In three days, travelers can see the highlights of Kathmandu and come away with an appreciation of the rich cultural heritage of this ancient city. But many believe that the real Nepal lies outside the busy, congested city, in the hills, mountains, rivers and lush farmland, forests and jungles.
To experience these natural attractions, a one week trip will enable you to go on a short trek, river trip, or visit some small towns near Kathmandu. Two weeks will allow for a longer trek, a trip to a national park for wildlife spotting, or a mixed cultural and nature tour. To really experience the best of Nepal, plan for three to four weeks; this is enough time to complete a serious trek, such as the remote and under-visited Makalu Base Camp or Arun Valley to Everest Base Camp trek, and have some extra time left to experience culture, jungle and other adventure activities such as rafting.
Here are some suggested itineraries, from three days to four weeks.
Nepal in 3 days
As Kathmandu is home to the only international airport in the country, it's best to stick to the capital city if you're on a very tight schedule. Nothing is too far apart in and around Kathmandu, geographically, but the traffic can be bad, so it's best not to try to pack too much into your days.
The Kathmandu Valley is so full of historical, architectural, and religious treasures that you don't need to leave to have a rich experience in Nepal. Spend first three days checking out the most famous sites of Kathmandu: the Kathmandu and Patan Durbar Squares, Swayambhunath Stupa, Pashupatinath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa.
If you wanted to go a little further afield and get some mountain views, follow this Kathmandu Valley 3 Day Tour, which includes Nagarkot, Bhaktapur, and Changu Narayan.
Nepal in 5-7 days
In up to a week, you have enough time to explore the highlights of the capital (as per the above suggestions), plus hop west to scenic Pokhara. You can follow this itinerary: spend the first two days in Kathmandu, then fly to Pokhara (making sure to get a seat on the right-hand side of the plane for mountain views). Relax at the Lakeside area of Pokhara and/or enjoy some more adrenaline-pumping pursuits in the next couple of days, such as paragliding, boating, and trekking. Fly back to Kathmandu and visit some more attractions that you didn't manage to fit in the first couple of days.
There's even enough time for a short trek near Pokhara if you have a week. The 3-5 day Poon Hill-Ghorepani trek in the Annapurna region is one of the most popular short treks in Nepal, as it offers a small slice of the longer Annapurna Circuit in much less time. It's easily accessible from Pokhara.
Alternatively, if going on safari sounds more appealing, then travel from Kathmandu to Chitwan National Park, about six hours' drive away (or a 20 minute flight to Bharatpur). While the town of Sauraha is the most common base, it is quite busy. For a more peaceful stay, head to the little village of Barauli instead. There are both high and lower-end accommodation options (in the form of the Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge and the Barauli Community Homestay, respectively). Spend a couple of days viewing animals in the national park and cycling round the flat farmland area. You're practically guaranteed to see multiple one-horned rhinoceros in the park, as well as all kinds of bird life and gharial crocodiles.
For detailed itinerary suggestions, check out 5 Days in Nepal: 5 Great Itineraries, including a short trek or white-water rafting.
Nepal in 10 days
In ten days you can enjoy a combination of the above, as well as a trek near Kathmandu or Pokhara. Instead of the popular Poon Hill trek near Pokhara, check out the Khopra Danda trek instead. This 6-day trek is in the same region but extends into a less visited side-valley. Sunrise over the Annapurna Himalayas from the lookout is an unforgettable Nepal experience.
For a short trek in the vicinity of Kathmandu, try the 5-day Kalinchowk Temple trek. This camping trek leads up to a temple on a hill covered in little tridents, representing the god that's worshipped there. Panoramic views of Langtang Himal, Ganesh Himal, and Gauri Shankar can be seen. For some extra adventure, this trek can be combined with white-water rafting on the nearby Bhote Kosi River.
If you'd rather spend a bit more time trekking during your 10 days, head to Langtang. The eight-day Langtang Valley trek has long been popular due to its expansive views, interesting Tamang culture, relatively gentle pace and accessibility from Kathmandu. The 2015 earthquake and subsequent landslide had an enormous effect on the region, but aid and reconstruction have recently reopened this valley to trekking again. Not only is it still a beautiful trek, your visit will also provide vital support for local livelihoods.
