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A hiker stands under prayer flags at Annapurna Base Camp

The Annapurna Circuit: How to Plan & Prepare

Over the course of two trips to Nepal and 1200 miles hiked across the Himalaya, I’ve ended up walking the Annapurna Circuit twice and Annapurna Base Camp once.

I truly believe the Annapurna Circuit is one of the best hikes for beginner trekkers, especially beginners who don’t want to hire a guide. Additionally, the prices and scenery can’t be beat.

Fast Stats

  • Distance: 80-125 miles/ 130-200 kilometers; if you are also hiking to Annapurna Base Camp add an extra 70 miles/ 115 kilometers on to the total.
  • Length of time: 15-20 days for the Annapurna Circuit; add 7-10 days for Annapurna Base Camp
  • Permits: TIMS permit and the ACAP permit; costs $52 total
  • Guides: Not mandatory
  • Daily budget: $20/ day
A hiker stands under prayer flags at Annapurna Base CampAt Annapurna Base Camp

Why Hike the in the Annapurna’s:

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 starts by taking you through rice terraces that are cut into the sides of the Himalaya foothills. Then it climbs into barren, rocky mountains that reminded me of parts of Colorado. Upon reaching a high altitude, snowy peaks dominate the horizon. When the trail comes back down in altitude and heads toward the Annapurna Base Camp route, it is a jungle environment. There were even monkeys! The Annapurna Circuit has a lot of environmental diversity.

You get to carry a light backpack.

This is a guest house trek. You will walk through 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. Having a low pack weight will be crucial once you reach altitude and every step is a struggle.

Annapurna Circuit cost is 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.

If you need more information on this topic, refer to my Trekking in Nepal Costs & Budget article.

How long does it take to hike the Annapurna Circuit?

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 to finish quicker. 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 want to hike for a shorter amount of time that is certainly possible. There are jeep roads passing through many of the villages. You can take a jeep up as far as the village of Manang. After Thorung La, 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 and not acclimatize well.

A group of hikers stand in front of prayer flags and a sign for Thorung La on the Annapurna Circuit.With new friends on Thorung La Pass.

Where to Start & End Your Trek

I recommend starting the circuit in Bahundanda. This is a little further than the bigger town of Besi Sahar. You should be able to stay on the bus that you took from Kathmandu or Pokhara to reach this further village. The road out of Besi Sahar is unremarkable, so you might as well skip it unless you have a strong desire to walk it.

For those who have less time to complete their hike, it is possible to take Jeeps further along and skip even more of the circuit. However, I would caution that you are increasing the risk of acute mountain sickness by doing so. Having the extra days to gain slow elevation and acclimatize is critical.

To get the full experience, I recommend hiking until the village of Tatopani and have a soak in their hot springs. You can then catch a bus back to Pokhara from there. If you’re short on time, you can catch buses as soon as Jomson after Thorung La pass.

Of course, if you’re heading to Annapurna Base Camp you can just continue your hike.

Logistical Details

Permits

The two required permits are the TIMS card and the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP). You can get both of these permits at the Nepal Tourism Board offices in Kathmandu and Pokhara (follow the links for Google Maps locations).

Bring along two passport-sized photos, your passport, and a photocopy of your passport. The TIMS card is $20 and the ACAP is $32. Make sure you get them before your trek because the ACAP is double the price at the entrance of the Annapurna’s.

Transportation

The cheapest way is to take the local bus to Besi Sahar either from Kathmandu or Pokhara. You can stay on it further to Bahundanda, but Besi Sahar is a bigger town and people will know what you’re talking about if you ask for that bus.

The bus will cost about $5 and take the entire day. Go buy your ticket the day before because it will leave very early in the morning and you will need to know when and where from.

From Kathmandu, go to Gongabu Bus Station (also called the New Bus Station). It’s been a few years, but when I was there the ticket stand for Besi Sahar was not in the regular station. I had to walk further up the street, over a bridge, and ask the sellers there. If you’re leaving from Pokhara, ask for the local bus station because the tourist buses leave from a different location.

Money

There won’t be any ATMs on the Annapurna Circuit, except for maybe in Jomson. The Jomson ATM is not reliable, so don’t depend on using it. Take out all the money you will need for the entire hike. I always stay on the safe side and withdraw enough cash to spend $30/day. I never actually spend that much on treks, so then I just have leftover money for when I’m back in the city.

Side note: ATMs in Nepal are unusual in that sometimes they just run out of money. It might seem like you’re having trouble with your card, but it’s probably just the ATM, especially if it’s evening time.

Two sleepy hikers walk with fog and mountain peaks behind them.Early morning hiking

Annapurna Circuit Gear List:

  • Enough money for the whole hike.
  • Trekking permits.
  • A guidebook or map. I like the Lonely Planet Trekking in Nepal guidebook, but you can also just pick up a map in the city.
  • Comfortable hiking shoes.
  • Sleeping bag.
  • Outfit to hike in. Err on the conservative side as to not offend the locals.
  • Warm outfit for the evening time.
  • Down jacket or fleece.
  • Rain jacket.
  • Headlamp.
  • Water treatment method, like drops or a filter.
  • Warm hat.
  • Socks and underwear.
  • Microfiber towel and soap.
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Baby wipes or toilet paper. It won’t be in the bathrooms.
  • Tampons/ menstrual cup/ etc.; you won’t find any on trek.
  • Electronics, power cords, etc.
  • Personal toiletries.
  • Evening entertainment, such as a book or cards.

Can you hike without a guide or alone?

I started the Annapurna Circuit without a guide or friends. The circuit is a pretty busy trek, so I quickly met people and made a few hiking buddies. The Annapurna’s are such a friendly region, that solo female trekkers will be fine.

It’s very common for trekkers to hire guides and porters. There are just as many people with them as without them. If you have the money to hire a guide or porter 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.

Want to learn more about trekking in Nepal. I have a guidebook available for purchase called Tea House Treks of Nepal. It’s a compilation of all of my trekking knowledge I’ve gained from hiking 1200 miles across the trails of Nepal.

The Annapurna Circuit: How to Plan & Prepare.

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