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Travel to Tibet: Ultimate Guide to the Roof of the World

Tibet is a country filled with mystery, beauty, and charm. Here is a guide to help you travel to Tibet to know all about this majestic land.

Feb 26 2021

From rich culture to great food, untainted natural beauty, and high-end accommodations, Tibet has it all. Those who are fortunate enough to visit the Tibetan area get a unique opportunity to indulge in immersive cultural experiences. To help you travel to Tibet, here is an in-depth Tibetan tour guide with all the facts to consider. 

Where is the Tibetan Area?

Tibet is bordered by the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan. It also borders Myanmar, India, Bhutan, and Nepal. The Tibetan area includes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and regions occupied by Tibetans in Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Qinghai. A Tibet tour usually refers to a trip to the TAR region only. On the other hand, Tibetan tour covers all these regions. 

Tibet travel Tibet culture map Map of Tibet Area

Indulging in the culture and natural beauty across the entire Tibetan plateau will give you a complete and richer experience of Tibet. 

Why Go to Tibet?

Dubbed the "Roof of the World," Tibet is a magical wonderland with untainted beauty, rich culture, religious devotion, and friendly people. Tibet is the perfect tourist destination for many reasons. 

Tibet travel locals walking around

Mystical Wonderland

Tibet is a mysterious wonderland where man and nature have coexisted in harmony for centuries. For millions across the world, Tibet is synonymous with the mythical paradise of Shangri-La, full of yetis and mystic monks with supernatural powers. In Zanda County, you’ll be intrigued by the mysterious disappearance of the Guge Kingdom in the 17th century. Tibet holds a special place in all our hearts. 

Exotic Scenery

Tibet’s dramatic landscape offers exotic scenery with breathtaking panoramic views. As you fly to Lhasa, look out for the most amazing view of the Himalayan range. You’ll also be captivated by the expansive Tibetan plateau contrasted against the snow-capped peaks of the world’s highest mountains that stretch into the horizon. 

Tibet Travel mountain view at sunset Mountain view at Sunset

Untainted Land

The Tibetan plateau is one of the most isolated parts of the world. It stretches for 1400 miles from west to east and sits at an average height of 13,000 ft above sea level. This untainted land is guarded by the towering Himalaya to the south, the Karakoram to the west, and the Kunlun to the north. It is rugged, remote, and unforgettable. 

Physical Challenge 

Tibet’s rugged landscape makes it the perfect destination to test your physical limits and endurance. It is a superb trekking destination for beginners and pros. You can trek to Everest base camp or from Ganden to Samye monastery. The high passes and winding trails in Tibet offer the perfect physical challenge. 

Spiritual Rejuvenation

Tibetans are devout to Buddhism. Their way of life has been influenced by Tibetan Buddhism for more than 1300 years. The Tibetan people also worship the mountains as living deities. Others are followers of the indigenous Tibetan religion, the Bon. During your tour of Tibet, don’t be surprised by friendly greetings and generous acts of kindness from strangers. Their welcoming and friendly nature can overshadow all other experiences. 

Tibet travel buddhist monks at ceremony Tibetan Buddhist monks at ceremony

How to Travel to Tibet

If you are traveling from America to Tibet, it is a very easy process. Here are a few options you might want to take as a first time traveler: 

  1. Fly from the US to a major Chinese city such as Beijing or Shanghai and many others. From there, you can take a domestic flight to Lhasa. 
  2. Take a flight from the US to the city of Chengdu. From there, you can decide to take the Sichuan–Tibet railway train to Tibet, which is a good way to adjust to the high altitude while scoping out the most incredible and breath-taking views. 
  3. Take a flight to Nepal to access Tibet. Due to Nepal’s close proximity to Tibet, you can fly there from Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport to the Lhasa Gonggar international Airport in just 90 minutes. Travel from Nepal to Tibet requires a Tibet permit and a Group tourist visa. 

You only need a Chinese tourist visa to tour and experience Amdo, Kham, and other Tibetan areas outside the TAR. If your tour includes Tibet Autonomous Region, you’ll need special permits from the Tibet Tourism Bureau. Tibet Entry Permit is a requirement for foreigners who travel to TAR.  

