Famous for its sky-skimming mountains and tough trekking, Nepal isn’t usually the first name that comes to mind when it comes to planning vacations with the kids; however, active families will find an awful lot to love about this this mystical country! Aside from some of the best hiking opportunities on the planet (with options for every level–nobody’s suggesting that families in Nepal should be scaling Everest), visitors can visit National Parks where big cats prowl, see perfectly-preserved ancient kingdoms, marvel at magnificent temples, and camp out at hilltop lodges with views to thrill even the most cynical of older kids and teens.
Our 30-day Nepal Itinerary takes in the best natural attractions and outdoor experiences that a family trip to Nepal can offer, while also taking in the big cities and leaving time to enjoy the experience. Families coming to Nepal should be aware that the best-laid travel plans often go awry, so it pays to be flexible with timings in order to avoid soaring stress levels.
? Box out: Plan for Weather
The weather can have a big impact on your family trip to Nepal. The best trekking conditions are found from September-December and March-May: think clear skies, cool nights, and warm days. From December through February nights are cold, especially at altitude, and summertime offers heavy rainfall and limited visibility. Strong sunscreen is a must at any time of year, especially for young children.
Days 1-7: Kathmandu and Surrounding Area
Kids on a trip to Kathmandu tend to take great delight in the fact that cows have right of way here, and cattle stroll at a leisurely pace through this hot and hectic city. Take a day or so to recover from the flight and just adapt to the way of life here, riding rickshaws, goggling at the ornate temples and generally soaking up the fascinating street scene.
? Tip: It’s not uncommon for tummy trouble to impact on a family visit to Nepal. Use hand sanitizers, wipe little hands carefully, and use straws rather than drinking directly from cans. Street food can be a large part of the fun, but exercise caution and, if in doubt, seek recommendations from fellow travelers and/or hotel or hostel staff about places (or foods) to avoid.
Nature-loving families in Kathmandu should be sure to visit Swayambhunath (better known as Monkey Temple), a magnificent temple sitting pretty on a hilltop where the fresh air is welcome contrast to the pollution of the city. The biggest attraction for kids are the holy monkeys that keep watch over the entrance, giving the temple its nickname. Next, visit the Hindu temple Pashupatinath, with its robed, dreadlocked and painted saddhus (holy men) flanking temple courtyards. Families should also check out the ancient city of Bhaktapur, a 40-minute drive from the city center (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Bhaktapur hosts its own resident Kumari, a child who assumes the role of Living Goddess (there’s also a Kumari in Durbar Square in Kathmandu). Rattling through the streets of Kathmandu on a rickshaw is a fun introduction to Nepal, and the surrounding Kathmandu Valley is strewn with temples and a good place for short treks (ranging from half a day to several days), and family accommodation in Kathmandu is both plentiful and affordable.
? Tip: It’s perhaps the ultimate hack for families hiking in Nepal: “baby porters” will carry young children and babies in wicker baskets, allowing parents to keep their hands free and stride on with confidence. Intrepid families can bed down in stone lodges, which are found along most established trekking routes. It makes sense to limit the duration of these treks to a day or so, though, as all but the most patient of small children will soon want to stretch their own legs.
Day 8-14: Sagarmatha National Park
It’s remote, but for the maximum bragging rights, your family trip to Nepal needs to include a stay at Sagarmatha National Park, home to the most famous mountain in the world: Mount Everest. Officially the highest national park in the world, most of the terrain is more than 3,000 meters above sea level. At around 135 kilometers from Kathmandu, the best way for families to arrive is by organized excursion. Prices from around $50 USD include transport only, and expect to pay more for accommodation, food and activities. Accommodations range from mountain lodges and rustic campsites to slightly more luxurious options, and there are even family-oriented treks up to the legendary Everest Base Camp. Of course, it’s vital to research any trekking companies in advance, and make sure it’s not too taxing a trek for your little ones. Visits here are ideally suited to families with some solid hiking experience, but just admiring the snowcapped peaks (along with Everest, many others rise more than 6,000 meters above sea level) and walking through the gorges and silver fir forests is an unforgettable experience. In the spring, the lower-lying areas of the park are a riot of color as rhododendrons and other wildflowers bloom in abundance.
