Nepal is an amazing country for trekking. There are hundreds of trekking and climbing routes of different lengths and difficulty. No wonder every year it attracts thousands of mountaineers and hikers from all over the world. In the last year, we’ve spent 6 months in Nepal and have done several treks including the major routes like Everest Base Camp Trek and Annapurna Circuit. In this post, we share our experience in order to help you to plan a perfect trekking holiday in Nepal.
Nepalese visa on arrival
Nationalities of most countries can get a Nepalese visa on arrival. To facilitate the process especially in the peak season April-May and October-November you can submit your application online through the website. It takes some time to fill the form at the airport. There are only 5 machines available. In the peak season, you might spend about 1 hour waiting. After filling the form and printing it you go to the counter to pay for your visa. The price depends on the duration of your stay. On arrival, you can get 3 types of visas: a 15-day visa (US$30), a 30-day visa (US$50), and a 90-day visa (US$125). Visas paid in USD.
If you want to extend your visa you can do it at the Immigration Office in Kathmandu or Pokhara. We’ve done it a couple of times in Pokhara, it was quick and easy. Every extension is for 15 days minimum, cost US$45. If it’s not enough you can extend it again. Depending on the country of your origin you can stay in Nepal up to 180 days per year.
Money in Nepal
Nepalese Rupee (NPR) is the official currency. The exchange rate (April 2020) – US$1 = NPR 120. There are many currency exchange places in Kathmandu and Pokhara where you can exchange the major currencies like USD, Euro, British Pounds, Australian and Canadian Dollars, Japanese Yen.
You pay in Rupees for everything including trekking permits, domestic flights, bus tickets, etc. The only place you pay in USD is the airport when you get your visa on arrival. For visa extension at the Immigration Office in Kathmandu or Pokhara, you pay in Rupees.
Most ATMs charge NPR 400-500/US$3-4 commission per transaction regardless of how much money you draw. It’s better to draw as much as you can to pay the commission on a bigger amount. From our experience ATMs of Nabil Bank are the best; their limit is NPR 35 000/US$290 per withdrawal. ATMs of other banks let you draw NPR 15 000-20 000/US$120-200 per transaction which means you have to draw twice to get the same amount and pay the commission twice.
ATMs can be found in most cities and towns across Nepal. When you go trekking I’d strongly recommend taking enough cash even if there is an ATM somewhere on the route there might be no money in it. Out of several treks we’ve done in Nepal we saw ATMs only on the Annapurna Circuit trek in Jomsom and on the Everest Base Camp trek in Lukla and Namche Bazar.
Cash vs cards
Many hotels, coffee shops, and fancy restaurants accept credit cards, they always charge 3-4% extra (a bank fee) if you pay by card. Supermarkets and big gear shops accept cards as well. Grocery stores, small shops, buses, taxis, and homestays accept only cash. Sometimes card machines don’t work. It’s always recommended to have enough cash just in case.
Best time for hiking
Nepal has four seasons; spring (March-May), summer (June – August), autumn (September – November), and winter (December – February). Spring and autumn are the best seasons for trekking. The weather is good and the temperature is comfortable for walking, not too hot, not too cold, not too wet. Summer is the worst time for hiking, it’s the peak of the monsoon season, it rains a lot everywhere. In winter it gets very cold higher up in the mountains, many guesthouses are closed, people go down to Kathmandu or Pokhara for winter.
Some people like trekking in winter because there are almost no people. We did the Langtang trek in mid-February and even there it was quite cold. Some routes e.g. the popular Annapurna Base Camp trek might be closed in winter due to avalanche risk or too much snow in the area.
April and October are the busiest months in Nepal. We tried not to trek during these months the trails get crowded and it spoils a little bit of the experience. Weather-wise April and October are the best months. We did the EBC trek in April once and there were many people but we never had any problems with finding accommodation.
Regardless if you do a trek independently or with a guide for most trekking routes inside the National parks you’ll need a permit. For many treks, you’ll need a TIMS card as well. According to the Tourism Board in Kathmandu, you need it for any trekking activity in the country but I’d recommend checking it for a specific trek.
For the Everest Base Camp trek, you don’t need the TIMS though at the Tourism Board Office in Kathmandu they insist you do. In fact, on the trek nobody ever checks it. There is a different permit established by the local government that you buy on the way. At the same time for trekking in the Annapurna Conservation Area, you need both the TIMS and the park permit. If you’re going to trek outside the National parks e.g. Panchase trek or Royal trek from Pokhara, you don’t need any permits or TIMS.
The TIMS card costs NPR 2000/US$16. It can be purchased at the Tourism Board Office in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
In order to get the TIMS card you’ll need;
- two passport-size photos
- one filled form (you get it at the Office)
- your insurance details (to fill the form)
- contact details in Nepal (we always put our hotel info)
- NPR 2000/US$16 cash, in local currency
The National park permits usually can be purchased at the Tourism Board Offices as well. The average price of a permit (Annapurna Sanctuary, Langtang Valley) is NPR 3000/US$25.
To get the permit you’ll need;
- your passport
- two passport-size photos*
- one filled form (you get it at the Office)
- NPR 3000/US$25 cash, in local currency
At the office in Pokhara, they take photos for free but sometimes they run out of supplies (paper, paint, etc.). If you don’t have photos and can’t get them at the office there are a couple of photo places next door, they charge NPR 300/US$2 for 4 photos. In Kathmandu, they can take a copy of your passport photo or a photo (if you have only one) if you don’t have any.
Some areas have more restrictions, trekkers are not allowed to visit them without a guide or a tour group. Usually, these areas are located close to the border with China or Tibet. For example to do the Upper Mustang trek or Manang trek you need a guide with a license. Usually, for hiking in these areas you need a more expensive permit, e.g. a permit for Upper Mustang costs US$500 per person compared to US$27 for hiking in the Annapurna Sanctuary.
The cost of trekking in Nepal
The cost depends on the trek and how you want to do it (with a guide, porter, etc.). Some treks work out more expensive not only because accommodation and food cost more but because it’s more expensive to get there (EBC Trek) or you need a special permit (Upper Mustang trek) or having a guide is compulsory (Manang trek).
How much money to take on the trek?
For a comfortable walk (not starving but not wasting tons of money on coffees and cakes) I’d suggest budgeting US$25-28 per person per day for your daily expenses mainly food, accommodation costs nothing or almost nothing. The cost of a guide or a porter is not included in this amount. If you hire a guide, expect to pay about US$30 per day depending on the number of people, you can share one guide between a couple of trekkers. Hiring a porter will cost you US$25-30 per day. You can share one porter between several trekkers as long as the combined weight of your luggage is no more than 15kg.
Always take the extra money that will be enough for a couple of days in case you get stuck somewhere due to snowfalls, flight cancellation, or sickness.
The average cost of trekking
|US$1-2 pp.||B-fast – US$4||TIMS card – US$16||Bus (return) – US$6-8|
|Lunch – US$4-6||Permit – US$25|
|Dinner – US$4-6|
Everest Base Camp trek works out more expensive, accommodation prices are higher, you pay extra for some facilities (hot shower, charging, wi-fi), food prices are a bit higher as well. Check our post Everest Base Camp trek cost for a detailed breakdown.
Money saving tips
Having some sort of water filtration or purification system saves a lot of money. If you buy 4-5 1l bottles of drinking water every day in one week you’ll spend between US$40 and US$50 only on water.
Bring tea bags/instant coffee/energy powder drinks. It’s much cheaper to buy a pot of boiled water than a pot of tea.
Bring peanut butter (if you like it). You can buy it in Kathmandu or Pokhara, you can order a chapati (local bread) and eat it with peanut butter for breakfast or snack.
Don’t buy alcohol. Beer and wine are in general very expensive in Nepal but they get crazy expensive at high altitudes (somebody has to carry it all the way up). A bottle of beer costs about US$7.
Officially it’s compulsory to have travel insurance for hiking inside the National parks. You fill in your insurance details (name of the company, phone number, number of your insurance policy, etc.) when you apply for your permits. In fact, out of more than 10 times, we applied for permits nobody has ever asked us to show our insurances. If you don’t have one or your insurance doesn’t cover trekking you can make it up, in the end, it’s your own life that you risk.
