Tibet Travel Guide

Updated February 2018: Everything you need to know about Tibet Travel in one easy to read article! More information at: thelandofsnows@gmail.com

Tibet Travel Guide

This updated post contains everything you need to know in how to get to Tibet. Read through this Tibet Travel Guide carefully as it most likely will answer the questions that you may have. This post contains information from our 16+ years of nearly full-time travel in Tibet. We hope it helps!

Panoramic view of Tibet’s Mt Kailash

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How to get to Tibet

Ganden is one of Tibet’s largest and most well-known monasteries

Central Tibet’s Yamdrok Lake is located along the drive from Lhasa to Gyantse

Organized Tour is Required for Tibet

All foreign travelers going to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) are required to be on an organized tour in order to visit. There are NO exceptions to this travel regulation. Travelers are required to have travel permits (sometimes multiple permits), a private vehicle, a driver, an official travel itinerary and a tour guide. Permits for Tibet cannot be obtained from a China Embassy or Consulate. Only a travel agency can get them for you. Permits are only issued as part of an organized tour. You cannot just get a permit and then go travel independently in Tibet. Despite what you may have heard from a friend, read on-line or watched on a TV documentary, an organized tour is required in order to visit Tibet.

Read the following post for more Tibet Travel Tips and Tibet Travel

Tibet Travel Permit

Probably the most confusing part of traveling to Tibet is the infamous Tibet Travel Permit. Questions we get EVERYDAY in emails include: Where do I get a Tibet Travel Permit? How do I get a permit for Tibet? How long is the permit for Tibet valid for? Will I be denied a permit for Tibet? These are all valid questions and I can certainly understand how confusing the process can seem to be. However, if you are going to Tibet you need to understand that getting permits for Tibet is NOT hard or complicated as the travel agency you use will literally do everything for you in obtaining the permits. Everything. Literally. You can’t get permits for Tibet yourself, plain and simple. The agency in Tibet you use will automatically know what permits you will need for your journey and they will obtain them for you. You don’t need to ask a travel agency in Tibet to arrange your permits for you as they already know that you need permits. So, you can stop concerning yourself about permits for Tibet.

There are several different types of permits for Tibet, but again, you don’t need to concern yourself about these as the agency you use will get them for you. The most common permit that ALL travelers to Tibet require is the Tibet Travel Permit (TTP). This is a 2 page permit on white paper that states your travel dates in Tibet, the locations in Tibet you will be going to along with your full name, birthdate, passport number, nationality and occupation. If you plan to fly to Tibet, you will need the original Tibet Travel Permit to be mailed to the hotel you will be staying at in Mainland China. You will need to show your permit before you board a flight to Tibet. You will not be permitted to board without your permit.  If you plan to take the train to Tibet, a copy of your permit will be emailed to you for you to print out. A photocopy of the Tibet Travel Permit is all that is needed to take the train to Tibet. If you are going to Tibet from Nepal, the regulations are different and you do not need to have your permit as you are issued a Group China Visa instead (read below for further info on this).

The second most common permit for Tibet is an Alien Travel Permit. This permit is only needed if you go to areas west of Shigatse or east of Tsetang. This permit is arranged on site in Shigatse or Tsetang or in the town of Gyantse. Once in these towns, your guide will slip away from you for 45 minutes or so and go to the police station and get your Alien Travel Permit for you. Again, you do not need to worry about this permit as it will be arranged for you. The 2 other lesser common permits for Tibet are a Military Permit and a Foreign Affairs Permit. These permits are only needed for far western Tibet or for places that go very near to military bases and the border regions of India.

NOTE: You do not need to worry about getting any of these permits as the agency in Tibet that you use will take care of them for you. It is almost unheard of to be “denied” a permit for Tibet, unless you hold a Norwegian passport (Norwegians are currently not permitted to go to the TAR). Though Tibet can close from time and permits cease to be issued for a short time, but getting actually “denied” a permit for Tibet is extremely rare. Most of the time when travelers say they were denied a permit for Tibet, it was because they used a travel company based outside of Tibet who were inept at getting the required permits for Tibet.

The small city of Markham in eastern Tibet

Tibet Travel Permit

A Tibetan home in Central Tibet

When to book your tour to Tibet

A journey to Tibet must be arranged well in advance. Long gone are the days of arriving to Chengdu, Kathmandu or Xining and then going off to Lhasa a few days later. A Tibet Travel Permit will take at least 15 days for a travel agency to arrange. If you are flying to Tibet, your permit will then need to be mailed to the hotel you are staying at the night before you fly to Tibet. To mail the permit to you will take a further 3 days. If you are going to Mt Kailash or to Western Tibet, the travel agency you use will require 24 to 28 days to obtain your required permits. We suggest reserving your journey with a travel agency a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks before you plan to arrive to Tibet. If you can, booking your journey 3 or 4 months in advance is even better.

