Why Nepal is the world’s best destination for solo trekking

So the government of Nepal has u-turned on a decision made earlier this year to ban solo trekking in the country. It’s a victory for common sense. Nepal is currently the best place in the world for solo trekking, and to ban it would have been a bit like the Jamaican Olympic team forgetting to register their athletes for the 100 metres.

The solo trekking ban has been widely reported in the last month by both the mainstream media and the adventure travel community, and was expected to come into effect in time for the start of the autumn trekking season. There’s been no official explanation of why the ban has been put on hold, but it was announced on the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) website earlier this week.

The mountains of Nepal are a fantastic place for solo trekking
The mountains of Nepal are a fantastic place for solo trekking

Why did Nepal want to ban solo trekking?

The ban was supposedly intended for security reasons after the decapitated remains of a female Belgian trekker were found in the Langtang region in June. This followed a number of other incidents involving solo trekkers in the area.

But leaving aside arguments that a solo trekking ban punishes the victims rather than targets the criminals, not everyone thinks security was the only consideration behind the decision. TAAN represents trekking agencies who provide porters, guides and logistics to trekkers. The biggest cash cow for agencies are organised trekking groups with many clients, and some independent travel bloggers have suggested the government may have been under pressure from organisations such as TAAN to implement a solo trekking ban in the misguided belief that it would encourage solo trekkers to hire guides or sign up for group treks instead.

A ban on solo trekking would certainly have been bad for Nepal’s tourism industry. The country has some of the best infrastructure for solo trekking anywhere in the world, and undeniably the loveliest scenery. It’s the home of tea house trekking, a phenomenon that doesn’t seem to exist in any other country containing one of the world’s greater mountain ranges.

Some of my best memories of trekking in Nepal are the tea houses I've stayed in
Some of my best memories of trekking in Nepal are the tea houses I’ve stayed in

What is tea house trekking?

Three of Nepal’s trekking areas – the Annapurnas, the Khumbu (or Everest region), and Langtang – are well-developed with tea houses (or lodges) at regular intervals along the trail providing accommodation and hot meals. Tea houses are not hotels, and their facilities can be quite rudimentary, but although prices have increased a lot in recent years, they are still extremely cheap by western standards. Most rooms are little more than a mattress on a bed, and trekkers need to bring a sleeping bag. Walls are usually made of timber and paper-thin so that you must keep your fingers crossed the couple next door are not too amorous. Shared toilets are usually squat-style, and often just a hole in the ground in the Khumbu region. Hot water for showers is usually an optional extra, and the shower ends when the bucket of hot water runs out, but increasingly lodges are now providing rooms with en suite facilities. As long as you don’t expect gourmet cuisine, hot meals can be tasty, with dal bhat (rice and lentils), chow mein (noodles) and momos (meat or vegetable filled dumplings) the staples, but yak or chicken sizzlers with French fries common enough. Depending on your comfort requirements, it’s still possible to travel for as little as $10 a day. In fact, some of my best memories of trekking in Nepal are the tea houses I’ve stayed in.

Route finding on the popular trails such as the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp Trek is quite straightforward. As long as you’re happy to carry a few extra kilos, there’s really no need to hire a guide or porter, and the easy availability of food and accommodation means the complex logistics involved in carrying kitchen and sleeping tents and enough food for your trek isn’t required. I trekked the Annapurna Circuit this way myself in 2006 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although this wasn’t a solo trek (and presumably therefore wouldn’t have been affected by the ban) as I was travelling friends, I did explore a bit of the Khumbu in this way on my own in 2009.

If you want to get off the beaten track where food and accommodation isn't available then it's necessary to hire porters for a camping trek
If you want to get off the beaten track where food and accommodation isn’t available then it’s necessary to hire porters for a camping trek

Why solo trekking benefits Nepal’s economy

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking Nepal’s economy doesn’t benefit much from solo trekkers, but this would be wrong. Solo trekkers spend money in tea houses, and tea house owners provide work for porters because supplies still need to be brought in on foot. Although fledgling tea house accommodation is starting to appear in new trekking areas such as the Tamang Heritage Trail and the Manaslu Circuit, tea house trekking is still mainly confined to the more developed areas. If trekkers want to get off the beaten track to the many beautiful trekking areas elsewhere in Nepal then they will need to hire the services of trekking agents. I’m sure many people who once started as solo tea house trekkers have taken this route. Conversely there are many solo trekkers (such as round-the-world backpackers) who are defined more by the “solo” than the “trekker”. The theory that such people will sign up for group treks is entirely false. If they can’t solo trek they will simply miss Nepal off their itineraries instead.

