Annapurna mountain and valley

Annapurna Circuit route

Sep 15, 2022
Reading time: 18 minutes

At Follow Alice we offer an exciting seven-day Annapurna Circuit trek which sees you walk the very best section of the famous trail. The overall trip is 13 days as there's some travel involved, and we also give time for enjoying Kathmandu and Pokhara.

The Annapurna Circuit is a favourite Nepal trek, as we discuss in Why the Annapurna Circuit is Nepal's golden child.

The original Annapurna Circuit trek takes about two weeks and starts at Besisahar. However, many now choose to trek only the middle portion of the route, which takes you into the highest and most remote parts of the Annapurna mountains.

There are a handful reasons for this shortening of the trek. Most notably, jeep tracks now connect most of the villages along the earlier section of the traditional circuit route. Many prefer to not walk alongside vehicles and just focus on the higher, more remote section of the Annapurna Circuit route.

Our version of the Annapurna Circuit route

For these reasons we at Follow Alice have decided to offer a slightly shorter version of the original Annapurna Circuit that takes in the truly special and best preserved portions of the route. We spend eight days trekking along the circuit (although one of those days is a rest day for acclimatisation).

There's also some domestic travel involved, including a thrilling flight through a deep gorge, so the trip lasts for 13 days from start to finish.

Annapurna Circuit map

The map below shows the route we travel for the Annapurna Circuit trip.

Annapurna-Circuit-Route-12-day-classic-Map

 

Map of the Annapurna Circuit

Trip itinerary

The table below gives a breakdown of the 13-day Annapurna Circuit trek as organised by Follow Alice. It begins with your arrival in Kathmandu and ends with your flight home, so you can know exactly what to expect every day of the trip.

  • Day 1: Arrive in Kathmandu
  • Day 2: Drive to Ngadi
  • Day 3: Drive to Ngadi, trek to Chame (5-6 hr)
  • Day 4: Trek to Pisang (5-6 hr)
  • Day 5: Trek to Manang (5-6 hr)
  • Day 6: Roundtrip hike to Kicho Tal (5-6 hr)
  • Day 7: Acclimatisation day
  • Day 8: Trek to Yak Kharka (5-6 hr)
  • Day 9: Trek to Thorung Phedi (4-5 hr)
  • Day 10: Trek to Ranipauwa via Thorung La (6-7 hr), then drive to Jomsom
  • Day 11: Fly to Pokhara (20 min), explore city
  • Day 12: Fly to Kathmandu (30 min), explore city
  • Day 13: Departure day

 

Day 1: Arrive in Kathmandu

Today is simply about arriving in Nepal and making our way to the hotel in Kathmandu.

Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport (KIA) is on the outskirts of the city. Your Follow Alice guide will be waiting at KIA to greet you when you land. As discussed in our blog post Annapurna Circuit cost, you might wish to exchange some money for Nepalese rupees while still at the airport. There’s also free Wi-Fi in the international terminal, so you can let family know you’ve arrived.

Kathmandu has a population of over one million, and sits in a bowl valley. It’s known to many as the City of Temples, a title it deserves as there’s a staggering number of Buddhist and Hindu religious buildings and monuments throughout the city.

You can expect to hear both Nepali and Nepal Bhasa spoken in Kathmandu. 

Thamel  

The hotel where we all meet up (usually Arushi Boutique Hotel) is in Thamel, a busy and fascinating city neighbourhood. 

Thamel street scene, Nepal

A busy Thamel street

Depending on where in the world you’re coming from, you may well at this point want to just nosedive into your bed. We’ve all been there. But if you’re not too late in arriving and have the energy to venture out for lunch or dinner, there are many places within easy walking distance. Upmarket or budget – you can find it all in Thamel. 

If you need to head out to buy a SIM card and data, or hire any equipment for the Annapurna Circuit trek, then this is your moment too. 

Day 2: Drive to Ngadi

Today we leave Kathmandu for the Annapurna region. We pile into a private, air-conditioned vehicle and spend the day driving to Ngadi, a small village along the initial section of the Annapurna Circuit route. Though the ride is long, don’t fret – you’ll be too busy exclaiming over the passing scenery and sights to notice it much. We also stop en route in the town of Besisahar for lunch and a leg stretch. 

  • Drive time: 8-9 hr
  • Lunch stop: Besisahar
  • Overnight: Ngadi

Parts of today’s drive will either strike you as thrilling adventure or send you scratching for rescue drops: narrow roads with sharp bends and steep drops to the side will keep your nose pressed to the window.

Besisahar

Besisahar, our lunch stop, is a busy town of about 40,000 that has power lines and prayer flags endlessly crisscrossing the streets. It's the last big town we'll see for many days. Bring on the remote mountain communities!

 Prayer flags above Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheels

Colourful prayer flags seen in Besisahar on the Annapurna Circuit route

Drive to Ngadi

Ngadi village is 890 m above sea level and once here you really feel that you've left the hustle and bustle behind, and your adventure in the mountains begins.

Tonight we book into our first teahouse. Some have actually called the Annapurna Circuit route the ‘apple pie’ circuit. This is because it’s a relatively round route serviced by teahouses (lodges) offering home-baked goods.

Teahouses are an integral part of any Nepal trek, and a place where you mingle with people from around the world, all with their own interesting backstory as to why and how they came to be trekking there.

A local woman at work in village of Ngadi along the Annapurna Circuit route in Nepal

A local woman at work in the village of Ngadi

Day 3: Drive to Bagarchhap, trek to Chame

Today we take a much shorter drive of around four hours, one in which we work our way up the Marsyangdi River valley to Bagarchhap, and gain around a kilometre in elevation. From there, we lace up and start trekking!

  • Bagarchhap elevation: 2,160 m / 7,086 ft
  • Chame elevation: 2,650 m / 8,694 ft
  • Trek distance: 13.5 km / 8.5 mi
  • Trek time: 5-6 hr
  • Lunch stop: Bagarchhap
  • Overnight: Chame
Woman and waterfall along the Annapurna Circuit route in Nepal

There are great stops along the drive where you can take in the views at leisure

Bagarchhap

We start the day by driving along a winding road to reach Bagarchhap. This small village suffered great loss at the hands of a 1995 landslide, and has a smaller population than in the past. They really appreciate visitors, and so we stop here for lunch.

After lunch, it's time to tie those bootstraps and begin our trek! The scenery is incredibly beautiful as we head up the valley towards snow-capped peaks.

Bagarchhap sign on Annapurna Circuit route in Nepal

A sign pointing to the village of Bagarchhap

Chame

We overnight in the village of Chame, which is 2,650 m above sea level.

The pastel-coloured Buddhist stupa at the entrance to the village is an oft-photographed sight. You approach it by climbing a set of stone steps, then you pass under it to snowy mountains rising steeply in front of you.

Trekking path route to village of Chame on the Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

En route to Chame

The hanging bridge that you use to cross the river is also something special, as it’s adorned on both sides with multiple strings of prayer flags, which decorate the Annapurna Circuit route throughout the trek.

Day 4: Trek to Upper Pisang

Today we trek to the picturesque village of Upper Pisang.

  • Chame elevation: 2,650 m / 8,694 ft
  • Upper Pisang elevation: 3,300 m / 10,827 ft
  • Trek distance: 14 km / 9 mi
  • Trek time: 5-6 hr
  • Lunch stop: Teahouse
  • Overnight: Upper Pisang
View of Upper Pisang village on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

You can see here the dominance of Tibetan Buddhism in Upper Pisang

You’ll get the chance to run your hand along the sequence of carved, copper prayer wheels that are part of the Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Wheel Wall. This has become something of a rite of passage along the Annapurna Circuit route.

Street-level view of Himalayas in Upper Pisang, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Looking up at the soaring Annapurna Mountains from the street in Upper Pisang

We then make our way to Upper Pisang Viewpoint, which stands at 3,800 m (12,467 ft), for a glorious view of the mountains.

Day 5: Trek to Manang

We start early today, as we have many kilometres to cover. The views will 100% blow you away.

  • Chame elevation: 2,650 m / 8,694 ft
  • Manang elevation: 3,519 m / 11,545 ft
  • Trek distance: 19 km / 12 mi
  • Trek time: 5-6 hr
  • Lunch stop: Manang
  • Overnight: Manang
Trekkers on the Annapurna Circuit route

One of the things we love about our treks are the bonds that you quickly forge with your fellow trekkers

The trek to Manang is incredibly scenic, and done to the sound of the rushing river below. The valley isn't too narrow this far down. You can expect to pass plenty of locals going about their daily affairs, including farming and herding livestock.

Manang valley and lazy river, Annapurna Circuit route

The beautiful Marsyangdi valley

Manang

Manang is the largest town in the area, having a population of a few thousand. The slopes of the mountain surrounding the town have been turned into terraced farms. Manang is a popular resting place along the Annapurna Circuit, and so trekkers are likely to bump into other trekkers from all over the world while staying here.

Manang village, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

A view of Manang looking gorgeous after the monsoon rains

Day 6: Hike to Kicho Tal and back

Today is about acclimatising, so we stay put in Manang for another night. During the day we hike up to Kicho Tal, a high, pristine lake. We do this in keeping with the adage ‘trek high, sleep low’, as doing so helps the body to acclimatise. 

  • Start elevation: 3,519 m / 11,545 ft
  • Kicho Tal elevation: 4,620 m / 15,157 ft
  • Hike distance: 3.5 km / 2 mi
  • Hike time: 5-6 hr
  • Lunch: Packed lunch
  • Overnight: Manang
Annapurna Crcuit route trekkers

Sarah leads the pack along a contour path typical of the Annapurna Circuit route

Kicho Tal

The word tal means ‘lake’ and kicho means ‘frozen’ or ‘ice’. So today we’ll hike up to the Ice Lakes, which are among the highest in Nepal. Because Kicho Tal is high above the main Annapurna Circuit route, many trekkers give it a skip. Silly, silly. The lakes are pristine and reflect the towering mountains beautifully on a clear day. Sitting on the shore you feel intensely the isolation of the spot.

Kicho Tal, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Beautiful Kicho Tal

Day 7: Visit Himalayan Rescue Association Clinic

While trekking in the Himalayas, it is essential to acclimatise slowly and steadily which is why today is another acclimatisation day. That certainly doesn’t mean doing nothing, unless of course that’s the vibe you’re feeling. Far be it for us to deprive you of a day on the terrace with your novel. But should you feel like venturing forth, we have a great outing in store, namely visiting the Himalayan Rescue Association. A perk of this outing: no backpack is required, as you’re staying within Manang. 

  • Lunch: Manang
  • Overnight: Manang
Manang-Annapurna-Nepal

A colourful street in the town of Manang

Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) Nepal

The HRA is an incredibly important body. Its mandate is to both treat AMS victims and prevent the illness through education. According to the Journal of Wilderness Medicine, the non-profit has significantly lowered the numbers of casualties since its inception. 

The HRA has two aid posts. The first is Pheriche, Khumbu, in eastern Nepal. Established in 1973, it serves Everest Base Camp trekkers. The second aid post is in Manang. Established in 1981, it serve Annapurna Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit trekkers.

This acclimatisation day is also an ideal time for any tasks that have piled up or you haven’t yet found time for, from an essential bit of laundry to journalling your experience of the Annapurna Circuit route so far, cloud-watching, sketching, meditating, or sitting down for that important rummy rematch. It's entirely up to you.

Horse Annapurna Circuit route

The Annapurna Circuit route is an ancient trading route

Day 8: Trek to Yak Kharka

Our bodies have acclimatised and we’ll resume our ascent today. The going won’t be easy, as we’ll be climbing above 4,000 m. The Annapurna Circuit route has its challenges of course, but they are completely worth it!

  • Manang elevation: 3,519 m / 11,545 ft
  • Yak Kharka elevation: 4,018 m / 13,182 ft
  • Trek distance: 10 km / 6 mi
  • Trek time: 5-6 hr
  • Lunch stop: Yak Kharka
  • Overnight: Yak Kharka

The trail from Manang to Yak Kharka takes us through scrubland and offers amazing panoramas. Be on the lookout for goats and cattle, as the sparse vegetation makes them easy to spot even when far off. We’ll also see more of the beautiful, traditional stone homes of the region, with their flat roofs and prayer flag poles.

Girl trekking along path of Annapurna Circuit route in Nepal

Sometimes you get great weather and it's pretty warm, even deep into the mountains

Yak Kharka

Yak Kharka is our second-to-last stop before the big push to summit the mountain pass of Thorung La. It's a small settlement with sizeable lodges for accommodating trekkers. Steep mountain slopes rise up all around you. The name Yak Kharka translates as 'yak territory'. Yaks used to graze here, and you can still see yaks grazing nearby.

You can expect to be tired from the trek and high altitude and to be keen for an early night.

Yak Kharka, Annapurna, Nepal, attrib. to Sergey Ashmarin on Wiki required

This lovely pic by S. Ashmarin shows the village of Yak Kharka

Day 9: Trek to Thorung Phedi

Today we’ll ascend slowly up the Thorong Khola valley to Thorung Phedi. During the trek we’ll cross a large suspension bridge over Jarsang River, which is a memorable moment. By the end of the day our elevation will have increased by another 500 m, so you can expect to huff and puff during the trek from the dwindling oxygen. 

The Annapurna Circuit route would be incomplete without the streaky cliff faces, slate-coloured scree, and the snowy ridges and peaks that today has in store for us. Or perhaps the view will be an intimate one of just the nearest slope and then a pale grey wall of mist. At times the trail is nothing but a thin line etched into the side of smooth mountainside that sweeps steeply down to a boulder-filled stream.

  • Yak kharka elevation: 4,018 m / 13,182 ft
  • Thorung Phedi elevation: 4,540 m / 14,895 ft
  • Trek distance: 7 km / 4 mi
  • Trek time: 4-5 hr
  • Lunch stop: Thorung Phedi
  • Overnight: Thorung Phedi

 

Thorung Phedi

Thorung Phedi is a small settlement surrounded by soaring cliff faces. It has a handful simple, stone Buddhist chortens or stupas, with prayer flags linking the tops. 

View of snow-capped peaks on the Annapurna mountain range

View of snow-capped peaks on the Annapurna mountain range

Day 10: Trek to Ranipauwa via Thorung La, drive to Jomsom

Today is a special day, because we reach the highest point of the entire Annapurna Circuit route: Thorung La, which is the pass between the mountains Khatung Kang and Yakawa Kang. Expect pink cheeks that evening from plentiful blasts of Himalayan air.

After Thorung La we climb steeply down to the village of Ranipauwa, a descent of 1,500 m!

  • Thorung Phedi elevation: 4,540 m / 14,895 ft
  • Thorung La elevation: 5,416 m / 17,769 ft
  • Ranipauwa elevation: 3,700 m / 12,140 ft
  • Trek distance: 13 km / 8 mi
  • Trek time: 6-7 hr
  • Lunch: Packed lunch
  • Overnight: Jomsom

Thorung La

Thorung La is the high point – physically and metaphorically – of the Annapurna Circuit route. It’s marked in the same way as Nepal’s famous base camps, with a congratulatory sign and agglomeration of prayer flags. 

This trip was an amazing insight into the culture and landscape of the Annapurna region - with the added physical challenge of crossing Thorung La!

– Matt Hawkins

trekking group in warm clothes on thorung La Pass

A celebratory group shot at Thorung La is pretty much mandatory

Having summited the pass, it's then time a for a looong descent. But don't worry, there'll be lunch and tea stops along the way to both rest and warm you up after the extreme cold of Thorung La.

Annapurna Circuit route and lone trekker

Tackling the long descent from Thorung La to Ranipauwa ...

Ranipauwa

Ranipauwa, where we stop trekking, was once part of the Kingdom of Mustang. The town is a popular stop with trekkers as well as Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims on their way to nearby Muktinath. The Temple of Muktinath has a bath devotees enter to cleanse themselves.

Ranipauwa Nepal attrib. required to B. Chaurasia, Wikipedia Commons

This pic by B. Chaurasia shows the Mustang town of Ranipauwa

Drive to Jomson

If your knees are wobbly from descending 1.5 vertical kilometres, the good news is that you’ll be able to park off for a few hours in the afternoon when we drive to the town of Jomsom. 

Jomsom is a riverside town in the Kali Gandaki Gorge, the world’s deepest gorge! The Kali Gandaki River has its source to the north near the Tibetan border. It’s a tributary of the larger Gandaki River, which in turn flows into the famous Ganges River. 

