Everest Base Camp Trek Day 1 The Arrival: Everything you need to know about flying to Lukla

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ February 2nd, 2012. Updated on February 20th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Lukla Airport runway

This is the tiny airstrip you will land on, basically a cliff face. And, the sun is not up over the mountain yet on the first flight!

How to get to Mount Everest Base Camp (Day 1)

Choices in starting an Everest base camp trek

There are actually several ways to reach Everest Base camp. Because there are in fact two base camps!

  1. North Everest Base camp located in Tibet. Tibet permit and a permit from the Chinese government needed. Can be reached by jeep during the summer seasons.
  2. South Everest Base camp – Located in Nepal. Permit needed, and bought on the way. Yes, this is the popular one.

I’m in Nepal, so let’s talk about getting to Mount Everest South Base Camp.

There are two ways to get to Lukla, which is the starting point for the trek.

Take a bus from Kathmandu to Jiri, and trek 6-8 days to Lukla

Fly for 30 minutes from Kathmandu to Lukla

Why fly to Lukla instead of trek?

If given the opportunity to choose between overland travel or a flight, I’ll choose overland. The only other time I would not choose this is if I’ve been to a country before. Or, if it involves crazy overcrowded boats.

Now I have another exception.

If the flight is the kind of crazy flight that you can only see in an adventure movie or crazy comedy

Flying from Kathmandu to Lukla is one of those flights. And, possibly one of the best parts of this infamous trek.

Boarding the flight to Lukla

Your tiny twin propeller engine will be a tight fit …

Let’s start easily though, and get the ticket first.

How to buy an airplane ticket to Lukla for the Everest Base Camp Trek

If you are booking a tour from overseas. Skip ahead. You’re paying a premium and your tour company should have done all this for you. If you are doing this yourself, read on.

  • If you have time look for the weather reports. At certain times of the year Lukla flights are often cancelled due to fog or snow.
  • Next get some cash. Flight prices vary, but generally, minus “agent fees” go for around $125-150 one way.
  • Don’t bother trying to book these online, or at the airline offices. Yeti, Sita, Shangrila Air and Gorkah (plus a few new ones all the time) all fly there. Buy from an agent, it’s just the way it’s done. And, it’s very easy.
  • There are no individual weight limits on these flights. For groups yes. You can go with more than what you can carry, unless you are bringing some porters to carry everything for you.
  • If you are buying a ticket for your guide and porters remember they get a super discount on the airfare, so don’t get cheated by paying the same amount as your fare!
  • Unless you are really stuck for time, buy your return ticket on the way back. Many people can book ahead for you so long as you pay ahead eg. from Lukla.

Tip: Go into a booking agent when you arrive in Lukla, and book a ticket, pay nothing. Take his number and call a day or two before you get back to Lukla. Yes, there are phones all along the Everest base camp trek, though the price of a call goes up the remoter you are.

Preparing for the flight to Lukla

Inside the plane flying to Lukla

Inside the plane to Lukla, aim for the left hand side for the best views :)

Everything at this airport is up for grabs. It’s a bit of a free for all with some resemblance of order. Keep your wits about you and think of it all as a big adventure. You will enjoy it more this way rather than stressing out.

Meanwhile, here are some tips:

  • Departures take place from the Kathmandu Domestic Airport which is beside Tribhuvan International Airport. Get there early, about one hour or ninety minutes before hand.
  • Security is light. There are no restrictions on what you can bring on-board, weapons aside.
  • Checking in can be chaotic. Get your bags checked in and then taken away from you. No you cannot take a big bag or even daypack on-board with you. And, even if you could it’s too cramped inside. So hand everything bar your camera, passport and money over. Get a ticket for the bag and move over to physically check yourself in.
  • Pay a departure tax. Prices generally change at random, but pay it and collect your tax ticket.
  • Hand all your tickets over bar luggage ticket and get your boarding pass.
  • Wait in departures until your flight is called. Listen carefully as the speakers don’t work well. More often then not it will just be a man who mumbles something about a next flight. There are no seat numbers only plane numbers. Don’t rush, you won’t have to sit on anyones lap.

Tip: If you are really into dirty windscreen photo shots of the Himalayas then get a seat to the left when leaving from Lukla.

What’s the flight like from Kathmandu to Lukla

Fantastically crazy – like that little plane from Indiana Jones only smaller.

