Many young people come to Nepal and assume getting a trekking guide is optional. "Many trekking routes are so busy you'll feel like it's a walker's highway, no way to get lost," or so tourists post on message boards. Although this is often true, it's equally true that all mountains have risks and all cultures have unspoken rules that need to be obeyed.
Trekking companies charge upwards of $75 per day, all inclusive of food and shelter. Many people wonder how a trekking company could earn that much to 'just walk around in the Himalayas' with you.
Reasons to either hire a trekking company or at least take a local guide from the area you want to trek in are many. Here are just a few:
1. It supports the local economy and the economy of the country. Nepal has only 3 major industries, trekking, farming and handicrafts.
2. It keeps you safe. There are many plants and animals that you can stumble into that can cause you a lot of harm. Imagine squatting in the woods over a nettle or poison ivy patch! There are many less humorous possibilities that you have no way of knowing about, such as aggressive cows, landslides and finding the bridge in order to cross a river safely.
3. A guide can keep you out of real trouble. Yes, Nepal is a safe, friendly country, but things can happen and there have even been reports of robbers in the trees who will jump down and rob you. A recent volunteer we hosted had to climb up on a rock-faced mountain and sleep on an actual cliff because he was followed by a band of young men who were out for no good. Another guest told of her friend who partnered up with a random traveler and went trekking with him. Although he was a nice young man, they got into a dispute on the trail and he went on alone. She was the last person to see him.
4. A guide will save you money on the trail. Although the rooms may be under $10 a night, you may spend that much on dinner and an additional $2 on a shower. Your trekking company will be responsible for such expenses giving you a lot less to worry about.
5. A guide will enhance your journey. Is there an interesting festival or marriage ceremony, tea farm, monastery, museum or baba that would enrich your trek? Your guide will know. Let him know whatever your interests are. They can identify bird calls, introduce you to local people, take countless pictures of you and be your friend when you need one.
I agree that you need a good, licensed guide. Ask to see the trekking license, check references, screen them well and do not allow your trekking guide to drink alcohol during your trek. Do make that clear prior to the trek.
My point is that if you do not support the economy while you are traveling then you really can't call yourself a tourist or traveler; you'd actually be an immigrant, no?
Here's the break-down on what some of your money will be used for:
$75 per day
$10 guest house
$20 guide's salary
$10 porter's salary
That leaves only $25 profit for the trekking company. From that they need to pay for office space, internet and office staff, licenses, taxes, etc. Petrol is actually around $1 per liter, so when your trekking guide needs to meet with you, it can be a hardship in itself. Yours will likely be the only trek they will be doing at the time, so it isn't like they are raking in any kind of 'big bucks.' The majority of trekking companies sit for several days to several weeks between clients.
It is not so cheap to live in Kathmandu like you read about people in Nepal living on $2 a day. This national average reflects most of the population that lives on their family farms where there is nothing but village life, subsistence farming. When you are packing to come to Nepal, please remember someone who will not have a jacket or shoes this winter and bring an extra, gently used item.