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How to Plan a Tibet Tour 2024: Expert Tips

Written by Carol WangUpdated Jan. 18, 2024

Commonly referred to as the "roof on the world", Tibet has the world's highest "castle" — the Potala Palace and the world's tallest peak — Mount Everest (altitude 8,848 meters). Tibetan Buddhism dominates the cultural landscape, and there are many Buddhist monasteries scattered across Tibet.

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1. Can International Travelers Visit Tibet?

Yes. But please remember, independent travel is not allowed: you will need to go on an organized tour provided by a certified travel agent who will also provide your Tibet Permit.

Send us your inquiry if you would like some provisional help with planning. To ease your concerns, You enjoy 100% refund of any payments made to China Highlights prior to 3 weeks before departure (detail⇒).

2. How to Get a Tibet Permit

Tibet PermitTibet Permit

Updates: Travelers from visa-free countries just need to provide us with passport photos to apply for a Tibet permit if your itinerary in Tibet is less than 15 days.

Applying for a Tibet permit is a different process from getting your China visa. Application from individuals is not accepted: it must be done through a travel agency.

Fortunately, it is easy for us to handle all the procedures and we can 99% guarantee your Tibet permit success. With our step-by-step guidance, applications are almost always successful. The procedure is as follows:

Step 1Get a China Tourist Visa

If you are from a visa-free country, just disregard this step.

Step 2Confirm a tour package with a travel agent

No matter whether it is a group tour or a private tour.

Step 3Send us copies of your passport and China visa

If you are from a visa-free country, just send your passport to us.

Step 4Send us copies of your passport and China visa

Normally it will be posted by express mail to your pre-Tibet stop.

Except for L (Visitor/Tourist) Visa holders, you are also required to provide proof of a place at your company/school.

For expats in China, you will need to provide a work/study certificate.

Don't worry: your travel agency (we) will give you guidance in preparing all the items.

3. It is Safe to Visit Tibet?

Family Trip in TibetFamily tour in Tibet

As far as personal security goes, Tibet is a safe place with a low crime rate. Even if you walk around Tibet alone in your free time, your personal security is not expected to be threatened.

When walking in the streets of Lhasa you will find lots of police stations, and armed policemen can be seen everywhere in the streets. They are normally on duty 24/7.

As a pure land with devoted Buddhist people, wherever you go a wide smile will be there to greet you.

With an average elevation of 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) above sea level, probably your biggest concern is altitude sickness in Tibet.

It is perfectly okay for ordinary people to travel to Tibet, including seniors or kids, however, it is suggested that you consult a doctor before traveling if you have a heart problem or high blood pressure.

Oxygen cylinders will be available in the vehicle for every China Highlights customer during your stay in Tibet.

You may want to read more about staying healthy in Tibet.

4. Things Not to Do When Planning a Tibet Trip

  • Don't book your tour any later than 10 days before departure to ensure we have (your travel agency has) plenty of time to apply for Tibet permits.
  • Don't book flights before the Tibet permit is issued, especially during this COVID-19-affected period. You might find that a Tibet Permit is required to confirm a flight booking, but your permit cannot be obtained until 2–7 days before your tour! It is better to ask a travel agent (us) to organize your flight tickets as it is easy for them (us) to handle all these problems, as well as cancel flight tickets if there is any travel ban due to COVID-19, etc.
  • Don't plan your Tibet trip for March. Tibet will be closed to foreign travelers during the Tibetan New Year period, which is usually in February/March and is based on the Tibetan calendar. During this period, it is worth considering other Tibetan regions such as Qinghai, Sichuan, and Yunnan, which have many of the cultural and scenic attractions that Tibet does without access restrictions.
  • Don't arrange a tight schedule in Tibet to sure your tour arrangement is as flexible as possible. You may need more time to let your body get used to the high altitude. See How Long to Spend in Tibet
  • Don't make changes to your itinerary (such as pre-Lhasa city or travel destinations in Tibet) once your Tibet Entry Permit is issued, otherwise, you will need to apply for a new one! Please do tell your travel agency (us) in advance if you want to make any changes to your Tibet plan.

