Just arrived in Nepal, or are you planning to go? Traveling around Nepal depends on where and what you want to do is relatively easy. Compared to neighboring India, Nepal is also very safe to travel around, with low crime levels. Likewise, compared to its northern Neighbor of China, it’s also easy to travel around Nepal without being “monitored” or filling out excessive visa forms.
If you want to go trekking in Nepal, it will involve some physical exertion. You can book a morning helicopter flight to see Everest if that’s your thing. However, avoid taking a helicopter flight in and out to Everest base camp as it disturbs other trekkers and takes away from local employment on the ground.
That said, times are changing, and there are some precautions and things to look out for which can delay your travels around Nepal. Let’s find out some more so you can be prepared.
I’ve already many upset people as there are many regions in Nepal. However, as a tourist, there’s the north for trekking, the midlands for culture, and the south for Jungle.
These are the three central feature regions of Nepal that most tourists are interested in seeing. All three regions are relatively easy to reach.
Northern: The north of Nepal is filled with mountains and treks. From groups to solo trekking, you’ll find something here.
Central: The Kathmandu Valley is where most of the cultural heritage is found (temples etc.), and it’s straightforward to take a taxi, hired car (with a driver), or a bus.
Southern: Down south in the Terai, there are vast sways of a jungle filled with wildlife there are surprisingly easy to reach. Again, you’ll need to spend a day walking in the jungle to see it all. But getting it is relatively easy.
Nepal’s east and west are more remote areas with road conditions that vary yearly. These areas are starting to gain some attention for cultural treks and little-known heritage that’s well and truly off the beaten path. Take a look at my guidebooks to Nepal, and you can discover how to reach far-off places in Eastern Nepal.
All this being said, Nepal does not match international standards when it comes to getting traveling around. So, you’ll need to treat everything as an adventure!
Most journeys in Nepal are more tiring than you can expect. Delays, crowding, and rough roads are taxing. A simple 100 KM journey can take up to 2-3 hours!
Here are some insider tips so you’ll know what to expect.
Air – Nepal’s domestic airways reach all corners of the country. For tourists, you’ll be paying more than locals. While you can book some online, I don’t recommend it. Buy from a travel agent. If there’s a weather cancellation, it’s much easier to reschedule or get your money back than dealing with the airline itself. Today Nepal’s obsessed with helicopter travel to Everest with plenty of “canceled plane flights due to bad weather,” adding to the recent debacle of money-making scams hitting the country.
Keep in mind the following. Banking regulations in Nepal mean money technically can’t leave the country. So if you buy a ticket online, it’s being rerouted overseas somewhere. So, you can tell there’s a potential for issues. Also, be aware of the helicopter rescue scam in Nepal to understand how to avoid it.
Railway – Don’t believe the hype. There are no railway networks in Nepal for tourists to take. There’s the talk of it happening, but we are looking at about 10-15 years in the future.
Bus – this is the most popular method for mid and long-distance travel in Nepal. Cheap but rather battered buses will take you just about anywhere. Be aware that in July 2018, Kathmandu’s main tourist bus stop going to Pokhara and Chitwan moved to Sorhakotte (again, my guidebooks are the only ones with this up-to-date information).
Private car – taxis in places like Kathmandu are cheap and plentiful. You can affordably take them to places like Patan, Bhaktapur, and Boudha. However, any further you’ll probably prefer a bus in terms of cost. Hiring a car and driver is also possible, but not cheap. There are no self-drive car rental options in Nepal.
Yes, Nepal is a safe country to travel around. But like traveling anywhere, you should be aware of some things.
Personal safety: There are no outstanding acts of violence towards tourists. Traveling solo as a woman in Nepal is much safer than in India. That said, places like Kathmandu and Pokhara now have 24-hour bars, so alcohol, pickpockets, and bag snatches are on the rise. Don’t let your guard down, and you should be okay. Be aware of “charming men” in Nepal looking for romance. There have been reports of long-term scams and heartbreak.
