Comprehensive Guide to Hiking the Annapurna Circuit: All You Need to Know


The towering, snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas caught our attention as we gazed out of the plane window, seemingly at eye level. They presented a breathtaking and awe-inspiring sight. The peaks seemed cold, hard, and barren, as though they were saying, “Leave us alone, you don’t belong here.” Nonetheless, they were the same peaks I studied as a child, topped with snow that resembled a dollop of Cool Whip.

All my Nepal planning was becoming a reality.

For my second trip to Nepal, I was eager to hike the Annapurna Circuit. I learned about this challenging thru-hike on my first trip as a volunteer in Nepal.

What is the Annapurna Circuit?

This hike circles the world’s tenth-highest mountain, which is the Annapurna Massif. The Annapurna Circuit, opened in 1977, is a renowned thru-hike that spans across the mountain ranges of central Nepal. At all times, the views are incredible because it crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna Massif.

There are many different landscapes to experience along the trail, from humid, lush rice terraces, to forests, to high-altitude views. It really does have it all, but it isn’t easy.

Thorung La pass at 17,769 feet is the highest point of this thru-hike.

As we embarked on the hiking journey, we had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the daily lives of the Nepalese people. We observed locals diligently harvesting and carrying large bundles of hay for their animals, even witnessing young children shouldering enormous loads.There were people cutting lumber, thrashing millet, and plowing fields; everyone was working hard.

This trek is ideal for those seeking to immerse themselves in the majestic Himalayas while also experiencing small village culture and agriculture.

Can you tell me how long it takes to hike the entire circuit?

Route lengths can range from 100-145 miles, depending on where motor transportation is used and where the trek ends. Typically, hikers choose to traverse the Annapurna Circuit in a counterclockwise direction, as it allows for a gradual and safer ascent in terms of altitude gain.

Normally, it takes between 16 and 18 days to complete the Annapurna circuit; we knew we weren’t like most people. We weren’t sure if dad would adapt well to hiking conditions, so we decided to practice slow travel and not be in a hurry. Taking our time and enjoying the trek, we would give ourselves 21 days to complete it.

What about the Roads, do they ruin it?

There have been some roads built since I completed my circuit in 2009, which sometimes is off-putting to people. However, it is a good thing for the villages for their health and prosperity. Quite frankly, I think this area and culture is so incredible – a few roads won’t ruin your trip.

A mountain road in Nepal is not like a highway with fast food restaurants around it. It is still pretty rugged. Since new roads have been built, new trails have been built to divert trekkers from them.

I came across a comprehensive blog post written by a couple who recently completed the entire route, which provided valuable insights regarding the portions of the trail that coincide with roads and the level of traffic encountered.

It’s not just about the views on the Annapurna Trek – it’s also about getting to know the locals.

Planning your Annapurna Circuit – Go Local!

During my previous visit to Nepal, I established a significant connection with a trekking agency through Giri, who happens to be the brother of the family I resided with in Puma. During the past year, I kept in touch with him to arrange all of my Annapurna trekking, as well as my visit to his sister and mother in Puma.

In the last couple of months, Giri and I have been working over email to arrange transportation and lodging for my father and me, as well as finding an experienced guide and porter for us. Our guide had to have experience, know about altitude sickness, be mature and responsible, and most importantly, be willing to take a 73-year-old over the Thorong La Pass.

Giri and Bishnu, our guides, put together a 21-day plan for us.

Annapurna Hiking Plan Day-by-Day

  • Day 1 – Kathmandu to Puma 
  • Day 2 – Puma to Bahundanda
  • Day 3 – Bahundanda to Jagat
  • Day 4 – Jagat to Dharapani
  • Day 5 – Dharapani to Chame 
  • Day 6 – Chame to Pisang
  • Day 7 – Pisang to Manang 
  • Day 8 – Manang rest/acclimation 
  • Day 9 – Manang to Yak Kharka 
  • Day 10 – Yak Kharka to Phedi or High Camp
  • Day 11 – High Camp to Muktinath (cross the pass at 5417 meters/17,771 feet)
  • Day 12 – Muktinath to Kagbeni 
  • Day 13 – Kagbeni to Marpha
  • Day 14 – Marpha to Ghasa
  • Day 15 – Ghasa to Tatopani 
  • Day 17 – Tatopani to Shikha 
  • Day 18 – Shikha to Ghorepani 
  • Day 19 – Ghorepani to Tikhedhunga
  • Day 20 – Tikhedhunga to Birethanti 
  • Day 21 – Birethanti to Pokhara 