With 10 days a visit to the Everest Region becomes feasible as well. While you won't be able to trek all the way to Base Camp, there are great options for 5 - 7 days of trekking. To see other trekking options that fit your trip duration, take a look at our list of recommended short treks.
Nepal in 2 weeks
With two weeks, you can really get a sense of Nepal's diversity. After checking out Kathmandu and Pokhara, head down to the Chitwan National Park for some wildlife spotting. This classic 12-day itinerary ticks of the main highlights. Alternatively, make the trip to the lesser-frequented Bardia National Park, in the far west of the country, which is best reached by air if you are on a tight itinerary. Tiger sightings are common here, and the feel of the park is much more rugged than Chitwan.
If you're feeling adventurous, two weeks is enough time to add some white-water rafting or kayak lessons to your trip. Day trips are possible on the Bhote Kosi and Trisuli Rivers, or camp out on Nepal's surprising beaches on a three-day Seti River trip, or a four-day Kali Gandaki River trip.
Two weeks is also enough time for a serious trek. While you won't be able to trek all the way to Everest Base Camp, you can get a good sample of the Everest region in seven to 10 days. For a more remote trekking option, try the challenging nine-day Nar Phu Valley trek with its Tibetan culture and landscapes, or an 11-day Dhorpatan trek, in the shadow of Mt Dhaulagiri.
For more detailed ideas, check out the our overview of two-week Nepal itineraries.
Nepal in 3 weeks
In three weeks, you can combine any of the above-mentioned cultural and adventure activities with a mid-length trek.
Some excellent treks within easy reach of Kathmandu are the Langtang Valley trek (moderate), the Tamang Heritage Trail (moderate), and the Gosainkunda trek (challenging), all in the same region north-east of the capital.
If you want to go somewhere more remote, in three weeks there's time to make it to Upper Mustang (if your budget will allow--the permits are expensive, at US$500 for 10 days). This area is remote, being in the rainshadow of the Himalayas, and far-removed from mainstream Nepali life, making trekking here all the more rewarding. Upper Dolpo is also culturally and geographically similar to Mustang--with its Tibetan culture and dry landscape--and is even less visited. Ideally, eight to 20 days is required for trips to Upper Dolpo.
Nepal in more than 4 weeks
Four weeks is an ideal amount of time to get into the real wilderness and explore some lesser-known parts of Nepal. This amount of time also means you can take a few days either side of your trek to chill out in Kathmandu or Pokhara, rest your body, and enjoy the culture and big-city attractions.
Rather than sticking to the well-trodden trekking routes, you could embark on the 23-day Arun Valley to Everest Base Camp trek, which provides superb views of Everest and Makalu. Or, undertake the remote, 21-day Makalu Base Camp trek, with quiet trails and stunning forests, wildlife and rural culture.
If you want a real challenge, you can attempt one of Nepal's trekking peaks, such as Mera Peak, the highest trekking peak in Nepal. A trekking peak is defined as one that you don't need any specialist mountaineering equipment to scale, although this doesn't mean the endeavor should be taken lightly. If you've already hiked the hills of Nepal, this might be the next big challenge.
Wherever you decide to go, give yourself a few days in Kathmandu or Pokhara either side of your trek, to rest your body and enjoy some cultural and big-city attractions.
Road travel in Nepal is slow, as roads are either through hills and mountains or in poor condition--and usually both. Not all points of interest or trailheads have a nearby airport, but it will always save time to fly where possible.
Be aware though that most airports in Nepal are small airstrips, and flights are often delayed or canceled when the weather is bad. Don't pack your schedule too tightly or you might miss an important international flight.
Here's a list of useful city/town airports to remember.
- Lukla, for the Everest region
- Bharatpur, for Chitwan National Park
- Nepalgunj, for Bardia National Park
- Jomsom, for Mustang
- Juphal, for Dolpo
- Tumlingtar, east of Everest