Trekking In Nepal – A Short Guide
All travel experiences are unique in its own way; some more than others. But if you can put behind you the long flights, sleeping at airports due to delays, and sometimes pretty bad accommodation, you WILL get to have amazing experiences in different parts of the world.
And Nepal can definitely be one of those experiences. Here you’ll find 8 of the top 10 highest summits in the world, surrounded by beautiful landscapes and magnificent views. And the best way to experience such unique beauty here is by foot.
In Nepal, trekking is the most popular touristic activity, as many people flock to Katmandu and Pokhara to take to the trekking paths and start exploring the beauty of the vast area. Not only is it cheap, but the culture and people are friendly and welcoming so welcoming as well! It’s hard to find such friendliness to strangers anywhere else in the world.
In this short guide, we will look at some of the key basics you need to know to plan a great trekking trip in Nepal:
When to go:
The peak season for trekking is between September and November when the weather is mild, and skies are mostly clear. This is a busy time with big crowds. From February onwards, there will be mostly clear skies, but temperatures are much lower, so if you decide to go then, you need to be prepared for snow and the possibility of paths being closed.
Between March and June (towards the end of the dry season), is the second-best time to go. Visibility might sometimes be a problem due to dust, but by then the paths should be clear of snow.
Monsoon season is a very quiet time in terms of crowds. Most of the rain falls at night with cloudy days. The weather may be things out of your control, so it would be good to keep an eye on forecasts for a while before you make any reservations.
Alone or in a group?
There are three options you can take. You can either go:
- Unguided with other travelers
- Guided with an organized group
- Hiring you own guide
Going unguided with a group will save you money, but you will be responsible for all your own travelling arrangements, getting permits, as well as cooking and carrying your own supplies. Legally, if you trek independently, you are not allowed to take staff, so you can’t hire someone “off the street” to go with you. It is probably wise to do this only for the shorter treks around the main trekking area. It should be easy enough to find groups of trekkers with the same interest though. Once you set off on the trip, always make sure to stay with your group in case you run into problems.
Only registered agencies can legally offer guided treks. NO ONE outside of an agency can legally organize it, so if something is offered to you by a hotel for example, know that it is not allowed. When it is organized like this, porters are responsible for the gear, food and fuel to be transported. A cook is responsible for all meals. A Sirdar (chief guide) oversees the entire program for large groups and will pre-arrange all bookings for food and shelter.
All documentation, fees, insurance and permits are arranged by the agency if you book a guided trek.
If you have the means to hire and employ your own guides and porters, it is recommended to pay the customary tip of 5 - 10 % of the total cost of the trek to the head guide, who will then share it with the others. A guide can help you to hire a porter, as most porters don't speak English. Porters can help you with carrying your supplies and equipment - up to 30 kg. Make sure that you and the porter understand and agree on the details of the transaction and requirements, by using a translator if you don’t have a guide.
Where to stay:
In most instances, you’ll stay in a Tea House (Lodge) at the rest point on the trek. Accommodation is dorm-room style, very basic with no heat. No linens are provided and, as it can get very cold at night, make sure to bring a good quality sleeping bag. The accommodation will mostly be comfortable, but some can be rather basic and not very clean. Meals will be simple and represent that which the local people eat. Larger groups can make arrangements around meals to some extent.
If you are travelling unguided or independently, i.e. not in a large group, it is wise to make sure that you book with the lodges in advance and confirm your night’s stay at the next Tea House the morning before you take off on the next leg.
Camping is an option and allowed almost anywhere. Camping treks can be fully organized in advance. Check out our Camping section to find out more camping tips and tricks.
It is also an option to see if there are locals in the villages that will accept you into their home for the night. This has to be pre-arranged.
Be sure to check out our Accommodation Travel Budgeting Tips article and our very own eBook, Budget Travelling Guide.
There are a fair number of checkpoints along any path, and a park officer can check your permits at any time. Should you be found without a permit, you will be charged with a hefty fine; at least around double of what the permit would’ve cost you. Most of the time you’d need 2 - 3 permits. One will be for the conservation area, one for the TIMS Card, and one if you are in a restricted area.
TIMS is the Trekkers Information Management System, and it can be bought at the Tourist Service Center in Kathmandu or stations along the treks.
In all cases, make sure that you have the right permits for the area, see where you can obtain the TIMS card and that you have the correct and required documentation when you apply for each of these.
Where to go:
Below is a summary of some of the most popular trails with a very brief description. For any of these, you should make sure to know the following when you start to plan a trek:
- Full details on the itineraries, terrain, elevation, and level of skill required to complete the trek
- Permits and fees
- Hiking time between rest points
- Available accommodation
- Weather conditions around the date of the planned trek
- The Great Himalayan Trail
This trail stretches over 1,400 miles and connects all the main trekking areas. To complete this, you will need some very skilled guides, cooks, and porters as the time it takes to complete is extremely short until it starts snowing and the higher passes have to be closed. Including the costs of the accompanying parties, gear, equipment and permits, it makes for a (relatively) expensive trip that one has to be extremely prepared for. Find the perfect outdoor fitness program for endurance here.
- The Annapurna
To complete the full Annapurna Circuit will take around three weeks and will reach a height of 5,300m at the highest point. It takes you through the mountains and glaciers of the Annapurna Conservation area, and terrain varies vastly from one area to the next. It is a very scenic route, and for this reason it’s considered one of the best in Nepal.
