How to Choose the Right Trip in Nepal
So you have decided to come to Nepal for trekking. But which trek should you chose and should you trek in a private group, with a big agency or with your own personal guide? Let’s try to clarify some of the questions in this blog.
First of all, Nepal has some iconic treks! I’m sure you have heard of the Everest Base Camp Trek. This trek takes you into the lap of Mt Everest through barren, rocky terrain with stunning mountain views. You can add on things like the Everest: Three High Passes or to Gokyo Lake and of course, you will be flying into the high altitude airport at Lukla and staying in the fabled Namche Bazaar. This trek is perfect a part of a small group tour of Nepal but as it is at high altitude and a demanding trek; it is not suitable as a family tour in Nepal. Unless your kids are teenagers with a great sense of adventure.
Then there is the Annapurnas. The Annapurna mountain range is home to several iconic treks which include the Annapurna Circuit Trek. The lower parts of this trek are lush forests leading into a drier landscape as you ascend in altitude. The Annapurnas are great for someone’s first trekking in Nepal and the lower areas are perfect for family treks with younger children. Poon Hill Trek is one that springs to mind.
For those who are more adventurous or who have already done these more famous, and thus, more busy treks, there are off-the-beaten-track treks such as the Manaslu Tsum Valley Trek or Limi Valley Trek which take you deep into areas which are more remote and see less visitors. As a result, they tend to be more expensive and it is not possible to trek there without a registered guide.
So Which Trek is Right for me?
First, take a look at your physical fitness. Browsing through websites you will see a number of treks marked as ‘easy’. Take this with a pinch of salt! This is the Himalayas! ‘Easy’ still involves a lot of ups and downs and can entail walking for more than 6 hours a day.
You might then think you should go for a 3 or 4-day trek. But let me warn you it often takes 3 or 4 days to get into your stride. So that short trek might feel just as exhausting as that long one.
But if you are of reasonable fitness and take it slowly and pace yourself ‘easy’ or ‘moderate’ treks can be tackled by almost anyone.
Aside from personal fitness, when considering which trek to go on, ask yourself what you want to see and experience. Do you want to hike through lush forests and terraced fields, passing and staying in ethnic villages on the way? Or do you want to hike through the desolate desert-like dry landscapes? Maybe attaching crampons and hiking through snow and over high passes is your dream. Nepal certainly caters for a lot of different tastes.
Think also about the best season to visit Nepal. Most people come in the spring and autumn when the weather is at its best. The number of trekkers is at its highest at those times also. If you like snow and don’t mind the cold, consider winter for some area. And remember some areas, such as Upper Mustang fall in the rain-shadow so even in the summer monsoon months treks there are possible. While Nepal is definitely a safe destination in Asia consideration should be given to the time of year in terms of flooding (monsoon), landslides (monsoon), heavy snowfalls (winter and early spring) etc.
A great way to decide on which trek is for you is to make a checklist of what you are interested in – wildlife, culture, Buddhism, Tibetan like landscape, snow, forests, teahouse accommodation, luxury lodge accommodation or camping, etc then go through this website to see what treks fit your ideal. Then scale down your expectations in terms of length of the trek (do you have 21 days to spend on a trek?), the difficulty of the trek (can you manage a ‘demanding’ trek?), and cost (remote areas require a high priced permit).
Private or Group Tour?
Having now worked out the area(s) you are interested in, think about your overall experience. Do you love to travel in a big group ensuring a lot of evening conversation? Or do you prefer a smaller group or going alone with a guide? For my money, travelling in a big group has a lot of drawbacks. You will probably spend most of your time talking to the members of the group and not spend as much time interacting with locals. And then there are always those people with ‘big personalities’! Those who complain too much, or who dominate the conversation, who cannot stand and gaze in silence at the mountains but need to chatter on….
Smaller groups are ideal to get the best of both worlds. Be able to take in the surroundings fully, be able to talk and meet others on the trail or in the teahouses yet still have companions to talk with at dinner. Your guide will have more time to spend with each trekker if the group is smaller. And in the season, when accommodation is in demand you might need to double up with a stranger. So if your group is small, you have someone you already know to share with. On that topic – if your group is small you will definitely be able to get to know the others more. Life-long friendships have been made on treks!
