Backpacking Nepal? Fascinated by the mysterious country offering a gateway to Mount Everest? I was lured here by the promise of raw adventure; towering Himalayan peaks, rare wildlife and ancient culture. My research for the trip consisted of binge watching Planet Earth and reading tales of adventurers trekking Nepal. My experience in Nepal simply blew me away. Backpacker bargains are everywhere and the locals are keen to ensure you have a good time. The landscapes are simply some of the most striking in the world and backpacking Nepal, if you make the effort to get off the beaten track, is a one of a kind adventure. Just watch out for the rice wine!
Nepal is opening its doors to backpackers and for many nationalities, it is extremely easy to get a visa on arrival! I spent a couple of months backpacking Nepal and I’m keen to return in the future. Hitchhiking in some of the world’s most pimped out lorries, eating and drinking the local delicacies, rafting in the wilderness and exploring the Annapurna Circuit… Backpacking Nepal was one of the greatest adventures I’ve had in nine years travelling the world. And so, amigos, fasten your seatbelts and check out the Broke Backpacker Guide to backpacking Nepal on a budget….
- Arriving into Nepal
- Travelling Around Nepal
- Hitchhiking in Nepal
- Where to stay in Nepal
- Where to go in Nepal
- Trekking in Nepal
- Currency in Nepal
- Must Do Experiences Backpacking Nepal
- Food in Nepal
- Nepalese Hospitality
- What to wear when backpacking Nepal
- Backpacking Nepal Travel Costs
- Top Tips for Broke Backpackers in Nepal
- Backpacking Nepal for Free
- Learning Nepalese While Travelling
- Sex, drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Nepal
- Best time to Travel Nepal
- Useful Apps to Download before Backpacking Nepal
- Books to read before backpacking Nepal
- Insurance for Backpacking Nepal
Arriving Into Nepal
Nepal is perfectly sandwiched between India and Tibet and also shares borders with Bhutan; Many travellers will enter Nepal overland from India. With visa’s now being available on arrival, entering overland is super easy. There are plenty of tour companies in India offering transfers to Nepal however, you can easily get yourself there using buses, rickshaws and trains. Taking the train or bus? I recommend the overnight service and trust me, it’s worth splashing a little extra for A/C and a bed…
It is increasingly difficult to enter Nepal overland from China, as you have to pass through Tibet. It is impossible to enter from Bhutan unless you are on an organised tour.
For those backpacking Nepal without the luxury of time, the best way in is to catch a flight to Kathmandu. There are flights with the likes of Etihad (via Abu Dhabi), Jet Star (Via, Delhi) and an ever increasing number of other airlines. I found the best deals to Nepal with Jet Star and Air Asia, both are indirect but the layover connections are good and fast! Most flights will land in Kathmandu, from here you can fly to other parts of the country such as Pokhara and Lukla.
The cost of a visitor’s visa into Nepal will range from $25 – $100 depending on the length of the visa you require. Which really isn’t bad compared to outrageously expensive India…
Immigration is beginning to take overstaying your visa slightly more seriously. If you do overstay you will be charged around $5 a day and will be detained until you are able to pay. Not a massive amount of money but for us broke backpackers, every dollar counts right? Thankfully, to extend your visa it’s just a quick visit to the Nepalese Department of Immigration at Kalikasthan, Kathmandu.
You can obtain a 30 or 90 day visa on arrival and almost any nationality is able to get the visa on arrival…
Travelling Around Nepal
Travelling Nepal is definitely its own adventure. Get ready for narrow roads, intense traffic, musical horns and some of the best views in the world! Nepal has numerous transport options and incredibly friendly locals helping you to explore the country. The bus network is getting better and for long distance, they are a great way to get across the country…. You can even surf on the roof!
By Bus: Most backpackers will opt to travel Nepal via the long distance bus network. Buses in Nepal are cheap and with so many ‘companies’ offering rides even some of the most remote and rural areas are becoming more accessible. Micro/Minibuses are perfect for those short on time.
Fast and comfortable, it’ll only take around four hours from Kathmandu to Pokhara. These minibuses tend to be new, with good brakes, A/C and will hold a comfortable maximum of ten people. Although the drivers will often cram far more people in to make as much money as possible from one trip. Alternatively, hop on a tourist coach if you have a bit more time and want to stop along the way. I recommend Greenline coach services. They take longer than the minibuses but will stop along the way and trust me, you’ll want to stop for some of the views. Or at least to take a break from the windy roads…
By Domestic Flight: For those short on time, domestic flights are a great way to explore a country and Nepal is no exception. However, domestic flights in Nepal are notoriously unreliable due to changing weather conditions so try to be a little flexible! Easily organised in the country, your accommodation can often book flights for you. Make sure to grab a window seat so you don’t miss out on the spectacular views, especially if you are taking the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla!
