Nepal is a tiny, landlocked country surrounded by its two giant neighbors, China on the north, and India on the south, east, and west. When it comes to adventure travel, Nepal is one of the best destinations in the world with its challenging trekking routes, breath-taking glaciers, and picturesque valleys that leave even the best writers speechless. Traveling to Nepal is a unique experience, but there are certainly some things to know before visiting Nepal. I visited Nepal three times and learned a lot about this magnificent country and in this post, I’ll share some of the things I wish I knew before visiting Nepal for the first time. Hopefully, these tips will make your trip to Nepal a lot easier.
Information about getting a Nepal visa
Getting a visa for Nepal is super-easy. If you arrive by flight, you can get your visa on arrival at the airport (applies to most nationalities). A 15-day visa costs $25, a 30-day visa costs $40, and a 90-day visa costs $100. The good thing about all Nepal visas is that they are multiple-entry by default which means you can venture into India or China and come back before your visa expires.
If you’re crossing by bus from India or China, you can also get a visa on arrival. All major border crossings have counters that issue your visa on the spot as you’re crossing the border. During my second visit, I entered Nepal through India early in the morning and got my visa at this barrack that looked like the consul’s home. I had to wait for like 20 minutes for him to wake up and wash his face but eventually, he issued my visa while drinking his morning chai and wearing a sleeveless t-shirt and a towel. It was by far, the most peculiar yet interesting visa application experience ever.
Pro tip: Don’t exchange Nepalese money to pay for the visa and don’t believe anyone who tries to convince you otherwise. All visa payments are completed in USD. Currency exchange shops on the border and at the airport have very bad rates.
What about visa extension?
A lot of travelers fall in love with Nepal and end up staying longer than what they initially planned. If you want to do this, here’s what you need to do. First, you need to fill in this visa extension form. Second, print it out and prepare a passport photocopy, a passport-size photograph, and your original passport and take it to the Immigration office. You can do this in Kathmandu or Pokhara. Third, pass the quick interview (but prepare to wait a lot in the meantime), pay the extension fee, and you’re good to go!
Important: A lot of people think that they can just overstay their visas without consequences. If you do this, you will have to pay a fine of $7 for every additional day. If you want to overstay for a day or two, I guess this is an acceptable option but if you want to stay more days, I suggest you apply for an extension.
Do not trek alone
No one wants to get off the beaten track on their own more than myself. However, this isn’t a very good idea in Nepal. The number of lost and missing solo travelers in Nepal increases every year. Nepal is home to some of the most remote and wildest terrains in the world and things can be unpredictable, especially when trekking at high altitudes. Additionally, in some parts of Nepal, this can even get you in trouble with the laws; there are certain zones in Nepal in which foreigners are not allowed to trek without a certified guide. More about this below:
Trekking permits in Nepal
For visiting Nepal’s national parks, you need to acquire a TIMS card (Trekkers Information Management Systems). In addition to this, you need another permit, depending on the region you’re exploring. There’s one permit for Everest Base Camp, another for Annapurna, other for Manaslu, other for Mustang, etc. However, if you decided to book a group tour, you don’t have to worry about this; your tour operator will arrange the permits for you.
I know you must be very excited by trekking the Himalayas. After all, this is why most people visit Nepal. But one of the things you should know before visiting Nepal is that…
Nepal has a lot more to offer than just mountains
Sure, Nepal is famous for its majestic mountains but there are some other amazing things to do that don’t include trekking. For example, Nepal’s bustling capital, Kathmandu, is a historic city where three ancient kingdoms meet. The territory that Kathmandu covers today was home to three kingdoms; Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur and all of them have left significant marks on the city. Additionally, Nepal also boasts ten UNESCO Heritage Sights. Pokhara is also a vibrant and picturesque city, there are several safari parks like the national parks of Chitwan and Bardia, you can go paragliding or bungee jumping at the world’s second-highest bungee jumping spot, and you can also visit Lumbini- the birthplace of Buddha.
