A Guide to the Annapurna Circuit

Trail leading into the Annapurna Circuit
From woodland to ice capped mountains on the Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit is one of the most popular treks the world. It follows a path that will take you from green pastures to leafy pine forests to arid landscapes and spectacular views of the Annapurna mountain range.

The circuit trekking route is versatile and can be completed as a whole over 21 days or you can trek certain sections ranging from 3 days and up.

Offering one of the most diverse and stimulating trekking routes anywhere in the world the Annapurna Circuit is great both for those seeking a challenge and for those looking for a trek that can be tailored to suit a shorter more leisurely pace.

In recent years the roads on both the east and west have put off many trekkers wanting a longer trek. Do note that while the original older APC is effected and the new NATT is not so good there is a very viable option to avoiding the road issue and having a long trek. We'll cover that a little later.

Where is the Annapurna Circuit?

From woodland to ice capped mountains on the Annapurna Circuit

The Annapurna Circuit (APC) is the name given to a popular trekking region in central Nepal that today has developed into several different routes within the area.

At its highest the Annapurna Circuit reaches 5,416 meters (17,769 ft) at the Thorong La pass.

The average duration for the Annapurna Circuit is between 5 & 25 days. Though this can be extended by side treks or shortened by taking a flight or vehicle.

Map of the Annapurna Circuit

 This map shows you the most popular Annapurna trekking route.

I've marked Kagbeni in its correct location on this map - ignore Google's listing for now. Also marked out is Jomson for those wanting to fly in/out.

Please note this map should not be used as a practical trekking map. While the main Annapurna Circuit route remains the same there are variations depending on side trails, weather conditions, time of year, natural events and physical changes to the trek paths. Detailed trekking maps can be obtained in Nepal at very low costs.

Facts about the Annapurna Circuit

Facts about the Annapurna Circuit are becoming more frequent as the ever growing (controversial road) around it is leading to more documentation.

Highest point of the Annapurna Circuit

Tilicho lake on the Annapurna Circuit
Tilicho lake on the Annapurna Circuit is 4919 metres

At 5,416 meters (17,769 ft) the Thorong La pass marks the highest point of the Annapurna Circuit. You cross over after a night in High Camp or Thorong Phedi. There is a plaque at the top covered in prayer flags which is a popular photo stop.

Highest sleeping point on the Annapurna Circuit

Thorong Phedi (4450 m) offers accommodation which is often known as low camp. While high camp (4850 m) is another option for a last nights stay before crossing Thorong La pass.

How long have people been trekking the Annapurna Circuit?

It has always there with trails used as trading routes between Nepal and Tibet. However as a trekking route it really only became open in the late 1970's.

The original trail took about 23 days to complete on foot in the early 1980's.

What mountains can you see from the Annapurna Circuit?

The Annapurna massif displays the peaks of Annapurna I, Annapurna II, Annapurna III, Annapurna IV. Other peaks include Machhapuchhre, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Gangapurna and Tilicho Peak. High peaks range from 6,000 meters to over 8,000 meters.

How to arrange a trek the Annapurna Circuit?

Arranging a regular Annapurna Circuit trek

There are many options here ranging from package tours to independent trekking. As per usual booking online can be significantly more expensive than booking in person when in Nepal.

Package tours bought online:

Package tours bought online generally have a fixed itinerary but allow some flexibility. e.g. If you don't have 21 days then they can arrange flights from Jomson to Pokhara and on to Kathmandu.

They'll also included food, porters, accommodation and permits.

Pro's include that everything is done for you ahead of time. Con's include you don't know who your guide will be and you'll be paying a lot more than getting everything done yourself. Here's a list of recommended trekking tours online.

Package tours bought in Nepal:

Top of the Throng La Pass
Top of the Throng La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit

If you have a couple of days in Nepal then you can arrange a package trek around the Annapurna Circuit yourself. Do shop around and don't get swayed by the typical talk of about places names or villages enroute.

What's important here is know what's included, meet your guide before hand and feel comfortable with the agency/guide.

Do make sure that everyone know's what's included in the total price. Accommodation, permits, bus fees, meals etc.

Quite often these package tours are broken up into different categories. High priced categories will included everything, while lower priced package tours might not include accommodation.

Pro's here include actually meeting the guide before hand, being able to ask questions in person and it's much cheaper than online. Con's include listening to the bewildering amount of options people will give you and not knowing all your options.

Hiring an Annapurna Guide yourself:

You might want to save on costs a little more and simply hire an independent guide rather than a package tour. Again the costs come down substantially however you'll be expected to do more.

You'll have to bargain and barter for your own room and order your own meals. Though the more friendly you are with the guide the more chance they'll help you out.

Pro's included a much cheaper trek with more independence. Con's include having to bargain and barter for your own rooms (it's not hard) and order your own meals.

Independently trekking the Annapurna Circuit yourself:

Finally if you have trekking experience you can do away with the idea of hiring a guide all together. The Annapurna Circuit is a well marked trail with plenty of accommodation enroute.

Pro's here include complete independence and a much lower budget. Con's include having to do everything yourself from permits to lodging. You'll also be more vulnerable to accidents, sickness and being alone in the mountains so prior experience is essential in this environment.

If looking for a guide for the Annapurna Circuit trek I recommend you read my article on How to find a trekking guide in Nepal.

You may also contact me if you wish to have my personal recommendation.

Best time of year to go trekking the Annapurna Circuit

Weather along the Annapurna range is subject to change:

There are however peak seasons and the following months have traditionally been used as a guide for preferred times of the year to trek the Annapurna Circuit.

inside a monastery on the Annapurna Circuit
Visiting a monastery on the Annapurna Circuit is one of the cultural highlights

October - November/(early)December: this is Nepal's peak and best time to go trekking.

February-March-April: this is the end of the dry season and the second best time of year to go trekking.

November/December to January/February: the skies are clear but it can get very cold and there is a risk of passes being closed due to snow.

May - June: This is Nepal's hot pre-monsoon season and it can get very warm indeed. The valleys however are starting to bloom with flowers though.

June - September: this is Monsoon season and the least popular time to go trekking in Nepal. The risk of leeches, downpours and occasional mudslides increase.

In early 2017 there no reports of any weather or trekking issues on the Annapurna Circuit.

For more details please see my guide on the best time of year to go trekking in Nepal

What permits are needed for the Annapurna Circuit Trek?

If you are on a package tour then your agency will give you a list of things to bring for your trek.

For the Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal you'll need the following permits:

  • Annapurna Conservation Area Project Permit
  • TIMS Card
  • Regional Tax*

Trekking permits you need mean to include the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) and TIMS Card (Tourism Information Management System) available at agents and through the official Nepal Tourism Board offices in Kathmandu and Pokhara (trekking guides can usually take care of this for you).

Extra fees* In July 2018 Gandaki (state that the Annapurna Circuit is in) announced an additional USD $10 tax to "foreigners" entering the area. This is similar to the charge placed on trekkers to Everest last year. This is an ongoing situation that is not supported by many organizations in Nepal. There is also the possibility that the 11 sub-regions within Gandaki may also try to implement similar charges. These "fees" are paid when entering the area. As of this update, the USD$10 charge is not being collected. Updates as and when they come will be here. Meanwhile, keep in mind these extra fees and always ask for a receipt.

What equipment do you need for the Annapurna Circuit?

If you are on a package tour then your agency will give you a list of things to bring for your trek. However, keep in ming the times of year and the fact that the Annapurna Circuit is quite long. Keeping things light will make the trek easier and more enjoyable.

