Why I like this hike
The Annapurna circuit is one of the most unique backpacking trips I have ever done. You don’t need to pack food and fuel for 2 weeks worth of walking because there are villages everywhere, and they expect you to buy food from their tea houses….so leave you crap at home, support the local community, and come out here and walk among the Himalayas….. You can literally walk this trail with nothing but good shoes and a bottle of water.
About the Circuit
The most popular season is October – November. This is when the trail is at it’s best because it’s sandwiched between the monsoon season and the winter. Keep in mind, this is the most popular time to do it and tea houses will be full. I’ve heard of an everyday rat race up the trail to get a bed at the next village….I recommend you come late season at the end of November and keep the trail to yourself.
I went late November – early December when the cold winter is moving in, there is ice on the trails, and the trail and lodges are almost empty. It was bliss. During the day it was still warm enough to wear shorts and a T-shirt.
The route is shaped like a giant horseshoe that almost circumnavigates Annapurna. The eastern side runs up the Marsyangdi River valley, climbs up and over the Thorung La Pass, and finishes with a walk down the Kali Gandaki River valley on the western side.
The best way to hike the circuit is counter clockwise because the ascent to the pass is more gradual.
*going clockwise requires a 1,200m climb from Muktinath Pedi to the Thorung La pass, where as climbing from the other direction only requires a climb of 900m or 600m depending on where you stay, Thorung Pedi or Thorung High Camp.
You do not need a guide. I love the Nepali people, I would love to support them, but hiring a guide is expensive and you are ultimately responsible for their health and safety. The trail is well marked and safe, as long as you stay on the “Red Trail”.
When hiking the trail you need to carry your TIMS and ACAP on you at all times to check in at posts along the route.
When staying at a guesthouse you are expected to eat there. A few times we received our room for free because we promised to eat there.
Before you go to sleep, place your breakfast order with your guesthouse so they can have it ready for you when you will wake up. Be to breakfast on time.
The food is great as long as you like snickers, apple pie, rice, lentil soup, momo’s, and eggs. Meat is hard to come by, but you can be a vegetarian for 2 weeks.
Food, wifi, and beer will become more expensive as you get closer to the pass because the distance it has to travel to get there. Don’t think people are ripping you off, they literally carry this stuff up their on their backs.
Beer is 300-500 nrp, if you don’t drink you will save a lot of money.
Free water is everywhere along the trail, and there are running taps in all the villages, I would still purify it though. I used the very handy CamelBak All-clear system. Worked great.
Noone knows how long the trail is because there is a lot of elevation change and it zig-zags like a mofo. The trail is measured in hours, just go by that.
You don’t need much. I brought way to much haha. If I could do it again, I would only bring:
2 sets of clothes
1 set of shorts for lounging
1 sleeping bag
1 hiking shoes
1 shower shoes
1 CamelBak All-Clear water bottle
1 map and compass
AND all your necessary electronics
Getting there and Preparing
Do not buy a direct ticket from the USA to Kathmandu. It is very expensive.
Buy a ticket to Bangkok, and from there buy a separate ticket to Kathmandu with Thai air. Much cheaper.
In Kathmandu airport you need to buy a visa. 30 days is $40 and 90 days is $100. If you didn’t bring passport photos you can purchase some at the kiosk next to immigration in the airport.
In Kathmandu I stayed in the Thamel district and purchased a TIMS and ACAP from the Nepal Board of Tourism (NBT) there. You will need to buy 4 passport photos from a camera shop in Thamel before going to NBT.
TIMS = 2,000 rupees
ACAP = 2,000 rupees
Once the permits are purchased you can shop for last minute gear in Thamel. There are thousands of outdoor shops. If you brought too much gear than most hotels will hold your stuff for you until you return from the circuit.
The next step is to buy a ticket to Besisahar. We had a local purchase our tickets for us and we got them for 450 nrp. I heard most people pay around 700-1000 nrp.
The bus leaves at either 0630 or 0800 and the ride is sketchy at best. It’s about 8 hours and stops for lunch halfway through. Don’t plan on sleeping because you will be holding on to the seat in front of you most the time.
I brought about 50,000 nrp on this hike and spent about 4,000 a day. You could easily get along on 1,000 a day if you eat Daal Baht and don’t drink beer.
I hiked the circuit counter-clockwise, starting in Besisahar and finishing in Hille.
You don’t need a set itinerary to hike the Annapurna circuit. Towns are so close together you are never more than an hour away from food and shelter. The only time that you need to slow down and acclimate is from Manang to the Thorung La Pass. Smart way to do this section is:
2 days in Manang
1 day to Thorung Pedi
1 day to High Camp/rest day (cause the hike is only 30 minutes)
1 day up and over the pass down to Muktinath.
