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Everything You Wanted to Know About The Annapurna Circuit Trek

Annapurna Circuit Trek

Thorang La Pass
Thorang La Pass sign

The Annapurna Circuit Trek, sometimes referred to as ACT, is the primary destination for many international tourists.  According to Nepal’s Immigration Board, the Annapurna Massif is the 2nd most popular destination for foreigners entering the country.  Chitwan National Park is the most visited area outside of Kathmandu.  In this blog post I will answer all your burning questions about the Annapurna Circuit Trek, including when is the best time to go?  Annapurna Circuit cost?  Do I need a guide?  And many other questions.  This post contains a lot of pictures.

Kick back, relax, and get out your note pad and pencil, because you are going to want to take notes! Or at least copy and paste.

When is the best time to trek the Annapurna Circuit?

Most people do the trek in late September through early December (fall season).  The month of October is considered the “best time” by many to take the trek. In addition, other people often prefer the spring season of February through April which can be a beautiful time of year to make the trek.

For many people the winter season, December through February, is too cold and thus I do not recommend. In contrast, the summer season, June through August, is considered too hot and dangerous.

Fall Season

September through December is the “best time” to trek Annapurna.  It is characterized by clear and phenomenal mountain views, fresh apples, and hoards of trekkers.  This is the most popular time to visit Nepal.  The temperatures or the region are pleasant.

During this time Tilicho Lake (2 to 3-day side trek off the main path) is not frozen and covered under snow.  In the higher elevations, and late in the season you will encounter colder temperatures.

Spring Season

Annapurna massif
Manang Valley and Annapurna 2

February through April is the “2nd best time” to trek Annapurna.  You will likely have great, although sometimes a little hazy, mountain views.  You will also have opportunities to see the rhododendron forests during bloom in April.  For the best rhododendron blooms, go on a side trip to Poon Hill.

During the spring season the temperatures range from slightly chilly in February to mildly humid and warm in April.  In April, you can also expect sporadic evening rain showers.

Winter Season

If I wasn’t so fond of the rhododendron blooms, this would be my favorite time to trek Annapurna.  Its cold enough to trek without sweating, and there are fewer people to contend with when you are trying to find a room at a tea house or take the perfect picture.  The winter season is from December through February.  The conditions can be a little hazy to cloudy at times, but you shouldn’t have any difficulty getting some remarkable views.

You can expect the nights to be cold.  You may want to pack a sleeping bag for this season (remember that this will be extra weight on your pack), or you can ask the tea house staff for an extra blanket or two.

Summer Season

The summer season is the worst time to visit Nepal and trek.  The Annapurna region does not receive as much rain as other areas, but it still receives a lot.  Summers, June through September, are hot, humid and wet.  Many landslides and car accidents occur during the summer season making it the most dangerous time to travel.  I do not recommend visiting Nepal in the summer unless you want to see amazing rain storms, visit the pristine high mountain lakes or Upper-Dolpo or Mustang.

How Much Does the Annapurna Circuit Trek Cost?

Annapurna circuit trek menu
The cost of common food items

The cost of the Annapurna Circuit Trek depends on your itinerary, how much food are you going to be eating, price of a guide, and price of a porter.  I will answer each circumstance independently.  The absolute minimum amount of money you can do the trek with is currently $32.  This fee covers your Trekkers Information Management System (TIMS) Card, and the entrance fee for the Annapurna Conservation Area.

If you are planning on staying in the tea houses and eating in restaurants the price is going to be much higher than the price quoted above.  Most restaurants will let you stay for free if you buy all your food from them.  Be careful though, because some of the tea houses will still charge you for your room.  The cost of your trip also depends on where you start trekking from.  The Itinerary below is for the complete circuit.  There is also an option to start your trek in Chame and end it in Jomsom.

Annapurna Circuit Trek Itinerary

Day 01: Start trek in Bessisahar and trek to Bhulbule. 2,756 ft, 03 hrs

Day 02: Trek to Ghermu. 3,707 ft, 06 hrs

Day 03: Trek to Tal. 5,577 ft, 05 hrs

Day 04: Trek to Chame. 8,695 ft, 07 hrs

Day 05: Trek to Upper Pisang. 10,892 ft, 05 hrs

Day 06: Trek to Manang village. 11,550 ft, 06 hrs

Day 07: Acclimate in Manang and go on local hikes.

Day 08: Trek to Yak Kharka. 13,238 ft, 04 hrs

Day 09: Trek to Thorong High Camp. 15,000 ft, 04 hrs

Day 10: Cross Thorong-La (17,769 ft) and trek to Muktinath. 12,172, 07 hrs

Day 11: Trek to Jomsom. 9,000 ft, 8 hrs

Day 12: Trek to Marpha. 8,694, 04 hrs

Day 13: Trek to Lete. 7,381 ft, 06 hrs

Day 14: Trek to Larjung. 8,392 ft, 4 hrs

Day 15: Trek to Ghasa. 6,594 ft, 06 hrs

Day 15: Trek to Tatopani. 3,904 ft,05 hrs

Day 16: Finish the trek to Nayapul (3,510 ft, 7 hrs) and be chauffeured to Pokhara.

