The land of snowy peaks, unimaginable landscapes, and dramatic rural areas, Nepal is a country that encompasses adventure, culture, and adrenaline all in one. It’s home to the eight out of the ten highest peaks of the world attracting adventure junkies and hiking lovers from all over the world. Apart from the majestic Himalayas, Nepal is a destination for those who seek unbelievably friendly nations, rich cultural heritage, spirituality, and an experience of a simpler lifestyle. However, Nepal can be quite chaotic and surprising, so this guide is packed with all the important Nepal travel tips you will need to plan your visit.
Essential Nepal travel tips
The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, located in South Asia, is the 49th biggest country by population. Bordered by India and China, Nepal is a landlocked country. Bangladesh is only 27 km away, while the Indian region Sikkim separates it from Bhutan.
The country has a diverse landscape with subalpine forests, fertile plains, and the highest point on Earth – Mount Everest. It is also home and the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
The capital: Kathmandu
Population: 28.09 million (2018 estimate)
Official language: Nepali
Writing system: Devanagari (Abugida system)
Currency: Nepalese Rupee (NPR)
Do you need a visa?
Most citizens can get visas on arrival in Nepal. There are multiple-entry visas valid for 15, 30, and 90 days costing $30, $50, and $120 respectively. Only 12 countries are required to get a visa prior to their travel from the nearby diplomatic missions, so check before you go.
The procedure is quite simple and fast, with almost no ques. All you need to have is a valid passport, money for the visa fee, and a passport-size photo. The immigration accepts USD, Euro, or Pound, so you don’t have to exchange to Rupees with a bad exchange rate.
To make the process even smoother, you can even fill out the form and apply for an online tourist visa.
Is Nepal safe to travel to?
Nepal is a safe country to travel to. The majority of accidents happen in the areas prone to unexpected natural disasters. If planning to do solo female travel across the country, many would advise to join groups and avoid trekking alone. However, I have heard and read from my fellow female travel bloggers that they never felt unsafe or threatened when wandering alone.
As a general rule, be cautious of your belongings and always keep them close to you. Don’t leave valuable items in hotels or hostels. And before embarking on the hike, register with your local embassy in Kathmandu and copy all the important documents such as flight tickets, passports, trekking permits, etc.
Make sure to invest in proper travel insurance, as there are plenty of incidents when people injured themselves or got sick when trekking as some can’t bear the high altitude. So check with the company what they cover. For a budget-friendly option, I recommend SafetyWing travel insurance, as you can opt-in for as many days as you’d like.
Best time to visit Nepal
Generally speaking, the country has three seasons, and choosing when to visit Nepal is one of the most significant aspects. High season falls in October and November and sees lots of tourists and trekkers flocking to the country from all over the world. Therefore, accommodations get booked quickly, especially to Annapurna and Everest treks. April and May are ideal for those who’d like to summit Everest.
Low season starts from June and lasts till September. It’s a monsoon period so the country is less crowded with travelers and hikers. Alternatively, you can visit Nepal from March to April – that’s a shoulder season.
Nepali festivals to attend:
- Nepali New Year – second week of April
- Holi (Phagu) – March (date varies)
- Dashain Festival – most important Hindu Festival celebrated in October and November
- Tihar – the festival of lights and color celebrated in November
How to get to Nepal
Visit Nepal by air
Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from America, Europe, Australia, or South Africa. Moreover, the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu is the only international airport in the country. However, there are lots of connecting flights. The easiest and shortest way to visit Nepal by air is from other Asian countries including India, China, and Emirates to name a few.
We flew with Air Arabia from Istanbul, Turkey with a short layover at Sharjah which was only enough to catch a second flight to Kathmandu. More than 35 airlines operate connecting flights with more than 50 cities, so the choice is vast.
Visit Nepal by land
Overland travel to Nepal is only possible either from India or China via Tibet. Even though overland travel can be time-consuming, it’s an exciting experience and worth the effort as you’ll be seeing many places which you would not if flying.
Nepal travel tips to know before you go
Is Nepal expensive?
Generally speaking, Nepal is not an expensive country to travel to. Like anywhere else, it can be as budget-friendly or as luxurious as you want it to be. Roughly speaking, you can get by with $20-30 as a daily budget covering accommodation, food, transportation, and some tours. However, you can travel on a lower budget too, if you choose local buses over those catering to tourists, eat at local restaurants, and stay at cheap hotels.