Taxi: Definitely not a rarity in the city you’ll be asked if you need a ride before you even start looking. Just be sure to use a metered taxi or haggle and agree on the price before you get in. Nepalese taxi drivers have a reputation of touring you around town and offering to take you to friends shops promising good deals. Be firm with directions and if you uncomfortable stopping somewhere, tell them. The Nepalese are extremely helpful, even the taxi drivers. So much so they will often agree to take you to a place, even if they don’t know where it is. Try to have the address in Nepali available and don’t panic if the driver stops to ask people for directions.
Motorbike: Not for the faint hearted, motorbikes are becoming an increasingly popular way to explore Nepal. With a motorbike, you have a lot more freedom and will see a side of the country that is completely inaccessible if you are travelling by bus. Best of all, motorbiking Nepal can work out pretty damn cheap as you can simply sell your used motorbike to another backpacker at the end of your trip. The road quality in Nepal is questionable with many tight corners and heavy traffic, driving is definitely for the experienced. While backpacking Nepal I was a passenger on the back of many motorbikes and only drove my own bike in Pokhara. If you are an experienced driver, travelling Nepal on a motorbike will be an awesome adventure, but if you’re new to real motorbiking then Nepal is not the place to learn.
Hitchhiking in Nepal
Backpacking Nepal can be made an even more unique experience if you hitchhike!
Hitchhiking in Nepal is incredibly easy and believe it or not, incredibly common. This is a popular method for locals to get from place to place so of course while I was travelling Nepal I had to give it a go. I hitched my way all over parts of Nepal and managed to catch a ride even when in the middle of nowhere. The thumbs up method we’ve all see in movies works in the main tourist areas such as Pokhara and Katmandu. Venture into the more rural areas and locals will attract attention of oncoming cars and trucks by a waving motion with one arm.
It never takes too long to catch a ride in Nepal. Most people will stop out of curiosity or concern and inevitably, after asking some questions, offer you a ride. It is rare buses will stop to offer you a lift when hitchhiking in Nepal, the majority of your lifts will be in cars, trucks and lorries. Don’t always expect a seat, many times when hitching I sat in the back of a pickup truck. The views from the back of a pick up are pretty epic though!
While hitchhiking in Nepal I was only asked for money a handful of times. The best way around this is to explain you have none before you hop in. A Nepalese phrase book was my godsend when hitching; once away from the tourist trail, many people do not speak English but will still try to chat to you anyway… so it’s more fun when you have a rough idea of what’s being said.
Where to Stay when backpacking Nepal
Back in the day, most Nepalese accommodation was family run guesthouses – these are still around and offer a great chance to meet a local family. Backpacker hostels have now started to pop up and there’s a lot of cool places to stay.
There is some incredibly good value AirBnB options in Kathmandu – on a recent visit (April 2017) I scored a great apartment, in an awesome location, with AC, a balcony overlooking the street (which was the highlight of the room) and lightning fast WiFi for $16 – check it out here and grab $35 free credit for AirBnB here.
You can pick up other AirBnB apartments for as little as $9 so if there’s two of you, AirBnB will be cheaper than a hostel. Most of the hostels in Nepal fall in the $4 – $7 range for a dorm bed. If you’re doing some trekking it’d be a good idea to pack your camping hammock & sleep outdoors for free!
|Kathmandu||Shangrila Boutique Hotel, Family Peace House, Kathmandu Home Hotel||Check into any of these kickass hostels. There’s some dirt cheap beds around and many hostels include a basic breakfast.|
|Pokhara||Ice View, Harvest Moon Guest House||Dorm rooms in a backpacker institution for $8 a night.|
|Chitwan||Chilax House, Eden Jungle Resort||Get a private double room at only $3 a night!|
|Lukla||La Villa Sherpani, Yeti Mountain Home Lukla||There’s very limited backpacker accommodation available but these two are some of the cheaper options available at roughly $40 a night.|
|Bandipur||Himalayan Hideaway Guest House, Riverside Spring Resort||Again not too backpacker friendly, the cheapest accommodation you’ll find here will be around $30 for a room.|
|Lumbini||Hotel Ananda Inn, Hotel Peace Palace Nepal||Epic rooms with a view, about $25 a night.|
Where to Go when Backpacking Nepal
The starting point for most backpackers travelling Nepal; get ready for organised chaos and sensory overload! While not as mental as the streets of Delhi in India, Kathmandu can be pretty overwhelming. There is so much to see, smell, eat and marvel at it’s hard to know where to start. I recommend spending at least 3 days in Kathmandu to get over the jet lag and explore!
Head to Thamel, Kathmandu’s backpacker paradise. Here you will find an array of guesthouses, bars, shops and restaurants. Check into the Shangrila Boutique Hotel, if your haggle game is on point you can get a double room and breakfast for pretty cheap!