*you could easily skip the day at high camp, but some people are more sensitive to AMS than others, so playing it safe is cool.
I ran into a guy being escorted down the mountain with AMS because he only spent one day in Manang and ran straight up to Thorung Pedi. Shit does happen so take your time.
Day 1: Kathmandu – Besisahar – Syange (0800 – 1800)
I caught the bus in Kathmandu and got off in Besisahar with about 15 other hikers. Everyone crowded the ACAP post to sign in then set off in their makeshift groups.
I decided to catch a jeep up to Syange since the Dam(n) Construction had made the trail less pleasant in this section. Problem was, we needed more people to lower the price.
So I asked around and found 3 like-minded hikers named Charlie, Yana, and Vincent. 2 Americans and 1 French dude. We set off at 1600 and paid 2,500 peso for the 2 hour jeep ride to Syange where we slept. We placed our order for breakfast and then went to sleep.
Day 2: Syange – Bagarchhap (0700- 1630)
We woke up, ate breakfast, and set off up the road taking our first steps of the hike.
The terrain in this portion of the hike is loaded with trees and vegetation. You will not have any views of the Annapurna peaks during this section. There is great views of the river and waterfalls along the way.
We ran into the trail again after they took a lengthy detour (follow the red lines on the map, not the black ones).
The original plan was to stop in Tal to sleep, but we reached the village around 1130 and decided we would continue on to Bagarchhap after lunch. This is where we first tried their local beer called “chang”. I did not like it and I will drink almost anything. Just saying.
We left Tal at 1330 and reached Bagarchhap around 1630, where we had dinner and decided to stick together a bit longer.
Day 3: Bagarchhap – Chame (0800 – 1600)
This day was supposed to be a shorter day because we planned on finishing early to so we could rest and enjoy the afternoon. We were 2 days in and our light packs didn’t feel light anymore. None of us had really trained for this hike.
The group plan was to hike to Chame, which was supposedly 4 hours away if you follow the red trail. BUT, we decided to follow the black trail instead to make it more interesting since we had been walking on the road all morning. The black trail was a bad idea.
The black trail followed the river along a steep and bushy trail above the river that was probably used by the Yeti and local mountain men, not tourists. As we followed the trail it slowly got steeper, sketchier, and more overgrown as we got deeper.
Before we knew it, the trail was washed out from a landslide and we were 1 hour away from where we started. So we sat down and debated hiking straight up the hill in hopes of intersecting the red trail which ran parallel to this, or retrace our steps and take the lost time.
After a few expeditions up the hill in search of a trail back to the red one, we decided to retrace our steps back to the red trail and take the time loss.
When we finally reached the red trail again it was already 1200, and we didn’t reach Chame until 1600.
Coming into Chame you will have your first views of snow capped mountains. From here on out the trail becomes more Alpine with less vegetation and trees.
Day 4: Chame – Upper Pisang (0830 – 1400)
From Chame the trail splits in 2 ways, going to Lower Pisang or Upper Pisang.
We chose to go to Upper Pisang because it’s at a higher elevation, thus better for acclimating. It also has a killer view.
On the way to Upper Pisang from Chame the trees start to thin out and you get some very nice views of the Annapurna Range as you climb up the other side of the valley where Upper Pisang is located. You will also pass a giant rock slope, I can’t remember the name but it’s pretty epic.
Day 5: Upper Pisang – Ghyruk – Manang (0800 – 1600)
3 of our party including myself chose to take the more difficult route to Manang by passing through Ghyruk. This involved climbing even higher than Upper Pisang via a switch back climb of roughly 300m to Ghyruk.
The climb took us 2 hours and we arrived at Ghyruk around 1000, just as the sun was coming over the mountains. This was one of the best views on the trek. Far better than Pooh hill.
Coming down from Ghyruk we had to cross the river to the other side of the valley where we followed a road to Manang. This took us until 1600 because we took our time stopping to rest every 20 minutes or so.
Once you arrive in Manang the trees are almost non-existent. You have arrived in the windy high desert.
Day 6: Rest day in Manang
Manang is a cool little village that reminds me of the old west. There is one dusty road down the middle of town with wooden shops, hotels, and restaurants lining the sides. Here they have a French coffee shop with wi-fi (500nrp), a movie theatre, and plenty of cool views to look at while you relax. Charlie and I took advantage of this cool little town to stuff up, repair shoes (500nrp), and read books.
The other 3 decided to hike to the Ice lake at 4600m to acclimate. A 6 hour round trip with a killer switch back climb. I heard is was miserable.
