropriate.
- Nepali culture is quite traditional, so it's appropriate to dress modestly. Women will generally feel more comfortable covering their shoulders, chests, and knees with loose-fitting clothing. Men should avoid wearing tank tops as these are considered underwear. In Kathmandu and Pokhara, you will likely see young Nepalis of all genders wearing modern clothes, but the vibe is more conservative in small towns and villages.
- Tourists are generally allowed in temples, but be respectful. It's not a great idea to get your camera right up into someone's face as they go about their daily rituals. A few temples, such as Kathmandu's Pashupatinath and Patan's Krishna Mandir, prohibit non-Hindus from entering certain sections, but these are signposted. When visiting a Buddhist stupa or passing a mani stone wall in rural areas, always pass it on its left. This is the custom, and not doing so is rude.
Money Saving Tips
Nepal is a good value destination and prices are generally low, although not as low as some other South and Southeast Asian countries because of the logistics of transporting goods to Nepal.
- In general, the higher you go in the mountains, the more expensive food becomes. A meal that could be bought for $5 in Kathmandu will likely be double that in Namche Bazaar or elsewhere high in the mountains. Budget accordingly, with cash, as there are few-to-no ATMS away from the main roads.
- When taking a taxi a short distance, such as from the airport or between tourist attractions, settle on a price with your driver before starting out. Ask at your hotel what the price should be. You'll still probably be charged an inflated tourist fare, but you'll save yourself some stress if you agree on a price beforehand—meters are rarely used (or in working order).