Having done many treks in Nepal I was excited at my good fortune to experience a helicopter tour to Everest Base Camp.
This is the perfect way to see Mount Everest up close, particularly from Kalapatthar – the viewpoint for Everest – and visit EBC without having to hike for days at high altitudes. In fact, this trip will only take you four hours!
Depending on your budget, you can take this thrilling ride as a private tour or join an existing tour.
Let me share my experience with you and give you some helpful tips to organize your own helicopter tour to Everest Base Camp.
Private Helicopter Vs Joining a Group
While the positive side of hiring your own helicopter is that you can customize it to your desire – which may include additional destinations such as Gokyo Lakes – the downside is the cost. At USD 4000 to 5000 per helicopter, unless you have your own group, or have plenty of money, it doesn’t make sense to spend this much. The experience itself, of course, may be worth the cost to you!
The helicopter tour I joined had four people. Normally helicopter tours to EBC hold 4 or 5 people up to Pheriche village. Situated at 4371 m, here the group will be split into two in order for the helicopter to fly at optimum capacity to take us to Kalapatthar (5545 m).
Kalapatthar is the closest you can get to Everest without actually climbing it! The views are astounding; a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Because of the high altitude, the helicopter can only land for 10 or 15 minutes. But plenty of time to savior the environment, wonder at nature’s achievements and beauty, and take photographs to show loved ones at home.
Breakfast on Everest
well not exactly on Everest, but pretty near it! One of the highlights of this tour is a breakfast stop at either Hotel Everest View or Kongde Lodge for breakfast. Now that is something to boast about at future dinner parties!
If you are on a private tour you can decide which place you would prefer for breakfast. If you are in a mixed group, you all need to decide where you want to go. Overall, with good weather, you get approximately 30 minutes for breakfast.
Personally, I haven’t been to Kongde but I hear it has even more spectacular views of the world’s highest mountain. Located on the southwest ridge, on the other side of Namche Bazaar, Kongde lies 700 m higher than Namche. And with no trekkers staying in this lodge it is perhaps the better place for breakfast ‘on’ Everest.
If you chose this option, I would love to hear your views of Kongde Lodge and see some of your pictures.
10 Things You Need to Know About the EBC Helicopter Tour
- The whole experience takes around four hours from Kathmandu to Kathmandu.
- However, this will depend on the weather. If the weather is bad the flight will be cancelled. No or poor visibility wouldn’t be worth the trip anyway. Your flight will be rescheduled, most likely for the next day. If that is not possible for you, a full refund is normally given.
This four-hour itinerary includes:
- Flight from Kathmandu to Lukla where the helicopter will refuel.
- Flight from Lukla to Pheriche (normal if the group has to divide) or Kalapatthar (normal if a private tour with less people). 10-15 minutes ground time on Kalapatthar.
- Flight from Kalapatthar to Hotel Everest View or Kongde Lodge with a ground time of around 30 minutes for breakfast.
- Flight back to Kathmandu.
- If you have a private charter flight (cost-effective if your personal group is 4 or 5 people) then you can choose your own date. If you are joining a chartered tour you need to find a tour with a guaranteed departure date (which they will only do if enough passengers are booked). But thanks to the increasing popularity of the helicopter trip to Everest, there are several departures every week. Pretty much daily in the main seasons. Please be aware, that the cost will vary depending on the number of passengers on the charter flights – please ask clearly!
- Kalapatthar, where you have ground time of around 15 minutes for that ultimate experience, is the highest point of the EBC Trek and offers the closest views of Mount Everest. Landing slightly below the top of the viewpoint (the heli needs that big flat area to land!) the time you spend there is enough to take plenty of pictures, take in the view, and get a bit chilled in the high altitude air! (see point No. 10)
- Entry permits for Sagarmatha National Park are required for trekkers to this area. Since you will be landing inside the national park you also need a permit, at the cost of NPR 3000 (approx. USD25) per person. You can obtain your permit at Lukla or at Hotel Everest View.
- Breakfast at Hotel Everest View or Kondge Lodge? Both provide you with excellent, clear views of Everest from your table. At either lodge, you will get around 30 minutes to enjoy breakfast and the surrounding views. Both are luxury hotels: Hotel Everest View is one of the world’s highest-located five-star hotels, while Kondge Lodge is part of a luxury resort group based in the Everest Region.
- On your approach to Kalapatthar not only will you be flying over Everest Base Camp, but you will also be flying over the Khumbu Glacier. You get spectacular aerial views of the icefall sections between Everest Base Camp and Camp 1. Every Everest climbing expedition is required to navigate the icefalls by foot. Thankfully we have a more comfortable experience of the glacier!
- You can hire a guide and/ or photographer for your trip! Since the mountain ranges start as soon as you take off from Kathmandu airport, a guide will help you identify both the mountains and the towns below. This will give you a fully immersive experience of your trip. And for those great keepsakes, what better than a professional photographer. Hiring a photographer is only possible if you have a private tour. But not to worry, the pilot and other passengers can help you get some great shots.
- Some people are concerned about altitude sickness during this tour. Although you will not be spending long at altitude during these four hours, very rarely some people may face symptoms of high altitude. Therefore, all helicopters carry an oxygen supply for emergencies.
- Bring warm clothes! Although you are not going to be exposed to the freezing temperatures very long, and although in Kathmandu you may be walking around in shorts and sandals, you still need warm clothes for this trip! I recommend you bring at least a thin wind-cheater (it’s windy on Kalapatthar and at Pheriche!) and a warm down jacket. Down jackets can be rented in Kathmandu should you not be requiring one for the rest of your time in Nepal. Most importantly, bring warm gloves! And I suggest a minimum of sports shoes on your feet.
- If you are doing a private tour and if money is not a barrier, you can add other places to your tour. One of the most popular ‘add-ons’ is Gokyo Lake. Situated in west Khumbu, the Gokyo Valley is home to several high-altitude lakes which all fall under the same name of ‘Gokyo Lake’. You can also check out other places in the area, such as Pikey Peak or Dudh Kunda. These are weather permitting so your pilot has the last word!
To Sum Up
There is no doubt in my mind, that for the ultimate experience, hiking to EBC from Lukla or Jiri is best. The culture you will experience on the way, the people you will meet and the self-satisfaction you will feel, not to mention the exercise you will undertake, cannot compare to a short trip by helicopter!
Having said that, however, not everyone has the time or fitness level to spend days in the mountains. This helicopter tour brings you extremely close to the mountains and lets people of all ages and abilities experience Everest Base Camp, Mount Everest, and the surrounding mountains. I can pretty much guarantee you will not be disappointed by this tour!