  • It will be cramped on-board. The odd chicken may appear, not to mention some other livestock. You may also be sitting above a seat that’s got several bags of rice or crates of beer under it.
  • A nice lady will hand out cotton wool for your ears and possibly a sweet for you. Take them both.
  • The two propeller engines will start and the noise will continue to rise along with your heartbeat, put the cotton wool in your ears.
  • At a deafening whine the cabin will begin to shake and the noise will get even louder as you rev up to take off.
  • The plane will lurch forward at a quick pace and within seconds you will be airborne and you’ll be glad of it!
  • If the weather is good your flight will be a noisy 30 minute flight with lots of smiles all around.
  • If you encounter even the briefest of breezes the plane will bounce you around like a match in a box. You will then suddenly realize how thin the airplane walls are and wonder where “that” cold breeze is coming from.
  • Then you will see breathtaking mountains that will take your mind off things until …
  • The plane will make a sharp turn right and the engines may or may not go silent.
  • You will then remember you are about to land on one of the shortest runways on the world perched on the edge of a cliff at an angle. Good luck!
Tenzeng / Hillary Lukla Airport Sign

Arriving in Lukla, this is the first sign you will see … it’s here the butterfly’s start!

Landing at Lukla Airport

Officially named after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing, Lukla has also been called one of the most extreme airports in the world. Thin air, highly changeable weather and a very short sloping runway make it one of the most challenging to say the least.

There have been several incidents at this airport. Including fatalities in 2010. That said, the pilots are very skilled. And … well, it’s all a part of the experience.

After the engines rev low to a near stop the plane literally glides onto the sloped landing strip at a rising angle. You land with a strange bang with the nose of the plane pointing up. The brakes jam on hard and you come to a very sudden stop.

There’s usually a little cheer at this point and a lot of exhaling.

Collect your bags outside. Congratulations you made it on your first step to Everest base camp!

If you want to see a video of planes landing at Lukla, and the flight itself. I’ll be posting them here at the end of the trek.

The Everest Base Camp Trek Starts!

I’ll now be documenting my trek to Everest Base Camp. And, I will be doing so in the form of my daily journals. Raw, personal, and old school. Please keep that in mind when reading them.

I’ve spread them out over a few weeks with a lot of photographs. You’ll get to experience what it’s like trekking to Everest Base Camp in the middle of a very cold winter at its most extreme; when most people don’t go.

Snow at this time of year is unpredictable. It also blocks the mountain passes and can turn you back. I planned on visiting Gokyo and Everest Base Camp in the off-peak winter season. I didn’t make one.

Something went terribly wrong on the first day that jeopardized the whole trek. What went wrong? Who did I go with? How cold did it get? Did I turn back? You’ll read it all here over the next few weeks!

Meanwhile bookmark, this page, stumble it, tweet it or email it to a friend because it’s a useful resource for anyone planning to fly to Lukla for the Everest Base Camp Trek!

Coming Soon

Everest Base Camp trek Day 1 part II (Let’s trek: The Journals – Boy did I just make a big mistake)

Note this is not live, the trek took place in December/January

The Everest Base Camp Guide:

Planning a trip to Nepal and trekking to Everest Base Camp? For all the details on what to do, when to go, permits need, costs, maps and much more check out my dedicated  Guide to Everest Base Camp.

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35 Great responses to Everest Base Camp Trek Day 1 The Arrival: Everything you need to know about flying to Lukla

  1. James says:

    Another great step by step guide. Sounds like a fantastic experience though. Interesting how you can’t get tickets direct from the airlines.

    • Hi James,

      Well I’ve asked, and you can buy direct from the airlines. But you’d have to located their main offices first. Some of them are quite spread out. Add in Nepal’s terrible electricity problem and even if you get to the office, they might not be able to book a ticket then and there. They might ask you to come back, and then there will be huge queues. Add in taxi fares, and how a lot of these offices are spread out, you probably will end up spending more buying from them directly than from an agent

  2. Nate Yomadic says:

    Woah! Just this first instalment has taught me more than I ever knew about Everest Base Camp. I very wrongly assumed the journey to get there is not as epic, as it clearly is in reality. Looking forward to the rest of the story!

  3. Anna's World says:

    It’s all in the details! So many of them. Always wanted to know what Everest was like. Looking forward to this!

  4. Victoria says:

    Love the tip about seeing the airport as an adventure. I feel that way about means of travel, regardless of how “mundane” it is perceived. Looking forward to reading the rest ;-)

    • Hi Victoria,

      I saw quite a few people lose their cool at the airport. It just doesn’t get you very far in Nepal. One person even threatened to sue for being an hour late. People looked at him and laughed … Am sure you’ve seen it too! ;)

  5. Michael says:

    The flight sounds very Indiana Jones!

  6. Thomas Lennard says:

    Fantastic account of Lukla on the EBC. I remember the haphazard chaos at the airport along with seeing a few goats wandering around.

    That landing bump still sends shivers up my spine.

  7. Malcom says:

    Looking forward to reading your account of Base Camp. Why go in the winter though?

