Hiking the Annapurna Circuit without a Guide, Annapurna Trekking Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

Annapurna Circuit

Last Updated: June 2018

Annapurna Circuit Trekking Guide for Independent Hikers

The Annapurna Circuit is a 210 km, multi-day trek that circumnavigates the Annapurna Massif in Nepal. The trail traverses terraced farmland, river valleys, pine and juniper forests, a desert and a rainforest. The diversity of landscape is astounding, but the climax of the trek is crossing Thorung La Pass, which has an elevation of 5,416 meters. Depending on where you start and end the Annapurna Circuit, it can take anywhere between 9 and 25 days. This is a traditional “teahouse” trek, which means that you’ll find food and lodging along the trail, so there’s no need to carry camping gear. We decided to hike the circuit independently, because we wanted maximum flexibility. However, you can hire a guide and/or porter, or join a guided group trek. Hiking the Annapurna Circuit is an experience you’ll never forget. To help you prepare for this adventure, we’ve created this guide.

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Annapurna Circuit Trekking Guide Overview

  • When to trek the Annapurna Circuit 
  • Annapurna Circuit Itinerary: 17 Days and 9 Days
  • Where to Start and End the Trek 
  • ACAP Permit and TIMS Card 
  • What to Pack for the Annapurna Circuit Trek 
  • Food and Lodging 
  • Safety, Health and Acclimatization 
  • Resources: Guides, Apps, Maps
Planning a trip to Nepal? Read this next:
  • Nepal Travel Guide – what to experience, where to go, what to eat, tips for first time visitors
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When to trek the Annapurna Circuit

There are two main trekking seasons in Nepal: Fall (mid-October to early-December) and Spring (late-February to early-May). The peak season is Autumn, because the weather is more stable and the mountain views are more consistent. And for that reason, it’s also the busiest time on the trails. Spring is less busy, but mountain views tend to be obscured by clouds the later you go in the season.

We trekked the circuit from late April to late May. The weather was generally good, though some days were very cloudy. Towards the end of May, it rained, or sprinkled almost every day and we didn’t see the mountains at all. We also experienced a snow storm at Thorung La Pass (which can happen at any time of year). Hiking in late Spring also has its advantages. Securing lodging is always stress-free and the atmosphere is very relaxed.

When not to go: Mid-June to Mid-September. It’s not recommended to trek during Monsoon season for safety reasons. Heavy rains bring landslides, leeches and flooding.

Hiking the Annapurna Circuit without a Guide, Annapurna Trekking Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

Annapurna Circuit Trek Itinerary

17 Day Annapurna Circuit Itinerary

This is the traditional Annapurna Circuit Route, beginning in Besisahar and ending in NayPul.

  • Day 1: Besisahar (820 m) – Nadi Bazaar (also spelled: Ngadi) (890 m)
  • Day 2: Nadi Bazaar – Jagat (1300 m)
  • Day 3: Jagat – Dharapani (1900 m)
  • Day 4: Dharapani – Chame (2710 m)
  • Day 5: Chame – Upper Pisang (3310 m)
  • Day 6: Upper Pisang – Ngawal (3680 m) –  Bhraga (also spelled: Bhraka) (3450 m)
  • [+1 Day: Insert Ice Lake Side Trek]
  • Day 7: Bhraga – Manang (3540 m)
  • Day 8: Manang Rest Day
  • [+3-4 Days: Insert Tilicho Lake Side Trek]
  • Day 9: Manang – Yak Kharka (4050 m)
  • Day 10: Yak Kharka – Thorung Phedi (4450 m)
  • Day 11: Thorung Phedi – High Camp (4850 m) – Thorung La Pass (5416 m) – Muktinath (3800 m)
  • Day 12: Muktinath – Kagbeni (2800 m)
  • Day 13: Kagbeni – Jomsom – Marpha (2670 m)
  • Day 14: Marpha – Kalopani (2535 m)
  • Day 15: Kalopani – Tatopani (1200 m)
  • Day 16: Tatopani – Ghorepani (2870 m)
  • Day 17: Ghorepani – Hile – Nayapul (1070 m)
  • [Alternative End Stage: From Ghorepani hike to Tadapani, Landruk, and end in Dhampus Phedi]

 

9 Day Annapurna Circuit Itinerary

If you have less time to complete the circuit, we recommend starting the trek in Chame and ending it in Jomsom.

