The best time to visit is from October to March. You’ll get the best mountain views during November and early December. Mid-December to late January can bring low temperatures (often dropping below zero in higher areas) and fog. February to April is warmer and drier, but expect some cloud. June to September brings the monsoon, but even outside those months Sikkim receives some of the heaviest rainfall in the Indian Himalayas, so you should be prepared for wet and misty conditions at any time.
Note: flight, boat, train and bus timetables change constantly, and airlines come and go, so please do not rely solely on this information for your travel planning. Check with relevant companies, or a flight search engine like Skyscanner, first.
There are no direct flights to Sikkim. You'll need to fly to Delhi, Chennai (Madras) or Kolkata (Calcutta) and then catch an internal flight to Bagdora in the neighbouring state of West Bengal.
From the UK:
British Airways and Air India fly direct from London Heathrow to Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. Virgin Atlantic also has flights from Heathrow to Delhi. Alternatively, you can fly with the Middle Eastern airlines, including Emirates, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways and Kuwaiti Airlines, via their respective hubs.
From the rest of Europe:
Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, Finnair, Alitalia and Swiss International Airlines fly to Delhi. Lufthansa also operates flights from Frankfurt to Kolkata.
From Australia and New Zealand:
Various airlines, including Singapore Airlines, fly from Australia to Delhi and Kolkata via their respective hubs.
From North America:
Air India has flights from New York (JFK and Newark), Los Angeles, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto to Delhi.
From Sri Lanka:
Sri Lankan Airlines has direct flights from Colombo to Delhi.
From Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai:
Bagdora Airport (IXB) is 16km from Siliguri and 90km from Darjeeling. There are flights from Delhi and Kolkata to Bagdora with Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Air India and SpiceJet. Spice Jet also has flights to Bagdora from Chennai.
The nearest stations are New Jalpaiguri and Siliguri, which are just over the state border in West Bengal. They're served by the Darjeeling Mail service from Kolkata and the Rajdhani Express service from Delhi via Varanasi. Both are overnight trains leaving late in the evening and arriving the next morning - see Indian Rail for fare information and timetables, or visit Seat 61 for a beginner's guide to rail travel in India. First-class cabins sell out quickly so book in advance if you want more privacy than the flimsy second-class curtains offer. But both classes have air conditioning. Booking train tickets can sometimes be subject to a complicated wait-listing process.
There are no rail services within Sikkim itself, but you can travel from New Jalpaiguri and Siliguri to Darjeeling on the historic Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (nicknamed the 'Toy Train'), which opened in 1881 and still uses steam locomotives. It's an atmospheric and picturesque journey along mountain ridges and through the high streets of the towns and villages en route, rising to an alitutude of over 2,200m. Note that the service is sometimes suspended due to landslides. See Indian Rail for more information.
Self-driving is not recommended in Sikkim - not only are Indian drivers fond of overtaking each other at breakneck speed on the very narrow roads, but the hairpin bends and narrow tracks in this mountainous region can be hair-raising, to say the least. If you want to travel by road it's worth hiring a car (a 4x4 is preferable) and driver who knows the area well.
Travelling by bus is a cheap way to get around, but they can be very overcrowded and uncomfortable. They link all towns and cities, and you can always pick up a rickshaw at the bus stop for short hops to your hotel. There are private and state buses, each with various categories of speed (from 'superfast', which is slow, to 'superexpress', which is quite fast) and of comfort (from 'semi-luxe', which is cramped and hard, to 'deluxe', which has 1 fewer seat per row, seat padding and air conditioning).
There are taxi-cars, with or without air conditioning, and a large number of auto-rickshaws (noisy but nippy three-wheelers) on the roads. Agree to a rate before starting your journey and make sure the driver has a clear idea of your destination. Fares are cheap with various small extras. Some drivers try to stop off at shops where they get commissions on your purchases, while others fend off all touts and take you straight to your destination.
Almost every non-Indian needs a tourist visa from their embassy or consulate. There are 3- and 6-month multiple-entry and single-entry visas (the cost is the same), and they can no longer be issued the same day - so plan ahead! Note you may need a permit and a guide to visit nature reserves and national parks; these are normally available locally.
The most common health problem for visitors is diarrhoea. It's important to drink a lot of bottled water (tap water isn't safe to drink) and to be aware of what, and where, you are eating. Choose fruits that you can peel and avoid fresh salads (or wash them yourself with purified water) and ice made from tap water. Be cautious of ice cream, cold milk and undercooked fish or meat. If you experience diarrhoea it's very important to replace lost fluids and, in the case of severe diarrhoea, lost minerals and salts (it’s a good idea to go prepared with some oral rehydration salts). If you become ill your hotel should be able to recommend a good local doctor or clinic. You may want to consider carrying an emergency treatment pack including needles and syringes.
It's important to seek medical advice at least 6 weeks before departure as some vaccinations may require more than one injection. Make sure you're up to date with vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus and polio. Vaccinations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid are also advisable (note that the current vaccine against cholera offers very low protection and isn't usually recommended). Consider vaccinations against rabies and Japanese B encephalitis if you're planning to stay longer than a couple of weeks. Sikkim is largely free from malaria, but it is present in neighbouring states and most other areas of India, so ask your doctor to advise on whether anti-malarial medication is needed. Mosquito bites are common, so insect repellent is essential; we recommend using one which ontains DEET.
If you're walking from village to village, make sure you have any medication you need in your hand luggage, as your main luggage will be transported ahead by porters.
Many staff are paid very low salaries and expect to be tipped. In hotels and restaurants, 10% is normal. In other situations, where there is no bill, a few rupees will suffice.