The full Annapurna Circuit is considered one of the world’s great treks, and the real appeal lies in its variety. The trail winds through the subtropical jungle, up into the valleys, across the high mountain pass of Thorung La and down towards the desolate Mustang region, before descending down back into the valleys, all the while passing lakes and waterfalls, ancient temples and villages, surrounded by some of the tallest mountains in the world.
The first half of the hike starts in Besisahar and climbs solidly uphill until you reach the Thorung La high pass at 5416m. Once you cross that icy, flag-covered wilderness then it’s all downhill from there! Most people will only hike to Ranipauwa and take a bus or jeep down, but trust me when I saw you should walk down! You’ll see some incredibly stunning mountain vistas behind ancient, crumbling villages, without the crowds of people that walk up.
So after days of relentlessly climbing uphill, through sun, rain or snow, to cross the 5416m high pass then it’s all downhill from there! The decent is a killer, especially for people with dodgy knees (that’s me, thanks genetics). There is a small cluster of guesthouses serving food and drinks once you’ve passed the worst of it, and before you know it it’s flattened out and you’re back in civilization.
We spent our tenth night here and I wish we had stayed for an extra night just to enjoy the views, the warmer weather, and the Hotel Mona Lisa where we had free rooms, WiFi, charging and hot showers in exchange for the cheapest and BEST food we had on the hike so far! If you want to take a rest day here you can go for a walk to visit the local villages of Chongur and Jhong on the other side of the valley.
It’s here that most people finish their Annapurna Circuit hike because they’ve crossed the high pass and don’t feel the need to continue. That’s a big mistake in my opinion. The hike down was an incredible journey through ancient villages, dense forest, rocky valleys and grassy plains. Just remember, you can always start the hike down and if at any point you’ve had enough you can easily catch a bus or jeep back to Pokhara from any village on the main road, or even hitchhike down!
It’s a very easy and beautiful walk here from Ranipauwa and you could just skip it and go straight to Manang, but if you have any interest in the mystical Mustang region then I’d recommend spending the night. From here it’s an easy hour-long walk to the ancient village of Tiri, the closest you can get to the Mustang region without paying that $500 permit and hiring a guide. It’s a peaceful place and you can watch the local people going about their lives before heading back to Kāgbeni. We spent our eleventh night at Hotel Yeti, free rooms, charging, and WiFi in exchange for food, which was amazing.
The others I was hiking with decided to take a jeep down to Tatopani so they could begin the Annapurna Base Camp trek, but I did this last year so I decided to walk all the way down, it was the best decision! I just passed through Jomsom but it’s a busy village with a lot going on. As with the rest of the Annapurna region, it’ll be easy to find free rooms in exchange for food, and it’s the other main point to easily catch the buses and jeeps back to Pokhara.
Whether you’re just passing through Jomsom or you’re spending the night, make sure you walk along the south bank of the river! Here you’ll find Thini (the oldest village in the region), the beautifully blue Dhumba Lake, and Nyingma Monastery with incredible views up and down the valley!
I arrived here early in the afternoon (walking down is so, so, so much faster than walking up) but I fell in love with it and decided to spend two nights in Dhaulagiri Guest House with a free room, WiFi and charging in exchange for food (which was a bit hit and miss). The highlight was the rooftop where I sat in the sun for hours drinking the locally grown and pressed apple juice, surrounded by this stone village built into the side of the mountain.
The next day was a quiet one without any big detours. I had a lovely morning walking through quiet villages, crossing the river a few times as I followed the winding trail downhill. At one point the road had disappeared and jeeps carrying tired hikers were driving across the wide, shallow river, but I ended up taking my shoes and socks off to wade through the icy water. There are a few places you can choose to sleep in, it really just depends on where you are when you get tired! Kokhethani is tiny, just a few buildings and one guesthouse but the family who runs the place are lovely, and it’s a great view to wake up to! I met a guy on the walk down, we shared a room and paid 100 rupees each with free charging but no WiFi down there.
The morning started with a climb into the forest, through an amazing locals-only village (definitely no guesthouses in this one) and to the idyllic Titi Tal, a beautiful place to spend some time and something I would definitely recommend adding to your trek! From there it’s a long, hot and dusty walk mostly along the road, surrounded by a worrying amount of huge landslides.
Again, this day is pretty much as long as you want it to be, just find a guesthouse whenever you get tired of walking! I stopped for a late lunch in Ghansa at the first place we came to with a lovely garden and good food, but decided to walk to the end of the village to spend the night in the Eagle Nest Guesthouse, a Lonely Planet recommendation, but I really preferred the other place, just ignore whatever accommodation LP suggests. We paid 100 rupees each for the room including charging and Wifi, the food was overpriced but tasty.
For those few tough souls who hike all the way down, Tatopani is like an oasis in the desert. It’s the first major village since Jomsom, you’ll find a big range of guesthouses, restaurants, bars, and even the very popular and much needed hot springs! Luckily not as boiling hot as those back in Jagat. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, there is no better way to end a long hike than with a cold beer in a hot spring.
I stayed at Namaste Lodge but I really wouldn’t recommend it, even though it was free. The food wasn’t great, neither was the rooms or the staff. There are so many nice places around that it wouldn’t be hard to find something better, even if the room isn’t free.
Now, you have a few options when leaving Tatopani. You can jump on a local bus that will take you back to Pokhara, it takes a bloody looooong time but only costs 500 rupees. You can probably find a jeep that’s going that way too, it will be a little bit faster but cost a lot more. You can continue walking downhill as far as you want until you hit the main road and catch a bus from there, but keep in mind that you’re only walking along the dusty road at this point and the mountains are far behind you, so no view.
You’re last option, and the one I would recommend, is to climb all the way up to the village of Ghorepani where you can start the Annapurna Base Camp trek! Out of the three hikes I did in Nepal (ABC, EBC and AC), this one was my favourite because it was warm, cheap, quite easy, absolutely stunning, and I was with some good people. Plus you can add on a sunrise at Poon Hill and a night at Machapuchare Base Camp (at the base of probably the prettiest mountain in Nepal).
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