Home to eight of the world’s tallest mountains, including the famous Mount Everest, Nepal sits landlocked in South Asia. The country is best known for its Himalayan Mountain Range and numerous temples of worship.
While not everyone sets their sights on summiting Mount Everest, Nepal is still a thrill-seekers playground where you can river raft, climb, hike, and paraglide. Within the dramatic landscape, the importance of culture is ingrained in the sacred sites and ancient ruins.
Even more surprising for some travelers is that Nepal has everything. South of the famous Himalayas, there are subtropical jungles where you can try to catch a glimpse of exotic animals like tigers and rhinos.
स्वागतम् – Welcome to Nepal!
Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal, which constantly has a crowded and energetic buzz. The city has several prominent areas, including Durbar Square, a backpacker district called Thamel, and various medieval sites, including important temples.
However, what you see today will be different from several years prior. In 2015, an earthquake struck Kathmandu and devastated the area. Along with lives lost, the capital lost several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But with perseverance, the capital has continued to thrive and rebuild.
- Culture and Language
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Nepal is a diverse country whose history and culture are influenced by its Eastern and Southern neighbors. Similar to many Asian cultures, Nepal was once ruled by dynasties during ancient times. It wasn’t until the 18th century that Nepal became unified as one under the Gorkha rule.
Under the rule of Jung Bahadur Rana, Nepal kept its independence during British colonialism as it worked to shut out foreign influences. The resistance ensured that Nepal would remain independent but at the cost of slow economic development and minimal modernization. Nepal still supported the British and provided aid during both World Wars.
Since the end of World War II, Nepal’s government has struggled to stabilize. A revolution in 1951 failed to make a new government, and in 1960 there was a royal coup, which established the panchayat system. In 1997, a civil war broke out that saw the Prince assassinate nine members of the royal family.
The civil war didn’t officially end until 2008 when the federal democratic republic was formed. Today, Nepal has stabilized and is working hard to modernize its future. The people of Nepal have worked hard to overcome their struggles, and many have turned to their faith for guidance.
Colorful prayer flags line the streets and mountains in Nepal as a showcase to honor and bless the area. Hinduism and Buddhism are the two largest religions in Nepal, and their ornate temples are some of the top points of interest in the country.
For many travelers, religion within Nepalese culture is a reason to visit the country. Backpackers, gurus, and travel enthusiasts are all eager to experience nirvana in the Himalayas.
The Nepalese people are very welcoming to outsiders, but you’ll notice that the Caste system is in effect here. Most famous for being upheld in India, the system is also present in Nepal.
While it does not affect tourists, you may notice a hierarchy in society when you visit the country between local interactions.
Female travelers will also notice that Nepal is a patriarchal society, though it changes in the mountains where Sherpa women will often be in charge of running the lodge. Sherpa communities have always come from the mountains and are now famous throughout Nepal for their association with extreme mountaineering or trekking.
It will be hard to experience all of Nepal and its people in one trip. There are over 60 ethnic groups within the country, and up to 123 different languages are spoken. Nepali is the official language of Nepal. An estimated 44.6% of the country’s almost 30 million citizens (as of 2021) speak Nepali, while 11.67% speak the second most popular language – Maithili.
Nepali is used in the government and taught in schools, which makes it more widespread throughout the country. Outside of the urban areas is where you may encounter any one of the other 123 languages that are spoken by the people.
In touristy areas, many people may speak English. While they may not be entirely fluent, they will have a strong enough base that you can communicate. English has become an important language as the influx of tourism, and the demand for mountain guides has grown throughout the years.
Before traveling to Nepal, you’ll need to consider the rest of your budget for your trip. Nepal is an affordable country to travel to, and the country attracts many backpackers who are on a tight budget.
In order to be prepared, you should consider airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation as part of your budget.
Airfare will be the biggest portion of your budget. Nepal is far away, and they only have one international airport in the entire country, which is located in Kathmandu. Most flights to Nepal will cost an average of a thousand dollars, depending on where you fly from. However, you may find that prices will increase or decrease to special rates during certain times of the year.
