Imagine soaring Himalayan peaks, fluttering prayer flags, big skies and stunning Buddhist monasteries. Nepal is known for its spectacular mountain environment combined with some of Asia's best wildlife viewing opportunities, a myriad of historical towns and the friendliest people on earth. But what makes Nepal so great can't really be described in words. It's the spiritual feeling that overcomes you the moment you step foot in Kathmandu, which is then amplified by the Tibetan Buddhist monks strolling through the streets and Hindhu shrines around every corner when you start exploring the country.
The Nepali population comprises 125 caste and ethnic groups that have survived the transition of time. You will fully immerse yourself in some of these communities by living under the roof of host families, working alongside local villagers on community-initiated projects, partaking in colorful Nepali festivals, and practicing ancient meditation techniques that were taught by Lord Buddha. Apart from the culture, Nepal will also make your heart skip a beat with its adventure activities, ranging from trekking the Annapurna Circuit in the shadow of Himalayan giants to rafting down the majestic Lower Seti River and searching for Bengal Tigers during an open jeep safari in Royal Chitwan National Park!
✓ Want to experience homestays in a small community
✓ Are interested in immersing yourself in a new culture and religion
✓ Love activities like yoga, wildlife safaris and rafting
✓ Are enthusiastic about permaculture and community volunteering
✓ Would love to go trekking through the Himalayan mountains
I can honestly say that I KNOW Nepal, not that I saw it as a tourist, but that I experienced all that it has to offer as if a Nepali myself. I can't say enough good things when it comes to Pacific Discovery. Now that I've gone through the whole process of looking into the program, signing up, getting ready, traveling through Nepal… and coming home… it is so hard to imagine any other way to see an area of our world. The experiences we had on this trip would be impossible for someone to have without Pacific Discovery's planning, and connections to people in the area. Every day felt like a dream; I will forever remember my trip as one the best decisions I've made in my entire life."
- Kara Barnhart
Our Program Quiz can help you find your perfect Program match! Or get the full Program run-down in our catalogue. This catalogue provides information about Pacific Discovery's values and program design, as well as program descriptions and testimonials!
Namaste! On arrival in Kathmandu, you will meet your Program Instructors at the airport and travel together to Parphing for an introduction to Nepali culture. There’s no better place to delve into the culture than Pharphing, a small Newar town full of ancient pilgrimage sites, sacred caves and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. We will have some time to explore while we focus on getting to know each other and creating a positive and reflective group culture.
After a comprehensive program briefing, we will immerse ourselves in the epic nature surrounding the Kathmandu Valley. An enjoyable 3-day hike around the Kathmandu Valley Rim takes us up to 2.800 meters and rewards us with stunning mountain panoramas of the Himalayas that are especially striking at sunrise and sunset. On this gradual overnight hike, we will pass several rural Tamang and Newari farm villages, showing us a first glimpse into the lives of these various ethnic tribes.
We head to a rural permaculture farm, where we will be introduced to various aspects of organic agriculture, sustainable development and permaculture. Don’t expect this to be in a classroom setting. Instead, we will be learning hands on by sowing seeds, thinning seedlings, planting vegetables, making compost, designing our own garden and so much more.
With all this delicious organic food around us, it’s the perfect place to learn how to cook Nepali cuisine as well. 90% of the ingredients we use during our cooking class come from the farm itself, and will make for a delicious group meal. We will also learn more about the Nepali culture and lifestyle by living on this family farm. This will be a truly immersive experience where we work, learn, cook and eat together with the host family.
We then head off to a 4-day yoga and meditation retreat, where the serene natural environment with views of the Himalayan range is the perfect backdrop for our restorative yoga sessions, breath work, mantra chanting, guided meditations and Ayurvedic massage treatments. We will even get an introduction into sound healing, an ancient technique that uses the vibrations of gongs and Tibetan singing bowls to relax the mind and body. A visit to a nearby Tibetan Buddhist monastery will give us better insight into not only monastic life, but also the spiritual practices of Tibetan Buddhism.