Jomsom Nepal, Annapurna Circuit route

Jomsom sits on the floor of Kali Gandaki Gorge

Day 11: Fly to Pokhara, explore the city

Today we board a small plane in Jomsom and take a short flight to Pokhara, Nepal's second most populous city, and a beautiful one too. 

  • Flight time: 20 min
  • Lunch: Pokhara
  • Overnight: Pokhara

On the 20-minute flight we fly through Kali Gandaki Gorge. On the east you have the Annapurna mountains and on the west you have the Dhaulagiri mountains (with Dhaulagiri I reaching 8,167 m!). 

A view of the runway of Jomsom Airport among the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal

The runway at Jomsom Airport

Given the height of the mountains, our flight threads through the gorge, with mountains towering above the small airplane on each side. 

The only place planes fly to from Jomsom is Pokhara, as it’s the only place they essentially can fly to! This is a rare plane ride you won’t soon forget.

Pokhara lies on the banks of beautiful Phewa Lake, and has many attractions. You might, for starters, enjoy visiting the International Mountain Museum which showcases the history of mountaineering as well as the people groups living in the Himalayas. Or you might just wish to take a stroll along the lake shore. There’s a two-storey pagoda called Tal Barahi Temple that’s used for worship by Hindus on an island in Phewa Lake, and you can rent canoes to take out on the lake.

Paragliders over Phewa Lake and Pokhara, Nepal, Annapurna Circuit route

The gorgeous lakeside city of Pokhara

Day 12: Fly to Kathmandu, explore the city 

This morning we fly back to Kathmandu, and then check into our hotel in Thamel. 

  • Flight duration: 30 min
  • Overnight: Thamel

If you have the energy – and we think you will! – there are some great attractions just a hop and skip away from the hotel, such as:

  • The recently renovated and beautiful Garden of Dreams, an historic garden built in 1920 that is 250 m from the hotel and has an entrance fee of just Rs 200 (€1.62)
  • Kathmandu Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is located in front of the old royal palace and is just 1.6 km from the hotel
  • The ancient Swayambhunath temple complex, with its famous gold-topped stupa, which is 2.4 km from the hotel and has an entrance fee of Rs 200
Monkey Temple Kathmandu

The Monkey Temple in Kathmandu

Day 13: Depart Nepal

After an unforgettable journey trekking in the Himalayas, today is goodbye day. We do, however, suspect you’ll have made some good friends you’ll be planning to meet up with somewhere in the world at some point. If you have some spare time before your flight, you could check out some of the local attractions already mentioned.

Note that there’s a post office in Kathmandu International Airport, so should you wish to send postcards or letters with a Nepali stamp, here’s your moment.

Nepal prayer fla

Tibetan prayer flags can be seen strung up all over Nepal

In 2015, over 5,000 international tourists trekked the Annapurna Circuit route, according to data from the Tourist Checkpost in Besisahar, a town near the start of the trail. During peak seasons, around 200 trekkers embark on the trail daily. This number drops by more than half during off-peak seasons.

View upwards of trekkers on Annapurna Circuit walking through a village with blue sky, Nepal

Ideally you want blue skies like this when trekking the Annapurna Circuit

November is a great trekking month in Annapurna as the rains are gone and the views are sharp. 

The best times of year to trek the Annapurna Circuit route are October, November, March and April. This is because monsoon season hits the area from June to September, and the area gets 70% of its rainfall in this period. Rains mean slippery paths, drenched trekkers, and the possibility of landslides and rockfalls. From December to early March, it’s just too darn cold to trek the circuit (though some do, and they’re arguably a bit nutty). 

All that said, this is the Himalayas and it does what it wants, when it wants! So we always go prepared, rain and safety gear ready and waiting.

You can learn more in Best time to hike the Annapurna Circuit.

Blue skies and snow capped peaks on the Annapurna Circuit route.

The Annapurna Circuit is an incredibly varied and exciting once-in-a-lifetime journey

And so, with all the above details of the Annapurna Circuit route laid before you, we rest our case. We’ve done our best to persuade you that the trek is unique, fascinating, beautiful, nicely challenging, and immensely rewarding. We feel pretty sure that trekking the Annapurna Circuit is now firmly on your bucket list. 😄

 

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