10 things I wish I knew before trekking the Annapurna Circuit

It is one of the world’s classic long-distance treks, and still one of Nepal’s most popular treks.

That Annapurna Circuit, a 12 to 21-day route that begins in the lush green villages of the Himalayan foothills. Taking hikers over the 5,416m Thorong La Pass and down to the Tibetan-influenced temples and communities of the Mustang Valley.

If you want to experience a bit of everything Nepal has to offer, this might be the best trek to set off on, but it’s certainly no easy feat. The track is very tough at times and the high altitude and unpredictable weather of the Annapurna mountain range can make crossing Thorong La Pass a dangerous task – especially if you are not prepared.

Thanks, I’ve got your back! So here are ten things you really should know to complete the awesomeness Annapurna Circuit safely and with a smile on his face.

1. Plan the time of year correctly

A hiker looking out at Manaslu Peak on the Annapurna Circuit

Photo taken by Annapurna Mellor

Like many of the treks in Nepal, there are certain times of the year when the weather conditions are ideal. To Annapurna Circuit, October and November or April and May are generally considered to be the best times for trekking. The weather in these two seasons is generally clear and dry, and it is therefore not too cold when you have to go up to high altitudes. These two seasons are also the busiest times to be on the trail, with many other trekkers from around the world heading into the Himalayas.

You can also hike at other times of the year, but you need to be a little more prepared for adverse weather conditions. The winter season, December to March, can also have clear skies and spectacular views. But it can be incredibly cold at higher altitudes, with thick snow on the ground that can often cause Thorong La Pass to close at short notice. If you decide to hike in the winter season, make sure you have extra layers, a thick sleeping bag suitable for temperatures of at least -20°C and crampons, which can be purchased in Kathmandu and Pokhara.

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2. Bring only what you need, leave the rest

When you trek the Annapurna Circuit with Intrepid, Nepali porters will carry 10 kg of your gear. Anything extra must be carried on your own back, so it’s important to pack as light as possible. There are some things you will need such as a good quality sleeping bag, warm jackets, medicine, thermal layers and a headlamp. But leave your jeans, laptop and makeup behind in Kathmandu. You really don’t need them on the trail and your back will thank you for it!

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3. Height should not be underestimated

A tent and Annapurna South at sunrise as taken from Annapurna Base Camp

Photo taken by Annapurna Mellor

Altitude sickness can occur anytime above 2,500m. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, it can affect anyone and it does so randomly. You can stay prepared by taking Diamox, an altitude medication, but other than that, take it easy, drink plenty of water and listen to your body. Before you hit the trail, read up on the symptoms of altitude sickness so you’re aware of them if you start to feel the effects. Your guides will also be very knowledgeable about altitude and can be an important source of help if you are not feeling well. The Annapurna Circuit reaches over 5,000m, it’s seriously high and almost everyone will experience some mild symptoms like headaches or trouble sleeping.

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4. Be prepared for all kinds of weather, regardless of the season

While certain times of the year have much more suitable trekking weather (see point one), it’s important to be prepared for all possible conditions no matter when you decide to go. High in the Himalayas, the weather is unpredictable and snow, rain or storms can happen at any time. Climate change also means that weather patterns have become even more erratic over the past few years. Even if you are trekking in October, be prepared for snow or storms on the trail. Pack enough warm clothes, make sure your boots are waterproof and don’t forget your sunscreen or a sun hat.

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5. Eat well and take care of your body

Dal bhat, the national dish of Nepal

Photo taken by Annapurna Mellor

One of the best things about the Annapurna Circuit is the food and hospitality you will receive in the teahouses. Every evening, after a long day of trekking, you’ll be delighted to sit down in front of a roaring fire and tuck into a plate of dal bhat (a traditional Nepalese meal of rice, lentils, vegetable curry and pickle). The food is delicious and very filling, and your body will thank you the next day when you feel refreshed and ready to hit the trail again. Other common offerings at guesthouses include garlic soup, a local remedy for altitude sickness and much better than it sounds. As well as fried potatoes, spaghetti with local vegetables and of course apple pie – which is the Annapurna Circuit’s dessert of choice due to the apple orchards that grow in many of the villages along the trail. For snacking, I recommend stocking up in Kathmandu, as the price of items like chocolate bars can get very high on the field.

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6. It is good to have a way to purify water

Plastic is a major problem on trekking routes across Nepal as most of these small villages have no waste disposal system. This leaves hillsides littered with discarded plastic bottles, which is really not how we want to treat these areas of striking natural beauty! You can’t drink the tap water in Nepal and you really need to drink a lot on the trail as you are walking long distances at high altitudes.

I recommend getting a reusable steel water bottle in Kathmandu. Along the path there are many villages with purified drinking water stations. Here you can refill your bottle, and it actually works out much cheaper than buying bottled water. You can also use water purification tablets or buy a sterile pen. In the evening we often ordered pots of hot water or tea and drink it, you can also fill up your bottle with leftovers in the pot and it will still be good to drink the next day.

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7. Learn some cultural respect

The village of Danaque on the Annapurna Circuit

Photo taken by Annapurna Mellor

For many people, trekking in Nepal is all about mountain views and hiking. But this is also a cultural trail and it is important to respect the people who call these villages their home. I recommend learning a little more about the cultures you pass through. Talk to the families who run the teahouses and visit local gompas or temples. Opening your eyes to the trail’s cultures, religions and heritage will make it a much more enjoyable and meaningful experience, and it also means a lot to local people when hikers take an interest in their lives.

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8. Don’t run out of cash

Leaving Besisahar, there are no ATMs on the Annapurna Trail until you reach Jomsom after Thorong La Pass. So you must be prepared and carry all the money you will need for the journey. While food and drink in the teahouses can be cheap in the lowlands, they rise significantly as you rise in altitude and the road disappears. In Kathmandu, dal bhat will probably cost you around 200 rupees, but that can grow to around 800 once you get above 3,500m. Western food like burgers, pasta and burritos (yes, any food you can get on the trail) also tend to be very expensive as you get taller. I would recommend taking at least $20 per day of the tour, and if you are a big eater or want to drink alcohol, $30-$40 per day better.

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9. Prepare for Thorong La Pass

Crossing Thorong La Pass was probably the hardest day of my life! Waking up before sunrise and walking over narrow ridges in thick snow. Then climbed continuously for hours before finally reaching the prayer flags on the pass, out of breath and completely relieved. Ok, maybe I’m not selling it very well. But it is essential to be prepared for this day, which will really push even the strongest hiker to the limit.

As long as you are prepared, wearing enough warm clothes and have acclimatized enough to ensure that your body can handle the journey comfortably, reaching Thorong La Pass will be one of the most joyful moments of your trekking trip! Plus, once you reach the top, you descend 1,600m to Muktinath, where the air is thick with oxygen and there are even warm showers to look forward to.

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10. Be positive, take it slow and enjoy the journey!

Two female trekkers take on the Annapurna Circuit

Photo taken by Annapurna Mellor

Traveling is meant to push you and challenge you in so many ways and trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal will certainly do just that. Although this is a difficult ride at times, it is also an incredibly enjoyable journey that can be completed by people of all ages and fitness levels. The most important thing throughout the trip is to stay positive. Even when your body aches and you feel like a hot shower, positivity will drive you on, and it won’t be long before a breathtaking Himalayan panorama makes you remember why you’re here pushing yourself to do it outermost. It is these incredible views, the wonderful hospitality of the locals and the company of your trekking buddies that really make this a trip you will remember for the rest of your life!

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Think you’re ready to take on the Annapurna Circuit? Take a look at our selection of trekking tours that will take you there. Have you already tackled it and are you looking for a new challenge? Check out our selection of hiking and walking holidays from around the world.

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