A guide to choosing between the two treks
So you want to go trekking in Nepal. Wonderful! We want to go with you! But do you choose the Annapurna Circuit or the Everest Base Camp trek? Helping you answer that question is what this blog post is all about. The attractions and pluses of each trek route are many, and it’s mostly your personal preferences which can help you decide if Annapurna or Everest Base Camp is the better trip for you right now. The topics we discuss to help you decide include how hard you want to push yourself physically, what sort of sights you most want to see, how much of Nepal you wish to explore, when you want to travel, and how much you can afford to spend on the trip.
So with this in mind, let’s dive in:
- Trip duration
- Trek difficulty
- Famous mountains
- Culture and religion
- Trek route variety
The Annapurna Circuit trek is a 13-day trip and the Everest Base Camp trek is a 15-day trip
It’s possible that making a decision as to which of the two treks to embark on could be as easy as answering this one question: how many days can I afford to be away from work and family? If a 15-day trip is too long but a 13-day trip is doable, then your decision is made! Simple as that.
That said, remember to factor in the time needed for international flights. The Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp trips are 13 and 15 days within Nepal respectively (including arrival and departure days ). While it would be nice to have Scotty beam us all to the starting point of each trek trail rather than deal with airport queues and tiny airplane seats, this of course isn’t possible.
When planning a trip to a remote part of the world like the Himalayas, we have to put in the necessary effort to get there, knowing that it is this very effort that in part keeps such places from becoming overrun. But given that both treks require you to fly into Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, the two treks require an equal time commitment in terms of international travel. So Annapurna remains the shorter trek by two days, even when you factor in flights.
The Annapurna Circuit and the Everest Base Camp trek are two very different treks. Yes, they both take place in the Himalayas in Nepal, and they both involve lots of trekking at high altitude. But they’re incredibly different in many other respects, including the ease with which you can get to them.
The starting point of the Annapurna Circuit trek takes longer to reach than that of the Everest Base Camp trek
Getting to the start of the Everest Base Camp trek
For both treks you need to fly into Kathmandu, as already mentioned, as the capital has the country’s only international airport. Once in Kathmandu, however, those headed to the Everest Base Camp trek need only take a short 25-minute flight east to the town of Lukla, which is the trek’s starting point. You could feasibly start the Everest Base Camp trek the same day you arrive in Nepal! We don’t actually do this, as such rush is unnecessary. Instead, we spend a night in Kathmandu, resting up. Also, a night’s stopover allows some important wiggle room should anyone’s flight into Nepal be delayed.
Lukla is a small town 2,060 m (6,759 ft) above sea level. Its airport has a notoriously short runway. Poor weather conditions also can and do delay flights more than is the norm. For this reason our first day of trekking along the Everest Base Camp route is only 5.5 hours, so a delay into Lukla Airport of a few hours doesn’t derail our itinerary.
Getting to the Annapurna Circuit
The accessibility of the Annapurna Circuit is a very different matter. After a night in Kathmandu, we have two days of driving in front of us to reach the trek’s starting point. We’ll be driven in a private, air-conditioned bus, so it’s nice to know that we’ll be getting there comfortably.
The reason we drive is that you cannot fly to the start of the Annapurna Circuit, as with the Everest Base Camp trek. While you can fly to Pokhara, a city actually known as the gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, you would still then need to hire transport to get you to the trail’s starting point.
With Follow Alice you begin trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Lower Pisang, a small valley village that you reach via a winding and narrow mountainside road. Given the need to drive to the starting point no matter what, it’s more economical to drive the entire way from Kathmandu. The two-day drive is also beautiful, exposing you to a stretch of Nepalese countryside you’d otherwise miss.
Both the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit route have pretty good mobile phone reception and 3G connectivity. Naturally mobile reception can be spotty in certain of the more remote places. But one of the boons of trekking with a local guide – as we do – is that they’re able to advise you on the best spots for connectivity.
There are Ncell towers throughout the Everest Base Camp route that even provide connectivity to those climbing Mt Everest. Many people choose to buy a SIM card in Nepal as the cost of the card and data is so cheap. If you decide to do this, we then recommend going with an Ncell card. Along the Annapurna Circuit you should be fine with an Ncell or Nepal Telecom SIM.
Both the Annapurna Circuit and the Everest Base Camp trek are difficult, but still totally doable if you have reasonable levels of fitness and perseverance. We chat in detail in Is the Annapurna Circuit hard? and How hard is Everest Base Camp? about the challenges of each trek. Below, however, we discuss the relative difficulty of each.
Number of trekking days
The Everest Base Camp trek involves 12 days of trekking. Well, to be more precise, you’re on the trek route for 12 days, but one of those is an acclimatisation day, so there are 11 days of trekking. That said, on that acclimatisation day you have the option of a great day hike. So if you do the hike, you have 12 consecutive days of walking.
With the Annapurna Circuit, you only spend six days hiking along the trek route. Two of those days are acclimatisation days, so there are four days of trekking. There is, however, a beautiful and challenging day hike to the Ice Lake on the cards for the first acclimatisation day, so if you do that then you’ve got a total of five days of hiking. The Annapurna trip therefore has less than half the number of trekking days as the Everest Base Camp trek. This makes the Annapurna Circuit the less strenuous of the two treks.
With the Everest Base Camp trek we cover a total distance of roughly 150 km (93 miles). The outward-bound stretch follows the classic Everest Base Camp route, which totals 65 km (40 miles) not counting the day hike on our acclimatisation day. For the return journey we make a detour to visit the Gokyo Lakes. This adds an additional day of trekking to the total.
We regularly cover about 10 km (6 miles) a day on the Everest Base Camp trek, which of course doesn’t sound much. But the route has many steep ascents and descents, and when one is above 3,000 metres the dwindling oxygen makes every step that much harder.
The Annapurna Circuit is a large loop that takes you through the mountains of the Annapurna Massif. It ranges from 160 to 230 km (99 to 143 miles) when you follow the route popularised in the 1970s. Such a trek takes over a fortnight to complete and nowadays many opt to trek just the middle portion of it. We at Follow Alice have also organised an abbreviated version of the original Annapurna trek which takes in just the best-preserved, highest, most remote and prettiest portion of the route. Our specific route involves trekking 49 km (30 miles), not counting the day hike to the Ice Lake.
The Everest Base Camp trek is therefore the longer route by far, being 150 km to the Annapurna Circuit’s 49 km. We also trek for seven to eight hours on three different days of the Everest Base Camp trek. On the Annapurna Circuit trek, however, while we hike for up to seven hours on one day, all the other days our trekking hours stay under six hours.
The Everest Base Camp trek is harder than the Annapurna Circuit trek as it’s overall the far longer route
The paths along the Annapurna trail are generally in good condition. In some places you actually trek along jeep track, as in recent years the Nepalese Government has been enhancing infrastructure in the area to make it more accessible. Overall, however, the paths are a bit gentler on Annapurna than on the Everest Base Camp trek. We always have a local guide to lead our trek groups, the number one reason being safety. Along the Annapurna Circuit we’re led by Sonam Sherpa, and along the Everest Base Camp trek we’re led by Oangdi Gurung.
Both the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna treks lead you very high into the mountains.
Everest Base Camp elevation
The Everest Base Camp trek starts at 2,860 m in Lukla and ends at the Everest Base Camp itself, which stands 5,364 m above sea level. Base camp isn’t actually the highest point on the trek though; the next day we hike up Kala Patthar (‘Black Rock’), which is 5,643 m above sea level. That means we ascend a total of 2,836 m during the trek, which is almost three vertical kilometres! The cross-section map below shows the elevations of the various settlements and landmarks on the Everest Base Camp route.
Annapurna Circuit elevation
The Annapurna Circuit requires us to trek to a slightly lower altitude than the Everest Base Camp trek, as shown in the graph below. The Annapurna trek begins in Lower Pisang, which is a village 3,200 m above sea level. Over the next four days we climb to the circuit’s highest point, which is the Thorung La Pass, at 5,416 m. That’s a climb of 2,216 m. After the pass, we drop down by 1,161m to the village of Ranipauawa in just one day! So this day can be a bit taxing on the knees. The Everest Base Camp trek therefore involves climbing 620 m higher in elevation than the Annapurna Circuit trek.
Time spent at altitude
By comparing the above two elevation graphs we can also see that the Everest Base Camp trek involves spending much more time above 5,000 m than does the Annapurna trek route. This means more time in rarified air, where exerting yourself is far more exhausting. The mental and bodily strain of the Everest Base Camp trek is therefore more than that of the Annapurna Circuit.
It’s important to note that the higher you climb, the more chances you have of developing altitude symptoms, such as headaches and dizziness. These aren’t too problematic, and can be medicated to a degree. The only problem is if you develop acute mountain sickness (AMS). When you engage in high-altitude trekking, especially for the first time, it’s important to understand and accept that if you’re struck by AMS symptoms you’ll have to abort your trip and descend quickly to a lower altitude.
The risk of a ruined trip is slightly higher on the Everest Base Camp trek than on the Annapurna Circuit as with the former you climb higher and also spend more time at high altitude. Further, the Everest Base Camp trek allows only one acclimatisation day, while the Annapurna trek has two worked in.
If you’ve never trekked at altitude, then the Annapurna Circuit might be the smarter option
Firstly, given that you don’t have to climb quite so high on the Annapurna Circuit, the toll on your body from the thin air will be a little less. This trek could serve as a testing ground for you ability to cope with altitude. (Note that AMS strikes randomly, and even the fittest of people can suffer from it.) Secondly, the Annapurna Circuit is a shorter trek, so if you develop AMS and have to turn back, you’d be missing out on fewer trekking days. And thirdly, the Annapurna trip as organised by Follow Alice includes quite a few days of travel and sightseeing at low altitude, so even if it turns out that you can’t complete your trek owing to AMS symptoms, there would still be a lot else to look forward to and enjoy with your travel companions.
Weather is a major deciding factor when it comes to planning any high-altitude trek. It simply has to be. The weather in the Himalayas is both highly variable and at times extremely dangerous. The Everest Base Camp trek is in Nepal’s eastern Himalayas, and the Annapurna Circuit in the central Himalayas. While the weather patterns are similar in both regions, the timing and intensity of the various weather systems affecting them do differ a little.
In summer Nepal is affected by the Indian monsoon, the world’s most prominent monsoon system. The monsoon brings lots of rain, high temperatures and humidity to the Himalayas from June to September. In fact, Nepal receives 80% of its rainfall during summer.
The two main weather systems that we as trekkers have to consider are the summer and winter monsoons
Very few embark on the Annapurna or Everest Base Camp treks in summer, as the rains make the trails slippery and dangerous, never mind the obvious unpleasantness of hiking in downpours. While parts of both treks take you into the rain shadow of the high Himalayas, the lower parts of the trek routes are very much affected by the monsoon rains and so make summer a bad time for trekking.
The winter monsoon brings cold temperatures, wind and snow from northern Asia to Nepal between December and February. Some intrepid souls choose to hike the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp trails in winter, but they are by far the minority. The trails are certainly much quieter in winter, and the views often crisp, but the temperatures are icy, and night-time temperatures can drop to around – 20° C. Also, the wind chill can drop the temperature by a further 10 degrees. Further, the chances of high passes being closed as a result of snowfall mean you can become stranded. Finally, certain passes (like the one to Gokyo Lakes) are routinely closed in winter, leaving only certain routes open to winter trekkers.
For most of us, travelling to Nepal is a major expense and time commitment, and so it’s important to choose a window of time that can best guarantee the sort of weather to make the trek both feasible and enjoyable. It’s arguably wiser to only take on Everest Base Camp or the Annapurna Circuit route in winter if you’re a very experienced trekker and know that you know you have all the necessary equipment and clothing.
Peak seasons for both the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna treks are spring and autumn. Seasonal changes reach both regions at roughly the same time.
Everest Base Camp trek peak seasons
Peak seasons for the Everest Base Camp trek are late March to mid May (spring) and late September to November (autumn). Many enjoy trekking in spring because this is when Everest Base Camp is an active site, full of yellow and orange tents, mountaineering equipment and excited summiters. Given that the destination of this trek is Everest Base Camp, it’s incredibly special to arrive to the sight of such activity and endeavour. At other times of the year, one’s experience of reaching Everest Base Camp is of approaching an empty expanse that you only know to be your destination because of a sign surrounded by wind-battered prayer flags.
The other peak season – autumn – is the more popular trekking time with many because of the temperate weather and clear views. Many of the flowers will, however, be gone by this time of the year.
Annapurna Circuit peak seasons
Peak seasons for the Annapurna Circuit are April and May (spring) and October and November (autumn). Each peak season has different perks and drawbacks. Spring, for instance, offers beautiful flowers, but there can be a bit of a haze at times. Autumn, on the other hand, offers steadier, warmer weather and better visibility, but you don’t have the spring flowers and fresh greenery along the lower half of the trek route.
Both the Annapurna and Everest Base Camp treks have grown in popularity in recent decades. There are pros and cons to this, such as better services and crowded trails respectively. If you choose to go in a peak season, which many do for the better weather, you have to accept that you’ll be sharing the route with many other trekkers.
Everest Base Camp trekker numbers
According to Nepal Tourism, in 2016 over 45,000 foreigners visited Sagarmatha National Park. Mt Everest, Everest Base Camp itself, and most of the Everest Base Camp trek route lie within this park, and there are no roads, so we can take this number as a good indication of combined trekker and mountaineer numbers.
The bulk of Everest Base Camp trekkers hike the route in one of the two peak seasons. A few hundred trekkers can join the route each day in peak season. Consequently lodges and teahouses along the route can and do fill up over peak seasons and sometimes there are overflow trekkers who have to pitch tents for the night. At Follow Alice we book our accommodation ahead of time to ensure we have enough beds for bodies.
Annapurna Circuit trekker numbers
According to UNESCO, Annapurna receives about 60% of Nepal’s international trekking visitors, making it the more popular trekking area in terms of numbers. However, there are no specific trekker numbers for the Annapurna Circuit, as there are other trekking routes in the Annapurna Massif such as the Annapurna Base Camp trek. But while we can’t put a finger on exact numbers, again we do know that lodges and teahouses along the Annapurna Circuit fill up during peak seasons, so we know that a few hundred trekkers can join the route each day in peak season.
As you can see, both Everest Base Camp and Annapurna have similar peak trekking seasons, as the weather is much of a muchness along both trek routes at any given time of the year. If you choose to embark on one of the trips with Follow Alice – and we hope you do! – then the trip dates are as follows:
There will be spring-time treks in the future, but for now these are our trip options. And yes, if you want to be He-Man or She-Ra, you could trek Annapurna and then trek Everest Base Camp straight after!
Every holiday requires you to crunch some numbers, including those important money numbers. That said, if you travel with Follow Alice, the maths becomes far simpler, because you only have two main outlays: your flights, and your Follow Alice fee. If you have limited or no previous experience of trekking, then you may also need to invest in some equipment, which would be another important expense to consider.
The price of flights will obviously be the same, as you can only fly into Kathmandu, as previously discussed, because Nepal only has one international airport.
Follow Alice fee
There are many good reasons to travel with a tour operator when embarking on an adventure holiday like trekking to Everest Base Camp or along the Annapurna Circuit. An obvious reason is safety, another that most of the admin and busy work is taken care of for you.
With Follow Alice you pay a once-off package fee that covers almost every single cost you might incur within Nepal. For instance, the Follow Alice Annapurna circuit fee covers all transport within Nepal, all accommodation, nearly all meals, all park and other permits, and the tour guide and porter fees. The Everest Base Camp trek fee similarly covers all transport within Nepal, all accommodation, nearly all meals, all park and other permits, and the tour guide and porter fees.
The Annapurna Circuit trek is more affordable than the Everest Base Camp trek
For first-time trekkers, or those who haven’t before trekked at high altitude, there will be a necessary financial outlay in obtaining the gear needed for the cold and harsh climates hiked in the higher parts of both of the treks. Your Annapurna Circuit packing list and Everest Base Camp packing list are however the same, as both require sturdy, warm and waterproof equipment, clothes and accessories.
Many trekkers hire some of the more expensive equipment upon arrival in Nepal. Kathmandu is awash with stores hiring (and selling) everything a trekker might need, like sub-zero sleeping bags and trekking poles.
One of the primary reasons any of us head to Nepal is to witness the majesty of the Himalayan peaks.
Mountains of the Everest Base Camp trek
The Everest Base Camp trek has the obvious – and understandable – allure of bringing you into close quarters with the King of the Mountains: Mount Everest. The mythos surrounding this giant makes this trek something of a pilgrimage. As you likely know, Mt Everest was first summited by the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and the Englishman Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. It’s an incredibly dangerous mountain to climb, and has claimed many intrepid lives.
Other noteworthy peaks of the Everest Base Camp trek
The Everest Base Camp trek isn’t only about Mt Everest though. You are also rewarded with views of other significant and beautiful mountains, which include:
- Ama Dablam (6,812 m). This distinctly shaped mountain is a favourite with many Everest Base Camp trekkers because it keeps you company to the right for a few days along the trail. It’s steep faces are dramatic and its sharply jutting peak make it unique and memorable among the rest of the peaks. The ridges on each side of the main peak are said to resemble the arms of a mother protecting her child.
- Cholatse (6,440 m) and Taboche (6,542 m). These two peaks are connected by a long ridge. The Chola glacier slides down the east face of Cholatse, while Taboche towers above Dingboche, where we spend a night on the outgoing trek. When we head back from Everest Base Camp we trek straight towards these two peaks.
