Independent trekking banned in Nepal – guides are now mandatory

Trekking on a trail with a guide in Nepal
Trekking without a guide in Nepal
Trekking without a guide in Nepal can be great and safe but only if you’ve trekking in Nepal before and you’ve done your research (times have changed)!

Nepal has banned solo trekking in Nepal from April 1st 2023

Nepal Tourism Board, Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal have decided that from April 1st 2023 all trekkers visiting Nepal must have a mandatory trekking guide with them. Free Independent Trekker cards (permits) will no longer be given out. All trekkers must now pay a new increased fee for regular Trekker Information Management Cards. Today their release their official statement.

It’s a decision that has gone back and forth for a decade. It’s also a decision that will have huge repercussions on Nepal’s tourism industry the likes of which the country will be feeling for years. Nepal has now lost its title of the world’s greatest independent trekking country and also its title as a land of adventure to one of land of package treks. Hotels, restaurants, local businesses will all see a loss of independent tourists, backpackers, budget travelers, and more as large tour companies seize on a prize they’ve wanted for years. Head of Nepal Tourism Board Dhananjaya Regmi has stated that the minister for tourism supports this ban.

The announcement was greeted with scorn and disappointment with international trekkers, along with many local Nepali businesses. The reasons for this move to ban independent trekking in Nepal are clear to all – a clear move to make money for “well connected trekking agencies” and to tighten the noose on foreign tourists wallets (Nepali trekkers are not included). They’ve wrapped all of this up under the guise of improving safety – which has been disproved long before this announcement.

What are the new rules for trekking in Nepal?

  • Starting April 1st 2023 all foreign trekkers in Nepal must be accompanied by a Nepali guide who is licensed and works for a trekking company.
  • FIT Cards are being replaced with new TIMS cards costing $20 USD (an increase of $10).

To be clear. All non-Nepali single people, couples, and groups will need a mandatory trekking guide for all official treks in Nepal. Freelance guides are no longer able to take trekkers. All guides must work for a TAAN licensed trekking company.

Khopra Danda high camp
You can trek to Khopra Danda as many do without a guide but if you’ve never trekked before it would be be a good idea to go prepared

“The decision to enforce mandatory guide for trekkers falls under Nepal Tourism Board’s jurisdiction,” said Rajendra Kumar KC, spokesperson for the Tourism Ministry. “The issue was under discussion for quite a long time to ensure the safety of the trekkers.”

“The ministry has no objection to it,” KC added. (Kathmandu Post).

Why has Nepal banned independent trekking?

Officially the reason is to improve trekkers safety. However the numbers of missing trekkers or trekkers who have died in Nepal that are being quoted by Nepal Tourism Board are simply not correct. They are quoting 10-15 every year.

Trekking guide in Upper Mustang
Some treks like Upper Mustang were already enforcing a mandatory guide plus one other person!

The reality is that in 2016 there were 5 missing trekkers. In 2017 there were also 5 missing trekkers. In 2018 the official number was 3 with 7 unconfirmed. 2020-2001 trekking was closed due to the pandemic. In 2022 there were again 5 missing trekkers. It should also be noted that several of these missing trekkers went missing with guides ( Likewise, deaths of trekkers are about equal between solo trekkers and trekkers with guides. Compare that to India where 32 trekkers went missing last year. In Switzerland a whopping great 122 trekkers got lost in the mountains in 2021 and 1,525 needed to be rescued.

Nepal is not exactly leading the list of missing trekkers around the world.

A flawed reason for banning independent trekking in Nepal

You may have noticed aside from the dubious numbers from the spokes people making this ruling is that Nepali trekkers are not included in the proposed new “safety” protocol of having mandatory guides. Yes, a solo Nepali person can trek anywhere without a guide. And yes, Nepali trekkers are included in the numbers above. It seems those making up these rules have no care for the safety of their own citizens who also go missing and are included in the above numbers.

Trekking on a trail with a guide in Nepal
Trekking on a trail with a guide in Nepal

It’s also worth pointing out that there are a huge amount of people within NTB and TAAN who own trekking agencies. It is clearly in their financial interest to try and restrict trekkers and push them into their exclusive package treks. They are after all the people making up the rules – conflict of interest? Meanwhile, there is no improvement in trekking guides training in a country where just last year in November a registered trekking guide deserted 11 trekkers in the snow whereupon two died. A good lesson for those reading to hire a good trekking guide from a trusted recommendation.

