Annapurna Circuit FAQ – Trekking in Nepal

by | May 27, 2017 | 0 comments

In fall 2016, as part of our around the world trip, we decided to do A LOT of trekking in Nepal. Unfortunately, all of the Annapurna Circuit guides we found were well out of date. It’s hard to plan for a trip halfway around the world without some up to date information. Thus to give back to the community we’ve created this Annapurna Circuit FAQ and sample itinerary (our own experience).

This is the ‘straight to the point’ short version. If your looking for a more personal account of our time on The Annapurna Circuit check out this post. We also made recommended gear list.

We’ve also created a similar post for trekking in the Everest region (3 passes, Everest Base Camp, and Gokyo).

What is the Annapurna Circuit?

The Annapurna Circuit is a  258km (160 mile) teahouse trekking route through the Annapurna Himalaya range in northwestern Nepal. It famously crosses the Thorung-La Pass at 5,416m (17,769ft), one of the highest trekking passes in the world. The complete circuit offers spectacular views of some of the highest mountains in the world including 2 eight-thousanders (Annapurna I and Dhaulagiri).

Whoa 160 miles you say? How long does that take?

The time required to trek the Annapurna Circuit depends on your physical ability (how fast you walk), how much of the circuit you want to do (your start and end point), and if you plan to add on any extras such as Tilicho Tal (highly recommended) or Annapurna Base Camp. We did the full circuit start to finish as well as adding in Tilicho Tal in 19 days, walking at a normal pace not in any rush whatsoever. Our sample itinerary is below.

Sounds Hard. How fit do I need to be?

The great part about the Annapurna Circuit is that you do not need to be a super athlete or even an accomplished trekker to tackle it.  That said, you should have some sort of base fitness and always be sure to check with your doc to make sure you can handle walking 4-6 hours everyday for 2-3 weeks carrying a 15-20lb pack (if you carry your own gear and don’t hire a porter). We saw all ages and shapes on the trail and everyone was having a great time!

What about elevation? Don't planes fly that high?

Some do! It’s important to acclimatize properly on the Annapurna Circuit.  The good news is that the hike naturally takes a gradual approach letting you acclimatize a little more each day.  It’s recommended that you stay 2 nights in Manang unless you are taking the side trip out to Tilicho Tal. The highest elevation you will ever sleep at is 4540m (14,895ft) and it is only for one restless night. After that, you go over the pass and right back down to 3710m (12,172ft).

Ability to deal with altitude has a lot to do with genetics so everyone is going to be a little different. That said, the vast majority of people have no problem with altitude as long as they take the time to acclimatize properly and not rush too fast to the high elevations.

Some people recommend and take Diamox tablets which are designed to prevent and treat altitude sickness.  Talk to you doctor if you think this might be something you are interested in.  The Himalaya Mountain Rescue Association operates a western clinic with a western doctor on staff in Manang and you can also get Diamox from them. They also run a free daily altitude talk at 3pm that is highly recommended.

Remember: It’s ok to get altitude sickness. It’s NOT ok to die from it.

Cool I'm in! When is the best time to go?

Prime trekking is October/November.  We started the last week in September to get ahead of the prime time crowds and took a chance against the ending monsoon rains.  This plan turned out to be perfect as we only had rain a few times overnight but never during the day.

April/May is also a good time to trek and probably the second most popular time.

Dec – March is winter and while the skies will be clear, it will be very cold and snow threatens to close the high passes

June – September is monsoon season and not recommended due to heavy rains and mudslides

I'm ready to book my flight! How do I get there and back?

Most people who come to Nepal fly into Kathmandu International Airport (KTM).  A taxi from the airport to Thamel (main tourist district) will cost about 700 NPR and takes 20-45 minutes depending on traffic.

From Kathmandu there are daily buses that leave from the Naya Bus Park just north of Thamel. You want the 0645 AM bus to Besi Sahar which is where the Annapurna Circuit starts.  It will be a 6-8 hour bus ride depending on traffic. Your hostel owner can help you book a bus and get you a taxi to the bus station. Depending on where you are staying you could also just walk to the bus stop, it’s not that far.