- Nuptse (7,861 m). This is a stately mountain when viewed from the south that lies just 2 km west of Everest. Though a thousand metres shorter, it more than holds its own next to its illustrious neighbour.
- Cho La Pass (5,420 m). This pass is special because we actually cross it! The views down to the villages of Dzongla and Thagna are fantastic, not to forget the views out to numerous other peaks.
- Gokyo Ri (5,357 m). This peak sits adjacent to the Ngozumpa glacier, which is Nepal’s largest. We trek to its namesake town of Gokyo on our return route.
There are, of course, many other peaks crowded into the Khumbu region where we do the Everest Base Camp trek, but we can’t name them all here. It’s best you just do the trek to see them all for yourself!
Mountains of the Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit also offers up-close-and-personal views of some extremely high and awesome mountains. Because the mountains here are part of the Annapurna Massif, they don’t always rise from such depths, but they still reach amazing heights.
Eight of the 14 tallest mountains in the world are in Nepal!
Noteworthy peaks of the Annapurna Circuit
Annapurna I (8,091 m), the alpha male of the Annapurna region, is the world’s tenth highest mountain. Other noteworthy peaks on display during the Annapurna Circuit trek include:
- Annapurna II (7,937 m). This is the world’s 16th highest peak. It’s also the easternmost peak of the Annapurna range, so the first one we see when we join the circuit. It’s a stunner.
- Khangsar Kang (7,485 m). This peak is adjacent to the ice lake of Kicho Tal. We hike to the lake while acclimatising for a couple of days in the town of Manang. When at the ice lake we’re surrounded by a glorious 360 degrees of snowy mountain peaks.
- Chulu (6,584 m). This is a popular summiting mountain. If you take binoculars on the trek (a good idea), you might like to look for little ant people ascending it.
- Machhapuchhre (6,993 m). This mountain is off limits to climbers to maintain its shape and health. We’re more than happy with this decision, as its sheer slopes are a thing of true beauty.
- Dhaulagiri (8,167 m). This mountain – the seventh highest in the world! – is to the west of the Annapurna Circuit. Its name means ‘dazzling, white, beautiful mountain’. We see it near the end of our trek when we descend into the Mustang District.
Culture and religion
The Everest Base Camp trek takes place in Nepal’s eastern Himalayas, while the Annapurna Circuit is in the country’s central Himalayan region. There are many similarities between the peoples of the two regions, but also significant differences.
The Sherpa of the Everest Base Camp trek
If you’re someone who likes to immerse yourself in just one area and culture rather than contiki-ing your way through a holiday, then the Everest Base Camp trek is for you. This part of the Himalayas is home to the Sherpa people. The Sherpa are famous worldwide for their mountaineering feats, which are made possible by how well they cope with high altitude.
The Everest Base Camp trek exposes you to the culture of the Sherpas. The Annapurna Circuit exposes you to the cultures of various distinct people groups
The Sherpa people are mostly Tibetan Buddhist. Buddhism was brought to the area in the late 1600s and largely replaced the animism that previously held sway. The Everest Base Camp trek exposes you to many colourfully decorated Buddhist buildings and monuments. There are the well-known stupas, for instance, which are hemispherical monuments that mark a significant spot or house relics. These can be found throughout the Khumbu region.
Different people groups of the Annapurna Circuit
The Annapurna Circuit exposes you to many more cultures and communities than does the Everest Base Camp trek. It actually gives you a better perspective of the people groups of Nepal. This is because the majority of Nepalese people are of Indian heritage and Hindu faith.
The first half of the Annapurna Circuit (the eastern half), takes you through the Manang District of Nepal. In the subtropical, lowland part of Manang you’ll meet the Chhetri people, who migrated to the Himalayas hundreds of years ago from India. The Chhetri constitute over 15% of the Nepalese population. This region is also home to the Brahmins, which is a name many westerners know because priests in the Hindu religion come from the Brahmin caste.
Hinduism is a prominent religion in the Annapurna region. Annapurna is actually the Hindu goddess of food and nourishment. The mountains are named after her as she’s believed to reside there. The fact of the Hindu-origin name is another indicator that the cultural tradition of this central region of the Himalayas is very different from that of the Khumbu, where Tibetan Buddhism dominates.
Hinduism is a prominent religion in the Annapurna region
When you climb higher into the Annapurna mountains you start to encounter communities where the inhabitants have stronger ethnic, cultural and religious ties to Tibet than they do to their fellow citizens of Indian descent. The people therefore look different, dress differently, build differently designed buildings, speak different languages, and on it goes. Stupas and other Buddhist structures start to crop up.
