Backpacking in Nepal is a dream for many adventurous travellers, and if you’re planning a trip there you won’t be disappointed. Nepal is a backpackers mecca and there really is something for everyone. I spent five weeks backpacking Nepal, trekking through breath-taking mountain scenery, getting lost in winding alleyways filled with the smells of spice, stalking tigers through the jungle and connecting with my inner peace in Lumbini-the birth place of Buddha.
Backpacking in Nepal is, to this day, one of the best experiences of my life and one of my favourite countries in the world. If you are after the adventure of a lifetime then head to Nepal, where you can summit mountain peaks one day and take on white water rapids the next. Where the views will leave you breathless and the friends you make will last a lifetime.
Nepal is incredibly welcoming to backpackers and travellers. You won’t have trouble getting to even the remotest of places in Nepal and it is easy to feel as though you have escaped the tourist trail, so make sure you aim for some of the less popular places as well as the highlights, these were some of the best experiences we had.
I’ve put together a complete guide to backpacking in Nepal to make your trip as easy as possible, and to make sure you don’t miss out on some truly spectacular off the beaten track destinations. Backpacking Nepal for five weeks gave me plenty of time to explore the destinations that most backpackers don’t touch, so I’ve given you an honest account of these destinations too so you can decide the right places for you. From rough itineraries to visa restrictions, this guide has it all.
A Little Info Before You Go Backpacking In Nepal
Did you know…
8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world are found in Nepal.
Nepal is landlocked- there are no beaches here.
Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least eleven thousand years.
Tourism is one of the largest industries in Nepal, employing more than a million people across the country.
The religion with the largest number of followers in Nepal is Hinduism.
Nepal’s national colour is crimson. the rhododendron is the national flower, the Himalayan monal is the national bird and the cow is the national animal. Volleyball is the national sport and Nepali is the national language.
Backpacking Nepal: The Highlights
1. Trekking In The Himalayas
There really is no better experience than trekking in the Himalayas, and the great thing about Nepal is that you have so many different options. Do your research before you go to make sure you find the right trek for you. Consider your time frame, ability, how accessible it is and how much it costs. You can find some great information in the Lonely Planet’s guide to trekking in Nepal.
2. Spot Tigers In Chitwan
Seriously, a once in a lifetime experience. Obviously spotting tigers is pretty rare, but it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll see rhinos, one of the most endangered species on the planet. Luckily, with the work they’re doing in Chitwan, they should be around for many years to come.
3. Go Paragliding In Pokhara
Throw yourself off a mountain and glide down towards the lake below. Paragliding in Pokhara is an adrenaline pumping but strangely calming experience that you should definitely give a try. You can book through Sunrise Paragliding when you get to Pokhara, and leave a few days for this activity in case the wind and weather conditions aren’t favourable on the day you booked.
4. Explore Ancient Cities In Kathmandu Valley
Some of the most beautiful temples we’ve ever seen, we found in Kathmandu valley. Make sure you have your camera ready for your visit to Bhaktapur, and don’t be afraid to wonder into the backstreets for more beauty and a look into the past.
5. Live With The Locals
Experience a home stay in Nepal and see what life is like if you live here. Perhaps you won’t miss home comforts quite as much as you thought, or perhaps it will leave you longing for warm showers! Either way, it will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.
When To Go Backpacking In Nepal
I’ve always been of the opinion that there is no bad time to visit a country, and Nepal didn’t prove me wrong. If you can only visit Nepal at a certain time of year, then just go. You’ll have an amazing time no matter the weather.
That being said, if you want to ensure that you’ll get the views you’re hoping for, then there are a few things to consider before you jet off here.
The recommended time of year to visit Nepal is late September – late November (Autumn). This is when you’ll have the most favourable conditions for trekking, with clear skies, less pollution and less pesky bugs. It is peak season for visitors though so expect large crowds and higher prices.
Nepal has four seasons, detailed for you below, so you can make an informed decision about when to go backpacking in Nepal.
Winter (Dec – Jan): It gets cold in Nepal in the winter. Really cold. This is a definite ‘off-season’ in Nepal, with many guest houses shut down and less trekking options available. That being said, December might be a good time to go trekking as the skies should still be clear and crowds a lot less.
Spring (Feb – April): Spring is another popular time to go backpacking in Nepal. Things are starting to warm up but the haze isn’t settled in yet, so you might well still get some decent views. The earlier you can go during this season the better, as it will be quieter and clearer.
Pre Monsoon (End April – June): It starts to get hotter and more humid during the pre-monsoon season, so expect worsened visibility and lots of heat!
Monsoon (June – September): This is when we visited, despite the risk of having no mountain views at all. We were lucky, and saw the mountains often during our time here, but be prepared for the clouds to follow you where ever you go and bring a raincoat-when it rains here it pours! You will also have thunderstorms and landslides to compete with. That being said, it’s the time when the flowers are out in full force, and you won’t have to worry quite as much on high altitude treks, as the plants growing through monsoon season provide a little more oxygen!
The Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Nepal
Obviously the more time you have to explore this fascinating country, the better. But not all of us can get the time off work, so I’ve put together a few different options to suit people travelling from just a week up to four weeks. Make sure you read them all and create your own based on your preferences. You can find out more about the places listed in the itineraries below.
Backpacking Nepal 1 Week Itinerary: Kathmandu and Bodhnath (Boudha)
1 week is the perfect amount of time to explore Nepal’s thriving central hub and it’s surrounding areas. In a week you’ll have time to explore chaotic streets, take in the most beautiful ancient wonders and learn a little about the Tibetan refugee way of life in Boudha. Spend your days tasting delicious food, socialising with other backpackers from all over the world and sipping lemon sodas in the shade of hundreds of prayer flags.