Rooms can range in price from free to $5.  I didn’t find any rooms more than $5 or less than $2.  You will find the price of a plate of lentils and rice to range from $5 to $8.  For the most part the price is consistent at $5.  The price of a complete trek lasting 16 days is about $350.  This price only includes tea house accommodations and food.

Guides and Porters

You probably want a guide and porter too.  The Annapurna trek trail is well defined.  You can easily find your way without a guide.  If you want to go on the side trails, you will also want a guide.  A guide’s fee is normally $20 or $25 per day.  It depends on the guide and the season.

I highly recommend a porter.  They are cheaper than knee surgery, and less painful than a sprained ankle.  A porter’s fee is normally $15 to $20 per day.  This price depends on how heavy your pack is and the season.

Annapurna Circuit Chame to Jomsom

The 10-day Annapurna Trek is also available.  It takes a little over half the time of the complete trek and you don’t have to inhale a lung full of dust each time a car passes you.  This section of the trail doesn’t have cars.  There will be motorcycles though.  A private jeep from Besi Shahar to Chame will cost about $25 to $30.  At the end of your trek you can take a bus from Jomsom to Nayapul for about $8.  You can also take a private jeep for about $20.  All other expenses on the trek are the same.

Do you need a guide and porter?

Short answer is no.  The trail is easily navigated without the assistance of a guide.  If you are going on any of the side trails, like Tilicho Lake, Gangapurna Lake, Ice Lake, Milarepa Cave, and Guru Sangpo Cave, you will want a guide. You can follow these links for more information on lakes and Pokhara Caves in Nepal.

The side trails are marked with blue and white paint.  The side trails are also called New Annapurna Trekking Trails (NATT).  There is a greater probability of getting lost or injured on these trails then on the main trail, which is marked by red and white paint.

Guides provide an excellent service.  They can tell you which mountains you are looking at, the elevation of the mountains, the best places to spend the night, the amount of time it takes to get from one location to another and are essentially a knowledge bank for you on your journey.  They can also help you if you are injured.  In addition, some insurance carriers will not pay for your medical evacuation if you do not have a guide.  So no, while you do not need a guide it is better if you have one.

I also highly recommend hiring a porter.  They will help you keep your pack weight off you body.  This can save your hips, knees and ankles from a painful injury.  You are also less likely to get altitude sickness if you do not over exert yourself.  Porters are also inexpensive.

How many miles is the Annapurna Circuit trek?

The complete circuit stretches from Bessisahar to Nayaphul.  It is 145 miles long.  The abbreviated trek from Chame to Jomsom is 52 miles.  NOTE that these distances do not account for altitude gains and losses.  The actual distance traveled will most certainly be longer.

Food and Calories on the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Walking 145 miles is no easy task.  Especially when you are climbing mountains and carrying a pack.  You can expect to burn about 440 calories per hour hiking.  This equates to about 3,500 calories burned per day.  There are 204 calories in one cup of cooked rice and 230 calories in one cup of lentils.  If you eat two plates of rice per day, you are losing about 2,632 calories or 0.74 lbs of body fat.  I lost about 25 pounds while trekking for 36 days.

In my opinion, most of the food being served up in the tea houses is not appealing.  Dishes that are called “lasagna” are noodles with ketchup.  “Pancakes” are doughy blends of wheat flower and water.  “Pizzas” are bread with ketchup and cheese.  At some point in my travels I gave up trying unknown menu items and stuck to ‘lentils and rice’.  At least you can have free refills when you order this dish.  You can follow this link to read my blog post on what to expect before coming to Nepal.

How many people visit the Annapurna Conservation Area each year?

In 2016 83,419 people entered the Annapurna Conservation Area.  In 2012 102,570 people visited Annapurna.  The quantity increased to 113,213 in 2013.  The number of visitors increased again in 2014 to 124,998 people.  In 2015 the number of tourists entering the area declined to 114,418 visitors.  It declined further in 2016 to 83,419.  There was a period of decline in tourism primarily due to the May 2015 earthquake that devastated Nepal.  It could also be due to the construction of roads in the Annapurna Conservation Area, which makes trekking uncomfortable. However, tourism has since started to pick up with visitors in the Annapurna Conservation Area was 144,409 in 2017. Those numbers continued to increase in 2018.

Annapurna Circuit Trek VisitorsThe average number of visitors entering the area by month

The highest point on the trail

The highest point along the trail is located along the Thorung La Pass at 17,769 ft.  The elevation at the start of the trail in Bessishahar is 2,756.  The trail’s incline is gradual, however, the elevation gain of the trail is dependent on starting and stopping points.  It averages about 1,500 feet elevation gain every day until you get to Thorung La Pass.  The slope coming down from the pass is steeper.  The average elevation loss per day is 1,782 feet.