Smaller groups also have less impact on the environment. Especially if it’s a camping trek. Imagine a huge group camping. How many porters and how much equipment is required? And of course, the porters always go ahead to have the camp set up. If you are in a small group it is far more likely you will get to know your porters then feel comfortable offering to help out around camp just to get a more involved experience. Imagine 30 people trying to help out in the kitchen tent?
In these times of COVID-19, it is a better choice to go small. It may be that large tour/ trek groups are a thing of the past. We wait and see.
Larger groups may be easy to get lost in. Not lost as in vanishing off the trail! But as in being in the background or left out of a conversation. If you are a shy person perhaps you don’t mind blending into the background in a big group. But that’s not ideal. You came to Nepal to experience life as well as the mountains. On the other hand, you might not be able to get those quiet moments to reflect and chill if you are in the middle of a large, boisterous group.
Larger groups will stretch your guide’s ability to spend time with everyone. And his own ability to relax and chill at the end of the day. Which is also important on a longer and more demanding trek.
Going alone with a guide will mean your experience is going to be different again. You can really walk at your own pace, spending more time in one location if you love it and time allows. The cost will be a bit higher but then the experience will also be elevated! But remember that in the restricted areas you need to be two trekkers to get permission to go there.
Luxury tours in Nepal are more likely to be in small groups simply because of the money factor. Heli tours in Nepal are by their very nature limited in group size. How about breakfast on Everest? Fly in, eat breakfast and fly out. The ultimate luxury tour!
Off-the-beaten track treks are again more likely to be smaller groups. For example, Swotah's Millennium Trek involves homestays. Staying in real villagers homes. Naturally, village homes are small in size and we wouldn’t want to overwhelm a village and their resources by bringing too many people at the same time. Also, the whole idea of a homestay trek is to meet and get to know the locals.
So it’s up to you. Big group, smaller group ( your own friends or family would be ideal, particularly these days) or alone with a guide. Each will provide you with a very different experience.
Choosing the Right Trekking Agency in Nepal
Now you know where you want to go, whether you want a big or small group so now how do you know which trekking agency to choose? There are literally hundreds of them on the internet. It can be overwhelming!
What Do I Expect from a Trekking Agency?
Get your pen and paper out again. You want the trekking agency to be:
- Experienced (to keep you safe)
- Within your budget (which will depend on the trek you are thinking of too)
- Providing a guide who speaks your language (all speak English but you may have to request one if you speak another language)
Experience: With the internet, it is not as hard to find out which trekking agencies have more experience. Firstly check they are properly registered. If you look at the TAAN (Trekking Agency Association Nepal) website you will find a list of registered trekking agencies.
Look the reviews they have received from past clients.
Check how long the agency has been operating. Although even new agencies can be very capable if the team has a long experience with other companies. This is where reviews really come in handy.
Safety: Ensure the trekking agencies knows what to do in case of an emergency. Can they demonstrate they have dealt with helicopter rescue in the past? Does the guide carry a GPS tracker?
Cost: You can find a lot of different prices for the same trek. Going cheap is fine if you are doing say a lower altitude trek in a well-established area and don’t mind roughing it a bit. Because the cost will also depend on the facilities they provide you. If you are looking for more luxury accommodation you get on some (definitely not most) treks you will obviously pay more. Are you flying to your starting point? More money. Are you getting a bus or private vehicle to the starting point? Again there is a huge difference in cost between a public bus and a private, more comfortable, jeep. Will there be a porter to carry your bag or are you expected to carry it yourself? It all adds up.
Ask questions: A genuine trekking agency will not mind you asking questions and meeting your guide in advance. Beware the ones who hesitate at this point.
To Sum Up
There are so many options in Nepal. And the best travel companies in Nepal will be happy to advise you on what is available at the time you want to come and within your budget and fitness level. But do your homework first! It's better you know in advance roughly what you want. You will know yourself whether you want to trek into the lush and ever-changing landscape of the Annapurnas then take an Everest flight so see the tallest mountain in the world or whether you want to see it more closely from the so-called Everest View Point at Kala Patthar while on the Everest Base Camp Trek. Or perhaps you are a budding mountaineer and want to try your hand at peak climbing on a trekking peak such as Island Peak. And who knows, maybe scale Everest itself on your next trip.