Tibet travel helicopter flying over mountains Helicopter flying over Tibetan Mountains

You will not be allowed to enter or travel to the TAR without a Tibet Entry Permit. Visitors to the TAR also need an Alien's travel permit and military permit. Both permits are a must-have for you to check-in at the hotel and visit attractions within the TAR. Please email info@songtsam.com on more information on obtaining a permit. Getting all three permits will take around 30 days plus 2-3 days to confirm your hotel booking. So, you’ll need to start planning for your Tibetan tour at least 30 days before the date of departure. You should carry all three permits in a safe and secure pouch at all times. 

Is Tibet Safe for Tourists?

Tibet is one of the safest tourist destinations in the world. In Southeast Asia, Tibet’s low crime rate makes it the preferred tourist destination in the region. Issues that plague popular destinations across the world like violence against tourists, scams, and bag snatchers are almost non-existent.

Tibet travel Tibetans entering Buddhist Temple Local people entering Buddhist Temple

Fun fact: 90% of Tibetans are devout Buddhists. They adhere to the Buddhist teachings of peace, kindness, and friendship, which is why crime against tourists is so rare in Tibet. During your tour of Tibet, you’ll mostly encounter warm and welcoming Tibetans. Their smiling faces, friendly greetings, and warmth is refreshing and intoxicating. The main issue to worry about is being overcharged by local artisans and vendors. To avoid being targeted, carry small amounts of cash when visiting local markets. 

How to Apply for Tibet Travel Permit 

Individual travelers are not allowed to apply for the Tibet Travel Permit. All tours of Tibet have to be arranged by a local travel agency. First, book a Tibetan tour offered by Songtsam Tours via email at info@songtsam.com. Second, authorize the agency to apply for Tibet Travel Permit and conduct the entire application process for you. Third, send your passport and Chinese Tourist Visa to the agency about 30 days before your tour commences. Travel permits cost around $100 per person. Getting the permit is the first and most crucial step for you to indulge and experience all that Tibet has to offer. 

How Much Does It Cost to Travel to Tibet? 

Tibet is flexible when it comes to pricing and all depends on what you are looking to experience. One of the reasons why tourists prefer to visit Tibet is access to a multitude of different tour packages. Group tours of Tibet allow family, friends, and even strangers to pool their resources together. To get a true and unforgettable Tibetan experience that includes visiting remote villages, making handcrafted art with villagers, learning how to draw Tangka from monks that have been doing this for centuries, and fully immerse in Tibetian culture, can tend to cost much more. However, you walk away with an experience that very few people have ever gotten to experience. 

Tibet travel hotel overlooking mountains Songtsam Lodge overlooking Mountains

How Do I Get Around Tibet?

The best way to get around Tibet is to book an all-inclusive tour package, including transportation. Most tour operators in Tibet handle everything for their clients. High-end tour operators also offer VIP packages that connect to different attraction sites that you can’t find or experience anywhere else. For your travel in and out of Tibet, you can catch a flight from Lhasa to all major cities across China. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway also connects Tibet with other Chinese cities. It is the world’s highest railway line and offers spectacular views of Tibet’s untainted

natural beauty. Traveling via the Qinghai-Tibet Railway will also help you acclimatize to the altitude and reduce high-altitude sickness. 

When Is The Best Time to Go to Tibet?

Heavy rains and other extreme weather cycles cover The Tibetan plateau mountains. But, it experiences low temperatures and frost most of the year. The best time to visit Tibet is in the summer, which starts from June to August. Temperatures during these three months can reach 70℉. The oxygen content is the highest in the summer, which makes it easier to accustom to the high altitude. 

Tibet travel person sitting at lake Overlooking Tibet Lake

You can also visit Tibet in spring and fall to enjoy clear skies, uncrowded attraction sites, and better visibility of Mount Everest. But nighttime temperatures in spring and fall can drop to unbearable levels. 

Where Can I Eat in Tibet?

Tibet brings together unique regional cuisines. In Lhasa and Shigatse, you'll find all kinds of cuisines, from authentic local Tibetan foods to Chinese, Nepali, and Indian dishes. Most Chinese restaurants offer Sichuan cuisines with spices like yúxiāng across Tibet. You can enhance your experience by indulging your taste buds in traditional cuisines offered by local Tibetan diners like tsampa, momos, and thugpa that combine yak’s meat with other foods. 

