Bardia National Park is in the Western Region of Nepal and the best place in the world to see wild tigers! I found out about it from a friend in Kathmandu when I told her I was planning on heading to Chitwan National Park. She told me “Bardia is like Chitwan 30 years go” and decided I’d rather trek without all the tourists. Upon arriving in Thakudwara, a village just outside Bardia, the jungle immediately engulfs you and it gets even better when you enter the national park!
Getting to Bardia National Park
Overnight bus from Kathmandu to Mahendranagar – Get off at Ambassa
Bus from Pokhara to Mahendranagar– Get off at Ambassa
Fly to Nepalganj Airport – Ask your lodge to arrange a pickup from the airport
Trekking in Bardia National Park is a must for anyone in the area. You have a unique chance to walk among some of Earth’s most beautiful wildlife. Bardia is home to the endangered Bengal tiger, one-horned rhino, Asian elephant and Gangetic river dolphin! Local guides know exactly where to go and are experts at spotting these animals. Leave early for the best chances to see animals before it gets too hot!
Did you know that jungle walking in Bardia is one of the best things to do in Asia?
The main entrance to Bardia (alternately spelled Bardiya) is a short walk from dozens of lodges in Thakudwara. We left right after breakfast and found ourselves crossing a knee deep river heading into the jungle. The trail looped around and opened into a huge grassland with a peacock in full spread!
Bardia National Park Tours
A group of monkeys could be heard playing in the trees to the right as the beautiful bird wandered off. We continued into the prairie and saw a heard of spotted deer watching us. The males had huge antlers and were on lookout. They made sure we didn’t get too close but were really looking for tigers; we didn’t pose them any threat so they kept grazing as we hiked on.
Bardia National Park is home to wild tigers and spotted deer are their favorite food!
These small animals were great but today we were hoping to spot one of the big 3, rhinos, tigers or elephants. Our guide, Subas, knew of a few great viewpoints at a nearby river on the other side of these plains so we happily followed him into the tall grass.
The jungle in Nepal is home to crazy insects, countless species of birds, and some magnificent mammals. As soon as our trail went back into the forest I noticed these bright red insects all over. At first I just saw a few on the trail but the deeper we got the more they covered the leaves huddled among the trees.
I was in awe of this dense undergrowth; birdsong filled our ears as golden light broke through the leaves. I almost didn’t notice the tiger footprint in front of us because I was so captivated by everything else!
In a few moments we found ourselves coming to the Karnali River. Well, it was one of the many branches of this lifegiving flow that helped create Bardia National Park. Our trek was in early June, one of Nepal’s hottest months. The good news was that the heat and lack of rain meant the animals were sure to visit this river for a drink.
The best time for wildlife viewing in most jungles is during the hot season because animals predictably come to lakes and rivers for a drink or to cool off.
Before crossing that first river Subas told us a few rules to keep us safe and spot more animals. Staying quiet was one of the most important things but so is staying hidden. We found viewpoints along the river where we could hide in the bushes or climb a tree to stay out of sight. At the first stop I saw a gnarly lizard chilling on a branch and a few birds. But we were still hopeful about spotting a wild tiger and quickly moved to a new lookout down the river.
Tips for spotting wildlife
1) Stay quiet, noise scares the animals away.
2) Trek with a small group, more people mean more noise!
3) Be patient; sometimes you will need to sit in one spot for an hour or more.
4) Don’t wear bright colors, it can scare some animals and make others more aggressive.
Upon arrival Subas climbed a nearby tree to get a better view while I waited with Katie, the other guest, and Prem, our assistant guide. I immediately spotted a white crane in the water and was snapping a photo of it when Katie let out a gasp.
Without even realizing it I was staring at a tiger through my lens! The orange figure could clearly be seen in the corner of the shot and I immediately refocused and took another photo. The tiger stared at me and we locked eyes for a moment. That surreal second felt like an eternity. Staring me down from across the river from me was a wild tiger!
I got the best photo I could and decided to grab Subas’s binoculars. Bending down to pick them up I immediately heard the tiger roar at me! She didn’t like my fast movements and stood there for just another moment to finish her growl to tell me off before darting back into the jungle.
Trekking in the jungle comes with its share of risks. I HIGHLY recommend getting travel insurance before coming to Bardia National Park. Thankfully I didn’t need it while I was there but World Nomads gave me peace and mind in case anything did happen.
Chitwan or Bardia?
Chitwan National Park is much closer to Kathmandu and therefore more popular than Bardia National Park. Bardia on the other hand is quite remote with much less tourists visiting. These can be pros and cons depending on what you’re looking for out of your trip.
Why go to Bardia National Park
Go to Bardia if you want to see more wildlife, have a few extra days and aren’t on a tight budget. Bardia is the best place in the world to see wild tigers and in the month I spent there I only saw about 15 other foreigners. You will go on much smaller and even private safari tours into Bardia National Park. With fewer tourists you will definitely see more wildlife in Bardia than in Chitwan.
Why go to Chitwan National Park
Go to Chitwan if you are on a tight budget, don’t have a long time in Nepal and don’t mind being on a large group safari. Chitwan is slightly cheaper and you can get to the entrance in about 6 or 8 hours by bus from Kathmandu. You will have more choice of hotels and restaurants in Chitwan but with all of these tourists the animals are more likely to get scared. That being said, I did hear great stories of wildlife encounters in Chitwan and even rhinos walking down the road!
