Footpath through the Annapurna mountains, which are covered in snow

Why the Annapurna Circuit is Nepal's golden child

Jul 12, 2022
Reading time: 9 minutes

The Annapurna Circuit is really special – extra special. It’s special not just among Nepal treks, but among all treks. We have solid reasons for saying this, from its natural beauty to its scale, diversity, and high viewpoints. 

Some treks, while absolutely fantastic, are a little one-note. The Annapurna Circuit route, by contrast, is a melody: during the trek you’re introduced to multiple Nepali communities, landscapes, mountain ranges, climates and ecosystems. It's Nepal's classic trek – arguably it's best trek – because it introduces you to so much in a short span of time. It's one of the most rewarding high-trek altitudes you could ever take on, and we hope you do!

Every day on the Annapurna Circuit you encounter shifts in climate, vegetation, animals, culture, architecture and more. 

Manang valley and lazy river, Annapurna Circuit route

The Annapurna Circuit route starts in a lush area of the Manang district

In fact, if you could only do one trek in your lifetime, we’d argue that this should be it. You’ll experience more in this one trek than you might in multiple others.

Not yet convinced that the Annapurna Circuit route is unique and world-class? We’re up to the challenge of telling you exactly why we think this to be the case … We also outline the itinerary of the Annapurna Circuit route when you trek with Follow Alice, so you can have an idea of what each day holds.

Annapurna Circuit route small village and stream

The villages along the Annapurna Circuit route are small, traditional and remote

Trekking in Nepal and the Himalayas opens up a world of new and exciting experiences. One of the most exciting aspects of the Annapurna Circuit route that has made it so justifiably popular is the constant changes in climate and landscape.

Changes in climate and landscape

On the Annapurna Circuit route you begin the trek in a lush subtropical zone, where the sound of the rushing river can be heard even when not seen. The weather is mild, and you pass many terraced paddies and farms. Farmers grow crops like rice, buckwheat, potatoes, barley and beans. 

Nepal Annapurna Circuit trek group photo

One of our Annapurna trekking groups

You then work your way up the Marsyangdi River valley and reach deciduous woods and colder temperatures. You start to enjoy unobstructed views of the Annapurna mountains, which include Annapurna I (8,091 m), the highest mountain in the region and the tenth highest mountain in the world!

Trekking in the Himalayas opens up a world of new and exciting experiences.

Annapurna Circuit route, Nepal

The Annapurna Circuit offers the most varied scenery of any classic Nepal trek

Next, you climb above the tree line to barren slopes and bleak crags, and snowy peaks literally surround you. The air is thin and the wind often fierce. The highest point on the Annapurna Circuit route is Thorung La, a mountain pass 5,416 m above sea level that exists where the Khatung Kang and Yakawa Kang mountains meet. 

These changes in altitude and climate mean you often start the trek in shorts and a shirt, but in the middle are decked in every item you packed as well as those stolen while your roommate slept.

Average monthly temperatures at Thorung La

The column graph below shows the monthly mean temperatures for the Thorung La, the trek’s highest point. Note that the graph doesn’t account for wind chill, which can often drive temperatures down a further 10 degrees. Also, the average night-time temperature can also drop things by 10 degrees. (In our blog post Annapurna Circuit packing list we discuss the equipment you’ll need to handle the cold.)

Average monthly temperatures at Thorung La on Annapurna trek

Temperates can drop below freezing on the Annapurna Circuit route

A circular route

Many treks around the world involve hiking from Point A to Point B and then back along the same route, often because the terrain dictates it as so. Not a problem, but arguably not ideal. The Annapurna Circuit route, by contrast, is a roughly circular route that takes you anticlockwise through the valleys and gorges and over some of the heights of the Annapurna massif

This means that your descent trek offers completely new sights and sounds. On the Annapurna Circuit route you drop down from the chilly heights into the woods before reaching the ancient Muktinath Temple, a religious site of great importance to both Hindus and Buddhists. You also cross several suspension bridges on the trek as well as the odd rudimentary foot bridge, all of which add to the route's charm. 

 

 

Amazing animals and plants

The animal and birdlife along the Annapurna Circuit route are fantastic. Our Nepali tour guide, Sonam Sherpa, will point many of these out to us along the trail.

Animals big and small

During the Annapurna Circuit route you’re likely to see yaks, horses, donkeys, cattle, mountain goats, monkeys and hens. Every now and then trekkers are lucky enough to get stuck in a goat traffic jam or have a curious individual come close to be petted. If you’re the luckiest person in the world, you might spot a snow leopard. (If you think you spot a yeti, first check it isn’t actually a scruffy trekker - showers and laundry aren’t always possible along the circuit.)

Yaks resting on Annapurna Circuit trek

Resting yaks – a common sight on the Annapurna Circuit route

Amazing birdlife

Keen birders can keep their eyes open for hundreds of species of bird, such as barbets, koklas, woodpeckers, shrikes, thrushes, cuckoos, starlings, swallows, kingfishers, partridges, owls, vultures, griffons, eagles and many, many more.

You can actually download the free, beautifully illustrated ebook Birds of Annapurna Conservation Area by Rishi Baral (2018) if you’re an avid birdwatcher and want to read up on the local birds before coming to Nepal. 

