Your guide to hiring a guide for trekking in Nepal

Before I even arrived in Nepal I was worried about both trekking and finding the right guide.

A Nepalese Porter
Knowing the difference between a guide and a porter-guide is important

It's not easy to know what to expect when you arrive in Nepal, or even from home when planning a trek.

From online tour companies claiming the world to confusing forums there is a lot of information out there.

This page will help you with answers to the questions I had before arriving.

My problems were the following:

I was alone, where to start?

This was an issue as I had been told I would meet up with plenty of people in Nepal. Eventually I did, but at the start when I arrived in Pokhara there were few people around. So I was at the mercy of agencies, hotels and touts.
So I spent a week canvassing all the hotels, agencies and personal guides out there.

Here's what I found out, it might save you some time too:

(1) Hotels and Agencies charge commissions for guides, so the price of a guide is greater going through them.
(2) The average cost was USD $15-30 per day for a trekking guide.
(3) When I asked if I could join another group an agency had going I was told yes. But they did not know the numbers going until a day before they left. Meaning I did not know whether I would be sharing the cost of a guide with 2 people or 5.
(4) Most agencies had a 1-5 guide to trekker ratio.

Annapurna Range of Mountains
Part of the Annapurna Mountain Range
(5) All Agencies claimed their guides were covered with insurance.
(6) Trekking permits were included in some prices but not in others.
(7) Many agencies tried to push all inclusive packages which included hotels, food etc. These started at a scary USD $1550 and up fee for the Annapurna Circuit (about the same for Everest Base Camp).
(8) There was little difference in hiring a guide from a hotel or agency other than the cost.
(9) Hiring a guide without going through an agency started at around USD $25 per day, so with more than one person, the cost could be split.
(10) Pokhara is a much better place than Kathmandu to find a trekking guide for the Annapurna region. Most treks start from Pokhara and not KTM unless it's for Everest Base Camp and treks around the Langtang region in which case Kathmandu is better.

Where to go on a trek in Nepal?

This was easier to decide once I got to Nepal. After one or two sit downs with agencies and asking them to suggest places based on my time frame I had a better idea. Also some good online photo galleries showed me what to expect. I chose the Annapurna Circuit (and have since been to EBC along with many more treks).

A good place to look at more treks is this list of treks in Nepal

Who to Believe about trekking in Nepal?

I had so much advice from online articles and forums I was a bit boggled with the information. Once you know how many days you have for trekking this is essentially a good starting point. After that pick a trek.

Women carrying firewood in Nepal
Women carrying firewood in Nepal along a trek route

Then question the guide and agency about it e.g. what you will see etc. Before you go it helps to ask about trek conditions, time of year etc. Do ask for a guides qualifications too. Many cheaper guides simply don't have any recognized qualifications or insurance (hence they are cheaper). Don't fall for cheap guides because if things go wrong on a trek you really will need a guide who is experienced. Aside from that experienced guides explain a lot more about the surrounding mountains and landscapes than inexperienced guides. This is something I can't emphasis enough. It's a once in a life time trip so try and not skimp!

I don't believe everything I read on online forums as personal feelings and profit making spammers often get in the way of the truth. At least here you know its my personal experience ;-)

The cost of hiring a guide in Nepal?

Let me start off my clearing up one pet peeve I have. Booking a guide/trek online is incredibly expensive.

Steps on a Nepal trek
Steps on a Nepal trek
I know one person who was quoted $500+ for a 6 day Poon Hill trek. Included was a luxury tourist bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara. 3 Star Hotel in KTM and Pokhara. Expert guide fully insured, Maps included, quality guest houses on the trek. (they sometimes throw in meals too).

Let me break that down to reality.
(1) Pokhara to KTM one way on a Greenline Bus $21-25 including lunch and water.
(2) 3 Star hotel in KTM and Pokhara $8-15 USD (everyone's a 3 star by the way)
(3) Cost of guide - lets say $USD 25 per day
(4) Cost of trek guesthouse $USD 5-6 tops, depending on season. It can be as low as $2 depending on the season
(5) Meals Dhal Bhat $1-4 or Steaks etc $6-$8 +
(6) Map 100 rps

Now you can do the math. For some its convenience that makes booking online better, and that's fine. For others you might want to re-think due to costs. One important thing to note when booking online is that you don't get to choose your guide!

Another point is that those "too good to be true" online prices for a trek and guide often bundle you in with a group of other trekkers. This can often be problematic because if the other group are larger than yours then they will dictate what happens on the trek.

Another important matter to consider is not skimping on a guides costs. If this is your first trek in Nepal I really do recommend you go with an experienced guide who speaks good English and knows the area well. It's your once in a lifetime trip so make the most of it with a good guide.

You are welcome to contact me if you'd like the details of the guide I use.

For Everest Base Camp trekkers here's a cost break down of the Everest Base Camp trek for all other treks here is a break down on the cost of a trek in Nepal.

How to choose the right guide in Nepal?

Interview at least 3 guides, whether they be independents or from an agency. Remember, you will be with this person from anywhere between 3 - 25 days!
Suggested questions to ask and confirm:
(1) Agree on the route.
(2) Agree on the price.

Annapurna Base Camp Trail
Valley leading to the Annapurna Base Camp Trail
(3) Agree on the need for porters and who's responsible for them before hand.
(4) Agree that you will make the final decision on guesthouse to stay at en route.
(5) Ask how many times the guide has done the trek?
(6) Do they have a family? What do they do aside from Guiding - in other words try to get to know them a bit better personally.
(7) Agree about who pays for what en route?
(8) Confirm they are registered guides and that they are insured (they will have certificates to prove this).
(9) Ask them if they will be drinking alcohol on the trek (in other words find out if this could be an issue).
(10) Confirm that your guide will be paying for his own food and accommodation.
(11) Reconfirm the finances.
(12) Ask yourself if are you totally happy, and comfortable with the guide?

Do I need Guide or a Porter in Nepal?

First the difference:
(1) A guide should speak good English and be able to tell you about the places you pass though. They can arrange accommodation and negotiate with tea houses and eateries for you. A trekking guide does not carry your equipment.
(2) A porter carries your equipment for you and no more (20kg max). They don't often speak any English. Most can carry two backpacks that they will strap together. But it's very important you do not take advantage of the porter. They are usually very proud people and will attempt to carry things that are just too heavy. Which is not good.
Trekking in the dark before morning
Trekking in the dark before morning

(3) I would recommend leaving heavy bags at your hotel rather than hiring a porter specifically for carrying things you will not need on the trek. That said if you plan on carrying camera equipment such as SLR's and tripods having a porter can be a great help to free you up.
(4) There are porter-guides too. A trainee guide if you will. They have been porters and are now nearly full guides but may still be working on their English or building their hours up on the trekking routes. They can carry some of your gear but not as much as a full porter.

As a woman, is it safe to trek alone in Nepal with a guide?

Many women go trekking in Nepal both in groups and solo.

Trekking towards Everest
Trekking in the dark before morning
It's important that you feel comfortable with your guide. The majority of guides are male. However there are some agencies with female only guides and porters that you might want to consider if you are not comfortable with a male guide.

However these guides are much more expensive and in recent years even when booked seem to be unavailable once you actually arrive in Nepal. Do take care.

On all treks there are registration stops and your details are logged. Again the best advice I can give is go with a recommended guide who has good references. You may also want to do the following for piece of mind:

  • Let your friends and family know your itinerary
  • Take a photo of your guide and his license and send it to your friends and family. Make sure the guide and or trekking agency know you've done this.

It's worth reading about solo female travel in Nepal.

Things to know when trekking with a guide in Nepal

In relation to the guides duties when on a trek it depends what you agreed at the start.
(1) They can help get you a trekking permit before you leave.
(2) Generally guides will not carry anything for you, but will usually carry a light coat if you get stuck.
(3) They do get commission from guesthouses and so on, and yes they pay much lower rates than you for accommodation and food. Considering the annual wage in Nepal, this is not much.
(4) The cost of food and water goes up the higher your altitude as it takes more effort to move things up there!

(5) Tipping a guide was never customary until about 20 years ago (it's not part of traditional Nepali culture). However, it's now seen as normal when it comes to trekking. Depending on how you feel your guide did, 10% of the treks value is the average. If taking a porter, make sure the guide splits some of this with them. Again, it's not mandatory to tip - it's based on if you felt the guide when above and beyond in being a trekking guide!
(6) It's up to you to be sure you are prepared with adequate clothing, equipment and physical ability. While your guide can offer help it's still your trek!

Recommendations: I will not be listing any guide names here (if you are stuck, see below). I've have written reviews of many agencies and local guides in my First Time Trekking Nepal book and in my Nepal guidebook. Keep in mind that contacting guides from overseas is tough. The internet in Nepal in slow and unpredictable as are the phone lines. They are also often away on treks, and not able to communicate during that time. While most guides speak good English, written English might be difficult for them. If you have all your gear, you can generally be good to go in 1-2 days. For more information on Nepal check out my Guide to Nepal.

** If you are seriously stuck or interested in the guide I use you can contact me. He is 100% genuine, honest, has a great experience of the land and is often the envy of several other trekkers I meet on treks **

More articles on trekking in Nepal

You might find my following free guides helpful:

Trekking in Nepal

My guide on trekking in Nepal

  Trekking Equipment Check out my guide on equipment & gear needed for trekking in Nepal
List of treks to hike in Nepal Check out my list of treks to do in Nepal complete with maps   Nepal Mountain range Check out my guide on how to travel overland into Tibet for a lot more!
Trekking in Nepal How to choose a trekking guide in Nepal   Record of Mount Everst Base Camp Trek in the Winter My Day by day account of trekking to Everest Base Camp in the off season (winter)
Traveling overland into Nepal Check out my How to travel overland into Nepal guide   Guide to traveling Nepal Check out my country Guide to Nepal

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In the book I cover all the popular treks in Nepal with step-by-step accuracy using scalable maps, photographs and travel tested up-to-date trekking information.

Just like my other guidebooks to Nepal it's an interactive & printable guidebook like no other.

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