Annapurna Circuit

World → AsiaNepalAnnapurna Circuit

High altitude trekking is dangerousOct 2014 Nepal snowstorm disaster 

One of the best hikes in the world

Annapurna Circuit

Hikes in this area include:

The Annapurna Circuit route is circumambulating the Annapurna massif — 160–260km (100-161mi) depending on where you start and finish.

annapurna-circuit-map

We once had it listed one of our top 10 treks in the world, but road construction has degraded the experience. On the other hand, Stingy Nomads determined only 68 / 260km were road walking. And only 24km were on busy roads. Most hikers still enjoy the experience overall.

The biggest danger (aside from being run over by a gravel truck) is 5,400m (17,716ft) Thorung La.

AT A GLANCE

 

NepalMost hikers think of Kathmandu and Everest when they hear the word Nepal, but Annapurna (close to Pokhara) has been a more popular destination.

  • trek between two of the highest mountains on Earth, Annapurna and Dhaulagiri
  • Oct – Nov best months
  • Apr – May next best
  • 15-18 days are recommended, 3 weeks would allow a number of rest / illness / side-trip / delay days
  • many hire a guide, porter(s) and/or pack animal(s) but it’s fairly easy to do independently
  • guided trekkers stay in lodges, or sprawling tent encampments
  • independent hikers buy food as they go and stay in comfortable “lodges”
  • Annapurna is not inexpensive, but it’s more expensive than in the past. Many hikers run out of cash.
  • en route schools might ask for donations
  • be clear — you might have to QUIT if you suffer altitude sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS).
  • if risk of altitude sickness deters you, do the Jomsom Trek instead
  • wifi available at most guest houses at no extra cost

Why We Like This Hike

  • you walk from lush sub-tropic to the highest mountains in the world
  • surreal light in the arid Trans-Himalayan region
  • wonderful cultural experiences with the Tibetan and mountain people
  • Buddhist temples, architecture and tradition

Annapurna

  • wonderful photographic opportunities
  • Thorung La 5416m (17,769ft) is the highest altitude ever reached by most hikers

-Thorung_La

  • very little gear is needed
  • you can easily get pack weight down to 10kg (22lbs)
  • walk with no tent, stove or food. Stay in lodges, eat in simple restaurants. 
  • safe and easy to hike solo
  • no need to speak Nepali, only English
  • food is good and quite safe (compared with Kathmandu)
  • option to cycle Muktinath to Tatopani to finish the adventure

  • Kagbeni, the gateway to Lo (Mustang) is wonderful
  • spending time with local “entrepreneurs” in their tea houses and lodges
  • cheaper dorm beds as well as private rooms available
  • a number of hotsprings en route
  • walking the Kali Gandaki, the world’s “deepest” river valley, 5500 to 6800m lower than the two peaks on either side. Tributary to the Ganges.
  • Himalayan Rescue Association operates out of Manang during the trekking season

child Kagbeni

Considerations

  • you might hear rumours that trekkers are required to hire at least one Nepali staff member (a porter or guide) per group. That’s been proposed in the past, never put in place. Even if trekking independently, do spend as much money as you can with the local people. Tip when happy with service.
  • crossing Thorung La can be a struggle even if you are acclimatized as air is thin. Bad weather sometimes causes a backlog of hikers.
  • some buy Diamox in Nepal. It’s called Diamox Sequels in the USA.
  • some even bring a course of antibiotics, just in case
  • garbage is a problem in some sections
  • footwear is critical on long hikes where you have no chance for replacement
  • sunglasses / eye protection needed
  • this is not a wilderness hike. The Annapurna Circuit is mostly a road! On the other hand, by departing early in the morning, or hiking late during the afternoon, you can get the trail to yourself. We even did a side trip up to the Dhaulagiri icefall  — immediately finding ourselves scrambling an 8000m peak! (This is somewhat dangerous, of course. But fun.)
  • both men and women are advised to wear modest clothing respecting local culture
  • water should be treated
  • Please do not buy bottled water on the trek
  • “squater” pit toilets wer the norm but western sit-down toilets are increasingly available. Bring your own toilet paper.
  • many hikers run out of money, tempted by pizza, beer, German bakeries and everything else. Almost everyone spends more money than they expect.
  • evacuation by helicopter is expensive. Payment must be guaranteed in advance.
  • you normally can fly out on commercial flights from airports in Jomsom and Manang
  • there are a number of emergency phones at ACAP posts around the circuit
  • bring a tiny combination padlock for your door in lodges
  • the biggest reason NOT to trek the Annapurna Circuit is degradation due to road construction
  • Australian tour operator Peregrine Adventures, for example, dropped the adventure due to traffic on the road and building activity

Last Footfall in Nepal is a 2010 NY Times article by Ethan-Todras Whitehill:

… by 2012 a road will have been built on this path, destroying this experience and, according to many, placing the last nail in the coffin of what was once the greatest trek on earth. …

We checked with Andrew Ostrowski on what he saw on their subsequent trek on the Circuit and up to Base Camp:

… As to the road to Jomson, it’s there and all the way to Muktinath with larger trucks, jeeps, bikes, etc. traveling there every 15 minutes or so.