After a final morning yoga session to get into a positive frame of mind for the day, we travel to vibrant Kathmandu. We will spend a few days in Nepal’s capital, which is set in a valley surrounded by the Himalayan mountains, and we will decide on our activities as a group. Ahh the chaos and creativity of the group designing and developing their own itinerary! We will have a couple of days to choose what the group wants to do and how we want to do it - all within the confines of the budget we are given! This is a life skill of teamwork planning as a group, that you can only learn through doing. Kathmandu is your oyster, so let’s see what we get up to.
Past groups have chosen to take an extra cooking class to master the rich flavors of typical Nepali cooking, mingle with Buddhist monks at the Boudhanath Stupa, explore the Swayambhunath temple that is rampant with monkeys, and learn a new trade from a local artisan. There will of course be free time as well to just wander around the maze-like alleys in Durban Square, shop for souvenirs at Asan’s bustling market area and talk to some of the friendliest locals around.
The next two weeks will be spent living under the roof of a local family in a small village at the foothills of the Himalayas. There are few roads in the area, and we will walk 30 minutes from the nearest road to our village. We will be immersing ourselves in Nepali culture, and assisting the community on a development project they have initiated. This is particularly valuable to the community in the wake of the 2015 earthquakes.
During the day we will be working with community members on the project, helping them in whichever way we can, whether it’s by painting, doing garden work or harvesting fields. There will be wonderful opportunities for cultural exchange with our host families during our homestays, including helping cook meals, playing football with the children or helping them out with their homework, learning about local food production, and gaining experience in grassroots development.
Our Fall 2022 students are in luck because their community stay project overlaps with the longest and grandest Hindu festival in the Nepali annual calendar, Dashain! Cities empty out and everyone goes to their parental village homes to celebrate with their families. During these fifteen days of religious celebrations, we will fall in love with the big community feasts, abundance of blessings, splendid parades and unique traditions.
Pokhara is nestled on the banks of Phewa Lake at the foot of the mighty Annapurna mountains, and was once an important town on the trading route between Tibet and India. Today, Pokhara is one of the most popular places to visit in Nepal, and is home to several Tibetan communities and the World Peace Pagoda. We will hike up to this holy pagoda which is located on top of a hill right above the Phewa Lake, and get rewarded with 360 degree views of the Pokhara Valley and Himalayan range.
From Pokhara we embark on a 2-day rafting journey down the Lower Seti River, one of the most majestic rivers in Nepal. This unique journey has us rafting through rice fields, waterfalls, rapids, a jungle corridor rich in wildlife as well as small local villages. After we set up camp on a beautiful remote beach, we can unpack and jump in the warm waters of the Lower Seti for a relaxing evening swim!
Back in Pokhara, we will have some free time to explore the many temples and monasteries around, relax by the side of the lake, catch a sunrise at Sarangkot, or simply prepare for our highly anticipated trekking through the Himalayan mountains.
Pokhara is our gateway to Annapurna National Park, and an incredible journey trekking the Annapurna Circuit through the rugged Himalayas. Over the course of two weeks, we hike through glacial carved valleys, and overnight in tents or tea houses with local Sherpa and Tamang families. The trail takes us through forests, steep gorges, past glaciers, breathtaking lakes, and some of the highest mountains on earth. Our days on the Annapurna Circuit trail are some of the most inspiring and challenging we will ever encounter, and we'll be absolutely captivated by the area from the very first day!
Traditions and Tibetan Buddhist culture is still preserved on the Annapurna Range, making it one of the best treks from a cultural point of view. On our journey, we will learn about life in the Nepali mountain communities, visit the sacred Muktinath temple (one of the world’s highest temples at an altitude of 3.800 meters), get to know locals in Gurung and Magar villages, and enjoy the beautiful hospitality of the Nepali people. The resting days in the remote villages of Kagbeni and Manang provide our feet with some well-deserved rest and give our bodies the chance to acclimatize, but also provide us with ample opportunities to explore the prayer-flag alleys, Buddhist gompas, monasteries and other local cultural heritage.
Back in Pokhara, we will have a couple of days to relax our muscles and try some Nepali specialities to regain our power. Your legs might need a bit of a rest, or they might just be ready for their next adventure, which is why you are free to spend your days in Pokhara as you feel fit. Maybe you would like to cycle around the Pokhara sights, rent a boat or stand up paddleboard to enjoy the tranquil lake, fly down the tallest and longest zipline in the world, or simply stroll along the sharming shops of this postcard-perfect city.
