Nepal is unforgettable and planning a journey to its enchanted landscapes can be an ideal choice to discover the experience of a lifetime. Its nature is wild and its many secret places lay calmly off the beaten track, away from the noisy mainstream tourism. Nepal is famous for its magnificent trekking opportunities. Truth be told, you have no choice: as a first time visitor you will fall in love with Nepal for sure and I will show you why.
Nepal is a place embraced by overpowering vegetation and guarded by the highest peaks on Earth, a breathtaking corner of our planet with unforgettable panoramas governed by an indomitable, ever-changing nature. The lakes colored by the millennia, temples, rivers, and a population with ancient traditions and an easy smile do the rest.
After the earthquake in April 2015 the number of tourists fell by 90%, which hit the local people hard, especially the many local tour guides. Your trip can help this country and its charming population to recover after this horrible shock. Even due to the harsh event, the local people are generous, welcoming and have a smile on their face everywhere you come.
Let me take you on a journey through this magnificent country and share my 16 Nepal travel tips when traveling to Nepal for the first time.
The best places to visit in Nepal
You will probably start your journey in Kathmandu. Already in the Kathmandu area you can spend a sufficient amount of time seeing some Nepal highlights.
A great sight to see is Bouddhanath. Here is where the Boudhanath Stupa is located, one of the holiest and most recognizable sites in Kathmandu. There’s such a beautiful and peaceful vibe in this area with all the monks surrounded here. You will have the feeling of being in a different country. In the middle of the central square, the Tibetan Buddhists draw the sacred tangka. These are masterpieces made with incredible accuracy and painstaking care, and enclose the secrets of Tibetan Buddhism.
Photo credit to ngotoh
Here, you should eat something traditional in one of the small restaurants situated on the terraces above the square. Maybe a lentil soup, which here is called Dal, or a vegetable curry with rice and spicy chutney. Follow your taste and curiosity: surrounded by the mystical energy of the place, you simply cannot be disappointed. Go to the Stupa View Restaurant: the views are as good as they claim and you can try fresh and tasty dishes such as chickpea balls in peanut sauce.
Monastery of Kopan
Also bring a visit to the monastery of Kopan. The chants and the dialogues offer you the most charming pretext to take a little break in front of the Kathmandu Valley. As you do so, find the small shed just outside the female monastery where you can taste samosa (fried vegetables) and momo (steamed and fried dumplings): quite literally a pinch of traditional Nepali flavors!
Another great place to visit is the Boudhanilkantha temple. Sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, the site is visited by pilgrims who attend the ritual through which the monks pay tribute to the statue of Vishnu. Carefully and with utter devotion, they moisturize it with milk, polish it, and sprinkle it with beautiful flowers singing and chanting to make sure the God sleeps peacefully.
Do not miss Bhaktapur, a great, old, beautiful city, punctuated by carved and sculpted details at every corner. You can visit it without a map. You will pass along the workshops of the many artists who live here. Do enter one of the laboratories where they create their papier-mâché masterpieces. Uncover the hidden districts of the city, which are divided precisely according to the expertise of these talented artisans. At night, it is a dreamlike landscape in a dimension out of space and out of time as the narrow streets are softly lightened by the candles of the temples:
It is a city plagued by clashes and poverty, but it is also indomitable and never miserable: it has never been colonized. Its culture has deep roots and the inhabitants radiate optimism, commitment and dignity.
In its restaurants you can try local food for less than a euro and enjoy delicious vegetable dumplings, rice and a variety of vegetable curries. Buffalo meat is good and flavorful (the cow is sacred and it is not part of any recipe) and if you do not fear spicy dishes, you can feel free to explore soups and curries that are truly amazing sensorial journey. To stay hydrated, try the local tea (chiya), made with milk, water, black tea and masala spices: it is unexpected but yummy.
Try Newa Chhen Restaurant, with a lovely view of the square. They cook traditional Newari food, and their delicious peanut sandheko (peanut salad) and vegetable bura (lentil pancake) are simply unforgettable. Another option is the Himalayan Bakery, the moment you enter you realize you will not find another place like this anywhere else in the world.
Photo credit to Cripell
Patan, the second most important urban core in Nepal after the capital Katmandu, is an enchanted place characterized by a magnificent square and temples embellished by carvings and jaw-dropping pieces of art. There is also a splendid royal palace and the Golden Temple, known all over the world as the temple of the 10,000 Buddhas. It will take you half a day to visit. Do stop to shop at Mahaguthi – a fair trade crafts shop near Patan. They have a wonderful assortment of things.
In a small square nearby, just north of Patan Durbar Square, you can meet the most famous maker of Tibetan bells of the city. His ancient workshop is a real treat, and the owner, with his flashy smile, is often willing to share stories and legends, and can explain to you the uses of this meditation tool that is as old as the region itself.
