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HIKING THE ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT
- WHY, WHEN, WHERE & HOW -
Hiking along the Annapurna Circuit Trek on the Himalayas, Nepal
WHY HIKING THE ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT
Stating from jungle-like landscapes with impressive waterfalls and small indigenous villages, the Annapurna Circuit Trek will take you through winding rural valleys with towering snow-covered peaks in the background to close-up of glaciers and alpine lakes to stuck-in-time villages up to 3,700 m and above until the long-awaited Thorong La (5,416 m), the highest trekking pass in the world. Don’t forget the passage through the desert of Nepal and the side trip to Poonhill for a fabulous sunrise over the highest mountain in the range, Dhaulagiri (8,190 m), followed by Annapurna South and the famous Fishtail Mountain.
If the above is not enough to convince you to explore this trek, then imagine yourself enjoying good food with a cup of fabulous hot tea and good company close to the fireplace after a fantastic day out hiking. Or imagine yourself waking up with the sunrise coloring the mountains outside your window and breathing fresh cool air while locals are getting ready for their daily routine.
This is Nepal at its best – nature and culture intermingled together to offer visitors a very unique unforgettable trekking experience!
Find here below what you need to know to organise this fantastic trek – when, accommodation, food, guides/porters, and much more.
Find out more about visiting Nepal HERE
Local child along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
WHEN TO GO
Most websites and agencies will recommend you to walk the Annapurna Circuit between end of September and beginning of December (Autumn) and between March and May (Spring) and for very good reasons. These are the driest seasons in this area and days are usually warm and sunny with clear skies and amazing views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. September to December is the peak time for visiting while March to May is the second best period with all flowers blossoming.
Unfortunately, Summer (May to September) on the Annapurna range is monsoon season and therefore very rainy and muddy and lots of leeches are ready to feast on you. Winter (December to March) is very cold and snowy and snow storms are not infrequent.
Blue sky at Throng La High Camp (4,925 m) along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
WHAT TO BRING
We can only give advice on what to bring during Autumn season, however, we have been advised Spring is very much alike to the October/November period. Below is our personal gear list for 17 days trekking – we tried to be as light and efficient as possible, and we have been very lucky with the weather (sunny the whole way with only one day of rain!) though we might have done it with some extra layers during the night and on the Thorong La. Because of the very fine weather we had, we could wash our clothes every couples of days after reaching a new destination and they were getting dry in one afternoon.
1 pair of high/low ankle mountain boots (Ahnu)
1 pair of flip-flops (to use inside the tea houses)
1 light rain/wind proof jacket (Kathmandu)
Trekking pants (long and possibly with removable bottoms for warmer days)
1 warm light-weight jacket (Icebreaker)
2 long-sleeves layers
3 fast drying t-shirts
3 hundies / 3 sport bras / 3 pairs of hiking socks (an extra warm one if you usually get cold feet at night)
1 pair of gloves (for cold nights and Thorong La)
1 beanie / 1 scarf / 1 fleece headband
1 sleeping bag and 1 sleeping bag liner (if you are not tenting, tea houses always provide at least one warm blanket – so the sleeping bag and liner are mostly for extra warm, comfort and cleanliness)
1 headlamp / 1 torch (blackouts are common at tea house and we had a couple of days when we woke up during the night to start walking)
toothbrush / toothpaste / small bottle of shower gel medicinal (for headache, vomit, diarrhoea, fever) – Mount Trails (the company with which we hiked) also gave us homeopathic coca pills which we haven’t used at high altitudes
1 light-weight fast drying towel
energy bars / chocolate / biscuits (you can always buy along the treks, however it gets more and more expensive the higher you go)
LEARN MORE ABOUT CULTURAL TABOOS IN NEPAL - Click HERE!
Animal encounter along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
PERMITS & CHECK POSTS
Before starting your trek you will need to obtain two trekking permits - the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP – NPR2,000 for non-Nepalese) and TIMS Card (Tourism Information Management System – NPR1,000 per person) available at agents and through the official Nepal Tourism Board offices in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Besisahar.
If you booked your trek with an organized tour, the company will take care of these permits for you.
You will need two passport size photographs and need to fill in an application form (you can download it at this website, plus you can get more information on the application).
Along the Annapurna Circuit there are several check-posts where you have to check in. All your data will be inserted in Nepal visitors’ database, where they can be accessed for park management purposes or in case of accidents and/or natural calamities.
Suspended bridge along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
ACCOMMODATION & FOOD
Thanks to the recent construction of roads in the Manang and Mustang valleys, many villages have experienced a general improvement in the quality of life – food and building material are more readily accessible and building of new structures (homestays, tea houses, restaurants and so on) has become easier and more affordable. You can notice the difference when the road ends and only trekking trails connect one village to the other – less buildings, hence less accommodation choice and less shops with more expensive prices.
