How to Visit Tibet - A Complete Guide from Tibetan Local Tour Expert (2018 Version)
A visit to Tibet is one of the most spectacular journeys you can take, traveling to a region of China that was long isolated from the outside world, and which is still restricted for foreign tourists to travel to. Lying on the world’s highest plateau, Tibet is a land of high mountains and lush valleys, of running rivers and stunning lakes, and a people that live and breathe Buddhism in their everyday lives.
A culturally unique trip, a Tibet visit will take you to the heights of the world and allow you to discover the unique Tibetan culture and religion at first hand. You will also be able to take a trip across the vast Tibetan plateau to visit the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest, or the most sacred mountain in four religions, Mount Kailash. So, before you pack and hit the road, let’s get some insider’s view for preparing your Tibet visit.
Why You Should Visit Tibet
There are many reasons why one should visit Tibet, and your reason should really be your own. But for those that do not know much about the region, then there is a multitude of reasons why you should take a trip there.
The first and foremost reason would be to visit Mount Everest, standing tall and proud above the rest of the world’s mountains. At 8,848 meters, Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world and is probably the most well-known mountain for both children and adults. Films have even been made about the attempts to conquer this behemoth, which was first rated to be the world’s highest mountain over 100 years ago.
Along with Mount Everest, there are many other mountains that you can visit, including the sacred Mount Kailash, a holy mountain in the Gangdise Mountain Range that is believed to be the center of the universe in four separate religions. For Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Bonpo, the mountain is believed to be sacred and holy, and it is the center of many pilgrimages for both Hindus from India and Buddhists from all over Asia. Kailash trek is also one of the best treks in Tibet, following the ancient pilgrim’s kora route that runs for 2 kilometers around the base of the mountain.
There are many trekking routes in Tibet, such as EBC trekking
Trekking is indeed a good reason to visit Tibet, and if you are into high-altitude trekking, there is nowhere higher than this ancient land in which to trek some of the stunning trails. Apart from the kora around Mount Kailash, you can also trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) from Old Tingri, a 4-day hike across rough countryside, or take the high-altitude trek from EBC to the Advanced Base Camp on the slopes of Mount Everest, at an elevation of more than 6,000 meters. There are also the many stunning trails of the Gama Valley treks, which take you through some of Ngari’s most spectacular landscapes and sceneries.
For those that like old buildings and ancient cultures, there is no better place to visit than Tibet, with its hundreds of ancient monasteries and the unique and ancient Tibetan Buddhist culture that dates back over 1,300 years. Tibet has some of the oldest monasteries and temples in the world, such as the Jokhang Temple, the most sacred building in Tibet, or the monastery at Samye, believed to be the first monastery built in Tibet by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo.
And for those that just love nature, there is more to see in Tibet than you could fit into one tour, and the awesome scenery of high, snow-capped mountains and lush green valleys will leave you longing to return for more. One of the most beautiful places in the world for stunning scenery, Tibet has vast expanses of grasslands that extend for as far as the eye can see and that are filled with wildlife of all kinds, from wild donkeys and hairy yaks to Tibetan gazelles and rare black-necked cranes. Tibet is a place where the people believe in loving the land and taking care of it. Even agriculture in Tibet is done in an ecological and environmentally friendly way, and has been for thousands of years, long before environmental issues were a thing in the western world.
So whatever reason you choose to visit Tibet, or if there are many reasons for coming, a Tibet tour will never be a disappointment and will always leave you with a sense of achievement and the knowledge that you have experienced one of the most unique cultures in the history of the world.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Tibet?
The best time to visit Tibet is when you feel it is the right time to go. Tibet is a place that can be visited at any time of the year, and while it does have distinct tourist seasons, there are plenty of things to see and do even in the low season. In fact, for foreign tourists, the only time you cannot visit Tibet is when it is closed for foreign tourism during the Losar Festival in late February and March. Losar is the Tibetan New Year, and the region is closed to foreign tourists for that period, opening again with the spring thaws in April.