We’ve never had any injuries while hiking in Nepal but we’re very experienced hikers yet we both have insurances that cover trekking at high altitude. Anything can happen to you up in the mountains from getting a stomach bug to getting AMD or breaking your leg. Often the helicopter is the only way you can be evacuated. It’s very expensive we’re talking about US$5000. If you don’t have insurance that will cover the cost, you’ll have to pay it from your pocket.
The main trekking areas in Nepal
There are hundreds of trekking routes in Nepal including one long-distance route the Great Himalayan trek (the Nepalese part) that crosses the country from east to west. The Annapurna Sanctuary and Everest are the two most popular trekking regions in Nepal. Treks in these areas have the best infrastructure, they can be done independently.
Trekking routes in the Everest region
- Everest Base Camp trek itinerary is between 12-14 days
- Three Passes trek – 14-16 days
- Gokyo Lakes trek – 14-16 days
- Jiri to Lukla trek (an optional way of getting to Lukla for those who don’t want to fly) – 3 days
- Pikey Peak trek – 6-7 days
There are a couple of peaks that are more accessible for amateur climbers and those who can’t afford to climb Everest or Lhotse, e.g. Island Peak or Mera Peak, both are above 6000m/20 000ft.
Trekking routes in the Annapurna Region
- Annapurna Circuit trek – 10-15 days
- Annapurna Base Camp trek – 5-7 days
- Mardi Himal trek – 5-6 days
- Poon Hill trek – 3-4 days
- Khopra Danda trek – 7-8 days
- Tilicho Lake trek – 4-5 days, return from Jomsom
- Mohare Danda trek – 3-5 days
- Panchase trek – a 3-day trek from Pokhara
- Royal trek – another 3-day trek from Pokhara
There are several other areas in Nepal that are great for hiking with a couple of trekking routes each
- Mustang Region; Upper Mustang trek and Lower Mustang trek
- Langtang Valley; Langtang trek and Tamang Heritage Trail
- Gorkha Region; Manaslu Circuit trek
- Dolpa District; Upper Dolpo trek, Phoksundo Lake trek, Dhorpatan trek.
Doing a guided tour vs trekking independently
It all depends on your budget, time, chosen route, and how much you want to be involved in the process. Some people recommend joining a tour or hiring a guide if you’re a first-time trekker. We did our first multi-day trek ever (Everest Base Camp trek) independently and everything worked out fine. Since then we’ve done many treks and most of them unguided (except for those that you’re not allowed to do without a guide). We’ve met many people trekking in Nepal doing their first trek on their own as well. Popular routes with moderate altitudes such as Poon Hill trek for example are easier to do without a guide.
If you’re going to do one of the popular routes it’s not a problem to do it without a guide even for a first-timer. The route is marked, there are many guesthouses, shops and food places. You don’t need a map or GPS for navigation. There are online resources (like our blog) that have detailed trekking itineraries that you can just follow.
If you think that trekking independently involves too much planning and you just don’t have time for that then joining a tour is the best option for you. If you arrange a tour from home I’d recommend booking it through a reputable company like G-Adventures or Intrepid Travel. They offer full packages that include pick up at the airport, accommodation before and after the trek, transport, food and accommodation on the trek, guide, porters, etc. You just pick up a date and the rest will be arranged for you.
You can find an agency in Kathmandu or Pokhara there are many of them. You can try to find some reviews online of it before booking a trek with them to make sure it’s a reliable company.
If you don’t like group tours it’s possible to hire a guide or a porter (or both) just for you. The best way is to do it through an agency to make sure you get a knowledgeable guide that can speak English, have enough experience and all necessary paperwork. A standard price for a guide is US$25-30 per day depending on the number of people. For a porter that can carry up to 20-25kg you’ll pay US$20-25 per day. The price includes their accommodation and food, actually when they walk with tourists they stay and eat for free. Usually guesthouses have special room for guides and porters.
Altitude sickness and its prevention
It’s important to remember that anybody can get sick not only unfit or elderly people. In fact, younger and fitter trekkers tend to get sick more often because they go up faster sometimes skipping recommended acclimatization stops.