Most people will start their backpacking Nepal journey in Kathmandu. Spend your first day here exploring the streets of Kathmandu in all it’s dusty, hectic and polluted wonder. You may not fall in love at first sight but it’s definitely worth spending at least a day here, probably two.
From Kathmandu, you can visit several beautiful towns in the Kathmandu Valley: I recommend checking out Bhaktapur and Patan just outside the city, for the incredible ancient temples. Unfortunately these areas were affected badly by the 2015 earthquakes, but you can still get a sense of the awe-inspiring place they would have been hundreds of years ago. Bandipur and Gorka are two more great towns to visit not too far out.
Once you have had your fill of day trips from Kathmandu, head to Boudha, the Tibetan area. Here you will find an incredible stoupa, monasteries a plenty and a relaxed, peaceful vibe compared to that of Kathmandu. Stay here for a few days, enjoying the bells and chants, shopping for original Tibetan crafts and eating homemade pizzas on rooftop restaurants.
Backpacking Nepal 2 Week Itinerary: Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara
Spend the first few days exploring Kathmandu and the surrounding valley as above. Next head straight to Pokhara, the lakeside village in the mountains. Pokhara is one of the most relaxing places you can visit in Nepal, and a backpackers heaven.
You can spend your days lying on beanbags, sipping cocktails next to the lake, taking some hikes around the lake and hitching rides on the wooden row boats, or for the more active you can book a trek in the Annapurna Mountains. A hike to Poon Hill will take about 4 days (depending on how fast your walk and how many photo stops you take!) Or you can leave enough time for the trek to Annapurna base camp, which will take more like 10 days.
Backpacking Nepal 4 Week Itinerary: Kathmandu Valley + Trekking In Pokhara + Chitwan
With an extra two weeks in Nepal you can fit in a longer trek in the Annapurna mountains or Everest region. You could also consider trying some of the adventurous activities available from Pokhara such as paragliding or white water rafting.
You might also want to fit in a visit to Chitwan National Park, Nepal’s jungle region. Here you have a chance of seeing tigers, rhinos, bears and elephants. If you’re incredibly lucky you could also spot a leopard! Make sure you read our detailed guide to taking a safari in Chitwan before you go to get the most out of your trip here.
Popular Places To Backpack In Nepal
Kathmandu: Backpackers Shopping Heaven
Kathmandu is honestly not the most authentic introduction to Nepal, but it will send your senses into overdrive and certainly make a lasting impression, whether or not it’s a good one! If you’re coming straight here from India then you will probably find Kathmandu a bit of a relief, but for anyone who has just stepped off a long haul flight it can be a bit of a shock.
In between the chaotic hustle and bustle there is beauty to be found, so if your first impressions aren’t great then don’t give up. Thamel is probably the most backpacker friendly area of Kathmandu so make a stop here first to get your bearings. There are lots of hostels around this area so it’s a good place to start. Do a spot of shopping or meet new friends in any one of the very cool looking bars and restaurants.
The UNESCO site Durbar (palace) Square is a popular spot when backpacking Nepal. The square is of great historic importance and is full of beautiful ancient buildings and many of the buildings around the square are actually older than the square itself; Kasthamandap is the oldest building in the valley, made out of wood and sitting at three stories high. It’s well worth a visit.
Once you’re a little more used to the busyness, give yourself time to wonder around the backstreets of Kathmandu. It is here you find the ‘real’ city, with authentic street sellers instead of tourist shops and proper street food, and tiny roadside shrines full of incense.
Before you leave Kathmandu make sure you visit Swayambhunath, one of Nepal’s most incredible temples. It’s quite a climb to the top but you will be entertained by monkeys the whole way up. In fact, the monkeys are part of the main attraction and the temple is even affectionately known as ‘monkey temple’ by many. Make sure you get rid of any drinks or snacks you might be carrying, or they’ll be monkey food before you know it! These guys are clever! The view from the top of the temple is just stunning, and the temple itself is quite something too.
Places To Stay In Kathmandu
Kathmandu has a HUGE range of places to stay, from hostels to luxury hotels. Stay in Thamel if you want to be close to all the action, though there are many lovely hotels and bnbs that are a little cheaper outside of the main strip if you’re prepared to walk!
Bhaktapur: Ancient Temples
Bhaktapur is a beautiful medieval city, full of hand-carved temples, and backstreets that make you feel as though you have fallen into the past. A lot of the main temples and buildings were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake but that didn’t destroy magic of the place, and the ruins are still some of the best in Nepal. After you’ve explored the main square, take to the alleyways where you will find artists creating pottery and women plucking chickens in their doorways.
For reasons we don’t really understand, you will need your passport to visit here. You will also pay an entrance fee of around $15 (which is more than worth it in our opinion).
Where To Stay
Staying in Baktapur is a great alternative option to the crazy Kathmandu. Still just a short tuk tuk ride from the capital, Baktapur is a little less hectic with just as much to see!
Bandipur: An Ancient Village In The Mountains
This was one of our favourite finds in Nepal. When we visited in the rainy season, it was virtually empty here and we felt like we had stumbled upon a hidden treasure. Apparently it is a little more popular in the high season, but if you visit then you will be virtually guaranteed the views of the Himalayas that we missed out on, so there’s pros and cons to both!
Bandipur is a living museum of Newari culture set high up in the mountains. The drive up here is a spectacle in itself. The streets are lined with traditional houses that have been turned into guest houses and tea shops. There are plenty of home stays here, try to pick one with a view of the mountains. We stayed in Samira Homestay and can recommend.
Where To Stay
There are so many pretty places to stay in Bandipur that you’ll be spoiled for choice! Check out your options here.
Everest: The Ultimate Trekking Experience
Many people dream of conquering Everest, and many, many more are happy to admire it from lower down! Climbing Everest is an expensive feat, and requires months and months of rigorous training – the permit alone costs $11,000!
