Nepal is simply incredible, this Himalayan kingdom boasts time-worn temples, stunning mountains and some of the best trekking routes in the world.
The country is changing fast and a guide book dated from 2002 which I recently stumbled across already feels like a history book. Nevertheless Nepal is undoubtedly one of my favourite countries and backpacking in Nepal remains a true adventure. The Hindu paint throwing festival of Holi is probably the greatest party I have ever been to and if possible you should try to make sure your visit coincides with Holi. Travelling around Nepal is relatively easy although bus travel can be pretty intense; I suggest riding on top of the bus for the best views! Whilst some parts of the country such as Pokhara and Kathmandu are well established on the tourist trail there are still relatively unexplored parts of the country. The same can be said for trekking; the Everest base camp trek is extremely popular and is always very busy but if you go to some of the other, just as beautiful, national parks such as Langtang or the Annapurna conservation area then you will often have the views all to yourself.
Nepal should ideally be visited between March and May or September and November. In my opinion March is the best time to go; it is still quite cold but there are only a few travelers around.
The country was hit hard by the 2015 earthquake and the tourism sector suffered as a result. However, embodying the fierce, determined Gurkha spirit the country has bounced back and is once again open for business.
Travel costs for Nepal Backpacking
- Accommodation: There is a huge range of accommodation options in Nepal, from five star hotels to quaint little guesthouses in the mountains. We usually managed to find a double room for around 700 NRS if you are prepared to haggle. When trekking you can get accommodation for free if you promise to buy all your meals at the guesthouse.
- Food: Food in Nepal is pretty cheap. The native dish of Daal Bhat (rice and curry, very filing) will cost you 200 – 300rps and western dishes such as pasta and burgers 300 – 450rps. Make sure that you try out some momos (tibetan dumplings!) which are by far the cheapest way to eat and can be bought on the street for 50rps.
- Transport: There are a lot of transport options in Nepal, internal planes are pretty cheap but notoriously unreliable as the weather can change rapidly. Buses and jeeps are the cheapest way to get around, I highly recommend sitting on top of the bus; it is not only more spacious but the views are incredible. However, please note that bus journeys are regularly subjected to long traffic jams so make sure you bring plenty of water and a good book for bus journeys.
- Visas: You buy a visa on arrival, it is not worth buying a visa in advance as it will actually cost more. Overstaying your visa involves a $3 charge per day which is not too bad however the paperwork you have to fill in before you can leave is a bloody nightmare; try to avoid overstaying your visa.
- Activities: I strongly recommend doing some white water rafting and canyoning whilst in Nepal; a good company to arrange this through is Adrenaline Rush Nepal; they have offices in both Kathmandu and Pokkhara. It will cost around $90 for a two day trip including a full day of white water rafting, a day of canyoning, all transport, accommodation and food. When trekking I did not pay for a guide or a porter but if you wish to do this I recommend just hiring a porter; they are cheaper than a guide and know the routes just as well. A porter will cost around $20 a day. For a real sense of adventure though just buy a map and head into the mountains, stick to the trails and you will be fine.
Top Things to See and Do
- Kathmandu: The capital of Nepal is pretty insane. It’s not as crazy as Delhi but unless you are coming from India you will probably find it very chaotic. You want to stay in Thamel as this is the backpacker enclave and where you will find all the cheapest accommodation. A taxi from the airport to Thamel costs around 400 NRS. There is no bus from the airport. When you arrive in Thamel check out a few guesthouses. You can find double rooms for around 700 / 800 NRS if you barter hard. A good place is the ‘Hotel Potala’ just up from Thamel chowk, opposite ‘KC’s Restaurant’ and down a small alley. You have to haggle but it is possible to get a double room with breakfasts (which are awesome) thrown in for 800RS. It is also one of the very few guesthouses that has a communal area to meet other travelers and it boasts a cabinet full of books on Nepal. Directly next to Hotel Potola is ‘Adrenaline rush Nepal’ where you can arrange an all inclusive (transport, food, accommodation) two day rafting and canyoning excursion from Kathmandu. There is plenty of stuff to do around Kathmandu and you can happily linger here a week. If you can you should definitely try to catch the colour festival of ‘Holi’ in March.
