We consider ourselves capable adventurers who always prefer to do things on our own. We love to be in unusual places and left to figure things out. That’s part of the fun, right? While this anti-apple vacation mentality usually works for us, we quickly realized that you really do need an official Nepal tour guide.
Here’s why you really do need a tour guide in Nepal.
1. A tour guide knows all the best things to see, and how to navigate those spots.
Let’s use Hindu and Buddhist temples as an example.
There are thousands in Nepal! Most require an entrance ticket bought from an obscure stand, they are riddled with authentic and inauthentic Holy Men asking for money in exchange for blessings or photos, worshipers will be seen in the middle of many different types of religious rituals, and there are certain parts you may or may not be allowed to enter. Trying to figure it all out on your own would be insane!
You would either a) end up wasting time on your phone before or during the temple visit trying to learn as much as possible in the moment, or b) not understand most of what you’ve traveled around the world to see. Either one ends up being a complete waste of time you could have easily avoided.
Assuming you ended up in the right spots at all, that is.
Our guide not only took us to three of the most important, famous, and beautiful Hindu and Buddhist temples in Kathmandu, he also navigated us an hour outside of the city to an obscure temple known for it’s unique rituals. Our group loved having a front row seat to see the rituals in action at that temple, and I loved that we were the only non-Nepali people around. Let’s face it: the cat’s out of the bag on Nepal, so it’s special to find yourself in both a cultural and Westerners-deserted location.
Thank you, Nepal Tour Guide!
Our guide, Jaya, took us to other obscure, valuable locations we never would have thought about or found on our own. We visited an authentic art workshop where we learned about mandala paintings and talked to a master painter. We sat in on a rug weaving session at a Tibetan refugee camp. These and other invaluable experiences would have been nearly impossible to find on our own.
2. Tour guides drive you around
Believe me, you do not want to attempt driving yourself in Nepal. Or rely on taxis/ grab cars.
Nepal traffic is extremely chaotic and roads are covered in potholes. The narrow streets don’t all have two comfortable lanes and a driver will know the best way to navigate them. An official tour guide will not only organize a car to take you around but will also sit with you in the car and can mediate between you and the driver. This is helpful if you need to drive slower over potholes or if you’re interested in an extra stop.
Using a rented car means you get everywhere quicker, safer, and have a dedicated driver waiting for you whenever you finish at each stop. It’s invaluable.
3. Nepal tour guides will negotiate on your behalf
Tour guides can help you negotiate fair prices on goods and entrance to temples or museums.
At one temple we visited, for instance, there was a long line of locals waiting to enter. We assumed we would need to wait in line, as well, until our tour guide checked with the temple security and found that we could bypass the line as we weren’t participating in the ceremony.
Another time he took our group through a street market and convinced local stall owners to give us food samples before we decided to buy any goods.
When in Pokhara we asked our trek guide to help us find a few trekking necessities to rent. He had a relationship with all of the local shop owners and walked us from store to store to find the things we needed. It was amazing and he saved us so much time and money!
4. A tour guide will explain the local culture and practices
The culture and religious practices of Nepal are quite unique. A Nepal tour guide can help you understand and process the people, dress, and ceremonies you’ll witness.
When we saw the death and cremation rituals at the Pashupatinath temple my delicate American psyche would have been horrified had I not been given the background to understand their actions. Thanks to our patient tour guide I came out of the experience noticing lots of similarities in our belief systems and thinking the process was actually quite beautiful.
If you take the chance of touring Nepal without a tour guide you run the risk of missing most of the cultural heritage.
5. Best of all: Hiring a Nepal tour guide will support local businesses
If the concept of increasing your personal gain of Nepal doesn’t appeal to you, maybe the idea of leaving a lasting impact on the country will.
The idea of using a tour guide to most north Americans draws up visions of a fancy tour company which takes your money and provides a service any adventurous traveler could figure out on their own. You imagine a fancy car and restaurants where you’re able to safely observe local customs without actually getting dirty.