During the second half of the Annapurna trek one descends from Thorung La Pass into the Mustang District. This region is home to people like the Manangi, Magar and Thakali. Again, they have their own distinct identities linked to the Mustang region and its history. Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism aren’t the only religions followed by the people of the Annapurna region. There are also adherents of Bon, shamanism and animism.
We can’t mention every village, gompa, monastery and prayer wall that is noteworthy, beautiful and deserving of a mention, so we’ll just mention a few that represent that spectrum. They’ll whet your appetite while keeping some things a surprise. And also perhaps help you in your Annapurna versus Everest Base Camp ponderings.
Everest Base Camp cultural attractions
Almost everyone trekking to Everest Base Camp stops over in Namche Bazaar for at least one day to acclimatise. We do the same. Fortunately, there’s plenty of sightseeing to do within Namche Bazaar, not to mention a few great day hikes. We recommend visiting the Sherwi Khangba Center. It has a wonderful Sherpa Culture Museum as well as a Sherpa Culture Photo Gallery. If you decide to do a hike from Namche Bazaar, you should definitely stop for a drink at Everest View Hotel. You can enjoy a 360-degree view of the mountains around you at this uniquely placed hotel.
Further along the trail we stop over for a night in the village of Tengboche. Here we have the chance to visit Tengboche Monastery, the largest monastery in Khumbu. The colourful monastery, also known as Dawa Choling Gompa, is home to about 60 Tibetan Buddhist monks. The monks wear the traditional and distinctive maroon robes. Tibetan Buddhism is a type of Buddhism that developed in the eighth century in Tibet. It involved mixing Buddhism with the indigenous Tibetan religion of Bon. The present-day leader of Tibetan Buddhism, as you likely know, is the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India.
Annapurna Circuit cultural attractions
In Upper Pisang, which we visit on Day 4 of the trek, there is the long Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Wheel Wall. This is an oft-photographed site along the trek. It consists of a line of hand-carved cylindrical copper wheels that you roll with your hand.
On our second day of acclimatisation in the town of Manang we recommend a visit to the Himalayan Rescue Association clinic. Established in 1981, the clinic seeks to protect trekkers in the Annapurna region through both education and emergency assistance. You can also learn about the 2014 snowstorm disaster and what was done to assist trekkers during that fateful time.
On Day 9 of the trek we visit the Vishnu temple of Muktinath near the desert town of Ranipauwa. Muktinath is a pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists. And the next day we visit the mediaeval riverside village of Kagbeni. Here one finds the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Gompa, which means Monastery of the Place to Stop and Develop Concentration on the Teachings of Lord Buddha. The monastery was founded in the fifteenth century and is still in use today. It’s painted a striking orange and has a desolate mountain dropping scree at its feet as a neighbour.
Wonderfully, the colourful Tibetan prayer flags we’ve all come to associate with the Himalayas are to be found in abundance along both the Everest Base Camp trek and the Annapurna Circuit. You’ll see prayer flags strung from religious buildings as well as from homes, businesses and bridges. They’re placed where they are to bless the area and promote peace, compassion and wisdom. For many of us, a trek without prayer flags wouldn’t really feel like a Himalayan trek at all. That’s how synonymous they’ve become with the region.
Trek route variety
When it comes to sheer variety, the Annapurna Circuit route beats out the Everest Base Camp route. Not only is the Annapurna region more culturally diverse, as already touched upon, but the landscape, wildlife and trek route offer many more shifts and surprises.
For starters, the Annapurna trail is a circular route. This means you never have to retrace your steps, which for some is important. On the Everest Base Camp trek, the only way into Sagarmatha National Park is through the Khumbu Valley. The start and end days of the trek must therefore necessarily be the same.
Both the Annapurna Circuit and the Everest Base Camp trek have so much to offer in terms of fascinating wildlife, local culture, and religious landmarks
You can expect dirt footpaths for large parts of both treks. You can also expect foot bridges, uneven steps, rocky paths, and loose rocks and gravel. In places you’ll be walking along narrow contour paths with steep drops. Even if you trek in a typically warmer month, the weather in the Himalayas can be capricious and you can get a dump of snowfall at any time of the year. You should therefore anticipate the possibility of walking in snow.