The full Annapurna Circuit ends in Naya Pul which is just a small roadside bazaar town.  From Naya Pul you can grab a taxi to Pokhara (they are anxiously waiting) for about 1500 NPR. It’s about a 45-60 minute taxi ride. You can also catch a bus for less but it will obviously take longer. It’s worth it to spend a few days relaxing in lakeside Pokhara (you earned it!) before catching a bus back to Kathmandu which will cost about 800-1000 NPR and take 8 hours.

Do I need a trekking permit? Can't I just go rogue?

There are many many trekker checkpoints along the Annapurna Circuit so definitely buy your permits. They are cheaper to get in Kathmandu so just get them before you leave.

You’ll need two things, a TIMS (Trekker Information Management System) card and an Annapurna Conservation Area permit. They cost 20 USD each (or NPR equivalent) and you’ll need four passport photos. Luckily for you, they offer free pics at the office so don’t bother with paying for any extras. You get 6 photos total by default and you get some free arts and crafts time trimming them up.

Both of these permits can be purchased at the Nepal Tourism Board office which is just south east of Thamel. You can walk there in about 15-20 minutes from Thamel. Here’s a map:

How much money do I need to trek the Annapurna Circuit?

It all depends on how extravagant you want to live! The most expensive part is actually getting to Nepal.  After that, you’ll need 30 USD for a 30-day visa and 40 USD (or NPR equivalent) for your trekking permits (20 for TIMS card and 20 for conservation area permit).

On arrival you’ll likely want to stay a day or two in Thamel to get your permits and bus to Besi Sahar situated.  A taxi to Thamel from the airport costs 700 NPR. For accommodation in Thamel we recommend Elbrus Home that we stayed at for a total of about 20 days while in Nepal. As of this writing a nice private ensuite room with breakfast included was 16-20 USD per night.

The bus to Besi Sahar is 360 NPR per person.

While on the circuit we budgeted 25 USD a day per person (no guides/porters) and didn’t even come close to that number. I drank the occasional beer(s) and we ate 3 square meals a day plus some snacks. We recommend setting your budget, then taking out enough money from an ATM in Thamel for the entire time you plan to be on the circuit.  This will result in a large stack of bills but there are no ATMs on the circuit until Jomsom and you get a much better rate at an ATM than you do going to a money exchange place.

Most lodges on the circuit you can bargain to stay for free if you promise to eat dinner and breakfast there (not like you have a huge choice). Unlike the Everest region, most lodges on the Annapurna Circuit include hot shower, charging capability, and wifi for free.

Also budget for a taxi from Naya Pul (where the circuit ends) to Pokhara which is 1500 NPR. A few nights in Pokhara can be had for 12-16 USD a night (private/ensuite) or cheaper for dorms and shared bathrooms.

The tourist bus from Pokhara back to Kathmandu costs 800-1000 NPR.

Free lodges you say? What are these places like?

The teahouse lodges on the Annapurna Circuit are actually pretty great!  They have 4 walls and a roof most of the time! Rooms are simple accommodation with one or two beds (some places have 3+) and sheets/pillow/blankets.  The rooms generally have a power charging outlet (don’t forget your converter) and a light of some sort. Some of the nicer lodges (Father & Son Guesthouse in Tal) have attached bathrooms with hot shower. Else, you’re looking at shared bathrooms and a mix of cold/lukewarm/bucket showers. The toilets are almost always “squatty pottys”.

Pro tips for lodge selection:

When you pull into town, the lodge owners will try and entice you to come to their place by asking you to “just come look” at a room. Look around at a few places before making your selection. There is no shame in walking away and coming back after you’ve seen a few places.

