The Annapurna Circuit is one of the most popular and most epic treks in Nepal. This classic trek meanders through Himalayan foothills and over high passes, offering picturesque mountain views along the way.
Annapurna Circuit Trek
The Annapurna Circuit is one of the greatest treks in Nepal, if not the world. Although road construction over the past two decades has severely impacted the trekking experience (more on this later). Note: if you are a mountain biker, the road on the western side makes for one of the most exhilarating and scenic mountain biking experiences!
The trek begins at Besisahar (which is a 7-8 hour drive from Kathmandu) and concludes in the Kali Gandaki Gorge – the disputed highest gorge in the world that separates Dhaulagiri (8,176 meters) in the West and Annapurna (8,091 meters) in the East.
The circuit is traditionally followed on an anti-clockwise trail – for acclimatization reasons – that circumvents the Annapurna Massif, taking trekkers through the Annapurna, Manang and Mustang region of central Nepal.
At its pinnacle, the trek crosses the Thorung La Pass (5,416 meters) before descending down to the town of Muktinath. From here the road construction activities that began in 2004 and completed in 2008/09 have had a measurable impact on the Annapurna Circuit trekking experience.
The Nepalese government have realized that the road on both the Western (Pokhara-Muktinath) and Eastern (Chame-Manang) side of the circuit has had a negative impact on trekking tourism. Thus, they have created a number of New Annapurna Trekking Trails (called NATT-trails).
These NATT-trails, marked blue and white or red and white, take trekkers away from the dusty and unpleasant roads and provide a much more pleasant trekking experience. Where possible, we have highlighted these NATT-trails in the Annapurna Circuit itinerary below.
The Annapurna circuit typically takes between 16-20 days to complete (depending if you decide to tack on a diversion to Annapurna Base Camp and the Annapurna Sanctuary). It covers between 150-240 km depending on when you decide to end the tour or use transportation vehicles.
The scenery on the Annapurna Circuit is extraordinarily beautiful, taking trekkers through rice terraced paddy fields, subtropical forests, and glacial environments. You will see a number of major mountains including the Annapurna Massif (I-IV), three 8,000 metre peaks – Dhaulagiri (8,176 meters), Manaslu (8,156 meters) and Annapurna I (8,091 meters) – as well as numerous peaks of 6,000 to 7,000 meters.
Please Note: The Annapurna Circuit is situated in the Annapurna and Mustang regions of central Nepal. It is home to the Annapurna Massif. The schematic below illustrates Nepal’s trekking regions (not to scale).
Annapurna Regional Map
The Annapurna Circuit is situated in the Annapurna and Mustang regions of central Nepal. It is home to the Annapurna Massif. The schematic illustrates Nepal’s trekking regions (not to scale)
Annapurna Trek Altitude Profile
The schematic diagram below shows the route altitude profile for the Annapurna Circuit.
Annapurna Circuit Itinerary
Below is a detailed Annapurna Circuit itinerary. Where possible we have highlighted the NATT-Trails that can be used to avoid the road. Please note that this is a typical Annapurna Circuit itinerary. Some tour operators offer variations on this route.
Day 1-2: Arrive Kathmandu (Drive to Besisahar / Fly to Pokhara)
Arrive Kathmandu, usually spend a day sightseeing in the capital city. Drive from Kathmandu (1,300 meters) to Besisahar / Khudi (circa 800 meters) via bus. The trip takes between 7 and 8 hours, meandering through countryside villages. The Annapurna Circuit typically starts at Besisahar, an hour’s trek from Khudi. Some operators may drive you to Khudi and commence the trek from there.
Day 3: Trek from Besisahar (820 meters) to Khudi and onto Bahundanda (1,310 meters)
Trek from Besisahar (820 meters) to Khudi and onto Bahundanda (1,310 meters). This traditional route has been impacted by the road construction so some operators have started using new trails that bypass the road and take you to the village of Sikrung (2,200 meters). The latter is a fairly steep climb to a rather high altitude. But it does offer a more untainted Annapurna trekking experience. Expect to trek between 6-7 hours.
Day 4: Trek from Bahundanda (1,310 meters) / or Sirung (2,200 meters) to Jagat (1,300 meters) or potentially Chamje (1,410 meters)
Trek from Bahundanda (1,310 meters) / or Sirung (2,200 meters) to Jagat (1,300 meters) or potentially Chamje (1,410 meters). If on day 4 you followed the traditional route to Bahundanda, you will trek to Ghermu (1,130 meters) and onto Jagat. You might stay the night here or take a steep hour-long trek up to Chamje (1,410 meters). We recommend staying the night at Chamje instead of Jagat, which is a dirty and crowded village. If on day 4 you stopped at Sikrung, you will likely follow a route via Syange (1,100 meters) to Jagat and up to Chamje. Expect to see great rice terraced landscapes and views of the Manaslu Range during early stages of this day’s trekking.
Day 5: Trek from Jagat / Chamje (1,300 / 1,410 meters) to Dharapani (1,960 meters)
Trek from Jagat / Chamje (1,300 / 1,410 meters) to Dharapani (1,960 meters). Continuing north into the Manang region you will trek through agricultural fields of corn and potatoes and then forests of rhododendrons up to the quaint village of Tal (1,700 meters). From Tal you will trek for another 6 kms (circa 3 hours) via Karte to the village of Dharapani (1,960 meters).
Day 6: Trek from Dharapani (1,960 meters) to Chame (2,710 meters) via Bagarchap and Danakyu, and then either along the lower trail or upper trail to Koto (2,640 meters)
Trek from Dharapani (1,960 meters) to Chame (2,710 meters) via Bagarchap and Danakyu, and then either along the lower trail or upper trail to Koto (2,640 meters). From Koto you trek a further hour to the busy village of Chame. Some trekkers and operators prefer an overnight stay in the quieter village of Koto. On this rather steep trekking day you will get some great views of Annapurna II and IV, as well as Lamjung Himal.
Day 7: Trek from Chame (2,710 meters) to Pisang via Bhratang (2,850 meters) and Dhukur Pokhari (3,240 meters)
Trek from Chame (2,710 meters) to Pisang via Bhratang (2,850 meters) and Dhukur Pokhari (3,240 meters). From Dhukur Pokhari the trail splits and you may either trek to Upper Pisang (3,310 meters) or to Lower Pisang (3,250 meters) for an overnight stay. If you take the latter to Lower Pisang we highly recommend re-joining the upper trail on day 8 as it provides arguably the best views of the whole Annapurna Circuit.
Day 8: Trek using the upper trail from Pisang (3,310 meters) to Manang (3,450 meters) via Ghyaru (3,730 meters), Ngawal (3,680 meters), Humde (3,330 meters and Bhraga (3,450 meters)
Trek using the upper trail from Pisang (3,310 meters) to Manang (3,450 meters) via Ghyaru (3,730 meters), Ngawal (3,680 meters), Humde (3,330 meters and Bhraga (3,450 meters). The mountain views on this portion of the Circuit are exceptional, as are the quaint villages along the trail. A visit to Barge monastery is worthwhile before the final stretch to Manang.
Day 9: Acclimatization day in Manang
Manang is one of the main towns on the Circuit. Many trekkers take this opportunity to spend a rest acclimatization day in the town. Short excursions to the Gangapurna Lake and Bhojo Gompa (a Buddhist ecclesiastical fortification of learning) are common among trekkers, as well as day trips around the town. You might want to consider visiting the offices of the Himalayan Rescue Association for a talk on high altitude risks.
Day 10: Trek from Manang northwest out of the Marshyangdi Valley and up to the small village of Yak Kharka (4,110 meters)
Trek from Manang northwest out of the Marshyangdi Valley and up to the small village of Yak Kharka (4,110 meters). If you haven’t started feeling the effects of altitude yet, you might start doing so from today. Some trekkers continue onto the tiny village of Letdar (4,200 meters). Teahouse accommodation is limited in both these villages.
Day 11: Trek from Yak Kharka (4,110 meters) to High Camp (4,850 meters)
Trek from Yak Kharka (4,110 meters) to High Camp (4,850 meters). This is a fairly tough and steep day. Some tour operators will stop for the night at Thorang Phendi (4,450 meters), particularly if trekkers are struggling with the altitude, but continuing on to High Camp is, in our opinion, preferable. This is because it makes the next day’s treks to Muktinath (3,800 meters) a lot shorter and easier.
Accommodation facilities and amenities in Thorang Phendi and High Camp are both good. Please note: continuing onto High Camp means sleeping at high altitude, which is not advised if you are suffering from acute mountain sickness (AMS) symptoms.
Day 12: Trek from High Camp (4,850 meters) across the Thorung Pass (the highest point on the trek at 5,416 meters) and then back down to Muktinath (3,800 meters) via Charabu (4,230 meters)
Trek from High Camp (4,850 meters) across the Thorung Pass (the highest point on the trek at 5,416 meters) and then back down to Muktinath (3,800 meters) via Charabu (4,230 meters). Prepare for a tough, icy-cold day of trekking. The descent from Thorung Pass is steep and trekking poles come in handy.
Muktinath, although an important pilgrimage site for both Hindu’s (see the Vishnu Temple) and Buddhists (see the Monastery), is a rather characterless village. Depending on your operator, you will likely stay overnight in Muktinath. For independent trekkers, the Bob Marley Guesthouse in the center of town is a great shout!
Day 13: Trek from Muktinath (3,800 meters) to Marpha (2,665 meters) via the awesome village of Kagbeni (2,800 meters)
Trek from Muktinath (3,800 meters) to Marpha (2,665 meters) via the awesome village of Kagbeni (2,800 meters). From Kagbeni to Jomsom we recommend taking a jeep to avoid the unpleasant dusty roads. Once you get to Jomsom you can join the ne NATT-trail (which is 2 hours longer than the road option) to Marpha. Marpha is famous for being the centre of the apple region in Nepal. Do try the apple brandy if you get a chance.
Day 14: Trek from Marpha (2,665 meters) to Kalopani (2,530 meters), via Chokhopani, and continue to Kokhethanti to avoid the road
Trek from Marpha (2,665 meters) to Kalopani (2,530 meters), via Chokhopani, and continue to Kokhethanti to avoid the road. Some trekkers grab a jeep from Marpha all the way to Tatapani (see day 15).
Day 15: Trek from Kolapani (2,530 meters) to Tatapani (1,200 meters)
Trek from Kolapani (2,530 meters) to Tatapani (1,200 meters). Using a new NATT-trail (marked in red and white), you can avoid the road and follow a trail that climbs steeply before joining a path that will take you through the towns of Kopochepani, Rupsechhahara, Dana and finally Tatapani.
Day 16: Trek up from Tatapani (1,200 meters) to Ghorepani (2,870 meters)
Trek up from Tatapani (1,200 meters) to Ghorepani (2,870 meters), via the towns of Ghara, Sikha and Chitre. You will most likely stay overnight in Ghorepani in preparation for an early start the next day.
Day 17: Trek from Ghorepani (2,870 meters) up Poon Hill (3,870 meters) and back down to Tadapani (2,710 meters)
Trek from Ghorepani (2,870 meters) up Poon Hill (3,870 meters) and back down to Tadapani (2,710 meters). You will start this days trekking early so as to get up Poon Hill for the impressive sunrise that illuminates surrounding rice terraces and Annapurna and Dhaulagiri massifs.
The classic Annapurna Circuit trek then descends to Tadapani for an overnight stay. Note: we have heard that instead of heading up Poon Hill, the hill opposite in the direction of Chomrong provides an equally impressive (if not better view) without any crowding issues.
Day 18: Trek from Tadapani (2,710 meters) to Naya Pul (1,070 meters) via Gandruk and then catch a short bus ride back to Pokhara
Trek from Tadapani (2,710 meters) to Naya Pul (1,070 meters) via Gandruk and then catch a short bus ride back to Pokhara. This is the end of the Annapurna Circuit and an extraordinary 18 days!
Note: It is possible to follow the old Annapurna Circuit from Ghorepani to Phedi via Landruk, although this takes an extra 2 days compared to the direct exit from Ghorepani to Naya Pul.
Annapurna Route Variations
There are a number of route variations on the Annapurna Circuit. Here are three worth mentioning.
- Annapurna base Camp Trek
- Naar-Pho Valley
- Tilicho Lake
It is possible to include a five day diversion to Annapurna Base Camp onto the Annapurna Circuit trek. This involves continuing north from Tadapani so as to join the old Annapurna Circuit at Landruk.
Read more about the Annapurna Base Camp Trek
A variation to the Annapurna Circuit that has been growing in popularity since opening to foreigners in 2002 is the Naar-Pho Valley.
The route begins near Koto (on day 5/6 of the classic Annapurna Circuit) and follows a trail via two distinctly Tibetan villages – Phugaon and Naar – which are both located at over 4,000 meters. After nine days trekking the route exits via the Kang La Pass (5,300 meters) to Ngawal, where you re-join the Annapurna Circuit on your way to Manang. The detour via the Naar-Pho Valley in effect adds seven days to the traditional Annapurna Circuit as you would have spent two days trekking from Koto to Ngawal and on to Manang had you stayed on the main track.
A special permit, which can only be organised through a trekking agency, is required to enter the Naar-Pho Valley. You will also need to take a guide as tourist infrastructure is poor. Most trekkers opt for the traditional camping style of trekking with porters, tents and cooks.
A 3-4 day trek to Tilicho Lake (4,920 meters), one of the highest lakes in the world, has become a relatively popular diversion on the Annapurna Circuit.
The trek starts in Manang, and follows a path on the northern side of the valley to Khangsar (note: there are maps that show a path on the southern side of the valley but we recommend avoiding this as it is in poor condition and prone to landslides).
From Khangsar there are two paths that leave the town – the lower and upper path. Take the upper path, as it is safer, until you reach Shree Kharka where you can overnight at one of the two teahouses there.
From Shree Kharka walk about 45 miuntes until you reach point where the path splits into a lower and upper trail. Make sure to take the lower trail (the upper trail is marked ‘Danger’). A further 3 hours trekking and you will arrive at Tilicho Base Camp where you can stay overnight at one of the teahouses.
Depart Tilicho Base Camp early the next morning to avoid the high winds and clouds that roll in by mid-morning. The trek up to the lake is steep and tough. It takes about 3 hours and can be very cold due to the altitude, so dress warmly. The descent follows the same path back to Base Camp (approx. an hour) or to Shree Kharka (4 hours from the lake). Overnight at Shree Kharka.
The next day take a trail (which is signposted) directly to Yak Kharka via Old Khangasar, where you re-join the Annapurna Circuit.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does the trek cost?
The cost of an Annapurna Circuit varies depending on which route variation you take, when you trek (out of season tends to be a little cheaper) and whether to trek with a local or western trekking agency, or indeed independently.
We have provided a detailed Annapurna Circuit Cost article here but in summary you should budget for the following key expenses:
Visa, Vaccinations, Insurance etc:~$300-$500
Equipment (buying and hiring):~$500-$800
Flights to Kathmandu: ~$1,000
Tour Agency: ~$1,500 for a cheap local agency to ~$3,000 for a pricey Western trekking agency. You could do an independent trek for ~$1,000 employing a local guide
Misc (additional food, unplanned travel / hotels ect): $200
Total Costs: $3,400 – $5,800
Are permits required for this trek?
An Annapurna Conservation Area Project permit and Trekker Information Management System registration are required for the Annapurna Circuit trek. If you are joining an organised tour, these will be arranged for you, but if you are looking to go it alone you will have to bring four passport-sized photographs and go to the offices of the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu to apply. We recommend bringing copies of your passport and insurance policy. The offices follow government working hours and days, and are not open on Sunday.
When is the best time to trek?
The best time to trek the Annapurna Circuit is either in the Spring (March to Mid May) or in the Autumn (mid / late September to December). Unfortunately these also happen to be the busiest times of the year.
Towards December the weather starts getting particularly cold and the routes get distinctly quieter. If you are a hardened trekker a winter Annapurna Circuit (late December through February) can provide a very authentic Nepal trekking experience. The main challenge of a winter trek, apart from the cold, is the snow and ice that often obstructs the higher trails and the Thorung Pass. During bad winter seasons these trails may be closed.
Unlike the Everest region that gets very wet during the rainy monsoon season, the Annapurna and Mustang regions stay relatively dry, making June through September, a relatively good time to trek as well.
Here’s a detailed article on weather on the Annapurna Circuit.
Is altitude sickness a risk?
The Annapurna Circuit is a long, high altitude trek. At its highest point, Thorung Pass, you will reach an altitude of 5,416 meters (17,769 feet).
Fortunately because of the Circuits length the opportunities for appropriate acclimatisation are good, and hence the prevalence of moderate or sever altitude sickness is low.
Nonetheless, it is important to have a detailed understanding of the risks associated with high altitude trekking and how the body acclimatises.
We recommend you read our detailed article on Altitude Sickness and Acclimatisation.
How difficult is the trek?
The Annapurna Circuit trek is challenging. You will be trekking for 4-7 hours a day for over two weeks, so you will need to be peak physical condition. The best way to prepare is to get as many kilometres under foot on hikes in your home country.
What gear do I need?
Trekking in the Annapurna region requires a number of essential pieces of trekking clothing and equipment. The Annapurna Circuit is a long and tough trek, that exposes you to a range of altitudes where temperatures fluctuate dramatically between night and day.
Many pieces of equipment can be rented or bought in Kathmandu or Pokhara, but we recommend bringing the most important pieces of gear with you.
To help you plan and prepare for your trek we recommend reading our gear section.
What travel insurance do I need?
Moreover, it is prudent to have insurance that covers you for any travel related risks, like lost, stolen, damaged or delayed baggage; flight delays and interruptions; and tour operators default.
This article on travel and trekking insurance in Nepal provides detailed information on what type of insurance you need, as well as provides a quote calculator from a leading travel operator.