Nepal Travel: Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting

Nepal is the home of Mount Everest, ancient cities and kingdoms, and a country that was shut away from foreign visitors up until 1951. After the regime of isolation ended in the 50s, just two short years later two mountaineers summited Mount Everest and brought the Himalayas of Nepal to international fame. If you’re planning to visit Nepal, we’ll cover everything you need In this guide, you’ll find details on how to organize your visas, the best thing to do in Nepal, and essential information for a successful trip.

Visas to Nepal

xxx
Prayer wheels—one revolution symbolizes the repetition of a prayer.

Most foreign countries require a visa for visiting Nepal, but it’s relatively easy to apply for one. Most people go for the on-arrival visa process, where you can apply for a visa directly when you arrive at the international airport in Nepal.

Head to the kiosk right after the arrival gate, then spend a good five to 10 minutes entering all of your information. Then you’ll receive a printed paper, which you’ll need to take to the counter for payment before passing through customs.

Here’s the thing I’ve noticed about the counter: If possible, bring the exact amount of US Dollars or Nepalese Rupees. They’ll always tell you that there have no change, but they actually do. The tricky part is, all merchants in Nepal do not accept old US Dollar notes, so make sure you have new notes in your pocket.

And here’s my friend’s nightmare: She paid at the counter for 15-day visa and got back an old $50 USD note for change. Then she was stuck with a $50 she couldn’t spend in Nepal because it’s literally not accepted anywhere. If that happens to you, carry it out of Nepal and spend it elsewhere, like Vietnam or Cambodia.

Costs for a Nepal Visas:

  • 15 Days – US$ 25
  • 30 Days – US$ 40
  • 90 Days – US$100

Visa Extensions:

  • Visa extension for 15 days or less – US$ 30
  • Visa extension for more than 15 days – US$ 2 per day
  • Visa extension for more than 30 days – US$ 50 for 30 days

Note that visa can only be extended to a maximum of 150 days in calendar year, from January to December. You can also apply online before going to the immigration office.

xxx
Scenes of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal.

Currency in Nepal

The main currency used in Nepal is the Nepalese Rupees. However, some restaurants and tourist agent offices accept US Dollars, or even Indian Rupees.

But still, if possible, change your foreign notes to Nepalese Rupees from the money changers, because if you pay with foreign notes, the rates are generally unfavorable. You’ll find plenty of money changers in tourist hubs like Thamel in Kathmandu and the Lakeside of Pokhara. Be sure to compare the rates among multiple money changers!

SIM Cards in Nepal

SIM Cards in Nepal are mostly prepaid, so you’ll have to top up by buying a prepaid card whenever you need more credit.

Most travelers prefer using Ncell because they have the best coverage in the country, and it’s actually quite cheap. It’s available for sale in the airport, and also literally every shop in Kathmandu and other cities. But the tricky part, again, is that the prices vary a lot depending on where you buy it—in the airport, it might cost a few times more expensive than buying outside.

If you really want to save money on SIM Cards, avoid buying one in the airport or the Thamel neighborhood in Kathmandu. I bought mine in Shankhamul, a residential area in Kathmandu. (Since I volunteered there as a teacher for a month, I had to get used to riding the public buses.)

If you’re new to Nepal and feel insecure without a SIM Card, you can definitely buy it in Thamel and save troubles—it will just cost you. Want an exact number? A guy in Thamel quoted me Rs 300, while I bought mine for Rs 150 in Shankhamul. You could also try Chhetrapati, a mere five minute walk from Thamel—they have everything cheap over there.

XXX
A waterfall and hut on a hike along the Annapurna Circuit.

Getting Around in Nepal

Traveling in Nepal can be very different compared to traveling in other countries in the world. Everything here can be DIY (Do It Yourself), or you can pay for services and guides. To truly experience the way of life in Nepal, of course, I’d recommend riding the public buses to get around the city.

Here’s something you need to know about Nepal: Everything can be negotiated, from buying trekking equipment in Thamel to riding in cabs, which you will surely do at some point, although it might not be the most effective way to navigate the city. When planning your transport timing, understand that there’s not a single working traffic light in the city of Kathmandu. Yep, you heard it right. There are some, but they were put on there to rust. Police officers control the traffic, though they’re usually just standing in the small hut. In peak hours, walking saves you more time than taking the bus. Since there are no traffic lights, the roads become mass chaos on rainy days and during peak hours.

How to Use Taxis in Nepal

Cabs usually cost Rs 400—around $4—for a single trip around Kathmandu city. If the destination is near and you don’t think it should cost that much, try negotiating it down—start by offering Rs 200 and settle around Rs 300.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. If you have the ability, support the local economy and don’t negotiate on everything you come across. Spending money locally is an important part of travel—here’s why.

Taxis are everywhere in the city, stopping by the roadside and asking every foreigner they spot if they need a lift. Kindly reject them if you don’t need one instead of ignoring them.

