Nepal is the perfect balance of adventure and sleepy villages, with sides of food, prayer flags, snow, pastries, and yaks – it’s magical. Serious trekkers, Himalaya-gazers, café-enthusiasts, beer-drinkers, and child-owners will all find something to love about this incredibly diverse place, and you don’t have to be in to trekking to get the most out of it.
While Nepal maintains close ties with India (they share a border, accept each other’s currencies, and residents of each country are free to cross the border without a visa), it’s a noticeable (and relaxing) step away from the chaos of India.
NOTE: I haven’t been to Nepal since the earthquakes, but I know that a few places I visited were destroyed. I’ve tried to include up-to-date information, but I really do encourage you to take a look at the latest reports regarding the safety of sites, temples and streets in Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, and other affected areas.
Squished between Tibet and India, Nepal is a wonderland of wildlife, subtropical rainforests and snow-capped mountains, infused with an assortment of cultures, ethnic groups, languages and foods. While places like Pokhara and Thamel (Kathmandu) are ridiculously tourist-oriented, the laid-back vibes and Western-oriented cafes (at monumentally cheaper prices) are hard to dislike. If that’s not for you, a short trek or bus ride will get out of town and in to some hills for a fraction of Nepal’s mind-blowing scenery. Great for solo travellers, couples, groups, and families, Nepal’s probably got what you’re looking for.
When To Go:
October to December is optimal Himalaya-viewing season. The skies are clear, the air is atmospherically cool, the price of everything peaks and hotels book out fast. March to May is a good time to go if you’re looking to save some cash, or don’t like the cold (temperatures can go beyond 30-degrees in Kathmandu), but clouds and haze hang in the sky, making it difficult (often impossible) to see the mountains. June to September is monsoon season, which makes it difficult to see the mountains and trek around, but prices drop exponentially.
How Long For?
It’s easy to get a taste of Nepal in two-weeks, but if you really want to immerse yourself in the culture, go trekking and make friends with locals, I recommend a month or more. Sounds like a long time, but there’s so much to do in Nepal that the time will fly.
It’s pretty easy to get a tourist visa to Nepal, and you can do it when you get there. Visas are available for 15, 30, or 90-days (US$25, 40, or 100 for single-entry). Multiple-entry is available for an additional cost (depending on how long you want to stay). You’ll need one blank passport page and a recent passport photo on-hand. While you can use any major currency at the airport, border crossings usually only take USD. You can also change your single-entry visa to a multiple-entry visa at the immigration office for US$20. Lonely Planet has loads of information on this.
Nepalese Rupees (NPR, or Rs). Indian rupees (INR) are also accepted (just bear in mind the INR is worth more than the NPR), along with USD. I use XE for currency conversions – the examples below are correct as of April 2017.
1 USD = 104.350 NPR
1 AUD = 79.6243 NPR
1 CAD = 78.3353 NPR
1 GBP = 130.897 NPR
As with everywhere, costs vary depending on where you are, but you can live on $10/day in Nepal, including food and accommodation. Prices rise in peak season, but you can still find lots of budget hotels, or live like royalty for around 100 USD or more. Suffice to say, Nepal caters for all budgets.
If you’re in Nepal to trek, the cost of even a day-trip may shock you. It should cost around $60 per person, per day, for a guided trek around Pokhara or Kathmandu. This usually includes transportation, camping equipment (if necessary), food, and a guide. If you’re heading for the summit of Mt Everest, it’ll cost more than 40,000 USD, and that doesn’t include the permit. On the other hand, you can head to Mt Everest Base Camp for around 500-1,000 USD for the whole trip.
Since around 80-percent of Nepal is mountain, buses, rickshaws, bikes and cars are the main methods of transport.
Public Buses: I’ve read various things stating how uncomfortable public buses are, and maybe it’s because I’d just come out of two-months in India, but I caught a few and never experienced huge levels of discomfort – it really depends where you are, and where you’re going. Some are quite decorated inside with fabric seats, while others are plastic. These can cost upwards of 80Rs for short day-trips. Overnight trips might cost a bit more – paid about 500Rs for an overnight trip from Lumbini to Pokhara with semi-reclining fabric seats.
NOTE: It’s kind of dangerous to travel by bus at night in Nepal. Drivers have been known to cruise around mountainous at ridiculous speeds, and they do crash sometimes, and there are fatalities. Try and travel during the day.
Tourist Buses: With padded seats, AC, suspension, and (sometimes) wifi, these can cost around 1,500Rs and are far less likely to break-down than public buses.
Cars: While you can’t rent a car in Nepal, you can hire someone to drive you around from around $4,800Rs per day.
If you look around, you can get double rooms with ensuites in touristy places like Pokhara for around 240-800Rs in peak season, but if you’re looking for something a bit fancier with views, you’re probably looking at about 1,600-3,200Rs. On the other hand, you can stay in top-end hotels for over 8,000Rs.
There are places that spruik ‘all-day power’, but it’s not usually true. Kathmandu has timed blackouts, as does Nargarkot and a few other places. Some pricey hotels may have ways of combating this, but I recommend checking out Trip Advisor to see which ones are genuine. Hotel staff should give you a candle or two if you ask – blackouts aren’t restricted to daytime.
Food is cheap, and the range is diverse. From thukpa (Tibetan soup) and momo (Tibetan dumblings), to an array of international dishes ranging from pizza to burgers to pastries.
10 momo: 50Rs
1 bowl thukpa: 60Rs
1 local dish at a small eatery or tourist lodge: 20-150Rs
1 dish at fancyish/touristy restaurant 300Rs+
1 litre of bottled water: 40Rs
1 750ml bottle of Gorkha beer: 200Rs
When I first arrived in Lumbini, I couldn’t believe the hotel we stayed at had beer on display at reception – that just doesn’t happen in small Indian towns. As we travelled further in to Nepal, I found it was pretty common – there are lots of Nepalese spirits and beers available in the most random areas (along a dirt road in Nargarkot, for example). Generally speaking, I found Gorkha beer a lot stronger, and, well, ‘beery’ (for lack of a better term) than Indian King Fisher beer. There’s also Everest, Nepal Ice, and Tuborg, but Gorkha was my favourite, and they’re all around 200Rs. You can also get imported beers, but they tend to cost upwards of 300Rs.
Other things to note:
As with all countries, there are a couple of things to think about, but with a relatively easy visa system and lots of transport options, Nepal is pretty tourist-friendly.
Haggling: If you’re a tourist, people will usually tack on a few extra rupees, but try not to let it get to you – what’s only a few rupees to you could mean a lot to them. Haggle down to a fair price, not the lowest price.
Women: I never had any problems in Nepal, but sexual harassment does exist, and you should still exercise the usual degree of caution. I would also avoid trekking alone with a male guide.
Poverty: There’s a lot of poverty in Nepal, especially since the earthquakes, and it can be hard to take in. There are a number of charities you can donate to, or you can volunteer in Nepal and help out that way. The Guardian published a good article about this.
Altitude Sickness: No matter how much money you have to spend, don’t pay for a wild trek around Everest if you’ve never done anything like it before. Altitude sickness doesn’t only affect unfit people – you can get it no matter how healthy or experienced you are. It usually starts at about 2,500 meters above sea level, and can be fatal if ignored. Even if you don’t ignore it, the symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headaches and vomiting – all of which really blows, so either take the time to adjust to the altitude, or choose a different Nepalese trekking adventure – there are so many around!