Budget Travel

Mountains for less moolah: exploring Nepal on a tight budget

Nepal is one of the cheapest countries in Asia for travelers and it's simple to explore this beautiful, culturally rich country on a budget. There are plenty of inexpensive accommodations and eat, public transport is extremely good value, entry fees for attractions are low by international standards, and that amazing mountain scenery comes free of charge.

However, cost is creeping up in the Kathmandu Valley, and you can easily end up spending a lot more than you planned on activities for example trekking, biking and wildlife safaris, and also on accommodation and tourist-oriented transport.

Here are a few strategies for reducing your costs when traveling around Nepal on a budget.

Avoid the high season

Flight, accommodation and tour costs peak during Nepal's October-November high season, which coincides using the best weather for trekking. For slightly affordable prices, visit in the March-April shoulder season, which still sees good weather for trekking and wildlife-watching.

You can help to save even more money by traveling to Nepal in the winter, a great here we are at exploring warmer lowland areas such as the Terai. The cheapest time to visit Nepal is during the monsoon (roughly June-September), though views vanish behind heavy clouds, and getting around can be a challenge because of flooding and landslides.

It's often cheaper to travel via India

Only several airlines fly direct to Kathmandu, currently Nepal's only functioning airport terminal (though the airports at Pokhara and Bhairawa result from start receiving international flights in the near future). Getting to Nepal usually involves a change in Asia or the Middle East, and one from the cheapest options would be to fly to Delhi and have a connecting flight to Kathmandu from there (though you may need to get an Indian visa to do this).

For even greater savings, you can travel overland from India. The Sunauli border crossing near Bhairawa is definitely accessible from Delhi and Varanasi, with express buses running to and from the border in both directions.

Take benefit of a totally free airport pick-up

Many hotels in Kathmandu and nearby Patan will collect you in the airport free of charge if you've booked an area ahead of time. If you haven't, it's not no more the world – a taxi to town in the fixed-price desk within the arrivals hall at Tribhuvan International Airport costs Rs 750 (US$5.60).

Public buses are an economical way to get around

If you want to cut costs on a trip around Nepal, inexpensive public buses serve just about any part of the country, though some services only run early in the morning. Although slower and fewer comfortable than dedicated tourist buses, domestic flights or private transfers, public buses are easily the cheapest method of getting from the to B.

While it can be tempting to take a night bus to reduce accommodation costs, be aware that deadly road accidents are common at night and night buses are best avoided.

Negotiate a discount on your room rate

You'll locate an incredible variety of budget accommodations in Nepal, from hostels and homestays to simple lodges and bare-bones budget hotels. It's always worth haggling to find the best price: room rates fluctuate significantly throughout the year and you may often negotiate sizable discounts (sometimes 20-40%) for extended stays or at quiet times, particularly outside the high and shoulder seasons.

Note that mid-range and top-end places generally don't range from the 23% government and service tax in their quoted rates, so factor this in when creating your budget.

Eat like a local

Tourist hotspots for example Kathmandu and Pokhara are jam-packed with restaurants serving food from around the world. However, prices – while inexpensive by international standards – are typically greater than in places serving local food to a local crowd. The costs of eating out can easily accumulate if you're on a tight budget.

To save several rupees, head instead to local bhojanalayas – simple joints aimed at a Nepali clientele, serving inexpensive local staples such as daal bhaat tarkari (dal, rice and vegetable curry). Nepal also has some excellent and economical street food, including samsa (samosas) and momos (meat or vegetable dumplings), which are down a goody with a cup of sweet chiya (tea).

Choose a shorter trek, or trek independently

Nepal is famed for the myriad trekking trails that snake through the spectacular Himalayan scenery, but happening a structured trek with a guide and porters can place a big dent in your budget, particularly if you select a longer route and have to fly to the trailhead.

To save money, choose a shorter trek: there are many great options within the Annapurna region, including the memorable three-day Ghandruk Loop. Search for trailheads that you could reach without flying – most treks within the Langtang Valley and Annapurna region is available easily and inexpensively by public bus.

Another great way to save would be to trek independently, instead of joining an organized trek. Many popular routes are relatively easy to follow along with with no guide, with plenty of teahouses providing simple accommodation and food (beer, however, can be pricey). Top choices range from the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp treks.

Note that independent trekking does not necessarily mean solo trekking – it's rarely a good idea to go hiking completely on your own. If you need companions to have an independent trek, check around at guesthouses in Kathmandu or Pokhara, or set up an email on noticeboards in tourist areas.

Make the most of Kathmandu's Durbar Square

Most foreigners need to pay a Rs 1000 (US$8.50) fee to access Kathmandu's famous Durbar Square, a Unesco World Heritage Site lined with magnificent medieval palaces and temples. Even though the entry ticket is just valid for the date stamped, you can extend it for that length of your tourist visa free of charge at the site office, enabling you to visit many times on your stay. And you can do the same at the equally impressive Durbar Squares in the neighboring cities of Patan and Bhaktapur.

Skip “budget” Chitwan safaris

Many travel agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara offer “budget” two-night, three-day safari packages to Chitwan National Park, but while these all-inclusive deals look tempting, they are a false economy. You simply get a day and a half around the block, haven't much choice over activities, and the accommodation and food are often below par.

It's far better to visit Chitwan independently and make the arrangements yourself; you'll save money and have a much more enjoyable experience. Buses run from Kathmandu to Sauraha around the fringes from the park, where there are dozens of inexpensive lodges.

Slash your phone bill

Buy a local Sim on arrival at Kathmandu's airport or from retailers across the nation to avert being stung with a hefty mobile phone bill when you return home. Your phone should be unlocked and you will need a passport photo to join up. If you want to make landline calls, use local call centers rather than using the phone inside your hotel room.

Snag a SAARC discount

Travelers from countries that are members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, in addition to Nepal – pay lower entrance fees than other foreign visitors at most museums, nature and heritage sites. You may want to show identity documents to quality.

Arrange your personal mountain-biking adventure

Nepal is really a dream destination for mountain bikers, thanks to its plethora of fast-paced, downhill trails. Although going on a structured guided cycle tour by having an operator for example Dawn Till Dusk and Himalayan Single Track is the easiest option, many routes could be followed independently, which significantly cuts down on the cost.

Bikes could be rented from numerous hire companies in Thamel in Kathmandu, and lots of routes start just outside the Kathmandu city limits. For any taster, try the three-day Kathmandu Valley Loop via Nagarkot and the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Namobuddha.

Buying an up-to-date map and learning some basic Nepali phrases so that you can ask for directions can make life immeasurably easier. If you're feeling less ambitious, consider taking some short out-and-back rides to the small towns and temples dotted around the Kathmandu Valley.

Daily costs in Nepali

  • Hostel dorm bed: US$10
  • Basic room for two: US$15-25
  • Room and half-board inside a trekking lodge: US$12-15
  • Public bus Kathmandu-Pokhara (125 miles/201km): US$3-5 one-way
  • Dinner for 2: US$4-10
  • Coffee or chiya (tea): US$1-2
  • Beer: US$2.50-3.50

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