Trekking to Everest Base Camp is a popular thing to do when backpacking Nepal and you don’t need technical experience to do it. It’s also a lot more affordable! It is, however, extremely popular meaning it can get very crowded. We opted out of doing this trek for several reasons on our visit to Nepal. We had heard that it’s not as pretty as it’s rival trek in the Annapurna region, and we preferred to do a trek that wasn’t so crowded or affected by tourism.
You can still see Mount Everest from many places around Nepal, and if you are feeling brave you can even take a helicopter tour of this world famous mountain.
Pokhara: A Lakeside Retreat
I can see why the owner of the hostel we stayed at here had arrived many years ago on a backpacking trip around Nepal and just never returned home. This lakeside town is full of travellers charm, from the hammock and bean bag filled bars to the shops full of exciting trekking gear, this place oozes relaxation and adventure in equal measures.
If trekking the Annapurna Circuit (see below) isn’t for you, then you might want to consider throwing yourself off a mountain (attached to an experienced paraglider of course), or maybe plummeting down the rapids instead.
For those seeking relaxation, the lake is the perfect sunset setting. You can laze around beside it, sipping cold beers in one of the many bars, or you can take a trip on a rowing boat. There is even a choice of spas here if you’re legs are aching after a long hike (or a bumpy bus journey!) Head here for a full list of things to do in Pokhara!
Where To Stay
I think the best place to stay in Pokhara is near to the lake – it’s definitely one of the most scenic! Again, this is a popular backpackers destination so you’ve got tonnes of choice. Try to book before you head here – we found a lot of the nicer looking hostels were all booked up!
Chitwan National Park: Tigers, Rhinos And Bears
The unforgettable moment we saw a tiger in the wild was at Chitwan National Park, so you can understand why this place captured my heart. Chitwan National Park was granted World Heritage Protection in the 1980s, and is home to tigers, rhinos, leopards, bears, birds, elephants and many more incredible animals.
You’ll want at least several days here to go trekking in the jungle, take a canoe ride down the river and soak up some culture in the traditional village. This place is an animal lovers paradise, but also just a great place to hang out by the river and soak up the jungle vibes and glorious sunsets. Read more about the best things to do in Chitwan or check out our advice on taking a Chitwan jungle safari.
Where To Stay
You’ll find our top picks in our guide to a Chitwan Jungle Safari, but there are so many you might want to take a look at all your options – bear in mind that a lot of the larger hotels do their own tours, which might not be quite as good!
Backpacking Destinations Off The Beaten Track
Gorkha is where the famous Gurkha Battalion in the British Army originated and is a site of religious importance. Don’t expect much from the town itself, but 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.
It’s of incredible important to the Hindu religion, so be respectful when you visit. Sadly, quite a lot of this temple was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake but it is still a site to behold, if not just for the amazing views.
Where To Stay
We had a bit of a nightmare with finding somewhere to stay in Gorkha. It’s so off the beaten track that there are very few hotels and hostels, and in off season they were mostly all closed. Luckily we found one place that was open and managed to bag a room, but we’d advise you book before you head here just to be on the safe side!
Backpacking In Lumbini
Birthplace of Buddha, Lumbini is an important place for the Buddhists paying pilgrimage here. Honestly, we thought it was rather a strange place, and although I’m pleased to have visited I am not sure I’d rush back here in a hurry. The actual UNESCO heritage site itself is beautiful and the tree where Buddha was supposedly born is a place not to be missed. There is spirituality to be found here and it’s a fascinating place to explore.
Leave lots of time to explore the Maya Devi Temple where you will learn about the story of Buddha and his birth and life, while exploring the beautiful architecture and carvings surrounding the temple.
The town itself was pretty ugly and industrial to be honest. We struggled to find a room, and the one we did end up in was expensive and dirty. The place had nothing of the character we had experienced in other towns. It was worth it to see the actual UNESCO site but just don’t expect much from the town!
Where To Stay
Lumbini is another backpacking destination in Nepal that is less frequently visited than some of the more well known spots. This makes it tricky to find places to stay, especially if you happen to be visiting on a holy holiday like we were! Book here to avoid trekking endlessly through the not so pretty town!
This is a great place to stop off if you’re doing the journey from Pokhara to Lumbini. It’s completely off the beaten track, we didn’t see another tourist the whole time we were there. The locals are super friendly (and you’ll get a lot of stares!) and there are only handful of home stays for you to stay in. You will get a chance to really see what local life is like.
You’ll need to make a few bus changes to get here, but just ask the locals and they’ll be more than happy to help.
Where To Stay
Tansen has some lovely homestay options, in fact, many people come here just for that reason. Make the most of this opportunity to stay with a local household.
Backpacking In Bardia National Park
We didn’t make it to Bardia National Park as it’s an awful long away away and pretty expensive to explore. It’s basically a more off the beaten track Chitwan, where you can see the jungle more as it would have been before it became so popular with tourists. Bardia may well be the place to go if it’s tiger sightings you’re after, as it has the largest stretch of tiger habitat in all of Asia.
Where To Stay
Check out your accommodation options here.
Trekking in Nepal
If you’re backpacking Nepal then it would be a shame not to squeeze in at least one mountain trek. The more you travel, the more rare it becomes to have those real take your breath away moments, because it’s harder to see new things for the very first time. The moment I saw the Himalayas was a true ‘wow’ moment that I will never forget. I just couldn’t believe (and still can’t!) how absolutely massive they really are.
There are so many different opportunities to get up into the mountains when backpacking Nepal. You can take a short day trek, or go for something much longer and more adventurous. Whatever your time frame and ability there is something for you, so make sure you pack a decent pair of walking shoes and get into those mountains!
