Hot Tips from an Adventure Travel Expert on Nepal!
Trekking the Himalayas, seeing Mount Everest and dreams of prayer flags flying from mountain stupas, make Nepal a favourite for adventurous Aussie travellers. It can be pretty daunting trying to plan this yourself though, so we’ve asked Student Flights consultant Josh for a few of his hottest tips on how to make it happen!
What makes Nepal such an awesome destination?
Nepal is an absolutely incredible place to visit. Whether you’re into experiencing a unique culture, visiting wildlife sanctuaries, climbing Himalayan peaks or experiencing the remnants of the old overland “hippie trail”, it has highlights in spades.
For me, it’s the epic mountain scenery that really sets Nepal apart. There are very few places in the world that an absolute beginner can go trekking at altitude as easily and safely as here, thanks to traditional tea-house culture and well established trails. It is so, so pretty!
Where should you trek first - Everest Base Camp or the Annapurna Circuit Trek?
This is the big Nepal question - especially if it’s your first time! There’s not a bad choice here, so it comes down to what you most want to get out of your trek.
The big appeal of hiking to Everest Base Camp (EBC) is seeing the world's highest peak up close and personal. It’s a return trek through the Khumbu Valley up to Namche Bazaar, which means you double back for the second half.
If you’re less focused on the “bucket list” and excited by Himalayan culture, the Annapurna Circuit Trek (ACT) is arguably more spectacular because it’s a round trip finishing in beautiful Pokhara. The nightly tea-house stays are all in local villages so it’s an immersive experience, and climbing over Thorong-La pass means you reach a higher altitude than on the EBC trek too.
What do you recommend, trekking independently or with a small group tour?
Experienced trekkers can definitely head out independently. There’s heaps of gear, maps and advice available in Kathmandu, plus most tea-houses along the way will allow trekkers to stay for free if they’re eating meals there.
It’s important to be aware of the possibility of altitude sickness (AMS) though, and trekking with a small group trip means you’ll have an experienced local sherpa to help with acclimatisation and permits, along with access to oxygen, satellite phones and local contact in case of emergencies. Plus you’ll get to share the experience with a bunch of other mountain-loving legends!
How do you prepare to go trekking at altitude for the first time?
It’s not necessary to be uber-fit to trek in Nepal. Trekking at altitudes over 3000 metres means there’s less oxygen in the air though, so you’ll thank yourself for training before you go. Walking, running and swimming will all help, especially if you can involve stairs or hills to get your legs used to climbing.
Most importantly, booking travel insurance with adequate cover for the trek you’re doing is essential.
Once you’ve finished trekking, what else is there to check out in Nepal?
So much! If the trek has taken it out of you, spending a few days chilling out next to the lake in Pokhara or learning how to paint a mandala, are perfect ways to rejuvenate. There are also some great hill villages to check out for more local culture and beautiful temples, like Bhaktapur or Bandipur. Or you can head down south to Chitwan National Park to spy on tigers, rhinos, elephants and more.
Kathmandu might not be renowned for its beauty but is a maze of history, tradition and hawkers, that’s worth a few days visit at least. Backpacker hub Thamel is colourful, quirky and great value, plus the easiest place to stock up on anything and everything you may need to rent or buy for treks.
What tips do you have for being a mindful traveller and travelling responsibly in Nepal?
Being a mindful traveller means minimising your negative impacts on the places you’re exploring and the people who live there.
It’s easy to give back in Nepal by staying at local tea-houses while you trek and supporting the families who run them. If you use a guide or sherpa, I’d strongly recommend researching to check that the company you use covers them for insurance in case of accident or injury and pays a fair wage, as many come from disadvantaged backgrounds. You can also consider a small donation to a responsible travel charity like The Intrepid Foundation.
My number one top tip is to take reusable water bottles, cutlery and straws to Nepal as well, which you can buy in one travel pack. If you’re using plastic when trekking, no-one is going to carry the waste back down from the Himalayas!