You must visit Tibet as part of a tour. There is no way around it. There are several different types of tours you can consider when entering Tibet from Nepal. Some options include trekking and visits to more remote parts of the country, which take a bit longer to get to. These tours are for around 15 to 30 day trips and are extremely pricey.
As we planned to explore China after Tibet, we were looking for the most economical way to visit Tibet, and then get us on our way to China. The best option for us was an overland group tour across what they call the ‘Friendship Highway’ in Tibet from Kathmandu to Lhasa. The trip would take five days and give you two days in the city of Lhasa. On the eighth day you are forced out.
Another option is to do a private tour. This would work best if you have four people to do it with and can split the costs.
The tour can be organized by a travel agency in Kathmandu. I highly recommend waiting till you get to Kathmandu to organize it. We met other travelers who organized it prior to arriving in Kathmandu, and they paid quite a bit more (even when organizing it from neighboring Pokhara). We organized ours through Tashi Delek agency, located in the Thamel neighborhood of Kathmandu (right next to the Center Point Hotel).
It’s important to realize all overland trips to Kathmandu to Lhasa are the same. They are all organized by the Chinese government so the travel agencies in Kathmandu merely act as a middle man. Don’t spent too much time going back and forth about the trip details, because it doesn’t matter who you go with. The end result will be the same. What does differ is the price you pay. Spend your time negotiating price (which is negotiable, no matter what they say) rather than trip details. The agencies have no control over that. Their sole job is to get your visa, make the payment to the Chinese government and get you to the border. From there the Tibetan (Chinese-trained) tour guides will takeover.
All eight day overland tours from Kathmandu to Lhasa will include:
- Seven nights of accommodation, with breakfast included, in Tibet
-Coordinating your visa and permits
- Transportation from Kathmandu, Nepal to Lhasa, Tibet
- An “English-speaking” Tibetan guide
- Entrance into Tibetan monasteries and monuments along the way
The permit you obtain for Tibet is good for eight days. If your desire is to travel through China following Tibet, you will also have to obtain a Chinese visa. This can be coordinated with the travel agency in Kathmandu. It’s very important to note, the longest visa you can obtain is for 28 days total. That means you’ll have eight days in Tibet and 20 for mainland China. You are unable to extend this visa in China.
An alternative to the overland tour is booking a flight to Lhasa (cost is $330 USD) and making the trip back overland, in reverse order.
For more information on travel in Tibet, see below: