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Backpacking Kathmandu has always been popular as Nepal is often considered one of the cheapest countries in the world for backpacking.
There’s no better time to visit the Nepalese capital than now as the rise of backpackers post-pandemic means there are even more hostels and backpacking networks in Kathmandu.
But it can be pretty hard to plan a backpacking trip to Kathmandu. It is popular, sure, but it is nowhere near as popular as backpacking in Bangkok, for example.
Luckily for you, I am a full-time backpacker and I have created the perfect guide to backpacking Kathmandu with everything you could possibly need to know.
So let’s jump right into it!
Why you should backpack Kathmandu
If you are reading this blog post, the chances are pretty high that you are already considering backpacking Kathmandu. But in case you need some solid reasons to push you over the edge, here are 5 of the main reasons people choose to head to the city on a budget.
- Culture: Kathmandu is jam-packed with culture. The ancient palaces and temples combined with the festivals throughout the year, there are few places as culturally rich as Katmandu. And as a backpacker you are seeking to experience new cultures, right?
- It’s cheap: Backpacking is all about travelling on a budget and it’s super easy to do this in Kathmandu. There are loads of budget options for accommodation (not just hostels!) and the street food in Kathmandu is really cheap. This brings me to the third reason…
- The food is delicious: Although Nepal isn’t particularly renowned worldwide for its cuisine, it should be. The food throughout the country and in Kathmandu is so good that my mouth is watering now just thinking about it. And as I said, it’s cheap AF.
- Backpacking Network: As a backpacker, it’s nice to go off the beaten track but equally, it’s nice to be part of a backpacking network too and Kathmandu has that. There are bars aimed at backpackers, hostels obviously and other communities throughout the city.
- There are opportunities to get adventurous: If you are anything like me, and most other backpackers, you jump at the opportunity to get adventurous. Just think of the tubes in Vang Vieng for example. There are lots of activities in and around Katmandu to do!
Of course, there are more reasons than this…it would be impossible to list them all. Hopefully, you can pick up more reasons as we continue on with this backpacking Kathmandu guide.
Is backpacking Kathmandu safe?
Kathmandu is considered one of the safest cities in Nepal and this is only aided by the backpacking network I keep mentioning. You are never on your own and there’s always a backpacker not too far away. Strength in numbers as they say, right?
By the way, some people think Nepal is in India and then create a prejudice it’s unsafe. This is wrong in both senses. Nepal is not in India, and it’s wrong to have a prejudice like this.
There have been stories of men assaulting female visitors in Kathmandu so if you are a female backpacker, you may have to take extra precautions, particularly at night time. It’s sad that we live in a world where this is the case, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. There have been reports of drink spiking in the past too.
But don’t worry, these cases are rare and can happen anywhere in the world (unfortunately) so do not be put off about coming to Katmandu. It is safe to visit and it’s even safer if you are a backpacker part of the backpacking network.
How much does backpacking Kathmandu cost?
Backpacking Kathmandu is super super easy. It’s actually cheaper than most of the countries that make up the popular Banana Pancake Trail, which people often think is as cheap as it gets, but this isn’t the case.
You could quite easily get by on $15 USD a day backpacking in Kathmandu. Here’s a rough breakdown of a typical shoestring backpacker’s budget in Kathmandu.
As you can see, it’s extremely cheap. It’s worth noting that haggling is a big part of keeping your budget down. I hate to be that person to encourage people to haggle over $0.25, it’s up to you on that front, but someone trying to charge you $5 for a $2 meal isn’t on. Those margins quickly add up.
And as always with a backpacking budget, it’s completely down to you. My budget may be different from someone else’s, and it may be different to yours. You can definitely spend $10 or less per day in Kathmandu, but you can equally spend $50. It’s up to you of course.
When to backpack Kathamandu
In my opinion, there’s never a bad time to visit anywhere in the world. But there is a best time. Does that make sense? For example, backpacking Thailand in the rainy season isn’t going to be bad, but it’s just not going to be as popular as the dry season.
When it comes to Kathmandu, you will get a good experience no matter when you visit. That being said, the best and most popular months are in the second half of the year. Between September and December is the best time to backpack Kathmandu.
Visiting in this timeframe means you will get good weather, warm temperatures and a plethora of cultural celebrations and festivals. But this also means it is the most crowded time of the year in terms of tourism. If you want to beat the crowds (and get cheaper accommodation), visit outside these months. As I said…no bad time to visit!
How long to stay in Kathmandu
There is no one-size fits all answer to this question. It depends on how quickly you like to travel. You may be on a non-stop backpacking trip for 2 weeks where you can only afford to spend one night in Kathmandu, or you may have a 9-month trip and you can spend 2 weeks in Kathmandu. It completely depends on you as an individual.
But generally speaking, most people will stay in Kathmandu for around 3 days, give or take a day either side.
