In the autumn and spring tourist high seasons (late Sept to mid-Nov and late Feb to late March), flights to Kathmandu – Nepal’s only international airport – often fill up months ahead. Most people book tickets through to Kathmandu, but you can also make your own way to a major regional air hub such as Delhi, and arrange transport from there. Airfares depend on the time of year, but timings of the high, low and shoulder seasons are calculated differently by each airline, and may not always coincide with tourist seasons.
You can sometimes cut costs by going through a specialist flight agent such as STA Travel (w statravel.com) or Trailfinders (w trailfinders.com), but the best deals tend to be found online (compare prices on an aggregator like w momondo.com or w kayak.com). Round-the-World tickets are worth considering, but cheaper off-the-peg tickets don’t generally allow you to fly both into and out of Kathmandu. Figure on around £1500/US$2400 for a ticket that includes Nepal.
Flights from the UK and Ireland
There are no direct flights from London, Ireland or indeed Europe as a whole to Kathmandu, so you’ll have to make at least one stop en route. Fares are seasonal, and airlines generally charge full whack (around £650–900) from late September to mid-November, late February to late March, and during the Christmas period. It’s often possible, however, to find discounted fares (around £550–600), especially on less convenient routes, and prices drop outside of these periods, when you may be able to get a flight for £450–500.
From London, Gulf Air (w gulfair.com), Emirates (w emirates.com) and Qatar Airways (w qatarairways.com) offer the most direct routings via the Middle East. Another good option is to fly on Jet Airways (w jetairways.com), Kingfisher (w flykingfisher.com) or Air India (w http://www.airindia.com) via Delhi. Travelling by other routes takes longer (often with two or more stopovers), but relatively inexpensive deals can often be found on carriers such as Sri Lankan Airlines (w srilankan.com) and Biman Bangladesh (w biman-airlines.com). Flights on Thai Airways (w thaiairways.com) and Singapore Airlines (w singaporeair.com) aren’t really worth considering because you’ll have to double back from Bangkok or Singapore.
Travellers from Ireland will generally have to journey via London or another European city.
Flights from the US and Canada
If you live on the east coast it’s quicker to fly to Nepal via Europe and then – typically – the Middle East or India (see below). From the west coast it’s easier to go via the Far East on a carrier like Singapore Airlines (w singaporeair.com), Thai Airways (thaiairways.com) or Cathay Pacific (w cathaypacific.com). Expect to spend 20–24 hours on planes if you travel via these routes.
Seasonal considerations may help determine which way you fly; note that these airline seasons don’t necessarily coincide with Nepal’s autumn and spring tourist seasons. Most airlines consider high season to be summer and the period around Christmas; low season is winter (excluding Christmas), while spring and autumn may be considered low or shoulder season, depending on your route. High-season prices from both the east and west coasts are around US$1500–2000.
From Canada, the cheapest flights tend to be from Toronto, flying eastwards, and cost around Can$1600–2000 in the high season.
Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
Flying to Nepal from Australia or New Zealand invariably means travelling with Thai Airways (thaiairways.com) via Bangkok or Singapore Airlines (w singaporeair.com) via Singapore, with a stopover en route. Fares to Delhi are about the same as to Kathmandu, so another possibility – although not the most economical – is to fly into India and fly or travel overland from there. A final option is to fly via Hong Kong.
Airfares depend on the time of year. Generally, low season runs from mid-January to late February, and from early October to the end of November; high season is from around mid-May to August, and early December to mid-January; shoulder season takes up the rest of the year. Low-season prices to Kathmandu via Singapore or Bangkok start at roughly Aus$1800 from Australia, and NZ$2400 from New Zealand, and can be several hundred dollars (in either currency) higher in peak season.
From South Africa, Thai Airways (thaiairways.com) and Singapore Airlines (w singaporeair.com) both have regular flights from Johannesburg to Kathmandu, via Bangkok and Singapore, and various carriers travel via India. Expect to pay from around ZAR13,000.
Getting there from neighbouring countries
Many travellers combine Nepal with a trip to India, even if they’re just making the connection with a flight to or from Delhi. There are numerous border crossings between the two countries, and overland routes can easily be planned to take in many of northern India’s most renowned sights. Travel agencies in India and Nepal offer bus package deals between the two countries, but these are generally overpriced and it is far better to organize things yourself.
Three border crossings see the vast majority of travellers: Sonauli/Belahiya, reachable from Delhi, Varanasi and most of North India (via Gorakhpur); Raxaul/Birgunj, accessible from Bodhgaya and Kolkata via Patna; and Kakarbhitta, serving Darjeeling and Kolkata via Siliguri. A fourth, Banbaasa/Mahendra Nagar, in the little-visited west of Nepal, is handy for the Uttar Pradesh hill stations and (relatively speaking) Delhi too. All these border crossings are described in the relevant sections of the Guide. Two other border points (near Nepalgunj and Dhangadhi) are also open to tourists, but they’re rarely used. Other crossings near Janakpur, Biratnagar and Ilam rarely admit foreigners.
