Getting from Kathmandu to Pokhara – 4 Ways to Travel

The stunning city of Pokhara, nestled by the serene Phewa Lake, is often a must-visit destination for travelers route to the Himalayas. Whether you’re embarking on the Annapurna or Mustang trek, your journey will likely commence or conclude here. This blog post serves as a comprehensive guide, offering practical insights on traveling from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Drawing from my own frequent visits to Pokhara and the latest input from fellow travelers, as well as updates on road conditions and airline safety, it covers everything you need to know.

What are the ways to travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara?

Pokhara, situated 200 km west of Kathmandu, is accessible by both land and air. The tourist bus stands out as the favored choice for reaching Pokhara, while those seeking budget-friendly or adventurous journeys may opt for a local bus. For travelers prioritizing comfort, renting a private car with a driver emerges as the top choice. Alternatively, for those valuing efficiency and disregarding potential concerns about Nepali airlines, a scenic flight offered by various domestic carriers presents the quickest route to Pokhara. Each of these travel options comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, elaborated upon in detail below.

Traveling from Kathmandu to Pokhara over land.

Because of Nepal’s poor road conditions, even the seemingly short 200 km trip by tourist bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara usually takes 7 to 10 hours. Unfortunately, new road development has made the trip even longer—it can now take up to 11 or 12 hours at times. Unfortunately, the Pokhara-Mugling road development has barely advanced 20% in the last 2.5 years, making the chances of improved mobility shortly seem dim. It seems improbable that the original April 2024 completion target will be reached. Car travel is only slightly faster than other modes of transportation because road conditions, not vehicle performance, are the primary factor influencing long-distance travel.

Traveling from Kathmandu to Pokhara by tourist bus (THE MOST POPULAR OPTION).

Standard tourist buses and premium tourist buses are the two types of buses that are offered. There isn’t much of a difference between them other than price. Along with a basic lunch, a small snack, and a water bottle, customers in the luxury category also usually get larger, more comfortable seats. Whichever class is selected, there’s no guarantee on Wi-Fi availability, and the total trip time is pretty much the same. Both kinds of buses are supposed to have air conditioning, though from my own experience, it’s not always a given.

Every day at 7:00 AM, the majority of tour buses run by different firms leave from locations that are usually close to Thamel.

My experience with traveling by tourist bus.

I’ve had experiences with both types of buses, and they were quite similar. The journey time averaged around 8 hours, with the road conditions being consistently poor in both instances. During one trip with my mother, we opted for a premium bus. Despite the comfortable fold-out seats, the relentless and bumpy road prompted us to choose a plane for the return journey from Pokhara.

Certainly, bus travel offers its advantages; it’s economical and allows for a glimpse of lesser-explored areas of Nepal. For optimal views, sit on the right side when traveling to Pokhara and on the left side when heading back to Kathmandu. On clear days, there’s even a chance to catch sight of the Annapurna Range.

What is the price of the tourist bus to Pokhara?

Bus travel is significantly more economical than air travel. The cost of a tourist bus ticket varies depending on the company and typically falls between 800-1800 NPR (6-15 USD). Interestingly, purchasing tickets through your hotel or a travel agency may yield cheaper rates. Most companies maintain similar standards. If you’re skilled at bargaining and inclined to do so, you can procure your ticket at the bus station before departure. Given the abundance of departing buses, tickets to Pokhara seldom sell out. Therefore, if you’re looking to cut costs, consider negotiating the price at the bus station.

The top tourist bus option from Kathmandu to Pokhara
While I haven’t personally traveled by bus recently, extensive research has led me to confidently recommend the Swift Holidays bus company. Numerous positive reviews about their services on various Nepalese forums and groups attest to their reliability. Though not the cheapest option available, Swift Holidays’ buses boast comfortable seating, reportedly functioning air conditioning, and safe driving practices.

Swift Holidays offers two types of buses:

Larger Premium Sofa Seat, with morning and evening departure times
Smaller, slightly more affordable VIP Toyota Coaster, departing in the morning

Here’s a breakdown of their offerings:

  • VIP Toyota Coaster: Seat Number 17, Price 1600 NPR, Departure Time 6:45 AM
  • Premium Sofa Seat*: Seat Number 30, Price 1700 NPR, Departure Time 6:45 AM
  • Premium Sofa Seat: Seat Number 30, Price 1700 NPR, Departure Time 9:00 AM
  • Premium Sofa Seat (night): Seat Number 30, Price 1700 NPR, Departure Time 6:00 PM

*Note: The Premium Sofa Seat departs from Boudha, not Thamel, according to the official Swift Holidays website.

