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The Annapurna Circuit trek – a 2023 guide

The Annapurna Circuit trek is one of our favorite routes in Nepal. We’ve done several different hikes including the famous Everest Base Camp, Poon Hill, and some lesser-known like Mardi Himal and Langtang trek. In this post, you can find a lot of information that will help you to plan the Annapurna Circuit trek independently.

For a detailed day-by-day itinerary with distances, elevation profiles, and stops along the route read our Annapurna circuit trek itinerary post.

Stingy Nomads at Thorong La Pass, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Campbell & Alya at Thorong La pass, the highest point on the Annapurna circuit

An important 2023 update for the Annapurna Circuit trek

According to the new regulations that will take place on the 1st of April 2023, it’s compulsory for all international trekkers to have a licensed guide for hiking most routes in Nepal including the Annapurna Circuit. The change was made just a couple of weeks before the start of the season. This decision will cause a lot of confusion among hikers. You can try to organize a guide once you’re in Nepal just make sure you find a reliable guide with the license.

Booking the Annapurna Circuit through a company is an easier option because they’ll arrange a guide for you and plan your entire trip. We’ve never used any company for trekking in Nepal so I can’t recommend it from our experience but I’ve found a couple of tours with good reviews.

Annapurna Circuit trek overview

  • Distance – 260 km/161 mi (if walking the complete route)
  • Days – 15-18 days
  • Cost – US$30-35 per person per day
  • Permits – TIMS card and Annapurna Sanctuary permit
  • Guide – compulsory 
  • Starting point – Bhulbhule (7 km after Besisahar)
  • Finishing point – Nayapul
  • Highest point – Thorong La Pass (5400 m/17 716 ft)
  • Total elevation gain (over 15 days) – 11 685 m/38 336 ft
  • Total elevation loss (over 15 days) – 11 358 m/37 263 ft
  • Walking on the road – 68 km/42 mi out of 260 km but only about 24 km/15 mi are on a road with significant traffic.
  • Accommodation – guesthouses
  • Food – Nepali, Indian, Chinese, and Western food
Alya on the way to Thorung Phedi
Alya walking in the snow on the way to Thorung Phedi

Travel insurance for the trek

The Annapurna Circuit is a high-altitude trek through remote and difficult-to-access areas of Nepal. Travel insurance is a requirement for getting a hiking permit. Nobody has ever asked us to show our insurance but when you fill out the form they ask you to provide the name and the phone number of your insurance company.

World Nomads travel insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, with coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.

Annapurna Circuit trek distance

The distance of the route varies depending on where you start and finish.

  • The full Annapurna Circuit trek (starting in Bhulbule and finishing in Nayapul) is 260 km/161 mi. Nowadays not many hikers walk the full circuit.
  • The standard route that most groups and individuals choose (starting in Jagat and finishing in Jomsom) is 136 km/84 mi.
  • The shortest route (starting in Manang and finishing in Muktinath) is 34 km/21 mi. The only trekkers we met doing this route were organized Chinese groups. In my opinion, I wouldn’t recommend this option as it gives you no time to acclimatize for walking over Thoron La Pass.

How long does it take to hike the Annapurna Circuit trek?

The standard Annapurna Circuit trek itinerary (from Jagat to Jomsom) takes 9 to 11 days to complete. To complete the full circuit (from Bhulbule to Nayapul) you’ll need 15 days. The number of days required will depend on where you start and finish the circuit. I would recommend following the standard itinerary and starting walking from Jagat.

Where does the Annapurna Circuit start?

Where to start the Annapurna Circuit
The most popular starting points of the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Theoretically, you can start anywhere between Besisahar and Manang. By bus, you can get only as far as Ngadi from there your choice is to walk or take a jeep. Jeeps go all the way to Manang.

We started our Annapurna Circuit trek in Bhulbhule which is 7 km from Besisahar.

Many people take a jeep to Syange which we reached by the end of our first hiking day and start walking from there.

Jagat is one of the most popular places to start the Annapurna Circuit trek. We reached Jagat at the beginning of the second day. If you start there you’ll skip only one walking day.

Mountain scenery on the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Breathtaking scenery on the Annapurna Circuit on the way from Manang to Yak Karka

Starting the Annapurna Circuit in Chame is another popular option that some trekking companies offer not many independent trekkers go that far by jeep. We reached Chame on the fourth day of our trek. Chame is located at 2726 m/8943 ft above sea level which is 2000 m/6561 ft higher than Besisahar or Pokhara some people might start having slight symptoms of altitude sickness as a result of getting there too fast.

Some groups (mainly Chinese) get by jeep all the way to Manang and start walking the Annapurna Circuit trek from there. If you do it this way you get in a couple of hours from 700 m/2296 ft to over 3500 m/11 482 ft which increases your chances of getting altitude sickness.

In my opinion, starting the Annapurna Circuit in Jagat is the best option. It gives you enough time to acclimatize, you don’t miss out on the scenery, and you skip a part of walking on the dirt road.

Where does the trek finish?

What are the main finishing points of the Circuit?
The most popular finishing points of the Annapurna Circuit trek

Just like with the starting points, there are several options for where to finish the Annapurna Circuit. Technically you can finish it anywhere after going over Thorong La Pass.

Muktinath is the first place after the pass from where you can take a bus or a jeep, many trekkers finish the Annapurna Circuit trek there. You can take a bus or a jeep to Jomsom, Tatopani, or Pokhara.

Jomsom is another popular place to finish the Annapurna Circuit trek. There you have three options for getting back to Pokhara: flying, taking a bus, or taking a jeep. After Jomsom, we saw very few hikers.

Many groups and solo trekkers take a bus from Muktinath or Jomsom to Tatopani. Some want to split a long and exhausting bus trip to Pokhara. Some continue walking from there to Ghorepani.

In my opinion, if you don’t have time to walk to Tatopani or Nayapul rather finish the Annapurna Circuit in Jomsom and take a flight back to Pokhara. We saw the road from Muktinath to Tatopani and in some places, it looked quite bad. It takes many hours to drive sometimes buses and jeeps get stuck and need help to get out of the mud.

From Tatopani, some hikers walk to Ghorepani, where the route here overlaps with the Poon Hill trek.

Stunning Dhumbra Lake, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
Turquoise color Dhumbra Lake is a couple of kilometers from Jomsom

How difficult is the Annapurna Circuit trek?

The Annapurna Circuit is a challenging high-altitude hike. I’d say it’s one of the most difficult treks out of the 7 multi-day treks we’ve done in Nepal. I would compare the circuit to the Everest Base Camp trek itinerary. The length of the routes and the average altitude are about the same.

The main challenges of the Annapurna Circuit are

  • High altitude
  • Remote location
  • Many steep ascents and descents
  • Unpredictable weather

Is the circuit suitable for beginners?

Yes, the Annapurna Circuit is fine to walk if you don’t have previous hiking experience but it’s advised to go with somebody who’s done high-altitude hikes before, hire a guide, or join a tour. I wouldn’t recommend hiking the circuit alone if you have no previous high-altitude hiking experience even if you’re fit. Trekking high up in the mountains is very different from hiking at sea level or running.

Is the Annapurna Circuit still worth it?

Many people (including us) wonder if it’s still worth walking the Annapurna Circuit trek. The main reason for doubt is the road that was built several years ago. After completing the trek I can say that the circuit is still worth it. The scenery is spectacular. The road did spoil some parts of the trek but definitely didn’t ruin it entirely.

We’ve walked the full Annapurna Circuit and made notes to get the exact distance of walking on the road. Out of 260 km/161 mi, we walked, 68 km/42 mi were on the dirt road. Some parts of the road were very quiet with little traffic, some parts were quite busy. I’d say out of 68 km of walking on the road only 24 km/15 mi were on a road with significant traffic.

To make your planning easier I’ve split the route into four sections to show how much walking on the road you get on each part. So you can decide which sections of the circuit to omit.

How much road walking is on the Annapurna Circuit?
Walking on the road on different parts of the Annapurna Circuit trek

The first part of the Annapurna Circuit trek from Bhulbhule to Manang has a lot of walking on the road. The road was quite busy only in the beginning. We tried to avoid the road everywhere we could on this stretch. In the last part from Chame to Manang, the road wasn’t busy at all. There are alternative routes that go away from the road but you should keep in mind that those routes are usually longer.

From Manang to Muktinath there is no road only a trekking route which is great as you finally can get completely away from cars and construction vehicles.

In the part of the circuit from Muktinath to Tatopani, there is not much road walking. The biggest part of the road we got on the way from Muktinath to Jomsom. The last 7 km are on the dusty road. From Jomsom to Tatopani we walked all the way on the new trekking route that goes on the other side of the river, opposite the road. We could see the road most of the time but never walked on it.

The last part from Tatopani to Nayapul was partly on the road with very few cars except for the last bit from Hile to Birtethanti where we got several tourist jeeps but no buses or trucks.

The view of Lubra and the mountains from the trek
The small beautiful village of Lubra on the way to Jomsom

How to get permits for the trek?

For the Annapurna Circuit trek, you need the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP) and the TIMS card. The same permits you need for other hiking routes inside the Annapurna Nationa Park e.g. Annapurna Base Camp trek, Poon Hill, or Mardi Himal trek.

The TIMS card and the permit can be obtained at the Tourist Information Center in Pokhara (about 1,5 km from Lakeside) or at the Tourism Board Office in Kathmandu (Pradarshani Marg). Both offices are open Mon-Fri and Sun (closed on Saturdays) from 10am to 5pm.

The total cost is NPR 5000/US$43 per person.

To get a TIMS  card (trekkers information management system card) and a permit you’ll need your passport, travel insurance, a contact person in Nepal (we usually give our hotel details), and 4 photos (they can be taken at the office free of charge).

The TIMS card and the permit are valid only for a single entry to the park every time you exit you’ll have to get a new TIMS card and a new permit to enter the park again. 

To get the TIMS card;

  • First, fill out the form that you get at the counter (name, insurance number, passport details, address in Nepal, contact information, etc.)
  • Second, take a photo. No need to bring your own photos they take them right there at the office and it’s included in the price of your TIMS card.  
  • Third, give the filled form, and two photos and pay NPR 2000/US$15 pp. (paid only in cash in Nepalese Rupee) at the counter.
  • Forth, get your TIMS.

To get the Annapurna Sanctuary Permit;

  • First, after getting your TIMS card go to the next-door room and get a paper form
  • Second, fill in the form
  • Third, hand the form, passport, two photos, and NRP 3000/US$22 per person (paid only in cash in Nepalese Rupee) at the counter.
  • Forth, get your permit.

If you don’t get a permit before the trek you can get it at the first checkpoint but it’ll cost you almost double what you pay in Pokhara or Kathmandu. You can’t get a TIMS card at checkpoints.

Breathtaking scenery on the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal
The Annapurna Circuit offers some of the best scenery in Nepal

When is the best time to hike the Annapurna Circuit?

For trekking in Nepal, the best months are March, April, October, and November. We’ve never trekked in Nepal in autumn only in winter-spring (between the end of February and the beginning of May). We’ve heard that October is the busiest month with many people on the trekking routes. For this reason, we try to skip the peak season. March is our favorite month for hiking in Nepal. We did the Annapurna Circuit in March and it was good; not too cold, with little rain, and not too busy.

From May to September is monsoon season in Nepal, so it’s not a good time for hiking. December to February is the winter months which means lower temperatures and a lot of snow. Thorong La Pass is often closed as well as some guest houses at higher altitudes.

What is the accommodation like on the trek?

All guesthouses have more or less similar facilities. There are no fancier hotels to stay on the route like in Pokhara or Kathmandu. Rooms are basic usually they have two single beds, blankets, and sometimes a table and a chair. Most of the time hikers sit in the dining area it’s the warmest place in a guesthouse.

We were surprised by the facilities of the guesthouses on the Annapurna Circuit trek. Most places we stayed had electricity, a hot shower, and wi-fi (at no extra cost). These were almost standard things for a guesthouse to have. It was great that we could charge all our devices every day. We packed a power bank but never used it.

All guesthouses have blankets you always can ask for an extra one or two if it’s really cold. We had light summer sleeping bags but most of the time slept without them under the blankets. Even at Thotong Phedi where it was very cold, we slept in our warm clothes under two blankets. 

The facilities at higher altitudes e.g. Thorong Phedi and High Camp are more basic; no power outlets in the room, no or very poor wi-fi signal, no hot shower, etc. For charging your phone or using wi-fi you pay extra. 

The main inconvenience we had in most guesthouses is the toilet. Most places don’t have a Western sit-down toilet but an Asian hole toilet that you flush with a bucket of water. More expensive rooms have an attached bathroom which is very nice, especially at higher altitudes because you don’t have to go out every time you want to use it.

Guesthouses at Upper Pisang, Annapurna Circuit
Cabins at Hotel Norbulinka, Upper Pisang. Accommodation here was free but we had to eat at the restaurant

What is the food like on the circuit?

The menu is quite diverse and usually includes Nepalese, Chinese, Indian, and Western food. The typical dishes you can find everywhere on the Annapurna Circuit are pasta, noodles, rice with vegetable/chicken/cheese and tomato sauce, omelet, and fried, boiled, or scrambled eggs with potato/cheese/vegetable. Dal Bat (rice, roasted vegetable, chapati, and lentil soup) is the most typical local food. Momos (local dumplings), all sorts of soups (chicken, vegetable, garlic, tomato, noodle, etc.), pizzas, pancakes, different types of bread (chapati, Tibetan bread, toast), porridge, muesli, etc. Overall the food on the circuit is similar to the food in the Everest Base Camp trek and other trekking routes in Nepal.

There is a huge variety of hot beverages; different teas (lemon, ginger, Masala, milk, mint, etc.), instant coffee, etc. Some bigger places like Manang, Chame, and Jomsom even have Mexican dishes, burgers, wood-fired pizzas, and real Espresso coffee.

As you can see there are really many options. You don’t have to eat the same food, you can try something different every day. If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or follow a certain diet you’ll be able to find suitable food. Our main problem was a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially at higher altitudes. 

The best value-for-money food on the Annapurna Circuit trek is local Dal Bhat. It’s usually bottomless, you can ask for extra rice, dal, or vegetables again and again. If you’re on a tight budget it’s the best dish to order. We really like local soups they’re always good. To make a meal more filling you can order Tibetan bread or chapati with it. For breakfast, we usually ate an omelet, fried eggs, or porridge.

Many villages and towns have small water purification stations where you can get safe drinking water it’s cheaper than buying 1l plastic bottle and much better for the environment. We never bought water because we had our LifeStraw bottles that we refilled from taps, streams, and rivers. It was a great money-saver on the Annapurna Circuit trek. We never had any stomach problems the filter worked perfectly.

Alya on a rock enjoying the view on the Annapurna Cicruit
Alya enjoying the view on the way to Jomsom

Do you need a guide for the Annapurna Circuit trek?

Yes, according to the new regulations (in force from 1st April 2023), all international trekkers need a licensed guide for hiking the Annapurna Circuit.

Hiking in a group

Pros

  • It’s easy no need to worry about route planning, finding accommodation,  logistics, packing light because you have to carry your own backpack, etc.
  • If you’re lucky to find a knowledgeable guide who speaks good English you can learn a lot about local culture, food, lifestyle, etc.

Cons

  • It’s more expensive
  • You have to stick to your group even if the itinerary doesn’t suit you well or you’d like to stay somewhere longer or walk further and faster.

Hiring a guide or a porter

You can hire a guide or a porter (or both) yourself which will be cheaper than doing a tour and easier than walking on your own. We never hired a guide or a porter but we asked around in Pokhara to find out the price, to hire a guide you’ll pay around US$25 per day and for a porter US$20 per day. A porter can carry 15 kg so you can split one porter between 2 people.

Fantastic scenery on the Circuit between Lower and Upper Pisang
Breathtaking scenery on the Annapurna Circuit near Lower Pisang

How to get to the Annapurna Circuit?

Getting to the trek from Pokhara

If you’re deciding where to stay before and after the Annapurna Circuit I’d definitely suggest Pokhara. It’s much better than Kathmandu. Lakeside is a nice area with many hotels, restaurants, gear shops, and tour agencies you can buy and book here whatever activity you want to do in Nepal. The area around the lake is beautiful with not much traffic. You can walk around, enjoy the views, rent a boat, etc. There are many things to do in and around Pokhara including a couple of easy hiking trails e.g. a route to World Peace Pagoda that you can combine with the Panchase trek or the Sarankgot trail.

You can get to Besisahar from Pokhara or Kathmandu. Buses from Pokhara leave from the Old bus terminal. It’s better to take a morning bus in order to arrive earlier in Besisahar. The price is NRP 400/US$3, it can take anything between 4 and 6 hours. A taxi from Lake Side to Old Bus Terminal is around NPR 400/US$3.

Places to stay in Pokhara

Getting to the circuit from Kathmandu

A bus from Kathmandu to Besisahar will cost about NRP 600/US$5, the journey takes between 6-7 hours. Buses leave in the morning between 6am and 7am from New Bus Terminal in Kathmandu. The easiest way of getting to the right bus stop is to tell your taxi driver that you’re going to Besisahar, he’ll know where to take you. A taxi from Thamel to the bus station is around NPR 500/US$4.

Places to stay in Kathmandu

There are a couple of hotels on the street we stayed at Aryatara Kathmandu Hotel for quite a while. It’s a very nice place, with big rooms, comfortable beds, good breakfast (included), a nice hot shower, AC, wi-fi, TV, etc. We stored our extra luggage here every time we went hiking for free without any problem.

Getting back after the trek

There are several points where you can finish the circuit, the main ones are Muktinath, Jomsom, Tatopani, and Nayapul. From all these places you can take a bus/a jeep back to Pokhara or Kathmandu. A bus ride to Kathmandu from Muktinath or Jomsom will be extremely long and exhausting. It can take up to 20 hours. It might be better to go first to Pokhara and stay there for a couple of days and then go to Kathmandu.

Bus prices vary depending on the distance. A bus from Nayapul to Pokhara is NRP 400/US$3, and a bus from Muktinath to Pokhara is NRP 1650/US$13. Jomsom is the only place on the Annapurna Circuit from where you can fly to Pokhara. The flight takes less than 1 hour compared to more than 10 hours by bus but it’s much more expensive around US$125 one way.

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Ben

Thursday 4th of April 2024

Hey hey. Amazing blog! However… NO you DON’T need a guide for the circuit trek. All you need is a permit which you can get in half an hour at the permit office in Pokhara. Easy peasy and this way you can do whatever how long you want and saves you money for a guide!

Kind regards!! And have fun on the circuit, it’s amazing!!

Govert Roell

Tuesday 12th of March 2024

Hi! First, what a wonderful and extensive information on this site. I have some questions. after arriving in Kathmandu I'm planning on going to Pokhara to arrange my +/- 15 day trek. Hoping to arrange all without an agency, except for the guide.

1. How fast is it usually possible to arrange a guide in Pokhara? Can I start the trek the day after? or should I reserve more days before starting the trek?

2. Are guides flexible? for example when doing an unexpected acclimatization day?

3. Can I easily book/arrange separate bus-rides/Jeeps for me and my guide: - from Pokhara to my starting point Jagat - from end-point Jomsom to Pokhara Our is this only well arranged when booking the whole trek via an agency?

Thank you very much for your information.

Kind regards, Govert (Netherlands)

Stingy Nomads

Thursday 21st of March 2024

Hello Govert. Thank you for the comment. 1. How fast you can find a guide depends on the season. Usually it's not a problem as there are many guides in Pokhara. You can ask around at one of the tour agencies or at your hotel/guesthouse. 2. Yes, you pay them per day and they usually don't mind to stay an extra day if you request. 3. Yes, you can get on a bus/jeep without an agency. We usually use public buses but it takes longer if you don't mind paying more you can get a jeep or share it with another trekkers to split the cost. Good luck

Prakriti Sharma Subedi

Wednesday 28th of February 2024

does the must have a guide rule apply to Nepali citizens too?

Stingy Nomads

Wednesday 28th of February 2024

What I saw published was that the Government of Nepal has made the decision to prohibit solo trekking for foreign nationals without a licensed trekking guide. So I assume this is not applicable to Nepali citizens. If you are a Nepali citizen I would recommend confirming this with an official source such as the Annapurna Rural Municipality or the Nepal tourism board.

Justina

Thursday 28th of December 2023

Thank you so much for such detailed article. Very helpful for my planning! I have a question, more for Alya perhaps regarding hair washing for women. I understand that teahouses will have hot showers (sometimes, yay), but what did you for hair drying? I don't expect to find any hairdryers in teahouses :) but also not keen on walking around with wet hair when it's cold as it tends to get me sick. Any tips for this?

Stingy Nomads

Friday 29th of December 2023

Hello Justina. Thank you for the comment. When hiking in Nepal I try to wash my hair before and after we get to really cold places. For the Annapurna Circuit it would be up the part between Manang and Muktinath. I also try to shower as soon as we arrive while it's still warm and sunny. At night you really don't feel like undressing and getting wet. A dining area at guesthouses is usually the warmest place as they have fire going there. After washing your hair go there drink some hot tea and wait for it to get dry. I always use a towel to dry my hair. Good luck

Helen Gosnell

Sunday 26th of March 2023

Hi Campbell and Alya,

First of all thank you for your very detailed blogs on the various regions of the Himalayas. We have found them super informative for all of our research and it has made us far more confident to travel without a tour company. We are leaving soon for an epic trip that includes the Manaslu Circuit, hopping over onto the Annapurna Circuit and then some rest days in Pokhara. Then we return to Kathmandu to do the Everest 3 High Passes route.

One thing I am battling to find out is how best to get enough cash for the MC and the AC. We will need to pay for food and accommodation for 3 of us for a pretty extended period of time. We are South Africans so I am pretty sure our Rands are not preferred currency (can you confirm that?).

We have enough $ cash to pay for our visas. After that, is it best to only deal in NPR, or would having $ cash also be useful?

Do ATM's in Kathmandu only dispense NPR, or can you also get $?

We are also limited to how much cash we can withdraw in a day, and we only have 1.5 days in Kathmandu before travelling to Soti Khola.

Can you advise us how we can best manage this situation? Thank you.

Stingy Nomads

Sunday 26th of March 2023

Hello Helen. Thank you for the comment. When you say traveling without a tour company do you mean you'll hire a guide for your hike? I'm not sure if you're aware, but foreign trekkers from the 1st of April are not allowed to hike in Nepal without a licensed guide. As far as I know, you always needed a guide for the Manaslu Circuit but now you need one for the Annapurna Circuit as well. The same with the Everest Base Camp trek you are not allowed to hike independently. You'll need a guide for all three treks which is an extra expense. Guides usually charge from 25$US per day. I would recommend finding a guide through a company to make sure he has all the necessary licenses and experience. As for your question, I wouldn't try to bring rands in cash it's very unlikely you'll find anybody to exchange them and even if you do the exchange rate will be bad. The best is to draw local cash in Kathmandu and bring USD cash with you. There are a couple of ATMs on the Annapurna Circuit you can find the information on where to find them in our post so you always can draw extra cash. Good luck

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