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Thinking of trekking the Annapurna circuit in Nepal? Not got a lot of money to spend and want to travel for longer? You’re in the right place. Here’s my no BS guide on exactly what you can expect, as well as how we did it for less than $16 USD per person per day.
What is the Annapurna circuit?
The Annapurna circuit is one of the world’s most popular long distance treks. With over 100,000 avid trekkers descending onto the Annapurna mountain range each year, it’s not hard to understand why.
The landscape here is simply staggering! From turquoise glacial rivers, frozen waterfalls and lakes to totally untouched pine forests, the Annapurna circuit has it all!!
Here’s a few facts on the Annapurna circuit:
- Established in 1985 the Annapurna range is the largest conservation area in Nepal.
- Annapurna 1 is the tenth highest peak in the world. Standing at 8,091m.
- The circuit will take you over Thorong La pass, at 5,416m, the highest mountain pass in the world.
- The circuit was opened to the public in 1977.
- It takes around 15-20 days to complete.
- Its around 200km long.
When is the best time to trek the Annapurna circuit?
I guess there is no right and wrong answer to this. Its pretty much down to personal preference. It seems there are 3 choices:
Spring or Autumn:
Most people will hit the trail either in spring or autumn when the weather is warmer and without much rain. On the plus side of this choice is the fact that even at higher altitudes the daytime temperatures are still fairly pleasant.
But on the downside, the fact that prices for accommodation go up, accommodation is harder to find and the trails will be full.
Smack bang in the middle of summer/monsoon season (June – August) and you’re likely to be getting wet daily. Trust me, your backpack will be heavy enough without being saturated in water. This is a time to avoid!
We did meet one chap from Sweden who had done the Annapurna circuit in monsoon season and he was explicit in his opinion that it was one of the most terrible things he had ever done. Maybe if you want to push you mental stamina this could be the season for you…
We went in winter and actually crossed the Throng La Pass on new years eve.
In all honesty, we were pretty apprehensive about this decision but we wouldn’t have changed it at all!
Yes, fair enough, once we got to Manang it started to get cold, really cold! But what’s a little cold weather when you’ve got clear blue skies and excellent visibility!? To walk all that way and not be able to see anything for clouds would have been a disaster!
Also, talking to some of the teahouse (hostel) workers and other peoples guides (we didn’t have one) it appears that winter is the best time to go. Especially, the end of December because of the cloudless blue skies.
Not having done the trek in every season how can I tell you when to go? I can’t but talking to the locals who have lived there their whole lives, yes, I suppose I can pass that opinion on…
How long does it take?
Again, there’s no clear cut answer to this. Depending on how fit you are and where your start/finish points are will determine how long you’ll be on the trail for.
For most people doing the Annapurna circuit, somewhere between 12 and 20 days is the norm. With that said, one of the guides told me that he was once taking 2 Australians around the circuit and they finished in 8 days.
We noticed that the trail got a lot busier after Manang (as far as you can get by jeep) and then quietened down after Jonsom (where people fly or get a bus from). This would equal a trek of just around 50 km and only take 4-5 days.
We started at a small village called Bulbhule and finished up in Nayapul. According to the map roughly 210 km away and this took us 18 days in total with just 2 rest days.
There’s no real right and wrong way to do the Annapurna circuit. It depends on how much time and stamina you have, also, the route you take. There’s plenty of side treks to lakes, viewpoint etc.
Do you need a guide?
Not at all!!
You don’t certainly don’t need one but there were a few times that we thought it would have been nice to have one because the guides are extremely knowledgeable when it comes to the local villages and their customs.
All in all the route is very well marked and fairly hard to lose you way. Although it did happen to us once. Me trying to take a short cut through a forest rather than walking up switchbacks, I hate switchbacks!!
At every point where there is a choice of trail or its a bit confusing there will be a little red and white flag painted on a rock, wall or tree to indicate the correct way.
All you really need is the maps.me app. It’s amazing and best of all it works offline so you don’t even need to get a sim card. It shows all the walking trails on the Annapurna circuit and even tells you how steep the trails are so you know exactly what you’re facing.
Handy, especially if it’s 3pm and you’re debating pushing on to the next village. It might only be 2 km but it could be a 300m ascent. Not what you need when you’ve already walked 18km.
This was our first proper multi day trek, we are not experts at all and we survived it. Sometimes you’ve just got to wing it…..
Can you do it solo?
Yes, yes you can!
Would I like to do it solo? Probably not!
Although, even at this, the quietest season on the Annapurna circuit there were still a quite a few trekkers. Especially on the busier stretch between Manang and Jomsom you wouldn’t be completely alone especially at night in the teahouses.
Before Manang and after Jonsom the odds are you at some point you will be the only person in a teahouse. For some that wouldn’t be a problem.
For me, after travelling long term, sometimes alone, I can’t help but think that you can be anywhere in the world, the best viewpoints the most scenic lakes and rivers but everything is better when you have someone to share it with.
I guess it all depends on the type of person you are.
With all that said, we did see quite a few people trekking alone. Maybe 10% of people on the trail were solo trekkers.
Putting aside personal preference, there’s the safety issue as well. Think if you’re in the middle of nowhere and you trip and hurt your ankle who’s going to get help? The more remote parts of the trek didn’t have any mobile signal. What’s the old saying? You’re up what creek?
Will it be cold?
Once you reach Manang it gets pretty cold. I say “pretty cold”, what I mean is, it’s colder than a witches tit!
In truth though, the daytime in the sun and no wind could quite easily see you in just a t-shirt. Step into the shade however and its -10 instantly.
Realistically all is well until the sun goes down/behind a mountain. Night time temperature can dip lower than -20. Being from England, not exactly tropical but this is something else altogether.
Getting out of bed in the morning is the absolute worst. After spending hours trying to get warm enough to sleep at night it just makes climbing out of your sleeping bag at 7am all the more terrible.
One particular night at Thorong Pedi, the last stop before going over the Throng La pass we slept in 2 t-shirts, a fleece, big winter coat, 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of pants, woolly hat a sleeping bag rated to -20 and 3 blankets, it was still freezing cold.
The only place to try and stay warm at night is in the communal area huddled around the log burner. All good unless there’s 30 people and only 1 log burner. Top tip – get in there early!!
Is it hard?
Again, a lot of this depends on you. Are you 21 and love to run 10km before breakfast? Or are you 65 and spent the last 30 years sat on the couch, smoking 40 cigs a day?
If your idea of exercise is crawling into the back of the cupboard in search of that last pack of hobnobs then this is probably not for you.
Joking aside, we’re not the healthiest people in the world and yes at times it was hard but the beauty of it is that you can walk as much or as little as you want per day. With teahouses dotted along the route pretty much every few km you stop when your tired.
A lot of it depends on how much time you have to complete the circuit.
Even if you pride yourself on being in peak physical condition once you get over 4000m above sea level it really doesn’t matter how fit you are. Some people cope well with less oxygen and some people, including myself struggle to adapt.
Altitude sickness is a bitch!
Anything above 3000m and you are in the danger zone for altitude sickness. Once you get to this altitude it is not recommended that you ascend more than 500m per day.
Each night you stop gives your body a little time to acclimatise to the thinner air. Without this time to acclimatise, odds are you’ll undoubtedly feel altitude sickness.
Although there is roughly always 21% oxygen in the air the higher you go the less air there is. According to this chart by the time you get to Throng La pass (highest point of this trek) the air is 50% thinner than at sea level.
I, personally started to feel it around 5000m but Agne didn’t feel it at all.
We were both getting breathless very easily but once we got to around 5000m I started to wobble around like I’d drank about 6 pints of Stella. Then the headache set in and really, I just felt terrible.
A little Altitude sickness isn’t too bad but if it gets really bad and left untreated, it can be potentially fatal.
Now more about doing the Annapurna circuit on a budget….
I hope by this point you’ve got a taste of what the Annapurna circuit entails. Now lets look at the logistics of getting it done. And getting it done without spending an absolute fortune.
For you readers who have been here before, you’ll no doubt know that here at drunkenpom its all about travelling cheap and travelling further.
How do you get permits for the Annapurna circuit?
Before you even think about heading out on the Annapurna circuit, there’s one very important, even if a little tedious thing you must do… Get your permits!!
Fill out the above forms, hand over 5000 rupees and get these:
Straight away there’s a hole in the budget. Unlike the permit I “forgot” to get for the Ha Giang loop, these ones are an absolute must!
Firstly there is the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) which costs 3000 Nepalese Rupees.
Also, you’ll need a TIMS card that costs 2000 Nepalese Rupees.
Luckily they are both available from the same office in Kathmandu. The address is:
Saat Ghumti Marg, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
The working hours are 9am – 5pm Sunday to Friday and 10am – 2pm on Saturday.
You’ll need rough entry and exit dates, proposed route, emergency contact info as well as insurance info.
Also, you’ll need 4 passport photos, but don’t worry too much about them as the nice chap in the office will take and print them for free. He’ll even print a couple of extra and give them you as spares. Not bad eh!?
Gearing up for the Annapurna circuit.
Now you’ve got you permits sorted, it’s time to get the right gear for the job. If you’re coming from home straight to Annapurna you’ll have the luxury of bringing your own gear, if you have it!?
If, like us you’ve spent the last 8 months travelling around South East Asia/ India and trekking in Nepal wasn’t even on your radar then you’ll have to pick it all up once you arrive. Kathmandu is a great place to pick up everything you need. With the amount of hikers knocking around Kathmandu, outfitting them is big business and you’ll be spoilt for choice.
A good size backpack –
I had a 66 litre and Agne had 70 litre and they were both full to bursting point. 65 litre minimum.
Warm clothing is what you’ll need –
With hiking gear shops dotted everywhere you will not struggle. However, some are much more expensive than others, so you’ll need to shop around and haggle a little bit.
Packing for the Annapurna circuit is a fine balance between carrying enough gear so you have everything and packing light enough so you don’t feel as if you’re carrying a baby elephant up a mountain.
Here’s a list of what you’d be wise to carry:
A good, thick winter coat- Unfortunately, if you’re of a bigger build then you’ll struggle to find one in Kathmandu. I’m normally a medium but when it comes to fake/Kathmandu special North Face jackets I’m an extra large. Prices range from 1500 rupees for a crappy thin jacket to 8000 for a decent quality down jacket. I paid 2100 for this one:
Walking boots – Although we did see a couple of people stomping it out in trainers it’s definitely wise to get some decent walking boots. Fair enough there are plenty of shops selling walking boots but you really don’t want to go hiking 20km a day in brand new boots. If they start rubbing you’re in major trouble.
Best to buy some secondhand ones. Again, being a UK size 10 I struggled to find some big enough but got these for 2500 rupees:
Warm fleece pants – for lounging around at night. these can be found everywhere for cheap. I payed 750 rupees.
Hiking socks – Some good think socks not only to keep your feet warm but also to help stop your walking boots from rubbing. Found everywhere for 150 rupees.
Gloves – Again, found everywhere. Normally out front in boxes as to entice you in to buy more expensive gear. I paid 200 rupees.
Woolly insulated hat – Found everywhere for 100 rupees.
Sleeping bag – Now these are sold in many shops to buy. There are many different types but in the middle of winter you’ll want one rated for -20C. The going rate to buy one of these is 8000 rupees.
We rented ours for 100 rupees per day with a 5000 rupee deposit. A good place to rent one is Nepal Trekkers Equipment service. It can be found on Jyatha Chowk across from Hotel Utse. Tel: +997-1-4811141.
As well as all of that warm gear, I think it goes without saying you’ll need at least 4 t-shirts, a pair of loose fitting walking pants, underwear and at least 5 pairs of socks in total. At the beginning of the trek it’s still warm in the day time so you’ll be able to wash as you go but once you get past Manang all the water pipes are likely to be frozen and even if they weren’t it’s to cold to dry anything. It just freezes!!
Important stuff –
A good camera – As always, if you’re going anywhere it’s always nice to take plenty of photos. As memories fade, look at a few photos and it all comes flooding back.
I took my trusty Nikon D3400 (with good wide angle lens) and well, you’ll see the stunning landscape that the Annapurna circuit takes you through. An absolute travesty to leave here without at least 1000 photos. Agne took her Nikon D7100 with 35mm prime lens and once it got really cold the motor for the auto-focus stopped working. No such problem with the D3400.
Snacks – One of the best ideas we had! Once you get up into higher altitudes and the roads disappear food gets a lot more expensive (more about that below). 400 rupees for a mars bar etc. Plenty of digestive biscuits is what you need. On days where there’s a lot of ascent and you’re feeling drained, find a comfortable rock, share a pack of digestives and you’re good for another 5km.
Ready mixed coffee sachets or tea bags – We meant to do this but completely forgot. You can find coffee sachets for around 20 rupees in Kathmandu and a coffee later on can cost you up to 150 rupees. Sometimes the coffee they charge you 150 for is terrible. Still cheap by European standards but not what we were used to. So yes, tea bags or coffee sachets and hot water is cheap.
Toilet roll – Well, getting caught short in the wilderness means only one thing… You gotta shit in the woods! Would you rather use a rock!?!?
Wet wipes – Maybe one of the most important things you’ll pack for the Annapurna circuit. As i said earlier, at higher altitude there’s no running water so it’s the only water to relieve some of the stench you’ve accumulated through the day. At least one packet per person.
Sun cream – Yes, it may be cold but trust me you’ll get an amazing tan and unless you want to look like a shrivelled up prune by the time you get to Jomson, take some sun cream.
Large map – Can be picked up anywhere in Kathmandu for around 200 rupees. Fair enough, not a complete necessity but handy for checking out the route for the day after, distances, altitudes etc.
Sun gigs – I’m not so sure about this one as I never wear them as I’m not really prone to headaches from bright sunlight. If you are take some. I payed 750 rupees for some scratched up, fake Raybans and believe me that was a good deal. Bring your own if you can.
Altitude tablets – Can be bought from any pharmacy in Kathmandu for around 160 rupees for 10 tablets. I did need these as I was ascending to the Throng La Pass. After 5000m I started to feel bad, very bad.
Water purification tablets – Again, bottled water at the higher altitudes gets expensive. Also, refill your plastic bottle and don’t buy another. Save the planet and all that. Bought a pack of 50 for 250 rupees at the same pharmacy in Kathmandu. We got through 40 in total.
Portable solar panel or power bank – Really handy, especially once you get to Throng Pedi. Here there’s no mains power, every one of the teahouses has solar panels and you’ll struggle to find one that’ll let you charge your phone. Also, in really cold conditions Agne’s phone battery kept on dying unless you warmed it up or plugged it into the power bank. Food for thought.
I think that just about covers what you’ll need to take with you. I’m guessing you can now see why the 65 litre minimum backpack is mandatory!?
Insurance – Probably the most important thing you need to sort!
Yes I know, nobody likes to pay for insurance, especially me. Think about ti though, you’re not going for a leisurely stroll through your local park. You’re taking on 15-20 trekking in the Himalayas and scaling the highest mountain pass in the world.
With a helicopter evacuation costing in the region of $2500 – 5000 plus time in the hospital. You it’s not hard to see that racking up a bill of close to 5 figures is not overly impossible.
You’d be crazy to do this hike without good travel insurance!!
I used world nomads travel insurance as they have always offered the best cover and one of the most reasonable and can cover hiking up to 6000m. The highest point here is Throng La Pass at 5400m. So you’ll be good to go!
Fill in this form, takes literally 2 minutes to get a quote:
What about accommodation?
Accommodation on the Annapurna circuit are called “teahouses” and they are in abundance. Well, until you get a little off the beaten track anyway.
All in all, most of them we stayed in were pretty decent. Especially after 8 weeks in India, where the cheaper end of available accommodation it exactly that, cheap!
At the beginning of the Annapurna circuit most of them are wooden cabin type constructions but as you get higher and the temperatures lower, they start to be constructed from bricks.
Top tip: Brick is warmer than wood!
What do they cost?
The vast majority have space for 2 people. Normally two single beds, with the odd one having a double bed. Thankfully, there’s no such thing as the “dreaded dorm” on the Annapurna circuit.
Prices vary from free to 400 rupees per night. If they do charge it’s normally 200 without bathroom and 400 with. I guess this depends on season but I’d hazard a guess to say that the chances of finding a free room in the high season is slim to none!
Every time we asked how much a room was, we were always met by the same question “Will you eat dinner and breakfast here?” If yes then it’s free, if not you could be looking as much as 2000 rupees per night.
All the places we stayed charge per room and not per person.
Do you have to book in advance?
No! I don’t think it’s even possible. As much as Agne loves to browse Booking.com in advance to get us the best deal on accommodation and believe me she tried. You’ll struggle to find anything at all.
You’ve just got to turn up and wing it. Suits me fine!
In the high season is a different story all together. With many more people on the trail, competition for beds can be fierce and I’ve heard stories of people having to sleep on couches in the common room.
In high season, maybe set off early each morning and aim to stop around early afternoon for a better chance of a bed.
And the facilities?
Most of the teahouses are pretty well equipped. Offering private rooms, common areas, “hot” showers, free wifi and decent food.
Luckily for us, most of them have big signs outside with details of their facilities. Makes it a little easier to choose. As after a 6 hour 20km stomp over some pretty challenging terrain the last thing you want to do is walk into 13 different teahouses to figure out who’s offering what.
Log burner: By the time you get to Chame the common rooms will be furnished with a log burner. What you need when its -8 outside. Some even have mine and Agne’s personal favourite, a big square table with a bucket full of hot coals underneath.
Top tip: If the teahouse is busy, get in early otherwise you might find that you’ll be 4 people deep around the log burner.
Wifi: For the most part wifi access is pretty good and free. It’s only once you get really far into the trek that its starts to get a bit shitty and they’ll start charging 200 rupees. Sometimes for wifi that doesn’t even work!
“Hot” shower: Hahahahaha Yes they’ll look you dead in the eye and tell you they have a hot shower, sometimes gas, sometimes solar. What they don’t tell you is that all the water pipes are frozen solid and you’ve more chance of plaiting piss than getting a hot shower.
Yes, you could go and complain but, well, what can they do. It’s just the nature of the beast!
Fear not, there is another way…. The infamous hot bucket!!
Yeah, I had no clue what the hot bucket was either.
Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. A bucket of hot water and a jug. Hang on, let me set the scene. Outside bathroom, window completely missing, -15c, floor frozen solid, pour scalding water over yourself, soap yourself up, scalding water to rinse.
Hot bucket a.k.a unadulterated misery!
Wet wipe anyone!?!?
Whats the food like?
With the odd exception the food on the Annapurna circuit is pretty decent. Even “western” food is done to a fairly good standard. Don’t get me wrong there ain’t no michelin stars handed out here but adequate, very adequate.
Most menus cater for most pallets with a good mix of traditional Nepalese, Italian, Indian and Swiss cuisine. With the most famous dishes on offer being:
Cost of food on the Annapurna circuit.
Now then, when it comes to doing the Annapurna circuit on a budget this is what is going be the main factor in the equation. As I’ve already started, accommodation on the Annapurna circuit is very affordable if not free. The food is where the teahouses make their money.
As myself and Agne are very budget conscious travellers the cost of food is something that concerned us about doing the trek. After much searching on the net we struggled to find out what it actually was going to cost to feed ourselves on the circuit.
If you look on tripadvisor for instance you’ll people asking the same question. A lot of the answers were saying that budget of around $25-35 USD per day per person would suffice. Some were even saying up to $50 a day.
$50 a day is just not even close to our budget and we were determined to do it cheaper and we did!
It quickly becomes apparent that the higher into the Himalayas you go the more expensive the food gets. Asking questions and looking at the menus it seems that each regional government sets the prices to stop teahouses and restaurants undercutting each other. Fair enough really.
Although not all of the prices are exactly the same there isn’t much difference between restaurants in the same village.
To make it easier, we took some photos of menus at different altitudes so you can better plan your budget:
How much does it cost?
It goes without saying that everyone will have a different budget for the Annapurna circuit. A lot depends on how much/what food you would like to eat.
Beer is expensive, so if you’re the type of person that likes couple of beers after a long day hiking then you’ll pay for it. We didn’t drink a single beer on the trek. not because we are that stingy, just because we were tired and in -15 we’d rather have a hot coffee instead.
Anyways, here’s a rough breakdown of what we spent in 18 days on the Annapurna circuit:
- Tims permint – 2000 rupees x 2 = 4000
- ACAP permit – 3000 rupees x 2 = 6000
- Sleeping bag rental – 1800 rupees x 2 = 3600
- Water purification pills – 250 rupees
- Altitude pills – 160 rupees
- Travel wipes – 50 rupees x 2 =100
- Snacks – 400 rupees Bus fare (Kathmandu hostel to Bulbule inc. taxi to bus station) – 600 x 2 = 1200
- Food, drinks and accommodation – 46,842 rupees
So in total – 62,552 rupees. Divided by 18 days – 3,475 rupees. Divided by 2 people – 1,738 rupees.
So a grand total of: 1,738 rupees/ 15.56 USD/ 12.41 GBP per person per day!
I think you’ll agree that’s a whole lot of adventure, scenery and amazing memories for less than £12.50 per day!
So there you have it. The budget for the Annapurna circuit. If like us you need to buy all of the gear when you arrive it will be a little bit more. Also, if you do the circuit in high season it will cost a little more but when some people are quoting $50 a day for just food don’t be put off. It’s pretty affordable.
Top tips for the Annapurna circuit in winter.
- Pack only what you need.
- Keep water bottles between sleeping bags at night so they don’t freeze.
- Get to the log burner early.
- Take plenty of wet wipes.
- Buy your gear in Kathmandu, it’ll be cheaper than at home.
- Take your time if you have it.
- Take a powerbank/solar panel.
- Take plenty of socks.
- Don’t use brand new walking boots.
- Take snacks and teabags/coffee sachets.
- Pack a good camera with wide angle lens.
- Winter is a good time to go.
Would we do it again?
There’s only one reason for this:
- There’s so much of the world we’ve yet to see.
Now that you know everything you need to know, check out this post of us trekking Annapurna circuit day by day, 100+ photos.
Well I hope that didn’t bore you too much and I hope it has given you the confidence to take on the mighty Annapurna circuit in winter. If there is anything I have missed please don’t hesitate to fill that comments box. We do love a bit of feedback 🙂