How to get to Tibet

The Tibet side of Mt Everest

Racing horses during a Tibetan Horse Festival

How to book a journey to Tibet

As stated at the beginning of this Tibet Travel Guide, all travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region must be on an organized tour and can only be arranged by a travel agency. All travel to Tibet can be arranged by contacting a travel agency by email or phone call. There is no need to actually go to a travel agency office to book your journey. Booking your journey is not a difficult process. A journey can normally be arranged by sending 5 to 8 short emails to the agency you are using. If you are going to Tibet from Mainland China, you will need to get your China Tourist Visa (send info below) before your Tibet Travel Permit can be arranged. It will be your responsibility to get this permit from a China Embassy/Consulate near you. If you go to Tibet from Nepal, the regulations are different and the agency you use will assist you in getting your visa for China from the China Embassy in Kathmandu (see info below). Whether you go from Nepal or Mainland China, travel in Tibet is easy to arrange.

For a travel agency to arrange your journey, you will need to email the agency you are using a clear, high-resolution image of your passport (picture/info page) and your China visa. Your Tibet Travel Permit cannot be arranged without these. You will also need to decide on the travel route you plan to take in Tibet. It is important to understand that you have the freedom to design your own travel route in Tibet if you take a private, customized journey and you can arrive to Tibet anytime that is convenient for you. Tibet is quite huge with numerous different travel itineraries and treks you can take. Most travel agencies also offer set-date, set-itinerary group tours. Though you cannot change the date or travel route of these tours, they are a good option if you don’t want to go thru the hassle of planning a journey. A group tour is also a good option for budget travelers.

For recommendations on which travel company to use, send us an email at: thelandofsnows@gmail.com

Everest viewed from the Geu La Pass in Tibet

Tibet Travel Guide

A teenaged Tibetan boy from the Everest region of Tibet

Group Tour is NOT Required in Tibet

One of the biggest misconceptions on Tibet travel is that you have to be on a group tour. This is FALSE! Many years ago it was required, but the “group tour” regulation has not been consistently applied in a long time. While a group tour is not required, an organized tour is required, as explained at the beginning of this Tibet Travel Guide post. An organized tour and a group tour are not the same thing…not even close. A group tour means that you have to travel with a group of other people. Again, this is NOT required in Tibet. You can travel to Tibet as a solo traveler, but you still must be part of an organized tour. A group tour can be a good idea though, if you are a budget traveler. Many agencies offer group tours along the most popular travel routes in Tibet that are much more affordable than a private journey.

Going to Tibet from Mainland China

The most common way that travelers reach Tibet is from Mainland China. If you go to visit Tibet from China, you will need to stay at least 1 night at a hotel so that your Tibet Travel Permit can be mailed to you. From China, you can fly or take the train to Tibet. The main gateway cities to reach Tibet are Chengdu in Sichuan province and Xining in Qinghai province. Chengdu offers at least a dozen direct flights per day to Lhasa and has one daily train. The flight from Chengdu to Lhasa is 2 hours long, while the train is 36 hours long. From Xining, there are 1 or 2 daily flights to Lhasa as well as 4 or 5 trains per day. You can travel to Tibet by train from other major cities in China including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing and many others.

For more detailed info on how to go from Mainland China to Tibet, read the following post of ours:

How to go from China to Tibet

Going to Tibet from Nepal

Another popular starting point for going to Tibet is from Nepal. From Nepal, you can either fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa (one flight per day) or you can travel overland by vehicle along the Friendship Highway. The flight to Lhasa is less than an hour long, while an overland journey from Kathmandu to the Tibetan capital city will take 4 to 6 days depending on the places you wish to see along the way. Another less well-known way to go from Nepal to Tibet is from the Simikot region in far western Nepal. From Simikot, you can trek for 5 days up to the Tibet border and then be met by your driver and guide.

For more detailed info on how to go from Nepal to Tibet, read the following post of ours:

How to go from Nepal to Tibet

Going to Tibet from India

At this time, it is not possible for normal travelers to travel to Tibet from India. Going from India directly to Tibet is only permissible for a very, very small number of Indian passport holders who are going to Mt Kailash for pilgrimage. There are also n flights from India to Tibet. To go from India to Tibet, you will first need to go to Nepal and then go on to Tibet from there.

Kathmandu, Nepal is a popular starting point for journeys to Tibet

The flight to Tibet from both Nepal and Mainland China offer epic mountain views

Getting a Chinese Visa

As Tibet is part of China, the only visa you will need is a Chinese visa. If you go from Mainland China to Tibet, you will need to get your China visa yourself from a China Embassy or Consulate nearest you. It is best to get your China visa from the China Embassy/Consulate in your home country, but you can normally get it at embassies in other countries as well. As stated earlier in this Tibet Travel Guide post, you cannot get your travel permits for Tibet from a China Embassy. You can only get those from a travel agency in Tibet.

When getting your China visa, it is very important to NOT list the word “Tibet” anywhere on your China visa application or to include hotel bookings or flight info that lists places in Tibet. If you do, you will have delays in getting your visa. Read the following detailed post of ours for instructions on how to get your China visa when going to Tibet from Mainland China:

Do NOT list Tibet on your China visa application

If you plan to go from Mainland China to Tibet and then continue on to Nepal, the following post will tell you exactly what to do to obtain your China visa from the China Embassy:

How to get your China visa when going from China to Tibet and then to Nepal

When going from Nepal to Tibet, the visa regulations are much different. When traveling from Nepal to Tibet the travel agency you are using in Tibet will assist you in getting your China visa. Your visa must come from the China Embassy in Kathmandu. If you get a China Visa elsewhere, you will not be able to use it to go from Nepal to Tibet. You will need to arrive to Kathmandu a few business days before you plan to enter Tibet so that you can get your China visa. Read the following post for more detailed information on how to get your China visa when going to Tibet from Nepal:

How to get your China visa when going from Nepal to Tibet (Read the “Group Chinese Visa” section)

Manasarovar is one of Tibet’s many high altitude lakes

Top Travel Routes in Tibet

Tibet is a huge area with a lot of different travel routes you can take. Whether you have just 4 or 5 days or whether you have 2 months, there are a lot of Tibet travel packages you can choose from. Below are just some of the many different travel options you can take in Tibet. I have only listed some of the more popular routes. If you don’t see the exact route you wish to take, no problem! Contact us with a list of places you wish to explore and we can assist you, FOR FREE, in creating the perfect travel itinerary. Our email is: thelandofsnows@gmail.com

For those with just a few days to spend in Tibet, we recommend spending your time in and around the city of Lhasa. The Tibetan capital is a lot of fun to explore on foot and is home to many of Tibet’s most sacred temples and monasteries. You can combine a short trip to Lhasa with one of Tibet’s beautiful lakes, such as Yamdrok Lake. More details are in the link below:

5 Day Lhasa and Yamdrok Lake Journey

If you have a full week to be in Tibet, you can spend 3 nights in Lhasa and then take a short road trip thru Central Tibet to Yamdrok Lake, Karo La Glacier, Gyantse and Shigatse. On this route, you would experience the real snow-covered mountains of Tibet, along with farming villages, ancient monasteries and explore 2 of Tibet’s main towns. More details are in the link below:

7 Day Central Tibet Journey from Lhasa to Gyantse and Shigatse

With 9 days, you can include the week-long journey thru Central Tibet, as described above, and can include Nam Tso Lake. Nam Tso is one of Tibet’s largest lakes and is surrounded by snowy mountain peaks. More details are in the link below:

9 Day Central Tibet and Nam Tso Lake Journey

A 10 day journey would allow you to make the epic overland journey from Lhasa thru Central Tibet and on to the North Face Everest Base Camp. The Tibet-side view of Everest is amazing and is much better than the view of Everest from the Nepal-side base camp. There is a reason this is the most popular vacation to Tibet! More details in the link below:

10 Day Journey from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp

Another amazing journey is going all the way from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp and then continuing on to Kathmandu, Nepal. This route is considered one of the best road trips to take on the planet! This journey can be done in 11 to 13 days. More details in the link below:

13 Day Journey from Lhasa to Everest and Kathmandu

With 17 days, you can make the journey al the way to far western Tibet’s Mt Kailash, the most sacred peak in Asia. You would go from Lhasa overland to Everest Base Camp and then continue west to Lake Manasarovar and then go to Kailash where you can make the 3 day holy pilgrimage around the mountain. More details in the link below:

17 Day Journey from Lhasa to Everest and Mt Kailash 

Read this detailed post for information on doing the 3 day trek around the sacred peak of Mt Kailash: How to get to Mt Kailash