Beautiful trees and flowers

The trees and plants on the trek are something special too. In the lower elevations bright pink and red rhododendrons, the national flower, often frame vistas of green forests and riotous rivers. There are also about 40 orchid varieties to enjoy. Note, however, that the flora of the Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) are protected, so there can be no picking and pressing! 

Rhododendrons in Annapurna Mountains

A gorgeous rhododendron forest in the Annapurna Mountains | Image by Kondephy

The mountains

Of course a huge drawcard of the Annapurna Circuit route is getting up close and personal with some of the world’s highest and most beautiful mountain peaks. The best-known peak is Annapurna I (8,091 m / 2,984 ft), which in 1950 was the first mountain over 8,000 m to ever be summited. 

Prominent Annapurna Circuit route mountains

The other five most prominent peaks in the Annapurna range are:

  • The eastern anchor of the range, Annapurna II (7,937 m / 26,040 ft)
  • Annapurna III (7,555m / 24,786 ft), which was only summited for the first time in 1961
  • Annapurna IV (7,525 m / 24,688 ft), which sits alongside Annapurna II
  • The world's tenth highest mountain, Annapurna South (7,219 m / 23,864 ft)
  • The gorgeous Gangapurna (7,455 m / 24,457 ft), with its storybook upside-down-V peak

There are numerous other peaks in the Annapurna range, so you really do get the feeling of being surrounded by a chorus of giants when you’re on the Annapurna Circuit route. The graph below shows some of the Annapurna mountains alongside other famous peaks from around the world, to give you a sense of their scale.

Graph showing the scale of the Annapurna mountains

As you can see, the Annapurna mountain range is not to be sniffed at!

Of course the prominence (height from visible base) of some of the mountains in the graph above is more impressive than that of the Annapurna mountains, as the latter are part of the Annapurna massif. But what one can appreciate is just how impressively the Annapurna peaks rank among the world’s greats. 

Note: The Annapurna Circuit trek is not the same as the Annapurna Base Camp trek, which is a completely different route and also doesn’t climb nearly as high.

Snowy peaks on the Annapurna Circuit route with Follow Alice

Snowy peaks on the Annapurna circuit route

The rain shadow

Much of the Annapurna Circuit route actually passes through a rain shadow, which is an area blocked by a natural feature from receiving rain weather systems. In other words, the monsoons that bring rain to the southern Annapurna are blocked by the mighty mountains from moving any further north. This is why the northern, most elevated part of the circuit route passes through a harsh, desert landscape. 

trekking group in warm clothes on thorung La Pass

No matter when you choose to do the Annapurna circuit trek, Thorung La Pass is always cold!

Why we trek east to west

You might also be interested to know that the reason most trekkers follow the circuit from east to west, rather than the other way around, is that its ascent is more gradual in that direction, thereby allowing for better acclimatisation.

Man in teahouse on Annapurna Circuit route

During the trek we stay in traditional teahouses and lodges, where we also have our meals

Cultural diversity

The Nepalese speak more than 92 living languages, consist of more than 10 ethnic groups, and practice several religions, including shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism in the Himalayas. For a small country it can claim immense diversity. And you’ll experience this diversity firsthand on the Annapurna Circuit route.  

The country is split into 77 districts. Most of the actual trekking on the Annapurna trip is done within Manang District, which shares its northern border with Tibet. The last part of the trek, however, takes you through Mustang District. 

As a general rule, the people of the subtropical regions of Annapurna are Hindu in religion and culture. Their history is linked to that of their Indian neighbours to the south. The higher and further north you climb the more likely you are to encounter people of Buddhist faith and tradition. These people are closely aligned to Tibetans in culture and language.

Men relaxing at a tea lodge on the Annapurna Circuit

Our lead trek guide Sonam (red cap) and Pemba, Nygima and Chhiring (left to right) taking a load off after a long day of trekking

Manang and Mustang 

Manang has a small population of around 7,000, making it the least populous district in Nepal. Over half of Manangies speak the Gurung language, a Sino-Tibetan language. Mustang, which lies to the west of Manang, has a larger population (around 14,000), a rich history, and a strong cultural tradition that is being actively preserved. Large portions of the populations in both Manang and Mustang follow Tibetan cultural and religious traditions. There is a Manang Culture Museum in the village of Manang you can visit during your acclimatisation day in the town.

Manangies are also considered to be Nepal’s best traders. In fact, the portion of the Annapurna Circuit route we trek has been used for centuries by Manangies to transport yak and sheep to Mustang. 

Bridge near Kagbeni town, Mustang district in Nepal

There's lots of greenery along the trail in Manang, but when it enters Mustang, the landscape becomes far more barren

It’s tough, but super rewarding

While the Annapurna Circuit route route starts by hugging the river, there are many steep ascents and descents in store, so you need a decent level of fitness to conquer the circuit. As we near the mountain pass of Thorung La, there is plenty of climbing. And of course the higher you climb the 'thinner' the air, so things get very tiring, very quickly.

Annapurna Circuit route trail

A section of the Annapurna Circuit where you descend to Ranipauwa

Eager to learn more? Check out our exciting Annapurna Circuit trip page or our Annapurna Circuit route blog post.

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