The costs increase if you plan on hiking in Nepal, as the majority of those popular treks do require special permits, park fees, guides, and TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System).
Do Nepalese speak English?
YES, they do! Almost every single person we met during our travels, did speak perfect English, even kids and the elderly. Many of them speak English as their second language due to the colonial influence in the 18th century via India, who was a colony of Britain for quite some time. And in the 1850s Nepal got a modern education system that was highly influenced by the education system in England.
You won’t need to master the Nepalese, but it’s always a good idea to learn some basic words in the local language, even if they are only ‘Hello’ or ‘Goodbye’.
- Namaste – Hello / Goodbye
- Dhanyabaad – Thank you
- Ho – yes
- Hoena – no
- Maapha Ganus – excuse me / sorry
Iconic Nepal destinations
Depending on what kind of traveler you are, Nepal tries to cater to each and every individual. Even though the country is like a paradise for trekking lovers, there are plenty of places to go for alternative visitors, but here a shortlist of the iconic destinations:
- Everest Base Camp
- Annapurna Mountains
- Changu Narayan Village
- Chitwan National Park
Public transportation in Nepal is quite chaotic, with no particular set times for departure. Narrow roads make land travel slow in addition to the poor conditions. There are tourist buses towards popular destinations, they are a bit more comfortable but expensive than local ones. To avoid the hustle, check out 12GO Asia and Bookaway websites, otherwise hit the bus stations, and enjoy the unique experience.
Kathmandu Airport to the city
If you fly to Kathmandu, the best way to get to your accommodation is via either a prepaid or local taxi parked outside of the airport.
The management of the airport provides a 24-hour taxi service for the visitors at a fixed price and even gives you the receipt. As the government regulates it, the management is committed to ensuring your safety. However, the prices are a bit expensive compared to the local taxi. Additionally, someone might pop-in next to the driver’s seat and tell you all about Nepal trying to sell you various packages as you drive to the destinations. Once the person will understand that you are not interested, they’ll hop off the car.
The price for the prepaid taxi is around 700-750 NPR to get to Thamel. And in case you are traveling at night after 9:30 p.m there’s an additional charge of 100 NPR.
Local taxis are parked behind the prepaid taxi counter and the roundabout. If you are skilled in bargaining, you can save around 200-300 NPRs easily. However, agree on the price first as often they don’t have a meter and make sure the driver knows the address including the name of your hotel.
Alternatively, there is a local bus from the airport to the city, but it doesn’t go directly to Thamel. This is the least comfortable way that might turn a 20-minute car ride into a 60-minute bus ride and walking through the streets with your bags. Thus, I would recommend taking a prepaid taxi service.
Buses in Nepal
Apart from bad unpaved roads, local buses tend to stop for meal breaks or pick up locals along the way. The average speed on the roads is around 25-30 km per hour and sometimes, the roads are so narrow that two vehicles can’t pass by which also slows the journey time. However, these are the cheapest options if you are a budget traveler as the ticket to the longest journey shouldn’t cost more than 500 NPR.
Local buses often serve on shorter routes or rural areas. Depending on the destination, it may not depart until it gets full, VERY full, nearly to bursting and can get quite suffocating inside with no fresh air. During the drive, it may stop any time someone flags it down, meaning more people stuffing inside.
The only way to get the seat on the bus is to show up early and wait. Buy the tickets onboard as each bus has a conductor.
I know this might not sound appealing, but if you are planning on visiting remote villages (which you absolutely should) taking local buses is the only option. Just a friendly tip: ask around in your hotel or elsewhere what the average ticket price is for the destination and keep the exact amount. This way the conductor won’t try to rip you off and ask a double. Also, if the conductor offers to put your backpack securely on the seat, it will most likely charge you for that. Once they even wanted to charge us for the bag in the rear.
Alternatively, tourist buses run regularly between Kathmandu to Pokhara, Chitwan National Park, and Sonauli. Buses are in good condition, with slightly better chairs. It is easy to buy tickets for these buses through travel agents. Also, note that these buses have designating departure stations, so make sure you get the correct address from the agent.