5. Best Times to Travel to Tibet

The weather in Tibet is largely affected by altitude. Therefore, even in the same month, the temperature in southern (low altitude) and northern (high altitude) Tibet can be very different.

Every season has its advantages and characteristics. Exploring Tibet in different months shows you different scenery and cultural activities for different travel experiences.

Spring (April to May) is best to enjoy less-crowded attractions and a favorable rate of hotels (except for the Labor Day holiday: May 1-5). The peach blossom in Nyingchi is really worth seeing.

Summer is best for seniors and kids because the air's oxygen content is higher during this period.  You can enjoy most of the sights in Tibet when nature is at its most vibrant and also experience rich festivals. Local people make their living by growing barley and raising yaks there every summer. You can take part in the work of local Tibetans. In the evening, you can cook and enjoy dinner with a local Tibetan family. While it's more crowded than other months, there are higher costs due to the higher demand for flights, trains, and hotels.

TibetOur guests have a picnic by the Lake Yamdrok

You can travel to every place in Tibet during autumn, which provides the year's best weather for hiking. The most popular trekking trails by far are the Everest Base Camp Trek and the Mount Kailash (Yatra) Trek — a famous pilgrimage route. It is also the best time to admire the breathtaking snow-capped Mount Everest when the sky is particularly blue, the air is clean and dry, and there are few clouds.

Winter is Tibetan people's leisure time and many of them choose to make a pilgrimage trip to Lhasa from their various Tibet regions. Small religious activities can be found in many corners of Lhasa. In winter, blue glaciers are an unusual and striking feature of Tibet, with ice cracks and bubbles all over the frozen lakes, the huge ice blocks appear to be a charming blue color. It is also a good time to enjoy the favorable rates of hotels. See 5-Day Tibet Winter Tour

See more on Best Times to Visit Tibet.

6. Budget for a Trip to Tibet

The budget depends on where, when, how many people, how many days, hotel class, private or group tour, transport, and other requirements you may have.

You could get the approximate price from our 8-Day Tibet Tour (based on 2 people for a private tour) for reference. The price of 8 days would be about USD 2200 per person, including private transfers in Tibet, meals, admission fees,  guiding, hotels, etc.

To make the most of your budget, you are suggested to book a few months in advance to enjoy some early booking discounts or travel with more than four people to share private tour costs.

If you have a holiday in winter, travel to Tibet in December or January to enjoy the special winter rates including discounts on hotels, airfares, and entrance tickets.

7. Tips for Traveling with Seniors and Children

  • Make sure any seniors and children in your group are healthy enough to visit Tibet by consulting a doctor. Seniors with cardiovascular diseases or chronic respiratory ailments are not suggested to travel to Tibet.
  • Stay in Lhasa for 2 days for acclimation before touring any wider in Tibet.
  • Traveling with a wheelchair is not convenient in Tibet, as most of the attractions are located on hillsides without a chairlift or elevator, which means those in wheelchairs will miss the Potala Palace and monasteries. But it is fine to visit places with flat roads in a wheelchair, such as Barkhor Street, Jokhang Temple, and Lake Yamdrok.
  • Children under 4 years old are not suggested to visit high-altitude regions in Tibet, such as Everest Base Camp (5,200 m), Mount Kailash (4,700–5,600 m), or any place over 4,500 m. Lhasa (3,800 m), Lake Yamdrok (4,000 m), and Nyingchi (3,100 m) are perfect choices for them.
  • Be sure your children can well express how they are feeling to identify symptoms of altitude sickness.
  • Bring some snacks for your kids, as the foods in Tibet will probably not be to their liking — most of the dishes have a heavy flavor and will be quite strange to them. However, if your children are adventurous eaters, this could work out well.
  • If you are a family with 2 adults and 1 kid, your family can simply sleep in one bed if there is enough space or ask for an extra bed or cot.
  • If your family has 2 adults and 2 children or more, it is better to book adjoining rooms (rooms are often connected by a door). This type of room is limited in availability and not provided in every hotel, please ask our travel advisor to choose hotels for you.

