What documents do you need to travel to Tibet?
To enter Tibet legally you need a Chinese visa and a Tibet Entry Permit. Any decent travel agency can provide you with an invitation letter (so you don’t have any problems when applying for a visa) and a Tibet Entry Permit. While the visa must be requested in person (better if in Italy), the agency will take care of obtaining Tibet Permit on your behalf.
If you want to get to Everest Base Camp you will also need a PSB Permit, or a special permit for foreigners who want to travel to “protected” areas. As with Tibet Permit, the agency will get the PSB Permit on your behalf .
To summarize, you will need:
A Chinese visa, which you will have to request in person (but the agency can provide you with an invitation letter that will make it easier for you to obtain a visa).
A Tibet Entry Permit, to be requested by the travel agency at the Lasa office, the capital of Tibet (you cannot request it).
A PSB Permit (necessary only if you want to go to Everest Base Camp), which must be requested by the agency at the Shigatse office (a town halfway between Lasa and Base Camp).
What type of agency should you choose to travel to Tibet?
We always recommend local agencies that specialize in touring in Tibet and have an office in Lasa. There are three reasons why you should choose this type of agency:
The “global” tour operators that offer tours in all corners of the planet tend to focus their resources on the most popular destinations such as Phuket in Thailand, Bali in Indonesia or Caribbean cruises. I’m not saying that they won’t sell you a tour in Tibet, on the contrary, they will be very happy. But they will probably give the organization to a third company and, surely, they don’t know the specific needs of those who are preparing to travel at an altitude of 5,000 meters.
Tibet Permit can only be obtained in Lasa. Don’t you think it is better to rely on an agency that has an office there, know the officers who issue such permits and have already requested permission for hundreds or thousands of tourists?
The best way to travel in Tibet is to be accompanied by a local guide who knows the area and speaks both Tibetan and English. An agency specializing in travel to Tibet will have no problem finding a guide like that.
If you are interested in reading our tips to recognize an honest and capable agency, I suggest you take a look at the general tour guide in China.
What is the difference between a group tour and a private tour?
A group tour is certainly cheaper but you will have to travel by bus with another 20-40 people. This means that you will not have any flexibility on the itinerary or times. You will also be forced to lose a good deal of time due to the usual idiots who get lost, don’t get ready to leave or decide to go to the bathroom at the last moment, when the bus has already turned on engines. Since you cannot choose your travel companions there is not much you can do to avoid this kind of problems.
If you choose a private tour you can travel by car (or minivan if you are more than four people) and you will have much more flexibility both in terms of itinerary and times. You will also have to wait for your friends only.
Keep in mind that if you are a group of at least three people the price of a group tour and a private tour is more or less the same. So in this case I suggest you book a private tour. If you are traveling alone or in pairs, a group tour will be cheaper so you will have to decide whether to give priority to the price or the flexibility that a private tour guarantees you.
What is the best time to visit Tibet?
You can visit Tibet throughout the year. The best times are late spring and early autumn because summer is the rainy season and winter is very cold.
What are the most popular tours and how many days do you need?
If you want to take a look, a few months ago we published a travel guide dedicated to Tibet and various articles dedicated to Lasa, the Tibetan lakes, the monasteries on the road to Shigatse and the Everest Base Camp.
Here are the most popular routes among those traveling in Tibet:
Lasa-Everest Base Camp-Lasa (8 days): Usually tours in Tibet start from Lasa because that’s where both the airport and the train station are. After visiting Lasa you will travel along the China-Nepal Friendship Highway where you will have the opportunity to visit several lakes, monasteries, towns and glaciers before arriving at Everest Base Camp.
Approximate price: EUR 700-900 per person (group tour), EUR 650-1250 per person (private tour for 2-4 people, the more you are the lower the cost per person, which also depends on the season).
Monte Kailash and Lgo Manasarovar (15 days): The tour of my dreams. You will travel along the China-Nepal Friendship Highway to Shigatse and then turn right to venture to the western border of Tibet, where you can admire the imposing Mount Kailash.
Approximate price: EUR 1500-1700 per person (group tour), EUR 1400-2500 per person (private tour for 2-4 persons, the more you are the lower the cost per person, which also depends on the season).
How to reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness
The best way to reduce altitude sickness is to allow your body to gradually adapt to the 4-5,000 meters altitude you will find in Tibet. How can you do it? Simply arriving at Lasa by train instead of by plane. The only problem is that the train journey from Beijing or Shanghai takes about 45 hours. If you don’t feel like spending two days on the train you can get the same effect by flying to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, and then taking the Lanzhou-Lasa train (the journey takes about 24 hours).
The other tip I can give you is to drink a lot of water since the altitude sickness is caused by dehydration of the brain.
Frequent questions – FAQ
Can I travel to Tibet alone?
As we said in this article, unless you have a Chinese passport, the only way to travel to Tibet is with a trip organized by an accredited travel agency. However good agencies will offer you guided tours that will leave you some freedom.
Can I enter Tibet via the Nepal border?
Even if it can be done, it is much more difficult to get permission if you enter from Nepal, rather than from China. Most tours in Tibet depart from Lhasa and begin and end in Nepal.
What is the best way to reach Tibet?
If you have time, the ideal way to reach Tibet is by train, giving your body time to adapt to the altitude.
Where can I find a cheap tour for Tibet?
Permits are required to travel in Tibet, so tours cost a little more than the norm. To reduce costs, it is better to travel in small groups (4-6 people), or participate in organized trips. It is better to contact local agencies to avoid intermediaries that can increase the price.
How to hike in Tibet?
Tibet is an inhospitable land, which involves some dangers for inexperienced travelers. If we add mountain sickness and extreme temperatures to this, we understand that trekking in Tibet is a risky activity. For these reasons, most agencies do not allow you to go trekking (it is your responsibility). The good local agencies, specialized in travels in Tibet, know this Asian region well, so they are able to offer trekking excursions, without putting tourists at risk.