Nepal

Getting around Nepal is easy with the right planning

Getting around Nepal is easy with the right planning


Although only slightly larger than New York State, Nepal can be a difficult place to explore due to its mountainous terrain, harsh conditions for many roads and vehicles, and challenging and unpredictable weather, especially during the monsoon season.

While there are several low-cost transportation options available, delays and cancellations are common, so it’s best to add some flexibility to your itinerary. Whether you choose to travel by bus or bike, motorcycle or plane, here is our guide to navigating Nepal.

Buses are the cheapest way to travel around Nepal

Buses are by far the cheapest and most popular way to travel long distances in Nepal. On the downside, they’re also relatively slow and uncomfortable, and operator-recommended schedules and travel times should be considered carefully.

Buses usually leave from the main bus station or bus park located on the edge of town. In smaller villages, buses may stop on the side of the road – ask the locals where the bus stops. Kathmandu has separate bus stations that provide local services around the Kathmandu Valley, as well as long-distance buses to destinations such as Pokhara and the Indian border crossing.

In addition to full-size buses, small minibuses run on some shorter routes to towns around Kathmandu and Pokhara. The country’s recent launch of electric minibus services shows the country’s growing environmental awareness and its particular vulnerability to the risks of climate change.

Breakdowns are common, but problems are usually resolved by the curb within a few hours; if you don’t want to wait, you can usually flag another bus heading in the same direction. Landslides can also block roads during the monsoon, causing delays lasting days.

Are buses in Nepal safe?

Road safety is a serious issue in Nepal, and accidents involving buses are not uncommon – before the pandemic, there were around 13,000 road accidents each year, 19% of which involved fatalities. It’s best to avoid traveling by bus at night as there will be many accidents.

Also note that buses in Nepal can be very crowded with passengers sitting on the floor or even on the roof. Getting on the bus at the start of the route provides the best chance of getting a seat; start moving towards the door before the bus reaches where you want to get off. For more personal space, take the tour bus.

bus service in nepal

There are several types of bus operations in Nepal – here is a guide.

  • local bus These usually make short jumps that connect villages with larger cities; they stop periodically to squeeze in as many passengers as possible.
  • normal These buses are the backbone of local transportation, they offer limited comfort but are cheap and make frequent stops along the way.
  • Express These services are generally faster, more comfortable, and make fewer stops on long-distance routes.
  • luxury Posher express bus with perks like air conditioning, curtains and sometimes loud music or a TV showing local movies.
  • tour bus These modern buses travel between popular destinations like Kathmandu and Pokhara faster but cost more; book your tickets in advance.

bus ticket

For most bus classes, you can buy a ticket directly from the driver when you board, or at the reservation counter at the bus station. To find the bus class you want, ask at the ticket counter or check with the bus company staff and shout out the destination name at the bus stop. For tour buses and luxury buses, you can buy tickets from travel agencies or hotels.

Book your limousine and tour bus tickets a few days in advance during busy times, especially during peak season (October and November) and around major religious holidays. A travel agency can pay you a small fee. Bus trips are very affordable – from Kathmandu to Pokhara for 600 rupees ($5) by regular bus, or 700-1000 rupees ($5.20-7.50) by tourist bus.

luggage

Large luggage is usually stored on the roof – lock your luggage, climb onto the roof of the bus, secure your luggage to the railing before the bus departs, and be vigilant when the bus stops as theft is not uncommon.

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Buses are the main form of public transport in Nepal, but the ride is a humbling experience © Emad aljumah / Getty Images

More freedom with rental cars and drivers

Renting your own set of wheels gives you more freedom to independently explore and get off the beaten track, especially in remote areas with limited or infrequent public transport. Although Nepal does not have self-driving rental cars, travel agencies across the country can arrange for local drivers to charter cars (or jeeps).

Day rates are significantly lower than in North America or Europe, and are split between several people, which can be a very economical way to travel. Expect to pay $60 to $100 per day, including fuel.

Hiring a taxi is usually cheaper, but also less comfortable – haggle directly with the driver to agree on a price. If you want to drive yourself, you will need to bring your own car into Nepal from a border crossing in India with all the associated red tape.

Rent a Motorbike for a Nepalese Road Adventure

A popular way to drive yourself is to rent a motorbike in Kathmandu or Pokhara. You need an international driver’s license or a national license that allows you to ride a motorcycle – a regular car license is not enough. The rental agency will ask you to leave your passport as a deposit. Make sure your travel insurance covers your motorcycle ride – few rental outlets offer coverage, which leaves you fully responsible for accidents and damage.

Nepal is not a place for inexperienced motorcyclists: the roads are dangerous and accidents are not uncommon. Use horns in dead spots and always give way to any larger vehicles, especially buses and trucks.

Travel tip: Strikes could bring traffic to a standstill

Nepal is prone to political problems, and band Strikes (called by unions, political parties or community groups) could bring traffic to a halt across the country. In the event of a strike, it is best not to try to travel, as vehicles trying to cross the blockade are sometimes the target of angry crowds. The government usually provides a dedicated bus service to take passengers to Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.

