Nepal is known as the land of impressive mountains, snowy peaks, and incredible landscapes. Home to the world’s highest peaks, Nepal thrives on tourism and it’s no wonder that the Great Himalaya Ranges are what brings most tourists to Nepal. However, as we discovered during our travels in this scenic country, beyond the mountains, Nepal itself is unbelievably diverse and lush. And nothing brings out the beauty of Nepal like travelling from Kathmandu to Chitwan.
If mountains and mountain climbing are not your cup of coffee, you will not be disappointed as Nepal has much to offer. If you want to veer off the main tourist grid and yet do something truly remarkable, then head to Chitwan. Why should you head to Chitwan? Because this is where you will find a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Chitwan National Park.
Take time and explore the forest and the Chitwan National Park in a 4-wheel or on foot – but watch out for any grumpy rhinos.
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About Chitwan National Park
Located about 148km to the south-west of Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, the Chitwan National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Established in 1973, the Reserve was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and covers 932 sq. km. Also known as Nepal’s first national park, Chitwan National Park is found on the jungle-covered flat plains of southern Nepal.
The major attractions in Chitwan National Park are the one-horned Rhinoceros and the majestic Royal Bengal tiger. During your tour of the Reserve, you can see other types of wild animals as well as birds. However, the park has much more for you than these as it's also home to over 700 diverse species of flora and fauna. Inside the Park, you can choose between 7-world class hotels and resorts. Outside the Park are many nice hotels.
When travelling independently or privately, more commonly the transport is described as going to Sauraha, the small town directly outside the Chitwan National Park. Sauraha serves as the Park’s travel/accommodation hub. In other words, if you want to travel from Kathmandu to Chitwan, first you need to get to Sauraha.
How to Get to Sauraha Town and Chitwan
The town of Sauraha lies just outside the Chitwan Reserve. From Kathmandu to Sauraha is 155 Kilometers. It’s from this town that most Chitwan tours are run. This is also where you find most guesthouses and all the backpacker and budget accommodation. The best resorts, however, are located on the town’s outskirts. Buses run directly from Kathmandu to Sauraha and generally take between 4 to 6 hours, leaving from Thamel.
The buses are prompt, therefore arrive well in advance if you don’t want to miss the bus. Tour and travel companies also pack travellers in shuttles which also leave early in the morning. Another common mode of transport to Sauraha is public jeeps. These are more suited to the mountainous terrain of Nepal.
If you want a faster way of reaching Sauraha, there is an airport in Bharatpur, just 10 km outside the town Sauraha. Flights run daily though they are less frequent during low season.
When going to Chitwan, it’s perfectly fine to say your destination is Sauraha. Also, remember that staying in Sauraha town is much cheaper than when you "stay" in Chitwan National Park. Tip: If you are booking your tour from overseas always keep that in mind as a crafty tour agent can easily charge you lots more for direct transport and hotel accommodation to Chitwan than they would for Sauraha.
Kathmandu to Chitwan by Private Rental Car
This is one of the best ways of getting to Chitwan from the capital. Typically, a single drop off from Katmandu will cost you anything between US$80 and $120. Note that most car rental companies will generally charge a two-way fare because the car must drive back to Kathmandu after dropping you off. If you are in a group and need to be back in the capital after a couple of days in Chitwan, a good idea is to rent a car. But be aware that driving in Nepal is not for the faint of heart. You require a skilful and super experiences driver. Ideally, you'd rent a car with a driver!
The total distance by road from Kathmandu to Chitwan is about 175 km. The condition of the road is good. From Kathmandu, you will follow the Tribhuvan Highway to Naubise towards the west. After Naubise, you drive up to Narayanghat on the Prithvi Highway. Then continue driving on Mahendra Highway (East-West Highway) to your destination. The total time it will take you to drive to Chitwan overland is approx. 5 to 6 hours, depending on several factors like traffic and weather.
The journey between Kathmandu and the Park is a scenic drive. For most of the way, you follow the Trisuli Valley with its forest-covered steep hills and charming farming villages. The road then turns south at Mugling towards the Nepal plains. Tip: Be ready for traffic jams that can last two or more hours. These are quite common at Kalanki as you leave the Kathmandu Valley, then around Mugling because of never-ending road-works.
Kathmandu to Chitwan by Taxi
If you wish, you can also hire a taxi to Chitwan. We recommend you bargain with the drivers as it could actually be cheaper to get one on the streets rather than asking your hotel to organize it for you. You will probably part with between $80 and $100 and will be 1-2 hours faster than the bus. The driver can drive faster and you can avoid too many breaks on the way or even drive non-stop if you want.
Word of caution: When you use taxis in Nepal, always ask the driver to charge you as per the meter, and make that request before the ride begins. The taxi drivers are known to fool naïve tourist customers and charge two or three times over the actual rates.
Kathmandu to Chitwan by Regular Bus
Looking for a cheap mode of travelling from Kathmandu or Chitwan? The regular bus might be your best option. The regular bus is actually to Sauraha town. The first bus from Kathmandu to Sauraha/Chitwan leaves from just outside Thamel.