The Himalayas are harsh, and most people will avoid winter at all costs. This means that the best times to visit Nepal, when the weather is calm and clear, are in spring and fall.
The most popular tourist seasons in Nepal run from September to November and March to May. During these months you may see an increase in flight costs. But you can also save some money by booking your airline ticket well in advance of your intended departure date.
Once you have gotten your plane ticket booked, you will need to decide on your accommodation. Dorm beds will be the most affordable way to sleep in Nepal. Even a budget hotel won’t cost much and you may have a more private space.
If hostels are not your accommodation preference, there may be small hotels located where you are traveling.
A luxury or nice hotel may be in the form of a lodge and will cost the most. You also have the option to take a guided camping trip, which will be charged on a per person per night basis.
It will be important to rest up in Nepal because the high altitude drains your energy, so finding good food is vital to staying healthy while you travel. Nepalese food will vary largely on where you are in Nepal because of what is available to eat and the country’s diverse culture.
The only dish that is eaten throughout all Nepal is called dal-bhat-tarkari, and it is a dish that has cooked rice and lentil soup.
Other popular dishes in Nepal include gundruk, which ferments leafy greens into pickles. This is usually added to the dal-bhat-tarkari dish and may also be served with curry. Bara is a traditional Nepalese snack, which is a rice flour pancake that is served alone, with an egg, or minced buffalo.
Yomari is a festival food that is normally served at the end of the year in December and is a dumpling stuffed with a molasses or coconut mixture. Finally, momos are one of the tastiest dishes, which is Nepal’s take on a Tibetan dumpling. The dumplings are steamed with vegetables and savory meat with a special hand-made technique.
The good news is that food is affordable in Nepal, and even a mid-range restaurant will serve dishes for a decent price. Local food is the most affordable way to eat, and you’ll save a lot of money by eating at less fancy places. Nicer places or lodges will have more expensive meals.
If you want to drink, you be limited in your choices as the most popular alcohol choice is beer. Beer is affordable, with most bottles costing a few dollars.
Import beers may be an option too, but they will be several dollars more. For travelers on a strict budget, the cost of alcohol can quickly add up, and since you’re in a high-altitude destination, it is better to be moderate in your drinking.
Another portion of your budget may go to paying for guides. While a permit to climb Mount Everest costs thousands of dollars and months of training, there are plenty of other guided trekking options for people who aren’t equipped to reach Everest’s summit, and that’s okay.
You don’t have to be at the top to get amazing views, and many guides will take you into the stunning mountain valleys and to the high-altitude monasteries for a little peek.
Most trekking guides will charge a reasonable daily fee for their services. This only covers their service, and you will still have to pay for your food and accommodation.
A more complete guided tour or trekking expedition may cover food and accommodation at a higher cost. The most expensive guided tours will cost thousands of US dollars per person but would last for up to two weeks long and be an extreme trekking experience to locations like the Everest Base Camp.
How to Get Around
While you can travel around Nepal, it isn’t always the fastest or best experience as you move from destination to destination. Many of the roads in Nepal are poorly maintained, and with numerous towering mountains, traveling can be very slow.
Road conditions can always change, too, based on unexpected natural events, and you may not reach your destination in the timeframe you’d like. For this reason, it is recommended that you use domestic flights to save on time.
You’ll have to add flights to your budget because they are expensive. Nepal only has one international airport, but there are numerous small airport runways scattered throughout the country.
These mountain airports are questionable to some travelers, but they are the most reliable way to travel. Yet, they come at a cost. A mountain flight in Nepal usually costs a few hundred dollars. When you’re traveling to numerous locations, that price can really add up.
If you can’t afford a flight, you can travel by bus. It’s highly recommended that you use tourist buses and not local ones, as they tend to be less reliable, and many have disastrous accidents.
