The most important question you probably have right now (and the reason why you opened this post in a first place) is: Can I trek Annapurna Circuit on my own without a guide, potentially without a porter?
The answer is yes (and I will elaborate on it in a minute.) You get thousands of other questions right now, yeah? How will I get there? Where will I stay? Will I not get lost without a guide? Worry no more, my dear adventurer. This guide to Annapurna Circuit trek will answer questions you didn’t even know you had.
There is going to be a lot of it and so I divided the post into two parts. In the first one, we will cover everything you need to know before you leave, planning and packing, transport, food, drinks and accommodation on the trek and we'll also mention some of the things you should be careful about.
If you can't be bothered about reading the whole (and to be honest, pretty long post), here are the most important things to remember.
What to worry about
- TIMS and ACAP Permits
- Warm Clothes
- Enough Cash
- Low waste drinking water solutions
- Packing light
What not to worry about
- Being lonely
- Getting lost
- Staying hungry
- Not finding accommodation
- High altitude sickness
Planning your trek
Arranging the boring stuff
Will I need a guide?
No. But it might be a good idea to have them in certain cases. If you are worried about getting lost, don’t. The whole trail is very well signed and if you use a map/map app, you'll be fine. You also don’t need a guide to arrange your accommodation as the hotels are in plenty and NOBODY books them in advance. You come, agree on price, get a room. As simple as that.
You don’t need a guide if you are worried about getting altitude sickness neither. Although it is a good idea to have a trekking mate (especially for certain parts of the trek), as long as you obey basic safety rules (yup yup, you impatient, I will cover that too), you will manage.
On the other hand, you might consider hiring a guide if: you just want to relax, enjoy the scenery without thinking about anything, you want to learn about Nepali culture and language or just want a company of someone else than foreign trekkers. There were many times on my trek when I was glad about not getting a guide. I had complete freedom and didn’t feel obliged to do anything. However, I did get jealous a couple of times as I met some trekkers and their guides were AWESOME. Knowledgeable, helpful, funny and super nice (as the Nepalis are).
Conclusion: You will manage the trek on your own, I am very sure about that. But if you had a bit of extra money to spend and look for problem-less trek where you don’t need to worry about anything, go for it and hire a guide.
(If you decided on hiring a guide after all, I feel obliged to recommend Hari Nepal who I met with his American client. Hari was the reason why I sometimes got jealous of not having a guide! Super knowledgeable, friendly, funny and nice. We kept meeting each other all throughout the trek and it was always an ultimate pleasure! He also taught me some new Nepali words...)
If I walk on my own, will I be alone?
I started the trek on my own and sometimes I wished I had more privacy! You keep meeting loads of other trekkers, a lot of them alone, all eager to meet new people and have some fun in the evening in front of a fireplace. There is everyone from seasoned hardcore trekkers to backpackers trying trekking as a break from Thai beaches, from groups of retirees to gap yearers.
Annapurna Circuit is one of the most popular treks in the world. There are a lot of people around. I trekked on my own just for about first 6 days, then I met my trekking partner Andy who I was with until the end. There were also so many others who we crossed paths with maybe for a day, for two, sometimes we met each other every day on different parts of the trek.
One of my fondest memories of the whole trek was the day before crossing the Thorung La Pass. Andy and I walked to a little view point above the High Camp and met so many people we knew. As cheesy as it sounds, we almost didn't know each other but there was something really really strong connecting all of us. I hope all of these lovely people made it safe and sound to the other side the next day!
When is the right time to go?
There are two main seasons for trekking Annapurna Circuit. The first (and main) one starts in mid September and finishes in mid December. If you go before that, there is a chance of rain, if you go after that, it might be too cold. Especially in higher altitudes.
The second season is in March and April. It is warm enough to manage the trek in all its parts and the rainy season hasn’t arrived yet. The visibility is not as good as in autumn though. Apparently.
Just like with high and low seasons anywhere though, you might get great weather all throughout the trek during low season and avoid the high-season crowds meanwhile.
VIDEO: Yup, it's me. Enjoying the scenery, struggling, having and walking ups and downs, meeting amazing people.
How long will the trek take?
That depends on how fast you are and how much time you want to spend there. You can easily skip the beginning and the end of the trek by taking a jeep. The shortest time would be somewhere around seven days but you can spend up to three weeks there and do some side treks.
No matter what option you will go for, always plan a few extra days on top your intended itinerary. There are many things which might not go accordingly to your plan. It might be food poisoning, altitude sickness or just tiredness.Even if it is not anything serious, it might keep you in one place for longer than you expected. You don’t want to stress over an international flight you need to take in a few days while you are hugging a toilet bowl somewhere in Nepali mountains.
Just keep in mind that complications can arise and it is always good to have a few spare days. Even if everything goes 100% smoothly, maybe you will decide to take a side trek or just chill out in one place for longer.
There are two kinds of permit you will need. The first one is a classic protection area permit which goes to the maintenance fund. It costs 2000NPR. Another one is TIMS Card. Once you register, they will put your name into a database. This might help them to better locate you in case of a natural calamity. You get it for 2200 NPR.
Although you might think of skipping these formalities, they regularly check the permits along the way (somewhere less, somewhere more thoroughly) and you don’t want to get caught and potentially fined in the middle of your trek. If you are starting the trek from Kathmandu, you will get your permits from Nepal Tourism Board here:
If you are starting in Pokhara, look for them here:
What will you need for your permits?
For TIMS, you will need two passport photographs and a copy of your passport. Make sure you take your actual passport with you as you will need some of the visa information. For the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) permits, you need two passport sized photographs again. The permits cost 2000NPR each and you can hire an agency which will arrange them for you.
You can also get them at the start of your trek (I got my TIMS card in Besi Sahar) but I definitely recommend arranging everything you can in advance before you arrive to ACAP. Especially if you are a trekking rookie just like me, there will be so many other things you will need to focus on on the first day!
Good news is that Annapurna Circuit is a so-called teahouse trek. It means that you won’t need any camping equipment at all as there are plenty of restaurants and hotels to satisfy your basic needs.
Some of the items you should definitely take with you
Comfortable shoes — doesn’t matter if it’s your old running shoes or hardcore trekking boots, they need to be comfortable. Because you will walk a lot. I would also recommend them being waterproof. Especially at the beginning of the trek, there are many streams running over the trail and you sometimes need to basically walk in that stream. Don’t get too caught up in buying super expensive and professional shoe wear. Most of the trails are in a good condition and except an occasional climb over a few rocks or the mentioned water stream running through the path, it's rainbows and unicorns.
I did the whole trek in a pair of Timberland boots which are classified as hiking shoes but not trekking shoes and I did just fine. Although I wish I took at least a pair of really warm socks. I was a bit worried about my toes being frost-bitten after crossing the pass. It is freaking cold up there!
Warm clothes — especially if you trek in November and later. You should have enough clothes to be able to layer them as it gets colder in higher altitudes and at night. Pack warm socks, tights or leggins, long-sleeved T-shirts, sweater and a warm jacket (again, bonus points if it’s waterproof). You will also use a hat and thick gloves.
Drinking bottle — this baby will save you a lot of money and nature a lot of litter. Waste disposal system in these remote areas is absolutely pathetic and you don’t want to contribute to the problem. Pack your water bottle.
Sleeping bag — you will manage without but I was really glad I had mine. There were nights when I used my sleeping bag, blanket and while sleeping fully clothed with a hat on, I still woke up at night of cold. In most of the places, they give you extra blankets if you ask (for free or a small fee).
Electronic devices — wifi is scarce and you occasionally need to pay for charging your devices too so keep it simple. Except your camera and potentially phone there isn’t much else you will need up there.
Linnen sachet — it will help you to further avoid producing waste. Check this post for more information.
Snacks — there are plenty of restaurants and eateries but it is always good to have a few snacks at hand when you don’t want to stop for a full meal. Everything is obviously much more expensive as you get higher so you might consider doing your shopping in Kathmandu/Pokhara.
What you shouldn't take with you:
Any waste producing products/foods/drinks - even if you throw your litter into a rubbish bins in a hotel, the villagers will chuck it behind a village and burn it. You can do it. It's just two or three weeks without producing litter. You can do it.
Obviously, in the best case scenario you already have all this stuff with you when you arrive to Nepal. It will be most probably good-quality, long-lasting and already tested gear. You can buy anything (really quite anything) in tourist parts of the major cities — Kathmandu’s Thamel and Pokhara’s Lakeside. Shops offer anything from trekking shoes to woollen gloves and socks.
Most of the stuff is super cheap, low-quality and fake. The only two things I got for my trekking gear was a pair of woollen gloves and a sleeping bag. Both of them have turned out pretty well (wood knock knock) and survived not just the trek but other travels in India too.
