Pokhara was a welcome escape from the bustling city of Kathmandu. Although it’s Nepal’s second largest city, it is a relatively calm and quiet lakeside town that is mainly used as a base for hikers to start their long treks around the Annapurna region.
What makes this city so stunning is the abundance of natural beauty along with picturesque panoramic views of the Annapurna mountain range. At every angle, you can see these snow-capped mountains leaving the perfect backdrop for a calm lake. The streets are a combination of guest houses, restaurants, bars, souvenir stores and trekking shops.
A bumpy ride to Pokhara
There are a few ways of reaching Pokhara but the most common way is by tourist bus from Kathmandu. Daily tourist buses leave from Kantipath, Jamel (see map) at 7 am with check-in at 6:30 am. Spot the lines of buses, you can’t miss them. If you haven’t already purchased a ticket, you can do so when you arrive. It costs between 600 NPR and 1000 ($6 USD – $10 USD). For a more comfortable ride and with lunch included, Green Line Tours has services for 2500 NPR ($25 USD).
To get back to Kathmandu, jump on one of the many tourist buses that leave from the bus station in Pokhara. Go and take your pick! Same cost, same buses. They all depart at 6:30 am or 7:30 am.
This bus ride was one of the more ‘interesting’ bus rides we’ve had. Considering the distance is only 200km, it took us a good 7.5 hours to reach Pokhara. The roads are some of the worst we’ve ever seen and the drivers aren’t afraid to fly in and out of potholes.
Too afraid of the bus? There are also daily flights that run the 25-minute trip from Kathmandu. These flights range between $65 USD and $110 USD depending on the airline and can be booked the day before in any of the tourist offices.
Top tips for Pokhara
- Bargain, bargain, bargain! Everything can be bargained for, including a flight back to Kathmandu. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know so don’t be shy 🙂
- Visa/Mastercard is accepted at most restaurants but always with a 3-5% surcharge on top of each transaction.
- Pre-booking hotels are much more expensive than doing it when you arrive (sometimes more than double) however if you are coming in high season (October-November) you may want to pre-arrange.
How long do you need in Pokhara?
Pokhara is one of those cities you could see in a few days but just as easily stay for a couple of weeks. We stayed here 12 days which was perfect. It gave us time to enjoy the outdoors, yet still, relax and enjoy the slower pace, especially coming from Kathmandu. We would recommend a minimum of 5 days to take advantage of everything on offer, not including any long treks (add 4 to 22+ days on for that).
Where to stay in Pokhara
Virtually all accommodation is located in Lakeside, near Phewa Lake. There are guest houses every which way you look and it can be somewhat overwhelming to choose. To help you out, we’ve listed a few that we looked at and stayed at. Our #1 choice would be Harvest Moon Guest House (based on a backpacker budget). It’s located a short 7-minute walk from the main strip but it’s facilities (super fast wifi!) and staff are worth the walk.
At most guest houses the average price for a basic double room is $14-$20 USD (including breakfast). There are hotels with dorm rooms for as low as $5 and hotels with rooms upwards of $100 USD.
Indulge in a few of these restaurants
We definitely ate our way through a lot of restaurants in Pokhara. There are so many. Main meals range from 200 NPR to 900 NPR for a decent meal ($2- 9 USD).
Below are some favourites.
- OR2K – Also located in Kathmandu, OR2K is perhaps one of the most famous restaurants in these 2 cities. 100% vegetarian, they have amazing salads, pasta, juices and breakfasts. To top it off, you have one of the nicest views of the lake (shown above)
- Chicken and Falafel – Delicious chicken/falafel wraps/bowls! We wished we discovered this place earlier. For only 235 NPR ($2.35 USD) you can have a delicious easy meal. It became our go-to.
- Moondance – Pokhara’s most well-known restaurant serving everything from local dishes to Mexican, Italian & Thai. Due to popularity, it is slightly more expensive than the other restaurants.
- Rosemary’s Kitchen – Beautiful back garden with well-plated dishes and reasonable costs.
- Olive Cafe – Good breakfasts and nice staff.
- Busy Bee’s – A gastropub with pool tables, foosball tables and a classic bar menu. Their cocktails are 2 for 1 but super sugary!
- Metro – Holy smokes, the best crepe we’ve ever had… maybe even better than France! :O.
- Bamboo Cocktail Bar (shown below)- Super chill cocktail bar right on the lakeside. Fun friendly staff and a 2 for 1 happy hour!
Top Things to do In Pokhara
As the outdoor capital of Nepal, Pokhara has endless choices for activities. It’s impossible to be bored in this lakeside city. Trekking is no doubt the most common activity, however, there are still plenty of others to keep you occupied such as day treks, adrenaline rush activities or simply relaxing by the lake.
Things to do
- Viewing sunrise or sunset from Sarangkot Hill.
- Hiking the Annapurna Circuit
- Mountain Biking
- Parahawking – Note: Doesn’t begin until October 15th.
- Bungy Jumping/ZipFlyer
- Boat Rentals – 415 NRP ($4 USD) for one hour.
- Ultra Light Flight
- The Tibetan Encounter – An opportunity to spend a day in a local Tibetan community and discover what life is really like for the Tibetans today.
We expand on these activities below:
- Whitewater rafting
- Day hike to the World Peace Pagoda
- Take a 4-day trek to Ghorepani Poonhill.