It is for this reason, that people prefer to trek the Annapurna Circuit counter clock-wise because of the gradual elevation gain.  Hiking this direction allows people to acclimate easier.  You can also hike the circuit in a clock-wise direction but your elevation gain per day will be greater.  Hiking in this direction will make it difficult for you to acclimate.

What are some good side treks?

Milarepa Cave
Entrance to Milarepa Cave

Going on the side trails are what makes your trek unique and different from everyone else.  You can have a completely different experience than anybody else just by following the blue and white markings.  Be careful though.  Some of the side trails can take you deep into some heavily forested areas that can be treacherous at times.  If you do go on the side trails, it is highly recommended that you take a guide and/or at least a hiking partner with you.

Tilicho Lake

Tilicho Lake is a phenomenal side trek I highly recommend.  The lake has a surface elevation of 16,138 feet.  It has a surface area of 1.9 square miles.  The lake is surrounded by mountain peaks and blue sky.  In the spring and winter, the lake is still frozen and under a couple feet of snow.  In the fall and summer, the lake is turquoise blue and beautiful.

Tilicho lake
Tilicho lake

Milarepa Cave

There are 2 different Milarepa Caves.  One is in Tibet and the other is on the Annapurna Circuit just below Annapurna 3.  Saint Milarepa, a Tibetan monk, came to the cave to meditate.  While he was meditating a hunter found him.  Saint Milarepa noticed the hunter and began to talk to him.  After talking the hunter hung up his bow, broke his arrows, and became a disciple of Milarepa.  There is a famous Nepali song that commemorates the event

Milarepa Cave is closed in the winter and spring.  You can still visit it when it is closed, but you will not be able to go inside the cave.  The views you will receive at the cave are worth the 3-hour hike off the main trail.  You will be a stone’s throw from the summit of both Annapurna 2 and Annapurna 4.  You can see the valley below and the monastery in Ghyaru, Pisang Peak, and mountains Kangaru and Runam.

Gangapurna Lake

Gangapurna Lake is a small lake outside the village of Manang.  It was created by a glacier and is dammed by a glacier moraine.  You can see it from the northern edge of Manang and coming down from ice lake.  The hike down to the waters edge takes 1 hour.  At the lake there is a tea house you can stay at.  This is a great hike if you have a few hours of down time.

Ice Lake

It takes 5 hours to get to Ice Lake from Manang.  It is a strenuous hike that climbs over 3,000 feet above Manang.  The trail leads you to a plateau that looks out on Annapurna 3, Gangapurna, and Tilicho Peak.  This is an excellent side trek if you are staying in Manang and need to acclimate.

Completing the circuit

Before you complete the circuit, you will be very close to Annapurna Base Camp, and Poon Hill.  I highly recommend visiting both areas.  Be warned, in the busy season they are full of people!  It is best to go during the spring season when the rhododendrons are blooming in April.  You will not have the best weather and you won’t have to fight with people for your views.

Poon Hill

Rhododendron Flowers
Rhododendron tree on Poon Hill

Poon Hill is a 1-day hike off the main road from Tatopani.  You will hike through some villages and an old growth grove of rhododendron trees before arriving at Ghorepani.  You can visit Poon Hill on the same day if you have some extra time.  It takes about 1 to 2 hours to get there.  If you go after the sunrise you will not have to pay a fee.  You will probably want to visit Poon Hill in the morning to get the clearest views and to see the sunrise.  It costs about $0.5 to enter the area.

Annapurna Base Camp (ABC)

Annapurna Base Camp is a little further off the main trail.  The trail head is near Ghorepani.  From Ghorepani you can trek to Annapurna Base Camp in 8-days.  The trek down takes 3-days.  The trail is sometimes inaccessible in the winter due to snow.  You can see Machhapurchhre, Mardi Himal, Annapurna 3, Annapurna 1, Bharha Chuli (Fang), Annapurna South, and many other marvelous peaks while hiking to ABC.

Annapurna Pictures

Annapurna massif
Manang Valley and Annapurna 2

 

 

 

Map of the Annapurna Circuit
Annapurna Circuit Trek Map
Annapurnan 3
Annapurna 3

Other questions, comments, or concerns?

If you have any questions about the Annapurna circuit that you would like me to answer, please let me know in the comments.  Label it with a #badass if you read all the way to the end.

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2 thoughts on “Everything You Wanted to Know About The Annapurna Circuit Trek

  1. Hello there ,
    I wanna do Annapurna circuit trek this month. Is it necessary to hire a trek guide , porters or not ? Please reply this comment.

    1. No it is not necessary to hire a trek guide or a porter. It can make the experience more enjoyable especially if you are going on secondary routes.

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