… We hiked to Jomson and then took a bus to Ghasa … it’s scary ride !!!, and continue walking along the road to Tatopani from where we hiked towards Sanctuary/Base Camp.

This road is in use for quite some time, I guess for some few years now, however it’s often damaged by some mud slides and some sections need to be walked across for a couple of hundred meters over the slides to continue on as was a case with us. Just a week or so before our scary bus ride there was an accident when a jeep with 12 people in it went over the edge and rolled down into the river, all died.

The road on the eastern side of Annapurna trek, leading someday to Manang is still under construction and only some easier sections are semi-complete, we were stopped a couple of times and needed to wait until rock blasting on the opposite side of the valley was completed before being allowed to continue on …

This road leads over extreme and steep terrain and my guess is it will take another 10-20 years to complete, if ever, not to mention constant rock/mud slides in this area. All work seems to be done by manual labour, no heavy equipment seen around, just blasting/scaling crews visible. …

Here’s one of Andrew’s photos from the ‘Circuit’ …

If not Annapurna, then where else in Nepal?

Our first recommendation would be Everest. The 3 Passes Route <trip>, if you are up to the challenge. That’s one of our TOP 10 hikes in the world.

A newer alternative is Manaslu Circuit <site> <trip>. Guides mandatory.

Or climb directly to famed Annapurna Base CampTrekking the Annapurna Sanctuary <trip>.

Cost

  • in 2018 an independent hiker could survive on $22 USD / day. In 2019 we spent about $30 and bought no alcohol.
  • Happily, an ATM is available in Jomsom to top up, though it’s said to be unreliable.
  • Annapurna Conservation Area Project entry permit is required to hike. Most buy it from ACAP in Kathmandu or from the ACAP office in Pokhara . It costs about US$30 in 2019.  You can also buy the permit in Ghauri Ghat, but you’re safer to pick it up in one of the two big cities.
  • there are steep fines if you are caught without a permit or if yours expires while on the trail. This often happens as hikers enjoying the experience stay longer than they originally planned.
  • a newer, additional requirement is the TIMS (Trekker Information Management System) permit ($20 in 2019). That’s easier to get. But get it as early as possible.
  • don’t use bribery as a back-up plan if caught without permits. There’s a good chance it won’t work. And you can get in serious trouble.

Visa on arrival at Tribhuvan International, Kathmandu in 2019:

Multiple entry 15 days US$ 30
Multiple entry 30 days US$ 50
Multiple entry 90 days US$ 125

You can pay with credit card or other major currencies.

Routes

Consult a guidebook long in advance to decide exactly what route is best for you.

Stingy Nomads posted a good summary on routes.

click for larger version
click for larger version
  • most walk counter-clockwise,  making the pass easier
  • if you do not have enough time for the entire Circuit, do just the the Jomsom Trek (9 days, easy) or Annapurna Base Camp (10 days, difficult). There are many more options, of course.
  • though very popular, it is normally a bad idea to fly up to high airports in Jomsom 2760m (9055ft) and, even worse, Manang 3420m (11,220ft), due to risk of altitude sickness. But flying out is recommended though you may be delayed a day or more due to bad weather.
Manang
Manang
  • Be leery of suggestions to bypass Thorung La and go via Tilicho instead. People have died in avalanche on that route. It’s much more dangerous and difficult than it looks.

Trekking Guides

It is tempting to sign on with an organized international tour from abroad. Many are are excellent. You have a choice of camping or “teahouse” (lodge) accommodation.

Talking to tour group hikers on the trail, however, a good percentage once there wish they had done it on their own. There are a number of downsides to being locked into the group itinerary.

(The most embarrassed people you will meet have porters carrying tables, chairs, dining tents and other creature comforts. Stay home if you need this kind of catering. )

Once in Nepal there are hundreds of local companies eager to sign you on. Some are great, others unreliable. We would join up only with a company for which we had personal references.

