Upper Mustang is a restricted area in the North West of Nepal. To Enter Upper Mustang you'll need several permits and meet the necessary requirements. Please refer to my full guide to the Upper Mustang Trek for details on the actual trek.
To enter into and trek in Upper Mustang you will need the following documents and permits along with meeting several mandatory requirements.
- A restricted area permit
- An Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP)
- A TIMS card
You also need to meet the following requirements:
- Have a mandatory guide of your choosing
- Be part of a two person minium group.
- All documentation processed by a trekking company in Nepal with a USD bank account.
All the above is quite feasible but does require a little planning and the right contacts.
Upper Mustang Overview
There's a reason why the Upper Mustang trek is rated as one of the greatest treks in the world. Up until the 1990s the area was completely closed off. While trekking in the area you will get to experience sights, places and people very few trekkers come into contact with.
Not only is the Upper Mustang trek one of the most spectacular treks in Nepal but also one of the ones you feel most privileged to be a part of. Do read my full guide on the Upper Mustang Trek.
Upper Mustang Permit categories
The Upper Mustang restricted area permit can only be issued to a minimum of two people. Each person gets their own permit but their applications need to be handed in together. Therefore, technically there is no such thing as a "group permit" as each individual get's there own permit.
This means the group you are with can contain as many people as you wish. However do note that regulations require a maximum of five people to a guide.
Only a registered Nepali trekking company with a USD bank account in Nepal can apply. The application form is online and authorized by the Nepali Department of Immigration. Passport details, photographs and an itinerary are needed. The permits can only be issued by the Department of Immigration in Kathmandu or Pokhara.
The cost of an Upper Mustang Restricted Area Permit is USD$500 per person. A permit is only valid for 10 days. If you wish to trek for longer in Upper Mustang you must pay an additional USD $50 per day.
You cannot apply for a permit yourself. It can only be applied for by a Nepali company with a USD bank account. This bizarre last restriction means only a limited number of companies can apply. That doesn’t stop some Nepali trekking companies from offering Upper Mustang Treks and then paying another company for doing the paperwork for them.
In 2022 Nepal introduced an electronic database of issued restricted area permits making it more difficult to get so called "ghost permits". But easier to determine if there are "other" groups going to Upper Mustang which you could "join". However the cravat with the database is that it can only be accessed 1 week before a trek begins - so don't believe trekking companies that "promise" they have someone on their books - it's an old ploy. Yes you can book in advance, but you won't know if you as a solo trekker with a guide can go until a week beforehand.
If you want to trek solo around Upper Mustang do realize that you must take a guide as it is a mandatory requirement. You also officially need another “foreigner” to apply for the restricted area permit with. The other person must be non-Nepali and have a tourist visa in their passport. In 2022 an electronic database of permits was created and "ghost" permits basically ceased. Restricted area permits can only be given once a person has entered Nepal and one week in advance.
These additional restrictions make trekking as one person in Upper Mustang quite difficult. Some trekking agents have a list of people and date that they are going on a trek but officaly this is only possible one week before a trek. You could call around to trekking agencies asking if they have a group going during a date when you could also go. They then simply add you to the group and you hire a separate guide from the same company to trek alone with. This method requires some leg work by you when applying and some flexibility in regards to dates. Also, in recent years trekking companies have simply been saying "yes" to anything. Meaning a solo Upper Mustang trekker has shown up only to be told the other person "did not show up" and so the Upper Mustang trek is not possible and another regular trek is made as a last minute offer.
Asking in travel forums with your dates can also be helpful - however, beware that such forums are rife with dubious trekking agencies pretending to be trekkers and promising you a place on a group when there simply is no group*. They do this in the hope of enticing enough trekkers so they can get their own group. The reality is the solo trekker is often told when they arrived that the other group members "cancelled" and that the agency can get you a "discount on another trek. Some trekkers with money to spare have been known to pay for another trekkers permit just to get one themselves. Whether the other trekker goes or not is another question. If the trekking company is in the know they quite often know what to say at checkpoints – quite often an excuse is made that the other trekker got sick and had to turn back.
* Warning: be careful of some trekking companies offering to put you in their "group" trek - many do this to try and get their numbers together for a group permit and don't have anyone on their list.
The easiest method to find another person is to have time on your side and wait it out in Nepal. Again in 2022 a new database was introduced making it relatively easy to see if there is another person or group going but it can only be accessed one week before a trek starts. Do see my Find a Trekking Guide Service if you'd like to avail of this. In person, Pokhara is easier to do this from than Kathmandu. The reason for this is that Pokhara’s trekking agents are more close knit than Kathmandu’s and not as busy – thus they can call around to other trekking agents asking if they have another single trekker wanting to visit Upper Mustang.
On average I found that this method during peak season yielded at least 4 interested solo trekkers per month.
It’s worth noting that the waiting in Nepal option can be frustrating. You literally have to be ready to go on the trek with 2-3 days notice. It adds to the excitement in some ways. You also have to be ready for disappointment if the other unknown trekker pulls out of the trek just as you hear they are interested. It's also quite rare to get someone else going during the off-season in Nepal despite Upper Mustang being good to visit then.
