So you’re going to Nepal! It’s a small country full of wonderful culture, food, and sights. With a little preparation you will love it! There’s a lot to know and understand before your Nepal trip to help you get the most out of your experience.
Here’s what you need to know before going to Nepal:
1. You’re not alone.
Nepal has made it onto the best travel lists in recent years and become quite the hot spot among travelers. Once known as the adventure mecca for only the most extreme outdoor enthusiasts, word is out that Nepal is much more that trekking to the peak of Everest.
More families are choosing Nepal as their unique vacation destination than ever and having a great, cultural time in the capital city of Kathmandu or the more adventurous town of Pokhara. There are adventures to be had for every adventure skill level and price point, and people are flocking to experience it.
While Nepal is less touristed than other countries, you should be aware that you will definitely see tons of Westerners on your travels there!
2. Nepal has really excellent food from all countries
Nepal is in a unique position to be a gathering place for multiple cultures. It rests between China (Tibet), India, and Bhutan with close proximity to Eurasia and Southeast Asia. As such, you’ll find incredible food from each of these regions represented in Nepal.
Not only is there amazing curries, rice, and noodle dishes, you’ll even find world-class pizza and other Western favorites!
Be sure you try these Nepali food favorites:
- Dahl Baht: Traditionally served on a large, flat plate with a mound of rice in the center of various lentil curries and pickled vegetables with an Indian cracker. Dahl Baht is so popular you’ll even see t-shirts with the phrase “Dahl Baht Power! 24 Hour!” all over town!
- Mo:mo: Mo:mo is the Nepali term for dumplings. This food from their Chinese neighbor is very popular in Nepal. Mo:mo dumplings are served vegetarian, chicken, egg, or with other various fillings.
- Chicken Buryani: Spiced rice with chicken and vegetables mixed in
3. Nepal has a similar culture to India, but don’t call them Indians!
Nepal is quick to recognize the impact of India on their local foods, dress, and religion, but Nepal still retains a unique cultural identity.
4. Nepal currency is rupees
Nepal’s currency is rupees, as is India’s. Their rupees are unique, however, so don’t show up with Indian money! You can easily get Nepalese rupees from ATMs or banks on most street corners or the airport.
5. Most places want cash
While we’re on the subject of money, be sure to have plenty of it! We went through so much more cash than we expected to. This isn’t hard to understand as many under-developed countries don’t have the infrastructure to accept credit cards. The fees are quite high, so most places don’t even attempt to take credit.
It would be best to arrange to bring a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, as the ATMs in Nepal charge up to $5 per withdrawal!
6. Nepal has lots of English speakers
Nepali people are multi-lingual. Most speak more than one native language, and widely learn English, as well. You may be surprised to converse in English with taxi drivers, museum operators, and stall owners. Even if people are not fully fluent in English you should be able to get your point across with commonly understood words fairly easily.
All things considered, Nepal is one of the most English-accessible countries!
7. Kathmandu is busier and dirtier than expected
While Nepal is better known as an adventure destination, there are still big cities in between the mountain treks. The capital city of Kathamandu is home to over 5 million residents but lacks the infrastructure to fully support so many people. You’ll find chaotic roads laden with deep and frequent pot holes, piles of trash along the river, pollution, and more signs of urban distress.
It’s still a fascinating city, but don’t expect the deserted, cultural town from 1980 you’ve been picturing.
Related: Backpacking guide to Kathmandu
8. Nepal is both Hindu and Buddhist
With such close physical borders to Tibet (Buddhist) and India (Hindu), it’s no wonder Nepali people are largely one of these two religions. In an 2001 census almost 81% of Nepalese claimed to be Hindu and another 11% claimed Buddhist.
Evidence of either religion is everywhere. Thousands of small and large Hindu temples dedicated to any one of the many Hindu gods dot the country, as well as Buddhist temples and monasteries. You’ll find Tibetan prayer flags hung in either of these places and plenty of people who subscribe to tenets of both religions.
