You will think that Nepal's mountains are all white, snowy, and freezing! If so, you probably have not heard of the Mustang region in Nepal where the mountains at almost 4,000m elevation are red, instead of white and where rain does not fall. And no, it is not where the Mustang horses have originated. Kidding aside, Upper Mustang is probably one of the least travelled areas in Nepal, and so has remained very much remote and an untrodden path. It is actually a whole different world on its own with very distinct landscape and culture compared to other regions of Nepal.
If you have heard of this place, you must have known about the very expensive permit, and yes, this is indeed true. And so for many, this is thought to be reserved only for the wealthy adventurers. For many travellers who have had the (very) fortunate chance to see this place, the $500 permit was so much worth it, and every cent of it!
It is a magical place that has remained still untouched by tourism and modernization. A combination of both red and white mountains, it is a sight to behold and definitely will get you clicking on your camera every step of the way!
As it is not widely known and sought by many trekkers, in this article, we hope to answer some basic questions you may have about Upper Mustang, in particular, how much you will need to save for this trek! As with many other treks, the main items you will need are the trekking permit, transportation, guide (and probably porter) and of course,the basic necessities such as food and accommodation. These are the essentials and we have gathered the cost figures for you below.
How much is the Upper Mustang trekking permit?
As with many restricted areas in Nepal, the Nepali government applied a special rule and cost for the Upper Mustang trekking permit and these are the permits which need to be arranged:
1. Mustang restricted permit - The cost for this is probably what would scare most trekkers as it is currently priced at USD 500 per person. This is necessary as Mustang is considered a special region in Nepal and therefore, not easily accessible to everyone. This is required by the government to preserve the area and limit the number of tourists entering this (almost hidden) region in Nepal. Note that this USD 500 per person is only valid for 10 days and this is the minimum. We have seen that in most cases, this is more than enough for a two-week trek in the region as you would only be in the restricted area for 10 days. If you roughly plan 14 days Upper Mustang trek Itinerary that will give you enough time to complete the trek. As with other special permits, it is also required that at least two trekkers (guide and porter do not count here) are in a group to apply for a Mustang permit.
2. Annapurna Conservation Area Project Permit (ACAP) - In addition to the special permit above, you are also required to obtain ACAP which is USD 20 per person. Anyone wishing to reach Upper Mustang will have to pass by the Annapurna Region. This permit is valid only for one time entry and exit, but with unlimited number of days in the Annapurna region. So for example, if you still wish to continue with Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Base Camp (ABC), Ghorepani or Poonhill, this is possible, provided it is a continuous trek as you are only allowed single entry and exit.
3. Trekking Information Management System (TIMS) card - This is not required if your only itinerary is the Upper Mustang. However, if you wish to do other Annapurna treks mentioned about, such as ABC or Poonhill Trek, then TIMS card is required. The cost for this card is USD 10 per person.
I agree with you that this is probably the most expensive of all, compared to other trekking regions such as Everest, Manaslu, Annapurna, Langtang, and Kanchenjunga. But we can assure you that we have not met anyone who felt cheated by paying this much, because of the area and the trekking experience itself, are definitely worth more than the 500 bucks!
I hope we did not confuse you even more!
But you should not worry about this and just let your local trekking agency in Nepal arrange these for you.
Cost for the Guide and Porter for Upper Mustang trek
While Nepal has some trekking trails where tourists can trek even without a guide, this doesn't apply to the Mustang region. In contrast to what many international travel companies may tell you, or what you may have learnt from several other websites, hiring a professional guide is actually not at all expensive for the Mustang region. The per day cost is relatively the same as with other treks. To give you a sense of the cost, the market average is about USD 25 to 30 per day and this already includes the guide's food, accommodation, and insurance.
We are also often asked by our client if it is possible to only trek with a porter in Upper Mustang. The answer is Yes, this is possible!!! However, you are probably aware that the cost of hiring a porter is not that much different to hiring a guide due to the cost of food and insurance. For a porter, I would say roughly USD 20 to 25 a day inclusive of food, accommodation, and insurance would be the cost for Mustang trek. The cost difference is not really material and it is highly recommended that you go with a professional guide instead for safety concerns and experience in the area. A professional guide has also received a license from the government and underwent rigorous training especially in handling emergency situations and ensuring client safety. Of course, this is also dependent on your choice and whether or not you could trek at high altitude for longer hours with or without your trekking bags. Just a note that you will not be allowed at entry points if you are not accompanied by either of these two.
Cost of transportation for the Mustang trek
The main immigration office in Nepal is in Kathmandu and so this is the only place where the restricted permit for Mustang can be issued. So your travel will always start in Kathmandu, and then travel to Pokhara, and further to Jomsom for the start of the trek.
There are many travelling options available between Kathmandu to Pokhara such as local buses, tourist buses, daily flights and even private jeep. However, from Pokhara to Jomsom, we recommend that you take a flight. An off-road trail to Jomsom is connected with local buses and local jeep services but they are not certain to be running all the time and safety could also be an issue especially in the monsoon season. To give you some rough idea of the cost:
USD 8 to 30 USD one way per person. The range is due to the additional services that may vary such as food and beverage, wifi, air condition, etc. There is also the option of either a tourist bus or local bus.
USD 120 one way per person
Pokhara- Jomsom Flight: USD 111 one way per person
Pokhara-Jomsom-Kagbeni bus jeep: roughly USD 30-40 per person ??
How much is the cost of food in Upper Mustang?
