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Nepal was the last country on our 3 month stint travelling through Asia in 2018.
As well as this, it was a pleasant break from the heat of the south and we were eagerly awaiting the cool, clean mountain air of Nepal.
But with limited time to explore the country, we had to try and design a 3 week Nepal itinerary that allowed us to visit all of Nepal's most famous areas, as well as provide a potential opportunity to go hiking in the Himalayas.
Well, after 3 weeks in Nepal, I can safely say that we achieved all of our aims in designing a route that allowed us to see everything we wanted … and more!
So sit back, relax and dig into the perfect 3 week backpacking route around Nepal.
Like most countries in Asia, Nepal requires tourists to secure a visa before being allowed into the country.
For us, and most people, this means flying into Kathmandu airport and filling out a visa upon arrival.
When you enter the arrivals building in the airport, the entire layout is actually very confusing.
But, there is a 3 step process to follow.
A quick word of warning …
Through the website claims that they take most major currencies, it is actually illegal to use Indian Rupees in the airport.
We arrived with the necessary sum in Indian rupees after an official at the airport in Delhi assured us this was ok.
Well, it's not, and we were stuck with a whole bunch of worthless Indian currency.
Instead, we were able to use our card to pay.
It was $USD40 each and this is for a one month visa.
For up to date visa fees for all nationalities, check out the official page here.
We started our 3 week Nepal route in Kathmandu, as I imagine most people do.
This itinerary is slightly different from the exact one we took.
But I have tweaked it slightly because, after taking the direction we did, I think that this arrangement of stops and nights in each one makes the most sense.
Here’s a map of the ideal 3 week Nepal backpacking route ...
There are quite a few temples and other religious sites to see in Kathmandu, so it’s worth taking a couple of nights here to explore them.
Also, after a presumably long flight here, it’s unlikely you're going to want to jump straight on a 8 hour bus and head to your first destination.
It’s a good city to get your bearings, book your bus tickets and see the sites.
Also, once you’re done exploring the rest of Nepal, Kathmandu will be the least appealing place to stay!
It’s highly polluted and incredibly busy, so it’s good to get it out of the way.
Pokhara turned out to be my favourite city in Nepal.
The best place to stay is in the outskirts of the city by Phewa lake.
Here, you will find tonnes of hotels and even more bars and restaurants all in a massive strip back from the lake.
You could stay here for a month and eat in another restaurant each night and, best of all, they are all so cheap.
There’s plenty to do in and around Pokhara, so I recommend taking one day to walk up to the Peace Pagoda, head out onto the lake and pursue the souvenir stalls all through town.
You can take another day for a day walk out to a popular local area like Sarangkot.
And another day could be spent doing something a little more high octane, such as white water rafting, taking a helicopter ride or paragliding near the Himalayas.
More importantly, Pokhara is the perfect landing point for heading out hiking into the Annapurna region.
The Annapurna region is a massively popular hiking spot in Nepal.
There are a total of 30 peaks that are above 6,000 metres high, with one being more than 8,000 metres.
Whilst in Pokhara, you’ll see perhaps 50 tour companies in town, all of which offer Annapurna hiking tours ranging from 2 days to 7 days and more.
The Annapurna Circuit is quite a popular route, but it takes up to 2 weeks and can, apparently, be very physically taxing.
In this 3 week Nepal itinerary, I’ve allowed for 7 days of hiking, but you could easily skip out one or two other stops if your main reason for visiting Nepal is hiking and you want to take a bit longer.
Once you’re done hiking, it’s time to head south to Lumbini.
This is an incredibly important spot in Nepal for one key reason: it's the birthplace of Buddha.
Every year it attracts thousands of international tourists and thousands more Buddhist pilgrims.
You’ll find a whole bunch of temples in Lumbini and there’s plenty to see in two days.
But it is also a nice place to relax for a night or more after your long, tiring time spent hiking further north.
After leaving the cold mountainous Annapurna region just a few days before, you will feel like you’re in an entirely new country when in Chitwan!
It’s time to get the t-shirts and sunglasses out and bask in the sunlight.
To me, Chitwan seems like a small town that must have exploded in popularity in the last 5 or 10 years.
There is a main strip now filled with a good few dozen restaurants and cafes, not too unlike Pokhara.
But the most popular reason for going here is to explore the Chitwan National Park and try to spot a whole range of jungle animals; like leopards, elephants and rhinos.
