It’s called the Annapurna Circuit, but really it should be called the Annapurna Horseshoe. You will probably start in Besi Sahar and end in Nayapul or Beni. (Some will do this the other way around. But they will be nuts to do so.) These places are not close. They usually say it takes 3 weeks to hike it, but if you walk at a reasonable rate it will be closer to two. That said, if you tacked on some of the tantalizing side trips, or stayed for more than one night in some of the more captivating villages, you could spend two months here quite easily.
Most of the lodges in each town have the same names. You will continually see “Hotel Annapurna,” “Hotel Tibet,” “Hotel Lhasa,” “Himalayan,” “Mountain View,” “Namaste” “Buddha” “Mustang” and, bizarrely, “Mona Lisa.” Staying in these lodges is a good way to meet Nepalese families, and often you will be served by children who aren’t much older than ten.
Click on the video to see pictures of the places I stayed and some noteworthy views. Below is a lowdown on where I stayed, and where I would stay if I were to do it again. As always with accommodation, the prices listed are the ones I paid, not the official ones. The prices are low [technically they are set by ACAP and should always be 200] but it’s understood that you will eat at their restaurant or you will be charged much more.
Most people won’t stay here; it’s only 7 k from Besisahar and jeeps can take you to Bulebule a further 2 k down the road. Because I took the old road, and inadvertently climbed a 1700 meter mountain, it took me 10 hours and 25 k to get here.
Hotel Maya: 200 RS. Nice exterior but the rooms are like a dungeon and the food is average.
You could get here on your first day if you legged it (and took the jeep to Bhulebhule). The town is very pleasant and there are several choices of accommodation, including one place with internet.
Hotel Superb View: free. The signs say it’s worth climbing up the extra stairs, and since when do signs lie? The food is great and the view is stunning. Most importantly, it has the best showers on the trek.
The first Tibetan town–stone houses and it starts to get cold. It’s scenic–you can see a waterfall and mountain top peaking out. The climb to Tal is a rough end to a long day, through more donkey shit than you imagined could exist.
Peaceful Guest House: 100 RS. Chosen at random and not exceptional. You could easily find better.
This small village is a revelation–surrounded by forests of pine and rhododendron, capped by towering Himalayan peaks. It’s another climb to get here, but not a particularly challenging one.
Prassanna Hotel: The mountains loom through your windows, and the food is great. The best dal bhat on the trek, and the potato curry came with wild mushrooms. There are only three rooms here, and the shower is bucket style, but this place was one of the best on the trek.
Nothing more than a pair of lodges in the forest–this was recommended by some travelers met on the road but was very disappointing. Two hours of climbing later is a much nicer place to stay.
Maya Hotel: 50 RS. Cheap, but basic. I wouldn’t stay here again, but the dal bhat was good.
Coming out of Pisang, you have the choice of an easy, forested path or a climb into the mountains. Choose the climb–it’s heartrendingly steep and forbiddingly long, but the view at the top are beyond word, and two of the coolest villages on the trek are on this upper path. They look like medieval fortresses; you half-expect a Crusader army to issue forth. There is also a great ruined fort up here.
Kailash Guest House: 150 RS. This place was fine, but I’d recommend instead Yak Ru in Ghyaru. The views from there were graphic, and the owner very friendly. Staying in either Ghyaru or Ngwal helps your acclimatization, and from either it’s easy to reach Manang the following day.
The travelers on the trail bottleneck here, as most spend the recommended two days to acclimatize. It’s a big town, with plenty of lodges, good food, bakeries, and even a movie theater. All power is via generator as they fell off the grid half a year ago.
On a sad note, the Hotel Yeti (500 RS) betrays its well-chosen name and had the worst accommodation on the Circuit. Hotel Himalaya Sing (100 RS) had equally nice views, much nicer management, great food, and was 5 times cheaper.
After two days in Manang, most travelers end up in Yak Kharka or Letdar (though some ambitious souls push all the way to Thorung Pedi). Yak Kharka has two nice big lodges on either side right as you enter it. The downside is that it’s quite close to Manang, and you will probably reach here before lunchtime. Letdar isn’t much further, but after lunch in Yak Kharka you can reach here mid-afternoon.
I stayed at Hotel Churi Latdar (200 RS/double) but the owner here was shifty and overcharged for everything he could get away with. I’d recommend staying at the new stone building about 5 minutes earlier on the road.
The books don’t recommend it, but it really makes sense to stay here; the climb from Thorung Pedi to here would be a cruel addition to the day you summit Thorung La. The owner has the only shop in town, and he knows it. Prices rise throughout the day and this was the only place that charged for blankets. If the altitude (4800 meters) is too much, there are two lodges in Thorung Pedi about 2 hours below, but it will make your summit day that much more grueling.)
Muktinath. You probably won’t actually step foot in Muktinath, which is an enclosed temple, but the town of Ranipauwa is often referred to as Muktinath. The place to stay here is the Hotel Bob Marley, which has a pool table and, ahem, “special” milkshakes. It was closed when I was here; and I stayed next door at the Mona Lisa (350 RS). The food was pretty good here, but the rooms were a bit expensive and it cost extra for hot water.
After two weeks on the trek, Jomsom seems really big. Enormous; like the apex of civilization. To find the tourist area, you cross the bridge located next to the lodge that Jimi Hendrix slept at and walk for another 15-20 minutes. Accommodation here is all of a very high standard, but the friendliest hotelier I met while on the trek runs Hotel Mona Lisha (200RS). They warm your feet under the tables, have hot showers, and have a television you can watch in the dining room. The apple juice here is really good as well. Just don’t order anything supposedly Mexican.
You have many options when leaving Jomson–either by jeep, plane, or foot. But you came here for a walk in the woods, right? Keep hoofing it, and take in the beautiful views. It’s only an hour or two to Marpha, the cleanest village in Nepal (and the best veggie burger as well). Going past there, Tukuche is swathed in forests and crested by mountains. Both Marpha and Tukuche have vast apple orchards–my hard-earned advice: drink the apple juice, but avoid at all costs the apple brandy and apple cider. That stuff is grim. In Tukuche, Yak Hotel & Yeti restaurant (200 RS) is funky old house run a friendly woman and her well-mannered son.
You pass through some lovely towns after Tukuche, the highlight of which was Lete. It would be an excellent place to stay, but if you started from Tukuche you’d be here at noon. Continuing downhill, you will eventually reach Ghasa–the last of the highland, Buddhist towns.
Golden Inn Guest House (200 RS) had good food, a warmish shower, and the owner was very hospitable.
When you reach here, you’re back in the heat and tropics. There are citrus and banana trees growing amongst the rhododendrons. Torepani means hot water, and there are hot springs here–though it’s a concrete tub that cost 100 rupees to get into.
There are many places to stay here, but I liked the Old Kamala (150 RS) which has a nice courtyard restaurant, plenty of clothesline, fruit trees, and a bakery across the path. (Though be sure to only order freshly baked goods at the bakery.)
It’s a disheartening climb up to Ghorepani of almost 2000 meters, but it’s quite nice to be back in the mountains and forests. If you want to link the Sanctuary Trek (another 5-7 days) onto this, Ghorepani is the place to do it.
Mountain View Lodge (100 RS/single) has nice views of, yup, mountains and okay food, but they charge extra from the shower. You can sleep 10 minutes closer to the start of the walk to Poon Hill, just turn right at the small temple in town.
That’s it. It’s a loooong walk down to Naya Pul, down a staircase that was seemingly created to break your heart (and knees). Catch a bus in Naya Pul (50 RS) or a taxi (500 RS) and two hours later you’ll be back in Pokhara.