No doubt the main reason you want to go trekking in the Himalayas is to feel small and awe-filled in the midst of such natural grandeur and beauty. Both the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna treks have so much to share in terms of mighty glaciers, icy lakes, rushing rivers and deep gorges. For the nature lover, these treks are an immersion into Mother Nature’s power and creativity.
Everest Base Camp natural features
Most of the Everest Base Camp trek takes place within Sagarmatha National Park, one of the largest of Nepal’s dozen national parks. It’s a Natural World Heritage Site. Sagarmatha is also part of the Sacred Himalayan Landscape, a transnational protected space that’s home to some very important landscapes and wildlife.
Within Sagarmatha National Park you’ll encounter two distinct climatic zones: the temperate zone of the lower Himalayas and the arid mountain zone of the higher Himalayas. In the temperate zone you can expect steep, tree-clad valleys, flowers and flowering bushes, gorges and cliff faces, and rushing rivers and waterfalls. When you venture into the higher, arid zone, you’re above the tree line and in the company of boulders, ice patches, barefaced rock and snow-covered mountains.
The Khumbu Glacier
The Khumbu Glacier is the world’s highest glacier. It has a large icefall known as the Khumbu Icefall on its west end. Everest Base Camp is situated at the foot of the Khumbu Glacier, and so is a very real goal post to work towards on the trek.
Gokyo Lakes, a World Heritage Site, is a true highlight of our Everest Base Camp trek. There are six main lakes, with Thonak Lake being the largest. The lakes are the world’s highest freshwater lake system. They are an otherworldly sight: pale blue water completely surrounded by barren slopes and snow-capped peaks. Or, in winter, pale water surrounded by a world of white.
Annapurna Circuit natural features
The Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) is by far the largest protected area in Nepal, and is seven times larger than Sagarmatha National Park! Like Sagarmatha National Park, the ACA also has a temperate zone and cold mountain zone, but it has the bonus of offering a subtropical zone as well. The forests of the subtropical region receive much more rain and offer dense forests with creepers and lots of undergrowth. The forests of the temperate zone are made up of trees like pine, oak and juniper.
During our first acclimatisation day in Manang, there’s the option of a day’s hike to Kicho Tal (Ice Lake). This is a gorgeous hike to a gorgeous location, so even though the going is steep and tough, we encourage trekkers to try do it. The ice lake is completely surrounded by some of the world’s highest peaks, and also offers one of the quieter spots along the Annapurna as not all make the effort to climb up to it.
The Kali Gandaki Gorge
The Kali Gandaki Gorge (or Andha Galchi) is the world’s deepest gorge. During our short flight from Jomsom to Pokhara on Day 11 of the Annapurna trip, we wind our way through this gorge in a small aircraft, enjoying a plane ride like no other.
Finally, when we’re happily resting our tired feet in Pokhara, we’ll be able to look out over the lovely Phewa Lake. Pokhara sits on the banks of the lake, and is a popular tourist destination in its own right. You might choose to hire a canoe and row about – destination or no destination in mind!
One of the highlights of the Annapurna and Everest Base Camp treks is the animal and birdlife, many species of which are unique to that part of the world. Many of the animals to be on the lookout for can be found in both Sagarmatha National Park and the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA), given their similar and connected ecosystems. It’s only the lowest portion of the Annapurna route that offers subtropical wildlife like monkeys, which you won’t find along the Everest Base Camp trek.
Both the ACA and Sagarmatha are home to a variety of very special animals. Probably at the top of most people’s lists would be the endangered snow leopard. You might like to watch this short video on snow leopards by National Geographic to learn about this elusive creature. Did you know that the snow leopard is also called an ounce?
Sagarmatha and the ACA are also home to the endangered red panda. The red panda is not actually closely related to the giant panda, even though its name suggests otherwise. Legend has it that if you see a red panda you go straight to heaven. Okay, we made that up, but to see a red panda in the wild would surely feel rather heavenly.
Other animals in the two regions include:
- Himalayan black bears (they have thick fur with a white chest mark)
- martens (an adorable creature that, like a cat, is really rather deadly)
- Himalayan tahrs (large and rather beautiful, darkly coloured goats)
- musk deer (a pretty deer without antlers)
- Himalayan wolves (these beautiful creatures are tan and grey in colour)
- Himalayan blue sheep (also called naur, though who knows why)
One of the perks of travelling in a group is having a local tour guide who is trained to spot wildlife
On both the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna treks we have local guides to lead us along the entire trek route and help us enjoy the time by doing things just like pointing out hard-to-spot animals.
