When I first traveled to Chitwan, I thought I had fallen into a horrendous tourist trap. It was hot, I didn’t see any animals, and I endured a really, really long and bumpy bus ride to get there. Fast-forward a few years and at the urging of friends, I decided to give this place another try. I’m so glad I did.
This time, I spent two nights at a beautiful resort. Candlelit dinners, organized excursions, a swimming pool, and smiling faces greeting me with scented towels and refreshing drinks. Call me a Chitwan convert.
DETERMINE YOUR PREFERRED MEANS OF TRAVEL
For my most recent visit, I flew. In fifteen minutes, I was at the airport walking towards happy hotel staff helping me with my luggage. Sure, the flight was bumpy and the passenger next to me became ill, but I would choose those fifteen minutes over that extended bus ride any time. In my opinion, the price difference is totally worth it.
CHOOSE YOUR ACCOMMODATION WISELY
Familiarize yourself with the main areas of Chitwan. Meghauli, home to many luxury resorts, is about a 40-minute drive from the airport and on the banks of the river. Sauraha is a bit more dense, but with plenty of accommodations for budgets of all sizes. There’s also the small village of Barauli, in the western part of Chitwan, which is very quiet but has a couple of good accommodation options, including a community homestay.
Most hotels or homestays offer package deals for two and three-night stays. Though at first glance, resort prices may seem high compared to other areas in Nepal, keep in mind that activities and food are often included. Be prepared for some hidden costs, however, as many establishments count on you to spend money on overpriced drinks and additional safari tours.
My final thought on hotels: It will most likely be hot. Pools are always a good choice.
PICK YOUR SAFARI ADVENTURE
My second visit to Chitwan was focused on relaxation. I wanted to refresh and chill, so the idea of sitting in a Jeep for four to five hours wasn’t something I was eager to do. I passed on the Jeep safari and chose to hang out with elephants and at the lodge, instead. It is possible to see animals (I saw three rhinos, two kinds of deer, all different species of birds, and some coyote-hyena-thing) without stepping foot in a 4×4.
I know some travelers are obsessed with tiger sightings; for that you’ll need to venture deeper into the park (or to Bardia, in Western Nepal). Hotels will charge to organize a Jeep safari for you. Another option is to participate in a “walking safari.”
GO OUTSIDE YOUR RESORT
I woke up early one morning to stroll through the surrounding village. For obvious reasons, life beyond the gates of the luxury hotel was a lot different. Lands are plotted thick with banana trees, and houses are clustered along the main roads. I was greeted by locals and stared at by curious families, and smiling children wanted to practice English with me. This is a beautiful way to get to see more of Chitwan.
EMBRACE CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
One of Nepal’s highlights is the variety of cultures, customs, religions, histories, and traditions. Chitwan is no different. The Tharu tribe has braved the jungle, battling mosquitos and jungle animals to tend fields and build homes made from clay, mud, and grass. This group developed their own social structure, with village chiefs managing intricate maps of irrigation canals bringing water to communities’ farmlands.
The colors of dusk are phenomenally vivid in Chitwan. My hotel organized a sunset boat trip for me, surprising me with cold drinks and snacks to nibble on the banks of the Rapti River. I was told sunrise is an equally enchanting time.
Whether you are a morning person or a night owl, the boat ride is peaceful and serene and reveals a whole different aspect of the park: sleeping crocodiles and villagers hauling baskets of elephant grass across crystal-clear waters.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH ELEPHANTS
Elephants are equal parts thrilling and terrifying. I was so captivated by “Kali Rani” (Black Queen) that I made plans to see her twice. Standing next to an elephant is an incredible, unforgettable experience. I was thrilled to watch this giant animal wade into the Rapti River, bathe, drink, and squirt water on her trainer and me. When she came out of the river, we fed her elephant sandwiches — grassy husks tied around grains and rice.
ENJOY A CANDLE-LIT DINNER
Nights are quiet in Chitwan. Aside from chirping birds and the occasional rustle of leaves, evenings are peaceful. Ideal for dinners beneath the stars. My lodge placed old lanterns and candles throughout their property, creating a warm, romantic ambiance for visitors.