The Circuit starts in Pokhara, the third largest city in Nepal, and completely circumnavigates the Annapurna Himal. The areas that you will pass though are predominantly Tibetan Buddhist in culture. There are plenty of accommodation options along the way, and the trek could be done easily enough without a guide.
Annapurna Sanctuary is a 10 to 14-day trek into the very cold Annapurna range that goes right up to the Annapurna base camp at 4,157 m. It can be done on its own or as an add-on to the Annapurna Circuit. There are a few different option for the route, but they all end at Chhomrong. It’s a steep climb and can be challenging, especially after rain.
As with the Annapurna Circuit, there is accommodation available so that a guide can be optional.
There are many other options for hikes in this region, varying in length and level of ability. Some are only a day or two long, and so there is something for everyone.
To briefly mention a few more in the region:
- Ghorepani Poon Hill: 3 to 5-day trek. Rising to 3,210m to see the most famous viewpoint in Western Nepal.
- Mardi Himal: 4 to 7-day trek. Rising to 5,587m, it offers amazing views at the summit of Mardi Himal.
- Dolpo: 15 to 21-day trek. Upper Dolpa is the remote Land of the Bon, almost as Tibetan as Nepali.
- Upper Mustang: 12 to 16-day trek. The former Kingdom of Lo has a culture very similar to Tibet. A difficult trek because of high altitude, exposed terrain and strong winds. Restricted areas require a special permit.
- Manaslu Trek: 14 to 21-day trek. At 8,156m, Manaslu is the 8th highest mountain in the world. Hike unspoilt trails through remote villages. Restricted areas require special permits, and you have to take a guide on this trek.
Katmandu Valley Region:
Langtang is a beautiful and very scenic trek that takes around 8 days to complete. There are usually small crowds on the trek as it’s very rural.
The trek is one of your best options to see the very diverse plant and wildlife, and there are many cultural villages along the way. The challenges are moderate, so all this combined makes for a great experience.
The hike offers stunning mountain view and glaciers at low altitude.
Other hikes in the region:
- Nagarkot: 2-day trek. Great for watching mountain ranges at sunrise and sunset.
- Shivapuri: 5-day trek. Represent Nepal's rural culture, biodiversity and beautiful views of the Himalayan.
Mount Everest Region:
Everest is definitely the most well-known mountain in the Himalayas, and although reaching the summit is something that only a handful of people will do, getting to base camp is a big achievement and adventure on its own.
The trek between Lukla and Namche Bazaar is the busiest and over high seasons can be fairly crowded with accommodation at a premium. Lukla lies at 2, 680 m and most often trekkers will fly here, then acclimatize at Namche Bazaar before continuing to Gorak Shep, the last outpost and the last accommodation before Everest Base Camp at 5,600 m.
Depending on the route you choose, the trek takes around 17 to 25 days, with the activity and skill level is moderate. On the way, there is beautiful scenery and magnificent views of Everest itself. You will walk through serene valleys and pass several Buddhist Monasteries on the way.
Important tips to know:
When trekking at these high altitudes, there is always a chance that someone in the party will suffer for Altitude Sickness.
Make sure that you are familiar with the symptoms and know what to do as it can be potentially very dangerous.
If someone has symptoms, don’t ascend further. Start on acetazolamide tablets that you should take with you and can be brought in Nepal, although it is often better to get your medication from you own doctor before your trip. If the person does not start to feel better, you will have to get back to a lower altitude.
Most trekkers start to take preventive dosages of acetazolamide at around 3,000 m. It is advisable to descend at even the mildest of symptoms to treat it quickly and effectively so as to be able to carry on.
Make sure to discuss this with a pharmacist and/or your doctor before the trip and when you get the medication, as well as to read up on it extensively.
Another important tip is to drink lots of water (no brainer), even more so at high altitudes.
Treat all water before consumption. Bottled water is mostly available, but trekkers are advised not to buy it as there is no way to dispose of the bottle on the trek, which has become a serious problem. There are many options on the market for treating water, and it is very readily available everywhere. Also, along the paths are safe drinking water stations that provide water for a small fee.
Another important medication to remember is antibiotics to treat any stomach infections. You’d want to get treatment for both bacterial and for amoebic infections as there is always a chance that you might drink water that can make you sick.
What to bring:
Everyone’s needs and requirements on a trip is slightly different. What you need will be very dependent on where, for how long and what time of year, you’ll be making your trek. It will depend on whether or not you have a guide and porter with you, especially for longer treks. Also, whether or not you plan on camping or using Tea Houses.
People tend to over pack, and on long treks, this is something you definitely want to keep in mind. Make sure that you are comfortable with the weight and that your backpack fits you well and is well balanced with what you do decide to bring. For more detailed tips to pack lightly for your next trip, check out our article 7 Top Tips to Pack Light for your next trip
You can find lists to help you pack for the right situation online, or in guides and from the agency if you use one. A little research will go a long way in making sure that you have all you need. Anything left behind or in a pinch will be available in Kathmandu or Pokhara and will be very affordable.
We hope you enjoyed this article! Check out our Trekking Tips and Travel Guide sections to find more information.