However, winter and cold have nothing to do with Tibet closing. Even in winter, from December to the mid-Feb, you can take a trip to the roof of the world and visit Tibet in winter when it is covered in snow. It is a little colder in winter, but not as cold as many people think, and the higher altitude and thinner atmosphere allow more sunshine to warm up the plateau, making it relatively comfortable during sunny winter days. Temperatures during the day can get up as high as 18 degrees, even in the west of the region, although the drop in temperature at night is extreme, and can drop to well below freezing, especially in the highest areas.
You will appreciate stunning landscapes during best time to visit Tibet
The high season for tourism in Tibet runs from April to the mid-Oct, which spans from spring to summer and autumn in Tibet. The weather is much warmer, reaching heights of around 24 degrees on the warmest days, and not yet reaching freezing at night in the east of the region. Summer is also the monsoon season in Tibet, and while the region is affected a little, most of the rains fall in the evening and overnight, leaving the daytimes free of rain to explore this ancient land. A summer Tibet visit is also better for those who do not like colder weather and for children, as there is a higher oxygen content in the atmosphere in the summer months, caused by the increased humidity of the monsoon.
Spring and autumn are the best seasons for visiting Tibet, when the weather is still warm enough to travel, yet neither too hot nor too cold. Nights can get chillier than in summer, dropping to around freezing or just below, though a few good warm sweaters and a nice sleeping bag for the outlying areas can keep out the nighttime chills.
In addition, the weather is clearest, and the views of the mountains are at their best. Without a cloud in the sky on most days, the views of the summit of Mount Everest and the other 8,000+-meter mountains are spectacular and make for some of the best photos and selfies you could possibly imagine.
How to Visit Tibet
Traveling to Tibet cannot be done as an individual traveler or backpacker, due to the restrictions on tourists in the region. The only way to get to visit Tibet as a tourist is to book a group or private tour through a registered Tibetan tour operator, such as Tibet Vista. Only a tour operator registered for Tibetan tourism can apply for the Tibet Travel Permit and the other permits necessary to visit the various areas of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and provide you with the required guide, driver, and a private vehicle that you need to travel in Tibet.
Traveling Tibet with the local Tibet travel agency
Once you have found a good tour operator, such as us, Tibet Vista, you can talk to our travel consultants to arrange a private tour if you want to travel on your own or with friends and family, or to help you book onto a Join-In Group Tour, where you will travel with other people on the same trip. Tibet group tours usually begin on set dates, and the total number of travelers in the group share some of the costs, such as the guide, driver, and vehicle costs.
How to get to Tibet
Getting to Tibet can be done in one of three ways, by flight, by train, or by traveling overland across the border between Tibet and Nepal. Flights can be taken from Kathmandu direct to Lhasa, as the only international flights available, or from a number of cities across China, including Beijing, Chengdu, and Xining, to name a few.
Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the most popular means of transportation
For taking trains to Tibet, the trains leave from seven gateway cities in China daily or every other day, depending on the departure location. The gateway cities to Tibet are Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xining, with some trains passing through Xi’an where you can get a ticket for the trip from Xi’an to Lhasa at the certain time of year when the route is not too busy.
There is also the option of traveling overland to Lhasa from Kathmandu in Nepal. The route to Tibet starts in Kathmandu, and you can take a local bus or private car to the border crossing checkpoint at Rasuwagadhi Fort/Gyirong Port. The trip to the border by bus takes around 6 hours and stops along the way for a little lunch. If traveling overland to Gyirong Port, your guide will be waiting at the immigration office to take you to Gyirong Town to start your tour.
How to Get Around Tibet and How to Visit Lhasa
Traveling around the region can only be done using our guide and private vehicle with driver. Independent travel or the use of public buses is not permitted in Tibet for foreign tourists. Your guide and driver will be able to take you to the places listed in your itinerary, and transport you to the various towns and hotels that you will stay in.
