Hiking the stunningly beautiful Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Have you ever thought about hiking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal? If so, I can help. Even if you aren't a super fit person, or a dedicated hiker with all the latest gear, you can hike all or some of Annapurna Circuit successfully with just a little planning and of course some decent training.
What Is The Annapurna Circuit?
The Annapurna Circuit is a hike in the central mountain ranges in Nepal. While you can hike the entire circuit, you can also do as little as a few days. There are many accessible starting and finish points around the circuit where you can access the hiking trails, so don't feel that you have to commit to the full 230 km.
While there are many trails to choose from, and many “off shoots” typically hiking the Annapurna Circuit takes between 12 and 20 days, depending on your stops for acclimatization and rest days.
While you are high in the Nepalese mountains, I've known people to imagine that because Annapurna is a “circuit” that its not heaps of elevation gains and losses each day. It doesn't work its way around a mountain range at a consistent altitude like some people assume, it crosses winds its way through and past two river valleys which have some serious highs and lows to them elevation wise.
Thorong La Pass is the highest point at 5416m which is just about the elevation that Everest Base Camp sits, so not to be sneezed at!
Where do you Sleep On The Annapurna Circuit?
One of the best things about hiking Annapurna is that you don't need to camp. You stay in the tea houses every night which are clean, dry and a lot warmer than camping would be! You can also carry a lot less because you don't have to have tents and sleep pads and all the other things you need for a through hike.
The tea houses are in my personal opinion one of the best things about hiking Annapurna.
Years later when I did the Camino De Santiago, it really reminded my of hiking Annapurna Circuit. The hostels are called Alburgues on the Camino instead of tea houses but its the same principle.
A typical day on Annapurna Circuit
Apart from the odd day where we were wanting to catch a sunrise, we never started particularly early. We tended to get up around 6:30 to 7, got coffee and breakfast and would be out ready to leave the teahouse around 8am usually.
We would walk for a few hours and stop for a snack and tea somewhere around 10:30 typically. If it was a harder day, we would try and get at least 3 hours in before we stopped for any period of time.
After morning tea, we would get going again, stopping for a later lunch around 1:30. We got into the habit of the late lunch because then we would only walk maybe one and a half or two hours after lunch, bringing us into the next teahouse around 4pm.
Of course days weren't all the same and some we were in by 3 and on occasion we opted to keep walking a little further to the next tea house and didn't stop until around 6. On the whole though it was a pretty relaxed schedule.
Is the Annapurna Circuit Hilly?
We had a few stragglers join our little group and it was very noticeable that a few of the younger girls would complain bitterly at the bottom of the next set of stairs. I never worked out how they thought hiking in Nepal wouldn't be mountainous?? It seemed very weird but we would just hang back until they'd started the climb to avoid the negative remarks.
YES it is hilly. It is Nepal. You are in the mountains so expect a lot of up and down.
Is it safe for solo hikers to trek in Annapurna?
Absolutely – it is very safe to be on the trail if you are a solo hiker!
While one of our group did get her puffer stolen, on the whole it is very safe and I would have no challenge walking it on my own.
The puffer incident was very disappointing as it was only a few days into the trek which meant she didn't have her warm jacket for the balance of the trip. They had gotten up in the morning, had breakfast, gone back to their room and taken their jackets off ready to hike, put them in their pack, locked the pack and gone to the bathroom. It wasn't until we stopped for tea that it was clear that the padlock was gone and so was her $400 puffer.
The really sad thing was that it very much felt like a local theft and not another hiker. Honestly what hiker would have the tools to cut off a padlock?
While I knew that some Nepalese person probably needed it, it did put a sour taste on the trip for a while. Luckily between some borrowed fleeces and a rain jacket she did get through the rest of the trip OK. Oh did I say it was December?? COLD!
However that was the only thing remotely off-putting for the entire hike. There was never any threat of any physical violence, our guide Tek made sure we were hiking on decent trails and on the odd occasion that horses or mules came past us, he always insisted that we hug the inside edge of the trail and make the locals walk on the outer edge. It felt a little privileged at first but of course they walk these paths every day and are much more sure footed than we are!
Crossing one of the bridges on the Annapurna Circuit
When is the best time to hike Annapurna Circuit?
The spring and summer hiking seasons in Nepal are ridiculously busy and I can understand why, however the shoulder seasons offer the best hiking conditions.
October and November or April and May are considered to be the best weather wise with clear skies and warmer temperatures at higher altitudes. Rain can be a challenge late November and early December, but I have to say December for us was fantastic. Yes it was very cold at night but the days were stunning. We did get lucky with the weather for sure, but it was ideal for us.
While it was very cold at night, it wasn't quite as horrid as I expected. I imagine February would be cripplingly cold and you may not even be able to hike then. The trade off with the spring weather is of course the crowds. It's up to you to decide which suits you more, cold and quiet, or fantastic weather with the crowds.
Should you get a guide for Annapurna Circuit?
Honestly if there is at least 4 of you and you can offset the cost, YES get a guide.
We were going to get a guide, then we weren't. Yes we would, no we didn't need it.
We procrastinated with the best of them and in the end a friend suggested that a guide for the first week would not be the worst thing. She was right.
Tek our amazing guide led us up and down valleys, around mountains, to temples and memorials and to the best tea houses with always a smile. Now that we've been, I realise you don't need a guide but we left happy that we given him a few weeks work and were much more in tune with the mountains after he had guided us with not only direction but discovery in mind.
UPDATE 2023: You now must hike with a guide. The Nepalese government has put this in place starting for the 2023 spring hiking season.
Get in touch if you would like Tek's info. He is still guiding and will do a great price for you especially if there are a few of you. He does like to keep groups small however so be aware of that.