It will comfort you to know that most of the bus drivers are local Nepalese, experts in the terrain of the area so it’s usually safe to use public transport to explore Nepal. Usually, there are 2 stops along the way; at around 10 am and 11.30 am. Although you might be given a bottle of water on board, it's best to come prepared with your own water, snacks, and food.
Kathmandu to Chitwan by Tourist Bus
This is among the easiest ways of visiting Chitwan National Park. The trip takes about 5 to 6 from Kathmandu and Sauraha/Chitwan. Although several buses are available, Tourist Bus beats the regular buses in many ways including comfort.
They leave early in the morning from near Thamel and arrive in Sauraha about 6 hours later. Usually, they make a few meals and comfort stops, not on-demand though. The Tourist buses are moderately comfortable and usually air-conditioned.
Private Transfers from Kathmandu to Chitwan
Nearly all high-end hotels in Kathmandu can arrange private bus transfers between the capital and the Chitwan National Park. If you are looking for the most comfortable way of travelling overland, this is probably a good option. Although private transfers may not be faster than other buses, they usually do come with good suspension, air conditioning, and they stop whenever you wish.
Kathmandu to Chitwan by Air
If you are heading to Chitwan your best option is to take a flight to Bharatpur and then use a taxi to Sauraha. Fares are approximately $170 when you use mainstay airlines like Buddha Air or Yeti Airlines. Bharatpur Airport which is only 10 km away is the nearest airport to Sauraha/Chitwan National Park. You can easily get a taxi from the airport but you will need to haggle hard.
Plane tickets are available in Kathmandu from most travel agencies. You can also book online but we had better caution you. Credit-cards are typically processed outside Nepal and in case of a flight change or cancellation, getting refunds can be a real headache. It’s better to use travel agents as they not only offer cheaper tickets but they can easily change or swap flights if a need arises.
Depending on the passenger numbers, flights run daily. Both Yeti Airlines and Buddha Air offer daily flights from Kathmandu to Bharatpur that take about 30 minutes for about US$109. However, off-season flights frequently get postponed to the next day. Hotels and travel agents can make bookings for you.
Kathmandu to Chitwan Travel Tips
If you are planning for a one-day tour of Chitwan and then return to Katmandu on the same day, this still amounts to a full trip cost. If you plan to spend the night in Sauraha/Chitwan, you can request the rental car to stay overnight but this will incur an overnight surcharge. This is still a cheaper option instead of hiring a different car to take you back to Kathmandu the following day.
As a precaution, when visiting Nepal, we recommend you get the required vaccination jabs, depending on the season you are travelling. Although, it’s best to consult your doctor, some of the more common vaccinations you might need include Typhoid, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Polio, and Hepatitis A, especially if travelling with children.
Because Chitwan is located in a remote area of the country, you may need to buy travel insurance just in case you require immediate evacuation to Kathmandu for medical treatment—anything can go wrong in the remote jungle or on the treacherous Nepalese roads.
It’s worth pointing out that for female travellers, Nepal generally ranks high in terms of safety. Tip: avoid very flashy clothes when in public spaces to avoid getting unwarranted attention from men.
When to Visit Chitwan Park
When visiting Nepal, choosing when to visit is a crucial part of your travel planning. Generally, this Himalayan nation experiences three seasons. The low season is generally rather quiet due to the wet monsoon weather. On the other hand, the high season gets pretty full and accommodation places get booked in advance as mountain trekkers flock in from all parts of the world going up to Annapurna and Everest Mountains.
Chitwan National Park, no matter the weather, has something to offer. However, between July and September, the main monsoon months, the Park gets closed to tourists. The best time if you are keen on sighting the famous Bengal Tigers is the dry season, the months of April and May. Just head to the river banks and the grasslands sit patiently and they will come!
From October to December, you can sight the Greater One-Horned Rhino daily. Try and make your way deep into the jungle near the watering holes and watch them wallow in the thick mud and splash around.
If you are keen on watching birds, Chitwan is a sight you cannot afford to miss. Whether it's spring, summer, autumn, or winter, migratory birds can be spotted all year round. Just don’t forget your binoculars during your visit!
Where to Stay Near Chitwan
If you are a backpacker travelling from Kathmandu and Chitwan on budget, you may want to book in at Eden Jungle Resort and Lodge in Sauraha. Of course, if you can afford it, choose any of the remote luxury lodges as they give you more access to the Park.
How to Dress for Chitwan
When travelling between Kathmandu and Chitwan, we recommend you wear dark or neutral-coloured clothing. Why you might ask? Because the aim is to blend as much as possible into your surroundings to minimize or avoid bringing the attention of the game to yourself. In the winter months of November to February, the area experiences an icy mist that hangs in the air for long periods and a warm jacket plus a good thermal may come handy particularly at night time.
If you are in Chitwan during and after the July to September monsoon period, make sure you wear long loose trousers as it is leeches time! Although they are generally harmless, they can be an inconvenience, some people will not even notice them. They generally fall off after taking their fill. If you are squeamish about them, ask your guide to help remove them for they are very skilled in removing leeches!