UNESCO protected Durbar Square is a popular spot when backpacking Nepal. A square filled with history of rulers and royalty (Durbar literally means palace). Many of the buildings around the square are actually older than the square itself; Kasthamandap is the oldest building in the valley, at three stories and made out of wood it’s a beautiful ancient sight to awe at. You can easily spend a day wandering the streets, exploring the temples, people watching and enjoying a refreshing beer on one of the rooftop cafes.
Don’t leave Kathmandu without spending some time at the Hanuman Dhoka. Nepal’s Royal palace has some incredible history; founded in the 4th to 8th centuries AD and then expanded to what it is now in the seventeenth century by the king. You can easily spend a day exploring the sprawling palace and it’s 10 courtyards. Plus it is free to enter if you have a ticket to visit Durbar Square! Sadly the palace felt the effects of the 2015 Earthquake and some areas are undergoing repairs. Don’t let this stop you from visiting, most of the palace is now accessible and restored to its previous beauty.
Stop by Swayambhunath, one of Nepal’s most incredible temples. Mobbed by monkeys Swayambhunath is often referred to as ‘the monkey temple’. Make friends with the locals as you explore this sprawling ancient and chaotic mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism. Perched on a hill overlooking the city, on a non hazy day it boasts one of the best views over Kathmandu City.
Bhaktapur: Once described as the best preserved medieval state in Kathmandu this beautiful place was devastated by the 2015 earthquake and many buildings were destroyed. That being said, this is one of my favourite cultural places in Nepal. Pick your way through the damage and you’ll find beautiful medieval streets, incredible hand carved temples and artisans making cloth chiselled wood. Stop and chat to the local craftsman and try your hand at making some traditional pottery or chiselled wood. You’ll need to bring your passport with you to enter this ancient state and pay a small fee which goes towards the upkeep.
Often described as ‘Goa in the Mountains’ it is easy to fall in love with this small town surrounded by mountainous scenery. Escape the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu and take some down time to chill out and relax before venturing into the ‘real Nepal’. Check into the Ice View, dorm rooms are only $8 a night but this place fills up fast so it’s worth booking in advance. I would recommend spending around 4 days exploring Pokhara.
Most Nepal trekking adventures start here, Pokhara is the gateway to the incredible Annapurna circuit trek and at the local bars, you’ll bump into plenty of backpackers finishing or starting the trek. Check out the Silk Road and the Busy Bee for good company, good food and cheap beer.
There’s more to Pokhara than the initial chilled out vibe, it also caters to those looking for adrenaline packed adventures. Arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world to jump off a mountain and sail through the air, paragliding is hugely popular here. For those needing more adrenaline; Pokhara is surrounded by some beautiful white water rivers so grab your kayak! After all the adventure grab some beers, your camera and head to the lake to catch the sunset, it’s a perfect way to end the day.
Arguably one of the world’s most successful protection sites for Rhinos, Chitwan National Park is a wildlife lovers paradise. Granted World Heritage Protection in the 1980s Chitwan is home to Tigers, Rhinos, Birds, Elephants and many more incredible animals. Often it is a bit too pricey to stay in the luxury lodges around the national park so most backpackers head to the small town of Sauraha close by and check into the Chilax House – a private double room is $3 a night.
Spend at least two full days exploring Chitwan National Park, if you are an animal lover like me, you’ll be here a lot longer. Trek through the bush in search of some of the rare and protected wildlife, hop in a dug out canoe and get up close and personal with alligators and the local bird life. Chitwan is an experience you will not regret whilst backpacking Nepal. Elephant tourism is popular here in Chitwan and whilst the majority of sanctuaries care for the Elephants well, do your research before booking experiences with Elephants. And seriously, don’t ride them…
For many travellers, this is the start of their Nepal trekking adventure and the gateway to the mighty Mt Everest and the Himalayas. The thrill starts on the plane ride in; Lukla is said to have ‘one of the most dangerous airports in the world’. I would say it’s one of the most thrilling and beautiful plane rides you’ll ever experience!
At 2680 metres above sea level, there is not much for backpackers in Lukla unless you are planning to trek the Himalayas or to Everest Base Camp. For those trekking, Lukla is a great place to pick up last minute essentials, hire a guide, adjust to the altitude and plan the next stages of your trip. There’s also very limited backpacker accommodation available. For a place to crash, check out La Villa Sherpani, it is one of the cheaper options available but again, worth booking in advance as it’s often full.
Scaling The world’s highest mountain is the dream of many a hiker, climber and adventurer. The reality is that climbing Everest is an extremely challenging and extremely expensive endeavour – the permit alone costs $11,000! Trekking the Himalayas to Everest Base Camp is a popular backpacker route which is a lot more affordable however the Everest Base Camp trek is extremely busy and I recommend finding something a bit quieter, large tracts of the Everest Base Camp trek have been trashed. Don’t fancy hiking? Treat yourself and blow your broke backpacker budget on an unforgettable helicopter tour of Mt Everest, a knuckle whitening experience which will leave you grinning like an idiot for days…
Welcome to a glimpse into the past, here time almost seems as though it has stood still and Bandipur offers a beautiful insight into what Nepal once was. Explore the old streets on foot, there are no cars here giving the old streets a European feel. Tourism has saved many of the derelict Newari houses and buildings many of which are now cafes and lodges offering some of the best Chai in Nepal. There are some local guesthouses that put up backpackers and the Himalayan Hideaway Guest House is one of the most popular.
