About Chitwan National Park
Once known as Royal Chitwan National Park today Chitwan National Park is a protected jungle area filled with wildlife located in the mid-south Terrai area of Nepal.
Chitwan used to a hunting ground that royalty used for big game. Established in 1973 conservation orders were put in place to protect the remaining endangered animals found there. In 1984 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Chitwan is about 4-6 hours by bus from Kathmandu or Pokhara. The nearest Airport is located in Bharatpur 10 kilometers away.
Sauraha is a small town located just outside of Chitwan National Park. Sauraha has a large selection of accommodation, tour agencies and restaurants. This is most likely your first stop when visiting Chitwan National Park.
Tourist buses leave once daily every morning from both Kathmandu and Pokhara to Sauraha at 7am and 7.30am respectively. Likewise there are once daily buses from Sauraha to both Kathmandu and Pokhara with tickets starting from 700 rupees. The journey time is approximately 6 hours.
Local buses also depart from other cities and there's a nearby airport. Private car or jeep transport can be arranged with ease though it's not so budget friendly.
Here's my complete travel guide in getting to Chitwan National park, including bus times from different cities, transfers and costs: How to get to Chitwan National Park.
Chitwan National Park is open year round with most wildlife visible. However during the end of the dry season in October to December there is a greater chance of seeing tigers and other wildlife as they come out to the waterholes. Local guides also mention November and December as being good times though it's not that hot.
From June - to September it is both Nepal's Hot season and Monsoon season. It can get very hot and humid in Chitwan at this time of year making trekking uncomfortable for many.
All prices below do not include Chitwan Park's entrance fee (2,000rps per day). The prices below are subject to travel agent fluctuations. Do please see the section further below for full details on Chitwan park fees.
Choose between half day, full day, two/three day, one week or private jungle treks. You can go in a group or alone. Costs may or may not include meals. In many cases a guesthouse will provide a packed lunch/dinner.
Prices start from around 1400 rupees for a half day tour to 1800 for a full day jungle trek based on 4 people. Overnight treks usually include accommodation. If traveling alone prices double - but do shop around as you will get cheaper rates.
What you can expect to see? depending on the time of year. Half day tours usually only end up seeing jungle, Rhesus monkeys and a few birds. If lucky a Rhino. Full day tours will have a greater chance at seeing a Rhino, birds and other wildlife. Overnight tours that go deeper into the jungle have very good chances at seeing Rhino and a fair chance at seeing a tiger.
Jeep Jungle tours
Jeep tours are offered for those wanting to go deep into the jungle quickly. They are often mixed with day excursions and packages. Prices are generally around USD $180 per day inclusive of accommodation and food.
2/3 day package tours are often better value but only if you book in person in Chitwan rather than online where the prices are slightly crazy.
Elephant ride jungle treks
Elephant treks in Chitwan are offered by all lodges and tour agencies. They generally last between 1 and 1.5 hours. Elephant jungle tours usually have three times. Early morning, mid morning and late afternoon. Elephant tours cost between 1800 and 2500+ rupees. These tours are run by people who either own or hire out their elephants.
Government Elephant Safari costs: There is a government elephant tour available which costs 2500 rupees however since 2016 it is has become very hard to arrange. This tour takes place in a separate part of the jungle and an additional fees go to fund the upkeep of the National Park and local communities Elephants are also only taken out twice a day. Government elephants are becoming harder to hire out from their official office. It's easier to find them at the NTNC office. Though most are now used for park patrols by rangers.
There are separate fees for Nepali, SAARC and foreigners from the Government center. Generally speaking the fee for an elephant jungle trek is: Nepali 200, SAARC 1000, foreigner 2500.
Note: The above fees for both regular and government elephant safari's do not include park entrance costs. However it's permitted to buy an Chitwan park ticket after 2pm take an afternoon elephant jungle ride and then use the same ticket for a full day trek the next day.
What you can expect to see? Elephant riding is probably your best way to see Rhinos in Chitwan. Early morning or late afternoon are the ideal times. There are many birds on show along with game.
Elephant cruelty? A lot has rightfully been publicized about elephant cruelty thorough Asia. However, do note that Nepal's elephant tourism industry has taken the opposite approach to most of Asia and been used to directly support conservation. Elephant tourism in Chitwan helps to support jungle patrols to prevent poaching. Nepal has the most successful anti poaching programs in the world and the most successful tiger conservation programs in the world. Do read more about elephant tourism in Nepal before making your own decision.
Elephant breeding center
Located in Sauraha the Elephant breeding center was set up to protect the endangered elephants in the region. There are often many baby elephants there and a small museum. The center is walkable from Sauraha but it will take 1 hour depending on the heat and road conditions. Tours or rickshaw transport are available part of the way.