This is definitely not the case in Nepal!
There are very few organized, fancy tour agencies in Nepal. By hiring a local tour guide you are providing a job and an income which would really make a difference to the local economy. So many times travelers want to contribute to the local economy, but we know donating to beggars or children is never a good idea.
By hiring a Nepal tour guide you can receive a useful service and also leave money in the country! Think about it: You’ll be contributing to a local entrepreneur, a driver, market stall owners, and those who operate the places and restaurants you’ll visit. That’s a lot of people you could help.
So now that you know you need a Nepal tour guide, how do you hire one?
1. Hire a tour guide online before your travel
It’s easy enough to find a local tour guide online before you go. The internet is widely (though not well) available in Nepal, and many individual tour operators understand the importance of advertising to a global audience.
I suggest hiring a guide with reviews from a trusted source, like Get Your Guide. This one-day Kathmandu tour is hosted in English by a local tour guide and includes some of the top sights in the city. Your guide will pick you up at your hotel and provide all transportation! Literally does not get easier than this.
2. Find a tour guide in the airport when you arrive
Once you arrive at Kathmandu or Pokhara airport you’ll find plenty of people hocking their tour guide services outside. If someone speaks your language well and seems clean and trustworthy, you may as well give it a try!
Arrange a time and place to meet and how many people are in your party. If there are particular places you’re interested in seeing let your new tour guide know, and he will organize the perfect schedule.
3. Find a tour guide from a travel agency in town
If you’re too tired or anxious to arrange a tour guide at the airport you’ll have no problem finding one in town! The tourist areas of any major town will be cluttered with local tour guides and trek services.
If you go this route you’ll be able to do more research on individual operators, too. Look for a tour guide close to you then check his credentials on Google Maps to see if there are any recent reviews.
What to expect from your Nepal tour guide:
1. They will stick to you like glue.
Once you hire a tour guide they take care of everything. It’s actually a welcome change from having to organize things on your own all of the time!
Your tour guide will ride in the car with you, stay by you when walking around, and will be available for help or questions all day. Don’t be afraid to ask for help negotiating a price or understanding a local custom- that’s what they’re there for!
2. He probably won’t eat at your table.
The cost of hiring a tour guide includes his meals and museum/ temple entrances for the time you’re together, but he’ll most likely give you some space while eating (unless you specifically ask him to stick around). He’ll make sure you’re all set to go at the restaurant, then will eat at a different table. His job is exhausting, and this break is good for him, too!
3. Tips are appreciated.
You pay for guide services at the end of your time together, and a small tip is not necessary but appreciated. Depending on how many days your tour guide has worked for you you could consider giving as much as a single day’s wages in tips. This also goes for your driver. He won’t expect as big a tip as the tour guide, but a little something means a lot!
4. He gets commission on things you buy.
When a tour guide takes you to a particular workshop for an art technique display there are two motives: 1), to help you appreciate the local culture, and 2) because he’ll receive a small commission if you decide to buy any goods there.
Any good tour guide will still take you to incredibly interesting places which will greatly enhance your time and understanding of Nepal, so don’t feel weird about entering these workshops. You are under no obligation or expectation to purchase the goods you’re being taught about.
If you do choose to buy a souvenir from your visit it’s only natural that the shop will pass some of the fortune alone to your tour guide. He earned it by knowing where to take you in the first place!
5. He’s bilingual.
Tour guides are most likely educated adult Nepali men who speak at least two languages (not including the many official languages and regional dialects spoken in his native Nepal). While in Nepal we noticed tour guides in English, French, and Spanish!
Make sure to specify what language you prefer your tour to be given in and you’ll be pointed in the right direction for someone able to help you.
Good luck on your trip to Nepal! It’s a wonderful country full of color and culture, and if you follow our advice to hire a tour guide you’ll leave with wonderful memories!