Do I need a porter for my Annapurna Trek?
This one is harder to answer. Tek suggested we got a porter between two of us so yes we did get a porter. It was divine only hiking with day packs but now with more experience under my belt, I probably wouldn't use a porter again. It did feel nice to be supporting the community, but I pack light, you don't have to carry tents and cook gear so there is no real reason unless you want that nice slack pack experience.
However – please take into account that you are hiking at altitude. Its very different to hiking up your local mountain (unless of course you live at altitude) so a porter is often a good idea to give you the best chance to finish your hike.
Options for joining a hiking group
Sometimes it is just easier to pay the money, join a group and walk. Honestly I've done this for the Overland Track (I left it too late to get a permit) and the Inca Trail and loved the “done for me” experience that joining a group hike offers. Some options for jumping into a group tour are below.
Different Options for Hiking Annapurna Circuit
These 3 tours are varing lengths and difficulty over Annapurna Circuit.
The stunning view to Fish Mountain through the flowers
How much does it cost to hike Annapurna Circuit?
This is all based around how long you go for, whether you use a guide and porters or not and the season. I believe that the spring & summer can be as much as double in price to the shoulder and off seasons. That seems hard to swallow at first but its the only time the Nepalese communities get to make their annual income so I can't begrudge them that.
I would budget around $70 USD per day for accommodation and meals. Guides range in prices but I would imagine that $1000-$1500 USD would cover a 21 day trek.
Tek has advised us that meals at present are quite expensive so be prepared to have at least $45 USD per day to eat. Add in your tea house bed on top of that and you will need at least $70-80 USD per day.
UPDATE 2023 – While it varies greatly, it looks to be around $1500-$1800 AUD for a 14 day hike and around $3000 for 21 days. These are tour prices but they will give you an idea of costs. If you are walking yourself without a guide, I would say you could expect to pay around one third of these prices.
Check what is included in any tour or with a guide though. We nearly didn't go with Tek as he was more expensive than others and it was only that he came so highly recommended that we stuck with him. Once we started we found out that his price included breakfast, dinners and accommodation. ASK – you might be surprised. Don't forget to include Visa costs in your calculations.
Expect to pay around 10% of the trip cost to the guides as a tip. Usually this is handed over to the head guide and he splits it amongst anyone who's been involved.
Tips and Packing Lists for Hiking In Nepal
Don't rush: It's not a race. Be clear with your guide in the beginning if you want side hikes or zero days or late starts. Some people prefer to hike early and then rest and some want to hike from 10am, still do 7 hours hiking and keep a leisurely pace the whole way. It's your trip – be clear what you want from it.
MY NUMBER 1 TIP FOR NEPAL
Get your visa before you go. Yes you can get your visa on entry in Nepal but the wait times can be hours at the airport. I got ours before we left and we just walked through immigration out to meet Tek and left the airport. I'm not kidding here – HOURS!
Packing Tips For Nepal Hiking
- A four season sleeping bag. I would say at least -10 degrees C. Even if you are in the summer the weather can change on a dime and you will set yourself in good stead with a good bag.
- A good waterproof. Waterproofs are NOT all the same. A good one will help as a wind breaker as well as against rain but don't forget you might end up walking in summer in the rain. It won't necessarily be cold.
A tried and tested pack. Some of the paths are steep steps and the last thing you need is your pack wobbling around like a “c*@k in a sock” while you're trying to get down 40 minutes of high steps.
Layers. Again – the weather turns on a dime. Layers are important and good quality merino layers will set you in good stead. Don't hike in cotton! Spend the $$ and get a good synthetic or merino layer as your main hiking outfit.
Shoes or boots that fit. If you are walking in the dead of winter obviously waterproofing is something you want to be aware of, however I did it in trail runners as I hate hiking boots and they were fine. I hike in Altra's but any good trail shoe or boot will work. Most of all, make sure they will fit for a few weeks of hiking. In the store doesn't count. Your feed spread and swell & you need to be prepared for that. My multi day hiking shoes are a full size and a half larger than my town shoes. I have weird shaped feet so my toes rub horribly if I don't get larger shoes, but as a rule – NEVER head out to a multiday hike with shoes that fit. Slightly larger is massively better. Check out Wiggle in Australia for some good deals across a wide range of brands. Sportsshoes.com also have a great range and ship worldwide.
- Good sunglasses – the glare can be incredible.
- Quality hiking socks. NO COTTON! I use Injinji socks which I LOVE! They are toe socks which stop that awful rubbing between your toes and then of course stops the blisters that occur after the toe rubbing. They don't take anywhere near as long to get used to as you think and they have lots of funky styles and colors. If you don't want the toe socks, try Kathmandu or Decathlon for quality wool and/or synthetic based hiking socks.
Make sure your travel insurance covers helicopter extraction and also make sure that you are covered for the elevation you are going to be at. If in doubt about the extraction the Austrian Alpine Club has memberships that include high altitude extraction. At about £63.00 its a great deal.
While they don't do it with any intent, the guides will call for a helicopter extraction if they think you need it and will assume that because you are from the west, you can afford it. We met a guy in Kathmandu, propped up at a bar who fell two days before the end and broke his shin bone and his kneecap. Even worse, he didn't have that level of cover and had to hit up his dad for $7000 USD to pay the bill.
Preparation for your Annapurna Hike
This seems fully transparent.
Don't expect to walk all day for 21 days straight with no training. I know its just walking but it is at altitude, it is all day every day and it is up and down constantly with some serious elevation gain and loss in there.
The fitter you are the more you will enjoy it.
Don't ignore that fact. Hike. Hike in hills. Hike in hills with your pack on. Be a boy scout – be prepared – and have fun.