  8. Jakob says:

    Fantastic written again! I like this sentence very much: “If the flight is the kind of crazy flight that you can only see in an adventure movie or crazy comedy”…I totally agree!

  9. Jason says:

    Memories flooding back Dave. It’s been many years since I’ve graced the trails in that part of the world. The Lukla airport and the surrounding region seems to have gone a little upmarket in recent years. It was not a tarmac runway when I visited last and was purely loose rock and stone.

    That didn’t worry me though as we landed in a helicopter in the back yard of someones house next to the air port. Long story……..

    Looking forward to reading along on this one Dave.

    • There’s even a mobile base station at Base Camp now. A couple of people have used it to tweet from the top of Mount Everest. Well, in between hand gliding from the top etc. One of the reasons I went in the off season – to avoid running into all that.

  10. Lauren K says:

    Ah, already so helpful Dave. As someone who is terribly afraid of flying (despite having flown countless times all over the world) these details are beyond helpful and reassuring. When I do board that flight to Lukla in May, I will know what to expect. Very much looking forward to the next post.

  11. Shannon says:

    While I’ll never trek since I can’t walk long distances I’m guessing you can see Everest much better from Lukla? What else is around Lukla that if one is not going to the base camp? Do they make boarding announcements in English? If not I wonder how you figured out which one was your flight? (unless you know some of their language).

  12. What an amazing experience to hike Everest! That little plane sounds really crazy– I hope they have air sick bags :) Although, the adrenaline of thinking about the grand adventure you are about to embark on probably calms the nerves for many. Looks forward to hearing all about your experience!

  13. hayadeen says:

    *puking rainbow*

    ..dave, have fun and have a nice day..

  14. ooh, I didn’t know you had to fly to the base camp! That’s extra fees for the trek, huh? And I can’t imagine trekking Everest is cheap in itself. =(

    But cool in-flight roughing-it-style entertainment!

    • You can also trek from Jiri and add on 5-8 days. Flying in costs between $120 and $160. A guide can cost you too if you’re not careful. Package deals add up. But it’s the people who buy package deals from big companies who really lose out on $$

  15. Sach says:

    Did the EBC trek in November 2010. The best hike I’ve ever been on. Enjoy!

  16. Andreas says:

    That’s why I love TLWH – brilliant :)

  17. Sigmond says:

    You can take a day pack on board. We all did this last month. I guess it depends on the airline. Cheerio.

  18. parman says:

    hi dave,, i need some information about lukla flights,, im planning to trek to EBC in May 26th this year..

    so,, if my arrival date in kathmandu is the day before (which is May 25th), do you think i can still get ticket for tomorrow flight (may 26th) to lukla? are they often sold out?

    • Hi there,

      I got an email from you too I think so I’ll keep it brief. May is the start of the hot season and the end of the second busiest trekking time of year. There are multiple flights to Lukla everyday from Kathmandu. The problem is more to do with the weather. If it’s hazy, then flights might get cancelled. If not then you should be fine. I’ll give you a contact via email if you want to book a flight ahead.

  19. Rachel says:

    Hi Dave – fab info, thanks so much for the time you’ve put into this! Just a quick question. I am planning to trek solo to EBC in November (thought it more sensible for me to go in tourist season in case I get into trouble, even though I’d rather be alone – ha ha!). Obviously I’ll have things well planned (map, gps, distances etc.) but I just wondered if the trail is pretty clear in general. I know that it gets a little hard to make out in the last couple of days before EBC but is it relatively straightforward without a guide? I know women do this solo but I am trying to gain as much info as possible. I appreciate you were probably in snow so might be difficult to answer but any advice would be fantastic. Thanks so much! Rachel :o)

    • Hi Rachel,

      November is a good time to go, still some tourists but not as many as Sept/Oct!

      As for the trails, it only snowed when I reached basecamp so I got to see them all the way up. Let’s just say they are not marked out with sign posts all the way. As you have a map, compass/gps you should be okay so long as you’ve done some form of trekking before. There will be people around though. And asking at guesthouses along the way will help. Keep in mind English is not always spoken.

      The best thing is to have time on your side. Start early and end early. Travelling in the late afternoon or at night is really not advisable. Tagging along behind a group can help too. Do be aware of altitude sickness and the signs of it if you are going alone.

      If this is your first trek then I’d consider a guide, or a guide/porter. It will actually take some worry off your shoulders so you can enjoy the trek more. Otherwise it’s a case of a map, knowing how to read it, asking questions to people you see, knowing your own limitations and taking your time!

      I’ve written up some more about trekking to Everest base camp here. Check out the links in the side bars for more. Also my Travel Guide to Nepal and the side bar links there should help with Nepal in general.

      Hope this helps.