Put on the map by backpackers travelling Nepal off the beaten track and those on pilgrimage. Gorkha is an extremely religious small town. Newar’s here on Pilgrim often believe the Shahs living here are reincarnations of the God Vishnu. Visit the Gorkha Durbar which used to be a palace for the Shahs and is now a popular historical site with views of the village.
Backpacking Bardia National Park
Often described as Chitwan 30 years ago before a high influx of tourism, Bardia is very dedicated to the protection and conservation of the wildlife in Nepal. The park itself protects 968 square kilometeres of forest and grassland as well making up one of the largest stretches of Tiger habitats in all of Asia. It’s a long journey here but totally worth it to have a more chilled out, off the beaten track, wildlife experience compared to Chitwan.
Lumbini is the birthplace of histories most loved and respected figures, this is where Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) was born. It’s unsurprising to learn that this beautiful town attracts those on pilgrim from all over the world. The town is also protected by UNESCO and was one of the most humbling places I visited on my travels to Nepal. Check into the Siddhartha Lodge and spend at least one night here on exploring the fascinating town and making the overnight bus worthwhile. If your haggle game is strong you can expect to pay around 250 Rupees per night! If that’s full, check into Ananda Inn where you can get a room for $25.
The highlight of Lumbini is definitely the beautiful Maya Devi Temple. Learn about the birth and rise of ‘The Buddha’ while marvelling at the beautiful architecture and carvings surrounding the temple.
Trekking in Nepal
Trekking in Nepal is an absolute must… The country is truly incredible and boasts friendly people, stunning temples, unexplored caves and untapped white water rafting but really, at the end of the day, it’s the mighty Himalayas and the amazing Himalayan treks that keep calling backpackers to Nepal. 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 you are likely to have the trek to yourself… Or, like me, you may meet up with a small group of other solo trekkers and form a kind of backpacking band! Langtang and Annapurna are my favourite areas to trek in and I also recommend checking out Mustang for some real adventure experiences…
Annapurna circuit trek: There are loads of different treks around the Annapurna range but this is definitely one of the best. Before you leave Kathmandu make sure to go to ‘Shona’s Alpine Rental’ on Jyothi 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 also sells and rents 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 Annapurna Circuit 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 acclimatisation days in Manang. The trek itself can be pretty arduous so try to acclimatise. When I did this trek there was no phone signal and only basic supplies along the way, I hear reports that most villages now have WiFi… how times have changed.
When in Manang, check out the awesome day treks and the little cinema for some chill time. 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 my adventure on the Annapurna Circuit Trek here.
Annapurna Basecamp Trek: Possibly one of the most popular multi day hiking trips in Nepal; the Annapurna Basecamp trek puts you in (what feels like) touching distance of some magnificent peaks. Make sure to stop in Pokhara or Katmandu before venturing onto the trail to pick up your TIMs and Permit for the track. It’s only around forty dollars for both the TIMs and the Permit and these are essential if you want to go trekking in Nepal! Easily accessible, you just need to hitch a ride to the ‘starting point’ which is about an hours drive from Pokhara. I don’t recommend hiring a guide or a porter for this trek; the walking distances each day are not long and really unless you are super unfit it’s unnecessary expense!
The Annapurna Base Camp trek starts and finishes just outside of Pokhara, you’ll just have to hitch a ride in and out. Easy! The path is pretty well trodden and due to its accessibility and year round trekking options, you will come across people often! I still carry a route map with my while I trekked, which came in handy when I would sidetrack off the main path… The trek will take you around 7 – 12 days to complete. It took me ten days to finish this trek, but if you are new to trekking in altitude I would plan to take the full twelve days.
There are plenty of accommodation options in the villages and mountain towns along this trek; from fancy lodges to the more popular, teahouses in the mountains. The teahouses offer hearty meals for hikers, you’ll find the price and variation doesn’t change much from teahouse to teahouse and the beds can sometimes be no more than a mattress on the floor. Not that I complained after a long day of hiking with achy legs!
Langtang Trek: Northern Nepal is often overlooked and is massively underrated. What it lacks in mighty peaks, it more than makes up for with epic views and beauty. Hop on a bus at Kathmandu and make the 8 hour ‘local’ journey to Syaphru Besi, the official starting point of the Langtang trek. Ensure to bring your TIMS card with you (or get one from Kathmandu before arriving) and enough money to pay the National Park fee (roughly $35) and Solo Hikers Fee (roughly $20). This is all easy to organise on your own, don’t pay a middleman! The Langtang Trek is well marked and easily done solo rather than guided, I wouldn’t recommend hiring a guide or porter for this trek.