Road transport safety: Nepal’s roads are not that great. Generally, they suffer from poor maintenance and construction. Tourist bus accidents are very low, though. Most accidents involve mini-vans (used as small buses) in mountainous areas. Drink driving is increasing. Again, don’t believe the hype tour companies put out about Nepal being a year-round destination. Sure, you can visit at any time of the year. But I wouldn’t take any buses to landslide-prone areas during the monsoon seasons. Read more about visiting and staying safe in Nepal during the monsoon season.
Air safety in Nepal: The safety standards of Nepal’s airlines have been in question for many years. Airplane crashes are often due to weather issues rather than pilot errors or equipment failures. In recent years an emphasis has been put on delaying flights rather than flying in poor visibility. Nepal has recently been granted access to European airports again. In 2018 insurance companies uncovered a Nepali-based helicopter/trekking/ hospital insurance scam in Nepal which is essential to read about.
Food & Hygiene safety: Disinfectant is not widely used in Nepal, and hygiene is an issue in many places. Tour companies have been promoting “street food,” leading to many upset stomachs due to sanitation issues. Many of these “food tours” are far from the standards you will find in places like Thailand. Do exercise caution and avoid street food in Nepal if you have any inclination of a weak stomach or bacterial infections.
Crime in Nepal: We touched on crime above. Although Nepal is “corrupt,” tourists are not likely to see this side of things in person in bribes and the like. Bag snatching is starting to occur in Thamel at night and in Pokhara’s lakeside – this is mainly opportunistic sure to the relaxed nature of Nepal. Violence is rare in Nepal though national pride is high, so keeping one’s opinions to oneself should be heeded.
Overcharging tourists: This is one aspect of Nepal that is on the rise. Overcharging tourists have always happened in Nepal, but in recent years, things like the helicopter trekking scam have only highlighted the problem and, right now, solved it. Likewise, during festivals, when areas are crowded, tickets are still issued to tourists. Discriminatory pricing of “westerners” is standard and accepted mainly in Nepal. Always ask for a receipt when paying for something in Nepal.
Pollution in Nepal: Finally, it’s worth noting that pollution is a problem in Nepal. Most of this is caused by industrial chimneys, wood fires, incinerators, surfaced roads, plastic burning, and vehicles. These days it’s widespread for people to wear dust masks in Kathmandu during the cold winter. When trekking, there is minimal pollution.
Communication: The most common difficulty is often communication issues. While largely English speaking, not everything is clearly “understood” in Nepal. Mistakes are often made when booking something. Always ask twice if you are unsure.
Bus seats: The Kathmandu to Pokhara bus seat scam was the highlight here in the past. It’s still there, but the bus companies and conductors now know that tourists are also in the “know.” Rather shamefully, they are still trying to take advantage.
Delays: Transport delays are expected due to traffic jams and landslides. Coming in and out of Kathmandu means traffic jams. Expect delays. Landslides typically happen during the monsoon season. They block roads more than damage vehicles. Road delays are frequent during this time of the year.
Stomach problems: Food hygiene in Nepal often means a bout of stomach problems. This can largely be avoided by eating in popular busy restaurants in Kathmandu and indeed throughout the country. Water is often a problem, so stick with sealed bottles or high-quality water, not the cheapest bottles sold in many of Thamel’s supermarkets.
Altitude sickness: Many people contact me about getting a trek done faster. It’s a huge mistake. Everest Base Camp is 12 days. Please don’t shorten it; don’t listen to any tour company that says you can do it faster. They are scamming you. Likewise, if the price is too reasonable to be accurate, it’s likely an unpleasant catch you’ll have to pay for later.
Many Nepali trekking companies are now promoting faster treks. Please don’t believe them. You are endangering your health by skipping acclimatization days or falling for a scam-type trek that ends early. Go with a recommended company and read first about the recommended days for the trek you are going on.
No matter your trek, read about the recommended trekking days needed in your independent guidebook – not on a tour company’s website.
All in all, traveling around Nepal is very safe. It’s not luxurious. It’s not a rock-bottom budget destination. However, it is a safe, fun, and exciting country to visit, with nearly an incredible number of places to discover. Treat it like an adventure, and you’ll have more fun!