Tips For Trekking In Nepal
Take A Guide
This is my number one tip for trekking in Nepal, and one I will preach about to anyone that will listen! The guides in Nepal know the mountains like the back of their hands. The Himalayas are not mountains to be messed with. There are frequent landslides and avalanches depending on the time of year that you visit, there are dangerous passes and unpredictable weather systems.
You will read lots of reports about how this trek is easy without a guide, and they’re right, it absolutely is. A guide isn’t there to drag you up the mountain, they’re there to inform you and provide their expertise.
The guides take people into the wilderness every day, and are extremely knowledgeable. Not only will they do everything possible to keep you safe, they will also add a lot of value to your trip through the knowledge they will share. Plus, by hiring a guide you are supporting the people in Nepal who rely on tourism to live. It is an ethical and responsible way of giving back to the country you are backpacking through.
Our guide was able to safely take us along an alternative route after a bridge across an overflowed river had collapsed, he led us across a huge landslide that had just occurred on the path we needed to take. He advised us to keep walking an extra two hours to a tea house further up, as he suspected the one we were at was not safe to stay at due to predicted landslides, and he watched us like a hawk for signs of altitude sickness during our stay at base camp (after plenty of very nasty experiences).
He also told us all about what to do during an avalanche (for those of you wanting to do the trek during peak season this is an extremely common occurrence, and something you should be fully prepared for). Unless you live here these are not your mountains. You won’t understand them, and nor should you try. Hire a guide and stay safe.
After a trekking guide saved my life in the mountains, going without one is a risk I would never take, and it isn’t worth you taking that risk either!
What To Bring
Depending on the altitude and difficulty of the trek you are planning, you should plan to bring some basic equipment with you. Check with the guide you book your trek with before you depart to make sure you have all the equipment you need. Here is a list of some items you should consider taking with you.
Waterproof Walking Boots: Make sure they’re waterproof! And take blister plasters, no matter how comfy they are.
Sleeping Bag: It gets cold at night, so take a sleeping bag so you get a proper good nights sleep. Some of the guest houses have blankets, but I’m not sure how often they’re washed!
Waterproof Jacket: Take a lightweight one like this one, that will fold up easily and tuck into your bag. It never rains for long, so you’ll be forever taking it off and putting it back on again. That’s why we would recommend an actual jacket rather than a poncho that you will have to keep slipping on and off over your head. While it’s not raining you can drape it over your backpack to dry.
Leeches are EVERYWHERE in the monsoon season, at the lower altitudes. These little dudes hide in the bushes, just waiting for you to brush past them. They will do literally anything to get to your skin. I have never seen anything quite like it.
The advice from our guide was to leg it from one stepping stone to the next, scanning yourself quickly at each stone and brushing off any you found with a salt pouch (a load of salt wrapped in material and dipped in water, so the salt started to seep through). If you stood on the stone long enough, you’d see them start creeping towards you and know it was time to run.
On other treks we bought a small bottle of dettol and covered our shoes in it at regular intervals. I didn’t feel overly comfortable about what this was doing to the environment, so maybe have a read and see how you feel before you try it. It did work wonders though.
Leeches aren’t too bad, but it does itch a lot when they bite you, and isn’t all that pleasant to know they’re feasting on your blood. I got away unharmed, but my sister’s husband had quite a shock when he showered and found one in the exact place that no guy wants to find one. Just be mindful that they’re out there, and will stop at nothing to get you. Seriously, it felt like war out there!
You’ll need a trekking permit that allows you to go into the Nepalese mountains. This visa goes towards protection of the mountain area you are trekking in and it’s upkeep. It’s a little time consuming to get one so make sure you set aside a half day to get it sorted before you start your trek. They will check it at points throughout so it’s vital you get one! For more information check out the Nepal immigration site which has details on trekking permits.
The Everest Base Camp Trek
This trek is extremely popular but obviously quite a claim to fame to have done it! We chose not to, as we heard it was overcrowded and unfortunately, not in great shape because of this. We also heard from several people that the views actually aren’t as good on the Everest Base Camp trek, though having never done it, we can’t compare!
Annapurna Basecamp Trek
This was hands down the best thing I did in Nepal, and in truth, probably my favourite ever travel memory to date.
As I mentioned earlier, we were there in off season so the trek was really quiet. In fact, we only saw a handful of other people the whole time we were trekking. It does get a lot busier in peak season so don’t expect to have this place to yourself-but then meeting people along the way is all part of the fun!
The starting point is very close to Pokhara, leading you up through beautiful rice terraces towards your first tea house. These are scattered throughout the trek at regular intervals, so you’ll never find yourself short of somewhere to stay or something warm to eat!
The trekking is moderately strenuous, and obviously it gets harder as you get closer to the summit. There are some pretty impressive rope bridges to cross, so be aware of this if you’re afraid of heights! It’s a high altitude trek, so be prepared for some seriously out of breath walking, and watch for signs of altitude sickness as you near base camp.
It took us 10 days to get there and back, which is pretty average. You could do it in less if you’re super fit, or prepare to take more like 12 days if you aren’t used to mountain walking. You can choose to include the walk to Poon Hill at the end of the trek which will take an extra few days and (if you’re lucky) give spectacular views.
There is actually pretty good wifi all the way up to base camp, and lots of places to get food. You will need some means of water purification for the higher parts of the trek. A filtration water bottle is the perfect solution.
Annapurna Circuit Trek
This is probably one of the most impressive treks you can do in Nepal, and one of the most popular.
If you are going to attempt this roughly 20 day trek then you need to be prepared, both mentally and physically. The Himalayas are no joke! Completing this trek will no doubt be one of the best things you do in your life, and also one of the hardest!
