Most tourists that have a couple of weeks in Nepal visit the World Heritage Listed Chitwan National Park. The reason many go is simply because it’s one of the best wildlife viewing national parks in Asia. Chitwan is over 932 square km of nature, with marshlands, forests and grasslands. The wildlife you can encounter here include deer, monkeys, rhinos and lots of different types of birds. If you’re extremely lucky you can also spot tigers, leopards, wild elephants and sloth bears.
We visited this wildlife park for four days, and we can definitely recommend it. In this blogpost we can tell you about our experiences and recommendations for your stay in Chitwan National Park, including accommodation, tours and restaurants.
Most tourists book a full package deal for their stay in Chitwan National Park before they arrive. These deals often include their hotel, tours and food. We decided to only book a hotel beforehand and see what is possible when we arrive. Note that it gives you a lot less freedom if you book everything beforehand, and it is not necessarily cheaper. It all depends what you are after.
Where to stay in Chitwan National Park
Unfortunately it’s no longer possible to stay inside of the National Park. The most popular place to stay while visiting Chitwan is Sauraha, located on the north bank of the Rapti River. We recommend staying here if you’re not planning to book a package beforehand like us, because it’s fairly cheap to arrange it here. Furthermore, in Sauraha you can easily find hotels and lodges.
We stayed at Jungle Wildlife Camp for $12 per night incl. breakfast and they arranged our tours in the jungle. The location was lovely, right on the riverside, with a great veranda for breakfast and dining. Every morning we could see a crocodile pop up now and then in the river besides us. If you’re a budget traveler, just like us, we definitely recommend this accommodation. The rooms are basic, but clean, and every day we could enjoy a hot shower. We never had any trouble with power outage, although the Wi-Fi connection was not so good – but we suspect this is everywhere in Sauraha.
This lodge is one of Lonely Planet’s favorite in Sauraha and is also recommended by various online travel sites. The prices are between $12 and $20 dollar per night. In this lodge you can either sleep in a traditional bungalow or in a modern hotel room. There is a bar and restaurant and you can even order room service, which can come in handy if you had a long hike in the park and don’t feel like moving your feet anymore.
If you are not strictly on a tight budget, than Sapana Village Lodge is your home, just 1.5km outside of Sauraha, for about $45 per night incl. breakfast. The lodge, which is part of a development program for the local Tharu community, includes a restaurant and a spa. Here you can also order room service 24 hours a day. Furthermore, the lodge even has its own elephants, including a mother and young.
Every room has it’s own bathroom with a hot shower, own balcony and air conditioning. We met people during our Jeep Safari and they were very excited about their stay in Sapana Village Lodge.
Where to eat or drink
Don’t expect a lot of good choices of restaurants in Sauraha, it’s definitely no Kathmandu or Pokhara. The best restaurant we visited during our stay was KC’s Restaurant. The restaurant has a great vibe, with a lovely open terrace and colorful flower garden.
The menu includes “Patatje Oorlog” a typical Dutch way to eat your French Fries (using mayonnaise and peanut/saté sauce with onions as dip). Although it didn’t taste like a real Patatje Oorlog in the Netherlands, it was a great snack. Other than this we would recommend their Indian and Nepali curries. Their menu also includes pizza’s and pasta’s. We didn’t try their pizza’s, but we did try the pasta and although it wasn’t that good, if you are graving Italian after weeks of Nepali food, it’s good enough.
Sauraha Beach Restaurant
One of the most popular spots to chill out in Sauraha is definitely on the river bank. At Sauraha Beach Restaurant there are lots of chairs and tables that face the beautiful sunset. So not only do you get a great view of the sunset, it is also a great place for some drinks. We decided not to eat there, because you will probably get eating alive by all the mosquitos once it gets darker.
Chitwan Bar & Restaurant
The first time we came across this place, we walked past it while they were playing loud music that felt very much out of place in this relaxing place. Later we gave it another shot, and luckily they had ditched the loud music. There is not much more than a little hut with a bar, some chairs and tables. However, it’s a cute spot for some cocktails. They have a “buy one, get one free” cocktail deal. The mango daiquiri is amazing.
What to do in Chitwan National Park
Go on a Jungle Walk in Chitwan National Park
A very exciting way to explore the national park is to go by foot. This was probably our favorite activity during our stay. Not only do you have the chance to spot some wildlife, it’s also a great way to explore the jungle up close. We recommend not focusing to much on spotting big wildlife, as it is never a guarantee you will see something. Instead, try to enjoy the amazing scenery and unique nature. If you encounter wildlife, it’s only a plus!
There are some safety precautions you need to know if you do encounter an elephant, rhino, tiger or sloth bear up close. Of course your guide will explain you how to handle these situations, but we go through them briefly.
Tigers: If you happen to come across a tiger up close – although possible, a very unlikely situation- maintain eye contact and walk away slowly. Our guide once encountered a tiger before and this method worked.