If you’re on a tight budget and prefer to experience the way of life in Nepal in a closer approach, take the public buses!

How to Use Nepal’s Public Buses

Use this in depth guide to taking public buses in Nepal, but here’s a brief idea of how it works.

  • The public buses are usually 32-seaters with only windows. All excess facilities for comfort are removed to accommodate as many passengers as possible. During peak hours, a bus can carry up to 50 passengers or more.
  • If you’re sitting in the last row, it’ll be a huge ‘project’ to get down the bus since you have to squeeze through the crowd.
  • The main bus terminal in Kathmandu is in Ratna Park, where you’ll find buses to every corner of the city here. It usually cost Rs 20-25 for a single bus trip, no matter how far you go. But if you’re going extra far, it’ll cost around Rs 35-50—for example, heading to Godawari Botanical Garden 19km south of Kathmandu will cost more.
  • In Ratna Park, ask the conductors (usually shouting outside the parked buses) whether they go to your destination in one-word. For example, just say “Boudhanath?”, or “New Baneshwor?”

Traveling Nepal by public bus may be challenging at first, but you’ll get addicted to it, trust me.

How to Rent a Motorcycle

Renting a motorcycle may sound like a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t recommend it in Kathmandu. The traffic there is terrible, and unless you’ve spent some time there, it’s quite dangerous.

Pokhara, however, has much better traffic and roads. If you’re gonna rent one, do it in Pokhara—it’s safer and much more enjoyable.

XXX
Views of Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple).

Best Time to Visit Nepal

Due to the elevation at 1,400 meters above sea level, you will encounter freezing temperatures during winter in Kathmandu. But for other key destinations—like Pokhara, Lumbini, and Chitwan National Park—it’s hot and humid throughout the year.

The best season to visit Nepal is in autumn, from September to late November. There’s less rainfall, and the weather is cool and pleasant for all outdoor activities. It’s also the most popular season for trekkers to hike in the Himalayas.

The worst season to visit Nepal is the monsoon season, which occurs around June and July. Rainfalls are at a maximum in this season and landslides and flooding are common in many parts of the country. Lumbini and Chitwan might be inaccessible this time of year since highways are often shut down due to landslides. I wouldn’t recommend visiting during the monsoon season—there are just too many unpredictable circumstances.

But I’ve visited Nepal in the monsoon season and did my Annapurna Circuit trek in that season, so it’s still possible to have a good trip. There’ll be some downsides and upsides to every season. The upside of monsoon season? You encounter fewer foreigners and can therefore find cheaper accommodations, cheaper meals, and less waiting time for your order to be served.

Safety in Nepal

Nepalese men hanging out in Kathmandu
Nepalese men hanging out in Kathmandu.

This might sound surprising, but I found Nepal one of the safest countries I’ve visited. No joke. The people there are so kind and hospitable that you wouldn’t believe it. All of this despite the fact that some major cities in nearby India suffer from high crime rates.

People in Nepal are respectful to women, which makes it safe for women to travel in the country—I don’t know why is this, but I believe religion and ways of life play a big role.

However, there are no safety guarantees anywhere you travel, which is why you should always travel with travel insurance (Everything Everywhere recommends World Nomads).

Additionally, here are some tips you should know to stay safe in Nepal.

Food Hygiene

Food hygiene is probably the biggest issue for travelers in Nepal. It has sent countless foreigners into hospitals, including me.

My advice: Do not eat at roadside stalls unless you’ve spent a good few days or weeks in Nepal. For your first few days, dine in a proper restaurant so your stomach can adapt to Nepalese food first.

Pani-puri is a big no-no for newcomers.

And for your information, only a few hospitals in Nepal are covered by most travel insurances. Check with your insurance company about the hospitals they cover before traveling to Nepal.

Travel Scams

While it’s safe to travel in Nepal, foreigners are still seen as gold mines for merchants in Kathmandu, especially Thamel. Every price will be quoted higher than usual.

Most of the time when you hear, “This is the cheapest price, Sir/Ma’am,” it’s a lie. Thamel is the tourist hub in Kathmandu and you’ll find all sorts of people there trying to dig money from you in all kind of ways. So, be careful of that and ask a few stores before deciding on buying any souvenirs, gear, or services.

Drinking Water

Drinking water has always been an issue in Nepal. There are only two safe drinking water sources for travelers.

You’ll often see 20-liter blue water tanks—those contain drinking water that will be delivered to whoever ordered it. 

The second source is the bottled water you can find in convenience stores, which are literally everywhere in Nepal.

A one-liter bottle of drinking water costs around Rs 15-25, depending on where you buy it. It’s around Rs 5-10 cheaper in Kathmandu compared to Pokhara. But that’s an expense you can’t skip, so make sure to include this in your Nepal travel budget!

