Backpacking in Nepal – A Complete Guide
Traveling is not just about moving from one place to another. It is a learning experience that helps you learn so much about the culture and lifestyle of the local people. Nepal boasts of unique natural topography ranging from the spectacular Himalayas to the dense forests of Terai.
There is no better way to travel around Nepal other than backpacking. Backpacking in Nepal – A complete guide provides you with all the necessary information that you need while backpacking in Nepal. This guide gives you a complete overview of the backpacking journey in Nepal.
The backpacking journey is inexpensive and perfect for budget travelers. The cheap accommodation, transportation and meals make backpacking in Nepal quite attractive. You can travel around the Kathmandu valley and trek around the Himalayas at your own pace and budget.
Nepal is famous for trekking destinations and adventure sports. You will always be on the move and will not stay in one place for more than a day. A luxury stay does not make sense, and backpacking is the best-suited option. Hence these various factors make Nepal the ultimate backpacking destination.
Best Time For Backpacking In Nepal
The weather in the Himalayan nation is unpredictable as it is close to the mountainous region. The diverse geographical country has a wide range of climate from alpine to subtropical in a span of just a few hundred kilometers.
As most backpackers trek in the foothills of the Himalayas, the weather conditions and the best time for backpacking is quite significant.
Autumn (October – November)
The autumn season is the peak season in Nepal. The weather from October to November is favorable for trekking. There are no chances of rainfall as the monsoon clouds go away by this time of the year.
However, overcrowding might be an issue if you want to trail the famous Everest and Annapurna regions. There are many seasons available as well. The hilly settlements of Kathmandu valley and Pokhara valley will be celebrating the festivals of Dashain and Tihar during this time.
Spring (February – April)
The months of February to April is a popular time to trek in the serene Himalayan region. The temperatures are moderate, and the wildflowers bloom in abundance.
The spring season might see some precipitation, but it’s on the lighter side and adds to the beauty of the place. The views of the Himalayas are spectacular.
The winters might not be favorable for trekking due to the freezing temperatures, but the traveling around the settlements of the hillside and the Terai is a great adventure.
Monsoon season (May – August)
The downpours can arrive any time during the monsoon season. While you can still roam around the beautiful places in the Kathmandu valley, trekking can get dangerous as there are risks of avalanches and landslides.
The dry mustang and upper Dolpo regions might be a good option if you are traveling in the monsoon season.
Visa for Nepal
All foreign nationals coming to Nepal except for Indians citizens require a visa to enter Nepal.
Visa upon arrival
The visas upon arrival are available at the airport or any border crossing. The single entry visa gets available for a minimum cost and only available for certain nationals. You must fill up certain formalities and have a spare passport photo.
Your Passport must have six months of validity to gain access in Nepal. The process is generally smooth and may take some time if overcrowded.
Applying for online visa
The online visa application form must get filled for getting the online visa. The online visa must get applied at least 15 days prior to the arrival. Passport details, contact details along with a color passport photo must get attached with the form.
You should bring along the confirmation receipt and relevant travel documents. If you can’t get enough of the gorgeousness of the place, you can also extend the visa by filling up the extension form. You can extend the visa for 15, 30, and 90 days respectively.
Accommodation is not much of a problem in Nepal as the hotels, guest houses, homestays, lodges, hostels and others are available in abundance. The major tourist destinations around Nepal have accommodations ranging from luxury five-star hotels to budget hostels.
If you choose to trek in the Himalayas, you will have to stay in local teahouses in the trail. The tea houses are not fancy and are as basic as it can get. The regular blanket, bed, and pillow are all you get.
Some teahouses offer hot water and wi-fi at an added cost. However, the spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains from these beautiful tea houses more than compensate for the inconvenience.
Hostels for backpackers in Nepal
Backpackers and budget travelers will have to cut as much cost as possible. The most viable option to stay for backpackers is in the hostel. If you are traveling alone, you can make some great friends with fellow backpackers.
The Thamel area of Kathmandu valley and the Lakeside area of Pokhara is the best place to find hostels for backpackers. Some hostels offer food and other facilities like wi-fi and hot water.
Transportation in Nepal
The Tribhuvan International Airport is the only international airport in Nepal. You can arrive at the airport from any destination in the world. You can also gain access through the various points of the India-Nepal border and the Tibet-Nepal border.
The real test of your patience starts after arriving at the airport as the transport system in Nepal is a bit chaotic. Upon your arrival at the airport, you can fill up the regulatory forms and go through customs. After exiting the airport, you can find the long queue of taxis and taxi drivers that are more than willing to take you to your destination.