Make sure you take it slow and listen to your body. Altitude sickness is a real thing, that can happen to anyone regardless of whether you’ve been affected before or not. It’s easily sorted by waiting for longer in lower altitudes, so be prepared for acclimatisation days to get your body used to lower altitudes.
Poon Hill Trek In Nepal
This trek is perfect for those who only have a short time in Nepal, or who aren’t feeling fit enough for a longer trek. Only an hour out of Pokhara, this trek will take you into the mountains and give you a taste of what some of the longer treks are like. Plus you’ll get incredible views. Another benefit to this shorter trek is that it will cost you less money, so if you’re short on cash then go for this trek instead of one of the longer ones!
Goyko Ri Lake Trek
This 14 day trek starts in Kathmandu, and has become a popular alternative to the Everest Base Camp trek. If you aren’t venturing all the way to Pokhara then this is a great walk to try. It takes you to the Goyko Glacier lakes high up in the mountains, and gives excellent views of Everest. The lakes themselves are pretty beautiful, and it’s unlike the more popular Everest and Annapurna routes, so you’ll get a taste of something different if you’re considering doing several different treks while you’re backpacking Nepal.
Syaphru Besi is the official starting point of the Langtang trek, and it will take you a good day to get here from Kathmandu. It finishes in the town of Dhunce. Make sure you get your trekking visa in Kathmandu before you head off on this trek.
It should take you around a week to complete, but there are options to make this a longer trip if you take advantage of some of the day treks off the main route. We’ve heard that some of the day trips are pretty darn stunning, so make sure you consider doing these as well if you’ve come all that way!
Compared to some of the other treks in Nepal, this one is pretty easy, with only a few days of steep uphill and some more relaxing level trekking. If you aren’t feeling up to some of the longer treks in Nepal then this might be a good option!
This is a great trek to do in the monsoon season, as it lies in the Himalaya rain shadow. The Upper Mustang trek is the ultimate gateway to the mysterious world of the old Buddhist kingdom of Mustang, also called Lo. It was once a forbidden area, and it still has some of that out of this world feel to it. It’s much more rarely visited by tourists than some of the more popular treks, though this may have something to do with the whopping $500 permit fee! It’s also tricky to get to, and involves a long bus journey or flight.
If you have money to burn and are seeking isolation, then this is probably the trek for you.
Backpacker Accommodation in Nepal
Nepal is really well set up for backpackers and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of accommodation in most of the places I visited.
The ultimate experience for backpackers in Nepal is to stay in a home stay. Experience what Nepalese life is really like, and meet some of the friendliest people you will ever come across. One of the best home stay experiences for us was had in the town of Tansen, a rarely visited Nepalese town on the way from Pokhara to Lumbini. Make sure you stop by if you’re following the same route!
As great as home stays are, sometimes you just want a little more privacy and a little less conversation! Luckily, Nepal has plenty of hotels, bnbs and hostels, so there is something to suit all. Hostels here aren’t as common as in some of the more popular backpacking routes in Southeast Asia, but there are lots to be found-especially in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Most places are set up with wifi, and offer private bathrooms.
We tended not to bother booking accommodation before we arrived, and just asked around when we arrived. The only time this was a problem for us was in Lumbini, when we struggled to find affordable backpacker accommodation. It might be worth booking somewhere before you arrive here to avoid the hassle we experienced!
Getting Around When Backpacking Nepal
Getting around in Nepal was pretty easy. Not only that, it was pretty pretty! Some of my favourite memories from my time in Nepal are from the long bus journeys through the most incredible scenery. Sure, it was important not to look over the side of the buses as they sped around the corners of near straight drops to the valley below, but if you keep your eye line up then you’ll get unforgettable views on near enough every journey.
Bus: By far the easiest way to get around in Nepal is by bus. They are frequent and cheap, and you should be able to reach most destinations this way. Be aware though that journeys by bus are often long, windy and bumpy. If you’re prone to travel sickness then take tablets before your journey. The bus drivers on local buses actually come round with sick bags, and it wasn’t uncommon to see locals being sick into them throughout journeys on local buses.
Top Tip: Local buses are a great way to experience Nepal. We had some of our most memorable journeys on them! You should be aware though that drivers are paid to drive quickly. We heard from a local that the journeys along mountain roads are so dangerous that many drivers drink before attempting them. We opted for tourist buses where ever possible from then on, which are like coaches, with air con, and travel much more slowly!
Taxi: You’ll never be short of a taxi, even if you don’t want one, especially in the city. Taxi’s in Nepal are reasonably priced and an easy way to get short distances. Make sure you use a metered taxi, or agree a price before you leave. You can ask your hostel of rough prices if you’re unsure.
Nepal taxi drivers have a bit of a reputation of taking you ‘the long way round’, with perhaps a stop off at someones shop or restaurant. They are just trying to make a living, so be polite but firm and let them know you aren’t interested. Unless of course you are! Try to have the address of your destination handy, so there can be no confusion as to where you want to end up.
Domestic Flight: If you’re short on time then domestic flights are a great option in Nepal. Our advice though would be to try and avoid them-apart form being a lot more expensive than overland transport, they are obviously much worse for the environment too. Get a bus or train if you can!
Motorbike: Think seriously before doing this! Roads in Nepal are not for the faint-hearted! That being said, it seems to be the in thing to do right now, and we can’t dispute that having the freedom of your own transport here would be an incredible way to see Nepal. Just make sure you are an experienced driver before you even consider taking this on.
Nepal Backpacking Travel Tips
Our comprehensive travel tips for backpacking Nepal. Don’t go without reading these top tips!
Staying Safe in Nepal
I have never met people as friendly and welcoming as those I met in Nepal. On the whole, the country is helpful and kind towards backpackers and you will most likely feel incredibly safe here.