The construction of a new road has extended all the way from Jagat to Manang, enabling hikers to commence their journey at a higher starting point of 3,500 meters in Manang. This enhancement has significantly enhanced the flexibility of the Annapurna Circuit.

On the other side of the trail, a road has been established, leading up to Muktinath. This allows for the possibility of a shorter 9-day trek, inclusive of essential acclimatization days, should one choose to conclude the journey at Muktinath.

Traditionally, the route starts at Besisahar or Bhulbhule and ends in the Kali Gandaki Gorge

What is the Hiking Difficulty?

Because of the rough trails, long distances, and high altitude, this trek is difficult and requires great training and endurance. The trails along the Annapurna Circuit are characterized by rugged terrain, frequently featuring steep inclines, narrow paths, and uneven footing. It is a long, physically and mentally demanding trek, so it is advisable to incorporate rest days into your itinerary. However, I did the trek with my father who was 73 at the time…so you can too!

How crowded is it?

There aren’t exact numbers for the trail, but I found that 115,000 people visit the region each year, and many complete the 100-145 mile trek.

In my experience, you’d come across groups (or they’d come upon us because we were slow), and then you’d go a long time without seeing anyone. There is a busy season in October/November, but I don’t recall it being that crowded. It’s not the Camino de Santiago, so you won’t be alone.

The higher you go in altitude, the more people tend to get bundled up as there are fewer accommodation options since there are no high-altitude villages to congregate in.

I noticed that lots of the people on the trail had a real sense of urgency. I couldn’t figure out why they were all in such a rush, especially given that this stunning landscape was what we’d come to see. Most of them never stopped to look at anything, as if their only goal was to get from one place to the next. Maybe I’m strange for wanting to appreciate my surroundings and take my time – but if you feel the same, then you may not find group tours very appealing! Engaging in slow travel can provide immensely rewarding experiences.

How do you hike the circuit?

You will gradually acclimatize to the altitude by going counter-clockwise.

Is it possible to hike it independently?

As long as you are an experienced hiker and have trained to do this type of hike, you can complete this hike on your own, but you should carry a pack and your supplies in high altitude, which can be dangerous.

To ensure your safety and education, I recommend hiring either a porter or a guide if you want to hike semi-independently.

Several companies offer Annapurna group trips with local guides if you would prefer to hike with a group that has organized all of your lodging and food. I’m a big fan of Intrepid Travel, which offers a wonderful Annapurna trip. Several trips I’ve taken with Intrepid Travel have been wonderful!

What permits do you need?

A trekking permit to the Annapurna Conservation Area costs USD $24.

A TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) card costs $20 USD

If you are doing this independently, you can get these from the tourism office in Kathmandu or Pokhara. Giri obtained ours.

What is the difference between a Guide and a Porter on the Annapurna Circuit?

In addition to speaking English and knowing the terrains and trails, a guide also organizes your trek, but does not carry your load. They are usually responsible for providing you with a bed and food normally as well as educating you about the culture and landscape.Our guide took charge of selecting the teahouses where we stayed, arranging them upon our arrival in each town. It’s likely he was getting paid, but I didn’t really care – they’re all pretty basic teahouses.

In October, we hiked it to experience the fall colors at lower altitudes. During our hike, there wasn’t much rain, and the weather on the Pass was nice. While Thorung La Pass weather can change daily, there is less chance of a big storm blowing in during October.

Can you have your luggage transported?

Luggage transfer is available by Nepalese porters. These men and women are experts at carrying your gear on the trail, it’s amazing to see them strap your bags around their foreheads.