“Hot water” is a relative term on the Annapurna Circuit.  Water is heated in one of 3 ways: cooking fire, solar, and gas. If showering and hot water are important to you, look for places that heat their water with gas, followed by solar, followed by fire.  When looking at a room ask to see the shower and turn it on to feel the water before you commit to a place.

If you are staying in a lodge that has multiple floors, always ask for a room on the top floor so you don’t have to listen to the people above you walk around all night and early in the morning.

Most lodges claim to have wifi. It doesn’t always work. If it’s important to you test it out first.

Check out the dining area. With very few exceptions (Manang) most lodges have the same menu so don’t worry too much about what food is being served, but you’ll probably spend some time in there hanging out so make sure it looks comfortable/warm.

If the weather is nice look for places that have nice outdoor seating in the sun to relax for the afternoon.

Similar Lodge Menus? Sounds Bland. How's the food?

Admittedly the food can be repetitive, but it’s come a long way and its generally seasoned really well. You can get everything from rice and lentil dishes (dal bhat power 24hr!) to yak steaks and burgers.  Beer and soda are available everywhere for an inflated price. Snacks (cookies/candy bars etc.) are widely available, also for higher than western prices.  The further away you get, the higher the prices get.

Pro tips on food:

Bring your own snacks from Kathmandu. Yeah, it sucks to have the extra weight, but if you know you’re going to want one Snickers a day while trekking, its better to pay 80 NPR per bar in Kathmandu than 180 NPR up on the circuit.

Soy Sauce.  I love it, and it turns dal bhat into a whole new meal.  If you like soy sauce, bring a small (or large!) bottle. Thank me later.

I heard you can't drink the water in Nepal? What if I get thirsty?!

It’s true that it is not safe to drink the tap/hose water in Nepal without treating it.  You have two options when it comes to water:

Buy bottled water. It’s cheap in Kathmandu (about 20 NPR for a liter bottle) but expensive on the Annapurna Circuit (about 200 NPR for the same bottle in remote areas). It’s convenient, albeit can get expensive and Nepal has a real hard time getting rid of all that plastic.

A better option is to bring a reusable water bottle (ie. Nalgene) and some sort of water purification.  It’s cheaper and it doesn’t hurt the environment. Any lodge will provide you with the tap water for no cost, then you can just treat it yourself.  My favorite form of purification is the SteriPen. It kills all bacteria, viruses, everything in the water in 90 seconds (for 1L) using UV light. Science! It’s also rechargeable via USB and doesn’t add much weight to your pack.

In several towns along the circuit there are also safe water drinking stations that provide UV filtered water for 40-60 NPR per liter.

Do I need to book anything ahead of time?

You might want to book a hostel/guest house in Kathmandu (Thamel District) to make it easier when you arrive. Hostelworld is a good resource for finding lodging in Thamel. We stayed at and recommend Elbrus Home. Nothing else needs to be booked ahead of time. Your hostel owner can help you book a bus to Besi Sahar and the tea houses on the circuit are first come first serve.  Don’t worry, there are plenty to go around for everyone!

Do I need a guide and/or porter?

You definitely do not NEED a guide for the circuit.  The trail itself is well marked and it is very easy to find your way.  Some people like using guides as they sometimes can offer more information about an area and they sometimes make getting lodges easier. If you do want to go with a guide, do your research locally and get someone who you mesh well with.

As with a guide, you do not NEED a porter. However, if you have the extra cash and you don’t like carrying your own pack then there are an abundance of locals who will carry it for you… for a price.

You can book both guide and porter services easily in Kathmandu.

We didn’t use a guide or porter service for any of the trekking that we did in Nepal as we were doing our trekking on a budget and I don’t feel like we missed out on anything.  Get a good guidebook (recommend Lonely Planet Trekking in Nepal Himalya) and a trail map (available locally) and you’ll be just fine.

Do I need to bring camping/cooking gear?

Not unless you want to camp!  The Annapurna Circuit is a teahouse trekking circuit meaning that there are small towns with lodges along the entire way. In fact you’ll never trek more than an hour without coming upon a group of lodges anxious to give you a place to sleep and cook you a good meal.