In any case, the quality of meals has been extremely consistent and great throughout the circuit with only one exception in Muktinath. On the other hand, the cost of meals have varied a lot – we took the price of Dahl Bath (the staple meal in Nepal) as a reference and from NPR350 per dish in the valley the price increases to NPR700 in the high camps.
Meals are not included in the accommodation price, and all tea houses expect you to eat at least 2 meals at their restaurants, alternatively you have to pay the room triple the price.
Lunch with a view along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
As for accommodation, our guide made the choice for us every time, however, we ended up in accommodations chosen also by self-guided hikers in many occasions. If you opt for private rooms, these are usually basic, with one double or twin bed, and shared toilet (between NPR200 and NPR1,000 per room per night – the higher you go the more expensive it will be). If you opt for dormitories, the price decreases considerably (between NPR100 and NPR500 per person per night), especially when you are at high altitudes.
TIP – Always try to choose rooms which receive lots of sun light during the day so you can dry your clothes on the clothing line and the room may be less humid during the night. Also ask for an extra blanket if you feel only one blanket if not enough – they usually don’t charge for it.
Hot shower generally comes with a charge of NPR150/200 per person and can be extremely hot or lukewarm with a tiny sprinkle. They are not recommended at high altitudes, just because you can get cold very easily inside these not-insulated bathrooms and colds and flus are absolutely to avoid at high altitudes – hard breathing can become a problem.
Toilet are rarely a sit-down affair, expect pit toilets in most places.
Bring toilet paper with you (or buy it along the way) as only very few accommodations will offer it.
Breakfast time along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
FOOD TIPS – If you are very hungry, order Dhal Bhat as you always get a bis after you finish eating the first portion and it is usually a bigger portion than other dishes. As much as we love Mo:mo’s, typical Nepalese dumplings, these were sometimes not to enough to satisfy our hungry stomachs. As a guide told us, “Dhal Bhat power, 24 hours”.
For breakfast try Tsampa porridge, an alternative to oats porridge, Tsampa is obtained through roasting barley or wheat and cooked as porridge – add apple to it.
Ask your guide or follow your guts when ordering meat – it is usually not recommended as, especially at very high altitudes, meat is transferred on the mount of donkeys or yaks in unhygienic conditions and it is usually the cause of upset stomachs.
Yak cheese is delicious and very fatty, great for hiking energy – however, the same rule for meat applies to cheese. Be careful and try to eat only cooked food, not raw.
Try to avoid drinking alcohol at high altitudes – it causes dehydration faster than at low elevations. Instead, drink lots of tea in all its variations – our favourite was hot lemon or lemon ginger honey – so good!!
Learn more about health & safety tips in Nepal in our blog post here.
Beautiful lunch at Manang during the acclimatisation day along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
ELECTRICITY & WIFI
Electricity and wi-fi are offered by all accommodations, at least in the main dining area. Electricity is usually supplied by hydro-electric power and there are frequent blackouts, sometimes for the entire night, sometimes for only few hours. Many accommodations have an alternative source powered by solar energy so there will still be some lights on.
TIP - Bring a head torch or camping lantern in case of blackouts and for early morning starts.
Some accommodations have wall sockets in the room, so electricity comes for free, especially at lower altitudes. In other places you can only find sockets in the main dining room with free electricity; in other tea houses at high altitude (such as the base camps) you have to pay both for charging your electronic devices (approx. NPR100 for one hour) and for internet connection (between NPR150 and 200 per day).
However, do not expect wi-fi to function properly at all times. Sometimes “No sunshine. No wi-fi” as electricity is solar-powered, so midday becomes the best hour for functioning internet connection
TIP – Sometimes you will need to use your mobile data when wi-fi is not working properly. If you are going to buy a Nepalese SIM card, we recommend you choose NTC over NCELL sim card as NTC signal is pretty strong along the whole Annapurna Circuit while NCELL only worked in very few villages at high altitudes.
Tilicho Lake side trip along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
There are no ATMs along the trek after Beshisahar (you can only exchange US dollars in Jomsom or Chame), so bring with you enough money to pay for the entire trek. Try to budget for NPR1,000 per day for basic accommodation and 3 standard meals. However, calculate to spend a little extra if you are planning to stop for tea / afternoon breaks along the way or for extra food.
