Most people that travel to Nepal will want to include some sort of trekking in their itinerary, and there are countless options for how to do it. For our trek to Everest Base Camp and Gokyo lakes we found four main ways of organising a trek:
It’s possible to trek without the use of a trekking agency. Simple turn up in Kathmandu, organise your trekking permits and flights/transfers and off you go.
Pros – cheap, complete flexibility on itinerary
Cons – you don’t learn about the area, you might get lost, you have to carry your own gear, you need to organise permits
It is possible organise your trekking permits and flights/transfers, then fly out to Lukla and find Porters or Guides at the airport
Pros – cheap, you know what you’re paying is going directly to the people you employ, flexibility on itinerary
Cons – not all Porters and Guides hired independently will be properly insured or equipped, you need to organise permits, at peak periods you might struggle to get staff
There are hundreds of agencies located in Kathmandu who can organise your trek for you. They’ll normally take care of your airfare and permits and organise Porter and Guides as per your wishes
Pros – cheaper than booking through Western tour operators, flexibility on itinerary, Porters and Guides should be properly insured, less to organise
Cons – it’s not transparent exactly how much money goes to your Porter and Guides
Using an agent in your home country join a scheduled tour for the trek you want to do
Pros – everything is done for you, single travellers may prefer to be part of a group
Cons – no flexibility in itinerary, expensive, a vast amount of the money you spend doesn’t go back into the local economy
When weighing up each of the options it is important to think about what your expectations for the trek are, and also what kind of experience you have of navigating and trekking in general – as these will help you decide what will work best for you.
Having researched all these options, we decided on option 3. For us this was the perfect balance of knowing we had something planned, but giving us the flexibility to make it our own, all at a reasonable cost. We contacted several agents before we left the UK who had been recommended to us, and ultimately we ended up hiring a porter/guide from Eagle Treks. Porter/guides are generally someone who is learning to become a guide, they will speak reasonable English (although generally their vocabulary will be limited to things relating to the trek/mountains) and they will also carry your luggage. For us this was the perfect compromise – we knew we didn’t want to be carrying our packs, but the added security and knowledge of a guide gave us extra peace of mind.
Having started our trek and fallen ill with a stomach bug we were pleased we had enough flexibility in our plans to spend an extra night where we needed it. Given the inherent dangers of altitude sickness, and the fact that everyone acclimatises at a different rate having some flexibility in your schedule can ensure that your trekking dream doesn’t turn into a disaster. For us this is the major downside of organised tours – they tend to ascend fairly quickly, and if you happen to be the one person that is ill unfortunately your trip is getting cut short, by way of a helicopter back down the mountain. However, if you’ve organised something independently you at least have the option of slowing down, descending a bit and letting your body acclimatise before carrying on.
There are of course pros and cons for each option – so you need to weigh these up before making a choice on which is best for you.