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Visiting the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu – Swayambhunath Complex

Visiting the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu – Swayambhunath Complex

Everything you need to know about visiting Kathmandu’s Monkey Temple, the Swayambhunath Buddhist temple.

Gazing out at the hazy skyline of Kathmandu, you’ll almost certainly catch sight of the white, spire-shaped stupa resting on top of the distant hilltop. This is Kathmandu’s Monkey Temple, or, more appropriately known as the Swayambhunath stupa.

This sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site dates back to the 5th century and is one of the oldest and most revered temple complexes in Nepal. Whether you visit this site for its impressive architecture, to observe the playful monkeys, or as a spot to enjoy the sunset over Kathmandu city, it’s well worth the trip.

In this blog post, I’ll outline everything you need to know about visiting the Kathmandu Monkey Temple. I’ll also offer some advice on how to get there, and throw in some facts I learned from my visit.

Monkey at Temple in Kathmandu
Olly Gaspar

I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.

How to Get to the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu

Visiting the Swayambhunath Buddhist Temple is easy, requiring only a short taxi drive from the bustling tourist hub of Thamel.

However, if you want to make the most of your trip to Kathmandu by seeing all of the other important temple complexes and UNESCO World Heritage sites, then you can also book this top-reviewed 6-hour private tour.

As you'd expect, this trip is led by a local guide and includes transport with local pickup. You'll visit the Swayambhunath Monkey Temple, as well as the Pashupatinath Temple, the 3 Durbar Squares, and the Boudhanath Stupa.

Swayambhunath Stupa

Getting to Swayambhunath Independently

If you only want to visit the temple, then you can also do this independently very easily by taxi. We paid 500 Nepali rupees for a roughly 15-minute taxi ride to the base of the hill of Swayambhu. Alternatively, many tourists instead choose to walk, since it's only a 2.8-kilometer (30-minute) journey on foot from the heart of Thamel.

Entrance to the Monkey Temple

There are two entrances to this Buddhit complex, the first is the east entrance which features a long and steep set of stairs climbing swiftly to the top of the hill.

The second entrance is accessible via Manjushree Marg motor road. This road winds around the back of the hill all the way up to the top of the hill, where you will see a parking area.

Monkey Temple Entrance

If you are asking your taxi driver to drop you at the Monkey Temple, they will likely take you to the east entrance, which is the most recommended route. Here, you will need to climb a steep set of 365 stairs to reach the golden spire stupa atop the hill.

365 Stairs to the Monkey Temple
Monk walking up the stairs to the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu

What to Expect When Visiting Kathmandu's Monkey Temple

After climbing the reportedly 365 steep stone steps, you will reach the top of the hill. Just near the top, a guard will stop you and ask you to pay the entrance fee. This entrance fee is 200 rupees for foreigners, which I think is quite fair.

The temple is open to visitors every day from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. However, we stayed past 6:00 pm and nobody asked us to leave. In fact, there were still dozens of people hanging around enjoying the views over Kathmandu's urban sprawl.

Kathmandu Swayambhunath temple

The Swayambhunath Stupa

The main attraction at Kathmandu's Monkey Temple is the large, magnificent domed stupa with a white base painted with the eyes of the Buddha and a tall gilded spire reaching 43 meters in height. This is the Swayambhu Stupa, which means "self-created stupa.".

The legend goes that the stupa emerged spontaneously from a lotus flower, the sacred water flower in Buddhism and Hinduism, in the 5th century (believed to date back to 460 A.D). 13 tiers of Buddha's eyes, surround the white dome base, painted in white, red, blue, and gold. You'll also notice the flapping vibrant prayer flags tied to the top of the spire. Although I didn't count, there are reportedly 365 flags, to match the stairs on the way up.

Swayambhunath Temple Kathmandu

It's said that this stupa has undergone 15 significant repairs since its construction in the 5th century. Apparently, in the most recent repairs in 2010, 20 kilograms of gold was added to the spire.

The stupa is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists from all over the world. You'll notice that there are prayer wheels surrounding the circumference of the stupa, which Tibetan Buddhists walk around in a clockwise direction. This practice is called kora and is considered a form of meditation.

Spinning prayer wheels at Buddhist Temple, Nepal

About the Monkeys at the Swayambhunath Temple

For most tourists, one of the most interesting things about the temple is of course, the monkeys. As soon as you reach the base of the stairs, you'll see dozens of monkeys running around. These are long-tailed macaques, one of the most common monkeys you'll find in Southeast Asia.

Macaque at the Kathmandu monkey temple

These guys are fairly used to humans, but are still a little feisty– they're monkeys after all.

Apparently, the numerous monkeys at Swayambhunath are considered sacred by the locals. They believe that they are the descendants of the Hindu monkey god, Hanuman. As a result, the temple staff care and feed the monkeys.

Monkey in Kathmandu

In addition, there are plenty of stray street dogs hanging around. I witnessed a pretty impressive showdown between one larger monkey and a dog– the monkey came out on top. The result? Let's just say I wouldn't mess with the monkey.

Monkey at the Kathmandu Monkey Temple

More Attractions at the Monkey Temple Complex

Of course, as with most of the significant temple sites of Kathmandu, the city's Monkey Temple forms a larger complex with several smaller temples, a variety of shrines, numerous statues, and other attractions besides the main stupa.

