Most hikes to Everest Base Camp (and Gokyo Lakes) start off with a jaw dropping flight from Kathmandu to Tenzing-Hillary airport in Lukla — dubbed the scariest and most dangerous airport in the world.
The short and scenic 30 minute flight takes you straight up into the mountains, where you touch down on a tiny landing strip hanging on the side of a cliff. There’s a 2,000 foot drop on one end of the runway, and a solid rock wall on the other end. Not much room for error.
Is it as dangerous and crazy as people make it out to be? No, probably not. But is it scary and nerve wracking? Sure. The small size of the plane (14 seater) doesn’t inspire much confidence, and neither does Nepal’s safety record as a country. They don’t even have sidewalks, and have you seen how they drive??
Still, this particular airport is pretty well regulated and that has helped keep the number of accidents relatively low over the years.
Mountain flying is always going to be more dangerous than your average trip, but keep in mind this airport runs 20-50 flights per day, depending on low/high season.
That means if you do the math, they’ve had tens of thousands of safe flights over the last decade. That’s not too bad. I think the risk level is acceptable, but I have to admit that I was pretty nervous for the takeoff and landing.
If you still don’t like the idea of flying to Lukla, you can always hike there from Jiri, which saves you the cost of tickets. The downside is that it takes a long bus ride and about 5 extra days of hiking.
I decided to fly to Lukla rather than hiking, partly because it saves time, and partly because my inner daredevil wanted to experience the thrill of such an epic flight. It wasn’t disappointing at all. The views were unreal.
After hearing horror stories about the check-in process and reliability of the Lukla flights (they only leave if there’s true line of sight visibility), I was surprised when mine went without a hitch.
My flight to Lukla left on time, and everything went smoothly from start to finish. Your mileage may vary, especially in different trekking seasons. Always book the first flight of the day, because it has the best chance of going.
Once you land in Lukla, the adventure is only starting!