Out of the many places to visit in Nepal, one of the most popular destinations is Chitwan National Park located in the southern Terai region of the country.
And now having visited myself, I can see why!
But what surprised me most about visiting Chitwan was not the thrill of the jeep safari through the national park, but all the things to do around and outside of the national park, too!
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From biking through Tharu villages to doing a homestay in Chitwan to cooking with the locals, there are so many more activities to do on a trip to Chitwan National Park than just going on a safari adventure.
It’s true, when most tourists think of Chitwan, they might think of jungle safaris and wild rhinos and elephants.
But, as I experienced myself, there is so much more to discover here—and not only around/outside of the park but also across the Chitwan District, one of the 77 districts of Nepal.
That said, you don’t have to travel far from the national park in order to travel deeper and more off the beaten path in Chitwan.
In this guide, I’ll share some of the best local things to do near Chitwan National Park that you should definitely consider including in your Chitwan itinerary.
Best Things to Do Around Chitwan National Park, Nepal
1. Go on a Jungle Safari in the National Park
Obviously, since Chitwan National Park is Nepal’s first national park (1973), one of the best things to do—and reasons why people visit—is to go wildlife watching while on safari.
However, sadly, the tourism industry has proliferated the harmful capture and abuse of elephants for such safaris.
Going on a safari in Chitwan National Park is a must-do, but please be mindful about it!
While private hotels will market and offer elephant safaris in Chitwan, you don’t have to support this practice. Please be mindful of where you stay near Chitwan as well, as many hotels privately own elephants to draw in tourists.
Instead, you can choose to visit Chitwan National Park responsibly by going on either a walking safari or a jeep safari.
The cost of a half-day (4-hour) jeep or walking tour of Chitwan National Park might be around $50/person but will vary depending on who you book with.
I was able to experience the half-day Chitwan National Park jeep safari (and got to see nine wild rhinos!) through my homestay in Barauli, Chitwan.
Keep in mind that this cost may include or be an add-on to the NPR 2,000 per day per entry +13% VAT fee to enter Chitwan National Park.
You cannot visit Chitwan National Park without a guide, so factor in this cost if you are budget traveling in Nepal.
2. Live with the Tharu Locals in Barauli (Homestay)
This leads me to my next recommended thing to do in Chitwan—a homestay!
There are two homestays in Chitwan available through the Community Homestay Network:
I stayed for three nights at the Barauli Community Homestay, which is located at the heart of Barauli village, where you can stay with the Tharu locals and partake in activities offered by the homestay.
The nightly rate of the homestay is less or similar to what you’d pay for lodging near Chitwan National Park, however, this is a great example of community-based tourism in which your impact directly benefits local families.
The following activities I recommend you try while in Chitwan were all booked through my homestay.
However, even if you decide to find accommodation elsewhere near Chitwan, I still encourage you to explore outside of the national park boundaries.
3. Tharu-Nepali Cooking Class
One of my more memorable activities in Chitwan was getting to cook with a local family for the evening.
From prepping the vegetables to crushing the garlic to frying the fish, it was a fun and experiential thing to do that made my experience of Terai/Chitwan all the more meaningful.
Again, these activities were available through my homestay but even as a non-guest you can participate in them too.
4. Visit the Tharu Indigenous Museum
On the western side of Chitwan National Park lie the villages of Barauli and Kawasoti.
Not only is this where I stayed but it is also where there is a fascinating Tharu Indigenous Museum, which is free to visit.
It is humble and small but filled with Tharu jewelry, costumes, pottery, cooking utensils, and more.
If you are lodging in the more touristy resort town of Sauhara, which is considered the eastern gateway to Chitwan National Park, then you might also take time to visit the Tharu Cultural Museum & Research Center located in Bachhauli village (a 10–15 minute walk from Sauhara).
5. Go Net Fishing in the River
While I was in Barauli, I had the chance to accompany a few of the local men on their fishing excursion.
Fishing in Chitwan is something I wasn’t expecting to do, but it made for a really interesting outing and I’m glad I went!
If you go, prepare to get a bit wet and muddy!
6. Biking to Watch the Sunset over the Naranyani River
Biking through Barauli village en route to watch the sunset over the Naranyani River is something I’d love to do again on a return trip to Chitwan.
The Naranyani River is one of the largest rivers in Nepal which eventually feeds into the Ganges in India as a tributary.