The Hindu and Buddhist influence on the culture is one reason the general public is profoundly happy, peaceful, and friendly. Be friendly back- it doesn’t cost you anything to smile!
If you’re interested in visiting one of Kathmandu’s most famous Hindu temples, the Monkey Temple, consider booking this tour with a local monk ahead of time to ensure the most authentic experience possible!
9. Step carefully when crossing the road. Cars do not stop!
Perhaps the #1 reason to hire a driver in Nepal is to deal with the chaotic and anarchist traffic patterns. Walking anywhere in Kathmandu is a risk, as drivers instinctively do not stop for pedestrians.
10. They expect small tips for services
If you receive good service in Nepal then show your appreciation with a small tip. Tips around $1 USD are sufficient for small services, while the equivalent of one day’s salary for a tour guide or trekking guide or porter is expected.
You want to tip enough to show your appreciation and be a bit more generous than necessary (you are supporting a local, after all) but not so much that they come to expect generous money from all tourists.
11. Not great internet on WiFi or phones
Most Nepal cities do not have the best infrastructure for WiFi. We had terrible internet service from a variety of hotels and homestays. You can purchase SIM cards designed to hot spot your computer, but there no guarantee they will work.
Better to plan to unplug and just enjoy Nepal!
12. No beef, as cows are considered sacred.
Hindus believe cows to be a sacred symbol of life which should be protected. In Nepal you’ll find cows wandering the streets, and never (almost) on a restaurant menu. Instead you’ll see chicken or vegan burgers available.
13. You really need to hire a tour guide
… and you can easily do so, as there are many tour agencies in each town!
14. Wear pants at least past your knees.
As a religious country many places in Nepal are considered sacred territory. You will be asked to wear modest clothes, including pants or skirt past the knees, when entering any religious site and even some restaurants.
If you’re unsure about what is considered modest clothing just be sure your shoulders and knees are always covered. Cutesy small outfits just aren’t appropriate in Nepal.
15. You can not enter certain spots of temples.
Temples are open to tourists, but certain spots are reserved for worshipers. This is one reason that it’s best to hire a Nepal tour guide to show you around!
If you’re unsure of where you’re allowed to go just follow other Westerners!
16. Nepali eat with hands and drink without touching the bottle.
Nepali also will not accept food from someone else’s plate.
17. Typical Nepali houses and homestays will not have hot water
If staying at homestay you may get a bucket of hot water from the stove to baths with and a space heater, but that’s it. Some have solar heated water catchments, and if you find yourself in one count yourself lucky!
This is not the case in many official hotels, however, so you’ll be safe there!
If you’re staying in Kathmandu and interested in touring authentic Nepalese villages considering booking this village tour. Spend an entire day with a private driver and local tour guide who will make sure you have a great experience.
18. Food takes a LONG time to prepare
It’ll be made by hand by one or two cooks in a small kitchen with only 2-3 burners. They’ll be hand-washing everything they need and collecting necessary veggies from their backyard garden. Once a meal is finished it’s brought out instead of waiting for the entire table’s food.
Cut them some slack and just be sure to order before you’re absolutely starving.
19. Bring your own toilet paper
One trekking guide told us Nepal’s country motto is “See you later, alligator. Don’t forget the toilet paper!” and, boy, is it true!
We found many Western toilets, which is great, but public toilet paper is pretty much a no-go. Bring your own toilet paper or tissue pack around in case you need to visit the facilities outside of your hotel.
20. Avoid street food or veggies
To avoid getting traveler’s diarrhea you shouldn’t eat street food, as many meats can be under cooked. You should also avoid fruits and veggies which have been cleaned under faucet water or chopped with a dirty knife. I’m the first to admit that eating local food can significantly increase a cultural experience, but you really don’t want to start a 10-day trek with diarrhea. You just don’t.
With these tips on things to know before traveling to Nepal you’ll be sure to be prepared for the best trip possible! Enjoy Nepal!