Rhinos: When a rhino is charging towards you, climb the nearest tree you can find. Hiding behind a tree is possible as well. If there are no trees around you, run zigzag before dropping one of your belongings or clothing as a decoy. Rhinos rely on the sense of smell to detect threats, including humans.
Sloth bears: When facing a sloth bear, best is to stay perfectly still and stay together with your group – this way you make yourself look more threatening to the bear. Than bang a stick to the ground to scare the sloth bear away.
Elephants: Each year villagers die because of wild elephants. If you are facing a charging elephant, the best way to survive is to run as fast as you can.
Our Jungle Walk in Chitwan National Park
We booked our jungle walk via our hotel, and decided to go on a full day walk – from 7 am until 5 pm. As we never did a hike like this before, we didn’t know what to expect. The walk started off easy; we walked on a road where all the jeeps drove. Our guide already told us before we started that we shouldn’t be disappointed if we don’t see any wildlife, as there isn’t a very high chance. Apparently it wasn’t the best season for it; at this time the grass was very long, and in March they cut it all off. That makes it easier to spot the animals from afar.
Our guide really took the effort to spot animals for us. We did see lots of deer, some wild monkeys and a glimpse of a rhino close by. The highlight of the day was probably when we spotted the rhino. Our guide let us climb in a tree and wait for the rhino to come back out, because he was hiding in the tall grass. Unfortunately the rhino went to sleep – we only heard some noises and saw the grass moving, so there wasn’t a lot of action. However, it was still a funny experience, sitting up in the tree.
The whole day we were walking, very fast too, and while we were walking back we were lucky that a jeep with only two people in it passed by and gave us a lift back. Then they told us they saw three rhinos that day, and we decided to give the Jeep safari a chance too.
Explore Chitwan National Park with a jeep
Going by a jeep is a completely different experience than going on a walk. It’s quite expensive to go on a jeep safari. However, if you split the costs with other people and only go for a half-day, you’ll get a fair and affordable price (about $12 per person excl. park permit).
We expected to see more animals during the walk than with the jeep, because we expected animals to scare away due to the noise. But we were wrong and could actually see more animals when we went with the jeep. Only 20 minutes in our tour and we already saw one rhino. Later we even saw two rhinos taking a bath in the river. However, we still found the jungle walk a lot more interesting and way more exciting than the jeep ride!
We also stopped for the Crocodile Breeding Centre in the middle of the national park. Here they breed crocs, and when they are old enough they can go into the wild – according to our guide.
Elephants bath time
Next to our hotel, and even closer to Hotel River Side, we could see elephants bathing every morning. The time they bathe is around 9.30 am till 11.30 am. One day we just walked past them and had a quick glance. It’s free to watch, but if you want to take a bath with them, it’s possible too for money. However, I would not recommend supporting the commercial use of elephants.
I’m not very pleased with the use of elephants for walks or other commercialised purposes. And although they didn’t seem very bothered with this activity, elephants that are used for tourism have always been mistreated in the past and can still be mistreated now. The baths seem innocent, and the elephants seem genuinely relaxed, however they have to work again after the bath. And the fact that they are domesticated means they had to go through beating and more.
Don’t go to the Elephant Breeding Centre or ride an elephant
One popular way to explore Chitwan National Park is going on an Elephant Safari (riding on the back of an elephant) and many claim it’s the best way to see wildlife. Although I’m pretty sure this might be true, I would not recommend this at all. The way the elephants are treated is not ethical, as most of them are chained up for hours a day, and get smacked on their skull with a wooden stick and metal hooks by their mahout when they are walking through the jungle.
This was something we were already aware of, however, many people we met claimed that the way elephants are treated in Nepal is better than in for instance Thailand. Still, we didn’t go on an elephant ride, because we weren’t sure if this were true – and even if it were true, I’m still not a fan of domesticating elephants.
We did decide to go to the Elephant Breeding Centre, which we heard of once we were in Sauraha. We don’t recommend going there at all. Before visited this center I was already skeptical – but I was not expecting it to be so bad. I thought they would walk around in a fenced setting with lots of free land, but no, the female elephants were chained up without any walking space. They have no freedom at all.
The baby elephants were free to walk around, but eventually they will be mistreated to learn how to work for the tourists. The Nepalese were honest about their ways with the elephants in the information center, including that they will have to hurt the elephants to domesticate them, but that doesn’t justify it for me. It was an awful experience to see, and I regret going there.
The visit to the Elephant Breeding Centre proved to me that it’s definitely not ethical to ride elephants, not in Thailand, not in Nepal.
Walk around Sauraha
The only fun part of going to the Elephant Breeding Centre was the walk we had towards there. It’s a walk of approximately 45 minutes, and such an interesting walk – but just walk back once you hit the river crossing for the Breeding Centre. We walked past traditional homes and saw a lot of goats, buffalos and dogs. Two dogs even decided to follow us along, and one stayed with us all the way and back.
After Chitwan we decided to go to Bardia National Park located in the west of Nepal. Read our posts about Kathmandu, Pokhara, Everest Base Camp Trek and Rara Lake to get more inspiration for your visit to Nepal.
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