If you have around 3 weeks to spend in Tibet, a great route to take is from Lhasa to Everest and  on to Kailash, but then continuing west to the ancient ruins of the Guge Kingdom. Few travelers make it to this extremely remote part of Tibet, but it is amazing! More details in the link below:

20 Day Journey from Lhasa to Everest, Kailash and Guge Kingdom

Again, these are just a few of the more popular journeys you can take in Tibet. You also have the freedom to customize your own travel route in Tibet going specifically to the places you wish to see. Tibet also offers numerous treks including Ganden to Samye Monastery, Tsurphu to Yangpachen, Old Tingri to Everest Base Camp and the Nyenchen Tanglha Traverse. Here are a few more recommended travel routes in Tibet in this link:

More Top Travel Routes in Tibet

For more journey information on Tibet, contact us at: thelandofsnows@gmail.com

Stupas looking out to the north side of Mt Kailash in western Tibet

How to get to Tibet

A yak grazing on the high grasslands of northern Tibet

Tibet off the beaten path

Are you the type of traveler who prefers going to places where there are few (if any) other travelers? Well, Tibet has those places as well! Remember, Tibet is huge and you have to be on a full organized tour, so getting to the more remote and lesser known areas of Tibet will probably not be cheap, but we think it is worth it! For some of our recommendations on off the beaten path areas in Tibet, go to the following link of ours:

Tibet off the beaten path 

Best Time to Visit Tibet

The question of the “best time to go to Tibet” is a little hard to answer as it really depends on what you want to see and do. If you are going to Tibet for good mountain views, the best months are January through mid February, April thru mid June and again from mid September through December. If you are wanting to see nomadic culture, the best months are June through early September. The following post of ours will let you know the best time to visit Tibet for the specific activity that you are interested in:

Best time to visit Tibet

Tibet Closed Each Year in March

When planning a journey to Tibet, be sure to plan around the annual closure that takes place from mid February through March and until the first few days of April. During this time each year, foreign travelers are not permitted to go to Tibet. The exact dates vary each year, but the closure generally begins sometime between February 10 and February 20 and ends between April 1 and April 4. For more details on this yearly closure in Tibet, go to the following link:

Tibet Closed Each Year in March

Karo La Glacier is located along the way from Lhasa to Gyantse

White yaks along the shore of Nam Tso Lake

What to pack for Tibet

One of the most important questions regarding how to get to Tibet is what to pack! A lot of what you need for a journey to Tibet will depend on the area you are going to and the time of year. Many areas of Tibet are probably a lot warmer than you might think! Lhasa can be 12°C (54°F) in mid-winter? Yep! It is common! For most journeys in Tibet, a sleeping bag is not needed. Unless you are trekking, big boots and a backpack are not required. We have a detailed post on what weather to expect in Tibet and a recommended packing list. Go to the following link for more details:

What to pack for Tibet

Traveling in Tibet with Children

Traveling to Tibet with your children can be an awesome experience! I have been fortunate to take my kids all across Tibet over the years, including numerous times above 5000 meters. The longest journey I took with my kids in Tibet was for 29 days and we covered well over 5000 kilometers. Taking a journey to Tibet with children needs a little bit of special planning. It is important to make sure your kids acclimatize smoothly, stay healthy in Tibet and remain interested during a longer journey. We have a full post dedicated to traveling in Tibet with your kids. Take a few moments and learn from our experiences in how to have fun while traveling in Tibet:

Traveling in Tibet with Children

Shisha Pangma, the 14th highest peak in the world. It is located along the way to Nepal.

Monks from Samding Monastery making a sand mandala.

Summary of Tibet Travel Guide

  • All foreign travelers must be on an organized tour in order to visit Tibet
  • Only a travel agency, preferably one in Tibet, can assist you in getting to Tibet
  • Getting to Tibet is EASY!
  • All foreigners are required to have a valid China visa to go to Tibet
  • The travel agency you use will get ALL permits that you need for Tibet
  • Travel to Tibet must be booked at least 6 to 8 weeks before you arrive
  • Group tours to Tibet are NOT required, but are a cheaper way to travel
  • The most common way to get to Tibet is from Mainland China
  • You can also reach Tibet from Nepal, but not from India
  • Tibet has numerous travel routes to take
  • You can customize your own travel route if you take a private tour
  • Tibet is closed to foreign travelers from mid February until early April each year
  • Traveling in Tibet with your kids can be a great experience

If you still need help, don’t worry! We are here for you! Let us, with our many years’ experience in Tibet, help you for free! Send us your questions to: thelandofsnows@gmail.com

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