Staying for 3 days allows you to get a good taste of Kathmandu and what it has to offer. It’s a huge city so you won’t cover everything (that would take forever!) but 3 days is plenty of time to see the backpacking must-sees.
Where to stay in Kathmandu
Backpacking Kathmandu is really easy and there is an extensive amount of hostels for you to choose from. I’ll give my recommendation in a minute, but first I have a top tip and I cannot emphasise it enough. Do not stay in the Thamel.
It’s a neighbourhood/district/suburb of Kathmandu and it has become so touristy that the prices are ridiculous. You’re paying Western European prices here, it’s nuts. The food is so overpriced too. So wherever you decide to stay, make sure it isn’t in the Thamel.
My personal suggestion for a hostel for backpacking Kathmandu is the WanderThirst Hostels which offers hostel beds for as low as $4. And it’s a really good hostel for meeting people too!
It’s also clean, in a good location, and the staff are really friendly. One of the best backpacking hacks is to ask the hostel staff for recommendations. 99% of the time they are more than happy to help.
So if you’re looking for a hostel, check out WanderThirst Hostels to make the most of your backpacking experience in the city.
How to get around Kathmandu
I’ll start by saying I would not recommend hiring a car or a bike in Kathmandu. The traffic is absolutely insane, and you need to be an extremely good driver to just make it out of the rental company’s property. Not to mention the roads are dirty and worse for wear.
Most of the most popular backpacking attractions in Kathmandu are pretty close together, meaning that walking is one of the best ways to get around the city.
When the distance is a little further, your best bet is to get a taxi or a rickshaw. If you haven’t been on one before, a rickshaw is similar to a tuk-tuk. Sometimes it’s a bicycle and sometimes it’s an engine.
As I said earlier, haggle, and also make sure the price is agreed before the journey begins. You don’t want to get scammed.
I wouldn’t recommend using the buses or the public transport system. I would sum it up as “meh”. It gets you from A to B but it’s really unreliable and busy.
Taxis and rickshaws aren’t expensive at all. You could go from the furthest end of Kathmandu to the opposite end for about $10 and the city is 50 square kilometres big.
So your three main ways to get around while backpacking in Kathmandu are walking, taxis and rickshaws.
Things to Do in Kathmandu
Of course, when backpacking Kathmandu, you need to know what there is to Kathman-do. Can you tell why I’m a blogger and not a comedian? But anyway, here are some of the best things you can do during your time in Kathmandu. These first 5 all cost money, but it’s not much at all.
1) See the Buddha Stupa: There’s a lot of names for the Buddha Stupa and some others you may hear include Boudhanath, Khasti Chaitya and Khāsa Chaitya, but they all refer to the stunning stupa in Kathmandu. It towers high over the city and is a must-see and must-visit, as you will be welcomed in even if you are not Buddhist. The entry fee is 400 NPR ($3.04).
2) Take a cable car ride: It’s a little bit outside the centre of the city, but taking a cable car ride through the Chandragiri Hills is the best panoramic view you can get without taking an Everest Base Camp helicopter tour. It costs $10 or so but it’s more than worth it. The views are incredible. You can see Kathmandu Valley and the Himalayas at the same time.
3) Visit the Monkey Temple: The Monkey Temple is probably the most iconic landmark in Kathmandu so anyone backpacking there simply needs to see the temples. You’ll understand where the name comes from as soon as you get there. There’s a small fee of $2 to get into the temple complex, but it’s so worth it. And not forgetting the birdseye view of Kathmandu.
4) Relax in the Garden of Dreams: If you’re wondering whether the Garden of Dreams lives up to its name, it unquestionably does. It’s an impressive combination of greenery and architecture that creates a garden straight out of, well, a dream. There are so many spots to relax and unwind, and for only $3 you can spend as long as you like in the dreamland.
5) Explore Kathmandu Durbar Square: There are 3 Durbar Squares in Kathmandu. The first of them is appropriately named Kathmandu Durbar Square. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and for good reason. Every corner of the square is beautiful, the buildings are so pretty they same fake. It costs about $7-8 to get in, but it’s more than worth it.
Free Things to Do in Kathmandu
But as a backpacker, you don’t want to splash the cash on every activity. You want to do some free things from time to time, and luckily there are plenty of options in Kathmandu. So here are some of the best free things you can do to help keep your budget down while still allowing you to get a feel of the city.
6) Head to Ason Bazar: Street markets are a huge thing all throughout Asia but one of the best of the lot is in Kathmandu, the Ason Bazar. You can find literally anything here, but simply experiencing the market is something to do in itself. It takes the saying “like a sardine in a can” to a whole new level. It’s insane, but fun too!
7) Walk along the Bagmati River: The Bagmati River flows through the Kathmandu Valley and through the heart of the city. It’s a gorgeous river and there are lots of really nice walks along the river in the city and outskirts. There are also lots of places to sit down and enjoy the calmness of the river.