Entrance prices are 50/60 rupees for a foreigner (westerner), 25 SAARC, 10 Nepali. Opening hours are 6am to 6pm though generally it starts to close around 5pm.
River boating and canoeing in the Chitwan
Many agencies either rent out canoes or offer half day canoe rides in the Rapti river. Package tours often include 1-2 hours canoeing and then a half day trek back through the jungle as part of the full day jungle trek.
Costs are often the same as trekking tours. 1400 half day to 1800 full day.
River dolphins are rarely seen anymore.
Local canoes are quite thin and feel unstable, though accidents rarely occur.
What you can expect to see? River boating often highlights the many crocodiles that inhabit the river. There are a wide range of birds also found along the river.
Asides from jungle activities there are some other things to do around Sauraha which is where you'll be staying. Keep in mind that Sauraha is a large village but is not built up like Pokhara and Kathmandu. Things generally close up by 9pm.
Visit a Tharu Village
The Tharu are an ethnic group indigenous to the Terrai region of Nepal which includes Chitwan. While many Tharu have adopted a modern Nepali lifestyle there are still traditional villages throughout the region.
Visiting a Tharu village is not difficult but finding an “authentic” one is. There are several tours to a Tharu village near the elephant breeding center (watch out for high prices) and in Kumroj.
The easiest way to find an authentic Tharu village is to take a walk out to the Elephant breeding centre. As the hotels and resorts in Sauraha start to thin out you'll spot open fields and farmlands. You'll also spot some mud Tharu villages. Keep in mind these are peoples homes when visiting. Cost of a Tharu village tour is about 1,000 rupees while going by yourself is free.
Tharu Cultural Centre
There are two Tharu Cultural
Centre's in Sauraha. One is along the main Sauraha road
while the other is on a ride road behind the Rhino statue.
Each night from 7pm there is a traditional dance and
cultural display. These include singing traditional Tharu
songs, a comedy act, various Tharu dances and an
occasional not so traditional fire dance along with a
peacock dance on special occasions. The peacock dances
and is trained to hand out flowers to an audience member.
Both shows take place in an air-conditioned
Cost: 200 rupees.
Ox cart rides
If you fancy something more
rustic than a minivan tour to the Elephant breeding center, Tharu village and
elephant bathing area or simply want to sit back in traditional cart then you might
consider an ox cart tour. Available at most jungle trekking agents.
Cost: 1500 rupees for 2 hours.
National Trust Nature Conservation (Biodiversity Centre)
the National Trust Nature Conservation offices and compound were established in 1982 as an autonomous and not-for-profit organization working to ensure conservation in Nepal. There are several large elephants living here. To see the elephants you'll need to be here before 9am or after 5pm.
Visiting the NTNC elephants is free though there are only a few there. These elephants are used as part of ranger patrols around the park and are only males. The reason there are only males here is to prevent trouble as male elephants can cause a lot of trouble if there are females nearby. They also have to be chained up when they return to prevent them from trying to reach the females at the breeding center. Keep in mind these are the elephants that protect other wildlife from poachers and have contributed to the increase in tiger population in Nepal. Cost: free to enter.
National Trust Nature Conservation (Biodiversity Centre) Display
At the NTNC office junction you’ll see a raised octagonal shaped building opposite it. This now houses the Wildlife Display and Information Center. Inside the you’ll be surrounded by rather macabre displays. /p>
From trays showing different types of animal feces to a glass enclosed tiger skin. There are tanks displaying elephant and rhino fetuses and rooms with jars displaying preserved snakes and reptiles. The filthy river dolphin preservation tank is a sad reminder of how this near extinct mammal is still treated in Nepal. Cost: 100 rupees.
You can buy a ticket to wash an elephant in the Rapti river from many guesthouses or travel agencies. Tickets can be 200 rupees however you are expected to pay the mahout an extra 100 rupees.
For a cheaper option head down to the river in the evening where the Mahout (Elephant riders) come to bathe their elephants after a long day's work. They'll often do some showing off and accept tips. Then sit back and enjoy the sunset over the river! Cost: 200 rupees.
At first glance there may not seem like there's a lot of shopping opportunities in Chitwan. Most of the souvenirs in Chitwan are located along Sauraha's main road.
Souvenirs from Chitwan include:
- Elephant dung paper
- Traditional & locally made clothes
- Organic honey
- Local handicrafts.
Elephant Dung Paper
You'll find this aesthetically pleasing paper across Nepal's main souvenir shops. You can buy notebooks, drawing paper and sheets of thick paper made from the dung of elephants. Cost: small notebook 200 rupees.