These include:

  1. The Harati Temple: This temple is dedicated to Harati, the goddess of smallpox and epidemics. It is believed that Harati was once a demoness who caused diseases, but was later converted to Buddhism and became a protector of children and women.
  2. The Vajra: This is a small tower located near the main stupa, which contains a statue of Vajrayogini, a tantric Buddhist deity. The tower is also decorated with intricate carvings and paintings.
  3. The Tibetan Monastery: This monastery is located on the north side of the hill and is home to a large colorful prayer wheel and several small shrine. The monastery is also known for its colorful murals and frescoes and you'll likely see monks praying or meditating in the monastery with lit candles everywhere.
  4. The Buddha Park: This park is located on the south side of the hill and features several large Buddha statues, including a 17-meter-tall bronze Buddha statue.
  5. The Museum: The museum at Swayambhunath features exhibits on Buddhism and Nepali culture, including ancient artifacts, statues, and thangka paintings.
  6. The Pilgrims' Bath: This is a small pond located near the entrance to the Swayambhunath complex, where pilgrims can bathe before entering the temples.

There are also some cafes and small shops where you can buy souvenirs. Additionally, local salespeople also set up stalls around the side of the stupa and further into the temple complex.

Buddhist Monastery in Kathmandu
Buddha statue at Swayambhunath Temple
Statues at Swayambhunath Stupa

View of Kathmandu from the Temple Complex

The Swayambhunath is located on a hilltop in the western part of Kathmandu valley. As a result, this temple is one of the best sites for unobstructed panoramic views of the city.

We arrived just in time for sunset, as we watched the hazy glow dim over the sprawling metropolis. Additionally, I was able to spot several prominent landmarks in the valley, such as the Boudhanath Stupa, the Pashupatinath Temple, and the Kathmandu Durbar Square.

View of Kathmandu from the Monkey Temple
Sunset over Kathmandu Valley from the Monkey Temple

Did you know? The Monkey Temple is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, with statues representing Hindu deities and showcasing Tibetan Buddhist practices and features like the om mani padme hum mantra adorned on the four sides of the stupa.

Interesting History of the Monkey Temple

The legend goes that back in the day, Kathmandu valley was actually a giant primordial lake, surrounded by lush greenery and majestic mountains. But one day, a lotus flower appeared on the surface of the lake, and out of it sprouted a bright, fiery flame. This flame transformed into an absolutely stunning stupa, which is now known as Swayambhunath.

Another legend goes, that Swayambhunath was built by the bodhisattva Manjushri, who had a grand vision of a magnificent stupa on the hilltop. And, how did he get there– he rode on the back of a giant bird and used his supernatural power to transform the lake into land, and that's when the stupa emerged from the ground. Apparently, it even houses the Buddha's own relics, making it one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Nepal.

Swayambhunath Golden Spired stupa in Kathmandu

Over the years, Swayambhunath has seen some tough action, historical and cultural events, earthquakes, fires, and even urbanization. But despite all the challenges, it's still a shining symbol of Nepal's incredible heritage and a beacon of hope for generations to come.

As mentioned briefly above, many have expanded the Monkey Temple complex throughout history. The Malla kings added smaller temples, shrines, and statues to the site in the 14th century, and it even played a role in the unification of Nepal under King Prithvi Narayan Shah in the 18th century.

Swayambhunath Monkey Temple, Kathmandu
Monkey Temple stupa in Kathmandu

Where to Stay in Kathmandu

The trekking and tourist hub in Kathmandu is called Thamel. This is where you will find all of the best trekking shops, hostels, restaurants, bars, and hotels in Kathmandu.

If you're planning a trek in the Himalayas, you'll want to find a hotel or hostel that allows you to leave your luggage there until you return. Read my guide to Kathmandu's best hotels, or take a pick from the three best accommodation options below that offer this service.

  • Aloft Kathmandu - overlooking the city from the heart of Thamel, this is "the place" where climbers stay before big expeditions. It's a luxury pick with epic amenities like a gym, rooftop pool, and an EPIC buffet breakfast. This is where I stay every time I'm in Kathmandu before heading to the mountains.
  • Flock Hostel - the best backpacker hostel in Thamel. This place has very clean dorms with curtains and private rooms with excellent views. There's also an amazing on-site cafe and restaurant serving delicious coffees and international meals and is rated #1 on Trip Advisor for breakfast and dinner in all of Kathmandu!
  • Vastu Boutique Hotel - if you'd prefer a peaceful boutique hotel to escape the hustle & bustle, then Vastu will be the best mid-range pick. This place has a 9.7/10 rating on with over 300 reviews!
Thamel, Kathmandu Nepal

FAQs About the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu

When is the best time to visit the Monkey Temple?

I'd suggest visiting the temple either for sunset, or just after sunrise when it opens to the public. Although it can be busy during this time, these are the best times for views of Kathmandu.

Is Swayambhunath the best place to see the view of Kathmandu?

As one of the highest points in the city, this temple offers some of the best vantage points of the Kathmandu valley and surrounding mountains.

Is the Monkey Temple worth it?

After visiting the temple, I'd say that it is definitely worth it, since it's only a short distance from Kathmandu and offers travelers the opportunity to tour one of the holiest buddhist stupas in Nepal.

Is the Temple crowded?

Yes, I believe this temple attracts one of the largest crowds of people out of any tourist sites in Kathmandu. However, the complex is quite large and spread out, easing the crowd a bit.

Is Swayambhunath a sacred pilgrimage site?

Yes, Kathmandu's Monkey Temple is one of the most famous temples in Nepal and is a sacred pilgrimage site for Buddhists and Hindus.

Swayambhunath Monkey Temple, Kathmandu

More Nepal Travel & Adventure Guides

I hope you've enjoyed this quick guide to visiting Kathmandu's Monkey Temple at Swayambhunath. If so, make sure to check out some of my other guides below for more travel and adventure inspiration.