  • Day 1: Chame (2710 m) – Upper Pisang (3310 m)
  • Day 2: Upper Pisang – Ngawal (3680 m) –  Bhraga (also spelled: Bhraka) (3450 m)
  • [+1 Day: Insert Ice Lake Side Trek]
  • Day 3: Bhraga – Manang (3540 m)
  • Day 4: Manang Rest Day
  • [+3-4 Days: Insert Tilicho Lake Side Trek]
  • Day 5: Manang – Yak Kharka (4050 m)
  • Day 6: Yak Kharka – Thorung Phedi (4450 m)
  • Day 7: Thorung Phedi – High Camp (4850 m) – Thorung La Pass (5416 m) – Muktinath (3800 m)
  • Day 8: Muktinath – Kagbeni (2800 m)
  • Day 9: Kagbeni – Jomsom (2720 m)

The next section of this Annapurna Circuit Guide will help you decide where to start and end the trek. Keep scrolling…

Hiking the Annapurna Circuit without a Guide, Annapurna Trekking Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

Where to Start and End the Annapurna Circuit Trek

Where to Start the Trek

The Annapurna Circuit starts in Besisahar. However, you can begin the trek further up the trail, by hopping on a public bus, or private jeep. People cut out the initial stage(s) of the trek, because they don’t want to hike on the dusty road, or because they have limited time. To get to Besisahar from Kathmandu, you can take a microbus (550 NPR per person), a public bus or a tourist bus. We opted for the microbus, because it’s a direct route and the fastest option. It took 6 hours and 40 minutes (7:30 a.m. – 2:10 p.m.). From what we read online, there are no direct tourist buses from Kathmandu to Besisahar. You have to change buses in Dumre for the last leg of the journey.

  • Start in Besisahar – The historical trail between Besisahar and Bhulbhule is now a road with lots of vehicle traffic. We don’t recommend hiking on the road. However, there is a side-trek that bypasses the road which takes 4 hours. If you choose to start the trek in Besisahar, definitely take the side-trek. We heard from other trekkers it’s beautiful, though more challenging than they expected.
  • Start in Bhulbhule – You can take a public bus from Besisahar to Bhulbhule (200 NPR), which takes just over an hour. You can also take a jeep, but it’s more expensive. This is what we did.
  • Start in Nadi Bazaar – You can take a public bus from Besisahar to Nadi Bazaar (also spelled Ngadi Bazaar) for 300 NPR.
  • Start in Jagat, Tal, or Chame – To reach these destinations, you’ll have to hire a jeep in Besisahar.

 

Where to End the Trek

  • End in Jomsom – You can take a bus, jeep or fly (to Pokhara) out of Jomsom.
  • End in Tatopani – If you want to hike a few more days, Tatopani makes for a good end-point, with its natural hot springs.
  • End in Hile – This is where we ended the trek. Just after the village Hile, the trail intersects the road. At the road juncture, there are jeeps waiting to drive you to NayaPul, or Pokhara. We took a 45-minute jeep (1500 NPR for 3 people) ride to NayaPul and then grabbed a public bus to Pokhara.
  • End in NayaPul – This is the official end-point of the hike. From NayaPul, you can take a public bus, or jeep to Pokhara.
Hiking the Annapurna Circuit without a Guide, Annapurna Trekking Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

ACAP Permit and TIMS Card

Before you start the trek, you need to secure two official permits from the Nepal Tourism Board office: (1) TIMS CARD; (2) ACAP Permit. You can apply for these permits in either Kathmandu, or Pokhara. The process is easy and altogether stress-free. We applied and received our permits within 30 minutes in the Kathmandu Nepal Tourism Board office: Pradarshani Marg, Kathmandu 44617.

TIMS Card

The TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management Systems) card is a basic trekking permit you need for all treks in Nepal. The purpose of the TIMS card is to ensure the safety and security of trekkers in the general trekking areas. For individual trekkers, the TIMS Card fee is 2,000 NPR per trekking route per person (non-SAARC) per entry.

ACAP Permit

The ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) Permit costs 2,000 NPR for independent trekkers (non-SAARC). This permit grants you single-entry access to the Annapurna trekking region.

