Nepal travel guide
Officially the highest country on Earth, lofty Nepal is commonly referred to as the “roof of the world.” That seems like a fitting moniker for this Himalayan nation, where soaring, snow-capped mountains disappear into the clouds like stairways to heaven.
Mount Everest is the star attraction. Tourists come in their droves to climb, hike and admire the world’s tallest peak, which flirts with the stratosphere at 8,848m (29,029ft). But this charming country is much more than just mountains.
The birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Nepal is an important pilgrimage site for millions of Buddhists, who come from far and wide to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lumbini, a temple complex where Buddha once lived.
Holy places abound in Nepal, but not just of the Buddhist variety; Hinduism has a strong foothold in the country and there are many Hindu temples scattered across the country (though some have been severely damaged by the 2015 earthquakes).
Also hit hard was the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, which is encircled by soaring mountain ranges. A beautiful, bustling city it stands at a cultural crossroads between India and China, whose influences can be seen in the architecture and tasted in the cuisine. Meanwhile, a Western vibe prevails in the lively Thamel district, which is lined with bars.
Kathmandu is a good starting point for travellers venturing into the jungle at Chitwan National Park, which is home to Bengali tigers, crocodiles and one-horned rhinos, plus myriad bird species. Phewa Lake is another draw for tourists, as are the hiking trails in the Himalayas.
Wherever you go though, wide smiles will be there to greet you; Nepalese people are amongst the friendliest in the world and it’s not uncommon to be invited into a stranger’s home for tea.
Sitting atop the world, Nepal is just one step away from heaven – and for those who have discovered the country’s many charms, it feels like it too.
147,181 sq km (56,827 sq miles).
28,850,717 (UN estimate 2016).
214.4 per sq km.
President Bidhya Devi Bhandari since 2015.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba since 2017.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. There are frequent power cuts. Plugs usually have two or three round pins.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Trekking in Nepal
Never trek alone. Use a reputable agency, remain on established routes, and walk with at least one other person.
A Dutch tourist and his local guide were attacked by a tiger while hiking in Bardia National Park on 13 February 2016. Always observe park regulations and follow your guide’s instructions.
Altitude sickness is a risk, including on the Annapurna, Langtang and Everest Base Camp treks. Read the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s advice on altitude sickness.
Accidents happen due to insufficient information, inappropriate equipment or overestimation of your own capabilities. Follow the advice given by local authorities and guides. Ignoring such advice could put yourselves and other mountain users in danger.
The following hazards exist throughout the year, especially above 3,000m:
– sudden weather changes
– avalanches and snow drifts
– landslides and flooding
– glacial crevasses and hollows
– thunder storms and lightning
– altitude sickness
– sun exposure
- take note of weather forecasts and conditions
- make sure you’re physically fit and have the necessary experience
- be in a team of at least 2
- inform someone of your plans
- take warm clothes and wet weather gear
- use sun block (SPF20 or higher) and sun glasses.
Make sure your insurance covers you for your intended activity, including travel above 3,000m, mountain rescue services and helicopter costs.
The Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN) provides live updates on trekking conditions in Nepal. Online weather forecasts are available on the website of the government of Nepal Department Of Hydrology and Meteorology.
Treks can take longer than expected. Flights across Nepal, particularly in high mountain areas, can be delayed due to poor weather conditions. Keep your tour operator, guide and family informed of your situation and travel plans. In remote areas, including long stretches of the Annapurna Circuit trek, mobile phone coverage and internet services are extremely limited. Consider renting a satellite phone.
A valid permit and Trekkers’ Information Management System (TIMS) card are needed to enter Nepal’s main trekking regions. See the Naturally Nepal website
Volunteering and adventure travel
If you’re planning to volunteer or undertake adventure travel in Nepal you should research any organisation or company you’re planning to use thoroughly before committing yourself. Read these information and advice pages on gap year travel and safer adventure travel and volunteering overseas.
