Nepal has some of the best whitewater rafting in the world. As water from the high Himalayan mountains melts, it flows down and feeds wild rivers. Rafting is a great way to explore Nepal: the rivers are pristine and flow past spectacular mountains and hills, winding their way through gorges and passing traditional Nepali villages as they make their way to Nepal’s lowland jungles. From the grade 5+ rapids for the intrepid and experienced river runners to grade 2 or 3 for first-timers, Nepal’s rivers have something for every type of adventurer. Rafting trips can even be multi-day, and rafters can enjoy beautiful campsites on white sand beaches.  

Why Nepal is one of the best whitewater rafting destinations in the world

Although Nepal is (justifiably) famous for its excellent trekking, its rivers also allow for some of the best whitewater rafting in the world. Class 3 and 4 rapids, mountain and jungle scenery and extremely good value are just some of the reasons why you should go whitewater rafting in Nepal.

1. You can take both short or long trips

Depending on your time and interests, you can whitewater raft in Nepal for as little as half a day, or as long as 11 days. As Nepal has a large number of raftable rivers, there are a lot of choices.

If you’re short on time, or have never rafted before and would just like to give the sport a try, the Bhote Kosi or Trisuli Rivers are ideal. Both are within a couple of hours’ drive of Kathmandu, the Bhote Kosi north-east and the Trisuli to the west. Rafting companies can pick you up early in the morning from Kathmandu and drop you back later, or you can stay at any number of riverside camps.

If you’re more confident on the water, 2-3 day trips can be made on many rivers, such as the Kali Gandaki, Seti or Marsyangdi Rivers (all accessible from Pokhara). For the ultimate adventure, 7-11 day trips can be made on the Sun Kosi, Tamur and Karnali Rivers. These longer trips often travel down as far as the Indian border, and are the ultimate way to see Nepal’s landscape slowly change from high mountains and hills to flat, steamy jungle.

2. You can combine rafting with trekking

Nepal is famous for its mountain trekking, and for the best of both worlds, you can combine trekking with rafting on the Tamur River. Eleven-day expeditions start with a three day camping trek, during which you will see some very high mountains--Everest, Makalu and Kanchenjunga--and cross a 3000 metre pass. (Don’t worry, porters will carry your equipment!) Then, once you’ve put into the Tamur River, the almost non-stop class 4 rapids make for a very exciting river trip.

3. … or with kayaking

Wherever it’s possible to whitewater raft, it’s possible to whitewater kayak. Many of the longer expeditions are organised as combined rafting and kayaking trips, with some people remaining on the raft and others taking to their own kayaks.

Y you needn’t be an advanced kayaker to give this type of trip a go. The rapids on the Sun Kosi River, in particular, start off easy and become more challenging as the days progress. Advanced-beginner or intermediate kayakers can kayak whenever they feel comfortable on the river, and hop into the raft when things become too challenging. You could even start by taking a beginner’s kayak clinic before a longer trip, to learn or refresh your kayaking skills.

4. Rafting is one of the best ways to see remote parts of Nepal

While much of Nepal is well set up for travellers, an exception is the remote far west. This area is very poor, underdeveloped, and difficult to get to. Trekking in western Nepal, for example, can be logistically challenging. This is where a ten-day Karnali River expedition comes in.

The Karnali River is the longest in Nepal, and starts at Mount Kailash in Tibet. Starting in Dungeswar, the first four days of the the trip offer exhilarating whitewater and large rapids, followed by a gentle float down the rest of the river. The trip ends in Bardia National Park, where you can stop to spot tigers in the jungle.

If you want to raft down the Karnali River, however, you should act fast: plans are underway to build a dam on the river.

5. The very affordable price

Like many things in Nepal, it is cheaper to raft here than in many more developed countries. For example, rafting the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon in the USA is an amazing experience. But a fully-catered week-long trip down the Colorado River can set you back as much as $5000! In contrast, a trip of similar duration in Nepal will only cost around $600. Even factoring in the cost of airfares, a multi-day whitewater rafting trip in Nepal is much cheaper than in some other places. And while the cost is much lower in Nepal, the quality definitely isn’t, with well-trained guides, good healthy food and spectacular rivers and scenery.

6. The variety of landscapes you’ll see along the way

Nepal’s rivers all flow through different parts of the country, from the high mountains to the mid hills to the flat plains. On a Tamur trekking-plus-rafting trip you will glimpse Everest and other very high mountains; on the Sun Kosi you will progress from the high hills down to the ‘jungle corridor’. Along every river you will pass remote, local villages and a huge variety of plants and wildlife.

Moreover, the rivers themselves have very different characteristics, meaning that no two rivers are the same. Even if you’ve rafted on one river, there are plenty more things to see and experience on another. The waters of the Seti are white (seto is white in Nepali), and those of the Kali Gandaki are a dark grey (kali means black). The Karnali is a bright, clear blue, and the Sun Kosi sparkles from the iridescent sand suspended within it.

7. Sleep on white-sand beaches

You may not associate Nepal--a landlocked country with the highest mountains in the world--with white-sand beaches. But you will be pleasantly surprised. Many of Nepal’s river beaches are as sparkling as many south-east Asian islands. On shorter rafting trips you can stay at permanent beachside camps, with bar/restaurant facilities, flush toilets and volleyball nets on the beach. On longer, multi-day trips, each night is spent on a different beach, around a campfire, with the sound of the river to lull you to sleep. The perfect adventure beach holiday is possible in Nepal.

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