Here’s the brutal truth about taking a Tibet Everest Base Camp tour:
A lot of people get altitude sickness.
2020 Coronavirus Note: Due to the COVID19 crisis, Tibet is temporarily closed to all foreign travelers, at least through the end of July 2020. However, travelers who pre-book Tibet tours by the end of June 2020 will get a rare opportunity for special discounts plus extraordinary flexibility on dates of travel. At the same time, you will support local Tibetan-owned businesses at a time when they are struggling to survive. To learn more, ask us for an introduction to a reliable Tibetan travel agency here.
Post revised and updated: February 15, 2020.
If you’re serious about safe and healthy Tibet travel, you need to ascend slowly.
Otherwise you’re putting your health at risk.
Today we’re going to show you an itinerary that helps you avoid altitude sickness at Everest Base Camp so you can feel good on your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Tibet!
Here’s what we recommend:
To be safer and feel better:
Take this 10-day Tibet Everest Base Camp tour
Note: No independent travel is allowed to Tibet and you must work with a travel agency. If you need help to plan and book this journey, ask us to connect you to a reliable Tibetan-owned travel agent.
Arrive in Lhasa
Whether you fly into Gonggar airport (getting your first glimpses of the mighty Himalayan mountains) or arrive at the Lhasa train station, you will be greeted by your Tibetan guide and driver and transferred to your hotel in Lhasa. It’s about an hour and a half from the airport and 30 minutes from the train station. You will want to rest for the rest of the day, to begin to let your body acclimatize to Lhasa’s high altitude. You will meet your fellow travelers. Stay overnight in Lhasa.
Lhasa Highlights: Jokhang Temple and bustling Bakhor street
You will still want to take it pretty easy today, your first day at high altitude. Your guide will meet you at the hotel and bring you on an easy visit to the sacred, fantastic Jokhang Temple in the center of the Lhasa. From the Jokhang, you can join the crowds of Lhasa folk and pilgrims walking around the circular Barkhor street. After lunch, take it easy as you continue to acclimatize and stay again overnight in Lhasa. If you feel up to it, definitely check out 17 Dos and Don’ts for a First Time Visit to Lhasa for more ideas.
Lhasa Highlights: Drepung and Sera monasteries
On this day you will visit two of the largest and most historically important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries: Drepung and Sera. Drepung once housed over 10,000 monks and was the largest monastery in the world. You will also see Sera Monastery, built in the 15th century, where you can observe the famous, fascinating Buddhist debates that the monks engage in every afternoon except on Sundays. Alternatively, you can visit the Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas, instead of one of the monasteries. The truth is, the Potala would be better left for a fourth day, because climbing the steps to the highest floors is more exertion than is ideal on your first days in Lhasa, but even with this slower itinerary, you need to head out of Lhasa by the fourth day. Continue acclimatizing. Stay tonight again in Lhasa.
Lhasa to Gyantse
Highlights: Yamdrok lake, Mount Nyechen Kangsar glacier, Gyantse Kumbum stupa and Pelkhor Choede monastery
Today you start driving, and climb up to the Kampa la pass for an amazing view of the holy, turquoise-colored Lake Yamdrok. Along the route to Gyantse you pass through some magnificent valleys and tiny Tibetan villages. You stop at the Karo la pass to view the glacier coming off of sacred Mount Nyenchen Kangsar. Once in Gyantse, you visit the famous, fantastically unique Kumbum stupa, and Pelkhor Choede monastery. You explore the town and spend the night in Gyantse.
Gyantse to Shigatse
Highlights: Tashi Lhumpo Monastery
On this day, we will take a short drive to Shigatse, where you will visit the marvelous Tashi Lhumpo Monastery, seat of the Panchen Lamas. You can take the opportunity to walk the long pilgrimage circuit around the monastery with local Tibetans, enjoying magnificent views of the city while you walk. Stay overnight in Shigatse.
Shigatse to Sakya to Shegar
Highlights: Sakya Monastery and Shegar Dzong fort
You are heading to Everest but first you’ll take an extra day at intermediate altitudes to get prepared for the high altitudes at Everest Base Camp. This gives us the great opportunity to visit Sakya Monastery, with it’s haunting, unique painting scheme, and Shegar (New Tingri), where you will visit the ruins of Shegar Dzong fort, if time and daylight permit. Tonight you sleep at Shegar, for acclimatizing.
Shegar to Everest base Camp (EBC)
Highlights: Rongbuk Monastery and Mt. Everest’s Northern Base Camp
We drive to Everest Base Camp today, winding our way to higher altitudes, and passing the Gawu la pass along the way. From the Gawu la, you can view, weather permitting, a tableau of some of the mightiest peaks in the Himalaya, and catch your first peek of Mount Everest. After the pass, we’ll drive down into the Tashi Dzom valley, passing Rongbuk Monastery, and at last into Everest Base Camp yak-wool tent area. In the afternoon you can trek two hours up to the highest point you are allowed at Everest Base Camp without a mountaineering permit, for splendid views of Everest when the weather allows, or you can take a special minibus if you prefer. You will stay at the yak wool tent guesthouses, which are pretty cozy, except for deep winter, when only the very basic Rongbuk monastery guesthouse is available.