To get to Lhasa from the airport or train station, we provide a shuttle service that can pick you up from either and take you to your hotel in Lhasa, so you can get some rest from the long journey. We will also drop you at the train station or airport once your trip is over.
Where to Stay in Tibet
Where you stay depends on the type of accommodation you are looking for, and Tibet has all types of accommodations, from 5-star hotels to small local guesthouses with quaint local architecture and décor. The best places where to stay in is Lhasa or the other major cities does depend on what you want and your budget, although when out in the more remote places of the region, such as Mount Everest Base Camp or near Mount Kailash, you will be unable to stay in high-end hotels, and much of the accommodation is basic.
Some 5-star hotels in Lhasa will offer you the panorama of Potala Palace
Cost of Tibet Visit
The cost of the Tibet visit depends on how long you are staying for, and where you want to go in Tibet while you are on your visit. For example, a 4-day Lhasa Impressions tour, staying in the Tibetan capital for four days and three nights, costs from around US$ 460 per person, not including your travel into Tibet itself, some meals, and the gratuities for the guide and driver.
For an 8-day Lhasa to Everest Base Camp Tour, the prices start from around US$ 850 per person, and for a 15-day Kailash tour that covers sightseeing in Lhasa, Mount Everest Base Camp, Mount Kailash (including the three-day kora trek), and Lake Manasarovar, the costs start from around US$ 1,880 per person.
Tips for Traveling in Tibet
There are a few things to remember when traveling in Tibet, for your own safety and good health. Overall, Tibet is a safe place to visit for anyone, especially since you will be traveling with a guide and driver at all times when outside Lhasa. However, while crime is not a big issue in Tibet, there are the odd few that will try to take advantage of you as a tourist, so it is better to be safe than sorry.
Food on the plateau can be not to everyone’s taste, and it is useful to carry some tinned and packaged food to eat if you are not up to the tsampa and stews of the Tibetan cuisine. Pot noodles and packet foods that can be easily prepared with just boiling water are the best options, and can be bought easily and cheaply in Lhasa before you leave the city.
For general health, it is advisable to drink plenty of water while traveling, and have some high-energy snacks with you, such as dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, and energy bars. This can help you to regain lost energy quickly, and not feel so drained. Dehydration and fatigue can bring on altitude sickness and should be avoided at all costs. You should also be aware of the symptoms to avoid altitude sickness in Tibet, as this can become severe if ignored, and would not only spoil your vacation, but could result in hospitalization.
Best Places for Tibet Visit
There are many places to visit in Tibet, although some are much more popular than most. The most popular places in Tibet include Mount Everest, Mount Kailash, Rongbuk Monastery, and the sights of Lhasa.
Mount Everest and Mount Kailash, in the west of the region, are amazing sights and places to visit, with spectacular views of the world’s highest mountain and the world’s most sacred mountain respectively. Near Mount Everest, lies the Rongbuk Monastery, the world’s highest monastery at an altitude of 4,980 meters above sea level. It is also the place where the famous Sherpa, Tenzin Norgay, was given his name by the lama of the monastery.
Lhasa has many places of interest, and you will normally get around three days to spend visiting them while in the city, before heading out to the more remote areas. Potala Palace is the most stunning sight of the Tibetan plateau, sitting atop Moburi, looking down on the Tibetan capital. Built in the 17th century, on the site of an ancient fortress that dates back over 1,300 years, the palace is the winter palace of the Dalai Lama and was once the central seat of Tibetan Government.
Lhasa is also the home of the Jokhang Temple, the most sacred temple site in Tibet. Revered by all Tibetan Buddhists, the temple houses the 7th-century statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha, brought to Tibet by the second wife of the Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. It is also the destination of many of the pilgrims that travel across the vast expanse of the plateau to pray and prostrate at the temple’s doors. After prostrating, the pilgrims often walk the kora route around the temple, which follows Barkhor Street, chanting sutras and spinning their prayer wheels.