Annapurna Circuit Trek

The Annapurna Circuit is a trek within the Annapurna mountain range of central Nepal.The total length of the route varies between 160–230 km (100-145 mi), depending on where motor transportation is used and where the trek is ended. This trek crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna Massif. The path reaches its highest point at Thorung La pass (5416m/17769 ft), touching the edge of the Tibetan plateau.

Practically all trekkers hike the route anticlockwise, as this way the daily altitude gain is slower, and crossing the high Thorong La pass is easier and safer.The mountain scenery, seen at close quarters includes the Annapurna Massif (Annapurna I-IV), Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre, Manaslu, Gangapurna, Tilicho Peak, Pisang Peak, and Paungda Danda. Numerous other peaks of 6000-8000m in elevation rise from the Annapurna range. The trek begins at Besisahar or Bhulbhule in the Marshyangdi river valley and concludes in the Kali Gandaki Gorge. Besisahar can be reached after a seven-hour drive from Kathmandu. The trail passes along paddy fields and into subtropical forests, several waterfalls and gigantic cliffs, and various villages. Annapurna Circuit has often been voted as the best long distance trek in the world, as it combined, in its old full form, a wide variety of climate zones from tropics at 600 m asl to the arctic at 5416 m asl at the Thorong La pass and cultural variety from Hindu villages at the low foothills to the Tibetan culture of Manang Valley and lower Mustang. Continuing construction of a road has shortened the trail and changed the villages.[clarification needed] With construction of the road, mountain biking is becoming popular, with Mustang in particular becoming one of the world’s most popular mountain biking destinations.

 

Standard trek duration
The trek usually takes about 15–20 days, leaving from Kathmandu with a stopover in Pokhara before returning to the capital. The trail is moderate to fairly challenging and makes numerous river crossings over steel and wooden suspension bridges. Tea houses and lodges along the circuit are available for meals and accommodations. Some groups may opt for tents but these are typically only for those destined for side trips away from lodges such as climbing a peak.

Itinerary
Day 01:  Arrival in kathmandu

Day 02: From Kathmandu, travel west to Besisahar [820m/2690 ft] via private vehicle or public bus, taking six to seven hours.
Day 03: Trek to Khudi [790m/2592 ft]
Day 04:Trek to Bahundanda [1310m/4298 ft]
Day 05: Trek to Jagat [1290m/4232 ft]
Day 06:Trek to Dharapani [1920m/6299 ft]
Day 07: Trek to Chame [2630m/8629 ft]
Day 08: Trek to Upper/Lower Pisang [3190m/10466 ft]
Day 09:Trek to Manang [3520m/11549 ft]
Day 10: Rest day in Manang [3520m/11549 ft]
Day 11: Trek to Letdar [4250m/13944 ft]
Day 12 :Trek to Thorung Phedi [4500m/14764 ft]
Day 13: Trek to Muktinath [3800m/12467 ft], crossing the Thorung La en route
Day 14:Trek to Marpha [2665m/8743 ft]
Day 15: Trek to Lete [2470m/8104 ft] (now often with car or mountainbike)
Day 16: Trek to Tatopani [1160m/3806 ft] (now often with car or mountainbike, day 14)
Day 17:Trek to Ghorepani [2775m/9104 ft]
Day 18 :Trek to Birethanti [1050m/3445 ft] and travel to Pokhara
Day 19:Return to Kathmandu [1400m/4593 ft]
Day 20: Free day in Kathmandu
Day21: Final departure

The Annapurna Circuit is considered to be one of the world’s best treks, and every year thousands of tourists come to Nepal to undertake the journey. But what’s so captivating about this 230 km route around the Annapurna peaks?

Well, everything. The views, the ever changing landscape, the people you meet, the prayer wheels… No wonder it’s on the bucket list of many travelers.

For those entire still debating if ACT is the right trek for them, and for those who already decided that it is- here are the answers for some of the most frequent questions about it. Questions that you have probably been asking yourself, or thinking about them when planning your trip. Let this be your basic guide to this incredible trek, and an invitation for an adventure.

 

Annapurna circuit weather
While much of the Himalayas cannot be trekked in the wet season, much of the Annapurna circuit actually sits within a rain shadow. This means that it is possible to trek most parts of the circuit all year-round, including the monsoon period.
Trekking in the wet season is often encouraged as hikers avoid the crowds that plague the summer months. However, the days are often damp and many of the views are obscured by cloud.

October– November
This is the most popular hiking season in Nepal. Due to the recent monsoons, everything along the circuit is refreshed, clean and vibrant. Views are usually clear and the night sky is extremely visible. Though the weather is generally warm, nighttime temperatures drop below freezing. This is the busiest period on the circuit and tea houses book up very quickly.

December – March
This is the coldest period on the circuit. Depending on the altitude, day time temperatures will be cold and night time temperatures drop well below freezing. The trade off is that the trails are much less busy. Thorung La Pass, which stands at over 5,000 meters, is often blocked with snow and may be closed for days on end. Unless the snow blocks most trails, tea houses still remain open during this period. Clouds prevail more frequently, but clear days are still common. Towards March the rhododendrons start flowering, which brings hill sides alive with flaming colours. Unfortunately, this period is also when avalanches are most common.

April – May
Because of the warming weather, April to May is the second most popular trekking season on the Annapurna Circuit. Most of the snow has dissipated, leaving crystal clear skies. There is often a strange haze that can be seen from the lower altitudes during May. However, this soon passes and cannot be seen from higher up the trail. As the monsoon period builds towards the end of May, the days become hotter and more humid which makes trekking at lower altitude quite uncomfortable.

June – September
This is the monsoon period. Although there are stories of torrential downpours, mudslides and hordes of leeches, this is rarely the case on the Annapurna Circuit, particular the northern section. Whilst the south section of the Annapurna Circuit near Pokhara does get a lot of rain, the northern parts often receive less than 10% of the precipitation due to the location within a rain shadow. The upside of trekking in the monsoon period is that many of the flora species flower during this period, making the trek exceptionally beautiful. This is also the time when the Tilicho Lake side trek is relatively easier.

 

How long is the trek?

The length of the trail depends on where you start and end your trek, therefore it can be anything between 160-230km. It can be done in as few as 10 days, or as many as 28 days, if doing side trips. Usually it takes either 10 or 14 days to do the shorter version, and 18-21 for the full route.

Some example routes:

  1. Besisahar to Nayapul (full route) – 18 to 21 days
  2. Besisahar to Birenthanti – approx. 17 days
  3. Besisahar to Tatopani (then bus and jeep to Pokhara) approx. 15 days
  4. Besisahar to Jomsom (then a flight or jeep to Pokhara) – approx. 13 days
  5. Jagat to Tatopani – approx. 12 days
  6. Chame to Jomsom- approx. 10 days

When is the best time to go?

The best weather for trekking in the Annapurna region is during autumn (September to November) and spring (March-May). The skies are clear then and you will get a chance to enjoy some outstanding views of the Annapurnas and Dhaulagiri peaks. Keep in mind that even though it is not monsoon season anymore it will be much warmer and humid in the lower regions (jungle) and you still may encounter an unexpected shower or two. It will also be much cooler above 3500m. Even though it’s not technically winter you will need warm clothes and a down jacket.

Is it difficult?

The Annapurna Circuit trek (ACT) is considered to be a moderate trek. It doesn’t involve technical climbing but it’s good to have some hiking experience. The trek will go through different terrain and the roads will change. You may encounter jeep roads that get muddy after a rainfall, rock steps, steep ascents and descents full of loose rocks, and creeks crossing the trail in the most unexpected places just to name a few. The higher you climb, the harder the trek will become due to the altitude, so take some rest when needed and remember to acclimatize properly (max. 400m in altitude per day).

Is there are risk of getting altitude sickness?

There is a risk since you will be hiking above 3000m. Different people react to altitude in different ways, no matter their fitness level or experience in the mountains. That’s why you should learn and understand what altitude sickness is and what the symptoms are beforehand. You can ask your local travel medicine specialist, search online or attend one of the lectures organized in Kathmandu. There’s also an option to attend the high altitude sickness lecture in Manang organized by the Himalayan Rescue Association.

What is the lodging like?

The ACT is a teahouse trek, which means there are guesthouses in almost every village. Some are better than others, but generally rooms are basic and come with shared bathrooms. Blankets are provided but it’s a good idea to bring your own sleeping bag as it gets chilly in the higher levels and there are no heating systems inside the buildings. Usually you will have to dine at your lodge in order to get a room. Some places may offer hot gas showers for an additional fee, so take advantage of that while you can because above Manang you won’t get the chance to shower at all until you reach Muktinath, on the other side of the pass.

How much money do I need?

2000 NPR (approx. US$20) per day should be fine for covering your room and three basic meals per day. If you want to splurge a bit more and buy some additional snickers bars, have a continental meal for dinner or drink heaps of hot chocolate, then think of spending up to 3000 NPR per day ($30).

Average prices:

  1. Room for three – 350 NPR
  2. Roll of toilet paper – 80 to 120 NPR
  3. Oatmeal – 250 NPR
  4. Snickers bar – 150 to 350 NPR
  5. Fried rice- 350 NPR
  6. Dal bhat – 400-600 NPR (don’t forget about free refills on this one!)
  7. Yak burger – 900 NPR
  8. Hot chocolate- 150 NPR

Keep in mind that prices may get higher together with the altitude.

Where does the trek start and where does it end?

The original route starts in Besisahar and ends in Nayapul. Even though this is the longest option, it allows you to acclimatize properly and enjoy plenty of different landscapes and climate zones. That’s why the ACT is considered to be one of the most beautiful treks in the world.

For those having less time there are other options. You can take a jeep all the way up to Chame, skipping part of the trek. After the pass there’s the option of flying from Jomsom, or taking combined jeep and bus rides to Pokhara.

Do I need any permits?

Yes. You will need the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP) and Trekker’s Information Management System Card (TIMS card), which are $20 each for individual trekkers. Both can be obtained at the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) in Kathmandu. You will need your passport and passport sized pictures with you as well (but if you don’t have pictures there’s a possibility of taking them at NTB).

Should I hire a guide/porter?

The ACT can be done without a guide or porter, however it’s good to know your options. Having a guide may be useful if you are completely new to trekking or if you are traveling just by yourself. Porters can literally ease the burden by carrying your stuff during the trek. You should definitely consider hiring one if you have an existing medical condition (back problems, bad knees etc.)

Is there Wi-Fi on the trek?

Most guesthouses will offer Wi-Fi, either for free or for a small charge. However, since you will be in the mountains the Wi-Fi might not be working on any given day for many reasons, so don’t rely on it. And anyway, being offline for awhile can be surprisingly beneficial!