How To Travel To Tibet From The US

Tibet Flags

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Tibet is a fascinating land for tourists all over the world, and Americans are well known to have an interest in Asian travel. Fortunately, “the roof of the world” is open to international tourism and it’s not that difficult to visit it either.

People cannot travel independently to Tibet, and they must be part of a tour, so there are general notions you must keep in mind when traveling to the land of the tallest mountains in the world.

Where is Tibet located on the map

Tibet is an Autonomous region in mainland China in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, at an altitude of over 2.5 miles. It borders India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar. This spectacular region is the source of major rivers that flow throughout Asia, such as the Yellow River and the Ganges.

Its geography makes it one of the most exciting places for hiking and trekking, even though the air on the highest plateau in the world has only 60% oxygen. Enormous mountains in the chain of the Himalayas cross the region, with Mount Everest being the highest peak. Glacial lakes dot the plateau. The climate is dry all over Tibet, but temperatures vary depending on the altitude. Because of Tibet’s location on the map, there is not much vegetation, but the wildlife is quite diverse for lack of poaching and hunting. 

The people of Tibet are highly spiritual; this region is known as the “land of spirituality”. The Buddhist Tibetan monks are renown all over the world. The Dalai Lama is the leader of the Tibetan monks and the main political figure of Tibet. The monasteries are the main attractions in Tibet, even though tourism is heavily controlled. Visitors must obtain visas, and they cannot visit anything by themselves, but part as a guided tour. The capital Lhasa is the main visitor center.

Even though the plateau is not easily accessible to foreigners, it receives more than 30 million tourists every year who want to discover the wonders of Tibet.

Can I travel to Tibet?

Americans don’t need a visa for most of the world, but unfortunately, they do need one when traveling to Tibet. Because this land is considered to be a part of China visitors have to obtain an “L category” Chinese Visa, which is the tourist permit. Applications must be submitted to the Embassy of China at least a month in advance. If you prefer to do it online, you can use the services of My China Visa website. To obtain it, every applicant must submit an itinerary and plane and hotel reservations, as well as pay a fee of $140/ person. 

Tibet Mountains

But the Chinese Visa is not enough. To travel to Tibet, every tourist needs to obtain a Tibet Travel Permit. For this, you must first book a tour, since you can’t travel to Tibet without one, and you can do so through a travel agency, which is also the one that will obtain the permit for you.

In order to do so, you’ll need your Chinese Visa, itinerary, and passport copies. You must apply for it at least a month in advance, and the processing time is up to 10 days. Most times the cost of the Tibet Travel Permit is included in the total price of the tour.

Depending on the landmarks you want to visit, other permits will be necessary. A visit to Mount Everest and Mount Kailash requires an Alien Travel Permit on top of everything else. Talk to your tour operator when discussing your travel plans and inquire if there are any other permits or passes that you might need. 

How to get there?

You can travel to Tibet only from China or Nepal, so getting there is your first step. Many big cities in the US including NYC, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, etc operate flights to China and Nepal. Prices differ depending on the time of the year, so you should always use comparison websites to find the best rates.

Visit Tibet from China

If you choose to travel to Tibet through China, you can either fly there from one of the Chinese airports or take the train. Flights from big airports cost more. You can save money by choosing a flight from Xining or Chengdu airport. Even if flying is faster, many tourists choose to take the train to experience the view on the Tibet plateau.

Everest Tibet

Tibet trains

Daily trains leave to Lhasa from 7 gateway cities and the journey can take up to 2 days. Because the train option is chosen by up to 2000 people every day, you must book your train ride at least 1 month in advance, to make sure you have a spot. You can’t book the ticket more than 30 days in advance, and unfortunately, every train has only 64 soft, first-class sleepers, so those sell out very fast.

The hard sleepers are considered to be second class sleeping accommodations, but there are up to 10 wagons with hard sleepers available, which is good to know considering the average ride to Tibet is a day and a half. 

All trains are equipped with air conditioners, drinking water dispensers, smoking areas, washing areas (only with cold water), toilets (with no toilet paper, so you’ll have to bring your own), a TV for every soft sleeper, and charging ports. If you love Wi-Fi you won’t be happy to know there’s no such thing on the train, so you might have to purchase a Chinese sim card so you can access it on your mobile device. 

Every train has medical staff in cases of emergency and oxygen. Considering you’re traveling at a very high altitude where the oxygen levels are low, you might experience nausea or shortness of breath, in which case the oxygen will help you get back on your feet. If you get hungry, a whole wagon serves as a restaurant with a panoramic view, and the passengers who didn’t reserve a spot at the train’s restaurant get their meals from a food trolley.

Visit Tibet from Nepal

If you want to travel to Tibet through Nepal, you can board one of the daily flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa, which takes about 1 hour and a half. Some travel agencies offer tours that start from Nepal, which will is a great way to experience both places, travel with a private vehicle, and visit everything at your own pace. 

Mount Everest Tibet

Travel packages

The travel agencies compete in offering the best prices or the best-structured tours, so you have a great variety of tours to choose from, and hopefully, find the one that best suits your needs. If you only want to spend a few days in Tibet, you can pick a short tour, for example, 4 days to visit the main attractions in Lhasa, a classic tour of Bhutan in 5 days, or 4 days in the Himalayan. Those who want to see everything can book a tour for 2 weeks and see China, Nepal, and Tibet in the same visit. 

A great option that many travel agencies use these days is to create your own custom tour. When booking it you can pick the places where you want to go and how many days you plan to stay in Tibet. The travel agency will help you with everything else from then on.

Keep in mind you must do all of this through an approved travel agency. Even though Tibet is quite safe, one of the biggest problems they have is dealing with fake travel agencies. To avoid dealing with the wrong people, book your tour through an agency that is located in Lhasa and whose staff speak good English. Most of the very cheap tours are too good to be true. You might end up losing your money or receiving a poor quality tour, even worse, not understanding anything from what your guide tells you.

Remember that when traveling internationally, especially at altitudes as high as Tibet is, where medical problems could appear, it’s best to purchase travel insurance to protect yourself and your family.

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