Sunsets in Chitwan are peaceful and there are few better places to watch them than by the riverside, with a cup of chai or tea and biscuits in hand!
7. Pack Binoculars & Go Birdwatching
Chitwan National Park is home to hundreds of bird species. Considering this, it’s one of the best places in Nepal for birdwatching.
One morning, my guide Shambhu took me birdwatching and it was such a wonderful way to explore the edges of the national park on foot.
Within the first hour, we spotted all sorts of birds hiding in the trees or perched on powerlines—from parakeets to storks to kingfishers to owlets and beyond!
8. Canoeing & River Rafting
Canoeing on the Rapti River is one of the more adventurous things to do in Chitwan if you are brave enough!
There are estimated to be roughly 1000 crocodiles living in the Rapti River, so just make sure not to tip over your canoe. 😳
Note that this activity is season and weather-pending.
The best time to go to Chitwan is after the hot and wet summer months or between October–April.
Not only is the temperature more comfortable for visiting (around 25C), but you will also have a greater chance of spotting more wildlife over winter.
9. Camp Overnight in a Tower Inside the Park
One of the more unique things to do in Chitwan National Park is to actually stay overnight in a tower.
Think rustic camping, but high up in a place where wild tigers and rhinos can’t (or shouldn’t!) reach you. Pretty neat and somewhat scary, right?
If the resorts in Sauhara aren’t quite your style, this could be a great way to make your memory of Chitwan last forever.
Should You Visit the Elephant Breeding Center in Chitwan?
There is one activity that is popular to do in Chitwan but that I hesitate to recommend for ethical reasons.
And that is the Elephant Breeding Center in Chitwan which draws a touristy crowd—and therefore funds—but it is hard to discern whether this center is doing more harm than good, or not.
The issue is layered and complex, and it’s an oversimplification to want this center, which breeds elephants for domestication, to close.
After all, the elephants and the mahouts (the owners/trainers) both depend on each other.
While elephant activities may have been more common in Nepali/Indian society in the past, today there are alternatives, which makes me wonder, is there really a need for working elephants in Nepal today?
The issue is interesting, and I mention it here to bring awareness to it.
I don’t have the answers, but I know that if I can avoid contributing to the mistreatment/abuse of these gentle giants and instead redirect tourism to the local community—who will actually benefit from my visit—then I will try to do that. I’d love to hear. your feedback if you’ve had experience with this center or know more about the complexity of ethical tourism of elephants in Nepal.
More Things to Do & Places to Visit in Chitwan District
If you’re looking to extend your stay in Chitwan for a few days and explore Chitwan beyond the national park, then check out the below list.
You might be surprised to learn what there is to do in Chitwan beyond safari!
Jalbire Jharna Waterfall
If you visit Chitwan in the summertime, you can join the locals taking respite from the heat at the Jalbire Jhana waterfall (also known as Lamo Jharna) located off Highway 05 just beyond Ghumawane.
This waterfall plunges 100 feet down into a swimming hole, hence its popularity in the summer season. You can reach it on foot with a 20-minute walk. The entry for foreigners costs 50 Rs and 10 Rs for Nepalis.
Baikuntha Tal in Madi
Baikuntha Tal is another gorgeous and even lesser-known swimming hole and waterfall located in Madi.
Madi is a municipality in the Chitwan District that borders India and is adjacent to Chitwan National Park.
To reach the waterfall, you’ll need to drive around 55km or 2.5 hours from Bharatpur and then hike for 30 minutes to reach the swimming hole.
Check out this YouTube video to see what the road is like if you plan to take an adventurous road trip out to Baikuntha Tal.
Biz Hazari Lake
Bizhazari Lake (or Twenty Thousand Lake) is a great location for birding in Chitwan. This near-8000 acre large wetland was dedicated as a Ramsar site and is thus a protected habitat that thrives with wildlife and bird species.
Travel Beyond Chitwan District: Going Deeper in Terai
And if you’re looking to even more off the beaten path in Terai, well beyond Chitwan District, then consider a trip to Bardia National Park (also spelled Bardiya).
Similar to Chitwan, Bardia is home to wild tigers, rhinos, and elephants but this national park, compared to Chitwan—but even larger in size—receives much fewer tourists and your chances of spotting such wildlife may be greater.
On the opposite side, in the far east of Terai, also lies the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. Even fewer tourists make the long journey to reach here, but those who do are well-rewarded.