If taking a trip to Annapurna Circuit in Nepal the following will is generally needed:

  • A good pair of hiking boots
  • A wind cheater style jacket
  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Trekking pants
  • Shorts
  • Socks
  • Sunscreen
  • Rubber sandals
  • Water bottles (water purification system)
  • Map

Please note the above is a very basic list. For a full comprehensive list please see my article on trekking equipment you need for Nepal

How fit do I need to be to go on the Annapurna Circuit?

A certain level of fitness is required though with the main road now open it depends on how much trekking you actually want to do.

Trekking a narrow ledge on the Annapurna Circuit
Although there are no technical aspects for APC having a good head for heights can help

I would advise anyone going trekking to see a doctor before they go for a check-up and to talk about dealing with altitude sickness.

For pure trekking around the whole Annapurna Circuit in Nepal you'll need to consider the amount of days you'll be out trekking to get an idea of how fit your should be. Most days include 4-7 hours of slow hiking. Keep in mind the entire trek is about 17-21 days covering roughly 160km to 200km.

The hardest point for many people is going from Thorong Phedi to Thorong La pass. It's a hard 45 minute climb up to high camp and then across Thorong La pass. On the other side it's a steep decent which can catch people's knees.

However altitude is often the biggest problem (time of year pending). Going slowly is essential to avoid sickness. Do read about altitude sickness in Nepal.

Many people from all walks of life, ages and fitness levels have trekked the Annapurna Circuit. In the peak season there's nothing much to worry about in terms of cold or extreme weather.

As with most treks, generally speaking, the slower you trek, the easier it is.

What's the food like on the Annapurna Circuit?

The food is typical Nepalese trekking food. Meaning you can get just about anything for a price. From steaks to pasta, pancakes and chop suey. Granted it won't be Michelin star quality food, but it will get the job done.

Do keep in mind that you will be burning a lot of calories and you will need to drink a lot more water. Trekking staples like Dal Bhat are filling, healthy and filled with good calories to keep you fueled up. This is what Dal Bhat looks like when you are out trekking.

Beer, soda, coffee, tea, hot lemon and water are also widely available. But just like food the price goes up the further you get to Thorong La pass. Once you reach Kagbeni the price starts to come down again.

Many people use water filters to help with their budget and reduce waste on the trek. There are also water stations where you can buy filtered water dotted along the trail however they are not always open.

Treats like chocolate bars can be bought all along the Annapurna Sanctuary but the price can get steep in remoter areas. Meat also tends to get harder to find the more remote you get. Bring a block of Yak cheese can really help with adding protein to your diet!

What's accommodation like on the Annapurna Circuit?

From basic dorms to fairly good hotels just about everything is available on the APC. Even during peak season there's rarely a shortage of tea houses to choose from. Hot showers however might get into short supply is you are in a busy tea house.

Heaters are also available in higher standard accommodation. Prices range tend to go up the higher and more remote you get. But should rarely go over 600 rupees and often start at 80-100 rupees. See more in the costs section later on.

During the winter months fires are commonplace including fires for under your table on the coldest of nights.

Read more and see photographs of what trekking accommodation and tea houses are like in Nepal.

How difficult is the Annapurna Circuit?

In terms of terrain there are no ropes needed and no ice picks needed. There is no vertical climbing involved though going from Thorong Phedi to high camp is a good 45 degree trek at high altitude.

Low camp on the Annapurna Circuit
Trekking for low camp to high camp on the Annapurna Circuit is one of the more difficult objectives

The trails are not paved. It is rough, rocky and gravel strewn. Most of the trek involves long paths that go up and then down. People with weak ankles should take caution. Alongside the road it is dusty and vehicles driving along it can make things uncomfortable. Depending on the time of year you go there can also be snow and ice in the trails.

The hardest part of the Annapurna Circuit is going from Thorong Phedi to High Camp and across the Thorong La pass it's a steep climb at a high altitude. That said from Thorong Phedi to High Camp it's only 45 minutes ... but you'll remember them.

