Not many people know, the official name of Chitwan town is Sauraha, most people refer to it by this name due to its proximity to Chitwan National Park. It’s a popular destination amongst tourists and locals as they want to visit the first national park in Nepal, which was established in 1973 and granted World Heritage Site status in 1984.
Most people arrive in Chitwan with the intention to arrange a safari to Chitwan National Park only, but we found the town very charming and worth exploring too. The streets of the town were colourful, filled with flags and lights. To our surprise this tiny town had a big variety of coffee shops, and restaurants, offering delicious food.
We loved this place because it was a perfect combination of the peaceful environment and nature, which we experienced during the Everest Base Camp trek, and facilities that the bigger cities offered, yet without the hectic experience and noise.
The best time to visit is between October and April, the grass in the National Park will be low at this time, giving you a better chance of spotting wildlife during your safari.
How to get there?
The two most popular ways to reach this town are either by plane or bus. The flights to Chitwan are available from both Kathmandu and Pokhara and will land you into Bharatpur Airport, from the airport you can either take a taxi or bus into Chitwan and the remaining distance is 15km. The flights normally take around 20 minutes and although it will save you time, this is a more costly option.
The more affordable option is to take a bus from Kathmandu or Pokhara. We decided to take the bus from Kathmandu that cost us 800 NPR ($6.5) and took approximately 8 hours. You can either book your tickets in advance by searching providers online and sending them a WhatsApp message to reserve your ticket and confirm the price, or you can just show up to the bus stop early and if there are spaces available, you’ll be able to get a ticket. Most, if not all the buses leave from Ropeway Sadak in Kathmandu, it is not a proper bus station, rather just a line of buses stopped along the road, waiting to go to different destinations. Locals are extremely helpful in navigating you to the correct bus.
The official duration was meant to be 6.5 hours, but the road infrastructure in Nepal is not fully developed yet, which causes delays regardless of your destination. Prepare yourself for a long and bumpy ride, don’t forget to bring snacks and water! There were no toilets on the buses, but they stopped regularly for toilet and lunch breaks.
The buses from Pokhara should take less time than from Kathmandu, but whatever time they tell you, it’s safer to add a few hours on top for delays.
We booked our accommodation in advance, but the town was relatively quiet, so you could potentially find accommodation upon your arrival. The bus station is located outside of the town, approximately 1.5km away. Taxis are available to take you to your accommodation, but we decided to stretch out legs after the long journey and walk.
We arrived at Happy Lemon Tree Lodge, offering a charming tree house with a double bed overlooking the Rapti River, for just $8 a night. The moment we walked into the property we were welcomed warmly by the owner who invited us to take a seat and offered us a freshly squeezed lemonade. The breakfast was not included in the price but there was a bar that offered few breakfast and dinner options, as well as packed lunches for a safari. This place offered some alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, our favourite the local craft beer that we enjoyed whilst enjoying the sunset over the river. This was an ideal location as it was just across the river from the National Park, from the accommodation we were lucky to spot some deer, elephants and birds, others were lucky enough to see the famous Indian Rhino.
Our preferred accommodation option for every budget:
Low budget: Happy Lemon Tree Lodge ($8 a night for a double room).
Mid budget: Hotel Vista Chitwan ($27 a night for a deluxe double room).
High budget: Green Park Chitwan ($80+ a night for a deluxe double room).
We are both big foodies, and one of our top activities whilst travelling is exploring local cuisine and finding charming places to eat. After spending 2 weeks trekking in the Himalayas, struggling with appetite loss and nausea, we came to Chitwan excited to explore all the restaurants and they exceeded our expectations.
Finding vegetarian food whilst travelling can be tricky, but Nepal was a veggie paradise with the options available. For breakfast we recommend visiting the Art Café, which offers a big variety of options, big portions, and delicious coffee. Not only was it worth visiting for the food and service, but the interior is also decorated with art by local artists that you can purchase.
Due to its proximity to India, Nepal offers a great variety of Indian curries, which happens to be our favourite food. In Chitwan, we visited two restaurants, Jalapeno and Bayleaf, both left us craving their curries for months after leaving. Bayleaf was guilty of converting us into lovers of paneer curry. The service in both restaurants was amazing and when we asked for extra spicy food, they delivered. It’s a shame UberEATS doesn’t offer delivery from Chitwan to London.
Things to do
Chitwan National Park
Famous for its Indian Rhino population, Chitwan National Park is one of the main reasons people visit Nepal for. Entering the National Park is not possible without a guide, but booking a safari is easy. Most accommodations will be able to organise this for you, and if you are walking down the main town you will find loads of tour operators offering safaris and other activities in the area. There are a variety of safari options available, from a jeep to walking safari that can last from half a day up to a few days, depending on your preference.
Entrance Park fees for tourists costs 1,500 NPR ($12), which will usually be included in your safari cost. Our 10-hour walking safari, organised by our accommodation, cost 4,500 NPR ($35) per person. It was a private safari with two knowledgeable guides who taught us a lot about the environment, plants, animals, and their behaviours.
Any wildlife lover will be excited to know that Chitwan National Park is a home to the ‘king of the jungle’, the Bengal Tiger. Other animals that can be spotted in the park are leopards, sloths, bears, badgers, monkeys, birds, wild dogs, deer, elephants, and the Indian Rhino – which is the main reason people come to visit. Conservation efforts since the 1970’s have ensured an increase in the population of the Indian Rhino. One of the threats to this species are poachers who hunt them for their valuable horns.
The walking safari offered, in our opinion, a more unique experience. In the beginning of the safari the guides provided us with a safety briefing: if you see a rhino, climb a tree! If you see a bear, don’t climb a tree! If you see a tiger, RUN, and hope you are the fastest runner. This created an adrenaline rush and some level of fear, but also a lot of excitement due to being this close to the wildlife.
Our top highlights from the safari were learning how to differentiate between male and female tiger footprints, seeing rhinos and then having to climb a few trees for our safety.
Stand Up 4 Elephants is an NGO working in Chitwan for the welfare of captive elephants. Elephants are rescued from the tourist riding industry across Asia.
Most of the days they offer workshops and provide lectures about the elephants in order to provide education to both local communities and tourists. The place is located approximately 5km from the centre of the town and is easily accessible by tuk-tuk.
Our accommodation tried to organise a visit but unfortunately the day we went they were closed to provide rest for the elephants. Nevertheless, we spent time with the manager who explained the history of the organisation and their future goals. We would highly recommend this place just to have some education about the animals, just to highlight this is not an elephant sanctuary and you will find places around town that offer elephant riding, which is an activity we would not encourage.
This is the river that separates the National Park from the town. Without booking a safari you can go for a walk along the river and stop off at several restaurants and bars. Even from here you’ll be able to spot animals such as birds, elephants, deer, and rhino that visit the river to drink and cool down. Local elephant owners bring their elephants here to drink water and bathe, we didn’t appreciate seeing them in captivity, but sadly elephant riding by locals is part of their culture.
If you have binoculars and a camera, make sure to bring them with you.
Exploring Chitwan Town
Walk the colourful main street of the town and pop into one of many local restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Western food is widely available in Nepal, but we highly recommend tasting one of many flavoursome local dishes.
Chances are the locals will want to stop you on the street for a chat, ask you where you are from and welcome you to their town.