Nepal is the jewel in the world’s trekking crown. I join many people in rejoicing that common sense has prevailed here, and I hope the idea of a solo trekking ban is now dead and buried.

If this is a subject close to your heart then you may be interested in some of the other posts I’ve written about trekking in Nepal, including Is the Annapurna Circuit still a Must-See?, Is the Manaslu Circuit the new Annapurna Circuit? and 5 off-the-beaten path treks in Nepal.

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30 thoughts on “Why Nepal is the world’s best destination for solo trekking

  • September 14, 2012 at 7:35 pm
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    Hi Mark,

    I am enjoying reading through your website and yes this is a subject close to my heart! I think that the Nepalese governments decision to ban solo trekking is a little short sighted. I was in North Wales this summer and 3 hill walkers were missing there and I’m pretty sure we are not going to start forcing people to get guided up Snowdon. Unfortunately the mountains can be dangerous and although it can be dangerous for people to trek by themselves it should be a decision people get to make by themselves! It would also be very unfair on the highly experienced people that would have no problems walking solo on the main trekking routes in Nepal. The story of the Belgium lady Debbie Maveau is a pretty rare and bizarre instance and I can assure people that getting beheaded while trekking in Nepal is not something you should be worried about. I have spent many years of my life in Nepal and find the people there to be the friendliest on the planet. I genuinely feel more danger walking round the streets of Manchester and they haven’t banned walking solo round there yet. If anybody is interested I have written a blog trekking the Langtang, it may give you a nicer picture of the place. You can read it here http://www.lostearthadventures.co.uk/blog/langtang-helambu-trek/ It is one of my favorite places on earth and I hate seeing it getting such a bad reputation in the media. The media are a real pain in the neck sometimes, adding hype to get a headline.

    Trekking in the Himalayas is something everybody should experience at one stage in their life and I wouldn’t let a few horror stories put you off especially when there are a quarter of a million people a year heading into the Nepalese Himalaya.

    Happy Trekking,

    Richard Goodey

  • September 16, 2012 at 10:32 am
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    Hi Richard,

    An article in the Kathmandu Post last month shed a bit more light on the proposed solo trekking ban. Reading between the lines it sounds like TAAN had been lobbying the government to introduce a ban, but discussions were at a very early stage. The proposed ban was originally announced on the TAAN website, but it seems they did so prematurely and without the blessing of the government. After a backlash from the international tourist community the government were quick to quash the rumour by announcing there would be no such ban.

    The Kathmandu Post somewhat unhelpfully redirects links to its home page depending on what type of device you’re using to view their website, but hopefully one or other of these links will take you to the article:

    Desktop browsers: http://hoz.me.uk/PNFj3z
    Mobile devices: http://hoz.me.uk/PovPvg

    Regards,
    Mark.

  • November 4, 2012 at 7:50 pm
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    You’re absolutely right when you say those of us for whom ‘solo’ is important won’t bother with group treks.

    I can and will walk forever, like the Duracell bunny, but I do so pretty slowly. Consequently, with group treks I’m either hurried off my feet and have no chance to enjoy the views, or I do two hours and then that’s it, we’ve arrived (which for me is a waste of a good day’s trek). Even worse, I get a bit of both. Since I’ve done the Camino de Santiago (twice), Pennine Way, and about 15 other long distance paths alone, I’m not about to sign up to the group ethic. That’s the way I go. It’s just the way I am. So Nepal, if it did ban solo trekking, would get my custom for a couple of weeks max to see a few temples, and then I’d head down to India for a REAL holiday.

  • November 4, 2012 at 10:43 pm
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    Hi Andrea, yes there are a lot of you about, and I think TAAN would have had a shock if the government had pressed ahead with the ban. (Not sure I agree with you that an organised trek isn’t a real holiday though – I’ve seen some lovely parts of the world that way which I wouldn’t have seen otherwise 🙂 )

  • March 5, 2013 at 11:24 am
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    The Government Ban to solo trek cause of missing many trekkers. it is not save.anyway now government not ban any more.
    Nepal is one of the best destination for hiking treking. you will enjoy himalayan landscape, tallest mountain in the world,

  • March 8, 2013 at 7:16 am
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    Hello Mark

    I have read your article on a regular basis. Your humoristic style is witty, keep it up!

    Many thanks again for excellent article !!!!

  • March 27, 2013 at 4:06 pm
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    Thank you for really nice Article mark, Nepal is really nice and top destination for adventure trekking for solo travel. So please mark again share this type article and visit regularly.