The Langtang Trek will finish in the small town of Dhunce and will take you around a week to complete if you avoid the day trips, which would be a mistake! There are some awesome add on routes along this trek and my favourite is the Langtang Glacier which is further up the valley. I hired a tent from the small village of Kyanjin Gompa to spend the night here as there are no teahouses in the area and wow, it was definitely the best part of the hike!
Hearing the cracks of the glacier while star gazing in the evening was the perfect end to a few days hiking. If a Glacier is just not enough you can also scale the peaks of Tsergo Ri (4984m) and Kyanjin Ri (4773m) both round trips from Kyanjin Gompa. The Langtang track itself is a relatively easy hike; the first two days will be hard inclines but after giving yourself a break and time to acclimatise, the last stretch of the journey is relatively flat before dropping down to Dhunce.
Mustang Trek: Enter into the hidden world of Lo, once part of Tibet this region is relatively untouched by visitors and hikers, making it an incredibly unique hiking experience. Expect to see some incredible ancient buildings contrasting with the surrounding unspoiled nature; time to get lost in some awesome wilderness. Starting and ending in Jomson, the easiest way to get here is via a plane ride from Pokhara. Before landing, you will fly through the deepest gorge in the world, Kali Gadaki, an unforgettable entrance to what is one of my favourite hikes in the world.
The upper Mustang Trek requires permits and TIMS. These can all be arranged yourself, I wouldn’t pay a middle man as the permit itself is $500 without a middle man fee! Don’t let the price of the permit put you off, the money all goes towards protecting the beautiful national park. The Mustang Trek follows the ancient Salt Caravan route and is well marked into the ground with a number of markers along the way to keen you on track. It can take up to 14 days to complete this track, I wouldn’t recommend doing it any quicker or you will miss out on some incredible sights and also, the altitude is pretty intense!
Ensure to stop at some of the ancient monasteries and schools along the way, in particular the Amchi School. A place which teaches the art of traditional Tibetan medicine and keeps the practice alive! The highlight of this trek for me, however, was stopping at the oldest monastery in the world built by an ancient Tibetan magician, Guru Rinpoche. Although I am in no way religious this was an incredible experience! It’s around a 5 day walk from Lo Manthang and it’s close to Dhakmar.
The best time of the year to hop on this trail are the months of June to August when the rest of the country experiences a little more rain. Throughout the trek, the accommodation will be mainly homesteads and tea houses. If you enter a tea house and no one is around, pop your head into the kitchen. Why? Well in traditional Tibetan culture the kitchen is pretty much the centre of the house and where most people will gather…. just like what happens at house parties.
You can buy very high quality trekking and camping gear in Nepal for a pretty good price, providing you haggle, and although on many treks you can stay in guesthouses and buy food as you go it can be handy to have a backpacking tent and a cooking stove. Never go trekking without a headtorch in your pack, it can save your life – check out this post for a breakdown of the best value headtorches around.
Currency In Nepal
Asia is great for making us broke backpackers feel loaded! Nepal certainly doesn’t disappoint. $25 = 2,720.80 Nepalese Rupee, pretty awesome huh?
Easy to confuse with the Indian Rupee, the Nepalese Rupee is a closed currency meaning you can’t obtain it before arrival. If you are coming from India and have some Indian Rupee these can be spent in Nepal but try to avoid large notes and expect your change in Nepalese Rupees. Entering by air? The best currency to bring is the US Dollar; it’s easy to exchange and you’ll need this to pay your visa fee anyway.
When exchanging your money try not to have too many 1000 Rupee notes, yes it might make you feel pretty cool but you may have a hard time spending them. Many local shops, rickshaws and taxies will simply not have enough change to give you when you hand this bad boy over.
Cash machines are widely found in the major tourist areas such as Pokhara and Kathmandu. Try to use ATMs that have security guards or look like they are in telephone boxes. It’s not because the streets are a big bad place, but it just keeps you and your money extra safe and away from the attention of pickpockets.
Once you head into the rural areas don’t expect ATMs anywhere. Carry cash with you, just enough for what you will be doing and a hidden backup stash in case of delays.
Must Try Experiences Backpacking Nepal
Homestay’s: There’s no better way to really embrace Nepali culture whilst backpacking Nepal than staying with the locals. You’ll often find yourself being invited to stay with the locals when travelling the rural areas and the hiking regions. Take the offer; not only is it a free bed and some awesome company. But it will be the highlight of your trip to Nepal… it certainly was for me!
Hiking the Himalayas: From day to multi day hikes, there is an adventure for all broke backpackers here! Experiencing the towering peaks and incredible scenery is not just for the hardcore climbers. So get out there and enjoy the beauty!
