One of the most beautiful and classic long-distance hikes in the world, the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal continues to be a very popular trek. The circuit can take anywhere from 12 to 21 days to complete.
A Stay in Kathmandu
Many trekkers who come for the Annapurna Circuit start and end their trips in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. Located 200 km (or 125 miles) from Pokhara, where the circuit ends, plan to spend a few days both before and after the trek in this city, which is teeming with life, architecture, and culture.
The Annapurna Massif
Named after Annapurna, goddess of nourishment and food, she was supposedly the daughter of a mountain king. This massif has one peak that stands over 8,000 meters tall, along with over 29 additional peaks ranging from 6,000 to 7,000 meters tall. The Annapurna Massif meets with the Kali Gandaki Gorge, which is the deepest gorge in the world and what separates Annapurna from Dhaulagiri.
The Annapurna Circuit travels around this massif and covers anywhere from 160 to 230 km (or about 100 to 140 miles). Because it’s a loop, there’s no viewing the same sites twice, and there are many opportunities along the way for detours or day trips.
Timing is Everything
Thanks to Nepal’s mountain climate, there are certain times of year that are better for doing this circuit, particularly for beginners. April, May, October, and November are the best months because the weather is clear, dry, and not too cold.
Some prefer to make the trek between December and March, which offers equally spectacular views and clear skies, but be prepared for much colder weather and a thicker covering of snow.
While porters will carry some of your gear, pack too much and the rest is up to you to carry. Warm jackets, medicine, and a good sleeping bag are must-haves. Everything else can (and should) be left in Kathmandu. You can purchase much of whatever you might need (including food) along the route.
Teahouses are dotted all along the Annapurna Circuit and are known for being welcoming and hospitable. Expect delicious, home-cooked foods like dal bhat and garlic soup (a common local remedy for altitude sickness). Apple pie is another common offering, thanks to the orchards that abound in the villages along the trail.
Be Prepared to Purify Water
Nepal remains relatively untouched by modern conveniences, lacking waste disposal systems and being easily flummoxed by discarded plastic water bottles. It’s best to bring a reusable water bottle, as many villages offer purified water drinking stations. Water purification tablets are also recommended, as is drinking hot water or tea in the evenings when lodging for the night.
Thorong La Pass
This is the most difficult portion of the trek. The day will start early and involves steep ridges. Be wary of altitude sickness, as this pass reaches nearly 18,000 feet.
More than Mountains
This circuit offers hikers more than just stunning mountain views. There’s a little bit of everything, from jungles with monkeys to terraced rice fields, deep canyons, and patches of towering pine trees. Of course, most hikers come for the views of the Himalayas and the thrill of crossing Thorong La.
Expect Lots of Company
The Annapurna Circuit is much more like a country club than a palace of solitude. Upwards of 40,000 visitors complete the trail each year. It’s a great opportunity to make new friends and share stories each night at the teahouses. Some hikers have likened the amount of traffic to hiking during rush hour, so be patient. You may pass other groups, and at times, other groups may pass you.
A Living Circuit
This trail isn’t some ancient, abandoned pass that is now enjoyed for its beauty. Rather, it’s a living, breathing thing frequently used by the locals to transport food and supplies. The route is dotted with thriving villages. There are many opportunities along this circuit to catch a glimpse of native Nepalese life and traditions.
Take in the Sights
There are many things to see along this trek.
- Yak pastures
- Hot springs at Tatopani
- Jomsom (part of Mustang)
- Pokhara (many hikers choose to spend a day here)
- Views of Thorung Peak, Chulu West and East, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna II and IV, Mt. Annapurna, Nilgiri, and Tukuche Peak
- Manang District (worth a day of exploration)
- Waterfalls, glaciers, lakes, and gorges
- Muktinath (a sacred site for Buddhists and Hindus and a great place to catch a glimpse of a ceremony or ritual)
One option for those completing the Annapurna circuit is to do a side trip to the Annapurna Sanctuary. While this hike can be completed separately, it can also be completed as an add-on to the circuit. It features Gurung, rhododendron forests, and snow-capped peaks.