If you are in Kathmandu and are planning to go trekking independently in the Himalayas, then you’re probably looking at the options of getting to your starting point. For most people, and especially if you’re planning on trekking to Everest Base Camp or Gokyo Lakes, your starting point is Lukla. We’ll give you all the information you need to know about flying to Lukla, also called “The World’s Most Dangerous Airport”.
IS FLYING TO LUKLA AIRPORT REALLY THAT DANGEROUS?
First things first. Is it really that dangerous? The simple answer is NO. But it is true that landing on this airstrip doesn’t go without dangers. There have been several accidents since its opening with a couple of fatal crashes, mostly during attempts to land in bad weather.
Two factors make this airport a dangerous one. First of all, the landing strip is built on the side of a mountain, so there’s not much room for failure. The Tenzing-Norgay Airport has an extremely short runway with its length of 527m, which makes it very difficult for pilots to land. This is why it’s only accessible to helicopters and small, fixed-wing, short-takeoff-and-landing aircrafts. The landing strip has a 12% gradient to make the stopping distance much shorter and helps to get more speed during take-off. Secondly, the weather in the mountains can be very different than in Kathmandu and can change very quickly. Planes can only arrive and leave in good weather, so that’s why most planes leave Kathmandu early in the morning when the sky is clear.
WHERE TO BUY YOUR FLIGHT TICKETS
If you walk through Thamel (the epicenter for trekkers & tourists in Kathmandu), you’ll find hundreds of trekking agencies and tour operators that can book your tickets on the spot. You don’t have to book them beforehand and don’t need to make an unnecessary trip to the airport to book your tickets. If you’re going in peak season (oct-nov & mar-apr) we recommend to book your ticket a few days before your day of departure. If you want peace of mind, there’s also the possibility to book your tickets online with Tara Air.
You also don’t need to book an open return ticket as it will put you on the back of the waiting list. On our arrival in Lukla, we just headed to the airport at 2 pm and managed to book ourselves on a flight on that same afternoon to Kathmandu.
Travel Tip: Prices can be essentially quite high when you book with travel agents, so it’s good to shop around a bit.
SOME TIPS WHEN FLYING TO OR FROM LUKLA
- Try to book one of the first flights in the morning, as the weather in the morning has best chance to be good.
- Don’t book other flights to close to your Lukla – KTM date, as it often happens that people get stuck in Lukla for almost a week due to bad weather. There’s the possibility to charter a helicopter, but that’s rather expensive.
- Do not overpack as you only get 10kg baggage allowance + a day pack. It’s a good thing actually because you don’t want to carry more than 10kg on your back during the trek!
- Keep calm at all times. The plane will go up and down now and then, but that’s normal because of the air flow in between the mountains.
- When flying from Kathmandu to Lukla, try to sit on the left side of the plane, as that will give you early views of the snowcapped mountain peaks. If you’re flying back to KTM, then the right side is… the right side.
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OTHER OPTIONS IF YOU WANT TO SKIP THE FLIGHT TO LUKLA
Besides flying in an 18-person airplane, your only other option of getting in and out of Lukla is to walk as there are no roads in this region! Most people take a 7-hour bus ride from downtown Kathmandu to Jiri, where the traditional EBC trek starts. This is a beautiful -but exhausting- walk through traditional Nepalese villages and terraced farmlands. This region is not yet catered towards tourists and trekkers so walking through these villages gives you a more genuine feel. However, it goes up and down valleys all the time and adds 5-6 more days to your itinerary until you pass Lukla. Another option is to take a bus or jeep to Salleri/Phaplu which takes about 10 hours with lunch stops. This cuts of 3 days of the Jiri-Lukla route and joins that route at Ringmo.
If you choose to fly into Lukla, then don’t worry too much. It’s really not that dangerous and we’re sure you’ll survive it. Just sit back and relax and maybe it’ll even become one of the coolest experiences in your life!