  • May 16, 2013 at 12:42 pm
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    Nice article. It would be foolishness of government to ban solo trekking. Ya, sometimes the bad incidents occur, but comparatively to other countries (do not want to mention) those kind of incidents rarely occur in Nepal. Anyway, I hope everybody will not be coming Nepal for solo trekking. Otherwise, there will be little problem for us trekking companies. 😀 😀

  • September 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm
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    I found your article about solo trekking in Nepal interesting. I too write about this subject, but with an opposite take. TAAN is basically a merchants association with no power to pass laws, and their release of statements saying that a solo trekking ban was going to take effect in 2013 was pre-mature and misguided. There is certainly a problem with trekkers going missing that needs to be solved, because that too is very bad for tourism in Nepal. Maybe a solution would be to require people to trek together (at least 2 people per group), but not necessarily require trekkers to hire a guide or porter. So, you would have to list a trekking partner on your TIMS card, and that person should be with you when you show up at the check point. I, for one, can’t stand the thought of another person going missing out there. I give out as much free information as possible about Nepal (even though I own a trekking company) and I would never recommend someone trek alone, not in Nepal or anywhere else in the world. Be safe; take a friend along – Happy trekking! Nice blog. 🙂

  • September 23, 2013 at 10:41 pm
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    I would not be put off by a merchants ban, my friend is Nepalese and she is very nice as are all people in nepal, i have solo traveled for years, i am part of a hostel group in Britain and we have 4 million members and will not be saying “dont do Nepal” fair is fair .Ritualism does exist in certain societies as does the taking of a head (sorry) maybe one day pluralism and the peace of thought will go to them .

  • October 2, 2013 at 12:04 pm
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    Now Nepalese government open for solo treks

  • November 18, 2013 at 11:47 pm
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    I was in Nepal for first time in September 2013. It blow my mind. I definitively want to go back for more mountain hiking/trekking. This first time I went alone (with smartphone-gps with extra large non-standart battery) and absolutely loved trekking alone. It was great. Yes, some moments very a bit scary (like attack of leeches, but fortunately I did read about that before trip or moment when I fell some steps down on trail in rainy weather), but that not changed my mind traveling solo. Solo trekking means you can choose your own pace (all groups I saw passing by me were naturally “rushing”… i dont see any joy of doing that) or change your route as you see fit. I kept slow pace and took many photo along route. It was cool! I hope this stupid ban-thing will never be accepted. I do understand all solo-dangers (when I were trekking, I heard 1 young briton get lost… they posted his photo in checkpoints and sent search teams), but solo trekking has its cool beauty. I absolutely loved atmosphere in mountains in Nepal. It was very peaceful. Can’t wait to go there again! This time a bit more prepared (for example I made mistake – my backpack was very small this first time, only 25L) for longer trekking!

  • December 10, 2013 at 4:36 am
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    It is very important to understand the danger while doing solo trekking. I think the government is planning to ban solo trekking in Nepal because there has been lots of security risks and missing persons issues in the past. Make sure you learn latest updates with your travel agent before you travel to Nepal.

    Raj
    Managing Director
    Adventure Bound Nepal Pvt. Ltd
    http://www.adventureboundnepal.com

  • April 29, 2014 at 12:39 pm
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    Really awesome Article, Nepal is really awesome and top location for experience hiking for solo trekking.

  • May 19, 2014 at 7:48 pm
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    Hi Mark,

    I found your post very interesting and I would like to know what the status of solo/independent trekking is at the moment.

    I want to go trekking to Nepal this September with a friend but we want to explore the less-developed areas. We will be carrying our own equipment (tent, food, stove, etc) so we are not restricted to trails with lodges/teahouses on the way. Is this a popular form of trekking in Nepal? Are there any permits/registration formalities for this kind of trekking? Would you recommend any particular treks or areas of Nepal?

    thanks a lot,
    jed

  • June 10, 2014 at 12:32 am
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    Solo trekking is great….just don’t expect the entire country to come to a halt should your Western Butt go missing in their Eastern country. Say whatever you want about the beauty of the country or the beauty of the people but you can’t change the fact that this is one of the poorest countries in the world (even if you do fork up a few bucks for some hot water or eat a second plate of food at a Tea House). These people have far more to concern themselves with than the issues of some poor arrogant sod of a Westerner who could not fathom something happening to them as though they are some sort of master race in a land of Eastern Mystery.

  • June 10, 2014 at 3:42 am
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    to Duane: why so angry?

  • July 11, 2014 at 6:15 am
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    Thank you Mark for your nice article about solo trekking. I would like to see more of posting and pics.