You can hop on to a taxi and get to the hostel or other accommodation you booked. Make sure the drivers know the place or the location you are staying in. Bargain heavily and don’t get ripped off.
Flight to and from Kathmandu
You can take domestic flights to various parts of the country like Pokhara, Lukla, Bharatpur, and others. The flights to the mountains can be quite tricky due to the unpredictable weather conditions.
The geographical location makes the airport in the mountains quite dangerous. If you look on the positive side, you can experience a once in a lifetime adventurous mountain flight. Domestic flights are swift but can be quite expensive as compared to other means of travel.
Travel by land
You can also travel by road through the tourist coaches, local buses, private vans, 4wd, and others. Local buses are the most popular among budget travelers and backpackers. You will get the tickets quite easily.
The rugged roads add value to the adventure. The frequent landslides during the monsoon season, however, increase the risk factor. The road trip can be quite adventurous as the exciting routes pass through zigzag hilly roads in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Besides, these you can also hire motorbikes. The heavy-duty bikes like the Royal Enfield are ideally suited for the rugged roads of the Himalayas and make for an exciting trip. But you need to be sure of the condition of the bike as the roads are quite rough. You don’t want to get stranded in the middle of the road with a broken vehicle.
How to get a SIM card in Nepal?
You can get yourself a SIM card at the airport. You will need to fill a form and provide a passport photo to get a local SIM card. The SIM card gets provided by the Nepal Telecom (NTC) or the Ncell. It costs about 100 rupees to get the SIM cards from both the service providers.
The coverage is excellent around the city area. The SIM card includes 4G mobile data connectivity with different volume-based data also. The SIM cards are usually prepaid, and you will need to recharge the card regularly. Besides, you can find wi-fi connectivity in your hostel as well.
Is Nepal Safe for Backpackers?
The Nepalese people are warm and show incredible hospitality. They believe in the old Sanskrit saying “Atithi Devo Bhava” which means the guest are gods. Hence, you will get treated very well and welcomingly.
However, to be safe, you should always take a protective measure. Do not show off or wear anything valuable on your trips like fancy watches, ornaments, and gadgets. Avoid walking late and in the dark. There are issues of power outages and slow internet. You can buy a local SIM card for emergency purposes.
As with most of the travelers, the sanitation issue might cause you an upset stomach or even diarrhea. You should carry water purification tablets if you decide to go trekking along with lots of oral rehydration salts. This measure keeps you safe from dehydration.
The Nepali Food
You will be shocked to learn that most of the people eat the combination of rice, dal (cereal), and vegetables every day. This pattern is because rice is the major crop cultivated in the hills and the Terai.
The Nepali people are generous in their use of spices. You might find the traditional Nepali food to be quite spicy.
The Dal Bhat is a traditional dish cooked in almost every Nepali household. The dal bhat consist of rice, curried vegetables, and dal (cereals). The tea houses in the trekking rail provide daal bhat as it is most common as well as nutritious.
The Sel Roti is the traditional sweet dish made in the hilly regions of Nepal. The dish is prominent in festivals and special occasions.
The Tibetan influenced momos are one of the most popular afternoon snacks found all over Nepal. The momos are Chinese style dumplings and get served with a bowl of soup. The most common meat used is buffalo and chicken. There is a variant of pork, paneer and vegetable momos as well.
Probably the most famous and exotic cuisine in Nepal is the “Newari cuisine.” The Newars are the traditional inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley and have fascinating food habits.
The mouth-watering meat dishes like the Choyala, Kachila, Bhootan, and others make for an exotic culinary experience. They also serve the famous local alcohol called “Aila”.
These Newari restaurants are in abundance all over the Kathmandu valley. These restaurants are not known for their hygiene and ambiance. However, the delicious juicy meat dishes more than compensates it.
Budget for Backpackers
The Nepalese use the Nepali rupees (Nrs) as their currency. USD 1 = 110 NPR as of June 2019. The cost of traveling around Nepal is quite inexpensive. However, this depends upon your travel itinerary and destination.
There are ATMs all over the country and cards gets accepted in the major cities. However, rural areas do not have such facilities. It is wise to travel with some cash in your pocket if you are travelling in remote areas.
You can tour in Nepal according to your affordability. There are luxurious stays that offer incredible facilities. There are also tour options for budget travelers who go on a shoestring budget.