? Box out: Animal Inhabitants
Bring powerful binoculars. Eagle-eyed visitors to the park may spot resident animals such as the Himalayan tahr, serow, wolves, and even Himalayan black bears. Harder to spot are the rare snow leopard, red panda and crimson-horned pheasants.
Day 15-21 Pokhara and Annapurna Hiking (Via Kathmandu)
Via a return visit to Kathmandu, board the tourist bus (more comfortable, and a lot faster, than the local mini-buses, and an inexpensive option at around $7 USD) for Pokhara, Nepal’s second biggest city. Framed by jaw-dropping views of the Annapurna Range (a stretch of the Himalayas), the city is famous for the vast lake at its centre, and the city soon gives way to wild nature. Outdoorsy activities for families in Pokhara include boating, horse riding, trekking and – for those with a head for heights – paragliding. The most obvious outdoor attraction in Pokhara, however, is trekking around the magnificent surrounding countryside and drinking in the fresh air and the views. A good short hike is up to the Shanti stupa (temple) above the town, and reached by a boat across the lake followed by a wooded walk. More challenging is the route up to Sarangkot lookout point (this is where daredevil paragliders set off from, for birds eye views of city and mountains).
After spending a couple of days enjoying this low-key town and its family-friendly attractions, set out to explore the mountains. The Annapurna Circuit, and many more hiking opportunities, spread out from here, and offer ample opportunity to spend quality family time in the hills. Some treks are more challenging than others, and all involve (naturally) some hills, but it’s a richly-rewarding experience.
Older children and teens with some hiking experience (younger kids can be carried by porters) may relish the challenge of the 40-mile Poon Hill hike, which is spread out over several days and takes in peaks such as Annapurna I (over 26,000 ft/7,200m), and the enormous ‘holy mountain’ of Machhapuchhre, otherwise known as Fish Tail, which dominates the skyline.
Day 22-24 Kurintar
Regular buses make the 2-3 hour drive to Kurintar, a pretty riverside town famed for its white water rafting and its cable cars. Older children, teens and adults can spend a day enjoying some white knuckle thrills on the Trisuli River (instructors are on hand to show newbies the ropes). A couple of good accommodations here include a famous spa resort, with kid-pleasing playground, and the dizzying 20-minute cable car ride up to the Manakamana Temple (cable car fare approx $7) offers breathtaking birds’ eye views without taxing little legs. With the mountain views, fresh momos (Nepalese dumplings) and river fun, families in Kurintar may well want to linger here a few days.
Day 25-29 Chitwan
Prepare for some serious kiddie kudos as you head to one of Nepal’s biggest natural attractions – Chitwan National Park – a vast forested wetland whose inhabitants include tigers, rhinos, and crocodiles. Accommodation options here include eco lodges, safari camps or simple homestays – visitors to Chitwan with kids can pick their desired price range, and comfort level. The best way to reach here is by private transfer or bus – it’s a drive of around one hour, expect to pay around $10 USD for a private car ride.
A trip to Chitwan will likely be a highpoint of any nature-based family trip to Nepal, and visitors should set aside the best part of a week to make the most of it. Visitors can take self-guided treks, but given the wild beasties that live here, and not to mention the possibility of getting lost, it’s advisable to go with a guide (individual or group).
Active families in Chitwan can enjoy thrilling activities such as early morning riverboat rides and kayaking through jungle wetlands (keep little fingers inside the canoes – snapping crocodiles live here!), and can also take part in jeep safaris, keeping eyes peeled for the resident rhinos and elusive Bengal tigers. Birdwatching is another highlight of a trip to Chitwan National Park – make it fun for kids by making a list of the colorful birds that live here, and seeing who can tick the most off the list.
? Tip: Ethical Elephant Excursions
For ethical reasons, many visitors to Chitwan will choose to avoid the elephant back rides that are still easily available at the park. A more ethically-sound alternative is to arrange a stay at one of the cruelty-free camps such as TigerTops, where guests can stay as an honorary member of the chain-free elephant pack, helping with feeding and washing and taking strolls alongside the magnificent animals.
Day 30: Kathmandu
Tourist buses make the 5-7 hour ride back to Kathmandu (prepare for some hair-raisingly high and narrow passes as well as some breathtaking views. Once back in the big city, you might want to overnight (and sink a couple of nerve-saving drinks) before boarding your plane back home.