Getting to Tibet

April 22nd, 2010  |  Published in Tibet Travel Tips  |  1 Comment

In the mind of most travelers, Tibet is a remote region tucked away in the Himalayan mountains. Long isolated from the rest of the world, Tibet was a forbidden land impossible to enter. But now Tibet is easier to access than ever. Here’s some advice on getting there.

Tibet Travel Permits

All travelers to the Tibet Autonomous Region require Tibet Travel Permits. In order to get a Tibet Travel Permit, travelers must arrange a tour through a travel agency. The required elements of even the most basic tour include a permit, a guide, and if you leave Lhasa, a car and driver.

Entering Tibet via mainland China

If you enter the Tibet Autonomous Region via mainland China, you will need a Chinese visa as well as a Tibet Travel Permit. Once in China, your travel agency will send you your permit. If you are traveling by train to Tibet, you only need a copy of your permit, which your travel agency will send you via email. If you are traveling by plane to Tibet, you will need your original permit, which your travel agency will send to your hotel via courier mail.

By Train

Lhasa is accessible by train from Xining, Lanzhou, Chengdu, Xi’an, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, as well as numerous other cities along the railway.

By Air

Lhasa is accessible by plane by Chengdu, Xi’an, Shangri-la, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Xining and a number of  other Chinese cities.

By Land

Lhasa is accessible by car by the Qinghai-Tibet Highway, the Sichuan-Tibet North Highway, the Sichuan-Tibet South Highway, and the Yunnan-Tibet Highway.

It is also possible to travel from Kashgar into Western Tibet (Ngari) via the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway.

Click here for a Sketch Map of Overland Routes to Tibet.

Entering Tibet via Nepal

If you enter the Tibet Autonomous Region via Nepal, you will need to go through an agency to apply for a “group visa” that will allow you to enter Tibet. If you already have a Chinese visa, it will be canceled and you will instead be issued a “group visa.” These “group visas” exist on separate pieces of paper outside your passport and include a list of all of the travelers’ names. “Group visas” are typically 15-25 days and they cannot be changed or extended while in Tibet. All group members on the visa must exit China at the same time.

By Air

There are regular flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Along the way, enjoy a spectacular view of the Himalayas.

By Land

Traveling overland from Kathmandu, it takes 5-7 days to reach Lhasa. Along the way, pass by Everest Base Camp, Tingri, Gyantse, and Shigatse.

Traveling to Other Tibetan Regions in China

While travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region is heavily restricted, there are many other Tibetan regions that can be visited with much less hassle. These regions, known in Tibetan as Amdo and Kham, are located on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau and are spread over the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan. Travelers to these regions do not require any special permits, guides, or cars and drivers. In addition, foreigners are allowed to take public transportation in these areas. However, if you do not speak the local languages, it is recommended that you hire a guide or at least bring a Tibetan/Chinese language phrasebook.

Xining serves as the gateway for most trips to Amdo, Chengdu as the gateway for most trips to Kham.

Tibet Travel Agencies

As you will need to contact a travel agency to arrange Tibet Travel Permits and a Tibet tour, how do you know which one to choose? It is best to select an agency that specializes in Tibet and is based in Lhasa, Xining, or Chengdu. These agencies are generally experienced in arranging Tibet travel and offer the most reasonable prices. Agencies that do not have their own offices in these cities act as middle-men that jack up prices, so it is better to contact local agencies directly.

It is recommended that travelers to Tibet choose Tibetan-owned companies. Tourism is an important business in Tibet, and by supporting local Tibetan-owned companies, you can rest assured that your tourism dollars go straight to Tibetan communities. Tibetans invariably know their own land and culture better than non-locals who set up travel agencies in Tibet, and they also arrange local Tibetan guides and drivers and accommodation at Tibetan-owned hotels. If responsible travel is important to you, support local businesses by patronizing Tibetan travel agencies and businesses.

SnowLion Tours is a Tibetan-owned and operated travel company.

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  1. Christa Potgieter says:

    May 1st, 2011at 12:50 pm(#)

    Dear Sir
    My family of three will be travelling from Xian and entering via train or flight on the 18th or 19th of June to visit Tibet. We can stay for about 5 days and want to fly back to China from there onthe 24 -27/6/2011 ( if possible do Nepal and Indie and fly back from there )Please answer my questions if possible

    1. We want to see Lhasa, Mt Everest Base Camp, The Monastries in Yarlung Valley in the 5 to 6 days.

    2. We want Namhul to be our quide.
    3. Please give quote on accommodation not expensive but clean, guide,english speaking with very good knowledge, vehicle, permits.

    4. We want to join a tour group if possible. And when can they go as we will be a couple of weeks in China and can change according to your needs but will need to know beforehand.

    5. Is it possible to enter from Xian and where willwe get the visas as we are South-African citizens.

    6. How will the political situatian influence our tour.

    7. At the moment we contacted the embassey in South-African and are only going to mention the china tour as we have not received any comeback from tibet yet. we heard there are a political issue but are urgently awaiting your reply as we would love to go.

    8. Can you organise a Nepal (Just Kathmandu and Indie Golden Triangle as well. We can also leave from there if it is easier also about visums and permits as well as 4 star accommodation guides, entrance fees and we only have 7 days for this one if possible.

    Kind regards Christa 27 51 4369988 cel 27 0824538407

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