All of this was in our first few hours of the jungle trek. The day could have ended here and I would have been happy but we still had a few more hours to look for rhinos, elephants and more tigers! We waited for a half hour or so to see if our tigress would return but when she didn’t we decided to check another viewpoint.
Subas led us back through the tall grass to another branch of the Karnali. A huge man-made “tiger tower” signaled we were getting near and moments later I was climbing a tree at Tin Kune. Tin Kune, means “three corners” and is a famous lookout where 3 rivers come together making it a hot spot for wildlife.
From my first tree all I could see were birds but then again the birds here are beautifully exotic so I didn’t mind. Multicolored kingfishers darted from tree to tree hunting in the river between. A small flock of huge white storks descended into a tall tree on the far corner when I heard Subas calling my name.
I immediately knew it was time to find a new tree and climbed down as quickly as I could. Walking over There was a one-horned rhino bathing in the river! It only stayed for a moment before wandering into the grasses. I decided to climb another tree for a better view and was almost immediately rewarded with 2 rhinos wading into the water!
It was midday and the heat of this tropical sun brought these beasts to the river just as Subas predicted. Two rhinos and plenty of birds were hanging out and so would we. Everyone sat down and we had a little jungle picnic with the wildlife engulfing us. By the time we were done eating the rhinos had left so we decided to check out another viewpoint.
The hike took us deeper into the forest and away from the river. We heard the usual jungle chorus but all we saw on the walk were crazy flowers and mushrooms. You could see massive bunches of them growing in elephant dung and, according to Subas, “when they turn blue they are hallucinogenic!”
The next spot was around the corner and had two great trees to climb. From the top I could see a family of monkeys playing by the river and a lone deer. We watched them for a few moments but then Subas got a call from a fellow guide that there was a small herd of elephants near the tiger tower. We climbed down and headed back through the jungle as fast as we could.
The undergrowth once more surrounded us but with any luck we’d make it to the lookout before the elephants had gone. For the first time in the jungle I ignored all the cool bugs and distant wildlife; we were on mission to go see elephants! Minutes later we got to the tower and climbed 3 stories of rickety wooden stairs to find the top surprisingly empty. From the top we couldn’t see any elephants and guessed the other group left when the elephants must have.
A little disheartened we decided to relax here for a bit. There wasn’t enough time to go find another lookout before dark and were happily rewarded with a deer prancing through the river. When he reached our side the grass devoured him. From time to time he would hop just high enough to poke out of the tall grasses and then disappear again seconds later.
We were getting ready to head back when something gray starting moving at the treeline in the distance; I zoomed in and could instantly see a mother and baby rhino! Definitely a new pair since the others were full grown these cuties made us forget about the elephants we’d missed. After today I knew I’d be going back into Bardia National Park and have another chance to see some elephants!
Bardia National Park Hotels
There are many hotels in Bardia National Park but its important to understand that you will be in the jungle without many modern conveniences. Life goes at a slower pace here and there is no such thing as 5 star luxury in Thakudwara. You will find a small range of accommodation choices and I hope these descriptions help you pick your hotel. Make sure you contact the lodge beforehand so they can help arrange a pickup for you at Ambassa or Nepalgunj.
Accommodation in Bardia National Park
Wild Trak Adventure – Private Cottage Rs 1000/night ($10) – My favorite place in Bardia National Park and the only place where you’ll find a native English speaker. John Sparshatt founded Wild Trak Adventure 5 years ago and has been taking tourists like you and me into the jungle ever since. Wild Trak guides are tiger experts with a huge range of tours available. Wild Trak Adventure is between the river and the farms giving you a unique chance to see village life mix with the jungle and is only a 10 minute walk to the entrance of Bardia National Park!
Bardia Jungle Cottage – Private Cottage Rs 1000/night ($10) – Bardia Jungle Cottage (BJC) is the closest lodge to the entrance of Bardia National Park. Prem, the grandfather of a local family runs BJC and has been working with the national park for decades. They offer cheaper albeit less adventurous tours with local guides.
Mr. B’s Place – Private AC Cottage Rs 3000/night ($30) – The only place with AC in all of Bardia National Park. Mr. B offers a more diverse menu and has the most luxurious cottages in the area.
Where to stay in Kathmandu
On your way to and from Bardia National Park you will undoubtedly fly through Kathmandu. I highly recommend checking out the following places based on you budget.
Budget hotels in Kathmandu
Wanderthirst Hostel ($4.50/night) – Beautiful new budget hostel for travelers. Great rooftop view, relaxing atmosphere, good food and good people. Private rooms available and they have healthy breakfasts!
Fireflies Hostel ($4.50/night) – Wanderthirst’s sister hostel down the street. Same amazing vibe but a bit more of a party. Check out their roof and treehouse!
Dreamland Eco Hostel ($4.00/night) – A quiet community space just out of Kathmandu right in the heart of an isolated area. They have a pool!
Hotels in Kathmandu
Kathmandu Eco Hotel ($16) – Great location in the heart of Thamel. Nice rooftop and good food but Wifi wasn’t great in the room.
Kathmandu Grand Hotel ($20) – Free Airport transfer, good location. Great for solo travelers.
Best Hotels in Kathmandu
Dom Himalaya ($26+/night) – We stayed here for 2 nights and it was the best place I stayed in Nepal. Big comfy bed, great internet, delicious buffet breakfast and good water pressure with hot water in the bathroom. Perfect for a couple!
Baber Mahal Villas – ($92/night) – By far the best hotel in Kathmandu! If you have an expansive budget than this is the place for you!
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