That being said, it is always wise to be sensible when you’re travelling, no matter what country you’re in. Use your common sense when it comes to backpacking in Nepal. Try to avoid unlit areas and backstreets, go out with friends at night if you can, or stick to tourist areas that you know. If you feel uncomfortable in any situation, don’t be afraid to appear rude, just get yourself out and to safety. Alongside this, there are few other suggestions we have about staying safe in Nepal.
As I mentioned before, we would absolutely advise taking a guide when you go trekking for your safety. If you are a solo female then there are women guides that you may feel more comfortable with. If you do decide to trek without a guide then follow safety advice carefully. Check local weather forecasts and warnings, check in along the route and make sure you know what numbers to call if you encounter any problems.
Altitude sickness is a very real danger in Nepal. It can happen to anyone, at any time, no matter how fit you are or how many times you have walked at altitude and been unaffected. If you are planning any treks above 2000m then be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and what you can do to prevent it. Take it slow and let your body acclimatise, and if you experience any symptoms at all then get to lower altitudes as quickly as possible. Do not go to sleep if you are experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness.
Sadly, gender inequality is still a thing in Nepal, and it’s important to be aware of this if you’re travelling here as a female. On the whole, Nepalese women are conservative. If you head out in short skirts and strappy tops then expect some attention, perhaps some of it unwanted. I’m not saying it’s right, and obviously I wish as much as you that women were safe to wear and act how they want, but if you’re choosing to visit another country then I believe you need to abide by their norms.
I experienced a few situations that made me uncomfortable (but not threatened), both of them from young men who had beliefs that western women are sexually open. My advice is to make your intentions and values clear immediately and remove yourself from the situation. Speak to someone accountable, like a bar or hostel owner, and let them know what is happening if you are at all worried.
It’s important that I state here how many incredibly positive experiences I had in Nepal, from men and women of all ages. On the whole, men of all ages were respectful in a way I have never seen before, and that will be my lasting impression of my trip there.
Again, use your common sense when it comes to keeping your valuables safe. Keep a padlock on your bag, carry expensive items on you at all times, and never place important items in your back pockets or the front pocket of a rucksack. Grab yourself a money belt and keep some cash on you at all times.
Entry Requirements for Nepal
You will need a visitors visa to enter Nepal, and you can obtain one for 30, 60 or 90 days. They are available on arrival for US$25/40/100 and you can fill in your details beforehand online, or when you get there. You will need US dollars to pay for your visa, so make sure you have this on you on arrival.
If you decide you want to stay longer (which you almost certainly will!) you can extend your visa up to 90 days at the Nepalese Department of Immigration at Kalikasthan, Kathmandu. It was actually a pretty quick process, but it’s cheaper to do on arrival if you know the exact time you’ll be staying.
Overstaying your visa is not advised, and you will be fined and held at the border until you pay.
Insurance For Backpacking Nepal
Backpacking Nepal should be the trip of a lifetime, and it will certainly be an adventure. Don’t limit yourself on what you can do there by not getting insurance. If you can’t afford to be airlifted from the mountain after you’ve fallen and injured yourself, then you can’t afford to skip out on insurance.
It doesn’t have to be expensive, just make sure it covers you for doing the activities you might be tempted to do while you’re out there. Make sure your insurance covers white water rafting, trekking and paragliding. These are some of the activities that may well take your fancy when you see how absolutely amazing they are-even if you’re not keen now you’re sat planning on your sofa!
Money Money Money
The currency in Nepal is the Nepalese Rupee. It’s a closed currency meaning you can’t get hold of it before you enter the country, so if you want to have some cash on you just in case then bring US dollars. It’s an easy currency to exchange here and you’ll need some for your visa anyway.
We always find the easiest thing to do when travelling is to withdraw cash when we’re there. There are plenty of cash machines in the main areas of Nepal such as Kathmandu and Pokhara. As usual they charge withdrawal fees, so we found the best thing to do was take out large amounts of money at a time (very discretely!) You can save yourself unfair exchange rates by getting hold of a Revolut card.
Revolut allows you £200 worth of cash withdrawals a month free of charge, and only 2% thereafter. You can pay by card in the bigger towns and cities, so £200 will actually go quite a long way. We now use our Revolut card as our main bank card. You can keep track of how much you’re spending and where, and you can set it to autimatically top up once you’ve reached a certain amount (or not, meaning you can’t possibly spend more than you want on a night out!)
If you’re going to use a bank card then make sure you notify them before going abroad. In the past I ran into trouble several times when the bank blocked my card. Where possible, use ATMs that are sheltered or guarded, just to be on the safe side.
Top tip: Try to get hold of some ‘change’ as quickly as possible. Taxi drivers won’t appreciate having to find change for large notes, and flashing them around won’t do you any favours either. You will also want small amounts of money to leave tips, which you will do a lot in Nepal.
You should always have emergency cash hidden on you just in case. Get a money belt and wear it every day to keep some money close at hand!
Tipping is absolutely a thing in Nepal, and you should do it where ever possible. We became friendly with a local, who told us about the shocking wages a lot of Nepalese people receive.
We also had several lovely encounters with locals who weren’t ‘begging‘ as such, but who were open about their financial difficulties. We were left feeling very confused about whether or not to offer something to help, or whether pride would make that awkward. We were advised that if we wanted to give money it would be gratefully received, and did on several occasions, never because we felt forced to but because we could and we wanted to. A small amount of money goes a very long way in Nepal.
Staying In Touch With Home
I was stunned to find that there is wifi in even the remotest of places in Nepal. The internet didn’t cut out until we were most of the way up the Annapurna mountain, and I couldn’t believe I was sat what’s apping my Mum from a tea house in the clouds.
The internet in Nepal is great, but don’t get too reliant on it. Electricity does cut out, either unexpectedly or at certain planned times during the day. Keep your appliances charged whenever possible so you don’t run out of battery at inconvenient times.