If you are traveling in Nepal on a budget, NPR 2000 per person a day (USD 18) will suffice for all your travel, accommodation, food and transport. However, to be safe, you can carry an amount of $25 a day for your budget travel. You could also get some entertainment and alcohol within this budget.
The Average cost in Nepal
Accommodation at a hostel/ guest house: $5-$8
Meal: $1 to $5
Meal in the trekking trail: $3 to $8
Entrance to various site: $2 to $8
Local bus travel: $5 to $15
Hiring a professional guide: $20 to $25
Culture Shocks That You Might Encounter In Nepal
Several things shock you when traveling to a foreign country. Here are some of the things that might be a culture shock for you in Nepal. Get prepared in advance.
- Nepali people eat their food with their hand, right hand to be specific. Eating food with spoons and forks are getting more common these days. Eating with the left hand is inauspicious according to myths.
- People dress conservatively in remote areas. Kathmandu and other cities are quite relaxed in their dressing sense. However, you might find unwanted attention in the villages.
- Any public display of affection(PDA), especially kissing in public is uncommon. Please avoid any form of public display of affection while in Nepal.
- The physical form of disciplining a child by their parents is common. Do not try to intervene.
- Animal sacrifice is common during the festivals of Dashain. Please do not intervene as it is a religious practice and might offend the locals.
- Don’t expect things and people to be on time. The Nepalese are famous for being late on every occasion. So be prepared for long delays.
- Don’t be surprised if there are frequent power outages even in the capital city. Other alternatives like an emergency light, inverters, generators might be handy.
- Frequent transportation and other strikes are common. Please have proper attention to the local news before heading out for the day.
Travel Tips And Advice
The vaccinations for hepatitis, typhoid, measles, and meningitis are recommended before traveling to Nepal. Consult your local GP to get the right information and ensure total protection.
Backpacking Alone in Nepal
You don’t need to get worried if you are backpacking alone in Nepal. Solo female travelers do get unwanted attention, but that’s also the case with most of the cities in the world.
Local police and administration are ready to help 24/7 in any case of harassment or abuse. If you’re going for a trek alone in a remote trail, it is always advised to hire a local guide. The terrain is tough, and you can get lost in the less crowded trails.
Please check their background, references, and identifications (license number) before hiring the guide. Pass this information to your loved ones back home for emergency reasons.
Festivals in Nepal
The Nepalese people celebrate various festivals all around the year. There are two major festivals of Dashain and Tihar during October and November. The Rato Machindranath festival gets celebrated by the Newar community in May – June in Patan.
The Rato MachindraNath chariot festival is the longest in Nepal. Besides these the festivals of Holi, Maha Shiva Ratri, Buddha Jayanti also gets celebrated vibrantly.
You can explore the culture, traditions, and lifestyle of the local people. Nepalese people welcome you with their incredible hospitality.
The Top 10 Places to Visit in Nepal
1. Kathmandu Valley
The mystical city of Kathmandu is the entry point of your trip. The city of Kathmandu offers an old-world charm of its own. The town is famous for the hundreds of religious temples specially designed in the “Shikhar Shaili”.
There are three major Durbar squares on the Kathmandu valley including the Basantapur durbar square, Patan durbar square, and Bhaktapur durbar square. These durbar square are an open museum of sorts. The ancient architecture and the traditional settlements are the highlights of the durbar squares.
Besides these, there are religious sites like Swayambhunath, Boudhanath, Pashupatinath, Changunayan, Budhanilkantha, and others that you can visit. The city of Kathmandu boasts an exotic cultural lifestyle and traditions of the local Newar people. The Newars are the local inhabitants of the place since ancient times and have an exotic food culture.
The lake city of Pokhara offers stunning natural beauty. The town of Pokhara is famous for the magnificent lake Phewa and the lakeside area of the banks of Lake Phewa.
The lakeside area is the major tourist hub of Pokhara, and you can experience the exuberant nightlife and relax on the many fancy restaurants and bars.
3. Everest Base Camp
The Everest base camp is the base of Mt. Everest (8848m). The Everest base camp can get reached via a trek from Lukla. The trek to Everest base camp is one of the worlds most sought after trek in the world.
4. Chitwan national park
Nepal is not just famous for the mountains but also the lush jungles of Terai. The jungle safari tour of the Chitwan national park is one of the most exciting trips that moves along the dense forests of Chitwan.
There you can indulge in various activities like elephant riding, elephant bathing, crocodile breeding visit, and others.