Again though. If you have the chance and know about the trek before coming to Nepal, buy rather better-quality gear. Buy the cheap stuff from Thamel and you will soon turn it into waste.
Will I need cash or are there any ATMs on Annapurna Circuit Trek?
Very important: yes, you will definitely need cash. The last place with an ATM is Besi Sahar and then Jomsom which comes about 10 days later. Also, I didn't see any card terminals at all, the places only accept cash.
How much should you carry?
I met people with a 7kg mini-backpack as well as a person with almost a 14kg backpack. Yes, it was me and I didn’t need a half of it. No matter how strong and fit you are, once you do 1000m+ elevation a day, you will be glad for a small backpack. Bottom line: pack light.
If you travel for longer than just trekking Annapurna Circuit, you have probably loads of other stuff you won’t need. As far as I know, all hotels and hostels in both, Kathmandu and Pokhara are very accommodating and let you leave your bag with them while you go trekking. This might be free of charge if you promise that you would return to the same hotel after your trek.
You can also use one of many (and when I say many, I mean it) travel agencies. I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to Kathmandu before I set off though and so I left some of my clothes there and had them transferred to Pokhara for 300NPR. The agency I did this with is called Swissa (Yellow Swissa, there is also Red Swissa but I am not sure what the relationship between the two is). It is one of the most established agencies in Thamel and has two branches in both of the cities.
So far, I have only heard positive feedback about them but I would still be quite careful about what you leave there. Once you pay, it is more of a self-service. They direct you to the store room and you leave your bag there while having access to the bags of all the other people. The same thing happens when you pick your stuff up.
Will I need a porter?
There were a few types of people hiring a porter. Older people who were fit enough to trek but not fit enough to carry everything on their back and people who needed clean clothes every day. If you are reasonably fit, I think you can quite easily manage up to 10kg. I am only just reasonably fit and I carried 14-15kg. It took me a few days to get used to it but I did it.
It is the same like with guides. You will most probably manage without, however, for extra comfort, you might want to consider one.
You will, almost comfortably, get to the beginning of the trek from both, Kathmandu and Pokhara. Every travel agent and basically every hotel or a hostel will be able to book the tickets for you. Ask around for the best price though. I booked mine at my beloved hostel Kasthamandap Traveller's Home in Kathmandu. No fees, no hassle.
The place you need to get to is called Besi Sahar, an official start of the trek. This is also where most of the buses stop. If you want to go any further, you will need to take a jeep. The bottom line is, I wouldn't worry too much about transport. Annapurna Circuit is one of the most popular treks in the world and there are always ways to get where you need.
However, be careful if you are trying to save time by starting trekking quite deep into the trek. Jeeps leave irregularly and so it might take you as long to walk somewhere (e.g. Chame or Tal) as to get there by jeep.
Again, you can choose between a few places where you can finish your trek. There are supposed to be a few buses leaving from Muktinath, the very first place to finish. From as far as I know though, there are more buses leaving from Jomson, Tatopani or Naya Pul. Obviously, the further you walk, the cheaper the final fare back to the civilisation will be.
If you mainly rely on jeeps and you finish your trek somewhere as early as Muktinath, you might spend up to several thousand rupees on the transport out. If you walk all the way to Nayapul (official end of the trek), bus to Pokhara costs as little as 100 NPR.
On the trek
All you need to know: there is plenty of it and it is cheap. Or free.
Most of the hotels concentrate around towns and villages where most itineraries recommend staying for a night, for example Ghermu Phant, Tal, Chame etc. However, places to stay are scattered all around. That means that when you don't feel like walking any further on a particular day, there are usually a lot of places to call it a day.
I was really glad about buying an actual map which showed where most of hotels and restaurants where so I always knew what was ahead of me.
Every single hotel I stayed in was the same. Bed, bedside table, dirty blanket, toilet and a shower in the outside part, social room with a fireplace and kitchen (where you are occasionally allowed to go before they start a fire in the social room).
What did I mean when I said that you sometimes get room for free? Although the prices go steeply up for things like food the higher you go, you can stay in certain hotels completely for free or for a nominal price if you promise to eat all your meals there as well. Even if you need to pay, it will be something around 100NPR a night. Maximum I paid was 300NPR for a double room and it was in the High Camp - last stop before the highest point of the trek with literally no other options for accommodation. So you kinda had to stay there.
What to prepare for
- While you are checking in, simply ask if you need to pay and if they quote a price, try to haggle it down. Also, just promise you would only eat in their place. As all the hotels offer the same sort of food, it really doesn't matter where you have a dinner anyway.