Although the local jeep are sometimes available in the Upper Mustang Trek, it is still a fairly remote area of Nepal. Therefore, the cost of food is generally more expensive in this area than in Kathmandu and the menu choices are limited. Those who have been to other base camps in Nepal should be familiar with the rule that the cost of food increases as the elevation increases. Also, the more remote the area, the higher the cost of food. This is because it is very difficult to transport the products in higher the elevation and if the area is not fully accessible to transportation, especially in monsoon time when the road could be a concern for many. From Jomsom all the way up to Lo-manthang, supplies are being transported by pure hard work by mule and guided by men on foot, and also by jeep during season time. So you could imagine how much effort and hard manual labor goes into each soup and curry that you will eat in the region.
As a rule of thumb, you may want to budget roughly USD 5 per meal. so maybe USD 15 to 20 on a daily basis. Of course, this would vary how much appetite you might have in each meal and your beverages or snacks. Also, breakfast is generally cheaper than lunch and dinner.
If you have been to Annapurna, the cost is relatively the same. Everest remains the most expensive in terms than Mustang Manaslu and Annapurna, and mainly because of its elevation.
How much is the cost of tea houses (i.e. accommodation) in Mustang Trek?
I assure you, accommodation is not an issue at all in the Upper Mustang as tea houses and home stay have started to spring up in the recent years. In the past, you will be required to bring your tent, but this is no longer the case because of demand from many trekkers.
However, please be aware that during festival season, the tea houses could be very busy and may not have availability everywhere. This is particularly the case during the Tiji Festival where several locals and foreign trekkers would also partake in the festivities here. If your itinerary is around the festival time, your only option is home stay. This is actually good experience if you want to know more about the local people in the area and experience their culture first hand.
On average, either for a home stay or tea houses, the cost for a twin sharing room is roughly USD 6 to USD 9 a night per person. So if you wish to sleep on your own, you will be required to pay for the whole room which is the cost for two people.
How much is the cost of drinks in Upper Mustang?
For those who love to try a beer from different countries, you shouldn't miss the local beer in Upper Mustang. The region has an open border and easy access with Tibet China and is one of the cheapest destination in the mountain to drink a beer. A round of beer after a trek would be good especially the local Chinese-Tibetan beer.
The cost of tea and coffee are relatively the same as in other mountain region but slightly cheaper than in Everest Base Camp. This is because it is not considered a very high-altitude trek.
A cup of tea /Coffee- USD 2- 4
A bottle of beer - USD 3 - 5
A bottle of water / soda - USD 1 - 3
Other miscellaneous costs
It is widely known that if something requires extra effort, then please do not expect it to be cheap and you will be charged additional in the mountain. For any trek in Nepal, the following are additional costs you may want to also factor into your budget:
a. Charging your electronic gadgets, such as Camera, iPod, mobile phone or anything would definitely cost you a few dollars at a time. The extra cost needs to be paid due to the high investment for the small local hydropower station. As you will be on the mountain for many days and will definitely be requiring to charge at least your phone or camera (as you would want to capture the sceneries for sure!!), you might as well invest in a portable solar battery charger or a portable power bank. Extra batteries for your camera will help as well.
b. Bucket shower (i.e. using a pail of water) heated by gas, firewood might cost you few dollars at a time. In the mountain, please don't expect that you will have your full bath or shower every day. Yes, as much as we want to do that, it is just not practical and economical. So you should be prepared to basically smell the same as yesterday for several days. Instead of a bucket water, another option would be to pack some wipes with you and use that instead in the interim, or a small towel that you could use to freshen yourself in the morning or before going to bed.
c. If you visit, monasteries, gumba or stupa, although it is not mandatory, they do expect some small donations for the maintenance of the area. Costs here could vary.
d. Tips are not entirely compulsory in Nepal, but after each trek, your guide and porter also expect some tips from you. Of course, this usually reflects your experience during the trek.
As a rough estimate, the cost for Upper Mustang package for 14 days is in the range of USD 1,200 and USD 1,500 per person. This is based on full board and lodging package. We actually would recommend that you instead for your own food and accommodation, that way you will have more flexibility on how much and what you want to eat, or where you want to stay. The cost could go down to USD 900 to USD 1,200 per head if you will just request for the essentials from the local travel company (e.g guide, porter, permit, and transportation only).
Hopefully, this article gave you some insights on how much you should budget for the Upper Mustang trek. As you may have already known from googling about the trek, the cost could vary widely from one travel company to another, but what we presented here are market average. In general, international travel companies would have more expensive packages due to the additional amenities and guarantees they may offer, but local travel companies in Nepal are just as good or even better. There are also no options for a 3-star or 5-star tea houses in the region, so whether you pay for $5000 or $1,500 for an Upper Mustang trekking package, wouldn't matter in the mountain. The services, food and accommodation are all the same.
As mentioned above, Upper Mustang Trek in Nepal is very different from the other regions in Nepal because of the desert scenery, the red mountains and the Tibetan culture. It remains an isolated secret kingdom in Nepal only known to few travellers and so the experience you will have here will be so unique and almost akin to time travel or stepping in time from maybe a century ago. The mix of the Nepali - Tibetan culture is also very obvious here and for those who experienced other treks in Nepal will be amazed by the unique landscape and topography of the area.
It is indeed an expensive trek compared to other base camps trek in Nepal, and largely due to the permit. But we don't want this to discourage you, but rather encourage you to come and visit the place. As they always say, you always get your money's worth and there is a reason why this has the most expensive permit set by the government. More and more trekkers are being drawn to the mystery that this region has to offer and we encourage you to find out for yourself and comment here please, if you think it is worth it as we promised it to be!