Because of being more comfortable, safer, and quicker without additional stops, the tickets are expensive and the agents might add an undisclosed commission fee. For instance we paid 700 NPR for Kathmandu-Pokhara tourist bus. Buy the tickets at least two days earlier to your departure.
The third option is express buses that stop at scheduled points, making them faster and more comfortable than local buses. There are daily departing in the morning and night buses setting off in the afternoon or early evening. Like tourist buses, you can reserve a seat for the express bus and buy tickets beforehand.
Note that your backpacks and suitcases will go up on the roof when traveling with local and express buses. They are secure but keep your belongings and valuables next to you.
Other practical things to know before you visit Nepal
Water in Nepal isn’t drinkable. The only option you have is the bottled water, boiling it, or using purifying tablets. In case of boiling the water, make sure you boil it longer, and when buying the bottled one ensure that the top isn’t tempered. You can bring your reusable water bottle as some of the hotels and hostels do have dispensers to fill it up for several Rupees.
Sadly, Kathmandu is the most polluted city in Asia for various reasons, some of them being the high traffic, the population itself, and the post-earthquake constructions; the Bagmati River is an open sewer, while the air quality is so toxic that it causes health problems to many locals and foreigners, while the industrial and residential garbage isn’t handled effectively.
Unfortunately, it’s not all about Kathmandu, Nepal, in general, suffers from major pollution seen everywhere you go. Therefore it’s important to properly prepare for the trip. Whether you have or don’t have any respiratory health conditions, I would still advise you to pack a face mask. Many locals and police officers do wear face masks outside!
Limited street signs in Kathmandu
Kathmandu is the largest city of Nepal, and even though it’s capital you might expect somewhat organized urbanization. Like many things, Kathmandu’s urban areas are chaotic. The city lacks street signs, and the only way we could navigate while walking was by the addresses written on the advertisement banners on each window or door.
Nepal uses 220V / 50 Hz electricity with outlets compatible with European plugs. So to avoid the headache pack the universal travel adaptor for all of your electronics.
ATMs and Money Withdrawal
ATMs are widely available in Nepal, however only Pokhara and Kathmandu have regularly working machines that accept international credit/debit cards.
You can only withdraw Nepalese Rupees with a limit ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 per transaction. Like in many other places, most of the ATMs do charge you a withdrawal fee. Major trekking routes such as Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit Trek do have ATMs but don’t rely on them because of weather issues, actual stocking the machines, telecommunication, and power failures. Withdraw the money in Kathmandu or Pokhara before you depart for the trek.
What to eat when you visit Nepal
Nepalese cuisine varies according to the ethnicity, climate, and soil of the country. The cuisine has meat and vegetable-based meals infused with various flavorful spices and herbs.
- Momo – local-tyle dumplings with various fillings
- Chow mein – Chinese-style stir-fried noodles
- Dal Bhat – a serving of lentil soup, rice, and one vegetable dish
- Pakora – vegetable snack / street food
- Sel Roti – something like a mixture of donuts and bagel
- Samosas – Indian appetizers widely spread in Nepal
Do’s and Don’ts in Nepal
As Nepal has diverse traditional beliefs and ethnicity and traditional beliefs, there are several cultural practices that you need to consider when visiting the country.
- Take off shoes when entering a temple, monastery, or someone’s house.
- Beef is strictly prohibited among Hindus, so don’t expect meat-based meals to have beef inside
- Eat with a spoon and use a fork as a helping utensil as you would with a knife.
- Avoid eating from a common pot or drinking water from a shared vessel for health issues
- Never stop over something, touch anything with your feet, or point to another person or a sacred place.
- Dress appropriately, and don’t pack revealing clothes.
- As many Hindu temples don’t allow foreigners to enter, ask permission first.
- Greet people with ‘Namaste’ and palms-together-gesture
- Walk around stupas and temples clockwise
- When taking pictures of a person or an object, ask permission first.
- Use both hands when paying, giving or receiving something, to show appreciation and respect
- Avoid public display of affection
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Nepal travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Nepal, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking.com and Agoda, or find a cool apartment on Airbnb and get $34 off on your first stay (my invite expires in 30 days after you sign up! )
– Pre-book a private car transfer from Kathmandu Airport to the city center
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
– Book in advance some of the best city walks, trekking trips, and day trips to maximize your stay and experience in Nepal