- Especially in higher altitudes (=more expensive everything), always make sure you know what you are paying for. While things like phone charging, wifi, extra blankets and hot shower are free at the beginning of the trek, once you get higher up, you might need to pay up to 100NPR for them.
- Don't expect luxury. Don't even expect Nepali kind of luxury. The hotels here are very basic and very badly insulated. It is going to be cold. While I could go around just in my T-shirt during the day at the beginning of the trek, I remember crushing ice to get to drinking water in the morning before crossing the highest pass. I also spent that night fully clothed including my jumper, hat and gloves, in a sleeping bag with a double layer of blankets.
- And when I mentioned hot shower before... well, I rather meant lukewarm. The shower room is usually outside so even if you are lucky and get hot water, you will be pretty cold afterwards. Buy hey, you're on a trek. Nobody cares if you smell. Possibly except your roommate. (I'm sorry Andy.)
Be a good guest
Most of the hotels are family-run businesses and you should be as culturally sensitive as possible. Your attitude to the locals today will determine their attitude to other trekkers tmorrow. Some of the things you should be careful about are:
1. The main fireplace in the kitchen is sacred and is purely used for cooking so don't throw any rubbish in there. It's a surprisingly big deal so don't forget.
2. Feet are seen as dirty. Try not to display them too much (especially bare).
3. Learning a few basic Nepali phrases goes a looooong way. 90% of all tourists don't bother with anything else than "namaste" and so locals really appreciate even just a few basic words. A simple conversation in Nepali once even got me a free room while other guests had to pay!
4. Nepalis only use their hands for eating. Ignore the disgusted looks of your fellow foreigners and join in. This is the cultural immersion you wanted! :)
5. Don't flush the toilet paper down- blocked toilets don't make anyone happy.
Food and water
Just like with hotels, you don't need to worry you would go hungry. You stumble upon a restaurant every few hours and every single hotel offers food too. Menu is usually a mix of Nepali classics such as chapatis and dhal bhat, Western food such as pasta, egg omelettes, burgers and Tibetan style food such as Thukpa soup, momos or Tibetan bread (flat deep-fried bread with honey, cheese, jam etc.)
You can save a lot of money on accommodation but it is really difficult to save money on food. Dhal what you usually get for about 150-200NPR anywhere else in Nepal goes up to 600NPR in certain parts of the trek. Before you get to drastic reductions in your diet though, always remember that you really do need to eat a lot. Just imagine how much energy you are burning in comparison with your normal lifestyle. As I had a bit of a cash crisis towards the end of the trek, I skipped lunch a few times and had just some snacks instead. I didn't go hungry but I definitely felt like I should have eaten more.
A lot of my fellow trekkers were fairly stocked up with little snacks, energy bars and similar useful but waste-producing foods. I experimented a lot and these are my top vegetarian, low-waste, light and energy-rich snacks to pack:
Peanut butter - a 200g jar costs around 200-300NPR and you can buy it in both, bigger cities and some of the villages along the trek. In the best case scenario, it is in a glass jar which you will reuse or recycle as soon as a recycling bin turns up (you might need to wait until you go back home though).
Samosas, pakodas - not that common but you can still find them in some villages. They are greasy, delicious, unhealthy and fill you up for a long time.
Yak cheese - for me, this as an ideal trekking food as it's rather dry and lasts for ages without having to be refrigerated. Not everyone likes it though as it is quite fragrant.
Chapatis - these simple dry flatbreads get ridiculously expensive as you get higher up. At the beginning of the trek, I always had them made for breakfast and then packed in my linen sachet. I ate them with peanut butter for snacks.
Bananas - healthy and filling, you can get them surprisingly high up in the mountains.
Apples, apple pies, all things apply - there are numerous apple orchards along the trail and so you can buy fresh apples, nibble on apple crumbles or delicious and crunchy deep fried apple pies. Local alternative to bananas.
Tsampa - I didn't know this roasted barley porridge back then and I wish I did. It looks like wholemeal flour and it is really light to carry around. Mix it with water (both hot and cold) to make either a porridge or a thick mixture you can shape little snack balls from. The only disadvantage is that you would need to carry a bowl and a spoon for mixing with you.
Pastries - there are a lot of "German style" bakeries, especially in Manang and Braga, selling really nice pastries such as cinnamon rolls, chocolate cakes or croissants.