There are different forms of altitude sickness that reflect different stages of it. AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness is the mild form of the sickness. AMS is caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitudes. Usually people get it from 2500m/8000ft up above the sea level. The main symptoms are mild headache, difficulty breathing, tiredness.
The main reasons of getting AMS;
- Going up too quick. It can be walking very fast or going too much up in one day and not doing recommended acclimatization stops.
- Not drinking enough water. At high altitudes it’s recommended to drink 1-1,5l of water extra to what you usually consume.
- Health problems related to the heart or lungs.
- Sometimes people who live at the sea level (or below it) and are not used to higher altitudes tend to get sick. We met several trekkers from the Netherlands on different high altitude treks in Nepal that didn’t feel well, some of them had to turn around.
If you don’t take any actions after getting the symptoms of AMS it can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), fluid accumulation in the lungs. HAPE needs serious treatment with supplement oxygen that is not always available in the mountains. The best way to prevent it is to act adequate according to your body reaction to high altitude. If you start feeling sick, having a headache or nausea, go down never push yourself.
How to prevent AMS;
- Walk slow, make several acclimatization stops on the route.
- Rest, during the day stop to drink water, for tea or lunch.
- Stay hydrated. Sometimes it’s a problem for me because I don’t feel like drinking a lot of water when it’s cold and don’t really sweat walking. We always carry tea bags with us, order pots of hot water (cheaper than orderings tea) and drink a lot of tea in guesthouses.
- Some people take Diamox or its generic forms as a prevention. We always take it on the trek but have never used it yet, there was no need. If you tend to get sick at high altitudes I’d suggest taking it.
Transport in Nepal
You can move around the country by local buses, tourist buses or taking local flights. Flying is the most expensive and the fastest way of getting around. From Kathmandu you can fly to Lukla (the start of Everest Base Camp trek), Pokhara, Local flights are not cheap, for a 30-minute flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara you pay US$100. To fly from Kathmandu to Lukla (the start of Everest Base Camp trek) will cost you US$160 one way for a 45-minute flight. The flight has bad fame because the runaway in Lukla is listed as one of the most dangerous runways in the world. We’ve taken this flight twice it’s quite an experience especially the landing and taking off from Lukla. Here is our video about the flight.
Local buses and minibuses go pretty much everywhere. They’re very cheap, you pay about US$1 per hour of driving. The main drawback of taking a local bus is time, it takes ages to get somewhere even if the place is only 100km away. First, they wait when the bus gets full. Second, they stop a lot to pick up and drop off passengers and goods. Third, they make one of two long stops for lunch, 30 minutes each. Most of the time they play loudly Nepalese or Indian music nonstop for 4-5 hours. Taking a local bus is an experience on its own.
If you want to get to your destination quickly and without a hassle you can take a tourist bus. These buses are more expensive, about double the price but they are faster. For example, a journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara by a local bus takes between 6 and 7 hours, price NPR 400/US$3, by a tourist bus you’ll get there in 4-5 hours for NPR 1000/US$8.
Many roads in the country are not tarred. If it rains a lot for a couple of days roads get very muddy then it can take 2-3 hours to drive 40km. It happened to us once on the way back from the Annapurna Circuit. We took a bus from Nayapul to Pokhara, which is 40km away and it took us 4 hours to get there. As for April 2020 that road was tarred almost all the way, we drove it again and it took just over 1 hour by a minibus.
Taxis are the main transport in the cities. In Kathmandu for a taxi ride from the airport to Thamel (the main tourist district) expect to pay between NPR 600/US$5 and NPR 800/US$7 depending on the time of the day, number of passengers, etc. Note, many hotels in Kathmandu offer a free airport transfer for all international flights. To get from Thamel to one of the bus stations in Kathmandu you’ll pay NPR 400-500/US$3-4.
In Pokhara prices are about the same, to get to Lakeside (the main tourist area) from one of the bus stations is about NPR400/US$3.