Info Needed for Permit Applications

Before strolling to the office, make sure you’ve assembled the following information as well as a copy of your passport and four passport-sized photos. At the office, you’ll fill out two applications (one for the TIMS and one for the ACAP) with the following information.

  • Trekking entry and exit dates (these can be approximate dates)
  • Trekking entry and exit points
  • Trekking itinerary
  • Emergency contact info for Nepal (we used our Kathmandu hotel contact info)
  • Emergency contact info for someone in your home country
  • Your insurance policy number, their phone number, and what your policy covers

Checkpoints

There are official ACAP permit and TIMS card checkpoints throughout the trek. The checkpoint officers stamp your ACAP permit and write down your details in a log book.

Hiking the Annapurna Circuit without a Guide, Annapurna Trekking Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

What to Pack for the Annapurna Circuit Trek

This is a complete Annapurna Circuit Packing List. You can purchase outdoor gear in Kathmandu as well as Pokhara for reasonable prices. If you have a choice, definitely opt for Kathmandu, as there are many more shops and the prices are better. Remember to negotiate. Although we bought some gear in Nepal, we would not do it again. The product lifetime is, in comparison to the real brands, a lot shorter (probably not even as long as your trek in Nepal).

Hiking Gear

Hiking Backpack. The ideal trekking backpack is Osprey Packs Women’s Kyte 46 Backpack.

Hiking Shoes. We highly recommend the Vasque Women’s Talus Waterproof Hiking Shoes, which is a sturdy and durable boot with great grip and overall support. If you’re looking for a lightweight and comfortable hiking boot, Ahnu Women’s Sugarpine Hiking Boot is perfect. If you want to invest in a serious hiking boot that will serve you well in rocky, high alpine terrain, look into buying a pair of Hanwag Tatra Light Lady GTX. These shoes have an extraordinary profile and aren’t rigid like traditional alpine boots.

Hiking Poles. Opt for poles with lever locks (flick lock mechanism), as opposed to twisting locks. They’re more durable. After hiking the Circuit with poles, we’ll never hike without them. They save your knees downhill and stabilizes your body uphill. They’re also a lifesaver when it comes to snowfields and river crossings.

Sleeping Bag. Opt for a 15F (-10C) lightweight down sleeping bag. You want a sleeping bag that keeps you warm at night, but doesn’t fill up your whole backpack.

Waterproof House Slippers (something you can also shower in). After a day of hiking, it’s so enjoyable to finally take of your boots and slip on a pair of Crocs.

Trekking Clothing

100% Goose Feather Down Jacket. It’s absolutely essential to have a packable, warm down jacket with a hood. We needed this jacket to stay warm during the trek as well as in the lodges.

Rain Jacket. Perfect jacket for hiking in rain, or shine: North Face Venture 2 Rain Jacket. It also protects you from strong winds and it’s available in many colors.

1-2 Fleece Sweaters (one for hiking, one for sleeping). Fleece sweaters are lightweight, dry quickly and keep you warm in higher altitudes. Buy a Marmot Norhiem Women’s Sweater Knit Fleece Jacket on Amazon.

1-2 Pairs of Hiking Pants. We both bought two pairs of the Macpac Women’s Hike Tight Pants and we love them. They’re flexible and repel water. We can hike in them in all types of weather and never feel too cold, or too hot. Bonus: you don’t need to wear a belt.

1 Pair of Thick Thermal Pants. Above 3000 meters, it’s an absolute must to have a pair of thermal pants. They will keep  you warm in the lodges and while you sleep. And, if you get caught in a snow storm, you’ll want to wear them under your hiking pants. Buy a Women’s Icebreaker BodyFit 200 Oasis Legging on Amazon.

1 Thermal Long-sleeve Shirt. You’ll need this extra layer for sleeping and layering when you hike in higher altitudes in the Himalayas.  Buy a Icebreaker Merino Women’s Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe on Amazon.

2 Hiking T-Shirts (quick-dry). You never want to hike in a cotton shirt. These shirts will keep you dry and help you from getting sick. Buy The North Face Women Workout Shirt on Amazon.