It’s also worth pointing out the utter failure of TAAN and NTB in making the current Trekker Information Management Cards worth while. How bad is the system that stated by TAAN to help ensure the safety of trekkers in Nepal? Well, currently none of the checkpoints are open. In fact they’ve all been closed since 2020. And, to add insult to injury NTB still insist trekkers buy TIMS cards for the Solokhumbu (Everest) region despite the local regional administration banning TIMS cards since 2018 because they were so useless!

The reason for the ban to put it honestly: corruption and greed

How will this new rule on making trekking guides mandatory in Nepal work?

This is the icing on the cake. There is no plan. All TIMS cards checkpoints are closed. NTB seem to be under the impression that trekking agencies will have to enforce the rule and be responsible for all trekkers. It sounds a lot like mob rule – similar to the Maoist beatings of tourists in the mid 2000s who refused to pay on the spot fines for going through their land. If this occurs, then Nepal will no longer be in the top 100 of any trekking destination, let alone the top 10 which it is about to drop out of. The irony is that NTB is enacting this mandatory guide rule from an old rule from the mid 2000s due to the danger from Maoist groups at the time. Something that is no longer a problem. However, something similar might start up again, in terms of groups harassing trekkers if they are seen without a guide.

NTB statement on Mandatory Trekking guides
NTB statement on Mandatory Trekking guides

Even if the TIMS card checkpoints open up again, nobody knows if a solo trekker on April 1st coming back from a trek not knowing this rule will be fined or arrested? Similarly what happens if independent trekkers head out and are stopped randomly halfway through their trek? Are they sent back? Fined, or forced to have a mandatory trekking guide flown in by helicopter (inside joke on the helicopter scam)? Again, it’s all been left up in the air with a promise of guidelines will be introduced shortly – a little late for people who already booked flights and their budgets this year.

In one grasp of greed Nepal has shattered its trophy as the world’s greatest independent trekking country.

The worst that can happen is nothing. Which will be typical of NTB and TAAN. No official improvements in guide training or proper guidelines just like the banning of TIMS card in Solokhumbu. This leads the way to local groups or guides harassing solo trekkers when trekking without a guide. We are all basically waiting for official guidelines. Today was the first announcement in a week of waiting.

Will this ban be changed?

There are two scenarios that will play out here. Despite the ruling, nothing will happen and TAAN will never open the checkpoints. The issue will boil down to if trekkers can get travel insurance for what will become “unofficial treks” aka any trek with no guide. However, the likelihood of this rule never being enforced is still high – at the moment. Sadly, based on my experience in Nepal, I can tell you now that we won’t know more until the end of April when reports come in if checks are being done or not and by whom.

Solo trekking over the Throng La Pass
While the Annapurna Circuit is popular with many trekkers without a guide …. can you really tell which was to go by yourself at 5,000m in the snow? The answer is – you should take a guide

The next way this can be changed is how it has happened in the past. Nepali hotel associations and restaurants along with small businesses object to this as their businesses lose out to package tour operators. Previously they have put up a good fight to stop bans on solo trekking from occurring. However, this time around after the pandemic and cost of living increases it seems desperation has taken hold and many have signed off on the ban. I would estimate it won’t be until 2025 that they see a decrease in independent visitors to their businesses.

Finally, tourists themselves will have a say – by simply not visiting Nepal and choosing another mountainous country that does not enforce mandatory guides (vast majority of the world). The first batch of independent travelers to do this will be backpackers, followed by experienced solo trekkers, repeat solo trekker tourists, followed by people who simply don’t want the restrictions of having  a guide with them.

Are there any treks that an independent trekker can do without a guide in Nepal?

I’ve always advocated tourists to hire a guide for your first trek in Nepal. Even experienced trekkers. However, I also support independent trekking for those with experience or for those with more than one trek completed – it’s one of the things that made Nepal so great. Trekking alone in the mountains with nature all around you. First hand experiences of adventure.

You can still trek in Nepal without a guide in areas where you “don’t need a TIMS card”. Examples of this include

As you may notice these are all low altitude treks that don’t have TIMS checkpoints or are outside National Parks. Khopra Danda is another one however it depends how you reach it.

All of the above are available in my book Trekking in Nepal.


Here’s something for high altitude trekkers too. The Solokhumbu (Everest) region does not accept TIMS cards. There’s also no official announcement on mandatory guides from the local administration there. In fact they only just announced that group trekkers with guides need to pay a local regional permit, while independent (solo) trekkers can trek so long as they buy a TREK card (USD $20). This may well change as they also wanted mandatory guides, but as of now these treks also don’t require mandatory guides.