From the city to the deep countryside, from Patan you can reach several villages scattered among the rice fields. In my opinion, the most beautiful is Bungamati, but Jaulakhel is extremely fascinating. In fact, there you can find some of the most skillful creators of the famous Tibetan carpets.
Best trekking in Nepal
Your visit is not complete without doing a trekking in Nepal if you are a bit adventurous. The region of Annapurna alone is worth the price of the ticket. Here you can find some of the most beautiful trekking opportunities nature can offer. The perfect entering point is the enchanted Pokhara. At this point, you can satisfy every trekking desire you have ever felt. When visiting Pokhara read these 7 tips that make your stay there memorable.
Another great trekking route I can recommend is the Manaslu trekking. Manaslu is a beautiful region of Nepal that is amazingly pristine and virtually untouched. It is a less touristic trekking route than the Annapurna trekking and much more authentic! I did it in combination with the Tsum Valley which was so wonderful.
What local food to eat in Nepal
This is the national dish of Nepal and consists of rice and lentils accompanied by various different dishes. Sides can include pickles, curried dishes, meat or fish, yoghurt, and chutney. One of the best places where I have eaten Dal Bhat is Thakali Kitchen in Thamel, Kathmandu. It is set in a nice garden and most visitors are local people. You can also learn to make Dal Bhat yourself during a Nepali cooking class for example.
I love this local food snack! It is a delicious dumpling filled with meat or vegetables and accompanied by one or two dips. If you want to try a great variety of different types of Momos then Royal Saino is the place to go. They serve you a platter with fourtheen different types of momos, from peanut paneer filling, to delicious garlic/cheese/chilli. It is located at the Durbar Marg, Kathmandu.
This is a hot noodle soup with some meat and vegetables. It is very popular in wintertime. Try the Pema restaurant in Pokhara for some of the best Thukpha in Nepal! Try the Thupha vegetables mixed with momo. Really delicious! It is located at the lakeside.
This is a type of bread you can’t find anywhere in the world. It is made of rice flour and has a crispy bite with a sweet layer. You can easily buy it at one of the street stalls and is most delicious when it is fresh.
Where to sleep in Nepal
When looking for a unique place to sleep in or near Kathmandu then a stay with Babu and Belku in their homestay just 10km outside Kathmandu is a wonderful opportunity to experience Nepali local life. They provide with delicious home cooked meals with fresh ingredients from their land.
In Pokhara I can really recommend staying at the Castle Resort, a true hidden gem to stay overnight which you can read about in one of our previous blogs.
If you want to experience Nepals local life from the inside then a farmstay is a great opportunity. Check out one of these great farmstays in Nepal.
Nepal travel advice – what you need to know
To get a good overview which vaccinations to get when traveling to Nepal the Nepali government provides a good overview. It is recommend to be vaccinated against malaria especially if you are moving through areas like the Terai region in the monsoon period.
The health risk number one for travelers is stomach problems. To avoid this here are some tips that can be helpful:
- Drink only from unopened bottles or cans: do not add any tap water.
- Avoid water from springs and use bottled water to wash your teeth.
- Pack some chlorine tablets, which can be extremely helpful in this trip
- Avoid raw vegetables and most of the dairy products, opt for well-cooked meat and fish wash your hands frequently to avoid annoying stomach pains.
In case you need it, local pharmacies are often well stocked: don’t panic if you forget the aspirin at home.
Visa requirements Nepal
You can get a visa on arrival in Nepal, which makes it convenient. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months, bring the right passport pictures with you and be able to pay in foreign currency.
Nepal is generally quite conservative, and every culture demands and deserves respect. Remember this if you want to fully enjoy the social interactions with the natives. For this reason:
- Wear long sleeves, pants or long skirts and avoid succinct or provocative clothes
- Remember that the Nepali people nod to say no and shake their heads to say yes, knowing this will avoid unpleasant misunderstandings
- Before invading private spaces or temples, take off your shoes
- Another important thing to remember is that white robes are a symbol of mourning: do not disturb or touch someone who is wearing white
The inhabitants of this beautiful region are poor but proud. Although it is important to remember all this, do not despair. The local population is ready to explain and help you, as long as we behave with respect and ask about the rules that you do not know. With this attitude, every problem is easily solved.
Best time to go
The best time to visit Nepal is from September to November and March to May. This period bring almost perfect weather and are definitely the best time to come to Nepal. The wet season runs from June to September. From December to March it is winter in Nepal which will make it less convenient.
Nepal is a unique place with an ancient soul. It will exceed your expectations and surprise you. This is not a country that can be portrayed by a postcard or a few lines written in a glossy magazine. It is a universe of smells and colors, a place that comes to live through the smiles and the sweat of its people. Be prepared to be adaptable, exercise your openness and always welcome the unexpected. In the end, is not this the essence of travel?
Going to Nepal and want to have an off beaten track experience? Check out these amazing local travel experiences in Nepal!