- Annapurna circuit trek: There are loads of different treks to do but this is definitely one of the best. Before you leave Kathmandu make sure to go to ‘Shona’s Alpine Rental’ on Jyotha road near Thamel Chowk. It is run by a British climber and he has barrels of practical advice on pretty much all treks in Nepal. He can sell and rent trekking gear. Make sure you have a down sleeping bag. He can offer more up to date advice on the rest of the equipment than I can. Before you leave Kathmandu you must also arrange your TIMS card and pay a fee to protect the National Park’s natural beauty. You can easily do this yourself, do not pay a middle man, at the Tourist Service Center in Kathmandu. It is a twenty minute walk from Thamel, make sure to bring plenty of passport pictures. I do not recommend hiring a guide or porter, unless you are particularly unfit, for the Annapurna circuit trek. Any guesthouse in Kathmandu will happily store any gear you don’t want to carry whilst trekking, this is almost always a free service. The trek starts in Besai Sahar and officially finishes in Naya pul. The new road has ruined part of the trek though and I recommend finishing in Jomsom. Bank 14 days so you have a couple of acclimatization days in Manang. The trek itself can be pretty arduous so try to acclimatize. When in Manang check out the awesome day treks and the little cinemas. Before you trek make sure you have stocked up on chocolate, snacks and any clothing you need – you can buy stuff on the way but it will cost triple what it costs in Kathmandu. You can get free accommodation everywhere if you ask around and promise to eat your meals at that guesthouse although this may only apply during the quieter months of March and September. Ask around before you choose which Nepal backpacking trek to go for. Find out more about the Annapurna Circuit Trek here.
- Pokhara: Chill out here for a well deserved rest period after trekking. Great places to hang out, drink and socialise are Silk Road and The Busy Bee (even though it is pricey and the staff rude). The food and staff here are both excellent. There are plenty of cafes for breakfast. It is well worth hiring a boat and messing around on the lake. The Gurkha museum is also well worth a visit – tip the elderly soldier who runs the door. You can arrange paragliding from Pokhara as well as rafting and canyoning trips – ‘Adrenaline Rush Nepal’ have an office here. Many travelers end up spending weeks in Pokhara and it is often described as ‘Goa in the mountains’.
- There is one hostel in Pokhara called “Phat Kath” which has cool staff, a decent bar and a lovely re-used wood decor scheme. Other than this there are plenty of guesthouses around Lakeside so feel free to look around and have a barter.
- Bandipur: Directly next to the popular ‘Bandipur Guest House’ is a quieter guesthouse with very cheap rooms, 300RS for a triple. It is run by a lovely elderly women and serves great food. Spend a few days here happily soaking in the ambiance, going for walks in the hills and visiting the biggest cave in Asia – bring a torch. From Bandipur you can head back to Kathmandu where you can arrange another trek or head onwards to Chitwan National Park for Elephant trekking.
- Chitwan: There are a number of national parks offering Safari in Nepal but this is by far the pick of them. The area is utterly stunning with a wide range of activities including tiger spotting junkets. You can either book a full package in advance from any travel agent in Pokhar or Kathmandu or you can simply get the bus from Kathmandu or Pokhara and sort it out yourself when you get here. There is no shortage of lodges and tour operators so by all means take a look around and see who offers you the best deal for bread, board and activities. It get’s very hot down here between May – September.
- Everest. Whilst scaling the worlds highest mountain remains the preserve of the super rich, a trek around Everest park can easily be arranged from Kathmandu. The case camp trek does get very popular at high season. Flights in can be arranged from Kathmandu. Whilst they are pricey it is an unforgettable and utterly knuckle whitening experience!
- At the time of writing (June 2016) the entire country is experiencing daily power cuts which come and go without any warning. Most business and guesthouses have back up generators but will be selective about what they choose to use it for. Be very clear when booking a guesthouse that you expect Wi-Fi and AC to keep on working and will be expecting a reduction in charges if it does not.
- Many restaurtns, bars and guesthouses add both a 13.5% tax and 10% service charge to bills which can inflate them by nearly 25%. Be sure to establish what charges will be applied before you check in or order and be sure to shop around as some business’ choose to waive these charges.
Backpack Nepal for free
Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Nepal long-term and experience living in this truly incredible country is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching english abroad.
Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your Nepal backpacking adventure but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.