In all cases it’s usual that both of you will have different guides and don’t have to trek together or ever meet each other. Finding another person for the Upper Mustang permit is not easy but it’s certainly feasible if you have some time to spare. In all cases once you have your Upper Mustang restricted area permit you then need to get an ACAP permit and a TIMS card. Both of these are very easy to obtain and your guide usually does this for you.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic the numbers of trekkers in Nepal have decreased. Likewise following the 2023 new rule banning solo trekking in the rest of Nepal. So getting "solo" permits for Upper Mustang has become harder. As has joining a group. Disturbingly, there are several outfits promising solo Upper Mustang tours by having people join a group, collecting payments, and then cancelling. Do be wary of rogue trekking agents promising solo treks.
The good news in all this is that in 2023 Nepal introduced a computerized database of trekkers and the treks they are going on. This means that those who have applied for Upper Mustang are accessible to some trekking agents one week before a trek. Meaning if there are people going on your dates, a trekking agency can easily find out. However, this list of only available to trekking agents about a week before a trek - so don't get caught out by promises from some trekking agents!
The best way as a solo trekker to avail of this and to avoid disapoint is to have time on their side, and have an alternative trek in mind in case time runs out and nobody is going. Other than that, some people have been known to offer a payment to another tourist in Nepal so that a trekking agency can apply for the group permit then. This method would cost you upwards of $1,000 in permit fees alone.
If you are interested, I've managed to round up some of the better trekking companies who specialize in Upper Mustang treks on my Find a Trekking Guide Service.
Upper Mustang is located in the Annapurna Conservation Area so each person on the Upper Mustang trek will also need a Annapurna Conservation Area Project Permit.
ACAP permits are available at the Kathmandu and Pokhara Tourism Board offices.
As a trekking guide is mandatory for the Upper Mustang trek it is far more convenient to let the trekking company/guide get your ACAP permit for you.
The cost of an ACAP Permit is 3,000 rupees per person.
The final mandatory document you need is a Trekker Information Management System (TIMS) card. Despite the name there's little trekker management involved. The cards support guides and porters insurance more than anything else these days. These cards are issued by the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal (TAAN).
The cost of TIMS card for Upper Mustang is USD $20 per person.
Calculating the total cost of your Upper Mustang Permits is quite easy.
Upper Mustang Permit: $500 (ten days)
ACAP Permit: $30
TIMS Card: $20
Total cost of all permits per person: USD $550
Keep in mind that there's a two person minimum number required to get an Upper Mustang Permit. However do note that these prices are fixed so there is no fluctuation. Keep that in mind when working out the total cost of your Upper Mustang Trek.
There is a USD$50 fee for each addtional day you spend in Upper Mustang. So for example, if you want to spend 12 days in Upper Mustang the cost for the permists will be $500 + 50 + 50 = $600.
Please note that on some occasions the Upper Mustang administration have requested Negative PCR tests. This test is the same as the one most people have obtained prior to boarding a flight. If you have been trekking elsewhere in Nepal before going to Upper Mustang eg Everest Region, you may need to get another PCR test. You trekking guide will be able to help you obtain an appropriate PCR test quickly. In 2022 it is envisioned that this will be phased out.
On average it takes 4-6 hours to process your Upper Mustang permit. Your guide or trekking company must have them processed in person at the immigration office in either Kathmandu or Pokhara. The fastest of these locations is Pokhara. For two permits it usually takes the same amount of time. For larger groups it could take a full day.
Both the ACAP and TIMS cards are processed within 10 minutes depending on any queues.
Yes but it will likely cost you more. Officially the department of immigration will only issue a restricted permit for Upper Mustang once you are in the country with your physical passport that has a visa stamp - this is also the easiest way to get it done.
However, if you have obtained a Nepali visa from a nearby consulate or embassy then you can send both your passport ID page and Visa stamp copy (scanned or photo) to a trekking agency who will then get your Upper Mustang restricted area permit for you. This is usually done due to public holidays or long Nepali festivals that means the immigration office is closed when you arrive - so they will issue them in advance of your arrival. This can also occur "if" your flight schedule is tight.
There are some important notes here including the fact that the department of immigration will only issue these "advance" Upper Mustang permits a week before the trek is due to start. It may also cost you a little more as the trekking agency will have to make several trips to get the permits. Finally, if you opt for getting a restricted area permit in advance it has to be with the same company you are going trekking with. All in all it's easier to have it done when you arrive in country, but there is this option if you get stuck.
Again, if you need help finding a trekking company or guide you can try my use my Find a Trekking Guide Service.
Once your guide has all your permits make a photocopy of them and keep one copy for yourself. You might also want to take a photo of them.
You don't need to have the extra persons permit - your guide should have their copy.
For alternative treks across Nepal do read my list of treks in Nepal which is continually being added to based on popularity or request.
If you are looking for a trekking guide I recommend you read my article on How to find a trekking guide in Nepal. You may also contact me for details about the guide I had on this trek. However, I would prefer if you simply got my guidebook to Nepal which contains many local guides including my guides details.
full trekking in Nepal guidebook offers you over 28
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