3-4 pairs of Hiking Socks. We absolutely love the Icebreaker Hiking Socks. They are warm, comfortable, and you have a lifetime warranty! Buy a pair of Icebreaker Hike+ Lite Anatomical Mini Crew Sock on Amazon.

3-4 pairs of Underwear (quick dry). You will find yourself washing your underwear every 3-4 days. Therefore you want them to dry quickly, because the weather won’t always be sunny. Buy Genuwin Women’s 3 Pack Nylon Stretchy Bikini Panties Underwear on Amazon.

1 Sleeping Shirt

1 Sweatpant, or leggings (for sleeping)

Trekking Accessories

Polarized Sunglasses. It’s critical to buy polarized glasses that wrap around your head. We met so many people who had problems with their eyes on the trek, b/c they were using their fashion shades.

Gloves. Gloves are a necessity. We hiked two days in snow and it would have been miserable without gloves!

Beanie. Another essential we used almost every day. A good hiking beanie protects your ears from the cold winds.

Sun hat. This sun hat is a very important item for us, especially when we’re trekking in higher altitudes. The sun is really strong and you want to protect your head from too much exposure.

Ear plugs. We always carry several pairs of ear plugs with us when we’re hiking. Even though you’ll be sleeping in your own private room, the walls in many lodges are paper-thin.

Cosmetics: Soap, Shampoo, Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Sun-lotion, Deodorant, Chapstick, Nail Clippers

Headlamp. It’s essential to have a headlamp during your trek. We didn’t have electricity in our lodges at least 1/3 of the time. You’ll want one for navigating the lodge at night and for middle of the night bathroom runs. It’s a lot safer than using the flashlight on your phone.

Travel Towel. Opt for a thin, microfiber towel that dries quickly.

Travel detergent. You need a small bottle of powerful detergent. You do not need a lot of it to provide your laundry with a better smell.

Water Purification

Water Purification System: UV water purifer (e.g. SteriPEN), or water purification tablets (e.g. Aquatabs).

2: 1-Liter Water Bottles: Bring your own reusable water bottles on the trek. It’s easy to source water throughout the hike.

Electronics

E-reader: Kindle, or iPad. The trek is long, so chances are one book isn’t going to be enough for the whole hike. We recommend bringing an e-reader, because it’s a lot lighter than packing 3 or 4 books. If you have an ipad, you can also watch downloaded Netflix shows and movies. If you do happen to bring a hard copy, there are some places you can do book trades (e.g. Health Rescue Center in Manang).

Portable Charger: This powerful 30000 mAh Powerbank saved us a lot of hassle during our trek. Power is not always a given in the Himalayas. We didn’t have electricity for several days during the Annapurna Circuit. Also, as you approach Thorung La, you’ll have to pay an hourly rate to charge your phones and batteries.

Hiking the Annapurna Circuit without a Guide, Annapurna Trekking Guide | Moon & Honey Travel

Food & Lodging on the Annapurna Circuit

Food

The Annapurna Circuit is a well-established trek. That means that there are tons of lodges and shops selling food and snacks along the way. Menus across the Annapurna region are mostly the same and include items like: dal baht, momos, soups (garlic, noodle, tomato, pumpkin), fried noodles, fried rice, pizza, spaghetti. However, certain areas have their specialties. The seabuckthorn juice around Yak Kharka was heavenly.  The mushrooms in Kagbeni were especially good. The apples in Marpha were delicious. And in Manang, there are tons of bakeries to look forward to.

What’s Dal Baht?

You may have heard of the expression Dal Baht Power 24 Hour. Dal Baht is a traditional meal composed of a selection of various dishes which are served on a round platter. An an average vegetarian Dal Baht will contain steamed rice, lentil soup (Dal), curried vegetables and pickles. Sometimes the meal will also contain yogurt. Nepalese traditionally eat this meal with their hands, but you won’t be expected to. With always complimentary refills, Dal Baht is the most satisfying meal to eat while trekking. It’s also usually the tastiest.

 

Lodging

Lodges are generally simple and rustic, but offer comfortable and clean spaces to sleep in. Though lodges provide blankets, you’ll definitely want to have a sleeping bag. Bed bugs are sometimes a risk.