As a side note, they do offer elephant riding and washing most mornings down by the lake.
We went there and were shocked by how many tourists still seem to think it’s OK to ride elephants; all whilst a trainer is there stabbing the poor creatures in the side with a bullhook.
Alternatively, make the most of your time in Chitwan by booking onto a 2 or 3 day jungle safari, either by jeep or on foot.
After the long bus ride back from Chitwan, take it easy and relax.
There are no more long journeys ahead seeing as your final stop, Nagarkot, isn't very far from the city.
I recommend taking any time you have here to peruse the market streets in Thamel and pick up any souvenirs or gifts for friends and family back home.
It is entirely possible for you to skip this stop and as soon as you arrive back from Chitwan, book a taxi straight out to Nagarkot.
As it’s only 1.5 hour drive away, this is a nice way to end your trip after a number of unpleasant bus journeys across the country.
We chose to get a taxi from Kathmandu to Nagarkot and, for reference, the fair going rate is 2500 rupees.
On our outward journey I managed to get it for 2000 rupees, but once we arrived I ended up paying 2500 instead.
Though it’s not massively far, the road out there is really awful and I felt the driver deserved the extra 500 rupees for his effort.
The last half of the road into Nagarkot is in almost complete disrepair.
Apparently, the government have been saying they will fix it for years now but, like most things in Nepal, it appears road construction runs very slowly.
But once you’re there you’ll feel like you’re in a world away from Kathmandu!
You are higher in the mountains, and you get wonderful views of the Himalayan mountain range.
On some clear days, you can also see Mount Everest far in the distance.
Well, that is of course, if you’re not us!
For the 2 nights we were there, there was mist all day long so we only got to see a couple of peaks.
Also, be aware that only the most expensive hotels in Nagarkot have heating. It is very, very, VERY cold (the climate is completely different to Chitwan)
But as long as you spend your day out hiking and enjoying the local trails, then you’ll be warm.
You have a few different options when it comes to getting around Nepal. These include:
Buses are the most common and most affordable way to get to and from all of the spots listed above.
You can pick up affordable bus tickets in all major cities and, as long as it's not a peak season, you can usually get bus tickets all the way up until a day or 2 before leaving; at least in December this was the case.
Do be warned that the roads in Nepal are perhaps the worst we have seen anywhere in the world.
They are notoriously deadly and a number of buses do go over cliff edges every year. And it’s really no surprise when the drivers of the local tourist buses drive like lunatics.
It's not uncommon to see buses and cars overtaking each other on sharp bends with massive drops.
As such, make sure you book onto a trusted, high quality tourist bus, rather than local buses.
Finally, if like us you suffer from motion sickness, then take anti-sickness pills beforehand and prepare yourself, as the journeys in Nepal take twice as long as everywhere else; purely because of how winding and hilly all the roads are.
On the way from Chitwan to Kathmandu, we ended up hiring a private car to drive us.
This was because Cazzy had seriously injured her foot the day before and needed to get to a hospital to get it x-rayed; we figured a private car would be much quicker and less bumpy.
Which turned out to be true!
Instead of paying 800 rupees each, we paid 4,500 each for a modern, 4x4 vehicle that turned out to be very comfortable and about two hours quicker than bus.
So if money’s not an issue, then I would highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend this option.
Though we never took this mode of transport ourselves, there are a large number of small airports located all across Nepal.
Yes, it does cost a lot more money to fly, rather than drive from places like Kathmandu to Pokhara; however, it is a lot faster and more comfortable.
You can read more about internal air travel in Nepal in this article.
Though this 3 week itinerary through Nepal suited us well, it can, of course, be changed to suit your needs!
For example, if you are more interested in hiking and have no desire to see temples or monuments, then I recommend getting out of Kathmandu as fast as possible.
You could instead spend more time in Pokhara, doing a longer hike and also skip out on Lumbini.
There are plenty of other backpackers I know who would much rather spend a few nights more in Nagarkot, simply because it’s so quiet and peaceful and offers plenty of relaxing day hikes.
So before settling on your own 3 week Nepal itinerary, I recommend deciding exactly what it is you want to gain from your time in Nepal.
You can then adjust your duration in each place to suit you best and make the most of your limited time in this truly breathtaking country.
If you have any more questions or suggestions about places to visit in Nepal, then please do let me know below!