Accommodation on the treks
More popular regions like Everest or Annapurna have quite good infrastructure and facilities. The more off the beaten track you go the less you can expect. Most guesthouses on Everest Base Camp trek or Annapurna Circuit have hot showers, electricity and wi-fi, some have attached Western flush toilets, some only outside squat toilets. Usually you pay extra for a hot shower, wi-fi and charging, sometimes it’s included in the room price.
Accommodation prices depend on the season and the region. For example, on the Annapurna Circuit we usually paid US$1-2 for two people, sometimes we stayed for free and it included a hot shower, wi-fi, and phone charging. On Everest Base Camp trek accommodation is more expensive, we paid average NPR 500/US$4 for two people, in Namche Bazar it was NPR 500 per person and extra for a hot shower but charging and wi-fi were included in the accommodation price.
Guesthouses and their facilities
|Electricity||Power sockets||Hot shower||Wi-fi||Blankets|
USS$1-2 extra for charging
|sometimes US$1-2 extra||sometimes US$1-2 extra|
Why is accommodation so cheap?
It’s cheap if you eat at your guesthouse twice (dinner and breakfast). Food and drinks are the main income for the guesthouse owners. For them it’s better if you pay very little of nothing at all for accommodation and spend money on food. I’d say it’s compulsory to eat at your guesthouse. If you don’t, room prices increase to NPR 1000-1500/US$8-12. You have to eat somewhere anyway.
Food on the treks
The type of food you’ll be able to get on a trek depends on the area. On the popular treks like Everest Base Camp or the treks in the Annapurna Sanctuary the diversity of the menu is quite impressive. You can get dishes from Indian, Nepalese, Chinese and Western cuisine. Some places like Namche Bazar, Manang or Ghandruk even have German bakeries, Italian coffee shops and pizzerias where you can get a piece of chocolate cake, a cinnamon roll, a pizza or a cappuccino.
If you walk more off the beaten track routes like Panchse, Mohare Danda or Upper Mustang your food options will be limited to Dal Bhat, noodles and rice dishes.
If you’re a vegetarian Nepal is a real paradise for you. Basically every dish you get is vegetarian, meat or fish are almost nowhere to be found. Eggs are the only protein that you can get everywhere. For breakfast we usually eat boiled, fired or poached eggs with a chapati.
Dal Bhan, probably the Nepalese dish that locals eat the most. The main ingredients of Dal Bhat are boiled rice, lentils, and some sort of veg.curry.
Chapati – local pancake-like thin bread made of water and flour. We usually order it with Dal Bhat, omelet or peanut butter for breakfast.
Tibetan bread – similar to chapati but deep-fried, a bit unhealthier but more filling.
If you’re a meat eater I’d definitely recommend trying sukuti, a local version of jerky. At high altitudes it’s usually dried beef or yak meat. They serve it fried in oil and species, they don’t eat it dry. Yak steaks and burgers are also available at some places but they’re quite pricey compared to the other food.
Momos, a local version of dumplings; the typical fillings are potatoes, yak cheese or vegetables. They’re not very filling. You usually get 6-8 of them but they taste really good.
Sea buckthorn juice – juice made of local berries that claimed to have more vitamin C than blueberries. It tastes nice, a little bit sweet (added sugar).
Yak cheese/yak steak/yak burger – at high altitudes yaks are the main animals, they are used for transportation (to carry goods), for food (milk, cheese, meat), and for making clothes (wool, leather).
There are other dishes that I wouldn’t call traditional Nepalese food rather a unique food that you get only on the treks. Rolls with chocolate bars inside is one of them, it’s one of the unhealthiest things in the menu but at high altitude you sometimes feel like eating sugary and greasy food. They take a chocolate bar, usually Mars or Sneakers, wrap it in a dough and deep fry it. You can find this I’d call it dessert pretty much at any guesthouse. Another unique and again greasy dish is a spring roll. This spring roll is very different from the traditional one, it’s more like a deep fried pie. The filling sometimes is quite weird as well, e.g. spaghetti or noodles. You get a big deep fried pie with spaghetti inside.