And since we’re talking about some not-so-mainstream activities, another tip I can give you is to…
Go beyond Annapurna and Everest
Sure, Annapurna and Everest are on most people’s bucket list but Nepal has 8 of the top 14 highest mountaintops in the world. Obviously, Everest and Annapurna are the most famous ones but there are other unfrequented trekking routes you can take and fully experience Nepal’s remoteness without hundreds of other tourists trekking around at the same time as you. Some interesting, unfrequented treks include the Manaslu Circuit Trek, the Gokyo-Cho-La Pass, the Tsum Valley Trek, the Kanchenjunga Trail, the Rolwaling Trail, and the Nar Phu Valley Trek.
And if you decide to take one of these treks…
Don’t underestimate altitude sickness
You can never be too careful if you decide to conquer some of the highest mountains in Nepal. Also, don’t even think to go on such an adventure without the proper equipment and an oxygen tank. Personally, I thought I don’t need to be that cautious when trekking. However, the things I’ve seen happening out there (fortunately none of it happened to me) made me change my mind. So, never underestimate the wuthering heights of Nepal and don’t even think to travel without travel insurance. If God forbid something happens, your travel insurance can cover your medical costs or the cost of the evacuation (in rare cases). If you’re considering which travel insurance provider to choose, my recommendation is always World Nomads.
Trekking is not the only way to see the high mountaintops
Photo by Guillaume Baviere CC by 2.0
If you’re not fit enough or simply don’t like trekking, it doesn’t mean you can’t get some spectacular views of Everest and the other breath-taking mountaintops. You can take a short flight from Kathmandu from where you can see the magnificent Mount Everest from the sky. This one-hour tour is perfect for aspiring photographers and the only seats on sale are the window sits, so you’ll surely get a great view. Additionally, if you want to take a longer tour, you can also opt-in for a helicopter tour that takes you to Everest Base Camp.
Forget about schedule
If you’re planning to cram a lot of things in your plan relying on public transport schedule, just don’t. Always leave some buffer time between your plans. Buses are always late, traffic is pretty bad, and trains aren’t even available in most regions; due to the difficult terrain, there are only two railways in Nepal. Also, always be aware of bandhs (strikes); they’re quite common and can sometimes significantly alter your travel plans.
Dusty roads, air pollution, and face masks
Photo by calflier001 CC by 2.0
The horrible earthquake of 2015 caused significant material damage, leaving a lot of Nepal’s roads in disrepair. That’s why on many roads, you’ll see many potholes and a lot of dust. This is the main reason why Kathmandu is always one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world and a lot of people in Nepal wear air pollution masks. It’s probably a good idea to get one for your trip.
Water Safety in Nepal
One of the things you should know before visiting Nepal is that you should never drink tap water, even in decent hotels. Also, note that fruits and vegetables might have been washed in contaminated water and this can cause some serious stomach problems. You can always stick to bottled water but if you’re planning to trek in some of Nepal’s more remote regions, you should also know that the higher you go, the more expensive fresh drinking water becomes. That’s why getting a water bottle with a purifier is an absolute must when trekking in Nepal.
Prepare for power outages
Nepal’s power production is struggling to satisfy the demands of the ever-growing population of the country. This results in a lot of unplanned power outages and there are no exceptions to this. It even happened in Green Park Chitwan’s Resort, one of the best resorts in Nepal. So, if this happens, make sure you have a power bank or a solar-powered charger that you can use to charge your devices.
Buff means a buffalo
You’ll see the word “buff” in a lot of Nepalese restaurants. In case you’re wondering what this means, it’s buffalo. The cow is a sacred animal in Hinduism and since the majority of Nepal’s population are Hindus, they eat buffalo meat instead of cow meat
What do the colorful flags represent?
Whether you’re exploring the mountains, visiting a mountain village, a temple or roaming around a city, you’ll inevitably notice these multi-color flags (blue, white, red, green, and yellow) waving in the wind. They represent the five elements and the letters inscribed on them are Buddhist prayers.
Don’t expect a lot from Nepal’s nightlife
Nightlife in Nepal isn’t really a thing. There are some clubs but most of them close before 11 PM. The only exception are the bars around Thamel in Kathmandu, but this doesn’t really count since it’s the most touristy part of the capital.