Gangapurna Lake and Glacier along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
Drinking water on the Himalayas is extremely important – it is highly recommended to drink at least 3 to 4 l per day at high altitudes to avoid the risk of dehydration. First, you are hiking all day and losing lots of liquids through sweating and breathing at a higher rate than at sea level (some studies says twice as much); secondly, dehydration can mask or worsen the symptoms of altitude sickness (read more about AMS below).
Though water on the Himalayas may seem safe to drink in most villages as it comes directly from the rivers and lakes, tourists are not recommended to drink it without having treated it properly as it might be contaminated by bacteria or viruses coming from animals’ feces.
Before leaving Kathmandu we bought a small bottle of Pyush, liquid chlorine to purify water, for only NPR20. This small bottle lasted for our whole time along the trek (we purified approx.. 4/5 litres per day) and saved us considerable money. Water is always available from the bathroom taps or from the kitchen and you only need 2/3 drops of Pyush per litre to purify water.
There are many shops which sell bottled water (approx. NPR150 per 500ml bottle) or some purified water refilling stations (NPR40 for 1 l refill) along the way, however, if you make the calculations, a bottle of Pyush is much more convenient than refilling your bottle every time or, worst, consuming lots of plastic bottles (which authorities on the Himalayas are trying to avoid).
Tea break along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
Transportation to and from the Annapurna Circuit is pretty easy to organise - it very much depends on how you want to tackle the trek as it is a loop. The majority of people hike the Annapurna Circuit anti-clockwise as hiking the trek to reach the pass of Thorong La coming from Throng Pedi is somewhat easier than coming from Muktinath.
So most people start from Bensisahar where the local or tourist bus from Kathmandu (between NPR550 to 700, 6 to 7 hours) arrives. Kathmandu to Besisahar bus leaves early in the morning at around 6-7 am every day from Kathmandu Buspark.
From Bensisahar some people decide to take a private jeep (sharing it with other hikers) to Syange to avoid hiking the first one or two days of the trek as it is not particularly rewarding - this part of the trek is along normal road and most times is muddy or very sandy depending on the weather. We also saw some people taking a private jeep until Manang however you would miss a very beautiful part of the trek this way and you would not probably acclimatise properly, jumping from 1,000 m to 3,500 m in one single day,
After the first day of the trek we only use transportation another couple of times during the circuit.
The first was a public bus between Jomson to Tatopani (public bus at approx. NPR800 per person). Be prepared for a very thrilling ride (try to sit towards the front of the bus as it gets a lot, and I mean a LOT bumpy in the rear seats!) - the road is very narrow and the bus drivers are driving very fast and sometimes stop abruptly to let motorcycles o other buses passing. If you`re scared of heights, don`t sit on the left side of the bus as you will be constantly looking out at the overhang.
The second transportation was a private minibus between Nayapul to Pokhara (this was included in the price of the package we paid and the minibus was sent by our hotel in Pokhara). You can also get public buses from Nayapul to Pokhara, however as it is only approx. one hour drive, you can find a private taxi for around NPR1,500 / 2,000. Most people finish their Annapurna Circuit Trek at Nayapul as you will otherwise walk along a very trafficked and not particularly pleasant road for about 40 km.
Finally, the last bus we took was a tourist bus from Pokhara to return back to Kathmandu at the end of our trek (which took approx. 7 hours) - comfortable and a little bit cold because of the air con (starting from NPR700 without breakfast and lunch up to NPR2,900 including meals). There are also the cheaper option of public buses (day/night Rs 600/650) which leave from the main public bus station in Pokhara (ask around for directions).
Windy road in the Mustang Valley along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
GUIDE AND PORTER OR SELF GUIDED?
The Annapurna Circuit is a very well-marked and easy trail to follow and accommodations and restaurant abound along the track. That`s some of the reasons why many people decide to walk this trail unguided, carrying their own backpack. There are plenty of blogs / websites which help you plan your trek with acclimatization stops and recommended tea houses - just use google ;-)
Being our first time at very high altitudes and running out of time for preparing and planning the hike, we decided to hire a guide / porter through the company Mount Trails which has been recommended to us by a Canadian girl met on a beautiful hike in Whistler region.
The communication with Durga, the young entrepreneur who recently started this company and run a successful hotel and restaurant in Kathmandu, has been great and Durga always replied promptly to all our questions. He sent us a detailed itinerary of the trek and the inclusions/exclusions with the relative price for 2 people – having compared it with other trekkers who got a similar itinerary, we can safely say Mount Trails is very well priced for what offered and possibly the cheaper option we could have found.
When we began the trek, we immediately though we would have easily done without a guide and porter – however, once we finished the trek, we were overall happy to have been guided by locals along this wonderful circuit and to give both work and money to a local-based company without any international or foreign intermediaries.