Rongbuk to Shegar to Shigatse
Highlights: Rongbuk Monastery and the Himalayan ranges
You wake the next morning to the spectacular view of the world’s highest mountain arrayed in front of us. If you have not done it the day before, we visit Rongbuk Monastery, the world’s highest monastery. Then we drive all the way back to Shigatse, where you can get a hot shower and relax in a hotel. Overnight in Shigatse.
Shigatse to Lhasa
Highlights: Tashi Lhumpo Monastery and Yarlung Tsangpo River
Today you will have more time to explore the sprawling, magnificent Tashu Lhunpo monastery in the morning. In the afternoon you head back to Lhasa, stopping along the way to visit a spot where a local family produces hand made incense, using primitive water operated tools. You have some time to explore around the Barkhor to shop for gifts for your family and friends at home. Last night in Lhasa.
Depart from Lhasa
Today you will be driven by our guide and driver to either the airport or train station and say goodbye to your new friends in Tibet.
How can I book this Tibet Everest Base Camp tour for myself?
Because this Tibet Everest Base Camp Tour is in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, you will need a Tibetan travel agency to arrange it for you. A little shockingly, most agencies don’t really know much about altitude sickness, and do very little to help you prevent it. But the agency that offers this trip is one of the few that is working hard to develop safer itineraries. You can request us to connect you with them by filling out this short form here >>
The best part?
This trip avoids the normal tourist rush to Everest Base Camp. The majority of EBC trips take 8 days or less, which is potentially harmful to your body.
Everest Base Camp sits above 17,000ft, and your body needs time to begin to adjust to that extremely high altitude. (You can learn more about the details in our altitude sickness prevention info.
If you ascend too quickly, you are at high risk of altitude sickness.
By traveling to Everest more slowly, your body can adjust to high altitude at a more reasonable pace. Plus you have the awesome benefit of having more time to explore one of the most amazing overland routes in all of Asia.
Don’t miss this bonus tip!
You can decrease your risk even more if you stop in Xining a couple of days, and take the train to Lhasa rather than fly in.
(We can introduce you to a great, Tibetan-owned travel agent to help you plan exactly this route.)
An EVEN SAFER 13-day Everest Base Camp trip
If you have a little more time, you can give yourself the gift of one of the safest, best ways to visit Tibet. That is, to start in Xining (in mainland China), then take the Tibet train to Lhasa, and rest in Lhasa before embarking on the Tibet Everest Base Camp Tour.
Along with asking a doctor for altitude sickness medication (Diamox), this is the absolute best way we know to acclimatize for Everest.
Here’s the deal:
A quick summary of the 13-day trip, including the elevation gain and loss each day.
The safest way you can get to Lhasa
Even the best Tibetan travel agents are not quite up to speed on providing pre-made group tours that allow you the best chance of adjusting safely to Tibet’s high altitude. If you’d like to take this 13-day tour, starting in Xining, here is some guidance:
You should plan to fly or train to Xining (it doesn’t matter which), stay there for two nights for acclimatizing. You can use the day in town to visit some of the beautiful smaller Tibetan monasteries in the area, or go to Kumbum, an important monastery that is unfortunately overrun with tourists. You can do this on your own, but for the smaller monasteries it’s by far easier to do with a guide and driver — you can ask your Tibetan agent to arrange for you. More on that below….
After two nights in Xining, plan to take the train (on the evening of your third day) to Lhasa, and then you can take either a private or a group tour to Tibet Everest Base Camp.
We can help you connect you to a reliable Tibetan-owned travel agent to plan this trip. Fill out the form at the link, and in the comments section write something like “I want to spend 2 nights in Xining, see some local monasteries in Xining, then take the train to Lhasa and take a slower tour to EBC, for adjusting to the altitude sickness. Please give me some tour options that cover the whole trip, including Xining.”
If you have no choice…
We strongly recommend that you take the 10 or 13-day EBC itineraries listed above, but if you really have no time and are dying to see Everest, there is the common, break-neck and (to us) risky-paced 8 day tour.
Your body does not really have enough time to acclimatize, especially if you fly into Lhasa. If you must take this kind of itinerary, we strongly advise you consult your doctor about the option of taking Diamox as a preventative medication. (See more about altitude sickness risk here.)
The worst option…
Here is a summary of the standard 8-day Lhasa to Everest Base Camp tour. We do not recommend this itinerary. It’s just too fast for a reasonable acclimatization.
Best times to take a Tibet Everest Base Camp tour
For clearer skies and the best views for the Everest area, visit Mt. Everest from late September to late May. (The shoulder season months of April and May, and mid-October to late November tend to be sweet spots of best views, and quite cold but not-too-freezing weather.)
However, you will want to avoid the Chinese national holidays in early October, when Chinese tourists swarm Tibet. And note that winter in the Everest region is extremely cold, considering that the common tourist destination is Everest Base Camp, at about 17,000 feet. While summer is (somewhat) warmer, it has the downside of the possibility of rain and visibility-killing clouds, especially July and August. Also, see more about Tibet weather >>
Ready to learn more?
This Tibet Everest Base Camp Tour is in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and you will need a Tibetan travel agency to arrange it for you. You can request us to connect you with a reliable Tibetan-owned agent by filling out this short form here >>
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