When preparing for the Everest Base Camp Trek one of the main questions people have is:
Do I need a guide?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is no, but there are plenty of benefits to having a guide.
In this post I aim to examine the pros and cons of hiring a guide for the Everest Base Camp trek (and tea house trekking in the Nepal as a whole).
▪️You will get a better insight into the culture and the way of life in the area. Your guide will be to explain things you see along the trek and answers questions you may have.
▪️In the tea houses your guide will often act as a waiter (taking your food order and bringing out the meals). This helps out the tea house owners and means they are sometimes reluctant to take independent trekkers.
▪️Additionally guides are likely to have a good relationship with certain tea houses and may be able to call ahead to reserve you a room.
▪️Good guides carry first aid kits and know how to use them.
▪️Similarly experienced guides have knowledge about altitude sickness and will know what to do if you are feeling unwell. They will also take the lead in arranging emergency descent (e.g. by horse) if this is required.
▪️Hiring guide is a good way of putting money into the economy of Nepal.
▪️Cost – guides can be expensive, especially on the Everest Base Camp trek, averaging $50 a day. (In the Annapurna region $20-30 a day). If you’re strapped for cash, this is an easy way to cut down your expenses.
▪️For the standard EBC trek you do not need a guide. The trail is clear and defined, and it’s difficult to get lost.
▪️Having a guide limits your flexibility. Guides typically have tea houses they have an affiliation with and will try to ensure you stay there. This isn’t necessarily bad, but if you make friends along the trail you may not get to stay with them.
▪️Loss of independence. Your guide will typically set the pace, decide where you stop for lunch and dictate the itinerary. If you prefer to plan for yourselves then a guide might not be for you.
▪️Not all guides are truthful about their experience and skills (see below)
A Bad Experience
I will be honest and explain my view of trekking guides in Nepal may be slightly skewed by a bad experience we had trekking to Annapurna Base Camp.
Firstly, we had not originally wanted a guide. Independent and experienced walkers, we felt we would be fine on the main trails alone (this turned out to be true). But this was not long after the earthquake, and tourist numbers were way down. Our guesthouse owner told us that no one was trekking at the moment, and that we would not find our way, as there will be no one to ask. In hindsight we were naive to believe this but we did and let him set us up with a guide.
Again in hindsight this was an error. When hiring a guide ensure you get a good recommendation from another trekker, rather than just hiring one through a guesthouse or travel agency.
We met with the guide before hiring him and he assured us he had a first aid kit and training. However on the first day on the trek the guide developed a cramp in his leg. He did not what this was and we had to come to his assistance. He also did not have pain killers and requested we provide him with some (making us question what was in his first aid kit, or if it even existed).
Another trouble with the guide was he was very reluctant to allow us to walk at our own pace. He just wanted us to get from A to B as quickly as possible and couldn’t understand why we would want to walk at a leisurely pace and enjoy the view. In the end we asked him go ahead and wait for us at the next village (he rarely walked with us anyway, and generally rushed ahead to watch us with a smug look on his face). Once alone, and no longer trying to push ourselves, we actually walked at quicker, more steady pace. Rather than knackering ourselves trying to keep up with him.
He had absolutely no understanding of altitude sickness. When my boyfriend starting experiencing altitude symptoms at around 3000m our guide wanted us to continue up to Annapurna Base Camp at 4130m! Yes, he wanted him to ascend over 1000m with altitude sickness. Thankfully I’d done my reading and knew how dangerous that would be, but others may assume the guide knows what he’s talking about and put themselves at risk.
Lastly I’d say he was just a bit of a nasty person. During the trek he made snide comments about westerners and how they struggled walking in the Himalayas. When you’re tired after a long days trekking this is enough to make you incredibly angry. We also heard him slagging us off on the bus back from the trek. Calling us cheap to another guide, for not paying for the jeep he had wanted us to take back to Pohkara.
I would like to highlight that we met lots of other guides on the treks who appeared a lot more proficient, knowledgable and understanding than the one we hired. I think we had a bad egg! Take the time to get recommendations, and test their experience. Ask if they’ve ever had a client with altitude sickness and what did they do? etc. Also bare in mind if you are independent and experienced trekkers you are unlikely to enjoy being guided. I think that was part of the problem for us.
To summarise – before hiring a guide make sure it’s the right decision for you. If you do hire a guide get recommendations and interview them sufficiently.