Since it was first opened to the international tourist in the 1980s, Tibet has been a must-see region of China that has attracted all kinds of travelers, from those that want to understand more about the Tibetan people and culture to the tourists that want to go and visit the world’s highest mountain. For several years, travelers could obtain a permit to enter the region and travel around independently, using local buses and backpacking across the vast Tibetan plateau.
Since 2009, all tourists to Tibet were then required to book an organized trip to the region through one of the many tour operators that manage tours in Tibet. The old backpacker routes were no longer available, and China closed Tibet’s borders to independent travel. However, since the advent of the tour operator for trips to Tibet, tourism in the region has increased exponentially, providing a new source of income for the region and many of its people. The tour operators offer Tibet group tour and private tour with different itineraries.
Traveling in Tibet
Travel to Tibet now requires up to eight permits and passes, depending on where you are traveling to and what you want to see. The documents required for travel into and around Tibet are all obtained by the tour operator, with the exception of the Chinese Entry Visa. Rumors continue that you can obtain the permit and travel on our own, but this is not true, and those that offer the permits alone are normally trying to scam the customer. Care should always be taken when choosing a tour operator for Tibet, and Explore Tibet is the largest Tibetan-owned tour operator in the tourist industry. The four main permits for traveling in Tibet are:
Tibet Travel Permit
The Tibet Travel Permit, or TTP, is required by all travelers to Tibet and is even needed to board the flight or train to Tibet. It is obtained first of all the permits that are required, as several of the others require the TTP in order to apply for them. Processing of the permit takes around 15-20 days and requires a scanned copy of your passport and Chinese Entry Visa, so booking early is advisable. The permit allows you to travel into Tibet by flight or train to Lhasa and allows travel in the area of Lhasa Prefecture only.
Alien’s Travel Permit
For travel outside the area of Lhasa, you need to have the Alien’s Travel Permit, which is normally obtained by your tour guide once you arrive in Lhasa. Processing requires your original passport and TTP, and takes around 2 hours, so can be done while you are touring around the capital city. The permit allows you to travel to areas outside Lhasa, such as Nagqu, Shannan, and Shigatse prefectures, as well as visiting Everest Base Camp.
Restricted Areas Permit
For certain parts of Tibet that have the military restriction, such as Ngari, Nyingchi, and Qamdo Prefectures, and has to be applied for well in advance of your trip to Tibet. Also known as the Military Permit, it takes around 20 days to process.
The Frontier Pass, also known as the Border Permit, is only required if you are traveling to areas close to the borders with Nepal and India in the west of Tibet, and Bhutan in the south of Shannan Prefecture. Travelers to Mount Everest and Mount Kailash will require this permit to travel in the area. It can be applied for in Lhasa or Shigatse prior to traveling to the mountains.
Taking a Tour
Traveling in Tibet can now be done in one of two ways: by Tibet private tour or by Tibet group tour. Which tour type you choose can depend on many factors, from the cost of the tour to whether you want to visit places on a group tour itinerary, such as Nyingchi, Shannan, or Nagqu Prefectures.
The private tour is the more expensive option of the two and is normally used by those who wish to have a tour of areas outside the normal Group Tour itineraries, families touring together, or tours for groups of friends traveling to Tibet together.
The Private tour gives you the freedom to choose your own itinerary, traveling to any place you wish in the allowed areas of the region. These custom tours can take you almost anywhere and you have the option of choosing where and when to go to each destination you want to visit.
However, as previously mentioned, these tours can be very expensive, as you will have to pay for the cost of the guide, driver, and private vehicle yourself. The only advantage here is if you are traveling as a large group of friends, where those costs can be shared among the members of the party.
Group Tours are normally preferred by those that are traveling alone to Tibet, have a limited budget for the tour, or like to travel with other people and make new friends. The Group Tours have a set itinerary and set departure date and will be guaranteed to depart on the preset date even if there is only one person booked on the tour.
Group Tours also have the advantage of sharing some of the tour costs. The cost of the tour guide, driver, private vehicle, gasoline, and even the tips for the driver and guide are shared between the members of the party equally, which can drastically reduce the cost of the tour.
The itineraries are preset as well, meaning that there is less ability to make changes to the tour itinerary, unless it is agreed on by all the members of the party. For all our Group Tours, we have a wide range of preset itineraries to choose from, which should suit the needs and requirements of everyone. Group Tours include tours of just Lhasa, tours across the plateau to EBC, and tours to Mount Kailash to trek around the Kailash kora.
How to book a tour
To book a tour with us, all you need to do is chat to one of our representatives through email or on the messaging application on every page of the website in the bottom right corner. Our professional advisers will help you to decide on where to go for Private Tours or which Group Tour itinerary to choose. They will help you every step of the way, from your initial query to your journey home, and will advise you on all aspects of the tours.
We can also help with your travel tickets to Tibet by flight or train from mainland China, as well as your hotel bookings for Private Tours. For group Tours, the hotels are already chosen, and are the best options for the tour type based on more than ten years of experience in handling tours to Tibet and our local knowledge of the region.