While the Swift Holidays website may not be the most user-friendly, technical glitches are common in Nepal, so don’t be deterred. To purchase tickets, visit any travel agency in Kathmandu or inquire at your hotel. Additionally, please be aware that the departure times and prices provided above are sourced from the Swift Holidays website and may have changed by the time you read this article. Rapid changes are typical in Nepal.

Going to Pokhara via a local bus (THE MOST INEXPENSIVE OPTION)

This option is the most affordable and undoubtedly the most thrilling. Don’t assume that older, worn-out local buses are slower. They often complete the journey in less time because their drivers tend to disregard speed limits, overtaking others on the road with fewer restroom breaks. Traveling by local bus is far less comfortable; there’s no air conditioning, the aged seats are worn, and loud music blares from the speakers. Both passengers and luggage are crammed in tightly, epitomizing the essence of Nepal.

However, if you desire to experience local travel, are on a tight budget, or prefer not to adhere to the morning departure times of tourist buses, the local bus might be the ideal choice for you. A one-way ticket typically costs around 500 NPR. Local buses and mini buses depart frequently throughout the day, roughly every half hour, from Gongabu Bus Station, located about 4 km from Thamel on the outskirts of the city. Tickets can be purchased at the bus station.

Hiring a private car with a driver (THE MOST COSTLY OPTION)

Renting a 4-seat car with a driver typically amounts to approximately 150 USD for a one-way trip. Ensure to inquire about air-conditioning, as it’s not always included and may require an additional fee. While traveling by car offers greater comfort compared to bus journeys, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a faster arrival time, as in Nepal, the driver’s skill matters more than the vehicle itself.

However, departing Kathmandu before 6 AM, before heavy traffic ensues, can considerably shorten your travel duration.

Air travel to Pokhara (THE QUICKEST OPTION)

Flying is by far the fastest and most convenient way to travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara, especially when you’re short on time. Even though the journey is short—about 30 minutes—you won’t soon forget the last 30 minutes, particularly if you can find a seat on the correct side of the aircraft. From there, you’ll get an incredible bird’s-eye view of the majestic snow-capped Himalayas. There are a lot of flights available every day, beginning at 7 AM and going until about 2:30 PM. The price of your ticket can vary depending on the season, the airline you choose, and how you book it. Typically, if you purchase your ticket online, you can expect to pay somewhere between 90-125 USD for a one-way ticket.

However, one downside to flying is the potential for delays due to unpredictable weather conditions. To minimize this risk, it’s a good idea to book the earliest flight possible since mornings generally have the most stable weather.

Is it safe to fly in Nepal?

I suggest avoiding doing a lot of study on Nepalese airlines’ safety. Numerous accidents in the past have left them with a poor track record. However, even in Nepal, statistically speaking, flying remains the safest means of transportation.

Although there is a higher danger of aviation accidents in Nepal than in other places, the likelihood of one occurring is extremely low. If money is not a concern, flying is still the greatest choice for getting from Kathmandu to Pokhara because it saves time and is not as problematic due to Nepal’s poor road conditions

Flying to Pokhara – my personal experience

When I traveled for the first time, I chose to fly with Buddha Air because their fleet is reputed to be in slightly better condition. Although Buddha Air’s prices are a bit higher compared to the popular Yeti Airlines, I preferred to trust my journey to Buddha’s hands rather than Yeti’s.

Recently, I flew with Buddha Air again and for the first time with Yeti Airlines. Honestly, there wasn’t much of a difference between the two experiences. Both flights were slightly delayed, but that’s quite normal. The important thing is that I reached Pokhara safely and quickly, and that’s all that matters.

How to purchase a ticket for a domestic flight within Nepal?

Theoretically, you can buy a flight ticket online. However, errors are common during the purchase process, mainly because a Nepal-issued card is required. To be honest, I’ve never succeeded myself. Of course, this might not be your case, and hopefully, things will improve in the future. As of now, I recommend buying a ticket at a travel agency in Kathmandu. I always bought my flight tickets the night before the flight with no issues. Some things in Nepal are easier than you think. There are plenty of good travel agencies in both Kathmandu and Pokhara where you will get help arranging your transportation and purchasing the tickets.

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