Tibet is on our list of Five Recommended China Tourist Destinations for 2015/2016. Our advice is still to apply early and have alternative plans.
Note Updated: Mount Everest (Tibet side) is reopened from July 1, 2015!
A Tibet Entry Permit is required and you'd better apply for it a least 20 days before your trip. If you travel with China Highlights we will make all necessary arrangements for the Entry Permit, we can 100% guarantee that you will obtain a Tibet Permit when Tibet is open to foreigners (during stable political conditions).
The only things that may inconvenience your Tibet plans then is a lack of train tickets or plane tickets at the peak times, the Alien Travel Permit for remote areas, or a doctor's assessment saying you should not go to high-altitude areas.
Mid spring to late autumn is the ideal time to travel Tibet.
Tibet was closed for most of February and March in 2015 for the politically sensitive time of Tibetan New Year. And it is closed again at the same time in 2015. It will be reopen from April 1st. So we suggest you to plan a Tibet tour from April 15th considering the time of applying for the permits.
Spring in Tibet is April and May. Tibet will normally be reopened from early April. It’s a good time to travel, before the summer tourist crowds arrive.
Tibet's summer time is a "sea of festivals", with thangka unrollings, horse races on the grasslands, and other significant Tibetan Buddhist events. The weather is warmer and the oxygen content is higher. Thus summer is the peak travel season for Tibet. See more on Tibetan Festivals and Tibet festival dates for 2015.
Autumn in Tibet is September and October. It’s also a busy travel time in Tibet as it has good weather for hiking and camping.
Winter is not a recommended time for visiting Tibet because of the harsh weather conditions. But November is an ideal time to travel to Tibet if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy cheaper hotel prices before it gets very cold.See our winter special offer 4-Day Essential Lhasa Winter Tour: Travel to Tibet in winter and you will see more local pilgrims in the old city, even some nomad families with all their worldly possessions.
No matter whether you take a plane or train to Tibet, it's hard to avoid high altitude sickness.
We suggest you to fly in, because, though the Qinghai-Tibet Railway gives you more time to acclimate, it actually goes much higher than Lhasa (5,072m compared to 3,700m), increasing the risk of symptoms. Therefore you may not have a good rest on the train, which can make your body tired and easily get sick when you get off. It would be better to acclimate in your hotel room and Lhasa than on a train.
What's more, it's much easier to book a Tibet flight than a train, due to the high-demand for a limited number of train tickets. As train tickets to Tibet are always hard to get, flying to Tibet reduces the risk that your tour plans fail.
We suggest you to take a train out for the beautiful highland scenery. From Tibet to Qinghai province, you can see glaciers, snow-capped mountains, grasslands, yaks, Tibetan antelope, and Qinghai Lake. The highest railway in the world is an attraction in itself.
Here is a map guide for you to plan a Tibet trip. You may click the map to see a high-resolution one.
Usually you don’t feel uncomfortable when you just get off the plane at Lhasa. However 95% of travelers get altitude sickness to some degree. Generally the healthier you are, the more comfortable you will be. You should spend a couple of days in Lhasa to acclimate to the high altitude.
If you don’t feel well before you depart for Tibet you are not suggested to go to Tibet. Even a cold can make altitude sickness feel a lot worse.
The reality is that there is still some difficulty in touring Tibet. Though it is easier in 2014/2015, flights/trains are limited, remoter parts of Tibet, like Shigatse, require an Alien Travel Permit, and altitude sickness may be an issue. Therefore it is worth considering our alternative tou r options.
Provinces bordering Tibet (Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan) have many of the attractions Tibet does, without the access restrictions. The following places will be less-crowded, less high (less risk of altitude sickness), and less expensive.
Shangri-la in Yunnan may not have the Potala Palace, but it does have Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and Tibetan villages and people.
Ganzi's Dege Scripture Printing Lamasery near the Tibet border is a storehouse of Tibetan culture.
Tongren in Qinghai Province may not have monasteries as famous as Ganden or Tashilunpo, but it is the birthplace of Tibetan thangkas, and has some notable Buddhist temples/monasteries.
Sichuan Province may not have Mount Everest, but Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture does have Mount Gongga, the most easterly 7,000m+ peak in the world, and a beautiful scenic area in Hailuogou Forest Park, to appreciate it from.
Nine Village Valley (Jiuzhaigou) may not have Lake Namtso, but it's placid mountain lakes, and the rainbow-colored waters in its unspoiled valleys, are every bit as inspiring.
Characteristically Tibetan landscapes of Yunnan's Shangri-la include sacred snowy mountains, tranquil lakes, glaciers, and high-altitude valleys.
We are confident that we can tailor-make you a tour to include a true Tibetan flavor even if you can't get to Tibet for some reason. See our most popular Tibet tour for inspiration: Five-Day Essence Tour of Tibet.