One of the best hikes in the world
The Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna massif has one peak over 8,000m (26,000 ft), thirteen peaks over 7,000m (23,000 ft), and sixteen more over 6,000m (20,000 ft). It’s 55km (34 mi) long.
An amazing part of the world.
The Annapurna Circuit is circumambulating the massif — 160–260km (100-161mi) depending on where you start and finish. Almost everyone hikes from east to west.
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.
If you want to hear about the downsides, watch this video review before reading further – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Read Halfway Anywhere – Why You Should NOT Hike the Annapurna Circuit
We’ve done it twice. And — increasingly — it’s gotten better for mountain biking, worse for hiking.
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
- Mar – May next best
- 15-18 days are recommended, 3 weeks would allow a number of rest / illness / side-trip / delay days
- ACAP permit, TIMS card required
- 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 simple lodges
- Annapurna is not inexpensive, but it’s more expensive than in the past. Many hikers run out of cash. Budget at least $30 / day / person and carry more for emergencies.
- 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, trek Annapurna, but avoid crossing the high pass
- wifi and electricity 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 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
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. If trekking independently do spend as much money as you can with local people. Tip when happy with service.
- crossing Thorung La can be a struggle even if you are acclimatized. Bad weather sometimes causes a backlog of hikers. Some turn back rather than cross.
- independent hikers need to manage their own health and medical issues. Bring a first aid kit.
- you MUST bring footwear you love and trust. Almost everyone brings walking shoes as well as guest house shoes for the evening.
- some buy Diamox in Nepal. It’s called Diamox Sequels in the USA.
- some even carry a course of antibiotics, just in case
- Dengue Fever reached Nepal 2004. Cases increasing ever since. Tourists advised to avoid mosquito bites.
- in an emergency, consider flying out on commercial flights from airports in Jomsom or Manang
- Waterborne diseases are a big concern in Nepal. Treat water. Don’t trust that water used in restaurants is safe. If worried, order a “sizzler“. Your meal arrives very hot, covered with gravy, sometimes in flame. Order vegetable. Meat cannot always be stored safely before cooking. Refrigeration in Nepal is compromised by electricity cuts.
- garbage is a problem in some sections
- 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 route to yourself.
- both men and women are advised to wear modest clothing respecting local culture
- 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.
- there are a number of emergency phones at ACAP posts around the circuit
- mobile phone service access rapidly improving. Get a SIM card from Nepal Telecom Namaste. Data inexpensive.
- 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
- if choking on dust from passing vehicles turns you off, choose one of the other Nepal hikes instead
If not Annapurna, then where else in Nepal?
Or climb directly to famed Annapurna Base Camp – Trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary <trip>
Visa on arrival for most nations 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. The visa on arrival process is much faster and simpler than in the past. No need to bring passport photos as machines now take your mugshot photo.
In 2019 while on the trail we spent about $30 / day. No alcohol.
You might budget $40 / day / person to be on the safe side.
Very frugal hikers might average $20 / day.
Costs for bed and food tend to increase the further you hike from a road.
Carry more cash than you need for your planned trip in case of emergency. Bring Nepalese rupees. It’s a cash economy in the mountains.
Happily, an ATM is available in Jomsom to top up, though it’s said to be unreliable.
In 2019 the most we could take out of a bank machine at one time in Pokhara was 35000 NPR (about $300). We used Nabil Bank machines withdrawing directly from our bank cards, not credit card, to reduce the transaction fee cost and avoid interest.
Independents need to buy their own hiking permits:
- 2019 $20 (NPR 2,000) / person TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) card.
- 2019 $30 (NPR 3,000)/ person Annapurna Conservation Area Park (ACAP) permit – single entry
It’s easiest to purchase permits in advance of your hike:
- Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu
- Nepal Tourism Board in Pokhara
In the past you needed to bring passport photos. In 2019 those offices take your photo while there. No cost.
Evacuation by helicopter is expensive. Payment must be guaranteed in advance. Bring your credit card, just in case.
Consider purchasing good insurance coverage for this trip. World Nomads, for example, offers policies covering hikers up to 3000m, 4500m or 6000m.
In 2019 we bought 30 day visas for Nepal. And World Nomads insurance for those same 30 days.
Consult a guidebook long in advance to decide exactly what route is best for you.
Altitude sickness is an important consideration. Do you have enough days to acclimatize?
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.
- if you have extra time and energy, consider adding sidetrips including very challenging Tilicho Lake
- we once added a side trip up to the Dhaulagiri icefall — immediately finding ourselves scrambling an 8000m peak! (This is somewhat dangerous, of course. But fun.)
- though 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.
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.
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.
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 or lodge en route. 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.
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.
Check the website of one such porter guide to give you an idea of how it works –Devendra Pun
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
Most international hikers arrive via Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathamandu. It’s not very good.
Due to severe traffic congestion and the airport running out of its maximum capacity, the government of Nepal decided to construct more international airports, notably, Nijgadh International Airport, Pokhara International Airport and Gautam Buddha Airport.
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 buy a tourist visa at the airport
- a couple of days sightseeing in Kathmandu or Pokhara is standard 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. In 2019 we flew into Kathmandu … walked over to the domestic terminal … and flew directly to Pokhara. That worked well.
- you can rent or buy gear in Kathmandu or Pokhara if needed, though selection is limited
- flying Kathmandu – Pokhara is recommended to shorten the drive to the trailhead, and 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
- consider bypassing the traditional Annapurna “roads”, trying some of the new “Natural Annapurna Trekking Trail” (new NATT) alternate trails
Best Trekking Guidebooks
Check to be sure you’re buying the most recent edition. We normally purchase a paper copy for advanced research at home. And a digital copy for use on the trail.
- Cicerone Annapurna: A Trekker’s Guide (2017) – 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 (2011) – 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
- Trailblazer Nepal Trekking & the Great Himalaya Trail – (2015) Robin Boustead
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.
- 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
Online Maps / Apps
In 2019 most hikers are relying on mobile phone apps. We used the free Maps.me app and found it sufficient for the Circuit.
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
Click PLAY or watch The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (2018) on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch a flyover on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube. (30min)
Some of the other best hikes in the Annapurna region include:
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