We then head to Royal Chitwan National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled at the foot of the Himalayas. Crocodiles, cheetahs, slug bears, wild elephants, monkeys and rhinos all inhabit this area, so we will have to keep our eyes open during our jungle walks and open jeep safaris to spot them. If we are lucky, we might even catch a glimpse of the elusive Bengal tiger! Bird lovers can also wake up extra early for a trip around grassland river, lakes and forest to try and spot some of the 500 different species of birds present in the Chitwan area.
Since we are fortunate enough to work with a partner in Royal Chitwan National Park that aims to create better lives for elephants in Nepal, we get to learn about their journey into preserving elephant rights and establishing an inspiring elephant welfare program that takes elephants out of the tourist industry. We will listen to the stories of our guide, participate in making elephant food, and simply enjoy sitting beside these gentle creatures while they graze, river bathe, play in the sand and walk through the bush in their massive chain-free corals.
Finally, we will head to a local Tharu village, where we are welcomed inside a traditional mud house for a cooking lesson and dinner with the family. We will learn about the traditions and experience the lifestyle of the ethnic Taru people, before spending the night listening to the jungle sounds of birds and animals from above the ground in our very own jungle tree house.
We then return to Kathmandu, to celebrate and reflect upon our learning and growth throughout the program. You will depart Nepal a different person, touched by the people, places and experiences you’ve encountered, and with an intimate understanding of the complex issues facing our environments and indigenous cultures.
*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the locations, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.
✓ All in-program travel and transport, excluding flights
✓ All accommodation
✓ All meals
✓ All expeditions, activities, excursions, volunteer projects and entry fees as described in the itinerary
✓ Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
✓ Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation and eco-tourism
✓ Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves
High Activity Level: Anyone with an intermediate to advanced fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this gap semester! You will need to be fit enough to complete a multi-day trek (4-6 hours trekking per day carrying a daypack), and engage in physical work during the volunteer project.
High Camping Level: Be prepared to spend some time out in nature while you are trekking the Annapurna Circuit. You'll love the experience of camping, staring at the camp fire, breathing in fresh air and stargazing the night away.
Medium Service Learning Level: You will be able to make a difference to the local community during your stay. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some hands-on learning about local issues.
Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs. Our accommodation will be a mixture of comfortable and clean hostels and simple trekking lodges; village homestays (in pairs/small groups); and some nights of camping (tents supplied). Laundry and Wi-Fi will be available approximately once per week, except while on expedition.
The traditional food of Nepal is Dhal Bhat - essentially a lentil curry and rice. You’ll find this at every teahouse and is often accompanied with achar (pickle), various cooked vegetables, chapati bread and chilli.
While up in the mountain areas, refrigeration is scarce and consequently many people choose to eat vegetarian for food safety reasons. The lack of refrigeration also means that dairy foods are rare. As you ascend higher into the mountains, variety reduces and food becomes more expensive.
Special foods to try: Momos (dumplings), Yomari (rice dough stuffed with a sweet paste made of coconut), Gundruk (pickled green and leafy vegetables)
To make things easy for you, we partner with a full service travel agency that can arrange flights, appropriate travel insurance and post program arrangements for our students.
They have access to a "Cancel For Any Reason" or CFAR travel insurance for US citizens in participating states. This optional travel insurance product allows travelers to cancel for any reason whatsoever up to two days prior to departure and still receive a significant refund. This allows you to keep planning for the future while avoiding the stress and the financial worry of canceling a program if you need to.
Our program locations and itineraries have been carefully selected and modified to minimize risk of exposure to anyone outside the group with most being located in rural areas. This allows for a more focused learning environment, as well as a safe haven from the stress of our modern world.
We've been working hard and watching closely to any CDC recommendations about group sizes and testing requirements to come up with options that will allow you to have a safe, healthy, and stress-free Gap Year experience. We do the hard work so you can come and enjoy the fresh air, adventures, and new friends!
We have been running successful international gap year programs in Spring, Summer and Fall 2021. The students shared their experiences in testimonials and wrote their stories down in blog posts - feel free to have a look.
Check out the information on our COVID-19 page to find out more about our Covid-19 policies, procedures and updates.