A small plane on the runway in Lukla, Nepal
Lukla Airport in the Everest region is accessible via one of the most dramatic flight routes in the world © Vadim Petrakov / Shutterstock

Airplanes can shorten travel times

Nepal has a large number of small airstrips, many of which are located in remote mountainous areas. Domestic flights are provided by a combination of government and private airlines – the national airline Nepal Airlines has a wide range of domestic routes with a wide range of services, from Simikot in the Far West to Taplejung in the Far East, using a small and ageing fleet.

Its two main private competitors are Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines. Both fly all over the country, including the big cities of Pokhara and Terai. The busiest route in the country is the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, the starting point for the trek to Everest Base Camp.

Most services originate or terminate in Kathmandu, but the western city of Nepalganj in Terai is a hub for flights to the northwest. No matter who you are flying with, if the sky is clear, you will see spectacular views of the Himalayas along the way.

Flights are generally cheaper than in Europe and North America (about $120 from Kathmandu to Pokhara), and flying can save a lot of time compared to road trips, albeit with a larger carbon footprint.

Be aware that delays, cancellations and rescheduling are common – Nepal Airlines has a reputation for being less reliable than many of its private competitors. Small aircraft are used for domestic flights, so baggage allowance may be smaller than for international flights.

Is it safe to fly in Nepal?

It is important to keep in mind Nepal’s sporadic aviation safety record. There have been many fatal car accidents in recent years, so weigh the time saved against the danger (and remember that road trips come with their own risks). You can download the latest safety report from the Nepal Civil Aviation Association.

A male mountain biker leaves the village of Manan to climb towards Sorongla in the scenery of the Annapurna circuit in Nepal.On the right is Annapurna III and the summit of Gangapurna
Mountain biking gives you a fresh perspective on Nepal © Saro17 / Getty Images

Cycling is a great way to explore Nepal

Nepal is one of the best mountain biking destinations in the world, and a bike tour is also an option in Terai. In addition to the congested, traffic-heavy center of the Kathmandu Valley, there are many options for long-distance and multi-day cycling, including in many trekking areas. A popular route is the delightful five-day journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara via the historic town of Newwari, Gorkha.

While you can ride many routes on your own, it is recommended that you hire a guide or join an organized tour, especially if you are a relatively inexperienced rider. Bike rentals are easy to organize in tourist areas – try professional mountain bike operators such as Dawn Till Dusk and Himalayan Single Track in Kathmandu.

Why I love mountain biking in Nepal

Mountain biking down trails and old trails is my favorite way to explore the Nepalese countryside. It allows you to travel independently at your own pace, with detours and side trips whenever you choose, while also providing a rewarding physical challenge.

Also, cycling took me to countless places in Nepal that I would have otherwise missed – villages surrounded by terraced fields, isolated Himalayan viewpoints, off the beaten track in national parks. Just make sure to keep a good, up-to-date map with you as it’s easy to get lost!

Male hiker enters stone gate in Nepalese village during Annapurna loop trek
Hiking trails in Nepal are by far the most exciting way to see the country © Moroz Nataliya /Shutterstock

Hiking may be the only option in the mountains

Many parts of Nepal can only be reached on foot, and thousands of people come to Nepal specifically for trekking in the Himalayas. The most famous trekking areas are Annapurna near Pokhara, Langtang Valley near Syabrubesi and the Everest region northeast of Kathmandu. Most of the trails around Pokhara and Lantang Valley are accessible by bus; hikers heading to Mount Everest usually fly into Lukla’s small airstrip.

Use rickshaws and taxis to travel around Nepal’s cities

Found everywhere in Kathmandu and other cities and large towns, rickshaws and auto-rickshaws are a cheap and convenient way to get around the city. There is no fixed price – you have to haggle with the driver. Tempos – large auto rickshaws that follow a fixed route – are also useful; mark them on the road and tap the roof when you want to get off.

There are many taxis with meters (and black license plates) in Kathmandu, Pokhara and other cities. They may be flagged or spotted wandering near attractions in tourist areas. You must strongly encourage drivers to use the meter (if they refuse, negotiate a reasonable fixed price before departure).

Kathmandu also has a ride-hailing app, Tootle, which is useful when trying to navigate city traffic during rush hour. However, safety is a consideration; you’ll be safer in a taxi in chaotic traffic.

Accessible travel

Unfortunately, traveling around Nepal can be a challenge for disabled travelers. Sidewalks and sidewalks are rare, although some of the more expensive hotels have wheelchair accessible rooms. You will find few wheelchair facilities, ramps or lifts. Hiring a car and driver is a good option for traveling around the country, while a horse or mule can often be hired for hiking. For more information, check out Lonely Planet’s online resources for accessible travel.

You may also like:
Uncovering Kathmandu’s cosmopolitan culture: why you’ll want to stay longer
The best tourist attractions in Nepal, from the mountains to the birthplace of Buddha
15 Best Things to Do in Nepal: Experience the Himalayas



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