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Chitwan jungle safari has been enticing travellers to Nepal for decades. Years and years ago, this jungle was an intrepid and dangerous place to visit, with only the bravest of tourists setting foot there. Now, for better or for worse, it is a tourist hotspot and a must visit destination on any trip to Nepal.
On arrival for your Chitwan jungle safari you may question what you’re doing here. The town itself is pretty, set along the Narayani River, with dusty roads and sunset views. It is however not the jungle paradise you would probably expect from this UNESCO world heritage status national park. Venture further down the river though and you will find yourself in dense, thick jungle that is just teeming with wildlife. A Chitwan jungle safari is not to be missed.
About Chitwan National Park
Chitwan National Park is the first national park in Nepal. The sad story behind Chitwan jungle is that after it received national park status, the indiginous tribes that made their homes and livelihoods here were forced to leave the jungle. They were left homeless and jobless. Chitwan National Park was sadly a popular hunting ground for many years, drastically reducing the number of rare rhinos, tigers and elephants found here. Due to careful conservation efforts (spurred on by tourist activity) numbers are on the rise.
Where Is Chitwan National Park
It is located in south-central Nepal in the districts of Nawalpur, Parsa, Chitwan and Makwanpur. The Narayani river forms a natural boundary to human settlements, leaving the forest area clear of human inhabitants.
Chitwan National Park Weather
Chitwan has a tropical monsoon climate with high humidity all through the year. You really will notice a change in temperature here, especially if you’ve just come from the cooler mountain areas. The area is located in the central climatic zone of the Himalayas, where monsoon starts in mid June and eases off in late September. There is a lot of rain here, which explains it’s dense, lush forest areas and abundance of wildlife.
The Best Time For A Chitwan Jungle Safari
From October to March, the skies are relatively clear and the average daily temperature is around 25°C. This is by far the most comfortable time of year to visit Chitwan jungle. However, the best time to see animals is late January to March when the towering Phanta grass is slashed down by villagers. This improves visibility drastically and increases your chances of spotting the wildlife that makes it home here.
How To Get To Chitwan National Park
Kathmandu To Chitwan
Getting from Kathmandu to Chitwan is relatively easy. To get from Kathmandu to Chitwan you can take the tourist bus that leaves from the Thamel end of Kantipath in Kathmandu at 7.30am. Make sure you get there with time to spare, so that you can get your bags on the bus and get settled before it leaves.
It should cost around Rs500-Rs600, depending on who you book through. If you book your bus from Kathmandu to Chitwan through your hostel then it isn’t unusual for them to send someone to take you to the bus, so there is no way you can get lost!
Going from Kathmandu to Chitwan should take around five to seven hours, and there will be comfort stops along the way. The tourist bus has AC and is a lot more comfortable than the local bus, with plenty of room for your bags and a lot more leg room!
Pokhara To Chitwan
From Pokhara, tourist buses depart from the tourist bus stand at 7.30am and take a similar length of time to reach Chitwan.
It is possible to get from Kathmandu to Chitwan or from Pokhara to Chitwan by local bus and taxi, but it won’t cost much less and will be far less comfortable. We used local buses a lot while in Nepal, and always loved travelling with the locals and being more immersed in the culture, but we were advised by a Nepalese that local buses aren’t always the safest, with drivers paid to cover ground quickly rather than safely. When you see the winding mountain roads with no safety bollards you will understand why this is a scary thought! Apparently it’s pretty scary for the drivers too, and it is rumoured that a lot of them drink to steady their nerves before the long journeys.
What To Expect From A Chitwan Jungle Safari
Now that the boring information is out of the way, let’s have a look at what you can really expect from a Chitwan jungle safari.
Chitwan Jungle Safari Tours: Your Options
We opted for a walking jungle safari because we weren’t sure about the treatment of elephants used for the elephant jungle tours. We recommend that you do some thorough reading on the issue before you decide on the best way for you to see Chitwan jungle.
You have several options available to you when it comes to booking your Chitwan jungle safari. You could book a jungle elephant ride, where you get to explore Chitwan jungle on the back of an elephant. Obviously it sounds pretty amazing, to be up close and personal with these incredible creatures, and the other advantage to this is that you get to ride above the jungle itself, giving you a better chance of spotting some of the wildlife.
