Trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary, Nepal

We spent the last eight days having one of the most amazing experiences the world has to offer.  We had been dreaming of trekking through the famed Himalayan Mountains for years, and made sure to build our round the world itinerary around a visit to Nepal.  We decided to tackle the Annapurna Sanctuary with a destination of Annapurna Base Camp for our first trek in the country.  This route takes you amongst some of the highest mountains on earth which culminates below an amphitheater of peaks and offers an experience unlike trekking anywhere else in the world.  

The Annapurna Sanctuary trek has it all.  It offers incredible mountain views, passes over rivers and near waterfalls.  While trekking you are immersed in the sounds of nature while passing through many different climates ranging from forest and jungle to mountain tops.  The path is wide, well formed and easy to follow with numerous water sources throughout.  Compared to other countries, Nepal feels very safe and the trekking environment is no different.  Almost everyone speaks English and prices are very affordable.  But most uniquely, the routes pass through many small villages which offer food and lodging in teahouses.img_5977This post contains the following information in order: Access to the Trek, Permitting, Teahouses, Trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary, the Trail Route and Daily Itinerary, and our Trekking Nepal Packing List.  Make sure to also check out our write up on Trekking the Annapurna Circuit, which supplements this post.

While in Nepal, the USD was trading with the local Nepalese rupee at $1.00:103.6 rupees, making conversion to dollars relatively accurate and simple by moving the decimal two to the left.

Access

Most access to Nepal comes through the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.  From Kathmandu, you can either head directly to the trek or move to the second largest city of Pokhara which is located close to the Annapurna Conservation Area.  Pokhara is touristy, but significantly less crowded, loud, chaotic, and dusty then Kathmandu which makes it a good home base between trekking.  The city can be reached by both plane and bus from Kathmandu.  If you opt to head directly to the trek, you would either need to book an expensive private jeep or catch a bus indirectly.img_5539The main trekking season is October and November, when monsoon rains have passed and skies are clear.  We arrived a week beforehand to try and beat some of the crowds, which put us at the start of the major Dashain Festival.  Most buses were booked with locals heading home around the holiday, so options were limited.  We ultimately took the Greenline bus to Pokhara, which cost us 2,200 rupees per ticket.  This is expensive compared to the Golden Travel bus (around 700 per seat) but also came with air conditioning, lunch, wifi, and no one standing in the aisles.  The trip took an excruciating 10 hours in the Dashain traffic (for a 90 miles trip), but got us near our destination of the tourist district in Lakeside, Pokhara.img_5553We stayed one night in Pokhara before taking an early morning taxi to the trailhead in Nayapul.  We made the mistake of letting our hotel call us a taxi after they claimed it was a fixed price of 2,000 rupees.  We could certainly have negotiated down which is possible for most things in the country (restaurant food may be one of the exceptions, but you can effectively barter at any trekking store, convenience store, pharmacy, tour company, and even for bus tickets).  Local buses are also available for a fraction of the cost, but tend to be overcrowded with people and sometimes even with animals and produce.  They will also take longer due to numerous stops along the way.

Permitting

Trekking in Nepal requires the proper permits which are easily obtained upon arrival, and will be checked at the trailhead and occasionally along the route.  The two required documents are the TIMS Cards (Trekkers Information Management System) and the ACAP Permit (Annapurna Conservation Area Project).  The TIMS Card creates a record of a trekkers location in the event of an emergency, such as an earthquake, helping in a rescue situation.  The cost of the ACAP helps maintain the trekking routes and environment.  Each document is single entry, costs 2,000 rupees and requires two passport photos (total of four) which can be purchased from shops nearby if necessary.  You may also need to show your passport.

If you are planning on doing two separate treks through the Annapurna Conservation Area, you may need to purchase two ACAP permits since they are single entry.  For example, you will need a second permit if you visit Annapurna Circuit after the Annapurna Sanctuary since you will have “exited” the Conservation area in between requiring a new permit.img_6065The permits can be obtained at the Nepal Tourism Board in either Kathmandu or Pokhara.  We got ours in Kathmandu for the Annapurna Sanctuary trek, but had to go back for another permit before starting our second trek on the Annapurna Circuit.  We got our second one in Pokhara, which we found to be much quicker and easier to walk to than the one in Kathmandu.  These permits can also be purchased at the trail heads or from some travel agencies, although they will come with a higher price.

Teahouses

The best and most unique part of trekking in Nepal is the lodging structure.  The lodges, often referred to as teahouses, are small family run hotels which offer all the necessities along the route.  Each has anywhere from a handful to a couple of dozen rooms, plus a restaurant, showers, and a small shop for provisions.  They typically do not need to be reserved in advance, but can be booked on arrival after a day of trekking.img_5616The cost of a private room with a shared bathroom is typically around 400 rupees, which requires that the trekker eat dinner at the teahouse.  There also may be additional charges for hot showers, device charging and wifi, although the availability of any of these is not guaranteed.  The menus are almost identical at all teahouses and prices set by ACAP.  The cost of food, along with most amenities, tends to increase as you go further up the mountain.  Typical meals range anywhere from 250 rupees in the lower elevations to 700 rupees near base camp.  Picture a 60kg man carrying 100kg of supplies on his back and head while scaling rocks in flip flops to deliver necessities to the tea houses.  This easily explains why prices go up with elevation.img_6151-1Showers, charging and wifi are usually stated between 100 and 300 rupees.  While the price of meals is set, we found the costs of rooms and amenities to be negotiable even during high season.  We were often able to get a free room and sometimes amenities in exchange for meals at the teahouse.  Showers are heated by firewood, gas tanks, or solar which is adds to their cost.  It is cheaper to charge your own recharger and use that to refill your devices instead of paying for each one individually.  We made sure to get to camp by 2:30pm to beat the inevitable scramble for rooms and aid in our price negotiations, plus increase our odds of a hot shower.  During high season, you could have to hike to another town, share a communal room with the porters, or stay in a tent if there are no rooms left.img_5490Food tends to be carb heavy and centered around rice, noodles or breads, which can quickly get boring after a few days.  Dal Bhat, which is the most common local dish, is found on all menus and is the only meal that includes free refills.  It is customary to pre-order your dinner and breakfast and set the time which you would like to eat.  This helps the cook prep your meals in sufficient time.  Also, plan to eat dinner and breakfast early if you want to beat the crowds.

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Our all inclusive cost to live per day on the trail was between 1,500 and 2,000 per person.  We brought this amount for each day we expected to trek plus a cushion to ensure we had enough to last the trip.  There is no way to withdraw cash once you get to the Annapurna Sanctuary trek.  Also, tipping in the tourist areas of Nepal is optional and usually up to 10% of cost, but it is not expected on the trail.  Some teahouses have a tip box available which will be divided amongst the staff.

Trekking

There are several ways to trek in the Annapurna Sanctuary or any trekking route in Nepal.  Guides are available to assist with planning the trek route, and usually cost between 2,000 and 2,500 rupees per day.  Porters are also widely available for 1,000 to 1,500 rupees per day to carry your baggage on the trail, if that is your preference.  We opted not to use a guide or porter, instead planning our own route and carrying our own 5kg to 7kg bags.  The trails are generally easy to follow due to their popularity and we did not find that a guide was necessary with prior research.img_5822We did not bring a paper map, but they are easy to obtain for cheap in Pokhara or Kathmandu.  We relied on the Maps.me app, which utilizes GPS navigation and works offline.  We found that the trails in the Annapurna Sanctuary were all located on the downloaded maps, and helped us confirm direction when necessary.  We also asked locals and trekking group guides for advice from time to time, who were all happy to help.img_6187-1We typically started our days with a 6:30am breakfast and 7:00am trek start.  This got us ahead of the trekking groups, which tended to clog the trails making passing difficult.  The trails go through numerous small towns, making stops for lunch or snacks convenient while en route.  It was rare that we went more than an hour without passing a teahouse, which gave us flexibility with hiking distances.  We tried to end by 2:30pm which gave us time to relax with some tea and rinse our clothing.  img_6017In the wetter areas, especially during and following monsoon season, leeches can be found around the trails.  Our hotel gave us a bag of salt to use which apparently makes them fall off if bitten.  While we did see several around the trail and on livestock, we fortunately did not need our salt stash.  Also, the trail goes through rural villages before heading into the Sanctuary, so make sure to avoid the mud puddles dotting the trail.  img_6214-1

Trail Route

We chose to add a side trek to Poon Hill onto our Annapurna Sanctuary route to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).  We started in Nayapul, which is one of three major trailheads for the ABC trek.  The others are Kande and Phedi, and offer different but similar options for starting or ending the trek.  We finished the trek in Kande, which put only two days of our eight day trek on repeat trail.

Our total trek distance was 61 miles.  The trek from Nayapul to Poon Hill totals around 12 miles, with another 24 miles from Poon Hill to ABC, and then 25 miles from ABC to Kande.img_6253Day 1:  Taxi from Pokhara to Nayapul, trek to Ulleri – We arrived in Nayapul by 9:00am and had a 0:30 hike to the entrance in Birethani where there are checkpoints for TIMS and ACAP Permits.  The hike is entirely uphill, starting on dirt road until Tikhedunga before turning into a trekking path.  The trek culminates with 3,500 vertical stone steps for the final portion leading up to Ulleri, which will make you happy you owned that StairMaster machine in the ’80s.

Trek time and distance:  4:45 time trekking, 6.4 miles total
Starting and ending elevation:  1070m to 2010m

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Day 2:  Ulleri to Ghorepani – This is another day of ascent.  The day starts off with more stone steps uphill before turning more moderate once it meets the river and reaches forest.  The majority of the distance follows the river on a shaded path, passing waterfalls along the way.  We stopped early in Ghorepani after a short day.  This town is the kickoff point for the Poon Hill sunrise hike, and sits on the ridge between two valleys with impressive mountain views.

Trek time and distance:  3:00 time trekking, 5 miles total
Starting and ending elevation:  2010m to 2750m

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Day 3:  Ghorepani to Poon Hill to Chhomrong – We hiked to Poon Hill at 4:30am to see the famed 360 degree views for sunrise.  There is a 50 rupee entrance fee at the gate which leads to the roughly 3/4 mile path to the 3200m elevation hill top.  Unfortunately, our views were blocked by low hanging clouds so we missed a full sunrise through the peaks.  We then hiked back to Ghropani to start our long hike to Chhomrong.  This trek alternates between long and steep ascents and descents throughout the day, making it much more difficult than it appears from the distance alone and very tough on the knees.  Many people stop halfway in Tadapani for the night and break this hike into two separate days, which we would recommend.

Trek time and distance:  0:30 up to Poon Hill, 0:20 return, 4:00 from Ghorepani to Tadapani, 4:00 from Tadapani to Chhomrong, 11.8 miles total
Starting and ending elevation:  2750m to 3200m to 2360m

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Day 4:  Chhomrong to Dovan – Chhomrong sits above a valley with incredible views of the distant peaks above Base Camp.  There is a quick ACAP checkpoint in town to visit before hiking on.  The day starts with a long descent followed by another long and steep ascent.  The hike goes along the mountain contours before entering a wet and jungly bamboo forest for the remainder of the day.

Trek time and distance:  3:00 to Bamboo, 1:00 to Dovan, 5.7 miles total
Starting and ending elevation:  2360m to 2870m

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Day 5:  Dovan to Machhapuchhre Base Camp –  This hike is mostly uphill but has the most amazing views of the trip.  It follows the river between to steep mountain lines in the heart of Annapurna Sanctuary.  There was a landslide in the rainstorms the night before which replaced the path with rock, mud and glacier chunks from the mountains above.  A makeshift bridge had been set to help with crossing.

There is a significant amount of elevation gain, which pushes past the highest point so far of 3,200m.  Some people choose to continue directly to Annapurna Base Camp at 4,130m, but we were feeling the effects of low oxygen with shortness of breath and mild headaches so spent the night in Machhapuchhre Base Camp (MBC) to acclimatize.  The valley clouded over for the second half of the hike, but opened up briefly right before sunset allowing a glimpse of the impressive peaks overhead.

