Annapurna Circuit Trek without a guide? Yes, it’s possible.
Annapurna Circuit Trek is one of the most popular and scenic trekking trails not only in Nepal, but in the world. This trail, as its name suggests, goes almost all the way around the entire Annapurna massif. In June 2016 we with Una hiked this trail. In 18 days we walked all the way from Besi Sahar to Beni. And we did it without a guide, a porter or any tour agency.
16 days we were walking, but 2 days we took free. One to acclimatize better, another one to have a rest because I was feeling sick. As we had enough time we spent 3 days in Pokhara and in total about a week in Kathmandu.
When planning your Annapurna Circuit Trek, don’t forget to count in at least 4 more days (2 at the beginning of the trek and another 2 – at the end). Because it can take up to 12 – 14 hours to get from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar, more – if you are planning to start trekking from, let’s say, Chame or Lower Pisang. And at least the same as much time you will need to get back to Kathmandu after finishing a trek around Annapurna massif.
UPDATE: In March 2017 I returned to Nepal to hike Annapurna Circuit one more time (notes from my hike). This time in early spring. Starting from Bhulbule and finishing in Jomsom. In total I was walking for 11 days.
Getting a Trekking Permit and TIMS
It is possible to get a trekking permit and TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) card on the same day, when you arrive to Kathmandu. Before applying for a trekking permit in Nepal you need to know, which trek are you going to do.
There are many different treks in Nepal. They are in different parts of the country. And in each part of the country there is a different trekking permit needed. Prices vary as well.
– For Annapurna Circuit Trek You Will Need to Obtain Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP)
We got it from Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu. Paying a little bit extra it’s possible to obtain it from almost any trekking agency in Kathmandu. There are really a lot of them in the city, especially in the area called Thamel. And there are also few other places, where you can get it (check it on the website of NTNC).
And then you need TIMS card. It is possible to get it at the same place – office of Nepal Tourism Board.
Each one of them cost us 2000 NPR (about 18 EUR/20 USD).
– What Is Necessary to Get a Trekking Permit for Annapurna Circuit?
To get ACAP and TIMS you need to have a travel insurance (both times we took World Nomads Explorer package), 4 passport photo size photos, as well as you need to know when and where are you starting your trek, more or less your route and when and where are you planning to finish it.
– Travel Insurance for Trekking in Nepal
If you plan to do a whole Annapurna Circuit Trek, which means also crossing Thorong La pass at 5416 (17,769 ft) meters above sea level, then you need an insurance, which covers activities at such a high altitude as well. Mostly insurance companies don’t offer it in a standard offer.
That’s one of the reason, why we choose World Nomads Explorer package. World Nomads is an insurance company trusted by Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Intrepid Travel.
Step by step. You go to the Nepal Tourist Board office. Fill the forms. Give your photos. Pay money. Get your trekking permit and TIMS. In total it took us only about 1 hour.
Our Route – Annapurna Circuit Trek
1) In June 2016 we started hiking Annapurna circuit trek from Besi Sahar, and finished in Beni.
2) In March 2017 I started from Bhulbhule, and finished in Jomsom.
– Getting From Kathmandu to Besi Sahar (and Bhulbhule)
To get from Kathmandu to Besi Sahar we took a local bus. A bus from Kathmandu to Bhulbhule leaves from the same bus station.
Bus station, that you will need, is about 2 kilometers North of Thamel. And Thamel is the most popular district of Kathmandu among foreigners. It’s also the area where all the trekking stores are located.
Note that it’s a pretty long ride and there could be only one bus per day. And most probably it leaves early. Our bus left Kathmandu at 6:30 AM (to Bhulbhule – at 6:45 AM). Better buy a ticket one day in advance.
One way ticket cost us 450 NPR each (about 4 EUR/4,5 USD). And the ride was about 10 hours long.
Another option is to take a tourist bus going to Pokhara. These buses leave from a place closer to Thamel. Then you will need to get off at Dumre, not reaching Pokhara. And then – to take a local bus to Besi Sahar or Bhulbhule. At the end it will cost you at least twice as much. But at least the first part of the ride will be much more comfortable. To get a ticket go to any of tour agencies. A ticket for a local bus you will buy already in Dumre.
– Our Route, Day By Day
Besi Sahar – Ngadi – Ghermu Phant (shortly before Syange) – Tal – Danakyu – Chame – Upper Pisang – Manang – one more day in Manang – Siri Kharka – Ledar – Thorung Phedi – Muktinath – Jomsom – one more day in Jomsom – Larjung – Ghasa – Tatopani – Beni.
In March 2017 I took a bus to Bhulbhule and on the first day I stayed at Ngadi, half an hour walk away from the place where I got off the bus. I finished my trek in Jomsom, from where I took a local bus to Pokhara. I needed to change a bus in Beni.
– Getting From Beni to Pokhara (and Kathmandu)
From Beni to Pokhara we took a jeep. It’s approximately 80 kilometer ride, which takes about 3 hours. And it cost us 400 NPR each (about 3,5 EUR / 4 USD).
On our last day we walked all the way from Tatopani to Beni. It was already afternoon when we reached Beni. And we didn’t know if there will be any more buses going to Pokhara today. So we just walked to bus station and asked for a bus to Pokhara. Man sold us tickets and asked to wait for half an hour. Later we found out that it will be a jeep ride. Ok!
– Getting From Jomsom to Pokhara (and Kathmandu)
You can fly from Jomsom to Pokhara. There is an airport.
You can take a jeep. Or you can take a local bus like we did. Taking a local bus you will need to change a bus in Beni. A ticket cost us 1000 NPR (about 9 EUR / 10 USD).
Tilicho Lake – Most Popular Side Trail of Annapurna Circuit
We also planned to go to Tilicho lake, which is one of the world’s highest lakes and most popular side trail of Annapurna circuit trek. But because of fresh landslide at one point we decided that it’s too dangerous and turned around. In March 2017 I didn’t go there either, because there was too much snow.
Our plan was as following – trek from Manang to Siri Kharka, eat lunch, leave half of our stuff there, and continue to Tilicho base camp. Spend a night in hotel at Tilicho base camp. Wake up at 5 AM, take only water and camera and trek to Tilicho lake. Return to Tilicho base camp after 5-6 hours for a lunch. Trek back to Siri Kharka. Continue to Ledar on the next day.
Annapurna Circuit Trek in 2 Weeks or Less
Having only about 2 weeks in total you can do something like Tal – Danakyu – Chame – Upper Pisang – Manang – Ledar – Thorung Phedi – Muktinath – Jomsom by foot, and rest by jeep or bus. From Jomsom it’s also possible to fly to Pokhara.
Not being sure if you can make it across Thorung La pass (hardest and highest point of Annapurna circuit trek; 5416 meters above sea level) or without ambitions to do it, you can also start trekking from Besi Sahar and walk as far as you comfortably can. It’s about 7-10 days walk until the pass and views are worth it. And then you can take a jeep from Manang back to Besi Sahar or Bhulbhule, from where you can take a bus to Kathmandu.
Note, that it’s not possible to take a jeep from places after Manang. Because higher in the mountains there are no roads in this area.
It’s always a good idea to have at least 1-2 extra days, in case something goes not as planned.
Annapurna Circuit Trek in Different Seasons
Best time of the year to hike Annapurna circuit trek is autumn – from September to November. And then – spring, from April to May.
Summer is a monsoon season in Nepal, when it can be very cloudy and it can rain a lot. But in winter it can get very cold. Though, usually not more than -20 C at the highest altitudes. Speaking about snow, even in winter on Annapurna Circuit trek it can be just a little bit of snow. But again, these are Himalayas, and the weather there can be unpredictable. Like, for example, in the beginning of March 2017, when one big part of the trail wasn’t passable because of a heavy snowing.
Trekking Annapurna Circuit During the Monsoon Season
We knew that it will be monsoon season already, but then we read, that most of Annapurna circuit trek sits within a so called rain shadow and rain there shouldn’t be a problem, not in June at least.
So we decided to give it a try. We started to hike on the 29th of May and finished on the 15th of June.
During this whole period of time we had rain only 4 or 5 times. For almost all our first day, for few hours on the second day and afterwards only at nights at the very end of our trek. So mostly it was either sunny or sunny in the morning and cloudy for the rest of the day. Not bad at all.
We also knew, that there are way less tourists during the off season. What we didn’t expect is that there are barely any tourists during this time of the year on Annapurna circuit trek. For the first and last 3-4 days we always were the only guests at the hotel, and there always were like 5 or 8 hotels to choose from.
Starting from Manang and until Muktinath we saw in total only about 25 other hikers.
Planning a Budget for Annapurna Circuit Trek
Basically your only expenses in the mountains are accommodation, food and drinking water.
Starting from the second day we used almost only tap water, purified with water purification tablets, that we bought in Kathmandu. Thus every liter of water cost us almost nothing (less than 3 NPR). While at the shops and restaurants in the mountains it costs starting from 50 – 100 NPR at lower altitudes and close to 200 NPR or something like 1,8 EUR/2 USD for 1 liter of water at higher altitudes.
– Annapurna Circuit Trek Food Costs
100 NPR equals to something like 0,9 EUR/1 USD.
Similar like with water, the higher you are, the pricier everything is. Few examples. Bar of Snickers or Mars in the mountains costs about 150 – 200 NPR. Bottle of beer – about 500 NRP. 1 liter pot of ginger – lemon – honey tea (the most of expensive tea) costs about 600 – 2000 NPR. 1 cup of black tea – 40 – 90 NPR. But once you are near the Thorung La pass even cup of hot water costs like 70 NPR, but pot of hot water – about 300 NPR.
Cheapest meals on the trek are soups (150 – 350 NPR) and fried and boiled eggs (150 – 300 NPR). But anything more filling, like pasta, dal bhat, momo, burgers, pizzas and sandwiches mostly cost between 350 and 600 NPR.
– Accommodation on Annapurna Circuit Trek Isn’t Expensive
Think about something like 100 – 500 NPR for a single room or bed in a dorm and 300 – 1000 NPR for a double room with private or shared bathroom. Taking a hot shower may cost you extra 50 – 200 NPR. At some places they have solar shower, which usually is for free. Ask about it!
At higher altitudes internet & electricity to charge your gadgets also might cost you extra 100 – 300 NPR.
For several days we didn’t pay anything for accommodation. There is such a possibility. In these situations they usually ask you to have all the meals at their restaurant, which in my opinion is a fair deal. You can always ask for it as well – can you give me a free room, if I’m eating dinner and breakfast with you?
In 2016 after Manang we didn’t have internet. In 2017 if not for the technical problems in Manang and Upper Pisang, I would have had internet in all the towns until Thorung Pedi.
Similar like a year earlier, a hot shower was a luxury after I left Manang. The same like running water.
– How Much Money Should You Take With You?
From our experience, if you are traveling as a couple, 3000 NPR per day (for a couple) is sufficient for all the basics and some snacks. If you are traveling solo, better take 2000 NPR in cash with you for every day you plan to spend in the mountains.
Or – at least take enough cash to last you until Jomsom, where there is an ATM and Currency Exchange booth near the airport. In any case better take also some 100 – 200 USD or EUR in cash with you as well, in case ATM isn’t working or it’s not accepting your bank card.
Planning your Annapurna Circuit budget don’t forget to count in TIMS (2000 NPR), trekking permit (2000 NPR), travel insurance (we paid about 100 EUR / 110 USD per person), getting to starting point and back (about 1500 – 2000 NPR in total) and what you will spend on snacks, medicine and probably some trekking equipment when preparing for the trek.
Annapurna Circuit Trek Without a Guide, Now You Are Ready for It
Yes, you can do it!
If you have any experience of planning a trip for yourself or someone else. If you have some experience of booking a hotel room. If you aren’t very shy. If you can walk 15 – 20 kilometers per day. Then you definitely can do it all by yourself.
Just bring a map of the route (you can buy one in Kathmandu for 300 – 500 NPR) and you are set! In fact, even a sheet of paper with a list of towns, that you will be going through, works perfect here. Because all the route of Annapurna circuit trek is well enough marked with red arrows and red – white signs.
There are guest houses, cafes and restaurants like every 5 – 10 kilometers. And there is always someone whom to ask – hey, is this town in this or that direction? As we saw from our experience, it’s not a problem also during the off season, when there aren’t almost any foreigners. Because you can always approach locals. Like we did, when there was a need.
What equipment is necessary? How to pack light? Read our article – Trekking Annapurna Circuit – Full Packing & Equipment List.
If you have any questions about traveling in Nepal, contact us!
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Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and a travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On We Are From Latvia they share their experience and things learned along the way.