From Manang you can continue up the valley to the Thorung La pass, or you can take a 2-3 day detour up another valley to see Tilicho Tal (Tilicho lake). The road to Tilicho is dangerous because of a landslide area, but is definitely worth it. We all agreed to visit the lake.
Day 7: Manang – Tilicho Base Camp (0930- 1600)
We left Manang late because the other 3 were tired from their hike the day before. We followed a black trail to Mursang where we decided we would leave our bags.
We arrived in Mursang around lunch time, rented a room for 2 days, and threw our bags in there bringing only the essentials to Tilicho Lake.
From Mursang we hiked high along the side of a mountain until we came across the landslide area.
This are was very sketchy, but we walked lightly and arrived at Tilicho Base camp late in the afternoon.
Day 7: To Tilicho Tal and back to Tilicho Base Camp (0900 – 1400)
We originally planned to hike up to the lake, then return to Mursang where our bags where waiting, but we were tired and in no rush. So we climbed the 3 hours up to the lake, took our pictures, then descended the 1.5 hours back to camp and rested.
There is no water on the way to the lake so bring plenty with you.
Day 8: Tilicho Base Camp – Yak Karka (0800- 1400)
We left base camp early and retraced the trail back to Mursang where we ate breakfast and collected our bags. From Mursang we took the high trail up the side of the mountain where you have a great view of the 2 valleys meeting each other in Manang.
From the viewpoint we had to descend a steep icy trail on the shadowy side of the mountain. I found it easiest to slide the icy sections on my butt, Charlie on the other hand decided to slide on his stomach. Next time I come to Nepal I will bring crampons just in case.
At the bottom we crossed the river back to the other side of the valley that would lead us to the Thourng La Pass.
We arrived in Yak Karka around 1400, charged our electronics, ate dinner, and racked out.
Day 9: Yak Karka – Thorung Pedi (0900- 1130ish)
This was a short day but was necessary for acclimation that we stopped in Thorung Pedi for the night (and the fricken lodge owners knew it!).
The lodge at Thorung Pedi is very nice, but the atmosphere was off. The whole staff hid away in the kitchen the whole time and wouldn’t let us pet their dog. Kind of weird but I guess isolation does that to you.
We had a great time though, they have an acoustic guitar you can play and I broke out the hacky sack for a bit.
Day 10: Thorung Pedi to High Camp (45 minutes)
Technically we could have crossed the Thorung La Pass on this day but we decided we would have another off day/acclimate more. So we slept in, ate breakfast, and hiked the 45 minutes up the 300-meter climb to High Camp at 4900m elevation.
I am happy we stopped here because there are some great views if you climb the hills around the camp. One of the best views of the circuit in my opinion, right there is the view from Ghyruk. Much better than pooh hill.
Day 11: High Camp – Thorung La Pass – Muktinath (0630 – 1345)
Most people set off to tackle the pass in the darkness of the early morning. I did not like this idea because the trail is icy, there are drop offs, and I don’t like waking early. So we set off at the sight of first light and climbed the pass reaching the top of the pass (5400m) at 0900.
Once we got our pictures and ate some candy we descended the 1600m ankle breaker hill to Muktinath in the Mustang Valley. From here on out we would be descending the Kali Gandaki valley until we reached Tatopani.
Muktinath is a cool town with some Tibetan influence and is a sacred place for Hindus and Buddhists. It is home to one of the eternal flames.
We stayed in the Bob Marley hotel, a trendy place with good food and hot showers.
Day 12: Muktinath – Kagbeni – Jomson on MTB (1100 – 1615)
From Muktinath we decided to rent MTB because the road construction from here made walking on a trail seem futile. Plus, we wanted to see to more places in less time, that’s the point of traveling right!? To see more shit.
So we found a flyer on a door, called the number, and a Nepali man came down to loan us some bikes. We paid 3,000 nrp each, he took our packs, and we set off down the road after agreeing to meet him in Jomson at the end of the day.
We set off towards Kagbeni because we heard it was a beautiful little town with a lot of Tibetan influence. Supposedly it is the farthest north town you can visit along the Kali Gandaki river before having to pay the $500 permit to see upper Mustang.
The road was bumpy with a gradual decline, you hardly ever had to use the breaks. At times there were up hills but it never lasted too long. The views were great.
We arrived in Kagbeni around 1300 and after a short ride through town we stopped at Yak Donalds for breakfast. A typical Nepali Restaurant but with an awesome name and sign.
We left Kagbeni at 1500 and rode the bikes along the river until we arrived in Jomsom around 1630.