Things to Do in Nepal

There are four UNESCO World Sites in Nepal, and there’s a good chance that many of the top things you want to do in the country are one of these sites—mostly because of the four sites, a couple include an entire region (the Kathmandu Valley, for example) and thus include all of the key temples and religious sites contained within it. Let’s dive into the top attractions and sights in Nepal.

Kathmandu City

Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal
Durbar Square in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Visit Boudhanath Stupa
Boudhanath Stupa is one of the largest stupas in the world, and definitely the largest in Nepal. Visit in the early morning and see the monks praying. Boudhanath is a great place to immerse into the local community and see how religion impacts the way of life in Nepal.

One thing you’ll notice is that most of the monks and the residents around the area are Tibetans. And yep, they indeed are: Thousands of Tibetans continue to travel from Tibet to Nepal every year due to ongoing political issues.

If you’re planning a visit, the entrance fee costs Rs 250 each, and there are several nice cafes and restaurants inside with a view on the stupa.

Tour Pashupatinath
Pashupatinath is the holiest pilgrimage site for the Hindus in Nepal. Sadhus, also known as the holy men of Hinduism, can be found here. Bodies are burned here after passing away, and locals bath themselves with the river water. Take a tour around the site with a guide for Rs 1000 and you’ll get to know all of the details.

Beware of a common scam here. A photo with Sadhus may cost you Rs 1000—pretty ridiculous, right? Well, at least the idea of holy men collecting a fee never came across my mind, not even the slightest. They only quote you after the photo, so be forewarned before taking one!

Hike to Monkey Temple / Swayambhunath Stupa
Walking in Kathmandu city can be pretty rewarding because you get to see what the locals are doing in their daily lives.

Walking from Thamel to Monkey Temple takes around 45 minutes to reach the entrance gate. It’s another 10 minutes of stairs-climbing to reach the stupa on the hilltop, which offers one of the best city views in Kathmandu.

The entrance fee costs Rs 250 each.

Pokhara City

Ride to the World Peace Pagoda
Renting a motorcycle can be pretty convenient and cheap in Pokhara. And it’s one of the most popular things to do in Pokhara for foreigners. The roads in Pokhara are very smooth and non-windy, so you’ll most likely enjoy the ride to the World Peace Pagoda. It’ll take around 30 minutes to get there from the city center to the entrance of World Peace Pagoda, and it’s a free entrance once you’re there!

Row Boats in Lakeside
Rowing boats in Phewa Lake is becoming a trend in Pokhara now. There are literally hundreds of boats waiting for people to rent by the lakeside. Renting one could be tricky because the prices vary a lot. But one thing remains the same, the longer you rent, the cheaper the rate. Remember to bring your sunscreen and not to swim inside the lake!

Paragliding in Sarangkot
Sarangkot is said to be one of the best places in the world for paragliding. Booking a paragliding tour is very convenient as there are many offices in Lakeside. All of them include transportation to Sarangkot, but most people choose to stay at least one night there for the gorgeous sunrise and sunset views.

There are many hikes available around the hill as well, so you might want to plan a few more days there!

Chitwan National Park

Chitwan is located at the Terai region, or the lowland region. Therefore there are only wet and dry seasons and during most of the year, it’s hot and humid.

Also, flooding is pretty common in the monsoon season due to non-stop rainfall. I wouldn’t recommend visiting Chitwan National Park during the monsoon season—you might get stuck there.

There are several activities, including interactions with animals, for example, elephant sanctuaries and safari tours. If you don’t like to involve animals in your trip, better to skip it.

There are also treks available around the national park—everything from day treks to three-days treks are common. Bringing a guide with you is much safer, as well as the only option when entering the forest, because you’re venturing into the wild.

Lumbini

Lumbini is said to be the birthplace of Buddha, even though some sources denied the fact. The main site in Lumbini is Lumbini Development Zone, consisting of over 20 Buddhist monasteries representing countries from all around the world.

Before visiting, you should know that Lumbini is a very underdeveloped town. Blackouts are very common, and it’s crazy hot all year round. Facilities are relatively poor as well, so you might not want to stay for long.

However, if you’re into meditation, Lumbini is the place for you!

Rickshaw tours are available in Lumbini, which brings you around the area, costing around Rs 500-800. But you can hire a bicycle for Rs 100 a day.

XXX
Views of the Annapurnas from Begnas Lake outside of Pokhara.

By Zheng Yen Ang

Yen is a full-time university student who always takes full advantages of his holidays to travel for new experiences. He’s been to New Zealand for a Working Holiday before having his road trip, volunteered in Kathmandu and Nepal, and exchanged in California, along with several backpacking trips through Southeast Asia. Having spent months in foreign countries, he gives in-depth travel tips and guides in his travel blog, Swing Abroad. You can also find him on Instagram and Facebook.