You can be sure to get the most from that limited electricity with a smart travel adaptor like this one. It will work everywhere in the world and you can charge multiple devices from it all at once.
What to Pack for Nepal
There probably won’t be a single day backpacking Nepal that you won’t come across a temple, be that Buddhist or Hindu. It’s a conservative country that has only just started to embrace western culture, so respect that and dress modestly. No one wants to be climbing on and off buses or trekking through the jungle in a tiny skirt anyway.
Honestly, the best clothing for backpacking Nepal is baggy or wide legged trousers and a t-shirt. You’ll feel comfy and look the part too. Team it with a scarf or a light shirt so you can cover up for temples or the sun and you’re sorted. Leggings are perfect for trekking.
Here are the 5 things I wouldn’t go backpacking in Nepal without!
- Travel Water Bottle: An absolute essential to be kind to the environment and save you money. Don’t think about leaving home without one!
- Lightweight Scarf: I use this all the time travel, as sun shade, temple cover, even a towel or beach towel. Scarves are light to pack, look cute and come in handy ALL THE TIME.
- Headtorch: I used this all the time while backpacking Nepal. It’s great for walking home at night, trekking, and even finding the toilet in the night! Get yourself one that is rechargeable so you don’t have to faff with batteries, and one with a red light so you don’t upset your dorm buddies!
- Money Belt: A belt that looks like a normal belt but hides money inside. I feel like a spy wearing this! I also know my money is 100% safe. You don’t have to remove it for airport security either. What an invention!
- First Aid Kit: I’m always amazed at how few people take one of these on their travels, and how often I’ve had to come to the rescue with mine. Nepal has some good pharmacies, but only in major towns and cities. If you plan on going off the beaten track then you’re on your own. I always add painkillers, re hydration sachets, diarrhoea tablets, travel sickness tablets and antibacterial gel to mine, along with any other medication I think I might need.
Books To Read while Travelling Nepal
I love to read while I’m backpacking, it’s something I rarely have time for elsewhere. I used to be a kindle hater, and refused to buy one, but living on a boat forced me to give in, and now I can’t imagine life without one. You can carry a library that is smaller and lighter than just one book, and it’s so much better for the environment. Do yourself a favour and get one now, you’ll never look back. I can recommend the waterproof version, especially if you’re travelling in monsoon season. Every single one of my books got ruined in the downpours!
Looking for something relevant to read while you’re away…here are a few suggestions. I’d also thoroughly recommend getting a subscription to audible, so you can listen to books while on the long bus rides from place to place. You won’t want your gaze anywhere other than out of the window!
Lonely Planet Nepal: I am and always will be a Lonely Planet super fan. I’ve tried other guide books but none of them every come close. This one is packed with loads of useful information, accommodation recommendations, maps and more.
Speed Bump Himalayas: Absolutely hilarious and very relate-able, this book will have you at the edge of your seat and laughing out loud. Seriously recommend this one!
Three Cups Of Tea: Not completely about Nepal, but a great book to read while in Nepal for many reasons. After a disastrous attempt to climb K2, a mountaineer called Greg Mortenson was saved by a Pakistan village in the Karakoram Mountains. Moved by the inhabitants’ kindness, he promised to return and build a school. Three Cups of Tea is the story of that promise and its extraordinary outcome.
While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey through Love and Rebellion in Nepal: This is a page turner and a half! It’s the perfect read for a visitor to Nepal, as you follow the main character through her journey as an outsider in Nepal. Enslin’s story takes you deep into the lives of local women as they claim their rightful place in society—and make their voices heard.
Islands In The Snow: I enjoy all of Mark Horrell’s books, and this one was no different. It painted a rather vivid picture of what trekking through this remote part of the world is like, but in a light-hearted and real kind of way. A great one for anyone planning to go trekking in the Himalayas.
A little local knowledge will get you a long way! Here are some things to be aware of as you backpack Nepal.
Nepal Travel Phrases
The national language here is Nepalese, and although English is widely spoken, it’s always a good idea to make an effort to learn a little of the language of the country you are visiting. I have to admit that languages don’t come easy to me, but the Nepalese people are so friendly that they were always happy to help out, and they were pretty patient with my feeble attempts!
Remember to return the favour and help them where ever possible with their English. It’s an important language to know in Nepal and many people can’t get jobs without it.
Hello – Namaste
This is used all the time as a greeting, accompanied by a bow of the head with your hands in a prayer position. We were told that the lower you bow, the more respect you are showing, so you should bow your head more for the older generations. People sat at the side of the street will always say hello, and are always so happy when you say it back.
Goodnight – Subha ratri
Thank You – Dhanyabad
Excuse me, sorry – Maaph garnuhos
My Name Is… – Mero Naam … Ho
How much is this? – Yo kati ho?
Where is the toilet? – Shauchalaya kata cha?
Cheers! (Used when drinking) – Subhakamana!
Do you speak English? Tapaain angrejee boln saknuhunchha?
Stop! – Rokinuhos
Take me there – Kri-payaa, ma-lie tya-haa
Nepal Backpacking Costs
Backpacking in Nepal doesn’t need to be expensive, in fact it’s a great place to travel if you aren’t feeling too flush. Some of the activities you might want to do in Nepal can add up, so you may have to be mindful of this before you book every adventure trip going, but accommodation and food is remarkably cheap.
I would plan to spend about £30 a day when backpacking in Nepal, and you’ll probably be surprised and spend a lot less. If you’re trekking then your expenses will be hiring a guide and your permit, and activities like white water rafting will set you back quite a bit too.
Budget more than you think you’ll need for trekking, as there are no ATMs along the way and guest houses will only accept cash.