Check out a few of your guided options. We cannot recommend any in particular. This is simply a starting point for your research.

wikitravel:

Only TAAN registered trekking agencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara can legally organize treks and provide the services of a guide and/or porter with insurance. Be aware that no one else, no hotel, no street broker, no nice person you just met, not even a trekking guide is legally authorized to organize a trek. During the main seasons the agencies run regular group treks, both tea-house and camping styles …

If you do not sign on with a tour, you can still hire your own local guide or porter at any village en route. We like this option better.

guide will show you around, but not carry your gear. They may be Nepali or foreign. Many hikers are happier to be led — though you certainly can do the entire Circuit on your own without a guide. A good guide may enrich the trip for you.

porter guide from the Trekking Workers’ Association of Nepal is a local who speaks English who may also carry a limited load, perhaps 15kg (33lbs). You can hire a porter guide if and when you need one on the trail for something like US$20 / day plus tip (2019). There is often an insurance fee added.

Here’s the website of one such porter guide to give you an idea:

Certainly, trekkers regularly have trouble with guides:

  • some can be insistent on where they want you to stop each night. This sometimes leads to conflict.
  • they ask for more money, or gear they “forgot” to bring
  • they may want to change / shorten the itinerary
  • they may ask you hire an additional porter once you get on the trail

But getting a good porter guide is a good choice, we feel. Get some help for a day, a week, or longer. Decide as you go. Be sure anyone you hire has written references. A personal referral is even better.

As we read on Devendra Pun’s blog:

Taking a guide takes the hassle out of trekking in Nepal. A good guide can be a great fellow trekker.

Logistics

Most trekkers fly in to Tribhuvan International in Kathmandu. The visa on arrival process is much faster and simpler than in the past. Bring visa photos with you, if possible, and you can apply with pen and paper. Alternatively, there are now machines for online application – the machine takes a mugshot photo.

If you sign on with a guided trip, logistics will be organized for you. This section is for hikers traveling to Nepal independently.

  • most hikers fly to Kathmandu, buying a tourist visa at the airport
  • a couple of days sightseeing in Kathmandu or Pokhara is standar while you adjust to the time zone change and while waiting to purchase your trekking permit(s) (photos required, but you can get them on site). Don’t stay too long in polluted Kathmandu city as there’s a chance you’ll get SICK from the air and water.
  • you can rent or buy gear in Kathmandu if needed, though selection is limited
  • flying Kathmandu – Pokhara is recommended, often one of the trip highlights (sit on the mountain side of the plane). The ground alternatives are long, slow and problematic 
  • start the Circuit low, backtracking if the effects of altitude are too severe.
  • if you run out of time, you probably will be able to fly out from Jomsom or Manang to Pokhara
  • or, if the Circuit is not enough challenge, you can extend the trip by adding a visit to Annapurna Base Camp. (We did this. It was much tougher than we expected, lulled into complacency on the easy Circuit. The Basecamp is getting easier, however, with the addition of more Lodges.)
  • consider bypassing the traditional Annapurna “roads”, trying some of the new  “Natural Annapurna Trekking Trail” (new NATT) alternate trails
  • TrekkingPartners.com (find others to hike with you)

Local Information

Best Trekking Guidebooks

Check to be sure you’re buying the most recent edition.

Best Travel Guidebooks

Other Recommended Books

Get your guidebooks in advance. Most of these will be available in Nepal. There are great bookshops in Kathmandu.

Best Maps

It’s not easy to get lost on the Circuit. Guidebook maps are plenty good enough. Pick up the FREE Around Annapurna Trekking Profile in Nepal

Online Maps / Apps

In 2019 most hikers are relying on mobile phone apps. We used free Maps.me and found it sufficient for the Circuit.

Best Web Pages

Best Trip Reports

Movies

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube. (30min)

Click PLAY or watch it on Vimeo.

Check our blog for posts tagged “Annapurna”.

Questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment on this page. Our editors will reply.

18 Replies to “Annapurna Circuit”

  1. I’m sad to see Annapurna knocked out of the top 10. I hiked it again in 2013 and frankly the road was not a big deal at all. In fact, it just sped through the type-A personalities, leaving the entire trek much more pleasant.

  2. We had a wonderful experience in trekking with an independent trekking guide Mr. Sanjib Adhikari who was very knowledgeable, friendly and motivated us to keep trekking! The accommodations he arranged for us were very comfortable and the food was great. We will definitely recommend him to our friends and other travelers.

    -Windy & Wandy,Newzealand

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  4. If you’re looking for the perfect week-long trek, a little off-the-beaten path and with great views, this trek is a great choice. It combines the best of what Nepal has to offer: amazing mountain views, pastoral villages, and rice fields layered on top of each other, descending down into the valley. The best part is that so few people know about it. The route follows a local trail that takes you down into the valley north of Ghorepani, before climbing up another ridge, known as “Khopra Ridge”. Without a doubt, one of the best short treks in Nepal.
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  5. If You are looking challenging trek. Annapurna Dhaulagiri Trek goes north of the Himalaya, circling the eighth highest mountain in the world. High and remote, the route was off-limits until recently. It is a journey through wild country; a real mountain high.

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