I am currently in Nepal until December, mainly hiking. I spent the last 20 days hiking the Annapurna Circuit and Annapurna Base Camp (they connect). Before I get too far into preparation, let me explain why you should hike Nepal’s Annapurna region:
- There’s not much earthquake damage in the Annapurna region. Tourism is definitely down this year after April’s earthquake. It’s been a major deterrent for tourists who were thinking about visiting Nepal. The Annapurna region is the most popular area for hikers to come visit, and during my 270 mile hike in the area I didn’t see any earthquake damage. It’s still safe to hike in the Annapurna region.
- The scenery drastically changes in a short amount of time. If you really want to pack in a lot of different landscapes into a short trek, then the Annapurna Circuit is for you. The trail started in rice terraces, then climbed into barren mountains that reminded me of parts of Colorado. Some days, there were snow-capped mountains towering around the villages. When the trail came back down in altitude, it was a very tropical type environment, and I even saw monkeys. There’s a lot of environmental diversity in this hike.
- You get to carry a lighter pack. This is a guest house trek. You will walk between 5-8 villages a day, and they all have guest houses and restaurants. As much as I love camping, it was nice not having to carry a tent or cookware. I didn’t even carry a food bag with me; I ate three meals a day in guest houses.
- Prices are low. This is such a low cost hike for what you get. I averaged $20 a day, and I probably could have gone lower if I had tried. My $20 a day typically got me a night in the guesthouse, three hot meals a day, a mid morning tea break, and the occasional beer. It’s important that you eat breakfast and dinner at your guesthouse because that’s where they make their money. There were a lot of nights that my accommodation was free in exchange for eating my meals there.
How long does it take?
Typically they say that you can do the Annapurna Circuit in 18-20 days. If you are a new hiker or of average fitness, that sounds about right. For particularly strong hikers, expect a shorter time. I did the Annapurna Circuit and the Annapurna Base Camp trek in 20 days (it usually takes 28-30 days), but I was in good hiking shape before arriving.
Of course, if you have less time then the hike can be made shorter. There are jeep roads in many of the villages. You can take a jeep up as far as Manang. After the big pass, you can get in a jeep again as soon as Muktinath or hike to Jomson to catch a bus. You could do the hike in as short as a week by taking jeeps, although you will miss a lot of good stuff.
What to bring:
- Enough money for the whole hike. There’s no ATMs until Jomson, and a few people had trouble getting their cards to work there.
- Trekking permits. You will need a TIMs card and an ACAP permit, both of which can be bought in Kathmandu or Pokhara. Each permit will cost about $20 and is good for 30 days.
- A guidebook or map. I used the Lonely Planet guidebook and the Annapurna Atlas, and they got me through. Data books aren’t really up to US standards and they don’t have as much information. You get used to it.
- Comfortable shoes. Bring your favorite hiking shoes. It was also nice to have sandals for the evenings.
- A small microfiber towel and soap. You will get to shower regularly!
- Sunglasses and sunscreen. It gets bright in the mountains.
- Baby wipes or toilet paper. If you want it bring it because it won’t be in the bathrooms. If you run out you can usually buy TP in towns.
- A headlamp. Even though you’re staying indoors, power outages happen almost daily.
- Rain gear. I used my rain jacket a good bit. I didn’t use my rain pants at all, but I hiked in September when it was mostly warm.
- A hiking outfit. You will pass through mostly Buddhist and Hindu communities, so things are more conservative. I wouldn’t wear shorts that are too short. I saw a few girls in tights paired with baggy shirts, and that seemed to be fine. I usually wore loose yoga pants with a tank top. While hiking alone, lots more men looked at me when I wore a tank top. While I was with my trail friends, no one really looked at me. I never felt unsafe, but it is a personal comfort thing as far as the type of clothes you wear. You also don’t want to offend locals by wearing clothes that are too revealing.
- An evening outfit. Bring something comfy to wear at guesthouses. It was usually slightly chilly in the evenings, but I slept in my underwear on nights it was warm.
- A down jacket or fleece. Once you gain in altitude, the nights get cold.
- Hat and mittens. Mittens are more optional. I only used mine once. I loved my hat though.
- A sleeping bag. Guesthouses do offer blankets, and I met a few people who didn’t bring sleeping bags because of this. To me, it seems risky to not bring a sleeping bag, especially if it’s a cold night or the lodge is busy. You might not always get a blanket.
- Electronics stuff. Sometimes lodges want to charge extra for charging electronics (usually $1 a charge), so I brought a power bank. Pick up a plug converter in Kathmandu because the American plugs don’t fit.
Can you hike alone?
I left for the trail alone, and I met friends along the way. There were lots of people around. It’s common to hire guides and porters. You don’t need to have a guide or porter. If you have the money to hire them, then you should because it’s good for the economy in Nepal. If not, then don’t worry too much about it. The locals are incredibly friendly and helpful and it’s easy to find people who speak English. And you’ll meet lots of international hikers as well.