Before you book your adventure to Nepal, you might have quite a few questions. Here are some basics that will help you get started.
When is the best time to visit Nepal?
The spring (March-April) and fall (October-November) seasons are high seasons for trekking in Nepal, and for good reason. These two seasons are when skies are clearest, giving you unspoiled views of the Himalayan giants. Both these seasons are also very pleasant weather-wise, with cool breezes, and although it can get hot during the day at lower elevations, the temperatures are best during this season.
Spring season (March – April) is also when rhododendrons are in full bloom and you are surrounded by forests dotted with bright pinks and reds, as well as a wide range of biological diversity that Nepal is rightly known for. This season sees many cultures of Nepal celebrating festivals, most of which are offerings to the rain-gods, asking for rains.
The fall season (October-November), is also great for mountain views. It is harvest season, and there are again a lot of celebrations, including the major Hindu festivals of Dashain and Tihar.
Winter (December-February) is also a good time to visit, especially if you are not planning to venture into the mountains. The cold weather closes many high altitude passes, and a lot of mountain communities move to lower settlements during the winter. However, Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan, as well as trekking at lower elevations are all great during the winter. However, there are some things you need to know about winters in Nepal, and you can read that here.
Is it possible to trek in Nepal during the monsoon?
Yes. If you know that the rains won’t dampen your spirit, trekking during the monsoon is a whole different adventure altogether. The rains turn the whole country lush and green, making it come alive. It is possible to mostly dodge the rains by heading out early and getting to the day’s rest point by mid-day for lunch, after which rains usually start. There is no better feeling than sitting with a warm cup of tea at your lodge as it starts to pour outside.
However, people avoid the monsoon for very good reasons: trails are slippery, hungry leeches abound, and the foggy, constipated weather barely clears to give you even a glimpse of the mountains. On top of that, it is not too fun to pack and unpack damp clothes for days on end. However, if those things don’t deter you, you are in for a ride. In fact, our best trekking memories are from the monsoon.
If you are in Nepal during the monsoon, and have your heart set on trekking, it is also possible to skip the rains entirely and head out to the rain shadow areas behind the Himalayas. Monsoon clouds coming in from the south will have exhausted their supply on the southern slopes, so these regions barely get any rain and are dry and windy year-round. Trekking in Lower Mustang, Upper Mustang, Dolpa or the Nar-Phu areas are options you can consider. However, getting there by road can be difficult as the lower regions you have to pass through could see heavy rains and landslides. It is best to arrange for a flight or helicopter to the starting point of your trek.
Talk to us if you would like a monsoon trekking itinerary that works for you.
Are there any major events I should plan my trip around?
Yes, Nepal is home to a wide range of cultures and traditions, which makes for a range of festivals. The opportunity to see some of these traditional celebrations will really bring you close to the spirit of Nepal, and the happy-go-lucky diversity of Nepalis.
In addition, the young and vibrant creative culture of Kathmandu has resulted in quite a few remarkable international photography, literature, music and film festivals. If you are in town during one of these, make sure you set some time aside to take it in.
Some festivals you should look out for:
Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival
How can I get around in Kathmandu?
A taxi ride is your best bet. A short taxi ride will cost you Rs. 200 ($2) nowadays. Public transport is much cheaper, but takes time, is confusing, and is only recommended for those who are in Nepal for longer. For short term visitors, the time taken to figure out and then travel by public transport is better spent at the destination. We offer guided day trips in your own private vehicle with AC, so you don’t have to deal with the dust and pollution.
I hear Kathmandu is really polluted. Should I plan to stay there at all?
With the earthquake debris and road construction, Kathmandu was looking and feeling very dusty. With the addition of vehicular pollution, Kathmandu’s air has become very unhealthy. While the dust is slowly clearing up with the reconstruction, there are some areas that have high vehicular traffic and construction, making them much more polluted. We keep this in mind when choosing hotels for you. If we are in charge of your journey, rest assured that your hotels will be in nice, clean and peaceful areas, and that we will venture out into the pollution only when the rewards are much higher than the risks.
Which area of the Kathmandu valley should I stay in?
Depends on what you prefer to do. Thamel is more vibrant, with lots of shops, restaurants, and bars, a bit of dancing, and a wide range of options for food and accommodation, including very good Chinese food options that have sprung up to cater to the increasing number of Chinese tourists. During the day, you can wander the alleys that take you to the bustling old market of Asan, and to the Kathmandu Durbar Square, or quickly hop over to Swoyambhu in a cab.