White Water Rafting: I do love a good adrenaline kick and white water rafting in Nepal certainly has it! With numerous river systems, there are plenty of opportunities to jump in. Whether you take a guided rafting trip or for the more experienced, jump in a solo kayak, you’ll be in for a thrill!
Live it up in Thamel: Shopping, drinking, smoking, partying or cheap accommodation Thamel has it all. Known for being incredibly backpacker friendly, you’ll be able to snag yourself a deal here for pretty much anything. Also great to find some smoke and a good party… A must do place to check out on your backpacking Nepal adventure!
Pokhara Lake at Sunset: Whether you hire a man with a boat or grab a few beers, a few mates and chill; get yourself o the lake for sunset. One of my favourite places in the world for sunset, this is the perfect chill experience when backpacking Nepal.
Eat Some Momo’s: Make sure to stop at Sabina Momo in Pokhara to try some mouthwatering Nepalese cuisine. Cheap and delicious you can’t just walk past… They even do chocolate and banana!
If you can you should definitely try to catch the colour festival of ‘Holi’ in March…
Food in Nepal
Nepal is a country made up of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities and this is reflected through the food. As well as tasting amazing Nepalese food is generally one of the healthiest South Asian food. Made using local produce, with a heavy focus on lean meat and chunky veggies and flavoured to perfection you won’t be disappointed. Check this article for some yummy must try foods in Nepal.
Unsure of where to start or what’s good? Here’s some must try foods when backpacking Nepal…
Daal Bhat – If Nepal had a national dish this would be it! Basically made up of rice, lentils, potato and curry but there are hundreds of variations. A must try for all travellers.
Momo – Nepal’s version of dumplings, but better (in my opinion). Traditionally filled with meat and vegetables these are the perfect snack!
Sel Roti – A perfect cross of doughnut meets bagel. Often eaten during religious festivals and as a breakfast treat. These are best made fresh from street vendors.
Gorkhali Lamb – Slow cooked lamb curry, with incredible flavours served with rice and potatoes. Seriously, I’m salivating just at the memory. A great dish to end a hard trek.
Hospitality in Nepal
I didn’t really know what to expect before travelling Nepal. As a country, it is often portrayed in the media as extremely poor, chaotic and to be a place with some serious crime problems. I fully expected that once I arrived I would have to constantly be on my guard to avoid being conned. Looking back I can’t believe this thought entered my mind at all. The Nepalese people are some of the most incredible, kind and genuine people I have ever met. There wasn’t a moment I felt unsafe when backpacking Nepal.
Whilst backpacking Nepal I was invited into numerous family homes, they offered me food, a free bed and smokes while refusing to accept any form of repayment from me. Even when trekking, Nepal sherpas would offer hot cups of chai as I stumbled up endless switchbacks, much to their amusement. Nepalese hospitality opened my eyes to just how freaking awesome backpacking Nepal is. I was never short of local friends and family who helped me explore this incredible country in such a unique way.
What to Wear When Backpacking Nepal
Nepal is a pretty religious place and the presence of the two main religions; Buddhism and Hinduism are felt everywhere. Conservative dress is the best option to avoid unwanted attention. Basically, just wear what you would back home on a casual day. Jeans and T-shirts (that cover shoulders) are widely worn throughout Nepal. For ladies, long skirts, dresses that sit at the knees and t-shirts that cover cleavage and shoulders are best. Mini Skirts, short dresses and short shorts should pretty much be avoided. Carry a scarf to cover tattoos and your face from dust and smog. I give it a few days before you are kitted out in colourful parachute pants and yak jumpers…
Backpacking Nepal Travel Costs
Travelling in Nepal is easy to do on a broke backpackers budget. Especially once you move out of the cities and into the rural areas. I spent on average around twenty dollars a day in Nepal. Sometimes a little more when opting for a cheeky smoke along the way. It could be done for less if you camped out everywhere; which is certainly an option.
Assuming you are staying in homestays or local guesthouses and taking the local bus instead of the tourist coach, hiring a local guide, trying the local delicacies and occasionally splurging for an awesome activity; you can expect to spend no more than fifty dollars a day. And honestly, that might be quite a hard amount to spend in Nepal!
Average Room cost: $3 – $8 a night for basic guesthouse
Meal Cost: $1.50 – $4 for midrange meal
Cost of a Beer: $3 for the local beer
Long Distance Bus Service: $5 using local buses rather than tourist coaches.
Entrance to a site cost: $2 – $7 for foreigners
Cost of hiring a guide/porter: $10 – $25 a day depending on your trek/destination.
Top Tips For Broke Backpackers
Eat the local delicacies: Food is part of the experience after all! And with the local delicacies being so delicious and super cheap, why would you not? Plus, supermarkets are not so cheap or easy to find….
Stay with new friends: When you meet some awesome locals while hiking and they invite you in for a cup of chai/rice wine and offer you a mattress, take it. It’s a massive compliment for the host (your new best friend) and also a free bed! Plus an amazing experience you’ll look back on forever.