During our over 20 years of experience, we have organized Tibet tours for customers from 4 to 82 years old. Please do tell us about any special requests you have, and our professional travel advisor will solve any problems for you.

You may want to read more tips and suggestions on How to Deal with Altitude Sickness.

8. Tibet Travel Insurance

It is wise to get travel insurance when you travel to Tibet. Here is what you need to consider when selecting your policy:

1. It is better to get "cancellation for any reason" insurance in case of a sudden closure of Tibet (although this is not frequent, it could happen at any time). Booking with China Highlights, you enjoy free cancellation up to 22 days before departure for your Tibet tour or other China tours.

2. Check if it covers an emergency medical evacuation, which could help you quickly descend or leave Tibet if you suffer severe altitude sickness.

3. If you plan to trek in Tibet, check if your policy covers trekking in Tibet.

4. Check if your travel insurance includes medical expenses for your trip to Tibet in case you need medical services in a hospital there (due to altitude sickness).

5. Other typical air travel issues should be covered, for example, a snowstorm closing down your airport before you can board your flight to Tibet, or arriving only to find your luggage is on its way to another city…

Based on what we know from our previous customers, the most popular insurance companies are InsureMyTrip and World Nomads.

9. How to Get to Tibet? — Easiest from China

Broadly speaking, there are two ways you can enter Tibet: from China's cities or from Nepal, but the easiest way by far is from the China side.

Travel from China's cities

There are direct flights from China's major cities to Lhasa in Tibet, such as from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Chongqing. The most frequent and reliable flights to Tibet are from Chengdu, with about eight flights per day.

Trains to Tibet depart from these cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xining.

Xining is the best place to start the train journey, as it is the beginning point of the most beautiful section of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway with the shortest train journey to Lhasa (20–22 hours), compared to around 30–50 hours for further departure points.

See more details on How to Get to Tibet.

Example: the Best Way to Travel to Tibet from the U.S.

1. Book a flight from a USA city to a China city: Beijing, Shanghai, etc.

2. Spend a couple of days in your China arrival city to get over jet lag.

3. Take a flight to Chengdu, which is the best city for connecting flights to Lhasa (almost all flights to Tibet stopover in Chengdu). You could happily stay a night in Chengdu — home to China's giant pandas — and spend a day sightseeing in the city before going to Tibet.

A wonderful panda volunteer keeper program experience would be worth a day there.

4. Take a morning flight from Chengdu to Lhasa (2½ hours) so that you can have plenty of time for acclimation in the afternoon before you sleep to avoid altitude sickness effects as much as possible.

On your return journey, you could experience the Qinghai-Tibet Railway from Lhasa to Xining with beautiful scenery along the way, and then take a flight from Xining to a large city in China for the flight home.

Traveling out of Tibet by train will help you successfully get train tickets. Lhasa-Xining train tickets are five times easier to buy than Xining-Lhasa tickets! This also means you can save a lot on the ticket booking fee.

Tips: Taking a flight into Tibet is better than a train because a good sleep in a hotel in Lhasa is much more helpful to altitude acclimation than spending a night on the train.

Most passengers find it more difficult to fall asleep on the train, and tiredness makes altitude sickness more uncomfortable.

You may need information about How to deal with altitude sickness in Tibet

Travel from the Nepal Side

There are two ways into Tibet from Nepal: by flight and by road.

You should first consider issues of a China visa and Tibet Entry Permit, no matter whether you'll go by flight or road. Procedures are different from traveling from a Chinese mainland city to Tibet.

You must apply for a China visa and Tibet permits in Nepal via a travel agent. Any China visa issued in your resident country will be invalid for Tibet travel. You will need to stay in Kathmandu for at least 3 working days to wait for the visa and permit.

By road, you can travel from Kathmandu to Lhasa via the Gyirong border (possibly with a convenient side tour to Mount Everest).

For more, see How to Travel from Nepal to Tibet.

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