Tibet travel traditional cuisine Traditional Tibetan Cuisine

While Tibet is undeniably beautiful, it is still grappling with a high poverty rate and poor living conditions. This can lead to concern over hygiene while dining in small towns and villages. It is recommended to join a tour package that can ensure enjoyment in the best local food and ingredients handcrafted by professional chefs. 

Staying Healthy in Tibet 

You don’t need any ‘special vaccinations’ to travel to Tibet. Standard vaccinations recommended for foreigners traveling to other Asian countries are adequate to keep you healthy in Tibet. These shots include measles, mumps, polio, tetanus, whooping cough, typhoid, and a few others. Consult a doctor to review all vaccinations required and up to date before traveling. 

Altitude Sickness and How to Manage It 

Most areas in Tibet are about 4,500ft above sea level. Foreigners who have never lived in a high-altitude area can experience symptoms of high-altitude sickness. But the body takes around 3-7 days to acclimatize. Even though you can’t avoid high-altitude sickness, adopting tried-and-tested strategies can help reduce the severity of the effects. The most common practice is to spend about 3 days in Lhasa city to acclimatize before visiting attractions in higher altitudes. Other strategies to avoid serious high altitude sickness include: 

  •  Drinking more water 
  •  Avoid strenuous activities. 
  •  Eat more vegetables. 
  •  Reduce consumption of foods rich in carbohydrates. 
  •  Avoid or reduce smoking. 
  •  Avoid drinking alcohol. 
  •  Don't shower in the first two days.

If you follow these strategies, your body will acclimatize quicker and fight off severe symptoms of high-altitude sickness. 

Best Tours in Tibet

Most Authentic Tour

The tour of the tea-horse road from Yunnan to Lhasa offers the most authentic experience. You arrive at Diqing Shangri-La Airport then visit sights around the area before crossing into Tibet via the Yangtze River valley. The reason this tour is considered the most authentic is that the area being traveled through is home to a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is a very remote and difficult place to travel to without the help of a tour like this one. Here, a majority of the demographic are Tibetans and most of the twenty-five ethnic monitories found in Yunnan province, many of whom still follow ancient traditions and customs. You’ll get the once-in-a-lifetime experience to engage with these fellow villagers and learn directly from them about their sacred traditions.

Tibet travel locals praying outside Tibetan locals praying outside

Most Adventurous Tour

Mount Everest is the world’s highest mountain and sets the standard for adventure seekers. Only a handful of the world’s best climbers have conquered Mount Everest. It sets apart the topmost adventurous souls from the rest of us. The Mount Everest Base Camp is a spectacular experience for those hikers looking to experience the jaw-dropping sights and challenging trek. You can choose to complete this trek independently or with an organized tour group. There is a multitude of different, traditional food and accommodation options along the trek. 

Tibet travel climber touching ice cap Climber touching ice cap in Tibet

Most Cost-Effective Tour

A tour of spiritual, historical, and natural attractions in and around Lhasa city is cost-effective. You can cut costs further by visiting attractions that do not require entry fees, such as Tromsikhang market, Barkhor Street, and Yamdrok Lake. To enhance your experience, pay to visit a few must-see sites like the Potala Palace and combine them with free cultural sites and natural attractions. Some monasteries and temples around Lhasa city also don’t require entry fees. 

Most Culture-Rich Tour

The Three Parallel rivers area in Yunnan province, Yangtze encompasses the majestic land filled with snow-capped mountains up to 6,000m high, glaciated gorges, and terraced rice fields. The Shangri-La China tour includes off-the-beaten path hikes and meeting wildlife animals like the Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys in Tacheng. This tour is considered the most culture-rich because all the activities are designed so that guests can experience true authentic living heritage, which includes: Dharma Cave, Local visits of different ethnic minorities: Tibetan, Naxi and Lisu, Cizhong Catholic Church, and the charming upper Mekong River valley, and important Tibetan monastery visits such Dongzhulin Monastery in Benzilan and Songzanlin Monastery in Shangri-La. There are other activities and shorter experiences that Songtsam has curated that will truly make your trip to Tibet unforgettable. 

Tibet travel forest and mountains Tibetan forest and mountain