Before making any plans to travel to Nepal, get the most recent update on the 2015 Nepal earthquake disaster.
One of the best hikes in the world
The Annapurna Circuit route circumambulating the Annapurna massif varies between perhaps 160–260km (100-161mi) depending on where you start and finish.
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.
The biggest danger (aside from being run over by a gravel truck) is 5,400m (17,716ft) Thorung La.
AT A GLANCE
Most 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 money.
- there’s a slight chance you will need to pay an additional unofficial “trekking permit” fee or “donation” to the Communist Party of Nepal while on the trail
- be clear — you might have to QUIT if by bad luck or rushed ascent 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
- wonderful photographic opportunities
- Thorung La 5416m (17,769ft) is the highest altitude ever reached by most hikers
- 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 lovely restaurants. Books are even available on the trail!
- safe and easy to hike solo
- no need to speak Nepali, only English
- food is good and quite safe (compared with Kathmandu)
- 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
- 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 generously when happy with service.
- crossing Thorung La can be a struggle even if you are acclimatized as the air is thin. Bad weather sometimes causes a backlog of hikers on either side of the pass.
- some hikers 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
- some hikers weary of bartering
- 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
- we treated water with a filter but boiling is even better.
- Please do not buy bottled water on the trek
- “squater” pit toilets are the norm
- 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, guaranteed in advance
- you normally can fly out on inexpensive commercial flights from airports in Jomsom and Manang
- there are a number of emergency phones at ACAP posts around the circuit as well as those privately owned
- bring a combination padlock for the 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
- on the other hand, you can now mountain bike from Muktinath or Jomsom, turning road construction in a positive thing for tourism
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?
Or climb directly to famed Annapurna Base Camp – Trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary <trip>.
- in 2018 an independent hiker could survive on $22 USD / day
- 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$25 (Rupees 2200 in 2012). You can also buy the permit in Ghauri Ghat, but your 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 ($20 in 2012). That’s easier to get. But get it as early as possible.
- don’t use bribery as a back-up plan if caught without permits. There’s a good chance it won’t work. And you can get in serious trouble.
Visa on arrival at Tribhuvan International, Kathmandu:
Multiple entry 15 days US$ 25
Multiple entry 30 days US$ 40
Multiple entry 90 days US$ 100
Starting 2014 you can pay with credit card or other major currencies.
Consult a guidebook long in advance to decide exactly what route is best for you.
Stingy Nomads posted a good summary on routes.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Great Treks
- Annapurna Circuit – Tenzing Norgay Adventures
- Visit Himalayas Trek
- Trekking, Mountaineering and Expedition Agents – VisitNepal.com
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. We like this option better.
A 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. We did the hike in 1998 independently, but by the finish wished we had hired a guide, at least for parts of the Circuit.
A 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:
- Devendra Pun – local guide
Certainly, trekkers regularly have trouble with guides:
- are sometimes 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.
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 is typical while you adjust to Nepal and while waiting to purchase your trekking permit (photos required, but you can get them on site). Don’t stay too long in the smoggy city as there’s a good 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)
- 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)
Best Trekking Guidebooks
- Cicerone Annapurna: A Trekker’s Guide (2013) – Bob Gibbons and Siân Pritchard Jones
- Annapurna Sanctuary and Circuit (updated 2013) – Alonzo Lucius Lyons
- Trekking the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Sanctuary in the Nepal Himalaya (2012) – Mr Ian P Johnson
- Trekking the Annapurna Circuit including new NATT-trails which avoid the road (2011) – Andrées de Ruiter & Prem Rai
- Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya (2009) – for overview
- Trailblazer Nepal Trekking & the Great Himalaya Trail – (2011) Robin Boustead
Best Travel Guidebooks
- Lonely Planet Nepal (2012)
Other Recommended Books
Get your guidebooks in advance. Most of these will be available in Nepal. There are great bookshops in Kathmandu.
- A Beard In Nepal (2012) – Fiona Roberts
- Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal (2011) – Conor Grennan
- A Nepalese Journey: The Essence of the Annapurna Circuit (2002) – Andrew Stevenson
- The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen
- Travelers’ Tales Nepal – Rajendra S. Khadka
- Nepal Trek – A Woman Alone (2006) – Kay Petterson Shaw
- Annapurna Circuit – Himalayan Journey (1998) -Andrew Stevenson
- Annapurna – Maurice Herzog, 1950 first ascent, climbing classic
- True Summit: What Really Happened on the Legendary Ascent of Annapurna (2002) – David Roberts, 2002
- Conquistadors of the Useless: From the Alps to Annapurna – Lionel Terray, climbing classic
- Annapurna South Face – Bonington & Willis, climbing classic
- Annapurna: 50 Years of Expeditions in the Death Zone – Reinhold Messner, 2000
- Annapurna: A Woman’s Place – Arlene Blum, 1998
- East of Lo Monthang – Peter Matthiessen, 1995
- The Ascent of Rum Doodle – W.E. Bowman
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
- Annapurna: Trekking Map and Complete Guide – 162 pages (2012) – Partha S Banerjee
Best Web Pages
- Stingy Nomads – Complete Guide to Trekking Annapurna Circuit(2019)
- ramblin’ boy – Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit: Is It Still Worth Doing?
- Mountain IQ – Annapurna
- Nepal’s shrinking Annapurna Circuit (2011)
- Kathmandu Post – Chame Road, a harbinger of development (2012)
- wikivoyage – Annapurna Circuit
- wikipedia – Annapurna Circuit
- wikitravel – Annapurna Circuit
- virtual tour of the Annapurna Circuit – Raimon Bach
- TrekkingPartners.com (find others to hike with you)
Best Trip Reports
- Stingy Nomads – Annapurna Circuit – March 2019
- John Hayes – Annapurna Circuit – March 2012
- So Many Places – Annapurna Circuit in pictures 2013
- be my travel muse – Annapurna Circuit: Too Beautiful to Miss 2014
- Backpacker Magazine THE PERFECT CIRCLE: HIKING THE ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT (2009) – Shannon Davis
- Backpacker Magazine Hiking The Annapurna Circuit: Q&A With Shannon Davis (2009)
- Mark Boyd – Finding Solace On The Annapurna Circuit
- Annapurna Circuit in winter (Dec to Jan 2011) – Kaker
- Trekking our arses off in Nepal – Tubby, 2006
- Trek Around Annapurna photos – H.S. de Jong
- Annapurna via Tilicho lake – Andrées de Ruiter
- hiking/biking Annapurna – Rick McCharles, 2013
- Annapurna Sanctuary – Rick McCharles, 1998
- The Hiking Life – Annapurna Circuit, Nepal 2008
- The Hiking Life – Annapurna Sanctuary, Nepal, 2008
- Annapurna Circuit flickr photos – “most interesting”
- Annapurna Circuit 2005 flickr photos – Dey Alexander
- Nepal flickr photos – Andrew Castellano
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