Traditional and locally made clothing
Down towards the Rhino statue are several clothing stores selling locally made dresses and clothing. Not everything is traditional Tharu style with several tye dye and light clothing also available.
There are now a couple of honey shops in Sauraha along the main road. They stock locally produced honey in a variety of flavors. Top tastes include jungle honey, mustard honey, butter honey and Nepal’s famous rock honey. Costs 250-1000 rupees.
There are several local handi craft stores in Sauraha. The most famous is Happy House fair trade center just behind the rhino statue. Here they offer locally made souvenirs from bamboo flutes to woven bags and jewelry.
More details and maps to the location of these stores are available in my guidebook below.
Elephant jungle treks to spot a rhino
By far the easiest way to spot the one-horned Indian Rhinoceros in Chitwan is to take an Elephant jungle tour. They last about 1.5 hours. Do not settle for 40 minute tours as some operators cut tours short.
The best times to see a rhino is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when they come out to the watering holes. They generally disappear into the jungle during the mid-day heat.
Elephants are very quiet unlike trekking by foot so Rhinos are easier to find. Rhinos will only charge people on the ground and not elephants whom they are afraid of. You are safe from Rhino's on top of an Elephant.
Jungle treks to spot a rhino
There's little chance of seeing a Rhino with a half day trek though it does happen. Full day treks increase your chances significantly. As do two day or more tours.
Note: though elephant tours are best first thing in the morning and late afternoon it's my experience that the second tour in the morning will get the best results as they will know if the Rhinos were spotting by the first trip or not. Generally Rhinos in this area stick to one or two locations.
Two to five day jungle treks
Despite many assurances from jungle guides, online promotions and out of date guidebooks spotting Royal Bengal Tigers in Chitwan is not easy.
Yes, it's true that the tiger population in Chitwan has grown in recent years. Chitwan has the most successful tiger conservation record in the world. Some of this is accredited to park ranger elephant patrols who can reach parts of the jungle people and vehicles cannot. However, Chitwan National Park is large and borders India so the tigers have plenty of places to hide.
A tigers presence is often seen via tracks and waste when on jungle treks. Indeed one should always be aware that there's a greater chance that a tiger is watching you than of you spotting them. They are predators and do not like people so they try to stay as far away as possible. The danger lurks when a tiger is hungry, thirsty, nursing cubs or wounded. So stay alert at all times.
For those intent on spotting a tiger you have a few choices. The first is dedicate more time in Chitwan National park. A deep jungle safari are the best chances at spotting a tiger. Though no guarantee is ever made. These safaris can take up to 2 nights and 3 days. Many start with a jeep safari to bring you closer to the remote jungles, after that you go on foot.
Finally it's worth pointing out that if all you want to do is see a tiger then there is a higher chance of spotting a Royal Bengal Tiger in Nepal at Bardia National Park than Chitwan. The reason is because Bardia National Park is much smaller so finding a tiger is easier. The downside to visiting Bardia is that it's a rather arduous journey compared to Chitwan and it has no restaurants or other activities other than wildlife watching.
This map of Nepal shows you where Chitwan National Park is located
The current (2019) cost of a Chitwan National Park permit is 2000 rupees for a foreigner. 1000 rupees for SAARC. 50 rupees for Nepali.
There's some confusion over ticket prices into Chitwan National Park which I'll try to clear up here.
You do not need a ticket to enter Sauraha
Sauraha is a town outside of the park. There has never been a fee to enter the village. Sauraha is where the majority of people stay when visiting Chitwan National park.
Chitwan National Park ticket prices
The current cost of a Chitwan National Park permit is 2000 rupees for a foreigner. 1000 rupees for SAARC. 50 rupees for Nepali. The prices increased in mid 2018 and are reflected here and include taxes.
A Chitwan National Park ticket is valid for only one day. However, if you buy your ticket after 2pm with proof or a next day half/full day jungle trekking ticket you can take a late afternoon Elephant jungle tour on the day you buy your ticket.
People staying within the park on package tours will often have the ticket prices included in their tour packages - do ask to confirm.
Official tickets are available at the National Park ticket office which is on the Sauraha side of the park just along side the river. If walking there be prepared to be asked questions and offered many treks by guides and touts. Generally speaking it's easier to have your guesthouse or tour guide to purchase the ticket for you. Though there is a small and interesting museum beside the ticket office.
Again, as guides into Chitwan National Park are mandatory it's far easier to let your jungle guide purchase the tickets for you - they don't charge extra for this service.
Contact telephone number of Chitwan National Park tourist office: 056-620405/580072
Should you stay inside Chitwan Park or outside Chitwan Park?
