Unusual family holiday destinations don’t get much more unusual that Tibet. If you love family adventure holidays, Tibet with kids is a brilliant combination of hiking, sightseeing and appreciating the fresh air. Just ask guide Jamin York (who goes by the name Losang) who has lived in Tibet with kids Tsering (8) and Norbu (6) for more than 13 years. suitcases&strollers chatted to Losang of Plateau Photo Tours about what a family holiday in Tibet with kids really involves and when you should start planning.

Why should parents plan a family holiday in Tibet with kids?

If you are a family that enjoys the outdoors, mountains and hiking, Tibet is the perfect place! Tibet is quite isolated and attracts those who are a bit more adventurous. The main reason people come to Tibet is to see the Himalayas, particularly Mount Everest.

However, Tibetans also have a very unique culture that is quite fascinating. Those who are interested in unique cultures will also really enjoy Tibet.

[For more travel tips on going to Mount Everest with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.] 

What does a typical trip to Tibet with kids involve?

Since the main reason people come to Tibet is to see the world’s highest mountains, most journeys involve considerable amounts of time outdoors. Tibet has many excellent multi-day trekking routes with amazing scenery.

For those who prefer to stay in a hotel or guesthouse at night, you can take an overland cultural or photography tour in which you can drive from place to place to explore ancient monasteries and experience traditional Tibetan culture. Almost all journeys to Tibet will require considerable outdoor time but not all journeys require strenuous hiking and camping. There are now many good hotels across Tibet, particularly in Lhasa and other large towns.

What about for families whose kids don't enjoy the great outdoors? Is Tibet a good place for them to plan a family holiday?

If you are a family that doesn’t enjoy the outdoors, Tibet probably isn’t the place for you to travel to. 

Where is your favourite place to take kids in Tibet?

I love taking my own two boys to the Tibetan capital city of Lhasa. Lhasa is full of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims for much of the year. 

I love seeing how Tibetans, particularly older ones who probably have never seen foreigners before, interact with my by children. Since Lhasa is a modern city, it has nice hotels and great restaurants making it an easy place to travel with kids.

Lhasa is by far the most popular place for travelers to Tibet. Lhasa has an Old Quarter that dates back nearly 1000 years. It is filled with Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims, great restaurants and fun hotels. My boys both really enjoy exploring Lhasa.

Lhasa is the starting point for all journeys in Tibet. Lhasa is considered holy to Tibetan Buddhists and is a main pilgrimage destination. It holds most of Tibet’s most famous and revered temples and monasteries. After people spend a few days in Lhasa, they continue on to a few other popular destinations like Mount Everest Base Camp, Nam Tso Lake and the city of Shigatse.

There are lots of non-strenuous walking routes in Tibet that take you through medieval markets and old temples that my boys really enjoy.

My boys also really enjoy camping on the nomadic grasslands of northeastern Tibet. Out there they can climb easy mountains, go horseback riding and safely run around without worry.

[For more travel tips on camping with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.] 

What are some of the secrets that tourists might not know about but shouldn’t miss on a family holiday in Tibet?

The best kept secrets are the seldom-visited regions of Amdo and Kham, located in the eastern Tibetan Plateau. These areas, which have been part of cultural Tibet for thousands of years, lie outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region and have some of the best preserved Tibetan culture.

Unlike the Tibet Autonomous Region (which requires everyone to be on an organised tour that includes travel permits, a private vehicle, a driver and a tour guide), the Amdo and Kham areas are open to independent travelers. No organised tour is required to travel though these amazing areas which most repeat travelers to Tibet regard as the best regions to visit.

What’s the best way for kids to have an authentic Tibetan experience? 

Since all foreigners traveling to the Tibet Autonomous Region must be on an organised tour, you will want to make sure that you use a reputable, Tibetan-owned travel agency that genuinely cares about their clients. These types of travel agencies will go to great lengths to make sure that you have an authentic Tibetan experience. The good travel agencies will work with you to create the perfect itinerary based on what your family enjoys doing.

What is the food like in Tibet?

Tibet has mixture of Tibetan, Chinese, Western and Nepali foods. Overall, larger towns and cities in Tibet, such as Lhasa, Shigatse and Gyantse, offer an excellent assortment of food. Options include Nepali-style lentils and rice, Chinese vegetarian noodles, Tibetan momos (dumplings served either with yak meat or with vegetables) or Indian tandoori chicken. The bigger towns and cities in Tibet also offer extensive Western food options too such as pizza, spaghetti, American-style breakfast, pancakes and much more. In general, with all of the vast choices in cuisine in the bigger towns and cities, there will be something for every child to enjoy.

[For more travel tips on introducing kids to foreign foods, see the suitcases&strollers interview with the expert on kid and baby food Annabel Karmel.] 

How do tourists to Tibet acclimatise to the altitude?

Tibet is very unique in that the average elevation is over 4,000 metres. There is no other region on earth like this. Because of the high elevation almost everyone (more than 98% of travelers) will have to take time to acclimatise. The only exceptions would be if travellers are from villages above 3,500 metres in the Andes mountains or travellers from other regions of the Himalaya found in India or Nepal.

To reduce the chances of serious altitude related illness, it is recommended that you spend at least 3 nights in Lhasa (elevation 3,550 metres) before travelling to higher elevation areas. After a few nights in Lhasa, you will want to ascend gradually over 3 or 4 more days before you go to places like Mount Everest Base Camp (elevation 5,200 metres) or do the pilgrimage circuit around Mount Coolish (elevation 5,650 metres). There is no way to eliminate the risk of altitude sickness, but proper acclimatisation will greatly reduce the risk.

What is the best age to take kids to Tibet?

Because of Tibet’s high elevation, it is recommended that children under age 3 or 4 avoid going to Tibet. I suggest waiting until your kids are at least 5 or 6 years old before taking them to Tibet. If you plan to go trekking in Tibet, you will probably want to wait until your children are between the ages of 12 and 14 so that they have the physical strength to trek in Tibet’s high mountains and thin air.

What is the ideal time frame for a holiday to Tibet with kids?

If you are just wanting to spend time in and around the Lhasa region, 5 to 7 days is a good amount of time. This will allow you to see Lhasa in detail and allow you to take a couple of day trips or even a couple of overnight journeys to areas just outside the city to get good mountain views.

If you are wanting to see Mount Everest Base Camp (the most popular destination in Tibet) you will want to take between 9 and 11 days in order to acclimatise properly and to see all of the amazing places located between Lhasa and Everest. Many people think that Lhasa is next to Everest, but actually Everest is over 800 kilometres away.

When is the best time of year to visit Tibet with kids?

Tibet can actually be visited all year round, however the spring and autumn months are the best. Springtime in Tibet is from early April through mid June. During this time the temperatures are fairly mild for the high Himalayas and the weather is generally clear, allowing excellent views of Everest and other high peaks. The summer months can be cloudy and rainy, often hiding the peaks. 

What are your top 3 travel tips for families travelling to Tibet with kids?  

1. Since all foreigners going to Lhasa, Everest or any other part of the Tibet Autonomous Region must be on an organised tour arranged by a travel agency in Tibet, make sure you choose a reputable company that offers competitive prices, good customer service and has a great safety record.

2. It is absolutely essential that you take time to acclimatise to Tibet’s high elevation. This applies to both children and adults. 

3. Make sure that you plan your travel itinerary in Tibet so that you don’t spend long amounts of time each day in the vehicle. Tibet is HUGE and towns are located few and far between. To travel overland from one end of Tibet to the other could take weeks! Plan your route so that your children don’t go crazy from too many long hours in the vehicle. [For more travel tips on managing road trips with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.] 

Images: Losang of Plateau Photo Tours