Keep it Local: Where possible drink the local beer, eat the local delicacies and for day trips, try to use local companies and guides. By using local companies you can haggle a bargain price that larger, international tour operators won’t offer. Plus supporting local businesses is awesome!
Be Your Own Guide: Unless you are super unfit you really don’t need porters, mules and guides for most of the trekking routes in Nepal. All you need is a map, your backpack and some motivation and you are good to go. Trekking without a guide/porter will save you up to $25 a day!
Hitchhike: Take a break from the overcrowded taxies and chaotic buses. Wave down that pimped out lorry and jump in! Hitchhiking in Nepal always guarantees an adventure and a new friend. Hands down my favourite way to travel Nepal and it’s free!
Volunteer: If done properly, volunteering is an excellent way to cut down your costs on the road. I strongly recommend Workaway – you pay just $29 for the year and then have access to literally thousands of projects all around the world where you can help out in exchange for food and board.
Backpacking 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.
To find out more, check out this article with case studies of TEFL teachers all over the world… Alternatively, if you want to find a cheap way to stay in this incredible country for as long as possible, check out Workaway – for just $29 a year you get access to literally thousands of projects around the world where you can volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation.
Learning Nepalese While Travelling
If you get through a trip to Nepal without picking up any phrases I will be surprised. While many Nepalis have a great grasp of English, (even some of those in the ruralist of areas) they are incredibly keen to teach you some Nepali. Whilst it is a difficult language to pick up, especially for native English speakers, grasping the basics will help you build instant friendships. Throughout backpacking Nepal I used uTalk Go, a free language learning app, to get to grips with the language and learn a few phrases.
My Favourite Phrases for Backpacking Nepal
Hello – Namaste
My Name Is.. – Mero Naam … Ho
Goodnight – Subha ratri
Cheers! (Used when drinking) – Subhakamana!
How much Is This? – Yo kati ho
Thank You – Dhanyabad
Stop! (good when on a bus!) – Rokinuhos
Where is the toilet – Shauchalaya kata cha? (Sa-u-chha-la-ya ka-ta cha?)
I’m Lost – Ma haraye
Take me there, please – Kri-payaa, ma-lie tya-haa, laa-noos
Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Nepal
Backpacking Nepal is not complete without a party, Nepalese style. Expect plenty of homemade Rice Wine (Vodka), karaoke, dancing and weed. Alcohol is widely accessible and you’ll be able to find happy hour in the bars of Thamel. However, the party really starts when you venture out the cities, meet the locals and get invited to some rowdy house party. Which I had the pleasure of experiencing a couple of times…
Alcohol is widely available in the big cities but once you move into the more rural areas don’t expect to find imported beer. Rice wine is a popular home brewed alcohol which tastes more like vodka with the strength of absinthe; All the great ingredients for a rowdy night. 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!
Drugs in Nepal are of course illegal but this is a fairly recent event and up until the 1970s, marijuana was legal. However, it is pretty common for guys in the street to approach you with a tempting offer in your ears as you wander the streets of Thamel. Be careful what and who you buy from; the police are cracking down hard on tourists using drugs, especially in the cities. Rural Nepal has some of the best, and cheapest, weed in Asia. Ten grams of pollen cost me 1000 rupees, which was probably too much, in Kathmandu from a cycle rickshaw dude. He originally asked for $150, at which I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Quality shit – you just need to be able to haggle hard to get a reasonable price.
Nepal is a relatively traditional country and although I did have a couple of instances where girls were making eyes at me, it’s hard to approach as usually young women are our with a chaperone – their mother or brother! My mate Aiden went on a date with a Nepalese girl, to his surprise she bought her brother along for the ride!
Best time to Travel in Nepal
Centred around the summer monsoon, Nepal has four seasons. All important to consider when making the decision to backpack Nepal. No doubt the mountains have attracted you here. You don’t want to rock up in the wrong season for optimal viewing only to find the mountains hidden by haze and cloud.
Overall the better time of year to visit Nepal is late September – late November (Autumn). This tends to be peak season for visitors. Expect optimal viewing of the mountains, great trekking conditions with less pollution and bugs thanks to the monsoon rains.
Want more specifics? Let me break down the rest of the year for you amigos planning to backpack Nepal…
Winter (Dec – Jan): While it will never snow in the likes of Kathmandu, the nights will be chilly and the mornings dank. You will find trekking regions pretty deserted and many guesthouses will shut up for the winter. If you can bare the bitter cold and have experience in snow and alpine conditions, it’s a great and rare time to be in the mountains.
Spring (Feb – April): This is another popular ‘tourist season’. The weather is getting warmer, the nights are getting longer and the flowers are in bloom. A great time of year for wildlife viewing and photographers alike. The growing heat in this season can cause some hazy mountain backdrops but when trekking you are likely to walk above the haze, which is pretty cool! If you can rock up in late February it will still be a bit cold but there won’t be many other tourists around, this is my favourite time to go backpacking in Nepal.