Do I need to bring my own food?

Food is heavy and there is plenty of it on the circuit so there isn’t really a need to bring your own (barring any dietary restrictions). The one thing you might consider bringing with you are snacks from Kathmandu. As you move further and further down the circuit, things like candy bars get pretty expensive. A Snickers that costs 80 NPR in Kathmandu, will cost upwards of 200 NPR by Manang.

So I heard the trek got killed by a road. Thoughts?

The rumors are true. There is more and more road building and development going on in the Annapurna region. In fact you COULD take a jeep all the way to Manang these days, hike a few days over the pass and then take another jeep all the way down from Jomsom.

That said, the hike is FAR from being “dead”. The New Annapurna trekking trails are alive and well.  There will be some unavoidable hiking on the “road” (really just a widened dirt path) from time to time, but the majority of the trek is still on trail so just follow the red/white and blue/white blazes and forget about the nay sayers and elitests that have done the trek before the road building.

The Annapurna Circuit is alive and well and just as beautiful as ever.

Annapurna Circuit Map

Annapurna Circuit Trekking Map

Annapurna Circuit Sample Itinerary

Day 1

Besi Sahar to Bhubule
Approximate Trek Time: 2 – 3 hrs
Distance: 7.5k / 4.7 miles
Overnight Elevation: 820m/2,690ft.

Pro tip: The small Everest Guest House has comfortable rooms and a HOT shower.

Day 2

Bhubule to Ghermu
Approximate Trek Time: 4 – 5 hrs.
Distance: 13.5k / 8.4 miles
Overnight Elevation: 1130m/3707ft.

Pro Tip:  All the way at the far end of the town sits the Rainbow Lodge with an amazing courtyard view of a 200m high waterfall

Day 3

Ghermu to Tal
Approximate Trek Time: 5 – 6 ½ hrs.
Distance: 13.3k / 8.3 miles
Overnight Elevation: 1700m/5577ft

Pro Tip: The Father and Son guesthouse is an amazing value (free) and has ensuite bathroom with HOT shower

Day 4

Tal to Chame
Approximate Trek Time: 6 – 7 hrs.
Distance: 21k / 13 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2710m/8891ft.

Pro tip: If you go ALL the way to the end of town and cross the bridge there are a few guesthouses over there with good hot showers and a short walk to a mediocre hot spring.

Day 5

Chame to Upper Pisang
Approximate Trek Time: 3 ½ – 4 ½ hrs.
Distance: 14k / 8.7 miles
Overnight Elevation: 3310m/10,860ft.

Pro tip: Upper Pisang has WAY better views than lower Pisang. Take the upper route from Chame rather than the lower route. It’s worth it.

Day 6

Upper Pisang to Manang
Approximate Trekking Time: 5 ½ – 6 ½ hours
Distance: 15.5k / 9.6 miles
Overnight Elevation: 3540m/11,614ft.

Pro tip: The Yeti Hotel has good yak burgers and there are places in town that play daily movies

Day 7

Manang to Shree Kharka
Approximate Trekking Time: 2 ½ – 3 hrs.
Distance: 8.4k / 5.2 miles
Overnight Elevation: 3745m/12,287ft.

Pro tip: Some guidebooks state the section of trail out to Tilicho Tal is dangerous and “for experienced trekkers only”. It’s not nearly as bad as they make it out to be. Don’t fret, you can do it!

Day 8

Shree Kharka to Tilicho Tal Base Camp
Approximate Trekking Time: 3 – 4 hrs.
Distance: 6k / 3.7 miles
Overnight Elevation: 4140m/13,583ft.

Pro Tip: The Tilicho Tal Base Camp Hotel (first one you come to) has a nice dining area that gets sun all day to keep it warm. It also has a nice gas shower. (cost 100 NPR)

Day 9

Tilicho Tal Base Camp to Tilicho Lake to Shree Kharka
Approximate Trekking Time: 7 – 8 hrs.
Distance: 23k / 14.3 miles
Overnight Elevation: 4140m/12,287ft.

