Go World Travel is reader-supported and may earn a commission from purchases made through links in this piece.

Mount Everest gets a lot of press, and when it comes to trekking in Nepal, the Everest Base Camp (EBC) and Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) are most popular among tourists without mountaineering experience.

While in Nepal, I chose to trek the Annapurna Circuit trek. The 20 days spent on the trail mesmerized by the landscape were unlike any other travel experience I’ve had.

Why Trek the Annapurna Circuit Instead of ABC or EBC?

Viewpoint of the Annapurna Mountains on the Annapurna Circuit. Photo by Danika SmithViewpoint of the Annapurna Mountains on the Annapurna Circuit. Photo by Danika Smith
Viewpoint of the Annapurna Mountains on the Annapurna Circuit. Photo by Danika Smith

Base camp trails take you down the same route you climbed up, whereas in a circuit you see different villages and landscapes the entire way. No one likes to climb down the same way trudged upwards. 

Unless you’re hung up about setting your eyes on the tallest peak on Earth, the Annapurna Circuit will make for an equally unforgettable experience.

This post will dive into why the Annapurna Circuit (AC) is an excellent alternative to going to EBC (or even ABC), and what you need to prepare before hiking.

Can I Do the Annapurna Circuit Trek Without a Guide?

Thick jungle of the Annapurna Circuit from Besi Sahar. Photo by Danika SmithThick jungle of the Annapurna Circuit from Besi Sahar. Photo by Danika Smith
Thick jungle of the Annapurna Circuit from Besi Sahar. Photo by Danika Smith

When I trekked the circuit in 2018, there were no restrictions on solo trekkers. As of spring 2023, the Nepali Government imposed this ban, although little evidence of enforcing this ban at checkpoints along the AC trail has been shown.

Tour companies online, in Kathmandu, or Pokhara will try to sell you guides, porters, and specific tours. A guide can provide an educational experience about the area and people in the region.

On the other hand, many budget travelers prefer to hike alone so long as it’s safe. Myself and a few friends I met along the way hiked the trail from Besi Sahar to Naya Pul without any issues.

If you’re keen to hire a guide, make sure the guide provides what you are looking for and speaks your language well. Do your homework and shop around before signing up for a tour.

If you want to risk bending the rules and trek solo, at the very least inquire with locals or other travelers in Kathmandu or Pokhara to confirm whether or not trekking with a guide is being monitored.

Permits and Fees for the Annapurna Circuit

As of 2024, there are two things you need to purchase ahead of time to enter and hike the AC trail.

Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP)

The permit can be purchased at The Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu or Pokhara for 3000 Nepali Rupees (plus tax).

Trekkers Information Management System (TIMS) Card

The new ban on solo trekkers means only registered travel agencies can purchase these cards (which wasn’t required in the past).

To obtain a TIMS card you’ll need to provide your trekking itinerary, a copy of your passport, two recent passport-sized photos of yourself, and pay a 2000 NR fee.

There is a lot of discussion online about these rules not being enforced at checkpoints (mentioned above), so you might not need to use the card along the trail.

What to Expect When Hiking the Annapurna Circuit

Guesthouse at Tilicho Base Camp. Photo by Danika SmithGuesthouse at Tilicho Base Camp. Photo by Danika Smith
Guesthouse at Tilicho Base Camp. Photo by Danika Smith

Along the AC, you’ll pass through many villages and small towns where locals have built guesthouses or ‘teahouses’ for foreigners to eat and stay at.

Camping is also an option. Of course, if you camp, you’ll carry extra gear, so that’s something to consider.

The Annapurna Circuit trail is well-marked and starts as a road for the first and last portion of the trail.

Some hikers on a shorter itinerary take a jeep from Besi Sahar to Manang, and then from Jomsom to Naya Pul at the end of the circuit to save time.

Whichever way you plan the trek, expect to be wowed by the jaw-drop-worthy scenery.

What to Pack for Your Trek

Trekking the AC can take up to three weeks, depending on where you start and finish. Deciding what and how to pack depends on how much weight you’re willing to carry on your back, and what kind of gear is a priority.

A friend I met in Nepal who hiked extensively in the Annapurna area gave me thin-lined leather gloves that she deemed sufficient, and advised me that she only ‘felt a little cold over the pass’.

My fingers were frozen cold only a few days into the trek. I bought a pair of wool mittens from an elderly Nepali lady in one of the villages along the trail.

This list provides suggestions. Keep in mind your specific needs while you pack.

Below is a breakdown of what I’d suggest as a bare minimum if you stay at teahouses (NOT camping).

Best Way to Navigate

The steep and narrow trail toward Tilicho Base Camp. Photo by Danika SmithThe steep and narrow trail toward Tilicho Base Camp. Photo by Danika Smith
The steep and narrow trail toward Tilicho Base Camp. Photo by Danika Smith

The AC trail is well marked and can be followed using Maps.me which I used most of the time. 

