Before setting out to hike the Annapurna Circuit, I did quite a bit of research – or at least tried to do research. I quickly realized that there are dozens, possibly hundreds, of trekking companies in Nepal competing for your business. All of these businesses crowd the interwebs attempting to entice you to sign up for their services. I had also read in multiple online forums is that there is no need to sign up with a trekking company – that you can trek the Annapurna Circuit by yourself. What I couldn’t easily find was any information on how to hike it by yourself – the logistical information I needed to feel confident in hiking without a guide before arriving in Nepal. So I decided to (hopefully) fill this gap and provide you with the Wandering Sasquatch Guide on How to Hike the Annapurna Circuit.
Before you start:
The Nepalese authorities require all hikers to purchase two permits before hiking, the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP) and Trekkers Information Management System (TIMS card). Both permits are required to enter the Annapurna area and are checked at points all along the Circuit. There is no expiration date on the permits, so once you enter the ACAP area you can stay as long as you like – but when you leave, you need to purchase new permits to re-enter.
ACAP: 2,000 Nepali rupees (npr) (US $21.74) TIMS: US $20 (1,840 npr)
Items Required for ACAP and TIMS:
3 passport photos Health insurance policy information Basic route information
Where to purchase:
ACAP and TIMS cards can be purchased at Nepal Tourism Board offices in both Kathmandu and Pokhara or at any trekking agency. Permits are typically available a few hours after filling out paperwork and payment. (Note: trekking agencies will charge a fee of 400-500 npr ($4.50-$5.50) for processing, but will also answer any questions you have about trekking.)
Maps can be purchased at dozens of places in both Kathmandu or Pokhara. Maps of different size and scale are available, so just look at a few and choose one that suits your fancy. I highly recommend a map that shows the New Annapurna Trekking Trails (NATT) and side trails.
A map will cost you 200-650 npr ($2-$7)
Download the New Annapurna Trekking Trails guide here. The NATT guide provides information for trails that help to avoid the road and gives great information on all of the villages you walk through. This guide made our trek much more fulfilling by providing information on villages that we otherwise wouldn’t have learned. I recommend printing it out so you can carry the day-to-day information in your pocket as you hike. The guide is free to download.
If you don’t bring your own gear, you can purchase or rent gear in Kathmandu or Pokhara. Everything you will need, from underwear to tents (and everything in between) is available as knock-offs (unless a new brand called “The Northe Face” has been invented or Mammot started making coats that are sold only in Nepal). To find out all of the gear you need to carry with you, check out the Annapurna Circuit packing list.
All prices are negotiable, so shop around. Ask both the prices to rent vs. buy, as if you are going to be on the trail for a while, it might be cheaper to purchase your gear. For a frame of reference, Kim and I purchased two 65-liter backpacks, two -10 °C sleeping bags, and two trekking poles for 10,000 npr ($109). We purchased instead of rented because I am notoriously hard on gear (we would have ended up buying my pack and pole anyway) and because we ended up trekking in Nepal for a total of 28 days.
Traveling to Besi Sahar
The Annapurna Circuit begins in Besi Sahar. To get to there, take the tourist bus from either Kathmandu or Pokhara. From Kathmandu the bus will take approx 6 hours and a ticket will cost 350 npr ($3.75) per person. From Pokhara the bus will take approx 5 hours and the ticket will run you 250 npr ($2.75) pp. Private cars/taxis can be taken to Besi Sahar, but are significantly more expensive.
Hiking the Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit is typically hiked in a counter-clockwise direction. You can hike the AC in a clockwise direction, but I would not recommend it – going over Thorung la Pass would be much more difficult going clockwise (FYI – we did not encounter anyone hiking clockwise during our trek). Hiking the Annapurna Circuit will take anywhere between 16 to 28 days, depending on how many rest days and side treks you choose to take. With a 3 day side trek to Tilicho Lake and two rest days (Manang and Marpha), here is the route that Kim and I took: Besi Sahar (start) – Nadi (Ngadi) Bazar – Jagat – Dharapani – Chame – Upper Pisang – Manang – Tilicho Base Camp – Shree Karka – Ledar – Thorung High Camp – Muktinath – Kagbeni – Marpha – Ghasa – Tatopani – Ghorepani – Birethanti (exit) This route took 19 days to hike. A ‘normal’ day was 6-8 hours long, with our shortest day being 4 hours and our longest being 10. We are experienced hikers who know our limitations and when we need to give ourselves a rest. My only advice on this is to listen to your body and follow its advice.