Pro tip: Leave your gear at the hotel when you climb up to the lake. On the return, grab lunch and your gear and then head down to Shree Kharka

Day 10

Shree Kharka to Yak Kharka
Approximate Trekking Time: 3 ½ – 4 ½ hours
Distance: 10.1k /6.3 miles
Overnight Elevation: 4200m/13,780ft.

Pro Tip: Some guidebooks will have you go all the way to Letdar today. Don’t bother. Yak Kharka is way nicer and has better facilities.

Day 11

Yak Kharka to Thorung Pedi
Approximate Trekking Time: 2 – 3 hrs.
Distance: 6.9k / 4.3 miles
Overnight Elevation: 4540m/14,895ft.

Pro tip: If you’re doing well on acclimatization you could also continue up another hours climb to high camp to get a head start on the long day over the pass. The climb to high camp is the toughest part of that day so if you’re feeling good knock it out early!

Day 12

Thorung Pedi to Ranipawa via Thorung-La Pass
Approximate Trekking Time: 6 – 7 hrs.
Distance: 14.2k / 8.8 miles
Overnight Elevation: 3710m/12,172ft.

Pro tip: There is a tea house on top of the pass that has big hot mugs of tea for 200 NPR. The Bob Marley Guesthouse in Ranipawa is awesome.

Day 13

Ranipawa to Kagbeni
Approximate Trekking Time: 2- 3 hrs.
Distance: 9.3k / 5.8 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2800m/9,186ft.

Pro Tip: There is a place Yac Donalds in Kagbeni that is worth a look for food if for nothing else than the hilarity of it. They have good rooms and a hot shower as well.

Day 14

Kagbeni to Marpha
Approximate Trekking Time: 3 ½ – 4 ½ hrs.
Distance:15.9k / 9.9 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2670m/8760ft.

Pro tip: Hotel Tanpopo is an excellent stay. Clean bright room with hot ensuite shower.

Day 15

Marpha to Larjung
Approximate Trekking Time: 3 – 3 ½ hrs.
Distance: 11.7k / 7.3 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2550m/8366ft.

Pro Tip: There isn’t a lot going on in Larjung, its actually pretty dismal so don’t arrive to early.  If you do, grab a cheap pot of tea and a book and settle in for a long afternoon.

Day 16

Larjung to Ghasa
Approximate Trekking Time: 4 ½ – 5 ½ hrs.
Distance: 15.9k / 9.9 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2010m/6595ft.

Pro tip: If you want to get a head start on the next day you can continue 15 minutes past Ghasa to the Eagles Nest Guesthouse for a nice room with an ensuite hot shower.

Day 17

Ghasa to Tatopani
Approximate Trekking Time: 4 – 5 hrs.
Distance: 15.8k / 9.8 miles
Overnight Elevation: 1200m/3937ft.

Pro tip: Stay at the Dhaulagiri Lodge which has a private pathway to amazing hot springs! Grab a beer at the store before you go!

Day 18

Tatopani to Ghorepani
Approximate Trekking Time: 5 – 6 hrs.
Distance:15.3k / 9.5 miles
Overnight Elevation: 2870m/9416ft.

Pro tip: This is a LONG HARD day with 1750m (5750ft) of elevation gain. Bring snacks to eat.

Day 19

Ghorepani to Naya Pul via Poon Hill
Approximate Trekking Time: 5 ½ – 6 ½ hrs.
Distance: 20.6k / 12.8 miles (inc Poon Hill)
Overnight Elevation: NA (continue on to Pokhara)

Pro tip: Get up EARLY (ie. in the dark) and head up to Poon Hill to catch the sunrise over the Annapurna range. Then grab breakfast at the lodge before heading down the endless staircase.

Don’t forget, ff you are interested in reading a much longer and more personal account of our time on the Annapurna Circuit, check out this post on our blog about our experience.

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