Lodges are banned from operating inside the park so don't believe anyone who tells you that their accommodation is inside the park. There has been a lot of changes to this over the years with decisions being reversed and countered. For now, the best place to stay is in Sauraha. Many lodges are located next to what is known as community forests which is especially jungle. And yes, rhinos and other wildlife can be spotted quite easily from there.
Sauraha has a wide selection of guesthouses that vary in price from $5 per night upward to $150+.
Most travelers stay in accommodation within Sauraha and arrange jungle treks or excursions from there.
Do check out my personal reviews on accommodation in Chitwan. Or use my search below. It will search all the major booking sites, is free to use and will find you the best prices!
|Search for Hotels in Chitwan|
Up until recently restaurants in Chitwan were all relatively the same.
Thankfully in things have changed quite a bit over the past couple of years. This all started with Jalapeño restaurant which is located on the first floor in a building to the right of the elephant statue. The local chef had his training in the Middle East and came back to a great little restaurant. Try the roast pork chop and the mashed potato. After this several other restaurants followed suit and upped their game.
KC's Restaurant is the oldest and still a popular place for tour guides to take their clients. The best thing about the restaurant is the huge open garden.
Friends Restaurant is one of the better places to go for breakfast with a nice Hand-drawn menu to help you along. Opposite it is Bayleaf which is great for a full on Indian/Nepali meal.
All along the riverside area in Sauraha are a sprawl of restaurants and cafes. Most are owned by large hotels or start up cafes. The tables face the river under umbrellas. Although it's a wonderful place to spend during sunset it can be difficult to navigate the maze of mini fences they've put up.
A full listing of the best restaurants in Chitwan and maps to find them can be found in my guidebooks to Nepal.
Common sense is important considering Chitwan National Park is a tropical jungle with active wildlife.
Dangerous animals in Chitwan
Tigers, elephants, crocodiles, snakes and rhinos top the list of dangerous animals in Chitwan. But it's the Sloth Bear that's at
tacked more tourists than any other animal. It's aggressive and does not retreat. The only defensive against a Sloth bear attack is to stay in a close group and stand tall. Better yet, avoid them at all cost.
Good trekking guides will advise you on what to do in the event of an encounter with a wild tiger, crocodile, elephant, snake, rhino and sloth bear. Take note, seriously.
Avoid trekking alone in the jungle at all costs. Avoid bathing in the rivers. Stay quite in the jungle when on an elephant and do not shout. I've heard many a guide complain that bringing very small, and / or loud children into the jungle or on elephant treks is not a good idea. I would agree.
Malaria and Dengue in Chitwan
Mosquito's are ever present in Chitwan and Sauraha. Outbreaks of Dengue do happen and Malaria though not prevalent does exist. Take precautions not to be bitten and try to ensure your bed has a mosquito net.
What's cheaper arranging everything independently or taking tours to Chitwan?
It's cheaper and easier to take guesthouse tours or tour agency packages once you arrive in Sauraha. Chitwan National Park now ensures that all guides be accredited. That said, there are still some "independent" guides lurking around.
I've spoken with several "independent guides" and though what they offer seems good they'll often cite the money is for their family or the trekking agencies rip them off. It's hard to tell who is telling the truth. But going with them without tickets etc may end up with you getting into trouble as they may not be qualified, may take you to dangerous areas and may end up with park rangers arresting them. Keep in mind poaching is a real threat to Chitwan and park rangers are there to ensure laws are upheld.
Is it cheaper to get a package tour to Chitwan from Kathmandu/Pokhara/Online or get one once I arrive?
It's cheaper to just arrive in Sauraha in the morning, spend some time locating a nice guesthouse based on their room and tour prices and go with them.
It's also possible to stay in one guesthouse and take tours with another or an agency in Sauraha. It might annoy the guesthouse owners a little though. But there's nothing saying you cannot do this.
Read the tour itinerary carefully
A prime example is the half day river tour. Essentially you are put on a canoe, paddled down the river and then left off at the side of the road to walk back. There are jeeps around and the odd bus but they'll charge you 100-200 rupees.
A better option would be to take the full day jungle tour which includes an hour on the river. Or, to rent a canoe for the day. You could arrange this by just going down to the river and speaking with one of the boat men and haggling them to a good price.
Buy your full day Chitwan Park ticket after 2pm and get a few hours extra
Take advantage of the unwritten rule that your full day Chitwan ticket can be used to take a late afternoon Elephant tour on the day you buy the ticket.
There's also another (slightly harder option) of going on a full day jungle trek and then using the same ticket to go on a next day first morning Elephant tour. Best to speak to the same tour operator or guest house owner you bought your tour from for this so they can have a "word" with the Elephant safari people.
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