As hikers carry their belongings on their backs, it is essential to note that suitcases are not suitable for this journey. It needs to be soft-sided luggage or a backpack with a rain cover.

On our trek, we hired a guide and a porter, and it was a great way for us to go it on our own. In most cases, we could stop for lunch in a village. During our hike, we enlisted a porter to handle our heavier equipment, while we carried daypacks containing essentials such as water, rain gear, snacks, and first aid supplies.

Typically, Nepalese porters are accustomed to carrying a load of 15 to 20kg of your gear. Plus, they have their own ‘kit’ that gets added onto that. While it’s true that they carry minimal belongings, it’s essential to pack light for your journey.

Where do you stay?

This is a quintessential Nepal experience that I suggest that you embrace. Tea houses are simple mountain lodges that provide bedding and eating facilities for trekkers. There is no doubt that it’s very basic, but it’s also very much like how Nepalese live; it’s an authentic experience!

Accommodation on the Annapurna Circuit is often provided by tea houses. These humble dwellings offer a common area where you can share stories and meals, and single rooms with shared toilets. Since most lack insulation, the interior temperature can drop significantly at night, especially in higher elevations. Light sleepers may want to pack earplugs; the walls are very thin after all.

A few places have en suite toilets, but they are super basic. Most accommodations along the Annapurna Circuit provide shared bathrooms equipped with Asian-style toilets, commonly known as squatty potties. If you are unfamiliar with using a squatty potty, here are some guidelines to help you navigate this type of restroom facility. Toilets can sometimes be located outside of the teahouse, so bring a headlamp!

Our first lodging was very basic. It was something like a loft in a barn; small room, thin boards with gaps plugged up by newspaper wallpaper, small wooden beds, no plumbing, no electricity.

Showers varied greatly. Don’t get too excited about nice shower heads and curtains– they usually consist of a faucet head about a foot off the ground. To avoid an icy cold blast from the tap, I would fill up a bucket with water to use instead. The temperature was never hot; at best it was lukewarm. We had to learn how to take quick showers to deal with this!

One day we didn’t make it as far as we planned and had to stay in a tea house that we hadn’t anticipated – it was very basic. Having no plumbing or electricity, I had one of the most challenging showers in my life, showering in an outhouse with sewage-smelling walls and cold air.

As the cost of the room is quite low, the proprietors make most of their money on food and beverages. Therefore, you should always eat your meals at the hotel.

Tea House Trekking Cost

Prices range from $16 – $20 per person per night for three basic meals plus accommodation. Lower sections are cheaper, while higher sections are more expensive.

What do you eat?

Our Annapurna Circuit trip was full of food. The guesthouses along the circuit have plenty of snacks to keep you energized, so there is no need to bring your own snacks along. It’s a great idea to save space in your pack, and support the local bakeries and guesthouses along the way. These establishments exist for trekkers, but the locals aren’t eating there!

A plate of Dal Bhat includes steamed rice, lentil soup, vegetable curry, and sautéed spinach. A plate of Dal Bhat is one of Nepal’s staple foods.

There are many different kinds of soup on the trail, but you won’t find a lot of meat. Another Nepalese favorite is the Momos (dumplings).

Spaghetti, pizza, sandwiches, and all kinds of other high-carb foods are available there.

There will be places along the trail selling big cinnamon rolls from the village of Manang – the perfect guilt-free snack for long-term trekkers who are energetic and long-term. Would I ever be able to eat a cinnamon roll a day unless you are trekking day after day expending the energy to negate them?

What gear do you need?

During one of our trekking breaks today, our guide Bishnu amusingly exclaimed, “Ohhhhh, I’m starting to smell like a donkey!” I can’t wait for a shower.” His comment made me laugh, but it also made me realize that the same clothes I’ve been wearing for two weeks are beyond filth – my pants for 10 days, my shirt for 9 days, my jog bra for 9 days and socks for 4 days; everything smells like Tiger Balm! Although it’s part of trekking for 21 days, sometimes I do wonder if these clothes will ever get clean again or if I should just burn them to stay warm at high camp. Nonetheless, the good news is that everyone smells equally bad; like a whole herd of donkeys.