Obviously the wild animals aren’t the only animals you’ll encounter on either of the two trek routes. There’ll also be yaks, cattle, donkeys and horses to step aside for on the path, or photograph as they graze on slopes.
Sagarmatha National Park has been designated an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. It has over a hundred bird species. The ACA, being seven times larger in area, has even more birdlife to offer: it boasts hundreds of different bird species. If you’re a birdwatcher, look out for beautiful flycatchers, greenfinches, dainty bush chats, griffons, and, of course, eagles. The list really could go on and on.
Trees, plants and flowers
One of the joys of travel is seeing beautiful new plants and trees. Many people choose a destination just to see exotic spring flowers or towering trees. We feel them. So in the tradition of rating Annapurna versus Everest Base Camp: which stacks up better in terms of the flora on offer?
Plants of the Annapurna Conservation Area
If you’re particularly keen to see flowers and other plants, then you’ll likely enjoy the Annapurna Circuit that much more. This is because you’ll pass through a subtropical climate in addition to the temperate and mountain climates that you encounter on the Everest Base Camp trek. The subtropical zone receives far more rain, which is why farmers can grow rice, buckwheat, beans and other crops reliant on plenty of water. You can also anticipate plenty of beautiful flowers and trees, such as irises, orchids, magnolias and fig trees. The sacred fig, which can be found on the trek route, grows heart-shaped leaves and has significance in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
In the temperate zone of Annapurna you can expect oak, maple, fir and pine forests. You can also look forward to cherry trees and the region’s signature rhododendrons.
Plants along the Everest Base Camp trek
During the first portion of the Everest Base Camp trek one sees bamboo, hemlock, juniper, birch, blue pines, silver firs and rhododendrons. By the time we reach Everest Base Camp, however, we’re above the tree line in the tundra zone. In this zone we’re down to mostly lichens, mosses and hardy grass tufts. That’s not to suggest the Everest Base Camp has a paucity of vegetation however! The lower portion of the trek is lush and beautiful, and you’ll be ooh-ing and aah-ing plenty.
Choosing between the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp treks
Are you still struggling to decide between Annapurna and Everest Base Camp? If so, the table below summarises the differences we’ve discussed between the Annapurna Circuit and the Everest Base Camp trek. Why not print it out and circle or highlight the option for each aspect that most appeals to you? You could then see if one column has more highlights than the other and simply go with the numbers?
|ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT||EVEREST BASE CAMP ROUTE|
|Number of days in Nepal||13 days||15 days|
|Transport within Nepal||– 4 days of driving|
– 1 short internal flight
|– 2 short internal flights|
|Trekking days||– 4 days of trekking|
– 1 optional day hike
|– 11 days of trekking|
– 1 optional day hike
|Total trek distance||49 km||150 km|
|Total elevation climbed||2,216 m (7,270 ft)||2,836 m (9,304 ft)|
|Highest elevation reached||5,416 m (Thorung La Pass)||5,643 m (Kala Patthar)|
|Peak seasons||Spring and autumn||Spring and autumn|
|Follow Alice trek dates||Early November||Late November|
|Follow Alice fee||More affordable||More expensive|
|Tallest mountain||Annapurna I (8,091 m)||Mt Everest (8,848 m)|
|Mountains above 8,000 m||– Dhaulagiri I (8,176 m)||– Cho Oyu (8,201 m)|
– Lhotse (8,516 m)
|Trek route variety|
|Trek route||Circular||Linear with a loop|
|Climatic zones||– Subtropical|
|Wildlife||More diverse||Less diverse|
|Birdlife||Several hundred species||Over a hundred species|
|Plantlife||More diverse||Less diverse|
|Religions||Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism and more||Tibetan Buddhism|
|Highlights||– Diverse and beautiful villages|
– Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Wheel Wall
– Ice Lake
– Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling Gompa
– Muktinath Temple
– Flight through Kali Gandaki Gorge
– Lakeside city of Pokhara
|– Beautiful and authentic Sherpa villages|
– Sherpa Culture Museum
– Tengboche Monastery
– Active Everest Base Camp (in May)
– Khumbu Glacier and Icefall
– Gokyo Lakes
As you can probably see by now, this is arguably one of those situations where there is no wrong decision! If you do the Everest Base Camp trek, you win, and if you do the Annapurna Circuit trek, you win. There really isn’t a bad option.
But most likely you feel confident by now that you know which trek is for you at this time. Please feel free to contact us if you’d like to discuss either of the treks with us. We’d love to share our knowledge and experiences of these two beautiful, world-class treks with you and help you plan a trip you’ll never forget.