Overloaded porter along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
Just a few considerations below to set your expectations in case you decide to hire a guide/porter:
Trekking guides on the Himalayas are locals who love trekking and/or choose to become guides for the good wages and tips – Please do not expect expert alpinists or botanists or any guiding as we consider it in other parts of the world. Unless you are going to considerably high elevations (above 6,000 m) or on technically difficult climbing trips, trekking guides in Nepal are there only to show you the way, choose your accommodation, take your meals orders, make sure you are ok physically (no high altitude sickness signs) before walking to higher elevations, eventually find transportation during the hike. In any way they will give you a detailed commentary of the hike, plants, animals or the villages’ culture you encounter during your trip unless you ask and they are prepared enough to give you some information.
For the above reasons, a porter every 2 people is usually enough to hire for the trek if you do not feel like hiking with lots of weight on your back – we met many people who were walking together with their Sherpa and were choosing their own stops, accommodation and meals (paying directly for these expenses).
Porters might take up to 40/50 kg for 3 or more people to make more money during a single trek – we sincerely felt that was too much and though these porters were usually young and relatively strong, this would compromise their physical health on the long run – Please be considerate and don’t just bring extra things along the trek just because you are not carrying them.
Always check carefully inclusions and exclusions in your itinerary’s description – we were caught out about transportation exclusions as they were identified as “optional” in our itinerary, however, two jeep/bus trips were “optionals” which meant not included and kind of compulsory unless we would have walked into the night. On the other hand, we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that, apart from breakfast, lunch and dinner which were included during the trek, two tea breaks (mid-morning and mid-afternoon) were included in the price and they made a very lovely stop during long days especially.
Guides and porters usually sleep in big dormitories, one close to each other in not so hygienic conditions, and only eat their meal once every single tourist in the restaurant has finished eating – therefore, they might have to wait for very long time before being served dinner. They also buy their own trekking gear and many times they do not wear appropriate jackets or shoes (not even boots!). Our guide and porter found two abandoned walking sticks and used one each to walk - for this reason we decided to leave them our walking poles at the end of the trek as a gift, which we felt it was appreciated.
Tips to guides and porters are usually expected and we have been recommended a tip of USD100 for each at the end of our 17 day trip – This is obviously up to you and depends on the service you received. Please think that many guides and porters are not well paid as in many developed countries (taking into consideration the physical work and accommodation/food conditions they endure during the trip) and tips make a huge different in their pockets at the end of the trekking season; on the other side, try to choose a company with good reputation from the start (Durga and our Canadian friends assured us Mount Trails guides/porters are well paid for Nepali standards) so tips will just be only a sign of appreciation at the end of the trip more than a considerable part of their wage.
Celebration time with our guide Dil and our porter Hannah along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
HIGH ALTITUDE SICKNESS
Altitude if defined on the following scale: high (2,430 to 3,658 m / 8,000 to 12,000 ft), very high (3,658 to 5,487 m / 12,000 to 18,000 ft) and extremely high (5,500 m / 18,000 ft onwards). If you have been at these altitudes before with no problems, you can probably return to this altitudes without problems as long as you acclimatise .
Altitude Sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is developed while trekking at high altitudes and is due to the low level of oxygen experienced at these high elevations. Symptoms vary from individual to individual and they usually begin within 48 hours of arriving at high altitudes – they usually comprises headache with one of the following symptoms happening at the same time:
loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting
fatigue or weakness
dizziness or light-headness
swelling of hands, feet or face
We had mild headache a couple of evenings, but with proper rest and lots of fluids (and an aspirin or ibuprofen) it went all away. Some people might prevent AMS by assuming Diamox, however we have been recommended against using this medicinal as it has unwanted side effects (such as numbness/tingling of hands, feet and lips, ringing in the ears, taste alteration, urinating more).
The best way to avoid AMS is proper acclimatization – which might be stopping at a high altitude for more than 1 day before ascending at higher elevations or a very slow ascent to give time to your body to acclimatize. In general, it is recommended to hike no more than 300 m per day after 3,000 m altitude and spend a second night at the same elevation every 1,000 m (3,000 ft) ascent.
Another great recommendation is to drink at least 4 l per day as dehydration at high altitude is one of the causes for AMS. The warm sugary teas served along the trek are just perfect to warm up and absorb some energy and liquid.
If you have AMS, the best thing to do is not to ascent any higher. Better stay at the same altitude until the symptoms go away, at that point you can continue ascending. If not properly treated, AMS can develop into more severe illnesses which can cause death in a matter of hours (High Altitude Cerebral Edema and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) – in these cases, people survive only if they ascend soon enough to be hospitalized at Kathmandu.
Sunrise at Poonhill (3,193 m) along the Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal