As many travelers coming back from months of adventures around Asia say: trekking in the Himalayas is one of the most unforgettable experience you can have. The landscapes of the Himalayas, its many 6’000+ meters surreal mountains, and remote “stuck in time” altitude villages will leave you breathless. All the information I share here is from my own experience from April 2016. If you wonder if Nepal is fine to travel to, you will want to read this other article I wrote on “Trekking and traveling in Nepal in 2016”.
When to go
March-April and October-November are the best months to go hiking in Nepal. March-April have a bit of fog, because the monsoon coming soon after I believe. Whereas the view is extremely clear in October-November.
Where to plan from
I recommend Pokhara as a base because it’s quiet, clean & nice.
Tourists usually stay by the lakeside area where you can find many guesthouses happy to welcome you without any reservation. Pokhara has everything you need: outdoor shops, visa office, tourism agencies, accommodation, restaurants, bars, cafes, yoga retreats and so on.
Kathmandu is another base many people use, I dislike it because of the dust, pollution & very busy streets. But hey, you may have different tastes.
I recommend you leave from one city (i.e. Pokhara, as recommended before) & come back to that same city straight after the trek. You will leave a lot of your belongings to your guesthouse. So this way you will then be able to access them directly when you are “back to civilization”: happy to wear flip-flops, clean non-trekking clothes & so on.
Yes, guesthouses are used to keep backpacks & other belongings while their guests are gone trekking.
Understand the trek
Whenever reading an article (like this one) or gathering info. You probably want to refer to some actual info to makes sense of it all:
- look at an Annapurna circuit elevation map – it gives you an estimated time between villages
- look at the usual Annapurna circuit map
Time needed and route for the trek
What people call the “whole trek” starts from Besishahar and finishes in Beni or Nayapul. This takes around 20 days, including a few full days not walking.
However, most trekkers shorten the trek: many begin in Chamche & stop it in Muktinath. This takes around 10 days, including a few days of break (not walking at all).
Finally you might decide to go see the beautiful Tilicho lake (the highest lake in Nepal – but not in the world), which is an extra hike starting in Manang, this will take you at least an extra 2 days.
Total time needed
I recommend planning at least 3 days before & after the trek: 3 days for planning & 3 days for “landing” back to reality.
So depending on how many days you decide to take for the trek itself (as seen above), you can easily decide the amount of days needed for your trip.
Your total time needed might look like this: Chamche to Muktinath (10 days) + Tilicho lake (2 days) + 3 days before trek + 3 days after trek = 18 days.
Note that everyone (or almost) does the Annapurna circuit in an anti-clockwise direction.
This is because the ascent of Throng La pass from the other side (starting Charabu or Muktinath) is terribly difficult: extremely steep & endless.
Doing it in the anti-clockwise direction will also give you more time to get used to the altitude.
Where to stop
You will come across many villages during the trek, almost every hour. So you can decide your plans on a day-to-day basis.
There are a few recommended stops though: Chame (cute village), Upper Pisang (beautiful steep village) , & Manang (comfort before Tilicho & Thorong La ascent) being on the list.
After Manang (3500m) and until Muktinath, you will not have to many different type of food nor be able to buy much gear. That’s only a 2-3 days of hike though, 4-5 days if you add the trek to Tilicho.
Getting to and leaving the trek
Buses leave every morning from Pokhara & Kathmandu to Besishahar.
From Besishahar, you can start walking or catch a jeep to take you further up the trek. There was some construction work between Besishahar-Chamche, & the landscape was not great so you might want to take a jeep to Chamche (unless there is a way avoiding the road?). But you can go much further up the trail if you want to, even until Manang.
Buses leave from Muktinath and the villages after it every day. So once you have reached Muktinath, you can take a bus back or carry on walking as far as you like.
You can also read this other article I wrote if you are curious about travel gear.
- Water filter: eco-friendly, helps you save money & keeps you healthy (around 25€ back home, see Sawyer water filter)
- Trekking sticks: save your knees, especially when going down (10€ in Nepal)
- Sleeping bag: a 15°C was enough for me, guesthouses provide blankets too (15€ 2nd hand in Nepal)
- Sleeping bag liner: for hygiene & extra heat (5€ in Nepal)
- Thermal long sleeve T-shirt: small to pack, comfortable & warm (15€ in Nepal)
- Long Johns thermal underwear: small to pack, comfortable & warm (10€ in Nepal)
- Fleece jacket (15€ in Nepal)
- Puffer vest (15€ in Nepal)
- Jacket – something like that (30€ in Nepal)
- Woolen hat (3€ in Nepal)
- Gloves: needed when above 4’000m (5€ in Nepal)
- Warm socks (2€ per pair in Nepal)
- Trekking shoes: I was fine with low ankle shoes – only take one pair of shoes! (between 60 & 140€ back home)
- Flip flops: you will love wearing them after a long day of hike
- Sun glasses
- Sun cream
- Camera: opt out from the heavy reflex camera – use a mirrorless camera or your smartphone
- Power bank: needed if you use (10€ in Nepal) your smartphone to record your track via GPS or to orientate yourself
- Satellite phone: all of the Israelis that I came across had one they rented out for $1 per day (from a Jewish organization)! Can be a life saver.
Buying gear in Nepal
Except a few items (i.e. the Sawyer water filter), you can buy everything in Nepal.
Prices are very low, quality is pretty good even though 99% of the products are copies of the real brands.
You can often buy second hand, either directly from shops or from trekkers that just came back.
Shoes are items you should buy before going to Nepal though. You don’t want to get that wrong & the quality of the trekking shoes sold in Nepal is not very good.
If you forget to buy something, you will always be able to buy it during the hike. Villages on the trekking path often sell walking sticks, technical clothes & more. You should know that the part after Manang (3500m) and until Muktinath, it will be very difficult to buy anything.
How much weight to carry
Never carry more than 10Kg.
Try to bring as little clothes as possible: never take 2 pairs of shoes, limit your number of t-shirts, underwear & so on.
No need to bring too many clothes, you can wash your clothes almost every day: either pay a local woman to do it for you or do it yourself.
You will start trekking early every day (between 6:30-8:30) & never finish after 15:00, so you will always have time to take care of this in the evening.
Just buy enough for the next couple of days if you buy snacks in advance. Food is never missing on the trek, all the guesthouses also are restaurants & they often are a grocery shop too.
Prices increase as you go up but they are still very reasonable (i.e. max 40% increase). The only unreasonable prices I saw were in the Thorong La high camp (where you stay only one night).
Accommodation on the trek
You will come across villages providing accommodation every hour or so. The accommodation available are called tea houses. These are just like regular guesthouses really.
Guesthouses welcomed us for free as long as we would have (pay for) dinner & breakfast in that same place. It costed between 10-20€ per person all included: accommodation, dinner, breakfast, tea/coffee.
Hygiene & washing
You have access to hot showers almost every day too. You might have to pay an extra 1$ for the hot water.
As mentioned above, you can wash your clothes almost every day.
Electricity & internet access
Access to internet is possible all along the trek, via 3G. But it’s often extremely slow & usually barely enough to send an email.
The only exception could be when you are above 4’500m, which probably will only last 24h.
Guide or porter?
First of all, you should ask yourself what is the difference between a porter & a guide.
More often than not, porters of a trek also act as guides in another. So you might wonder why you would get a guide if porters also know the trek.
One thing to note also: do guide in Nepal have any rescuing skill? or search & rescue gear (i.e. satellite phones, or avalanche safety gear)? As far as I know: no.
I may be wrong though, some special companies may have access to advanced gear & more qualified individuals.
If you get anyone with you, I’d recommend getting a porter.
Don’t overload him though, these people are just like you & I, they will suffer from this. I have seen so many porters getting overloaded by their clients, having to carry 20 to 50Kg of luggage on their back. And the “ass-hole” tourist saying “they’re use to it” with a smile. Disgusting.
On one hand, you might not need any porter or guide. The path of the trek is used every day by dozen of trekkers so you have very little chances to get lost.
On the other hand, a porter costs as little as 10€ per day, so hey, why not: it will make you more confident on your safety & provide a job to a local.
GPS tracking & orientation with your smartphone
I highly recommend you to try to use your smartphone to orientate yourself & to record your track.
You can then make sure you are on the right path if there is any doubt. And you can then share the performances details of your trekking adventure with other trekkers interested in doing the same trek.
See what the result can be: I have recorded & shared most of my days of hike of the Annapurna circuit.
Very affordable guesthouse in the nice neighborhood around Banana guesthouse.
Access to money on the trek
You will not have any access to cash machine during the trek. I think Muktinath as a cash machine thought.
So take a little bit more cash than what you think you will need for the trek. As when you run out, there are not many options but to jump into the first bus.
Here is a very rough estimate of the cost for trekking the Annapurna circuit.
During the trek: count around 20€ per day – or 25€ if you want to be comfortable.
For 3 days before and after the trek: around 20€ per day for accommodation & food.
Gear, using the prices indicated in the “Gear needed” section above: around 200€ in total.
Without flight: 25€_15 (days trekking) + 20€_6 + 200€ = 700€
With flight: depending where you fly from, can be as low as 400€ return from London or Paris.
Note: the prices are from April 2016 & are for someone who is not being too careful budget-wise. You can definitely do it cheaper by borrowing gear from friends/family, picking your guesthouses carefully, and not eating as much as I do 😉