- Enjoy a day at Jiva Spa
- Relax, drink tea, read a book
- Movie Garden
Without a doubt, we would have loved to do every one of these but there’s that one thing called a budget. What a pest. Make do with what you can!
White Water Rafting (with a long journey home!)
We’ve done this in numerous countries before, but I think we can safely say, rafting down the Lower Seti was one of the best 4 hours we’ve ever had in an inflatable boat! The monsoon season was coming to a close, but the rains were still in full force overnight which resulted in some seriously high water levels, swells as high as 2m, rapid levels of Class 4.
When the 2 rivers combined, the 2 shades of brown were so different, like tea and coffee. It looks gross but it was considerably cleaner than we anticipated.
As we travelled down the river we passed by so many villages, all connected by long skinny bridges (shown below). Locals waved us by and children cheered as we flew over the large swells. Wanting to have some fun with us, our guide veered us right into a huge swelling of water and when I turned back, Jacob was gone. He flipped right out back and was soon rescued by the kayaks close by. After 2 hours of rafting, we pulled over for lunch on side of the river as they prepared pasta salads, sandwiches & fruits for us and got some much-needed energy back.
Every single tourist office in Nepal will sell rafting tours. They range from 1/2 day tours to full day to even 10-day tours. We took our full day expedition with Rapid Runner and surprise surprise, we were able to bargain down the price from USD $50 to USD $40 p.p with lunch included. #1 rated companies such as Paddle Nepal cost $57 for the same service but we were completely satisfied with Rapid Runner.
The LONG journey home
Local buses in Nepal are highly entertaining, yet frustrating at the same time. Inside the bus is like a movie cinema & disco, with decorated rooftops, blasting speakers and a local movie playing loud enough I’d be surprised it wasn’t heard in India. Gripping onto the handles, we began our supposed 4-hour journey back to Pokhara. Unfortunately, our trip was interrupted by a small landslide, non-existent roads and a whole lot of traffic which meant this 4-hour journey quickly turned into 7. Ah, the joys!
Note: If you are heading to Chitwan National Park AFTER your time in Pokhara, we strongly suggest going to Chitwan directly after your rafting day. We didn’t know the river rafting would take us so close to Chitwan (just 1.5 hours away), but instead, we had to go all the way back to Pokhara, which took 7 hours!
Day Hike to the World Peace Pagoda
The World Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist temple sitting on top of a hill on the southern shore of Phewa Lake. It offers sweeping views of the Annapurna mountain range, the city and the lake below. To warm up our legs for our 4-day hike, we left early one morning to reach the top. It took us about 45-60 minutes to get to the top and we (by we, I mean me) filled about 5 buckets with sweat, but it was worth it. It really is quite peaceful at the Peace Pagoda.
After taking in the views, we stopped in at one of the small cafes for a drink before continuing on down the other side of the mountain. By now, it was 39 degrees and the 45-minute walk back didn’t appeal to us at all. Thank goodness for cheap taxis.
How to get there:
- Rent a boat from Lakeside Pokhara, and hike up from the south side of Phewa Lake. The boats leave from the lakeside dock and it takes about 15 minutes to get to the other side. One way was 530 NPR ($5.30 USD) and return 830 NPR ($ 8.30 USD).
- Hire a taxi to the base of the temple and walk 15 minutes to the top. Fares range from 600-1000 NPR ($6-10) but have them wait for you. Bargain with the cost.
- Take a local bus from Lakeside to Chhorepatan. Walk up the paved steep trail to the pagoda.
Enjoy a day at Jiva Spa
Jiva Spa was quite possibly our second visited establishment in Pokhara (1st being chicken and falafel!). It’s impossible to say no to a massage, especially when they are so cheap! $18 for 1 hour. Jiva spa is a peaceful spa located directly on the lakefront. Not only do they give fantastic massages, they have a full day and half day spa treatments along with individual services. It’s definitely the nicest place I’ve had a pedicure before.
Relax, drink tea, read a book, eat, repeat.
Pokhara really is one of the most peaceful cities. Perhaps, because Kathmandu is the complete opposite. You’ll barely hear a horn, the traffic is mellow and the people are calm. More often than not we took a stroll along the lake, stopped in at one of the many lakeside cafes and enjoyed watching the world go by. Considering how touristic this city is, it really doesn’t feel it. It is still filled with so many locals, living their everyday lives and it is so fascinating to be a part of it.
Watch a movie at the Movie Garden.
The movie garden is a small hidden outdoor theatre playing a variety of western movies at 7:30 pm each night. They have a small bar and pizzas to order. If you check in on Facebook, they’ll give you a free bowl of deliciously salty popcorn. Cost: 350 NPR ($3.50 USD).
Take a 4-day trek to Ghorepani, Poon Hill
You can’t visit Nepal and not do a trek. The Ghorepani Poon Hill trek is the most popular trek for introductory hikers. We wrote up two detailed posts on this trek; one going over our personal experiences and a beginner’s guide outlining costs, what to pack, and when to go.
We absolutely loved Pokhara. It was entirely different from everywhere we’ve been. It took a few days to get comfortable but once we did, we didn’t want to leave. A number of restaurants and activities could keep you entertained for weeks. Unfortunately, Pokhara was the last of our time in Nepal and it was the time to pack up and move on.
Married days survived; 553