Tibet Travel Information – What You Need to Know
We recommend that you check-out the travel information hosted on the websites of the Tibet Ecotravel Collective members listed on this site. Many of them provide very detailed and up to date information that will help you plan your journey.
Due to its remoteness, high altitude and travel restrictions, travel to Tibet requires careful planning and preparation.
For many, a trip to Tibet is a once-in-a-lifetime trip so its worth doing your homework and arriving well prepared for your journey. Outside of the main cities, Tibet is still very undeveloped and for many, this is the greatest attraction of Tibet.
Generally, travel in Tibet has become more efficient and convenient in the last few years. Roads are greatly improved, new hotels have been built and basic services for tourists can now be found in the most remote places.
However, traveling in Tibet still involves a number of special considerations.
- Travel restrictions are in place in the Tibet Autonomous Region and special permits are required (U, Tsang, and Ngari regions).
- Special permits are not required for Kham and Amdo regions of Tibet.
- Conditions can be quite rough outside of the main towns and cities, the standard of tourist service in Tibet cannot be compared to western standards.
- The food is often very different, and you will have to adjust your expectations.
We’ve listed some of the main things you should consider before traveling to Tibet.
Getting to Tibet
Tibet is not particularly close to anywhere! There is only one international flight into Lhasa, it is from Kathmandu, Nepal and special permits are required for this flight. All other flights and train routes enter Tibet from mainland China. There is no direct access to Tibet from India for foreigners. From Nepal there are two main routes – overland from Kathmandu or flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa.
From mainland China there are now many flights available from many different cities. The train to Tibet now links with most major Chinese cities. For the adventurous traveler its also possible to drive overland to Tibet from Qinghai and Xinjiang. Many of these routes have travel restrictions – so its very important to check if the route is actually open to foreigners or not.
Visas and Permits
Tibet is a province of China so you need a Chinese visa to enter China and Tibet. You will also need a Tibet entry permit issued by the Tourism Bureau in Lhasa, if you are coming to the Tibet Autonomous Region (U, Tsang, and Ngari historical Tibetan provinces.) You do not need a Tibet Travel Permit if you are visiting the Kham and Amdo regions of historical Tibet. These are absorbed into China’s current provinces. If you are coming to Tibet through mainland China, you need to apply for your Chinese tourist visa before you arrive. Contact your nearest Chinese consulate for visa application details.
NOTE: When you fill in your application form it is recommended that you do not mention Tibet as some consulates have unclear policy regarding travel to Tibet. Just put down Beijing or Chengdu as your itinerary and write down the hotel you will be staying at as your contact.
IMPORTANT: If you are planning to enter Tibet from Kathmandu DO NOT get your Chinese visa in advance. The Chinese visa is issued as a group visa in Kathmandu and is arranged by your agency with your Tibet entry permit.
Travel agencies are obliged under Chinese law to arrange the Tibet Entry Permit to the T. A. R. and specific travel permits (depending on your exact itinerary). The Tibet Entry Permit is arranged in advance and will be sent to your point of entry (usually your hotel). For travel agents to arrange permits and visas (if coming through Kathmandu, Nepal) they need a digital copy (photo or scan in jpg format) of your passport info page and your Chinese visa (if coming through mainland China) well in advance.
Independent Travel in Tibet
Independent travel is currently not allowed in most parts of Tibet. This situation may change in the future but at this stage only groups fully booked in advance through a travel agent (with the correct permits) are allowed into Tibet. The permit rules change often – so its important to check with a local travel agent to get the latest rules and regulations.
When to Go: Weather
The “normal” tourist season in Tibet is from May to October. The busiest months are usually July and August. However, this is changing as infrastructure development (roads and hotels) makes traveling at other times far easier.
Summer weather can be cool to warm. Summer is the rainy season but it rarely rains for long before the sun comes out. Trekking is possible from April through October. You can trek in winter but it is cold and you should be very experienced and have good cold weather equipment.
Fall & Spring are often cool and clear and can be excellent for trekking and cultural trips as you don’t have to face the crowds of tourists in Lhasa and Shigatse.
Winter is generally cold and clear in Tibet. It is not advised to attempt remote or high journeys during this time without prior experience. However, cultural tours to Lhasa and other regional centers can be very rewarding during winter months as there are hardly any other tourists and it is the customary time for Tibetan pilgrimage to central Buddhist temples. The overland journey from Lhasa to Kathmandu is usually possible year round now that the new road has been built.
Remember – weather in Tibet is highly changeable at all times of the year. There may be snow on the passes and it can snow at any time above 3600m, however the sun can be HOT so prepare to cover up and avoid getting burnt. Always travel with good warm clothing and a waterproof jacket. Warm clothing is easily and cheaply purchased in Lhasa.
Cold & Dry
Summer: Cool-Warm & Stormy
Cool, Dry & Clear
Cold & Dry
Because of its high altitude, largely remote destinations, and semi-arid weather Tibet comprises a unique set of health concerns. You don’t need to worry about Malaria here, but you should certainly consider the sun and altitude. We recommend that you visit your doctor or health-care provider well in advance of your departure date to get up to date health information. Many cities have specialized travel clinics which specialize in vaccinations and providing travel related health information.
Your doctor or health-care provider will determine what you will need, depending on factors such as your health and immunization history, regions you will be visiting, and planned activities. To have the most benefit, see a health-care provider at least 4–6 weeks before your trip to allow time for your vaccines to take effect.
Even if you have less than 4 weeks before you leave, you should still see a health-care provider for needed vaccines, other medications and information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while traveling.
High Altitude Considerations: IMPORTANT
It is essential that you design or choose itineraries that take acclimatization into consideration. Read the altitudes of your first few days in Tibet carefully and demand enough time for acclimatization. Do not just assume an itinerary will work for travelers coming from low altitudes or sea-level, do your homework!
There is preventative and symptomatic medication to help with the minor symptoms of altitude sickness (headaches, nausea) and we recommend that you bring some. We also strongly suggest that you bring sunglasses, hat and sunscreen — Tibet is not the place to work on your tan.