For some of you, winter may be the best time to visit Tibet.
Most tourists visit Tibet between May and October, and the warmer months can be a green and beautiful time to travel. Still, we recommend December and January as a prime season to visit Central Tibetan areas around Lhasa and on to the Nepal border. Why travel in Tibet in the winter?
- Far fewer touristsBecause everyone makes the wrong assumption that it’s unbearably cold on the Tibetan Plateau in winter, tourists congregate in the warmer months, especially from late spring to early fall. The droves of Chinese tourists begin to clear out after the early October Chinese national holidays, and by December and January there are hardly any tourists at all.
- Clear skies and great viewsIt’s definitely cold in Tibet in the winter, but not like most people think, especially since December and January are dry months with abundant, high-altitude sun that really warms you during the day. The average high in Lhasa in January/February is around 45 fahrenheit/7.3 centigrade, and the lows are 15 fahrenheit/-10 centigrade. With the clear skies and sunshine come fabulous views. (See a full post on Tibet weather here.)
- Tibetan pilgrims Pilgrims from all over Tibet pour into Lhasa during the winter months, visiting the Jokhang and the major monasteries. You can see Tibetans from all walks of life, and experience Lhasa’s devout heart — multitudes of Tibetans practicing Tibetan Buddhism. Losar, the Tibetan New Year, happens in late winter and is an amazing cultural moment. In 2015, the first day of Losar will be February 19. (Note: see winter travel notes below for important info on late February.)
- Cheaper prices Tours and hotels cost less in winter, as demand decreases.
- Faster permits with fewer problems With far fewer tourists, it’s easier to get your travel permits, and to book flights and trains. Trains and flights still run in winter. In the winter, permits take 10 days or less, with 2 to 3 extra days needed, if you are flying from a city in China, to send the permit to your hotel before you fly to Tibet.
Are you Thinking of a Trip in Winter?
If you’re planning a trip to Tibet, you should also know that no independent travel is allowed to Tibet and you must work with a travel agency. We advise that you choose a Tibetan-owned agency, which hires Tibetan guides only. The simplest way to do this is ask us to connect you to a reliable Tibetan-owned travel agent to plan a great trip for you that also supports the local Tibetan economy and culture. (Note to our Indian friends: Our agents in Tibet cannot help Indian nationals.)
- 7-Day Sky Train and Lhasa Highlights Tour
- Winter Lhasa Highlights (4 days)
- Lhasa – Shigatse – Gyantse Winter Cultural and Spiritual Odyssey (6 days, or 9 days, adding Tsedang and Samye Monastery)
- Terdrom Hot Springs plus Lhasa Highlights Tour (6 days)
- Tibet Butter Lamp Festival during Christmas (5 days: Dec. 25-29)
- Lhasa and Yamdrok Lake Tour (5 days)
Other tours you can take
- Winter Everest Base Camp Exploration (Inquire for more info here)
Some Winter Travel Tips
While winter is a great season to travel to Lhasa and thereabouts, there are some things you should know:
- You likely won’t be able to join a group tour in the winter in the way that you can in the warmer months. Our Tibetan travel agent partners only run private tours in the winter, due to fewer travelers. (Click here to ask us to connect you to a reliable Tibetan-owned travel agent to plan a great private trip for you).
- Mount Kailash, Lake Namtso, Kham and Amdo are not good destinations for winter travel, due to bitter cold and road conditions. At Namtso, for example, not only are the roads closed but also the lake tends to freeze, so that the views are not that great.
- You can’t stay over at Everest Base Camp (EBC) in winter the way that you can in the summer. You can come in for a view as a day trip, but the lodging tents close down at the end of October. Also, the hotels in the EBC and Tingri areas have no running water in the winter as the pipes are frozen, so your water is provided in a bucket.
- March and early April are always travel blackout dates in Tibet due to the political situation. Generally, the closure dates are from about February 27th to March 30th, with the permit process starting again around April 1. This means that you can usually actually start travel in Tibet after April 10 or so.
- Please be aware that February can be a bit windier than early winter and that late February should be okay, but is getting very close to the annual closures.
- In the past, the roads between Lhasa and the Nepal border have been clear all winter. In 2013, there was a snowfall in mid-October that closed EBC for a week, but this was unusual and EBC has been clear so far in 2014. (Note that a snow in October is likely more related to late rainy season weather than early winter, as winters are drier.) Of course, road conditions are dependent on weather, which no agency can control!
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