Pre Monsoon (End April – June): Temperatures around this time are growing by the day. It is a lot more humid in anticipation for the oncoming monsoon. If trekking at this time of year, choose treks taking you higher to enjoy the cooler temperatures and be prepared for funny tummies.
Monsoon (June – September): Often described as the most ‘Nepali’ time of year. The air is pretty clean, the flowers and fields are alive with colourful plants, butterflies are in abundance and the fruit is just Yum! Trekking however, becomes a little tricky. Expect floods, bridges can be washed out and tracks/roads blocked by landslides and views of the mountains are rare.
Useful Apps to Download Before Backpacking Nepal
XE Currency – My go to currency app when travelling, you will definitely need this when travelling Nepal. If not, you have some fantastic maths skills! A great way to keep track of how much your spending and understanding the exchange rate.
Google Translate – This app helped me out BIG time! Especially when exploring the rural areas not yet blessed with English signs. Working offline you don’t have to worry about a huge data bill. It won’t necessarily help you learn the language but it’s great for practical and quick day to day scenarios.
Maps.Me – The most useful app you will ever download. Download the full map of the country before you go and use it offline while you backpack and Trek Nepal. No data used and a minimal amount of time getting lost means more time for fun stuff!
uTalk Go – So you want to learn Nepalese? uTalk is the backpacker’s secret weapon when it comes to learning languages, I cannot recommend uTalk Go enough. I’ve used this all over the world whilst travelling and with over 130 languages currently available, it’s the perfect sidekick.
HIDE.ME – I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide.Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.
Books To Read before Backpacking Nepal
The Backpacker Bible – Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. Shameless bit of self promo here but this book is basically my dissertation on backpacking, nine years of tips and tricks and your purchase helps keep the site going. If you’ve found the content on this site useful, the book is the next level up and you will learn a ton – if you don’t, I’ll give you your money back. Check it out here.
The Mountain: My time on Everest: Everest is the ultimate goal for serious altitude climbers and no one knows this better than Ed Viesturs. He’s climbed all fourteen of the world’s 8000 metre peaks and eleven expeditions to Everest with seven summits, amazing! In this book, he describes the personal, harrowing, deadly, and inspiring tales of the mountain. Couldn’t stop reading this for a while day!
Into Thin Air: You’ve probably seen the movie, but the book is just woah! An incredible account of the unfortunate and devastating disaster on Mt Everest in 1996 which claimed five climbers lives and left countless others in pieces. This book will grip you, I couldn’t put it down and it still didn’t put me off hiking!
Lonely Planet Nepal: Not often one for guidebooks; the Lonely Planet actually really helped me out whilst backpacking Nepal. Great maps, tips for getting to even some of the most remote places and heaps of advice for trekking! Well worth carrying around.
While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey through Love and Rebellion in Nepal: I literally couldn’t put this book down. A great read describing the culture, religion and life in Nepal from an ‘outsider’ trying to make a new life in Nepal.
Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring home the lost children of Nepal: Funny and tragic are not normally two words I would use in the same sentence but it works for this book. The title says it all, read how Conor dives into the darker side of Nepal battling to save the lost children. Have tissues at the ready…
The Best Little Guidebook for Trekking the Everest Region (Nepal Insider Editions): If you’re planning to do any hiking in Nepal, this is the only ‘guidebook’ you’ll need. Gives great information on gear, expels myths, offers loads of info on hiking trails and alternative walks to avoid the crowds. This book was my bible when hiking Nepal.
Nepal (National Geographic Adventure Map): Calling all adventurers and hikers, this map is for you. Offering greatly marked hiking routes or just an excellent wall decoration. This was better than any map I could have bought on the streets of Thamel.
The Snow Leopard: Wildlife and adventure all rolled into one. No wonder I freakin loved this book. Read how Matthiessen ventures into the Himalayas not only to study the incredible rare wildlife up there but also on a spiritual quest for Buddhism.
The Violet Shyness of Their Eyes: Notes From Nepal: Possibly one of the most relatable and real tales of Nepal. Written by a woman who lived, worked and travelled there. If this book doesn’t inspire you to travel Nepal, I don’t know what will.
Not sure what to take on your backpacking Nepal adventure? Check out our Backpacking packing list….
Insurance For Backpacking Nepal
Check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking.
I strongly recommend travelling with a headlamp whilst in Nepal (or anywhere really – every backpacker should have a good headtorch!) – check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.
Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your Nepal trekking 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.
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For one month only, I can offer you guys an exclusive 5% discount with World Nomads Travel Insurance – these guys are hand’s down the best travel insurance company out there! Simply visit World Nomads through this link and then use the discount code BROKE5 – This is a limited offer that is only running till September 3rd! *Please note – This coupon code will unfortunately not work for US or Canadian travellers due to financial service laws. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members*
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.
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