Trek time and distance:  4:30 time trekking, 5.3 miles total
Starting and ending elevation:  2870m to 3700m

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Day 6:  Machapuchare Base Camp to Annapurna Base Camp to Bamboo – We started with a 4:00am trek to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) to allow time to watch the sun rise on the peaks.  The hike up is a surprisingly moderate 1.3 mile incline, which was one of the most satisfying portions of our trek.  The night sky glittered with thousands of stars and the Milky Way streaked overhead.  The thick blanket of stars was only broken by the black silhouette of the Himalayan Mountains on all sides.

Many people leave their backpacks at their teahouse in MBC and just do an out and back hike to ABC without the weight.  We opted to bring our packs in case it ended up being cloudy and we decided to stay a night in ABC for a second chance at sunrise.  We were lucky to have a crystal clear morning and started our return trip shortly after a coffee warm up.  Regardless of what you choose, a proper sleeping bag is necessary as blankets may not be provided.  It is COLD, near freezing at the top waiting for sunrise so warm layered clothing is essential.  The trip back is mostly downhill and reroutes the same path as the day prior, allowing another trek through the Annapurna Sanctuary.

Trek time and distance:  1:15 up to ABC, 6:00 to Bamboo, 8.4 miles total
Starting and ending elevation:  3700m to 4130m to 2335m

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Day 7:  Bamboo to New Bridge – The majority of the day is a repeat of two days prior, going through muddy forest and over rivers until reaching Chhomrong.  The views from the path beyond the forest showcase the impressive terraced rice paddies along the mountain sides.  You need to visit the ACAP checkpoint in Chhomrong to check back out of the Annapurna Sanctuary before heading on.

After Chhomrong, the trail goes down steeply to the very picturesque town of Jhinu Danda.  Many people stop here for the night to visit the natural hot springs near town.  We took a 1.2 mile round trip side hike to see the spring but then opted instead to continue our trek to shorten the following day.  The springs are really only one pool and some hot showers, although the setting is impressive next to the raging river.  We heard accounts of leeches often being found in the pool.  There is a 100 rupee entrance fee which goes to help rebuild the pool after is it gets destroyed in the monsoon floods.

We stopped in New Bridge for the night, which is the next town on the other side of the valley.

Trek time and distance:  3:00 to Chhomrong, 1:00 to Jhinu Danda, 1:00 to New Bridge, 7.1 miles total
Starting and ending elevation:  2335m to 1340m

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Day 8:  New Bridge to Kande, bus to Pokhara – This is a long day, with a significant climb over a peak midway.  Much of the day is on a dirt road through small towns, with rice paddies at every turn.  The trail heads way up to Deurali on extremely slippery stone steps, and then drops back down on a slick rocky and muddy path to Australian Camp.  We had planned on stopping here for the night, which is supposed to have good sunset and sunrise views, but it was crowded and we chose to finish the trek by hiking another 45 minutes to Kande.

We caught a bus in Kande which was waiting when we arrived.  We were charged 100 rupees per person, which took us back to the Zero Kilometer stop in Pokhara.  From here we caught a taxi to Lakeside for 200 rupees.  The bus ride in was an experience, with locals crowding the vehicle well above capacity.  Fortunately, our 10 mile hike that morning had left us smelling a ripe blend of body odor and sweaty socks so no one tried to share our seat and the isle remained mostly clear.

Trek time and distance:  4:30 to Deurali, 2:00 to Kande, 10 miles total
Starting and ending elevation:  1340m to 1770m

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Annapurna Trek Packing and Laundry

You can see the full packing list of items we brought on our trek in the Annapurna Sanctuary, along with information on laundry and purchasing gear in Kathmandu or Pokhara on our Trekking Nepal Packing List.  This list provided plenty of versatility and not a lot of weight.  We saw dozens of trekkers lugging bags (or having their porters carry them) which were twice as large, who looked quite miserable on the long stair climbs.  Almost all of these items were already in our World Trip Packing List, and did not need to be purchase specifically for this trek.

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Check out other posts from our adventures including our visit to Malaysia, camper van-cation around Tasmania, stop in Indonesian paradise and misadventures in India.  They are sure to inspire your lust for travel!

Feeling like long term travel needs to be in your future?  Stop by our Planning Page where you can learn how to prepare for a lengthy trip, see how to never check your bags on planes, find out about travel security and make sense of travel insurance, amongst others.

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