  • July 14, 2014 at 9:04 am
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    I found your article about solo trekking in Nepal is interesting & professionally written. There are different types of risks while doing solo trekking and you should aware about the risk factors before deciding to go for solo trekking in Nepal. Prefer to trek with guides in Nepal.

  • July 14, 2014 at 9:22 am
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    The article you have written about solo trekking is great and interesting. Solo trekking is adventurous but risky too. Trekking without a guide is always risk when you do trekking in high altitude. Prefer trek with guide.

  • December 16, 2014 at 1:39 am
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    Hi Mark,

    It was great to ready through your post and appreciate your time and efforts to bring this topic here for discussion. It’s a very detailed analysis of solo traveller ban.

    I am a native of Nepal residing and running a adventure travel company in England. We sell large number of adventure holidays of which many of them are suitable for solo travellers.

    What annoys me is that, Nepal government announces the decision without thinking about it’s implication further down the line. I know, it’s government responsibility to protect trekkers safety and maintain security but there are number of ways which can be managed rather than just announcing a ban.

    I am delighted to see that, the ban was lifted as it would have a huge adverse impact in the Nepalese tourism industry.

    Once again, many thanks for contribution!

    Kind regards,

    Pramila Pokhrel

  • April 25, 2015 at 4:45 am
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    Hi,

    I did the EBC hike in October/November 2012, a few months after they banned solo treks. I did the trek on my own without any problems. I am going back to Nepal this October 2015 to do the Three Passes trek. Can you confirm that it is okay to do the route solo? I might have a friend join me but will make my plans even if he can’t make it.

    Thank you for the great site.

  • July 9, 2015 at 9:28 pm
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    This is not ordinary journey, work on so many levels your body and mind, i have always been interested in eastern religions and their perspective of life, and i am also great fan of trekking, i wish i could go take a Tour to Nepal if i had the money..something like this maybe http://www.goasianjourney.com/

  • August 13, 2015 at 7:42 am
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    I have read your article it is a nice. I am a tours and travel operator in Nepal. I would like to express my view through the blog, yes government can uplift the ban of solo trekkers, but there are many risks. Mainly the trekkers are missing in the Himalaya because of unknown route and lack of communication with locals. If the trekkers have guide and porters with him then the guide can make right decision safe the life and also high chance to rescue immediately in unexpected incidents.

    I would highly recommend you to take a guide/ porter, that can help you and the locals too.

  • August 13, 2015 at 8:29 am
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    These incidents are extremely rare, and the vast majority of people who trek without a guide in Nepal (including solo trekkers) do so without difficulty and come home with many happy memories. I would recommend you take a guide and porter too, for many reasons, but that’s not everybody’s style. If Nepal wants to attract tourists during this difficult time, it would do so more effectively by being flexible and offering them a choice.

  • October 20, 2015 at 12:27 pm
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    Hello thanks for writer of article I am very agree with you and I really support to your view of for solo trekking to Nepal and character of Nepal is adventure and trekking and solo trekking because there a so many high land in Nepal and between the flat of south and high mountains of north between those part Nepal has a many good destination and very beautiful view with 5 thousand mountains.
    But you can compare some hotels of round Annapurna and Everest with the refugee of France and Italy> which are more quality????? About price increase you can imagine that the situations of transportation in this area for example if you know about Everest what are the torsos why?
    But comparatively Annapurna and Lang tang Everest trek is less expensive. Because in Annapurna region transportation is more accessible than Everest and Annapurna also same but you know Nepal …. I wish you make travel to Nepal and save journey its good

  • December 28, 2015 at 8:08 am
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    For Nepal to even try this = retarded, they’ve lost my respect and many tourists because of this action…

    If tourists wish to move freely on public land, that is their god given right to do so, after all they did pay the fee to enter your country, to be granted the same rights and treetment as Nepalis and in most cases, tourists wish for better treatment by government officials than locals, why? because they paid to visit your country and we’re spending needed funds in your country, so should be granted respect,, the same as people from Nepal are granted in other countries…. you don’t see our people trying to charge a Napali more money for something than a local,, but in Nepal they do… I think tourists should be projected with more tourist police, who will shut down merchants trying to scam tourists if a dispute should happen.. the police should be seen, but should never speak with a tourist directly unless they are spoken to, they should know part of the job is to protect and serve the tourists, if a tourist asks a police officer for directions, they should be helped with directions not questioned like in nazi Germany or asked for papers, just helped in a friendly manner.

  • Pingback: How to report a missing trekker in Nepal – Mark Horrell

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