Possible side treks
Tilicho Lake: Tilicho Lake is the highest lake in the world at 4950 meters (16,240 feet) and well worth a visit. The hike from Tilicho Base Camp to the lake will take 5-6 hours round trip and is great acclimatization for going over the Thorung la Pass. I highly recommend hiking to/from Tilicho Base Camp early in the day to get through the landslide areas while the day is still cool. As the day warms up, rocks fall down the steep landslide areas, which can be quite hazardous – I had softball size rocks bounding down the mountain at me as I crossed around 2 pm (our hike back in the morning was thankfully uneventful). Poon Hill: when staying in Ghorepani, an early morning hike to Poon Hill to watch the sun rise is well worth it. There is a 25 npr ($.27) entrance fee to Poon Hill, so make sure you take some cash with you. Annapurna Base Camp: if you have an extra 6-7 days, take the side trek to Annapurna Base Camp. ABC is in a bowl that is surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides. The best views are early in the morning and the sunrise over the mountains is a view you will never forget. There are plenty of other day treks from villages you can do. The best is Manang: you could easily fill 4-5 days doing day treks from Manang. The rest are too numerous to list, but will be shown on most maps, or better yet, ask a local!
Staying in the teahouses/guesthouses
The teahouses are one of the reasons the Annapurna Circuit is such a great experience. Nightly conversations with people all over the world, making new friends you hike with for a few days, meeting locals, or just relaxing with a book and a cup of tea. Regardless of how you spend your time in the teahouses, you will make memories that will last a lifetime. I had read in some places online that you can stay for free in guesthouses if you promise to eat all your meals there, however, we never experienced this (maybe because I am no good at haggling). We ended up paying 100 npr ($1.10) per person per night nearly every night (the guesthouses make all of their money off food and drink). We hiked in May and never encountered a full guest house. We heard rumors and trail-scuttlebutt that in October guesthouses fill up quickly, arguments erupt between hikers over who gets what room, and bidding wars start over rooms. I have no idea how true these stories are, but thought I would pass along the info (and who doesn’t love good scuttlebutt?)
Costs while hiking the AC
I couldn’t find too much information about costs when researching the AC. The only information I can provide is what Kim and I spent while hiking the AC. Here is what we spent: Total spent over 19 days: 67,300 npr/$739 (33,650 npr/$369.50 per person) Per day average: 3,542 npr/$39 (1,771 npr/$19.50 per person) These costs include the two of us eating 3 meals a day, stopping for tea 2-3 times a day, and more often than not a snickers bar a day each. We only drank beer one night (our 1 year travel anniversary), and I had a few glasses of apple cider in Marpha. If you want to drink beer while on the AC, I would budget 500 npr per beer. These costs do include the cab ride from Birethanti to Pokhara (1,800 npr/$19.35) but not the bus tickets to Besi Sahar, since we purchased those a few days in advance.
To porter or not to porter?
This is not an easy question for me to answer. I am of the ethic that I should be able to carry everything I need/want while on the trail – my underwear is my burden alone to carry. That being said, the Nepalese look at portering as employing someone, not casting off your burden onto someone else. I read somewhere that the money made from portering one time around the circuit, is enough for a porter to feed their family for 3 months. I have no idea how accurate this is, but I think general point it makes is valid: it is a lot of money for the porters. The only thing I can say is that there were many times, both in Pokhara and on the Circuit, when I was asked if I had a porter. My answer of ‘no’ was always greeted with a shrug and half-frown that said “I am a little disappointed, but its your choice and I won’t disparage it.” To reconcile this, or at let reconcile it in my head, I decided that we would always stop for one additional tea per day, not haggle so hard for rooms, buy an extra snickers bar, donate money to schools, etc. Now, I know that giving money to shopkeepers is not the same as hiring a porter, but my point was to spend my money in the communities we were hiking through. I have no idea if it was the ‘best way’ to put money into the communities or not, but it was what I decided to do. You will need to make your own decision and hopefully I provided some useful information for you to do so.
ATMs can be found in two villages on the AC: Chame and Jomson. One person we met on the AC could not withdraw money from any of the 3 ATMs in Jomson, but we had not problem with the first one we tried (we did not try the ATM in Chame.) The Internet is available in cafes in Chame, Manang, and every village on the west of the Pass (from Muktinath on, traveling counter-clockwise). Prices range from 100 npr/minute to 500 npr for 30 minutes. Taking snacks/food is a good way to save money, but not a necessity. Rarely did we hike for more than an hour without passing a teahouse that didn’t sell snacks (snickers bars, coconut biscuits) or full meals (fried rice or noodles, dal baht, etc.) Spend at least 3 nights above 3,500 meters at acclimatize before going over Thorung la Pass. One site that I found that did provide some good information for Trekkers was Living If. The Living If folks hiked the Circuit a few months before us and provided some useful tips.