My muscles usually felt strained each morning and night due to overworking and inadequate training. This is when the Tiger Balm came in useful. We would remove a portion of the balm from the container and put it in one pocket to allow it to warm up before applying it on our body’s pain points. My dad and I would take turns rubbing the balm on our sore muscles and with time, my sleeping bag developed a distinct Tiger Balm smell. Once we had settled down into our cocoon-like sleeping bags, we put on our headlamps and reviewed what was expected of us during the upcoming trekking endeavor; an effort to ready ourselves psychologically for the challenge ahead.

  • Duffle/big pack for the porter and Daypack for you.
  • (Of course!) Tiger Balm
  • Boots for hiking (high boots with ankle support are recommended)
  • Poles for hiking
  • Winter hat/beanie and gloves
  • The buff
  • Evening shoes that are comfortable
  • Two pairs of wool socks, one warm and one cooler
  • Jacket that is waterproof
  • Layers of fleece
  • A sleeping bag and a sleep sheet
  • Pants for hiking
  • Underwear that is long
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Balm for lips
  • Get travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation and high altitude coverage.
  • Coats and pants for rain

What should you put in your daypack?

If you have hired a porter for your trek, it is crucial to understand the importance of carrying a daypack yourself. While the porter takes care of your heavier gear, it’s essential to have your daypack with you. This is because porters may operate on their own schedule and may not be with you until you reach your destination for the day. Therefore, it is advisable to pack your daypack with the items you require for the day and entrust the porter with the belongings you will need overnight. This ensures that you have your essential items readily accessible throughout the trek.

In your daypack, you should carry light snacks, water, rain gear, layers, valuables, a first aid kit, camera/batteries, sunscreen, and a hat.

Can you do laundry on the trail?

Since you move nearly every day, it is hard to do laundry. However, if you have quick-dry clothes, you can wash them out and hang them and hope they will be dry the next morning.  An alternative option is to hang your wet clothes off your backpack during the hike, allowing them to dry as you make progress along the trail.

Most people take an extra rest day to acclimatize to the altitude before trekking up to the pass in Manang.

Is there Internet connectivity?

The internet is available at the guesthouses and villages.It’s worth noting that the connectivity in Thorong Phedi and High Camp areas is generally poor, so it’s not advisable to rely on reliable internet or communication services.

Is there medical help nearby?

There aren’t many medical centers in the villages. Previously, if you needed medical assistance, but it wasn’t an emergency, you were put on a donkey and taken down. Since there are roads now, there are other ways to get down.

Once you’re above Manang, there are no roads, so donkeys are likely to come into play again.

You may need to be airlifted out in case of severe emergencies, so be sure to have travel insurance!

Do you need to know Nepalese?

We were always able to communicate effectively in English along the trail even when I did it in 2009.

Are there ATMs available?

Basically. There are ATMs in Jomsom and Chame, but they aren’t reliable. Some are only accessible to locals, so I recommend leaving Kathmandu with more money than you think you will need.

How much does it cost?

For budgeting purposes, allocating around $30 per day should provide a reasonably comfortable experience during your trek.

Take an extra day trip and start in Puma!

Visit the high mountain village of Puma. I volunteered there teaching English for a few weeks. Puma, a remote mountain village situated high above Besisahar, offers a unique opportunity to witness the survival and operations of a village that is not commonly frequented by hikers. Despite receiving very few tourists, Puma’s distinctiveness is one of its defining qualities.

Giri, who organized my Annapurna Circuit trek, hails from this village and still has family residing there. You can reach Besisahar and take a jeep up to Puma, where you can spend the first night. The following day, you can hike out of Puma and join the Annapurna Circuit trail, continuing your journey onward.

Author: admin

Michaela is a traveler at heart. She loves to explore new places and learn about different cultures. Her travel blog is a place for her to share her experiences and tips with other travelers. She hopes to inspire others to explore the world and see all that it has to offer.

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