Jomsom is a big town, it takes awhile to walk from one side to the other, which we had to do after dropping the bikes at the north side of town. Most of the hotels are near the airport on the south side of town. There is a Nepali Mountain Division here, don’t take pictures of the Base or its Soldiers.
Jomsom also has 2 ATM’s near located near the airport. They are a little tricky to operate, but there is a sign on the wall that tells you how to do it.
Day 13: Jomsom – Tatopani via Jeep (1330 – 1800)
We spent the morning in Jomsom sitting on the side walk trying to negotiate a good deal for a jeep to Tatopani. We all agreed to jeep this section of the hike because the road had replaced the trail and we were all ready for the hot springs in Tatopani.
The jeep drivers were all asking ridiculous prices for a ride, the going rate was around 33,000 nrp. So we just sat around and ate cake we bought from the German Bakery across the street (it had the nicest little girl). Charlie and I also broke into some morning beers since this was the last place they would be so cheap before we arrived in Pokhara.
We eventually found a jeep for 17,500 nrp and made a deal to stop in Marpha (the apple capital of the region) so we could walk around the beautiful white stone village.
Arriving in Marpha around 1400, we had lunch and I bought a bottle of Apple Brandy. We walked out of the city (there are no roads to it) and met up with our jeep on the road around 1500.
We arrived in Tatopani in the dark around 1800.
Tatopani has a hot spring that serves free popcorn (awesome) and beer for purchase. Its down by the river, just follow the smells.
Day 14: Tatopani – Ghorepani (0900- 1645)
This was our first day hiking in 2 full days, so we all felt perky and fresh, except for Vincent. Vincent ate a bad egg sandwich in Marpha and was deathly ill, but he puked his way up the 1400m stone step climb to Ghorepani. We were all pretty impressed.
Climbing from Tatopani to Sikah took about 3 hours and we stopped to eat lunch. Except Vincent, Vincent spent this time in the bathroom.
From sikah it took another 3 hours to climb to Ghorepani, where they put the sign welcoming you to the town, 10 minutes down hill from the town. So just when you think you have arrived, you have not, please continue to climb.
Ghorepani is built high on the hillside with some excellent views of the Annapurna range. In fact, I think the views from Ghorepani were just as good and the view on Poon hill. But I still had to climb it to find that out…
The next morning we would wake at 0 dark 30 to climb Poon hill and watch the sunrise.
Day 15: Ghorepani – Pooh Hill – Hille – Pokhara (0500 – 1630)
This was our last day on the trail. Kind of sad but we were all ready to relax in Pokhara.
We woke at 0500, dressed warmly, and took off on individually to tackle the hill. With no pack and a big ego, I ran up the hill getting there first. The price to summit the hill is 50 nrp, but if you wait until after sunrise, it is free because the guards leave.
At the summit they have a coffee shop that sells hot and cold drinks.
The sunrise and view was average in my opinion, compared to what we just saw hiking. But it was a great way to finish the hike and get a group picture. Once the sun was all the way up we descended back to Ghorepani to eat breakfast and grab our packs.
We set off on the last leg of our hike at 0900 for the brutal 1800m descent down stone steps. This was the worst day of the hike for me because I hate doing downhill. It’s bad on your knees and you get nothing out of it.
We arrived at Hille (the earliest place you can get a jeep) at 1400 and split the ride with 2 other people for a total of 7 in the vehicle. This cost 1000 nrp each, for a total of 7000 nrp.
We arrived in Pokhara at 1630 and our trek on the circuit was completed. We spent the next 5 days enjoying the luxury of Pokhara. We went white water rafting, got massages, ate meat, rented scooters, Vincent dealt with card and bank issues, Yana went paragliding, and I tried to run around Phewa lake but got lost after 20km of running around rice paddies. More on that later.
Once we finished up in Pokhara we shared a private jeep back to kathmandu for 10,000 nrp. We all went out for one last dinner before we departed ways one at a time.
I’d like to thank Milan and C’mon for their help and hospitality in Kathmandu. Hope to see you again in the future. Purple Haze!
I enjoyed the hike very much. Hiking the trail with Yana, Charlie, and Vincent was the happiest I have been in a long time. I finally felt like I was traveling properly again, just like I had done on my first vacation to Peru in 2012.
Nepal is number 2 on the list of my favorite places I have been. Peru is number 1 because it is more diverse in terrain.
The mountains in Nepal are colossal and I have more respect for them now than ever. I plan on returning to hike Everest Base Camp, complete the Everest Marathon, and hopefully one day return to this circuit.
If you have any questions leave a comment and I will reply. I tried to limit the pictures in this post to avoid spoiling the views.