The Social Welfare Council of the government of Nepal maintains a list of registered volunteer organisations; you can ask for a copy by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The British Embassy has received reports of volunteer opportunities at orphanages which are profit orientated organisations rather than charities. If you’re volunteering at this type of organisation, you could be contributing to child exploitation. Contact the Nepali Central Child Welfare Board for confirmation before signing up to volunteer for one of these organisations.
Bus accidents are common. Buses are often overcrowded, poorly regulated, poorly maintained, and driving standards are low. Road conditions are poor, especially during the monsoon or in mountain areas. Avoid travel on overnight buses. Don’t travel on overloaded or overcrowded buses. Tourist buses usually offer a higher standard of comfort and safety.
Every year there are a number of fatal bus accidents in Nepal.
General driving standards are poor. Many drivers are not properly licensed, trained or insured and vehicles, including taxis, are often poorly maintained. There are few pavements outside central Kathmandu and motorists don’t yield right of way to pedestrians.
Other road users often ignore motorbikes and bicycles. It’s the law to wear a helmet when riding a motorbike. You should also wear a suitable helmet when riding as a passenger, and when riding a bicycle.
You must have an International Driving Permit to drive a vehicle in Nepal. Carry your licence with you at all times as well as any vehicle registration documents.
Check weather conditions before travelling. Bad weather conditions in mountainous and hill regions could further increase the risk to your safety and cause lengthy delays. Airfields such as Lukla’s are among the most remote and difficult to land on in the world and are a challenge for even the most technically proficient pilots and well-maintained aircraft.
There have been a number of recent air accidents in Nepal.
On 26 February 2016, an Air Kasthamandap plane with 11 passengers on board crashed while flying between Nepalgunj and Jumla.
On 24 February 2016, a Tara Air plane with 20 passengers on board crashed while flying between Pokhara and Jomsom.
On 16 May 2013 a Nepal Airlines flight crashed while landing at Jomsom Airport in nothern Nepal leaving 5 people seriously injured.
On 28 September 2012 a Sita Air Dornier aircraft flying from Kathmandu to Lukla crashed south-west of Kathmandu shortly after take-off. Nineteen people were killed including 7 British nationals. The Air Accident Investigation Commission of Nepal has issued a report of the accident. The report could not determine the exact cause of the crash but made a number of recommendations aimed at improving safety.
On 14 May 2012, an Agni Air flight carrying 21 passengers crashed while landing at Jomson Airport in northern Nepal. 15 people were killed in the incident.
On 25 September 2011 a Buddha Air flight crashed in the Lalitpur district, south of Kathmandu. 19 people died in the accident.
On 15 December 2010 a Tara Air flight crashed in the Okhaldhunga region, east of Kathmandu. 22 people died in the accident.
On 24 August 2010 an Agni Air flight crashed in the Makwanpur region, southwest of Kathmandu. 14 people died in the accident including one British national.
A list of further incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
All carriers from Nepal have been refused permission to operate air services to the EU due to safety concerns.
In 2009, an International Civil Aviation Organisation audit of aviation safety oversight found that the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Nepal was well below the global average.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of every individual airline, but the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
A number of tour operators have decided to stop using certain airlines due to safety concerns. Specific safety concerns about Sita Air have led a number of tour operators to stop using them.
There’s a low rate of serious crime in Nepal.
Watch out for pick-pockets and bag-snatching, particularly in airports, on buses and in areas popular with foreign nationals like Thamel, Sanepa and Kupondol in Kathmandu. Take care when walking around at night. Assaults and robberies are more likely to occur in the evening in poorly lit areas. Avoid walking on your own and don’t carry large sums of cash. Keep valuables in a hotel safe if possible.
Bars and restaurants close at midnight. Foreigners remaining in bars and clubs after hours have been detained by the police. Take care when entering ‘dance bars’ as some foreigners have been swindled or harassed.
Be wary of accepting drinks from strangers, and don’t leave drinks unattended. There have been incidents of foreign nationals being sexually assaulted.
Victims of crime should call the Tourist Police in Kathmandu on 01 4700750 or the Tourist Police headquarters on 01 4247041.