Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, is one of Nepal's most famous attractions. But it's not easily accessible, as some travelers learn the hard way. In short, there's no paved vehicular road leading there (as there is on the other side, in Tibet). By land, you can only reach it by trekking several days from Lukla—a town that you'd likely reach by plane from Kathmandu.
There's an alternative for travelers who want to see Everest but can't (or won't) trek all the way there. Consider taking a scenic flight to get as close to the mountain as you can, taking in breathtaking views from the comfort of a plane or helicopter. These trips are usually much cheaper and quicker than hiking, and of course, they require considerably less effort than trekking to Everest Base Camp.
Read on to find out what you need to know about scenic Everest flights from Kathmandu. And while you're in the capital city, make sure to check out these tips for where to stay, what to do, where to eat, and where to shop.
Difference Between Plane & Helicopter Flights
|Price||$140-200 USD||Approx. $1000 USD|
|Duration||1 hour||Half day|
|What's included||Cockpit visit, glass of champagne, certificate||Breakfast stop, short photo stop at Kala Patthar, refueling stop at Lukla|
Keep in mind: Flight prices often change without prior notice according to the current cost of fuel in Nepal.
Mount Everest by Plane
The most affordable and common type of scenic flight to Everest is on an airplane. These planes are small, seating 15-20 passengers, and they depart at 6:30 in the morning. The entire journey takes about an hour. Everyone gets a window seat, so everybody on board gets to face optimal mountain views, either on the flight out or the flight back. Some companies make the excursion extra festive, serving sparkling wine onboard and offering souvenir certificates at the end. You might also get a chance to visit the cockpit, where you can greet the pilots and enjoy views from the front of the plane.
There are a few downsides. Flights are frequently canceled when the weather is bad, so be aware that you may wake up early and get to the airport only to discover that you'll need to reschedule or request a refund. Also, airplane flights don't actually get that close to Everest itself, which is partly a safety issue. But if the weather is good, you'll see Everest clearly in the mid-distance as you approach the mountainous region from the southwest.
Scenic airplane flights cost between $140 and $200 per person, depending on where you book (it's possible to purchase tickets directly through the airline or through a guide or travel agent), which airline you choose, how far in advance you book, and the season. Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines make the trip, and while there are a few minor differences between the airlines, they offer a very similar scenic flight experience.
Take a look at this article if you're up for trying a short trek in the Everest region.
Mount Everest by Helicopter
Scenic helicopter flights offer an experience that's quite different from that of a plane flight: as you approach the mountains, the connection with the landscape feels much more intimate. Instead of soaring over it, you'll be propelled right through it.
Helicopter flights are restricted to a smaller number of passengers. Most helicopters seat four to five passengers, and the trips usually last a whole morning. Flights actually include a stop near Everest, at Kala Patthar (18,192 feet), for once-in-a-lifetime photo ops. You can't stop for long, however, because the rapid increase in altitude from Kathmandu (4,593 feet) to Kala Patthar could be dangerous if you linger. A breakfast stop at Syangboche (12,303 feet) is usually included, as is a refueling stop at Lukla.
Most travelers find a helicopter flight much more spectacular and rewarding than an airplane flight. Of course, there's a price tag to match. The cost of helicopter flights varies depending on how many people are on the flight. Generally speaking, the cost of chartering a whole helicopter is around US$5,000—if you divide that between five people, you're looking at around $1000 each. Note that you can't buy tickets through the airlines that fly the helicopters: you'll have to go through a travel agency, as helicopters run on a charter basis.