I hoped this video would be much longer but I accidentally deleted the rest of my videos. But here we go, 9 seconds of trekking rubbish. Not nice, is it?
I urgently discourage you from buying any chocolate bars, biscuits, crisps or anything else sold in plastic packaging. Unless you are willing to keep all the litter in your bag until the end of the trek. There is no other waste disposal system than chuck everything behind a village or burn it. So even when you are sensible enough not to throw litter out in nature, even when you use rubbish bins, your litter will end up outside anyway. Avoiding rubbish is completely possible and probably cheaper than spending money on over-priced snacks.
It might be slightly more difficult to reduce your waste count when it comes to drinking water, however, still absolutely possible (during 7 weeks in Nepal, I didn't use a single plastic bottle). Your options:
1. Yodine tablets & chlorine drops - both of them taste quite bad but they are safe and reliable. You put a few tablets/drops into a drinking bottle, stir and wait for 30 minutes. Water is then safe to drink.
2. Safe water drinking stations - some of the villages have set up safe drinking water stations where you can pour yourself some water and pay a contribution which goes directly to a village fund. This is a really good idea but the stations are quite rare at the moment and you can't rely on them in every village. As far as I know, they are in: Tal, Chame, Upper Pissang, Manang, Muktinath, Kagbeni, Tukuche, Thakkholagaon.
3. Filtered water dispensers - some hotels have them, most of them don't. Always worth asking though.
4. Drinking filter water bottle - I have no personal experience with this although I am sure it is the best way of purifying water. The filter is supposed to last for ages and it clears the water as you drink. No waste.
Health, Safety and Risks
There are two dangers (risks) you might need to face while doing a trek like Annapurna Circuit. These are high altitude sickness and a possibility of natural calamity. Don't panic. I am mentioning these risks because they can be so serious, not because they are so common.
Yes, there have been people killed in a snowstorm on Annapurna Circuit before and yes, there have been people with serious altitude sickness. If you are clever though, the chances of this happening to you are very low.
While you probably don't know anything about it now, you will know EVERYTHING about it at the end of the trek. And even more. It is a number one conversation starter between trekkers, even more popular than a backpacking talk scheme "Where are you from - where have you come from today - where are you going next." No matter how serious altitude sickness can be, avoiding it is fairly straightforward. These are all the tips and tricks I gathered on the trek.
- You shouldn't really be worried about altitude until you get to 3000m+ which is where you need to take an acclimatization day (in Manang or Braga).
- After the acclimatization day, don't try to climb up too much in a day. If you follow official itineraries, you will be fine.
- Even if you go up much higher (such as one day trip to the Ice Lake) on the same day, you should sleep lower than the highest point you reached that day.
- From what I saw, altitude sickness doesn't give you just some random symptoms. For example, people who are prone to headaches... get headaches. I know that my digestion is quite easily affected and really, the most tangible symptom I was feeling was stomach sickness.
- It hits almost anyone. However, it will hit you harder if your body is already weakened by, for example, hunger, thirst, tiredness or hangover. Just take a really good care of yourself and your body will get a much better chance to resist.
- Drink plenty of water. Seems like it's a cure for everything.
- If you feel really bad, stop where you are. If it gets worse, go lower. If it gets even worse, get a doctor and consider finishing the trek.
- If you are really worried about altitude sickness, get the pills (in any shop with trekking equipment in Kathmandu, Pokhara or on the trek). Always make 100% sure you know exactly how to use them though. Some of them thin your blood to help body adjust to different air pressure and when you stop taking them while still in a high altitude, your blood thickens which can cause serious complications.
- There are regular daily seminars about altitude sickness in Manang (you don't need to be worried about altitude sickness before Manang anyway). If you are still not sure, visit them.
From an extensive search I've done, the most dangerous natural disaster which could happen to you would be a snowstorm such as the one which killed about 40 people on Annapurna Cicuit trek in 2014. To be completely honest with you, yes, trekkers who were parts of organised groups were usually safer during that storm as their guides were able to get them out of the pass.
We need to realise though that such calamities don't happen every year. Not even every year. There have been thousands of trekkers who successfully finished the trek since this disaster happened. Would you call of your holiday in Thailand because of the 2004 tsunami? Or trip to New Orleans because of the hurricanes? Probably not.
Try to stay updated on weather forecast, especially in higher altitudes. Ask locals or even guides of other groups and don't risk. If there is a suspicion of bad weather, wait until it's considered safe to go.