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The Annapurna Circuit – Highlights of Asia’s Most Famous Trek

Trekkers from around the world have been coming to Nepal since the 1970’s for this backpacking route and it remains to this day one of the most popular in Nepal. Many will argue to take your time elsewhere in Nepal for trekking but it’s a bucket list trek that should never be written off. With the abundance of information available on this trek I’ll share my experience and highlights of my time on the circuit in 2022.

Annapurna Circuit Thorong La Pass

Quick Stats of the Annapurna Circuit

Distance: 140 Miles

Elevation: 35,000 Feet

Highest Point: Thorong La Pass at 17,769 Feet

Start: Besisahar

End: Nayapul

Average Time: 10 – 15 Days

Fastest Known Time: 2d 20h 22m

Hiking Season: April – May & October – November


*Because there are multiple places you can start and end this trek these stats can vary greatly


Trail Overview

The circuit is a well-marked and easy to follow path that uses a combination of dirt roads and trails that link between villages in the Annapurna Conservation Area.


The trail is mostly an ascent from the starting point of Besisahar (2,400’) until you reach Thorong La Pass (17,769’) which it then mostly descends until climbing up to Ghorepani and Poon Hill at the end.


The landscapes vary greatly between different sections and altitudes. What starts out as jungle will become pine forests, then barren grasslands and snow covered peaks.


For no particular reason the circuit is hiked exclusively counter-clockwise and as you can see from having a different start and end point, it’s not a true loop but rather three-quarters of one.


Once you reach Ghorepani towards the end, you have the option to go towards Pokhara to finish or to continue inwards to the Annapurna Sanctuary where the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) is.


Continuing on to ABC will extend your trip in the 3 – 7 day range and add on about 50 miles.

Favorite Sections


Chame

Chame is where this trek gets good in my opinion, it’s the reason many people get Jeeps to take them to this point to start.


Not throwing out sections before this but the elevation tapers off a bit and can really enjoy good views of the mountains. Most of the trek before this point you’re so deep in the river valley that all you see for views are sides of mountains.


An hour or so out of Chame is the Bratang Farmhouse which is an apple orchard and agro hotel. It has a great café and bakery that makes for an awesome break spot in the morning hiking out of Chame.

Manang

The section leading up to Manang is through a sweeping valley and when you reach this village and start to climb out towards the pass you can look back and get this great scene of what you’ve hiked over the past couple days.


It’s also the last full service type village until you reach Muktinath on the other side of Thorong La Pass. Meaning that if you need to stock up on any supplies this would be a better point than the limited selection carried into the guest houses coming up.

Thorong La

This list of favorites is going in counter-clockwise hiking order but Thorong La Pass is undoubtably the highlight of the trip.


Even for those (everyone) who struggles mercilessly up the pass at altitude stopping to catch breath every several steps, it’s going to be the highlight because after that the entire trek is downhill.


It’s one of the coolest passes I’ve seen in Nepal and depending on the year and weather patterns you can get a significant amount of snow left up top.

Annapurna Circuit Thorong La Pass

Lupra

Many people end there hike after coming down from the pass and into Muktinath, DON’T!


The crowds completely die off from what picked up at Chame and you get incredible scenery and trails.


It’s also downhill, like why skip the part you can actually enjoy the best? Coming in and out of Lupra you drop into this huge river canyon and walk through Lupra with it’s houses and farms built aggressively into the mountainside.


From there it’s an easy walk on to Jomsom – a bigger size village and includes an airport but lacks all type of charm.

Tukuche

Ok, so almost nobody continues the hike anymore after Jomsom because they think it’ll be all road walking. Couldn’t be less true.


See my Gaia route here and at the end but essentially, after about 3 miles of road walking out of Jomsom the trail cuts across the river at the Tibetan Refugee Camp (about a mile up from Tukuche).


The path follows the opposite shoreline before a short climb up a cliffside with superb views of Tukuche and the river drainage below.


It’s a beautiful view of a river that looks mostly unassuming at eye level.

Ghorepani

Well you’re not going to like the hike up to Ghorepani. That. Is. Guaranteed. It’s about 6,000 feet of vertical that will take you all day, if not two days to complete.


What makes Ghorepani incredible is you have great views, a large village, and beautiful trails surrounding.


After being near roads for a lot of the trek, the trails around Ghorepani are in the forest, stone steps, and through high-altitude meadows.


This is where the Poon Hill trek is, a popular option for those looking for a shorter experience to see good views in the Himalayas.

Annapurna Base Camp Trek

This one’s a bonus – from Ghorepani you’re in perfect position to start the base camp trek and it’s a much better trekking in the mountains type of experience than the circuit is.


I was limited on time and my muscles were feeling the soreness of the last week but once I reached Ghorepani and started hiking through those jungle trails I was locked in.


Best decision ever, the only place I saw monkeys while trekking 400 miles in Nepal was heading towards base camp. There for sure all around the jungle areas, but I saw two separate sets of different types and hadn't anywhere else so it speaks for the vibe you’ll get hiking up to base camp.


Getting to base camp in the Annapurna Sanctuary is also as good as it gets so definitely consider saving some time, money, and strength for it at the end.