Patan is a historic area with a lot of back alleys and squares, and stumbling upon one of these heritage sites can really make your day. There is also a wide range of heritage accommodation that blend modern comforts with traditional architectural sensibilities, so you can truly feel like a royal from a bygone era, without going through the hardships they went through 🙂 Jhamsikhel, the expat area, is close by, and has a variety of good restaurants as well as a few bars to while the evening away.
Boudha is also a great area to come home to, with its deeply calming energy, and intense evening activity around the stupa, with Buddhist devotees and students from around the world. Food options are plentiful here, and if you have more than a passing interest in Buddhism, this is the place for you, as it is the pulsating heart of contemporary Buddhist thought and practice, with one of the best Buddhist schools in the world right behind the stupa.
We also love Bhaktapur, with its huge palace square, and vibrant local life that still feels like it’s frozen in time. Wandering the back alleys takes you to ancient pottery making squares, brings you face to face with wood carvers, or lets you walk into the middle of idyllic activities from another era that are happening all around you. It is also between Nagarkot and Kathmandu, and is a good place to rest after a hike down from Nagarkot, or on the way there.
Apart from these major areas with accommodation options, there are a few properties in the Kathmandu Valley that are experiences in and of themselves, including Dwarika’s at Battisputali, Gokarna Forest Resort at Gokarna and Summit Hotel in Lalitpur.
When we create customized itineraries for you, we will talk about what your interests are, and select accommodation that is right for you.
What should I eat?
Definitely try out the momos, and the dal bhat thalis. These are the two favorites in Kathmandu. Thalis for lunch and dinner; momos during the afternoon. Dalbhat is also common across Nepal, so if you are going on a trek, you will be eating so much dalbhat that you probably won’t want to start in Kathmandu, where the food options are, literally endless.
There are also a number of restaurants that offer Newari delicacies and Tibetan delights, and these are not to be missed. Go for the Newari khajas or Tibetan meals. Thamel is also a hub for really good Chinese food, which is another option. In addition, there are quite a few international restaurants around that serve Italian, Korean, Japanese and even American food.
Be careful with raw salads and water. Carry your own water or drink bottled water, and eat salads or anything raw only after checking whether the restaurant cleans these in iodized water.
Restaurants come and go and change chefs quite frequently, so ask us for recommendations if you are looking for something special.
Do I need a visa to visit Nepal as a tourist?
Indian nationals do not require a visa to enter Nepal. Your passport or voter registration card are enough.
Nationals of Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Cameroon, Somalia, Liberia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan are required to obtain visas before arrival.
Nationals of all other countries can get tourist visas upon their arrival at the Kathmandu airport.
How do I get a visa?
Getting a tourist visa on arrival is fairly easy for nationals of most countries. See if your country is one of those eligible for visa on arrival.
To get a visa, your passport must be valid for at least six months and have a free page where the visa will be stamped.
The visas currently cost US$25 for 15 days, US$40 for 30 days and US$100 for 90 days, and can be paid in convertible currencies such as Euros, Pounds, RMBs and Australian dollars. However, it is best to carry the exact amount in USD. Land border crossings usually insist on receiving the exact visa fee amount in USD. Children aged under 10 require a visa but are not charged a visa fee. If you are a citizen of one of the SAARC countries, or China, you need a visa, but you get one visa free every year.
To make your arrival more efficient, it is best to fill in the tourist visa form online (www.online.nepalimmigration.gov.np/tourist-visa), upload your photo, and carry a print out of that form with you. You will probably also be given a disembarkation form on the plane. Fill that in and have it ready too.
As you enter the door of the immigration hall, on your left along the wall are tables with the disembarkation forms, straight ahead of you are the counters where you pay the visa fee, and on your right is a row of immigration desks. Grab and fill a disembarkation form if you haven’t done so already. If you already have your visa form and disembarkation forms ready, walk on ahead to the counters straight in front of you, pay your visa fee, and get your receipt. When paying the fee, ask which line you should get into for your visa. While the immigration desks are labeled, airport personnel might shuffle these around, so it is best to ask.
After you receive your visa, exit the hall and take the escalator down to the baggage claim area. Keep your baggage tag handy. As you exit the airport, security/ customs officers will check the baggage tag to make sure you are leaving with the right bag.
Once you are out of the airport, look out for the Maya Journeys placard outside the main arrival area. We will handle the rest.
Are your trips insured?
We have insurance for members of our team, but not for clients. If you are planning on trekking in Nepal, we recommend you get insurance from an international insurance company and if you’re going trekking or mountaineering, make sure you are covered for all risks, including emergency evacuation by helicopter if required.
What customs should I know about?
There are a few cultural issues to be aware of if you don’t want eyes rolling at you:
When entering homes or places of worship, leave your shoes at the door. Most Nepali households are shoe-free indoors. This is culture, but also the best way to keep the dirt from the streets off your house. If your hosts do not have a shoe-free policy, they will probably tell you, and you can keep your shoes on. Otherwise, as a rule, take them off before you enter a home.