This is what NTB and TAAN get for not making official guidelines with their ruling. My guess is the local administration of Solukhumbu will enforce the ban at some stage, but for now, there is nothing official stating you can’t trek alone on those treks. However, once again, my own advice is for all first time trekkers to take a guide.

All of the above are available in my book Trekking in Nepal.

Is this the end of trekking in Nepal?

No. You can still trek, but you’ll need a guide, maybe. Nepal is a country where many rules are imposed on people, but the vast majority of rules are never implemented. There was a great law that banned car honking in Kathmandu in 2017 – it’s still a law, but nobody obeys it. Cars were banned in Thamel during 2018 – today cars and motorcycles drive with reckless abandon throughout Thamel.

Trekking in Nepal
Nepal’s peak seasons are the best time to go trekking for a reason!

It’s the uncertainty with no guidelines and most importantly no improvements that many people don’t like. The old saying of “carry on” as normal applies to this “ban” on independent trekking. The dreaded, wait and see in April what happens is being touted. It’s all very much up in the air, unfortunately. However one thing is certain, ask a trekking agent or NTB and they will categorically tell you that a guide is now mandatory only for “foreigners”- why? Because they make money from it. Ask them what actual safety precautions have been created or what improvements to trekking guide training has been introduced and you’ll get a blank stare and a perhaps, if you are lucky a head wobble.

The news of Nepal’s ban on independent trekking is a different story than most. Indeed, in one grasp of greed Nepal has shattered it’s trophy as the world’s greatest independent trekking country. Gone also is the moniker of Nepal being a country filled with adventure, replaced with the moniker of a country of package tours and mandatory watch dogs. Make of it what you will. We carry on until such time as someone makes proper guidelines with clear definitions, regulations, and implementation.

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26 Replies to “Independent trekking banned in Nepal – guides are now mandatory”

  1. Terrible news. Thank you for letting us now about it. We were planning to spend a month in Nepal this October. Thankfully not bought tickets yet. We were going to do EBC with a guide. Then another two weeks on the APC on our own.

    It’s added just too much to the budget so we’ll head to Georgia instead.

  2. Of all the articles I read, this tells the most. Well done.

    The fact there is no guide training, Nepali people don’t need to take a guide, and they’ve increased the fees is just a blatantly bad decision. Such a shame.

  3. Let me get this straight. Nepali trekkers don’t need a TIMS or a mandatory guide while everyone else does? Discriminatory plus a show that they really don’t care about Nepali people ….

  4. Sorry to read this. In a world that’s become harder and more expensive such a stupid move makes me think badly of Nepal.

    I read the reports and Nepali trekkers go missing too.

    Package treks? No thanks. We’ve trekked in many countries and are experienced. We don’t don’t need babysitting.

    1. Yes, Nepali trekkers for missing on a constant basis. It’s not reported beyond the local news, and even then families and friends generally don’t tell the press. They simply hire a search team locally … why? Because there is no insurance for Nepali trekkers.

  5. Furious after reading about this. No notice. Nothing. And now our budget had gone up with stupid trekking agencies raising the costs of “package treks” with “mandatory guides”.

    1. Many people were caught out with the short notice. Likewise, trekking agencies are trying to cash in with high prices, or the worst of them are trying to lure people in with too goo to be true prices only to catch them later with additional fees.

  6. A lot of people are saying this won’t happen? What do you think? We are planning to visit in October but now this. Not interested in being forced to take a guide for a short trek that has a road leading to it (Poon Hill).

  7. I read this today and was just so sad. So many happy memories on my visits to Nepal. I’ve always advocated for people to visit. Not any more. No more freedom. It’s simple greed and I’ll simply go to India now.

  8. I’m stunned by this. For a country that much of the world has helped over the decades both in terms of donations and on the ground expenditure for tourism this is a pretty low thing to do.

  9. Are these the same tourism people that market the country as a great trekking destination? I guess that’s over now too. India: gateway to the Himalayas vs Nepal: closed paid access only road to the Himalayas

  10. Has anyone thought about the thousands of businesses that will lose out on this? Hotels?! Local teahouses? Restaurants? Trekking stores?

    We are not stupid, and know that mandatory guides means package tours who select the hotels, teahouses, restaurants and trekking stores for the best profit. The local ones will lose out.

    1. It’s a valid question. I certainly thought about. Unfortunately there has been no feasibility study. So the answer is: they thought about it, and don’t care so long as their personal trekking companies make money out of this.

  11. In one day Nepal went from being the top dog in trekking to the mutt of greedy tour agents

  12. A sad day for trekking in Nepal. So many people will go elsewhere for freedom in the mountains.

    I sincerely hope they will change their minds. Improving guide training has to be done first.

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