Here is a rough breakdown of the sorts of prices to expect, but bare in mind that these prices are only true for people seeking the cheaper rooms and meals. If you’re choosing to stay in hotels and eating in expensive restaurants then obviously you will spend more.
Basic Guestroom, often with private bathroom: £10
Meal Cost: £1.00 – £5 for a meal
Meals when Trekking: £5-£8
Cost of a Beer: £3
Long Distance (local) Bus Journeys: Around £5 depending on where you’re going
Long Distance (tourist) Bus Journeys: Around £10 depending where you’re going!
Entrance to a site, like a temple or museum: £2 – £7 for foreigners
Cost of hiring a guide/porter: £10 – £25 a day
Top Tips: If you’re on a serious budget then there are several things you can do to cut down on costs in Nepal.
- Carry your own filtration water bottle-do this to save the environment too, no one should be buying plastic anymore!
- Share a room where ever possible. You’ll meet loads of lovely people, see if you can share. We ended up in rooms with all sorts of random friends we made along the way, had a great time and saved a tonne of money too!
- Eat Daal Bhat. If you have a big appetite then this dish will be your best friend. It’s almost always all you can eat.
- Eat street food. It’s cheap and delicious, and you’ll be supporting the locals!
- Take the local bus. It’s a little terrifying, but isn’t that what travel is all about?
- Haggle to your hearts content. Bargaining is culturally accepted here, so give it a go whenever you get the opportunity. I’ve never been very good at it, but practice makes perfect!
Food in Nepal
I have to admit (much to everyone’s amazement) that me and the food in Southeast Asia didn’t get on too well. As a vegetarian I found it hard to find a variety of food, and to me everything sweet and sickly after the first week of backpacking. Luckily, the food in Nepal is so varied that it would be hard not to find something tasty here!
Here’s some must try foods when backpacking Nepal…
Momos – Nepal’s version of dumplings. I loved these tasty little meat and/or vege filled delights, until I ate way too many of them and they got a bit sickly! These are the perfect snack, and I’ve never quite been able to recreate them, so make the most of them while you’re there!
Daal Bhat – This is served literally everywhere, and is the perfect dish for big appetites. It’s made up of rice, lentils, potato and curry, and is usually served as an all you can eat dish with endless top ups. They tend to serve it in a silver dish that separates all the different elements, so you can get more of the bits you like best. Be careful in Bandipur, where the hostess at one of our hostels was all to eager to serve ‘hash’ potatoes. I’m pretty sure that’s how one of her lodgers had arrived for a night and was still there three months later!
Gorkhali Lamb – A slow cooked lamb curry that’s all the rage here. Being vegetarian I never tried it, but everyone I was with raved about it, so I guess it’s a must try!
Banana Pancakes – Ok, so I’m sure how Nepalese these are but you seriously have to try them if you’re trekking. They are HUGE and absolutely delicious. Not too sugary and extremely filling, they’re they perfect breakfast before a hard days trek.
Garlic Soup – Another must try while you’re trekking. Our guide was adamant that we order garlic soup while we were in the mountains. He was convinced it helped with altitude sickness. I’m not sure there’s any medical truth to it, but I have to say it was pretty delicious, especially if you’ve been out trekking in the rain and the cold. Just don’t go kissing anyone that hasn’t had some, that stuff is potent!
Sel Roti – Grab one of these doughnut type things from a street vendor for the perfect little treat! They serve them a lot during festivals, so keep a look out for them.
Festivals To Look Out For When Backpacking In Nepal
With so many different cultures and religions in Nepal, it is a country full of festivals. And Nepal festivals are really quite something! Here are a few to look out for.
Maha Shivaratri (February): A Hindu festival. Hindus bathe early in the morning and fast on this day, then visit Shiva temples afterwards. Head to the Pashupatinath temple of Kathmandu, where thousands of Sadhus (Hindu holy men) smoke marijuana and hashish. It won’t be an event you forget in a hurry!
Holi (March-April): Holi is a famous Hindu festival that is celebrated widely throughout Nepal. It’s a festival full of colour, and looks like such great fun. If you’re here for it then lucky you!
Nepali New Year (April 14th): If you’re here for the Nepali New Year then try and head to Bhaktapur, where the Bisket Jatra festival takes place. A huge chariot carrying the god Bhairab is pulled through the streets, ending with a tug-of-war chariot battle in one of the squares. Sounds great!
Buddha Jayanti (April 29th): Buddha’s birthday, and what better place to be than in his birthplace in Lumbini. Book accommodation WELL in advance though, we’ve heard plenty of stories of people sleeping on the streets!
Rato Machchhendranath (May-June): This is Nepal’s longest and largest festival, held in Patan, to welcome the monsoon season. Just pray the rains don’t start while the celebrations are in full force!
Teej (August): Teej is a festival that celebrates women. We were lucky enough to be in Nepal for this festival and even in remote Chitwan jungle it was being celebrated with dancing, drinking and laughter. In the bigger cities and temples this day is a much bigger celebration, full of, you guessed it, women!
Dashain (October): One of the most important festival to Nepalis, where they celebrate good prevailing evil. It’s a time when people return home to their families, so expect busy travel around this time!
Tihar (November): This festival happens over three days, and on each of the three days a different deity is worshipped: on the first day the crow, the messenger of Yama; on the second, dogs; and on the third, the goddess Lakshmi is worshipped by lighting houses with oil lamps and colourful lights.
Backpacking Nepal has been one of the best things I have ever done. With so much variety you could never get bored here, and there really is something for everyone. It’s an absolute must for anyone that loves adventure, culture, beauty and history. The only thing it lacks is sand and sea, but who needs that when you have lakeside bars with towering mountain views! You won’t be disappointed with a backpacking trip to Nepal.
If you’re planning on backpacking Nepal let us know in the comments section below!