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Nepal draws visitors who come for a variety of reasons. Some are lured by the call of the mountains and seeking to climb or trek in the Himalayas, others are intrigued by the culture and the famous city of Kathmandu, and yet others come hoping to find some sort of spiritual awakening. Nepal can be an adrenaline adventure, a cultural eye opener, or a life-changing experience, depending on the itinerary and mindset of the traveler.

Most visitors will spend some time in Kathmandu visiting sacred and historic attractions, and then head out into other parts of the country. Some of the most popular locations outside of the capital are Chitwan National Park for wildlife viewing, and the lakeside town of Pokhara, a popular area for starting treks. Trekkers will find a variety of options, with the most popular areas being the Everest, Annapurna, and Langtang regions.

In 2015, a major earthquake struck Nepal, causing severe damage in Kathmandu and other areas of the country. Travelers should check on local conditions before visiting

Kathmandu

Kathmandu, the capital and largest city in Nepal, is like no other city in the world. The decaying buildings in the heart of the city are a contrast to the lively atmosphere that permeates the streets. The smell of incense wafts from the stores while street sellers push their wares, and people go about their daily lives, all against a backdrop of historic temples and carved statues.

For several hundred years, Kathmandu was one of three rival royal cities, along with Bhaktapur and Patan. Situated in close proximity to each other, today these three almost run together. The highlight of Kathmandu has long been Durbar Square, the largest of the palace squares in the three royal cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Temples and monuments of varying shapes, sizes, styles, and faiths can be found here. Kathmandu's Durbar Square was severely damaged in the 2015 earthquake, with many buildings destroyed beyond repair.
 

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur, the third of the "Royal Cities," lies on the old trade route to Tibet, just outside of Kathmandu. For Bhaktapur, the trade route was both an arterial link and major source of wealth. Its relative remoteness at the time allowed the city to develop independently and in ways which distinguish it from the other two cities. In contrast to Patan and Kathmandu, the population of Bhaktapur is primarily Hindu. The best place from which to begin a tour of the city is Durbar Square, where in addition to the royal palace, several temples are also situated. The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the buildings in Durbar Square in Bhaktapur were damaged in the 2015 earthquake.
 

Pokhara

Pokhara, at the base of the foothills, is 200 kilometers west of Kathmandu and surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world - Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, and Annapurna I. For many trekkers, Pokhara is the gateway to the Himalayas. It is the starting point for treks to Jomsom and the Annapurna region. But visitors will enjoy Pokhara and the beautiful scenery even if they are not planning on heading off on a hike.

By population, it is the second largest town in Nepal after Kathmandu but still does not feel like a big city. People coming from the Kathmandu Valley notice the much cleaner air and pleasant climate almost immediately. Lake Phewa, with its cluster of lakeside hotels, restaurants, and shops, is ideal for those looking for relaxation and for day excursions.
 

Chitwan National Park

Chitwan National Park is the place to come to experience a different side of Nepal, apart from the hiking and the intrigue of Kathmandu. This is the place for wildlife viewing and a safari-type atmosphere. At an altitude of only 100 meters in some areas, much lower than Kathmandu at 1400 meters, this area has a tropical monsoon climate, usually quite different than what most people expect to find in Nepal. Visitors come here primarily to see wildlife. Tours from the lodges take visitors out into the park, either on foot, or more often, on elephants for close-up views of the animals. The park is home to rhinos, Bengal tigers, leopards, sloth bears, gaur (buffalo) deer, and many other critters. Freshwater dolphins (gangetic) and crocodiles inhabit the rivers and streams but are rarely seen. More than 500 species of birds make Chitwan a paradise for ornithologists.

Chitwan lies southwest of Kathmandu close to the Indian frontier and is included in the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage sites. The best time to visit Chitwan is from October to February. Average temperatures hover about 25°C (77°F), with high humidity, although the mornings can be quite cool. June to September is the monsoon season, with frequent and heavy rain.

Lumbini

Lumbini is famous for being the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, the historic Buddha, known as Buddha Shakyamuni. Situated off the main tourist track, almost 250 kilometers from Kathmandu, Lumbini is a worthwhile detour on the route from Pokhara to the Chitwan National Park. In this pilgrimage town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is a feeling of tranquility. Most of the visitors are Buddhist pilgrims from around the world, retracing Buddha's footsteps through the stations of his life. The Maya Devi Temple, dedicated to Buddha's mother, is believed to be the spot where Buddha was born. It contains an ancient stone relief from the 2nd century AD depicting Buddha's birth.