How much does the Annapurna Circuit trek cost?

Costing for the Annapurna Circuit is subject to many things.

Firstly you will need an Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) permit which is 3,000 rupees and a TIMS Card (Tourism Information Management System) which is USD $20 for solo trekkers or USD 10 if you are with a group. Both available via trekking agents and through the official Nepal Tourism Board offices in Kathmandu and Pokhara.

When pricing do realise that package tours bought overseas are the most expensive. Package tours bought within Nepal are next. Going with a guide and porter is next. Going with just a guide is next. And finally going it alone is the cheapest.

Online package tours of between 17-21 days can cost up to USD$1,800+ pp. Not including water. This does include a guide, accommodation, permits and meals. Here are some recommended package treks where you can get an idea about prices.

In country package tours can cost $1200-1500. This includes a guide, permits, meals and accommodation.

Guide only services can cost from $20 to $50 per day. The more you pay, the more experience your guide should have.

Two or more people traveling together can make things cheaper. You are essentially halving the cost of guide and accommodation. Something to consider if budget is an issue.

Porter fees are roughly half that of guides.

  • The cost of an average teahouse with shared bathroom is 100 rupees in the off season and 300 in peak.
  • The cost of one liter of water reaches a maximum of 200 rupees at high camp. It starts at around 50-80 rupees.
  • The cost of a plate of Dal Bhat starts at around 200 rupees and climbs to 600 rupees.

Many people with trekking experience will consider a guide/porter as they are cheaper. It should be noted these are trainee guides and may not have a lot of English.

Don't forget to include your travel insurance in your budget. And be aware that many policies don't include trekking above 4000 meters. Check with your insurance company before you leave.

Please note prices here are rough estimates and do fluctuate depending on the time of year, weather conditions and political situations in Nepal. However they should give you a rough idea on budgeting your trek to the Annapurna Circuit.

If you are flying to Jomsom or Pokhara, please note that flight prices have increased in 2019. You might want to consider adding a day to your itinerary to travel from Kathmandu to Pokhara by bus than taking a flight.

If you find arranging your own trek difficult or overwhelming then do check out my find a trekking guide service.

The Annapurna Circuit route

There is no set route on the Annapurna Circuit. This is something that confuses many people when they visit trekking agencies or enquire online. They are bombarded with names of villages, mountain peaks and routes. Each one sounds a little different.

The truth of the matter is that there are so many villages with accommodation and restaurants along the main route that you'll come across one every hour or so. Which village you spend the night in is up to you. However your guide will often have preferred tea houses they like to stay in.

Here is a typical Annapurna Circuit route:

Day Route Distance (km) Highest Altitude
1 Besisahar to Bahundanda (bus/jeep available) 18 km (5 hours avg) 1,200 m
2 Bahundanda to Chamje (bus/jeep available) 12 km (3+ hours avg) 1,430 m
3 Chamje to Bagarchhap (bus/jeep available) 15 km (6 hours avg) 2,160 m
4 Bagarchhap to Pisang 16 km (6 hours avg) 3,400 m
5 Pisang to Manang 12 km (4.5 hours avg) 3,520 m
6 Acclimatization in Manang* rest or local trek 3,520 m
7 Manang to Yak Kharka 9 km (4 hours) 4,020 m
8 Yak Kharka to Thorung Phedi or High Camp 8/9 km (3/4 hours) 4,550m/4850 m
9 Thorung Phedi or High Camp crossing Thorung La pass to Muktinath 13/12 km (8/7 hours) 5,416 m
10 Muktinath to Kagbeni (bus/jeep available) 10 km (2.5 hours) 2,800 m
11 Kagbeni to Jomsom/Marpha* (bus/jeep available) 13/16 km (3/4 hours) 2650 m
12 Marpha to Kalopani (bus/jeep available) 19 km (4-5 hours) 2,513 m
14 Kalopani to Tatopani (bus/jeep available) 24 km (6 hours) 1,190 m
15 Tatopani to Ghorepani (bus/jeep available) 15 km (6 hours) 2,860 m
16 Ghorepani - Poon Hill 5km (2 hours) 3, 210 m
17 Ghorepani - Pokhara (bus/jeep available) 35 km (bus)  

* Additional days for acclimatization Many people take a second day of acclimatization in Manang and go on a side trek. Likewise Marpha is a popular place to rest up for another night on the way back. Ghorepani's hot springs also entice people to spend an extra night.