Exchange your rupees before leaving
When you leave Nepal, make sure to exchange all of your Nepali rupees. It’s actually illegal to take Nepali rupees outside of Nepal. I never heard of anyone getting in trouble because of this, but it’s good to be aware of this.
When it comes to the cheapest flights to Nepal, from my experience, Qatar Airways has the best deals. You can save up to 15% more if you use this link when booking your flight to Nepal.
A few things to know about Nepali culture
Let’s start with the greetings. The traditional greeting in Nepal involves putting your palms together and saying “Namaste” or “Namaskar”. When speaking to an elder person, use the terms “didi” for women and “dai” for men. It’s a sign of respect and people do appreciate it.
Next, Nepal is a conservative country and you should avoid wearing revealing clothes, especially when visiting temples. Finally, if someone invites you to their home, always take your shoes off before entering.
As you could see, Nepal has a lot of similarities with India, but if you compare Nepalis to Indians, a lot of people will probably get offended. Another thing India and Nepal still share is…
The Caste system
Unfortunately, castes are still a thing in Nepal and this system influences who people marry, what profession they have, and even what school do they go to. As time passes by, more young and progressive people criticize the system but changes like these always take a lot of time. Talking about castes, did you know that…
Sherpa is actually a caste
When someone says “Sherpa”, the first things that come to mind are the guides and porters who help hundreds of trekkers every year to conquer some of Nepal’s most remote mountaintops. However, Sherpa is actually an ethnic caste of mountain people who live in the Himalayas. So, not all Sherpa people are porters and guides and not all porters and guides are Sherpa.
Talking about similarities between Nepal and India, another thing the two countries have in common is…
The “tourist tax”
Most tourist sights have an entrance fee but the fee for locals and foreigners is very different. Some sights have an entrance fee of 10 rupees for locals and up to 1,000 rupees for foreigners. But to be fair, most of the money charged from tourists goes to rebuilding the sights that were hit by the massive earthquakes of 2015. One great way to minimize these costs is by taking group tours. There are some great budget sightseeing tours on GetYourGuide that can help you save a few bucks while exploring Nepal’s most interesting sights.
And finally, I’m rounding up this list with a quirky fact that’s not a must-know before visiting Nepal but it’s certainly cool to know.
Nepalis do their lifting with their heads
If you go trekking or explore some of Nepal’s villages, you’ll inevitably see people carrying their giant rice baskets strapped around their heads. That’s because, in a lot of parts of Nepal, people believe that the head is the strongest part of the body, and as such should do most of the heavy lifting.
A few more things to know before visiting Nepal
Power; 220 volts, 50 Mhz; electrical outlets are the plug type D. You can also find European-style outlets in most tourist places but if you want to stay safe, you can buy a travel adapter.
Vaccinations; Some of the diseases you should be aware of are hepatitis, cholera, and typhoid. However, it’s highly-recommended that you should get travel insurance before you go, especially if you go trekking. My choice for my last trip to Nepal was World Nomads; you might have to pay a bit more but you’d be protected from anything that can happen while traveling in Nepal.
Don’t talk politics; Nepal was a monarchy until 2008 and it’s still a relatively new republic. Keep this in mind if you’re planning to bring up some uncomfortable political topics when conversing with locals.
Flights; When it comes to the cheapest flights to Nepal, from my experience, Qatar Airways has the best deals. You can save up to 15% more if you use this link when booking your flight to Nepal.
Tours; If you’re looking to do some trekking in Nepal, I always recommend Himalaya Hub. Alternatively, if you want to do some sightseeing, you can check out some of GetYourGuide’s affordable options. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of taking tours while traveling but it’s really hard to do the same activities with a lower budget than the one you’d spend for some of these tours.
Accommodation; If you’re looking for a good bargain for your trip to Nepal, use my Booking.com discount code and get up to 15% off on all properties.
Are you planning to visit Nepal soon? Did you like this list of things to know before visiting Nepal? Do you think we didn’t mention some other important things about traveling to Nepal? Let us know in the comments.
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