8) Basantapur Durbar Square: As I said earlier, there are 3 Durbar Squares in Kathmandu and the second of them is Basantapur. It’s free to explore. Unfortunately, a lot of the buildings were destroyed in the earthquake that devastated Kathmandu and beyond in 2015. But it’s still really cool to see and soak in the history and culture of the square.
9) Patan Durbar Square: Completing the trio of the Durbar Squares is the Patan Durbar Square. All 3 are UNESCO Sites and all 3 are mesmerising to see. You can’t skip any of them, you need to see all 3. They’re all full of temples and shrines and it’s such a privilege to be able to see the squares.
10) See Pashupatinath Temple: Lastly, it wouldn’t be a trip to Kathmandu without seeing Pashupatinath Temple. Note that you can’t go inside the temple unless you are Hindu. And don’t be an idiot and try and go in anyway, they check IDs to make sure you have a Hindu surname. Respect the culture and admire the temple from the surrounding area.
Backpacking Kathmandu: Top Tips
Before backpacking Kathmandu, there are some things that are worth knowing before you set out for your trip. These top tips can help your trip go smoother and help you save a bit of extra money from your budget. Here are 7 top tips I’ve come up with for visiting the city on a budget.
✅ Haggle: As I said earlier in the article, haggling is a part of the culture in Asia. Especially for tourists. You are immediately going to be charged 3-4x the price just because you aren’t Nepali. I don’t encourage haggling for the sake of a dime, but for the sake of $5, I strongly encourage it. Don’t let people take advantage of you just because you are a tourist.
✅ Eat street food: The street food in Kathmandu is delicious, and contrary to rumours, you aren’t guaranteed to get food poisoning by eating street food in Asia. You literally watch the food being cooked in front of your eyes! It’s so much cheaper than restaurants and it’s usually more authentic too, in terms of cuisine.
✅ Take a free walking tour: One of the best things to do as a backpacker when you visit a city for the first time is to take a free walking tour. It’s important to know you are expected to tip your guide at the end of the tour, but it’s much less than the price of a tour. For example, a $5-10 tip for a tour that could normally cost $50 isn’t bad at all. This leads onto…
✅ Learn the tipping culture: The tipping culture in Nepal and Kathmandu is different to the US, Canada and other countries where tipping is compulsory. This isn’t the case in Nepal. Tipping is not expected (except for tour guides, tip your tour guides), but that’s not to say don’t round up your rickshaw to the nearest dollar or exceptional service doesn’t deserves it.
✅ Bring a mask: No- not for COVID. For the air pollution. The roads in Kathmandu are extremely dirty and dusty and it makes the air really polluted and it can be hard to breathe sometimes. You don’t want to breathe in all the dust from the roads, earthquake reconstruction and a large number of factories, so make sure you have a mask with you.
✅ Expect delays: I have no idea why this is the case or how it came about being a “thing” but for some reason, Nepalis are so laid back about times that being at least an hour late is normal. This applies to pretty much everything. Not that it would affect you (hopefully) but hospital appointments, etc., everything. That’s one reason public transport is so bad there.
✅ Learn how to cross the road: The traffic and driving in Kathmandu are mental, there are no rules or laws, and it’s a complete free-for-all. Crossing the road for the first time can be quite a daunting crossing, but once you do it once or twice you’ll get used to it. But just a heads up that you might find it scary at first.
Backpacking Kathmandu: FAQ
Below are some questions related to backpacking Kathmandu along with my answers.
Backpacking in Nepal is extremely cheap. For example, most backpackers probably spend around $15 USD a day in Kathmandu. That’s only $450 a month, and it’s possible to get by on even less than that. It’s super easy to backpack in Nepal on a shoestring budget.
There are lots of places to backpack in Nepal. The most popular places are Kathmandu, the capital, Bhaktapur, Pokhara and Bandipur. Of course, there are many more places to explore than this, and going off the beaten trail is one of the best things you can do as a backpacker.
Most people spend around 3 or so days in Kathmandu. This gives you enough time to get a feel of the city and see the most popular sights and attractions while leaving enough time to explore the city for yourself.
Nepal is really cheap. Backpacking in Kathmandu only costs, on average, $15 per day, which is so so cheap, even for budget travellers. You can have an unforgettable trip to Nepal for next to nothing (relatively speaking of course) so it’s definitely a cheap country to visit.
Backpacking Kathmandu: Conclusion
And there you have it, a complete guide to backpacking in Kathmandu.
Visiting Kathmandu is an extraordinary experience and one that most people will only get to experience once.
So make the most of your time in the city! Hopefully, this guide will have helped you have a smooth time and make it easy for you to plan your trip.
Enjoy your time backpacking Kathmandu. You’ll have a blast!