* Jomsom is popular town with an airport on the Annapurna Circuit that can get busy with Nepali tourists. Many trekkers fly in or out from Jomsom to Pokhara. It's quite a large town in comparison to neighboring villages. If you are not flying and prefer quieter places then continuing on to Marpha is suggested.

In any case you should always plan for extra days rather than trying to shorten the trek for budgetary considerations. Spending an extra two nights in Manang is better than having to turn back due to altitude sickness later on.

Read more about altitude sickness.

The New Annapurna Trekking Trails (NATT)

In 2010 a controversial road was “completed” that many trekking organizations said would destroy the fabled Annapurna Circuit. It has indeed had a negative impact on the original trekking route along the western side of the circuit (from Kagbeni down).

In 2006 ACAP started planning new Annapurna trekking trails as alternatives. Sadly they have not yet fully developed.

I've taken many of the NATT trails into account. Though there are some viable routes, and I’ve given options to use some in my book, many add greatly to the duration of the full trek and are badly marked out.

As an example Jomsom to Marpha via Thini and Dhumba lake takes up to 5 hours, while walking the road takes 1.5. For 5 hours you get another nice village and a fishing lake. If you’ve already spent 12 days trekking then you’ll have seen similar. I’d much rather end the trek in Jomsom or continue with a jeep/bus to Tatopani and move on to ABC.

I don’t like the road and I think it was a bad decision to build it as it currently stands. But it’s done, the past is the past and we must move on. I don’t think the NATT are that good as an alternative either. I’d rather use my trekking days elsewhere.

With all said and done the Annapurna Circuit remains the premier trekking route in the world with one of the highest passes. All that's changed is that if you want to avoid the road you just end your trek at Jomsom and take a bus or jeep to either Pokhara. If you want to extend the Annapurna Circuit then I'd be inclined to not do the "New Annapurna Circuit Trekking Trails" but to extend by trekking to Annapurna Base Camp!

Alternative Annapurna Circuit Routes

For those that want to avoid the "road" issue and feel that the New Annapurna Trekking Trail is not for you then there is another option that I personally prefer. Firstly, complete the Annapurna Circuit all the way to Kagbeni. This way you'll have no acclimatization issues and Kagbeni is a great village to visit.

From Kagbeni grab a bus and go to Gorepani. From here you can either extend your trek to the Annapurna Base Camp or make your way to Forest Camp and the Mardi Himal trek. This way you can easily add 6-8 days back onto your trek and also take in a whole "new area".

There's a catch in all this and that's guides don't like to do this as it means more work for them. However, it's worth picking up my First Time Trekking in Nepal guidebook to find out how to deal with them!

More articles on trekking in Nepal

You might find my following free guides helpful:

Trekking in Nepal

My guide on trekking in Nepal

  Trekking Equipment Check out my guide on equipment & gear needed for trekking in Nepal
List of treks to hike in Nepal Check out my list of treks to do in Nepal complete with maps   Nepal Mountain range Check out my guide on how to travel overland into Tibet for a lot more!
Trekking in Nepal How to choose a trekking guide in Nepal   Record of Mount Everst Base Camp Trek in the Winter My Day by day account of trekking to Everest Base Camp in the off season (winter)
Traveling overland into Nepal Check out my How to travel overland into Nepal guide   Guide to traveling Nepal Check out my country Guide to Nepal

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