Knowledge, Helpful Tips & More


Where to Start / End

Besisahar is the official start however most people choose to go further up the circuit after arriving here.


Jagat, Dharapani, and Chame are the most popular places further than Besisahar. The furthest transportation goes in Manang which would be quite a long Jeep ride.


End points vary greatly as well. Because the road is better quality on the otherside of Thorong La buses frequent Muktinath which is where the town Ranipauwa is located with bus stops.


My best hiking days were from Muktinath to Tatapani but to each’s own. A common thing for people to do is bus from Muktinath to Tatapani and then hike from there up to Ghorepani.


It’s all a matter of choice based on feel and time but I do recommend hiking as much as you can.

Permits

See the Stingy Nomads post for better detail below but essentially a few permits are required and need to be acquired in Kathmandu or Pokhara before setting out.


I got these in Kathmandu and can be done at the Tourism Office which is a fifteen minute walk from Thamel.


You need a few different permits including the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit and a TIMS permit. There is a check point every several miles along the circuit so it’s critical these are in your possession.


Your TIMS permit will require a photo – just get these in Thamel from a photography shop rather than trying to get before in your home country.


The Permits will probably run around 6,000 Rupees in total (about $45). It’s more than double for foreign nationals obtaining permits at a checkpoint along the route.


Transportation

It’s easy to just show up to the transport area in Kathmandu early morning and get a van or tourist bus to Besisahar.


From there you can then get another bus or a Jeep if you’re starting further.


Transport in Kathmandu headed to Besisahar was located at the BG Mall about a 20 minute walk from Thamel but confirm with your hotel or hostel owner the night before.


Transport on the route is mostly by Jeep but buses reach a couple towns north of Besisahar, and pick up again right after the pass in Muktinath.


Don’t underestimate the price of each. Although Nepal is cheap and the route might be only 20 miles, it could take hours on the poor roads. I remember my van from Kathmandu was 800 rupees (around $6) and Jeep from Besisahar to Jagat was 2,000 rupees (about $15).


Guide & Porter

If you have any experience backpacking anywhere and do not wish to have a guide, porter, or group then you absolutely are good to go unguided. Download a map or grab one in Kathmandu for a couple bucks (don’t get on Amazon, everywhere sells in the city).


If you want a guide or to join a guided group then it is incredibly easy to arrange, in the country. I wouldn’t advise booking anything online, there’s an abundance of tour and guide operators and everybody is trying to solicit you a tour.


Prices for these tours range exceptionally with minimal difference so it’s best to shop around a few places.



Guest Houses

If this is your first trek in Nepal you’ve at least probably read about guest houses. You don’t need reservations, there are numerous in every village and even a good amount outside or between villages.


The cost in 2022 was typically 500 rupees (about $4) for a private room with two single beds.

At this price you’re required to eat dinner and breakfast but let’s not be kidding, you don’t want to be carrying food weight and cooking anyways so this is also a blessing.


Food prices change dramatically from early in the trek when you're close to major roads to up near the pass where porters are required to carry. The most I would have spent on dinner, breakfast, snacks and tea for myself was around 2,500 rupees or $20. Easily would be less than half of that along a main road.


As far as sleeping goes, guest houses have mattresses on the bed as well as pillow and blankets. You must bring a sleeping bag – you’re backpacking the Himalayas in the winter so this is still an essential.


There's no haggling that goes on at guest houses whatsoever so you should respect this. Every village along this trek is part of a collective union that sets the price for every food item and room so there is no price competition.


Food & Supplies

Majority of calories will come from meals at guest houses but it’s still crucial to have a good repertoire of snacks for the road. Try and gather what you think will be a good start when you’re in Kathmandu.


Finding the perfect balance is key – you don’t want to carry 20 Snickers over Thorong La but at the same time paying four times the amount for the same Snickers along the trek is not a sustainable budgeting method either.

Water

Bottle water is the gold standard here but also the costliest and most wasteful. I would highly recommend bringing a filter such as a Sawyer.


Other clean water options are the Clean Drinking Water stations in certain villages along the route. You pay 50 rupees and can refill your bottles.


Guest houses also offer boiled water that can be trusted to refill bottles with.


A note of caution, even if filtering, only filter from the absolute cleanest sources. As someone who had Giardia from their previous trek in Nepal and did what I thought was a phenomenal job filtering, still have caution and buy some antibiotics in Kathmandu before starting the trek.


Maps & Guides

I found this guide to be most helpful when planning my trek, they break everything down in great detail.


This guide is short and sweet – always a favorite blog to check before heading out.


My Route of the Annapurna Circuit + Annapurna Base Camp exactly as hiked in 2022 on Gaia can be found here. This can give you a good idea of what sections of trail are accessible to hike.


Always good to review as well is the AllTrails map found here.


Hope you found something useful in here and can rock the Annapurna Circuit when you're there - Happy Trails!

 

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Photography exclusively by Dan Oliver unless otherwise stated and cited. Embedded maps are provided by Embed Google Map (embedgooglemap.net) and map images shown are provided as stated and cited.


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