Flying between Delhi and Kathmandu rewards you with Himalayan views and opens up a wider choice of international flights. Air India (w airindia.in), Jet Airways (w jetairways.com), JetLite (w jetlite.com), SpiceJet (w spicejet.com), IndiGo (w goindigo.in) and Nepal Airlines (w nepalairlines.com.np) all serve this route.
Travel from Tibet is possible as long as you have the correct permit; entering Tibet from Nepal, however, is limited to group tours. It is also possible to fly to Kathmandu from Bhutan.
The classic Asia overland trip is just about alive and kicking, and several operators, including Dragoman (see below), run trips to Nepal.
Specialist agents and tour operators
In the UK
Audley Travel t 01993 838000, w audleytravel.com. Quality tailor-made and small-group tours in Nepal.
Classic Journeys t 01773 873497, w classicjourneys.co.uk. Nepal specialist offering the usual range of treks, plus several tours run by professional photographers.
Dragoman t 01728 861133, w dragoman.com. Extended overland journeys taking in Nepal and India.
Exodus t 020 8772 3936, w exodus.co.uk. Established company with trekking, cycling and sightseeing trips to Nepal, India, Tibet and Bhutan.
Explore Worldwide t 0845 527 8834, w explore.co.uk. Recommended operator offering Nepal and Tibet trips, featuring trekking and cultural activities. Good for single travellers.
Footprint Adventures t 01522 804929, w footprint-adventures.co.uk. Specializes in wildlife and birdwatching tours, plus trekking.
High Places t 0845 257 7500, w highplaces.co.uk. For the more serious trekker, focusing on high-altitude trekking and scaling peaks.
Himalayan Frontiers t 01737 277190, w himalayanfrontiers.co.uk. The pioneer of “parahawking” (where birds of prey fly with paragliders, searching out thermals) in Pokhara; they also offer more typical adventure trips.
Jagged Globe t 0845 345 8848, w jagged-globe.co.uk. Climbing, mountaineering and serious trekking expeditions.
Mongoose Travel t 01271 850 224, w mongoosetravel.co.uk. Small company offering cultural tours and treks, with good ethical and environmental credentials.
Mountain Kingdoms t 01453 844400, w mountainkingdoms.com. Smallish specialist company with particular expertise on Nepal.
Naturetrek t 01962 733051, w naturetrek.co.uk. Leading specialist in birdwatching and wildlife tours.
On The Go Tours t 020 7371 1113, w onthegotours.com. Established operator offering tours throughout Nepal, as well as trips to India, Tibet and Bhutan.
Sherpa Expeditions t 020 8577 2717, w sherpa-walking-holidays.com. Annapurna, Everest Base Camp and Dhaulagiri treks.
Terra Firma t 01691 870321, w terrafirmatravel.com. A range of treks, expeditions and wildlife/cultural tours, plus rafting, mountain biking and tailor-made tours.
Traidcraft t 0191 265 1110, w traidcraft-tours.com. Sustainable “meet the people” tours involving stays with small-scale farmers who produce fair trade products.
Wildlife Worldwide t 0845 130 6982, w wildlifeworldwide.com. Trips for wildlife enthusiasts.
In the US and Canada
Above the Clouds Trekking t 1 800 233 4499, w aboveclouds.com. Family-run operator offering some unusual treks, including “heli-trekking”; good for family treks.
Adventure Center t 1 800 228 8747, w adventurecenter.com. Large company with wildlife, trekking and sightseeing tours throughout the region.
Canadian Himalayan Expeditions t 1 800 563 8735, w himalayanexpeditions.com. Wide range of small-group treks and climbing expeditions.
Friends in High Places t 1 781 354 9851, w fihp.com. US-Nepali company offering mostly customized itineraries, especially treks.
Journeys International t 1 800 255 8735, w journeys.travel. Worldwide trekking agency covering the standard routes, plus a few off-the-beaten-track options.
Mountain Travel Sobek t 1 888 831 7526, w mtsobek.com. High-end trekking and rafting company, with easy to strenuous routes, plus wildlife and customized trips.
In Australia and New Zealand
Abercrombie and Kent Australia t 1800 331 429, New Zealand t 09 579 3369, w abercrombiekent.com. Upmarket tours of Nepal and India.
Intrepid Travel Australia t 1300 364 512, w intrepidtravel.com. Small-group tours, mostly treks on standard routes, but also wildlife, rafting and India trips, with an ethical emphasis.
Peregrine Adventures Australia t 03 8601 4444, w peregrineadventures.com. Tours across Nepal, some combining visits to India, Bhutan or Tibet.
Ultimate Descents International Australia t 03 543 2301, w ultimatedescents.com. Pioneering rafting operator with an extensive range of trips.
If you’re flying into or out of Kathmandu via Delhi or the Gulf, it’s worth trying to book a daytime flight, as the views on clear days are astounding. Flying west from Kathmandu, many flights now take a particularly astonishing route, during which the western Himalayas scroll right past your window. Check in early to ensure a window seat on the best side: on the left on the way in (seats lettered A), and on the right on the way out.