The best value for money food
Dal Bhat is the best dish to order if you’re very hungry as it’s basically bottomless. If your rice or lentils finish you can ask to top it up. I’m not sure how many times you can ask but we’ve seen them doing it several times. We saw only once on EBC trek (in Phortse) when in the menu it said Dal Bhat (no refill).
Fried veg. or egg rice, noodles or pasta with cheese and tomato sauce are quite good value for money as well the portions are usually quite big.
Drinking water in Nepal
You can’t drink tap water in Nepal even locals buy bottled water. We never drink unfiltered water when trekking regardless if it comes from a river, a stream or a tap. Buying bottled water on a trek every day is expensive. The higher up you go the more expensive it gets, at some places 1l water bottle costs US$1,5-2. You have to drink 3-4l a day to stay hydrated. Another thing against buying bottled water when trekking is pollution, you’ll drink 3-4 1l bottles a day and all these bottles will end up somewhere in the mountains.
Using some sort of filtration system to purify water is the way to go. We’ve been using our LifeStraw bottles for the last couple of years. It works great, you don’t have to wait, you can put a straw and drink directly from a water source. We’ve never had any stomach problem or got sick using it. Kathmandu is the only place in Nepal we’ve seen shops selling LifeStraw bottles. I think it was the North Face shop in Trivedi Sadak Street in Thamel. There is a big LifeStraw banner in front of the shop.
There are other filtration systems. You can use chlorine tablets as well but they make water taste like a swimming pool, quite disgusting.
Buying hiking gear in Nepal
Kathmandu is the best place to buy both fake and real gear. In Thamel there are hundreds of shops selling and renting trekking gear. Most of them offer cheap fake stuff but there are a couple of brand shops like North Face, Mountain Hardwear, where you can buy real stuff and it’s not that expensive. Most of the brand shops are on Trivedi Sadak Street in Thamel, next to Himalayan Java Coffee Shop (a very popular place).
I’d recommend buying essential gear like hiking shoes and a backpack at home or at one of the brand shops. If you do a lot of hiking and use your gear often like us I’d pay more and buy gear that will last for a couple of years. If you’re an occasional hiker and after doing one trek in Nepal probably won’t hike again for a while, buy cheap fake gear or rent just rent everything. More details on packing for trekking in Nepal you can find in our EBC packing post.
Things to do in Nepal besides trekking
Many people visit Nepal mostly for trekking but there are many other things to do and places to visit in the country. Visiting Chitwan National Park is one of the most popular activities in Nepal. There you can see wild animals such as Bengal tigers, elephants, rhinos, and many other smaller mammals and birds.
Another popular trip to do from Nepal is Bhutan. This closed mountainous country can be visited only with an organized tour (usually a 2 or 3-day trip) that includes transportation, accommodation and activities in the country. A tour to Bhutan is quite expensive, minimum US$100 per person per day.
If you want to stay in Nepal for a while Pokhara is the best place for it. Lakeside, the main tourist area in the city, is beautiful, clean and very quiet, it’s a much better place than bustling and polluted Kathmandu. Pokhara is considered to be the adventurous capital of Nepal. The Annapurna Sanctuary, one of the best areas for hiking, is just a short drive from the city. There are other activities that you can do from Pokhara from paragliding to white water rafting, from microlight flights to jungle safaris.
Recommended books & guidebooks
If you prefer e-books over paper books don’t hesitate to join Amazon Kindle Unlimited to get access to thousands of e-books and audiobooks. Even if you don’t have a Kindle device you can read or listen to books on your phone or tablet using the app. The first 30 days of the program are free.
- Lonely Planet Nepal (Travel Guide), 2018. Paper book & Kindle
- Trekking Everest: Base Camp, Kala Patar and Other Trekking Routes in Nepal and Tibet. Cicerone, 2019. Paper book & Kindle
- The Snow Leopard by Pieter Matthiessen. Paper book & Kindle
- Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. Paper book & Kindle.
- Yak Girl: Growing Up in the Remote Dolpo Region of Nepal by Dorje Dolma. Paperback & Kindle.
- Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan. Paper book & Kindle
- A Step Away from Paradise: The True Story of a Tibetan Lama’s Journey to a Land of Immortality by Thomas K. Shore. Paper book & Kindle
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