The downside is the obvious use of animals for tourism (like we said, do some research and decide what you feel comfortable with). The other potential downside (again, do your own research), is that we were told the elephant jungle safaris in Chitwan don’t take you across the river to the more dense jungle. There is plenty of wildlife on the inhabited side of the river, but it may be something to consider if you wanted to be a little more intrepid!
Another option available is a walking safari in Chitwan jungle. It is law that two guides accompany you into the jungle for your own protection. On a walking tour make sure you request to be taken across the river, so that you can explore the dense jungle there.
They also do jeep safari tours, though we aren’t really sure how much wildlife you actually see from a loud car racing around the jungle! Especially when our guides were worried that our footsteps were too loud!
How To Book A Chitwan Jungle Safari
It’s very easy to book your jungle safari. Just about everywhere you go will be selling tours, as it’s obviously the best thing to do in Chitwan and the main reason that tourists visit. If you don’t like the sound of what your accommodation is offering, then just take a walk down the main street and ask around there. Most places will tailor a package to your needs, so make sure you’re clear about what you want to get from your jungle safari.
We booked through our accommodation at Chitwan Village Resort and the guides were experienced and professional throughout the day.
A walking tour for two, with a canoe ride there and back, two guides and a packed lunch (not including water) cost us $80. Prices may vary depending on who you book through, how many people are on the tour and which kind of tour you take.
What Will A Typical Day Be Like?
Our Chitwan jungle safari started before sunrise. We climbed into traditional wooden canoe and were rowed down river in the breaking dawn, with the sounds of the jungle just waking up as our soundtrack. It was an incredibly magical moment in itself, but as we were spotting various beautiful birds and the odd crocodile tail, we suddenly became aware of something much bigger and more colourful watching us from the bushes.
It was a Bengal tiger. The guides were just as excited as us, as we watched quietly from the canoe. It seemed to stalk us down the river, keeping pace with our canoe and weaving in and out of the bushes on the river side. It an incredible experience, one that will stay with me forever. The guides predicted that it was an old male, perhaps the very same one that had recently been foraging for scraps in the Tharu village. Apparently the tigers never cross the river, and they thought this one was too old to hunt and had come in search of an easier food source. Eventually he got bored of us and disappeared into the jungle beyond.
I was thankful that we were getting out of the canoe over the other side of the river to the tiger. Before we set off on our jungle safari walk, the guides briefed us. If there was a bear or a tiger we were to make ourselves big and stand our ground. If there was a rhino we should climb a tree. If there was an elephant we were basically screwed. We were interested to learn that the guides were most afraid of the elephants. Our older guide told us that years ago, when people still lived inside Chitwan jungle, he used to take tourists to stay in the jungle at the camps. One day they went out for a jungle safari, and when they returned the entire village was ransacked, the villagers all killed by a herd of elephants. They were terrified of them, and wanted to avoid them at all costs.
A little more cautious than before, we set off through Chitwan jungle, slashing our way through huge grasses. I felt pretty vulnerable, walking around completely unprotected, knowing that we were very much in the animal’s world here. Our guides pointed out tiger footprints as we went, though luckily our morning sighting was our first and last of the day.
We saw deer and picked fresh limes to add to our bottled water. Our guides pointed out various different types of fauna as we went, knowing everything about the jungle. The heat was intense and so incredibly humid as we got further into the jungle. It made walking quite hard work. The guides hushed our footsteps as we rounded the corner and watched as a rhino trotted away through the undergrowth. We were close enough to make out the armoured plates of his back, and his single horn as he escaped our cameras.
For lunch we climbed a tree that looked over the river and jungle beyond, and scanned for wildlife as we ate. We watched a herd of elephants grazing in the long grass (and were pretty chuffed to be at such a safe distance!). We also spotted a crocodile over the other side of the river, and our guides were quick to scuttle down the river bank and warn some fishermen who were knee deep in the murky water.
During the afternoon we covered some different terrain. There were several paths cut through the long grasses, which we cautiously followed, listening out for any unfamiliar sounds that could signal danger. As we neared the end of our day the guides pointed out some ant homes that had been destroyed, and suggested it could mean a bear had been foraging there. They were right, and as we rounded a corner we came face to face with a black bear. It was only metres away, happily tucking into an anty dinner.
My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest, but luckily the bear hadn’t seen us and just carried on eating. The guides pushed me forward, encouraging me to get a good photo. I didn’t know that behind me they stood poised with their huge sticks in the air, obviously ready to put up a fight should they have to.