5. Tilicho lake
Located at the height of 4919 m; the emerald lake Tilicho is one of the natural wonders of Nepal. Tilicho is the highest placed natural lake in the world. The trekkers attempting the annapurna circuit have an opportunity to pass through this beautiful lake.
Lumbini is the birthplace of Lord Budhha. The religious site gets visited by thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. The ancient ruins of the Maya Devi temple and the modern architecture of the stupas will enthrall you.
7. Janakpur Dham
The Jankapur Dham is the birthplace of Devi Sita. Hindu pilgrims pay a visit every year to Janakpur Dham on the occasion of Vivah Panchami. The ancient temple is beautiful and culturally significant.
8. Upper Mustang
The Upper Mustang region lies in the hidden kingdom of Mustang. The rocky area used to be a part of the Tibetan empire and shares the culture, tradition, and the lifestyle of Tibet. The barren landscape is also reminiscent of a desert.
The unique place is an attraction for tourists who like to trek the off the beaten path away from the crowd.
9. Rara lake
Rara Lake is the biggest lake of Nepal located at the height of 2990 meter. Surrounded by Rara national park on all sides, the lake has a total area of 10.8 square kilometers. The turquoise lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in Nepal.
10. Annapurna Base Camp
Annapurna Base Camp is the ultimate destination of the classic Annapurna Base Camp Trek. The Annapurna Circuit Trek is the most satisfying treks in the world. It is also quite popular because of the trails that range from the charming Gurung, Tamang villages to the remote valleys and passes.
Besides these, there are hundreds of places you can explore in the tiny Himlayan nation.
Things To Do In Nepal
Trekking in the Himalayas
Nepal is a trekkers paradise, and thousands of tourists flock the Himalayan nation to trek. The trails move along the foothills of the Himalayas. The Everest base camp trek and Annapurna base camp trek are quite popular.
There are other off the beaten trails that are less crowded but equally rewarding. These treks test your limits to the core. You can also climb a small trekking peak in the trek.
Jungle Safari at Chitwan National Park
Jungle safari at Chitwan national park is a once in a lifetime experience. The safari offers exploration of the jungle with many activities like elephant riding, and breeding center visits others. Royal Bengal tigers, one-horned rhinoceros, crocodiles are the few animals that get spotted.
Sightseeing in Kathmandu valley
The ancient city of Kathmandu offers many sightseeing opportunities. There are seven World Heritage Sites listed by UNESCO in Nepal. There are three major Durbar squares on the Kathmandu valley including the Basantapur durbar square, Patan durbar square, and Bhaktapur durbar square.
You can explore the religious sites of Boudhanath, Swayambhunath, Pashupati Nath, among others. You can explore the old settlements of the Newar community and learn about their culture and taste the delicious cuisine.
Nepal is a dream location for all the adventure lovers in the world. There are different adventure sports. Bungee jumping, paragliding, zip-lining, white water rafting, rock climbing are some of the popular adventure sports in Nepal.
Relaxing around Thamel and Lakeside
The Thamel area in Kathmandu and the lakeside in Pokhara are the major tourist hub in Nepal. The ambiance of these places is lively, filled with nightclubs, bars, restaurants, among others.
Things to pack for the trip
Clothing and Footwear
- Hiking pants( zip-offs)
- Down jackets or pullovers
- Shorts (mid-thighs)
- Rain-coats/ rain jackets
- Shirts (short-sleeved and long-sleeved)
- Security belts with hidden pockets
- Sun hat
- Sturdy, waterproof shoes
- Flip flops/ sandals
- Breathable socks
- Toothpaste, toothbrush, floss
- Hand sanitizer
- Shampoo, conditioner
- Wet wipes
- Sanitary pads/ menstrual products
- Nail cutters/ clippers
- Shaving kits
- Small towel
- Q tips
- Lip balm
- Toilet paper
- Prescription drugs if necessary
- Over the counter drugs like Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Aspirin
- Rehydration Salts for diarrhea
- Insect repellent creams
- Antiseptic cream and antibiotic ointment
- Throat lozenges
- bandages and tape
- Pain relief spray
- Passport with six months validity
- Passport sized photos
- Boarding passes
- Airline tickets or printed e-tickets
- Travel insurance card
- Xerox copy of all the items above
- Camera, lenses, memory cards
- Cell phone
- Universal power converter/ adapter
- Power banks
- Filtered Water Bottle
- Waterproof phone case
- Pouch for valuables
- Large backpack