Tourist buses are more expensive, but the drivers are also more cautious, and there are only rare incidents of accidents. While you won’t be traveling fast, you’ll at least be traveling safely and keeping to a budget.
The only other way to get around Nepal is by walking. For some, extreme trekking is the way to go, and they want to walk the impressive Himalayan Mountains and see Everest up close. While walking is free, it’s not recommended that you ever walk alone.
In small city destinations going a few blocks around town shouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re looking to take mountain paths to the Everest Base Camp or visit a monastery, you should hire a guide.
High altitude sickness is a problem for many travelers who visit Nepal, as they are not used to being so high up. Even the town of Lukla, the starting point for trekking to the Everest Base Camp, sits at over 9,000 feet in altitude. With a guide, you’ll be safer as you trek in the mountains and will not be alone in case you need to seek medical assistance.
Top Cities to Visit
While Kathmandu is the central hub of Nepal, there are a few other cities that are often on people’s travel bucket lists. Nestled into the mountains, there are gorgeous locations worthy of adding to your itinerary. Here is a brief overview of the top city destination in Nepal.
Kathmandu can be an overwhelming place. All tourists who travel by air will be introduced to its chaos the instant they step foot in Nepal as the city has the country’s only international airport. Most famous for the ancient architecture, the streets are filled with temples.
While Durbar Square is still being rebuilt after the 2015 earthquake, the nearby Buddhist complex called Swayambhunath is also a sight to behold.
Lukla is a famous city because it’s the stopover place for explorers who are looking to visit Everest and its Base Camp. The city is a high-altitude location that rests at over 9,000 feet above sea level but is also a good place for you to get your bearings.
Most travelers will fly from Kathmandu into Lukla and rest for a few days to acclimate to the altitude. Then, they begin their journey toward the Everest Base Camp.
Lumbini is one of Nepal’s most sacred sites, as it is the birthplace of Siddhartha, also known as Buddha. The city boasts impressive monasteries and ponds, where many people congregate to meditate.
Janakpur is an ancient city that was once the capital of an Indian kingdom. The gorgeous architecture still stands, and it is a place for Hindu worship.
Once you’ve begun your trek to Everest, Khumbu is one of the most popular stop-over destinations on the trail. There are countless accommodation options, as well as the famous Tengboche Monastery. Plus, not to mention amazing views of Mount Everest.
Pokhara is located in the famous Annapurna Region of Nepal, and it is a great place for outdoor adventures. The Phewha Lake provides a resort area where you can relax in luxury lodges and take in the amazing views.
Points of Interest
Along with the cities, there are many points of interest throughout Nepal. While Mount Everest is often considered a star attraction, there are plenty of places to explore during your adventure. Here are some of the top tourist destinations in Nepal.
Mount Everest is the tallest mountain above sea level, and it stands at a staggering 29,030 feet. While extreme mountaineers will travel to Nepal to attempt to reach the summit, other travelers are happy to catch a glimpse of this famous mountain.
For explorers who want to partially climb Everest, you can hike to the Base Camp from Lukla.
Chitwan National Park
Unlike the Himalayas, the Chitwan National Park sits in the tropical area of Nepal to the south. This is where tourists go to catch glimpses of rare animals like rhinos and tigers. Other animals that inhabit the park include sloth bears, leopards, and deer.
Closer to India, this portion of Nepal is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Langtang National Park
One of the more accessible mountain areas, Langtang National Park, sits just 8 hours outside of Kathmandu by jeep. You won’t have to pay for a pricey mountain flight, and you’ll still have your breath taken away by the mountain views.
This area is also less touristy than the Everest and Annapurna regions, which makes it great for off-the-grid travelers.
“The Land of Truth”
While Nepal would often be called a country of extremes, thanks to the Himalayan Mountain Range, it is also a country of balance. In Nepal, you can wake up to mountain views and spend the afternoon transcending through meditation.
Whether you’re an avid mountaineer looking for the challenge of a lifetime or looking to find yourself, Nepal is a place that will stay in your memories long after you’ve returned home.