Do not stretch your feet with the soles pointing in the direction of anyone. This is also a sign of disrespect. Stretch your feet away from other people.
When eating with your hands, always use your right hand. If you are offering food to someone, use both hands. If you have to use only one hand, use the right one. The left hand is seen as unclean and if you eat with it, you might be seen as weird, but if you offer other people food with it, it is seen as a sign of disrespect.
When going around stupas, always move in a clockwise direction, unless you are in Dolpa and circumambulating Bon stupas. Then you must go the other way.
What happens if adverse weather threatens our plans?
Especially when trekking into the mountains or in more remote and areas, things won’t always be predictable. The weather can change quickly, requiring us to change travel plans on the go. If this happens, our experienced and prepared staff will do their best to reschedule your plans and re-route your itinerary so you can still get to your destination, or get to an alternative destination that will still provide a good trekking experience.
Sometimes, we will have no choice but to return, especially if the only route, such as a high mountain pass, is blocked. Our staff will do their best to make your experience unforgettable, but safety always comes first.
What essentials should I pack for my trip?
The itinerary page for your trip has a list of all the essentials you need to pack for that particular trip. If you would rather not carry a lot of luggage around, you can shop for most things in Kathmandu. In general, you should pack:
A good sunscreen
A water bottle
Things like toilet paper and hand sanitizers can be bought in Kathmandu but bring your own brand if you must.
Where can I exchange money? What form should I carry my money in?
It is usually possible to find an ATM that will vend cash for you but the fees can add up. It is best to carry US dollars or traveler’s cheques. If carrying traveler’s cheques, you need to cash these in Kathmandu or Pokhara. US dollars are accepted in even some very unlikely places high up in the mountains.
What if my visa expires while I am in Nepal?
If you cannot extend it beforehand, and you don’t have a long overstay, you will have to pay a fine at the airport when you leave and they will sort the extension out for you. However, it is always better to get an extension of your visa beforehand.
What clothes do I need to pack?
If you’re just visiting cities and towns at lower altitudes, light clothes are fine for the summers, and regular winter clothes are fine for the winters. It doesn’t get too hot or too cold in Kathmandu or Pokhara, but it can get pretty hot in the South of Nepal.
If you’re going trekking, you’ll need:
A good down jacket
A pair of thick trousers.
One pair each of a rainproof and windproof jacket and trousers.
A warm hat that stays on your head even when it’s windy
Treks can be run in the hills upto 3,000 meters, or higher up in the mountains. The requirements for two of these treks are very very different. Please consult your trek packing list for details of what you should bring.
What vaccinations do I need?
The CDC and WHO recommend the following vaccines for Nepal: typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies, Japanese encephalitis, and influenza. The sickness you are most likely to get here however are food poisoning and altitude sickness, both of which can be avoided by taking precautions (assidiously).
What current travel advisories are there?
It is currently considered safe to travel to Nepal and has been for a long time now.
Can I trek solo in Nepal?
There are numerous places in Nepal where you can trek solo. However, it is not a good idea to tackle very remote areas or high altitudes solo unless you have extensive experience in those areas. Without support, even small problems such as getting lost on the trail, a sudden change in weather, or feeling the early signs of altitude could escalate to become life-threatening. The Langtang Valley, Lower Annapurna and Annapurna Base Camp are not logistically difficult or highly demanding and can be handled solo by most people who are smart and prepared.
Is it a good idea to fly inside Nepal?
Nepal is a small country and most places that take a full day of driving on winding mountainous roads are less than an hour’s flight away. So you save a lot of time by flying to your destination. If you are short on time, taking a flight can shorten your trek by two days. However, flights prices are set and are significantly more expensive than driving and will be reflected in your trip’s cost. For those whose time constraints make it impossible to finish the trek without taking a flight, this is a no-brainer.
What places do you recommend for fun?
We highly recommend Sam’s Bar in Thamel. It has a very vibrant atmosphere and a superb bartender. Eat before you go there though because the only food in the bar are chips and popcorn. The Reggae Bar in Thamel is also a nice place to spend an evening. They have food and live bands almost every night. The Garden of Dreams in Thamel has a nice restaurant but you need to pay an entrance fee to get into the (beautiful) garden. We recommend this place for lunch. Other mentionable places are Purple Haze Rock Bar and Restaurant in Thamel, The Irish Pub in Lazimpat, House of Music in Thamel, Jazz Upstairs in Lazimpat, and Club 25 Hours in Naxal especially if you want to go dancing.