Generally, you won’t have to pay for a room if you confirm that you’re eating both dinner and breakfast at the lodge. Before agreeing to stay, we recommend looking at the room and asking about basic appliances and whether they’re free (charging station, hot water shower, wifi). If everything is to your satisfaction, you can simply say, “If we eat all our meals here, can we stay in the room for free?” Note: while most of our lodging was free during the first half of the trek, that wasn’t the case on the other side of the pass (after Muktinath). We paid on average 300 NPR per room (for two people). Also, at higher elevations, you’ll have to pay for charging, wifi and  hot water (Yak Kharka, Thorung Phedi, High Camp).

Annapurna Circuit Trek: Safety, Health and Acclimatization

This trek will challenge each person in different ways. Taking care of your body and knowing when to rest is vital to your health and safety.

Proper Acclimatization

Though the trek isn’t overly strenuous, the steady altitude gain presents a level of difficulty for most people. As you gain elevation, you’ll likely feel shortness of breath and need to take more stops (totally normal). Many trekkers will experience some level of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) during the circuit – some at 2,500 meters, while others only shortly before the Thorung La Pass (5,416 meters). AMS is caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes. Your body can adjust and adapt to higher altitude, but it needs time. Here are some tips on how to avoid AMS:

  1. Doctors recommend that you sleep three nights around 3,500 meters before ascending further.
  2. Doctors also recommend that above 3,500 meters, you only sleep 500 meters above where you slept the previous night.
  3. If you don’t feel well (nausea, dizziness, headaches, etc…), you’re supposed to descend to the last place you felt well.
  4. Drink Fluids (lots of water). Avoid alcohol.
  5. Hike Slow. Keep a slow, steady pace. Even if you can go faster, force yourself to slow down. Your body needs time to acclimatize. The more time you give it, the better.
  6. Hike high, sleep low. Before settling into your lodge for the night, hike to a higher elevation.
  7. It’s common to take diamox (Acetazolamide) to help your body adjust to the altitude gain. Unlike ibuprofen, it doesn’t mask the symptoms of AMS, it actually prevents and reduces the symptoms. Consult your doctor about diamox usage, before you go on your trek.
  8. If you’re anemic, the altitude gain will likely be harder on your body. Make sure to consult your doctor about iron supplements, etc… Ideally, you’ll want to take these for three months before starting the circuit.

AMS Symptoms

  • Early Symtoms : Headache, Loss of Appetite, Dizziness, Fatigue on Minimal Exertion.
  • Worsening Symtoms: Severe Headache, Vomiting, Walking like a drink, Increasing tiredness, Shortness of breath at rest.

Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal

In Manang, during the trekking seasons, there’s a medical facility staffed with western doctors, who are part of the Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal. They conduct a free daily talk about acclimatization and how to recognize and respond to various symptoms of AMS. Definitely attend this session.

 

Other Risks

Some things are just out of your control. Despite taking necessary precautions (avoiding meat, purifying water), I (Sabrina) still got gastroenteritis. Because I wasn’t recovering after three days of rest, we returned to Manang, where I saw a doctor at the Himalayan Rescue Association clinic. After antibiotics and another few days of rest, I slowly made a recovery. This was a really difficult experience, but I was still able to complete the circuit after sufficient rest. While we didn’t meet anyone else who suffered from gastroenteritis during the trek, the resident doctor in Manang said that most trekkers she treats have gastro-related issues.

Landslides. The day before we reached Tatopani, there was a landslide that destroyed a lodge and several homes. Luckily no one was hurt, but some travelers lost all their belongings in the landslide. Landslides are one of main reasons you want to avoid trekking in Monsoon season, but they can happen in late-spring as well.

Annapurna Circuit Trek Resources

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External Resources
  • Trekking Annapurna (Cicerone Guide Book) – This was invaluable for our trek. We downloaded it on our e-reader and used it religiously. You can also pick up hardcopies in bookstores in Nepal.
  • Maps.me App – We recommend downloading the the Maps.me application. The circuit trail is well delineated on the app. No wifi/service needed, once you download the offline map.
  • Around Annapurna Trekking Map 1:80 000 by Nepal Map Publisher Pvt. Ltd.

There are some affiliate links in this travel guide. If you make a booking or a purchase using the links, we’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. It’s how we cover the costs of running the blog!

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