Our 21-day trek on the Annapurna Circuit was one of the most unique and awe-inspiring journeys we have taken. This post will be geared towards other fellow trekkers, as there is a lot of contradicting information out there. Trekking, which basically means hiking, is very popular in Nepal and this trek is one of the most well known in the world. This is because of the drastic changes in terrain and scenery coupled with the ease of multiple teahouses (guesthouses with restaurants) to stay at along the way. The trek starts at an elevation just above 840m/2,000 ft. and goes through Throng Pass (the highest pass in the world at 5,416m/17,769 ft.). Zane described the trek perfectly as he said it reminded him of every hike he had ever done rolled into one, plus so much more. We walked around rice terraces, jungles, waterfalls, sheer cliffs, ancient villages, pine forests, above tree line, hot springs and so many snow capped mountains.
September is considered shoulder season (after monsoon season and before peak season) and in our opinion is the best time to trek this circuit because it has much less people, is warmer and you can negotiate for everything. The trekking routes online are from 12-18 days but we recommend having extra time to acclimate at elevation, take rest days, and have a laid back journey. Counter-clockwise is the way to do it, as this route is more gradual and has fewer stairs at the beginning. We also did an extra day-hike to Ice Lake on one of the days we stayed in Manang. This is a steep climb to 4,600m/15,090ft, which helped with our acclimation as going up and back down really helps the process.
We were fortunate to meet the best trekking partners we could imagine on our first evening at a teahouse. Tiff and Will (from Colorado and Ohio) became our trekking, negotiating, card-playing buddies quickly. The trek would not have been the same without them. When we entered a village we would split up to check out teahouses, negotiate for free rooms, grab hot showers and meals and start our Eucker and Cribbage games.
Budgets: Online recommendations for budgets during the trek are $10-13/day. We negotiated for free rooms if we ate breakfast and dinner at a teahouse and it worked about 80% of the time. With the free accommodations we averaged $11.50/day for each of us. We were constantly conscience of our budget but also splurged a few times on beer and yak cheese (which is amazing, buy it when you can find it). In villages toward the end of the trek you can trade clothes for jewelry or other items as well.
Teahouses: They are very basic with 2 beds and a table but they vary in cleanliness. Check menu prices, hot water/pressure in showers, room prices, mattress firmness and bed bugs. Yes, we had 2 beds with bedbugs. If this happens change rooms and check all of your bags and clothing for bugs thoroughly. On our last night we had to change rooms twice, once because of thousands of black ants under the mattress and then next because of bed bugs. Needless to stay we slept with one eye open cocooned in our sleep sacks. We only had silk sleep sacks and not sleeping bags, which was ok but would recommend having a sleeping bag for more padding and warmth. During high season a sleeping bag is a must, as teahouses don’t have extra blankets.
Footwear/Gear: Most people we came across were so over-geared if that is even a word. Will actually wore Chaco sandals the whole trek. This is possible but is not recommended as he froze on the day of the pass. What we did and what we would recommend is have a pair of running shoes/hiking shoes and a pair of hiking sandals to alternate between to help with soreness and blisters.
First Aid: Of course bring plenty of Band-Aids for blisters and leech bites. Yes, lots of leeches in the wet jungle area and you will get them if you wear sandals. Putting a bit of salt on them will get them to detach but they bleed quite a bit. We decided to take altitude sickness pills for the 4 days before the pass as preventative caution but Will and Tiff did not and we all ended up feeling fine.
Food/Drink: Dal Bhat everyday is what we expected, but to our surprise the teahouses had the same menus with about 30-40 choices from Mexican, Italian, Chinese and Nepalese cuisines. But the Mexican food comes with marinara sauce and their pizza is made from chapatti or fried bread and varied in quality from place to place. You can get snacks and supplies all along the trek but is better to stock up on items in Pokhara or lower on the trek as the prices rise the closer to the pass. In Tukuche there was the most amazing teahouse called High Plains Inn run by a Dutchman named Patrick. We stopped for lunch, loved the food so much that we spent the evening at his guest just to eat there again. He made homemade bread and noodles, had great service, and clean rooms. This place is highly recommended. There are apple orchards along the villages after the pass that sells apple brandy and plum wine, which is worth a try.
Pokhara/Kathmandu: In Pokhara, (the start and end of the Annapurna trek) we stayed at a guesthouse called Pushpa’s and meet the nicest owner Raj and his family. This place was recommended to us by Jack and Kelsey, an awesome couple from Australia we met at the yoga retreat. Raj is a former trekking guide and walked us through our up-coming trek. He gave us invaluable information and peace of mind as he volunteered to be our Nepalese lifeline if anything happened to us on the trek. Luckily we had no major problems, but when we were coming back from the trek I became sick and Raj and his family looked after me like family.
Everyone we met along the way stayed at Trekker’s Home in Kathmandu, as did we. It is conveniently located in Thamel, the staff is so helpful but the bathrooms were a disaster as the water was so rusty we needed showers after our shower.
Thamel is the place most tourists stay while in Kathmandu. There are hundreds of gear shops, bookstores, and places to buy everything Nepalese. My advice to trekkers would be to come to Thamel or Pokhara with less gear and more money. You can buy anything and everything you would need for the trek for a fraction of the price back home. For example $100+ backpack for $20-$30. These are all knock-off products but are good enough to last you a month of trekking, and once you are done trekking you can sell them back to the places you bought them. In addition to having everything you need they also have people trying to sell you everything you don’t need. If I had a Rupee for every time someone tried to sell me a musical instrument, pedi-cab ride, tiger balm, chessboard, or hash this trip would have been half price.
Facts/Stats about Nepal: Nepali people eat with their hands. All public transportation is run by private companies/individuals. The country is not commercialized; we saw no McDonalds or Starbucks for once. Cast system and arranged marriages are still relevant in some villages. Buddhism and Hinduism are the main religions practiced. There is jungle, plains, hills and the highest mountains in the world.
During our final day in Kathmandu we visited the ancient town of Bhaktapur, which is about 30km away by taxi. It was a pleasant afternoon and if we had the time would recommend staying there at a guesthouse for an evening. Our last 3 days we have been in India on a 72-hour transit visa and then we head to Thailand in the morning. Stay tuned for the stories of India.