After its devastation by the 2015 earthquake, Nepal is steadily rebounding, and there’s never been a better time to explore this wonderful country with kids. For all but the most intrepid families, Nepal lies well outside the usual comfort zone. Traveling here is not easy, and yet it’s one of the most impactful and intoxicating places you’ll ever visit. CB! Family Travel Advisor Melissa Smith visited Nepal with her husband and children and shares her essential advice — thanks, Melissa!
Home to the highest peaks of the Himalayas, Nepal is a blend of rugged natural beauty, ancient temples, exotic wildlife, multilayered cultural traditions and mystical overtones. Its allure and unique appeal are irresistible for adventurous families willing to give up certain creature comforts. “It’s not the place you’re going to go to relax,” Melissa says. “You’re out and you’re moving.” Plus, the Nepali people adore children, and families are warmly welcomed everywhere.
Late fall (October and November) and mid-spring are the peak seasons for Nepal travel. Avoid the rainy season, roughly June through mid-September, which can bring monsoons and mudslides.
Melissa and her family spent a week in Nepal over the New Year (dry but chilly), split between Kathmandu and the Chitwan area farther south. In retrospect, she says, 10 days would have been even better, allowing them to add a third home base into the mix — perhaps Pokhara near the Annapurna Mountains, where visitors can canoe along peaceful Phewa Lake or sample adventure sports like whitewater rafting.
You’ll likely fly into Kathmandu, and you’ll want to start the trip with a couple of nights in town. While there are no family attractions per se, most kids are mesmerized by the chaotic bustle, the colorful prayer flags and the temple spires painted with the eyes of the Buddha. The temples themselves are Kathmandu’s main draw — from gilt-crowned Bodhnath Stupa and Swayambhunath Stupa to the pagoda-style temples in Durbar Square. Note, Swayambhunath Stupa teems with feral monkeys that have been known to bite visitors. Any family members who get bitten will need immediate rabies shots and followup care, so consider whether your kids are old enough to keep out of the creatures’ way.
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Only Hindus may enter the grounds of Pashupatinath Temple, one of Kathmandu’s most sacred sites, but others can get a good view from the outskirts and across the Bagmati River. Facing the riverfront is an open-air crematorium where bodies are burned according to Hindu ritual, and some visitors choose to watch. If you do so, Melissa says, it’s important to prepare your kids for this custom and talk about the reason behind it.
TIP: While the authentic feel of an independent hotel is enticing, even Kathmandu’s upscale properties are subject to local quirks — “like power outages several times a day and being on the seventh floor with no elevator,” Melissa says. If you’re not up for that much authenticity, consider the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu, farther removed from the chaotic city center. Having a buffer zone and a sense of escape can be well worth the tradeoff.
Nepal’s real beauty reveals itself as you get into the countryside. The Smiths headed from Kathmandu to a farm lodge in Chitwan, home to a national park that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. This area is much more suited for children than the city, with plenty of open space to run and fascinating animals galore — jungle walks, elephant safaris and vehicle safaris offer the chance to spot rhinos, crocodiles, tigers, elephants and other beasts. You’ll want at least three nights here.
TIP: Before their stay in Chitwan, Melissa and her family spent a night in Nagarkot, about 17 miles outside Kathmandu. Known for its stunning views of Mt. Everest and the Himalayas, especially at sunrise, it’s also a great spot for family-friendly trekking.
• Rental cars aren’t advisable in Nepal (and the steep, twisty roads are hair-raising), but you can get around via taxis, private transfers, domestic flights or a combination of all. While there’s a bus network, it’s slow and uncomfortable, though more modern tourist buses run between Kathmandu and major tourist sites like Pokhara.
• Talk with your doctor before you go about recommended vaccines, and take precautions to avoid getting sick from food and water. Kathmandu has good Western medical clinics, but in the countryside, they are fewer and sometimes lower in quality. If you have a medical emergency, you’ll likely be evacuated to the capital (be sure you have travel insurance!).
• Air pollution in Kathmandu can be a problem. Consider bringing face masks if anyone in the family has respiratory sensitivities.
• Keep luggage small. Fitting a family’s worth of larger suitcases into the local vehicles is a challenge, so pack light.
• Above all, embrace the adventure, the unfamiliarity and the occasional discomfort. “Nepal pushed the limits for our family,” Melissa says. “But we loved it.”
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