I also purchased a paper map at the beginning of the trail at Besi Sahar. This was most handy when deciphering side trail options and deciding where we’d spend the night and stop for meals.

If you bring a reliable portable charger for your phone, you should be able to get by using only Maps.me

Clothes 

  • 1 pair of light shorts
  • 1 pair of long trekking pants
  • Two pairs of trekking/hiking socks
  • two/three pairs of underwear 
  • Sports bra (for girls)
  • Sweat-wicking tank top or t-shirt
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Nighttime sleeping clothes/outfit (separate from what you wear during the day so they stay clean and dry)
  • I’d advise bringing warm pants and a hoodie as nights can be cold
  • Sun-shielding cap/hat
  • Warm beanie or winter hat
  • Mittens and or gloves
  • Wind-breaking lined jacket
  • flip-flops/sandals for bathrooms and rest from hiking shoes

Boots

Some people get by trekking the AC in regular trainers/running shoes, and many Nepali porters you see along the trail wear flip-flops.

I’d suggest getting a pair of comfortable (already broken-in!) hiking boots that support your ankles well.

Trekking Poles

Standing proud with my trusty trekking poles. Photo by Danika SmithStanding proud with my trusty trekking poles. Photo by Danika Smith
Standing proud with my trusty trekking poles. Photo by Danika Smith

I didn’t buy these until I was already on the trail, because I (very ignorantly) deemed them as gear for ‘elderly’ or ‘unfit’ people. 

I was naive and stupid.

On day one, my knees were weak as jelly, and my back ached as if my vertebrae had fused into one giant bone chunk.

My friends and I were so desperate for poles that we started using large branches found at the side of the trail.

We eventually (and thankfully) found a local teahouse owner selling poles to unprepared naive hikers like myself.

Do yourself a favor and buy a pair of poles in Kathmandu or Pokhara beforehand.

Best Collapsible Hiking & Trekking Poles

Sleeping Bag

I went without a sleeping bag and regretted this decision a few days into the AC.

The same friend who handed down her gloves said I’d be able to get extra blankets from guesthouse owners to keep warm at night, and told me not to bother with a sleeping bag. 

Even with extra blankets, I was freezing. Extra insulation that a sleeping bag would have provided would have been worth it.

Sunglasses

This is an absolute MUST, especially when you reach higher altitudes with snow on the ground.

Two people I passed along the trail had burned their eyes (snow blindness) so badly that they had to stay in the dark and rest for a day to recover.

Read More: Packing Sunglasses for Your Trip? Here’s How to Choose the Right Pair

Toiletries

  • Deodorant
  • Soap and shampoo
  • I’d suggest a light bar of soap and a shampoo bar (which are useful for washing clothes)
  • Sunscreen
  • Polysporin or antibacterial cream
  • Bandaids/plasters
  • Travel towel
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Chlorine tablets/filter to clean water from villages

Physical Preparation for the Annapurna Circuit

Prayer flags wrapped Around the Thorong La Pass sign. Photo by Danika SmithPrayer flags wrapped Around the Thorong La Pass sign. Photo by Danika Smith
Prayer flags wrapped Around the Thorong La Pass sign. Photo by Danika Smith

I weight train or do HIIT workouts, six days a week, and go for hikes on weekends.

When I stepped foot on the AC trail, it was the first time I had ever done a multi-day hike with a pack on my back.

Did it shock my system and my spine? Yes. 

Did I survive? Yes. And you can too.

Many people complete the circuit with no specific training in higher altitudes beforehand.

If you haven’t prepared physically, focus on minimizing the weight you carry, and break in your shoes (go for several day hikes wearing them).

Remember to go at your own pace, and rest when needed.

As a beginner book extra time/days for the trip. This way you won’t feel rushed to push yourself to exhaustion or through altitude sickness issues if they arise.

Read More: Why You Need International Travel Insurance When You Travel

Some Pain Big Gain

Be prepared to be exhausted, sore, and on the brink of quitting. It’s bound to happen at some point, whether from the physical pains of the hike, the weather, or the uncomfortable lack of bathing facilities.

Regardless of how difficult the trek will be, the stunning views and pushing past your limits will be a rewarding experience.

Go for it, and let the beauty of the landscape captivate you into speechless awe.

If You Go:

Read More:

Author Bio: Danika Smith currently lives in Kurdistan, Iraq, teaching ballet while working on publishing her travel memoir. You can read more of Danika’s travel writing on her Substack. While not writing or dancing, Danika enjoys escaping to the mountains and nature, and bachata social dancing.

Go World Travel MagazineGo World Travel Magazine

Go World Travel Magazine is a digital magazine for world travelers. Our editorial content is produced by a dedicated team of travel journalists who know the regions they cover. We cover travel in more than 90 countries.

Go World Travel MagazineGo World Travel Magazine
Latest posts by Go World Travel Magazine (see all)