Then, as I was shaily trying to focus the camera, the guides phone went off on full volume, like something out of a comedy sketch. Fight or flight kicked in and I got ready to run (the exact opposite of what I was meant to do!) The bear turned and stared right at us, stood up on it’s hind legs as though it was preparing to attack, but then seemed to change its mind and went galloping off into the jungle. I felt as though we had just escaped death, but our guides made us chase the bear, hoping for another glimpse!
Perhaps they aren’t that dangerous after all, or perhaps the guides were happy to get rid of us after a day together in the jungle! Luckily, it was much faster than us and was no where to be found.
We returned by canoe, pretty exhausted but with a camera full of photos and an even greater sense of wonder at this incredible country.
Tigers are elusive and mysterious creatures, which makes it all the more exciting when you spot them. Unfortunately though, tiger sightings at Chitwan National Park are incredibly rare and you’ll be very lucky to see one. Our guide informed us that there are usually only a couple of tiger sightings all year, so make sure you go for the other wildlife and not just the tigers.
If it’s tiger sightings that you’re chasing then why not plan your trip around them. There are several places in Nepal and India where tiger sightings are possible, so plan to visit several of these national parks to increase your chances of seeing these magical creatures. Ranthambore National Park and Panna National Park in India both offer great opportunities for tiger spotting, so split your time between Nepal and India to give yourself a better chance of getting that sighting!
Chitwan Jungle Safari Essentials
Wear dull colours. This is pretty obvious I guess, but I packed an overnight bag with only some red and black trousers to wear, so I felt pretty stupid when the guide explained about the bright colours scaring away the animals. Learn from my mistake!
Bring water. I thought two big bottles of water was plenty, and didn’t want to be lugging around any more than that. I was wrong, two bottles was not plenty and I was thirsty by lunchtime, trying to ration my dwindling water resources. It is VERY hot in Chitwan jungle, be prepared!
Wear decent shoes. A pair of walking shoes like this will be perfect. You need your feet covered, and preferably your legs too. There are a lot of spiky bushes and grasses out to get you, and you never know when you might need to climb that tree!
Wear sun cream and bring something to cover up. Most of the time you’ll be in the shade of the trees, but there are times when you’ll be in that boiling hot sun, so make sure you’re sorted just in case.
Bring mozzie repellant. They are everywhere!
Bring some cash with you. The ATMs in Chitwan charge you to withdraw, so you can save a bit of money by being prepared.
Where To Eat In Chitwan National Park
KC’s is a favourite amongst tourists, with a menu ranging from traditional Nepali cuisine to pizzas and pasta. This cool, thatch-roofed bungalow with an open terrace overlooking a manicured garden and a fire pit for winter dinners certainly impresses. washed down with a lassi.
This rooftop restaurant is a little quirky and very friendly. Come here for an easy going place to hang out at any time of the day, they have plug sockets too so it’s a great place if you need to work! They do mainly Mexican and Italian dishes here.
A place that prides itself on home-cooking. They serve great momos here, and lots of different curries. It’s hidden down a side alley so you might have to do a little searching to find it!
Where To Stay For A Chitwan Jungle Safari
We stayed at Chitwan Village Resort and loved it. It’s smaller than a lot of the posher looking resorts (and cheaper too), they were friendly and welcoming and couldn’t do enough to help us with our stay. The rooms themselves were basic, with their own bathrooms. There’s a lovely garden with seating areas for relaxing, and it’s a short walk from the main strip so it’s quiet in the evenings.
One of the things we loved about this place is that they didn’t sell elephant jungle safaris when we stayed. I’ve since looked on their website and it now suggests they do. Whether or not this is out of date I’m not sure. We booked a full day walking tour through them and found the guides outstanding in every respect. We couldn’t recommend them highly enough.
We heard great things about this eco lodge in Chitwan National Park. It’s committed to being as eco-friendly as possible. Don’t expect luxury, but if you’re happy to embrace the ethos then this is a great forward move in the battle to clean up Nepal.
Other Things To Do In Chitwan (That Don’t Involve Jungle Safaris!)
If you don’t really fancy a Chitwan jungle safari then that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit this incredible place. There are quite a few other attractions here, such as hiring bikes and cycling to a local nature reserve or exploring the cultural village of Tharu. You can read about them and more in our detailed post on the best things to do in Chitwan National Park.
Hopefully this guide has been useful, and we hope you have the most amazing visit to Chitwan National Park. Let us know how you found it in the comments below!