Annapurna Base Camp Trek without a Guide

Annapurna Base Camp

The Annapurna Base Camp trek is a week long (more or less) hike in the Annapurna region. Although not as famous as the longer and higher Annapurna Circuit, it is a good alternative when you’re short on time and want to visit the historic starting point of the ascent of the deadliest mountain in the world. The Annapurna Base Camp trek will lead you through different vegetation zones, along green farmland, and up to the base of 8,000 meter high mountains. If you’re in relatively good shape it should take you around four days to reach Annapurna Base Camp at 4,130 meters and another two to three days to get back down. Shortly before reaching base camp you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the peaks of the Annapurna Massif and Machapuchare Mountain. If you decided to go without a guide and porter, cost for this trek are pretty low with an average of $28 per person per day including permits and transportation. This post will give an overview of our personal experience on the Annapurna Base Camp trek and some advice to make your trip planning easier.

Machapuchare
Some gorgeous mountains sit at the top of the Annapurna Base Camp trek.

Permits for Annapurna Base Camp trek

Before going on any trek in Nepal as an independent hiker you will have to get a TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) card and a national park permit for the area you intend to visit. For the Annapurna Base Camp trek you can either get your TIMS card and permit in the tourist office in Kathmandu, a 15 minute walk from the tourist area of Thamel, or in Pokhara near the lakeside. It is also possible to buy the permit on the trek, but we were told it’s double the price, so we’d recommend getting both in advance. In Kathmandu we paid $20 USD equivalent for the TIMS card and $27 for the Annapurna National Park permit, which took about 10 minutes from start to finish. Bring two passport pictures for the TIMS card and two for the permit, or they can take and print pictures for no additional charge (at the time of writing).

Getting to the starting point

If you’re coming from Kathmandu you can either take a seven hour bus (700 rupees/$7 USD) or a short flight to Pokhara. The tourist buses go from Kanti Path road in Kathmandu (in Thamel) and depart every morning at 7am. You can buy a ticket at one of the many travel agencies or just buy one from the driver. We may suggest buying from the driver since that way you can see the bus before choosing.

From Pokhara, you can either take a local bus to Nayapul (approx. 2hrs/100 rupees/Baglung station) or a bus or jeep all the way up to Gandruk and start the Annapurna Base Camp trek from there. On the way up we took the bus and hiked from Nayapul, which is a relatively unpleasant walk due to most of it being along a road with 4x4s and buses roaring by from time to time and lacking scenery. A jeep to Ghandruk would make the walk a bit shorter, and also more pleasant. If you’re taking the bus to Nayapul and end up having to spend the night at the starting point of Annapurna Base Camp trek, we recommend to stay in Birethanti, which is a 20 minute walk from the Nayapul, as we couldn’t find any decent accommodation in Nayapul.

Itinerary Overview

  • Day 1 Nayapul/Birethanti (1,025 meters) to Ghandruk (1,940 meters) – 5 hours
  • Day 2 Ghandruk to Upper Sinuwa (2,340 meters) – 6 hours
  • Day 3 Upper Sinuwa to Deurali (3,200 meters) – 5 hours
  • Day 4 Deurali to Annapurna Base Camp via Machapuchare Base Camp (4,130 meters) – 3 hours
  • Day 5 Annapurna Base Camp to Bhanuwa (2,049 meters) – 6hrs
  • Day 6 Bhanuwa to Ghandruk (1,940 meters) – 5hrs – from here either sleep and hike down to Nayapul the next day or bus/jeep to Pokhara the same day for $5pp

Day to Day on the trek

Day 1: Nayapul (1,013 meters) to Ghandruk (1,940 meters)

After a rough night in a very unpleasant lodge in Nayapul (find nicer accommodation in Birethanti or come early in the morning straight from Pokhara), we started the first day of the Annapurna Base Camp trek. We passed a TIMS checkpoint and national park permit checkpoint in Birethanti and then walked along the mostly flat gravel road for over an hour. At a split in the road, we ventured onto a walking trail toward Syauli Bazaar. At first we were happy to have left the road, jeeps, and buses behind us, but we would soon wish we were back on it. Just after passing through Syauli Bazaar, a long flight of stone stairs lay ahead of us. It took us five hours to hike 11 kilometers that day due to the steep ascent and winding roads. The views were mostly of the green valley and hundreds of terraces that had been carved into the mountainsides for agriculture. Once we reached Ghandruk and the clouds had cleared up, we were able to see Annapurna and Machapuchare in the distance. There are over 50 lodges in Ghandruk, so it’s easy to find good accommodation for the night. Unlike on the Everest Base Camp trail, you’ll need to pay for rooms on this hike, and $2 per person is generally the going rate.

Annapurna Base Camp
While the green terraced mountains are nice, walking along the road with 4x4s and buses passing wasn’t ideal.

An alternative to the strenuous and relatively unpleasant hike due to a lack of views and a nice path is to take a local bus or 4×4 from Nayapul (or Pokhara) to Kimche, which is a two kilometer hike from Ghandruk. If you’re short on time this will cut a day off of the trip and even if you have time it may be best to get a ride up regardless.

Day 2: Ghandruk to Sinuwa (2,340 meters)

We set off early in the morning, since – like our trek to Mount Everest Base Camp – the weather tended to be clear in the morning and it started raining around noon. After all the altitude we had gained the day prior it was a bit frustrating to learn that we would have to descend about 500 meters before climbing up higher than that again. We descended down from Ghandruk along stairs and then hiked along some farmland before walking along the side of a mountain. After almost three hours, we passed the town Jhinu where you can visit some man made pools at a natural hot spring next to the river. As it was a very hot day, we weren’t really feeling like getting into hot water, so we skipped the springs, but have heard great things about them!

Ghandruk
A monastery as you leave Ghandruk toward Jhinu.

From Jhinu a steep hour long uphill lead us to the town Chomrong. There were plenty of lodges and when it’s clear there are very nice views of the Himalayas. After Chomrong, another long descent down a flight of stone stairs awaited us, only for the trail to climb up again after we crossed a suspension bridge.

ABC trek
The suspension bridge that we had to cross on our way to Sinuwa.

We followed the trail until Upper Sinuwa, where we ended up staying in the first lodge we could find – the Hill Top Lodge, as rain had started to pour down on us. It ended up being the one of the worst places we would stay during our treks in Nepal. We’d recommend either staying one village before that – in Bhanuwa, or try the last place just above Sinuwa, which looked decent (there are only three lodges to choose from). In the morning when the sky was clear again there were beautiful views up the valley towards the high mountains.

Annapurna Base Camp
Early views of the mountains in the distance.

Day 3: Sinuwa to Deurali (3,200 meters)

On the third day the trek to Annapurna Base Camp started to become nicer with less stairs and a relatively gradual uphill. The path led us high up on the side of the mountains along a valley. We hiked through a forest for most of the way, sometimes giving way to amazing views of the high valley. Just before getting to Deurali and leaving the forest we spotted a group of langurs in the trees.

Annapurna Base Camp
Beyond the monkeys in the trees, there’s plenty to see with some great mountains perched above the valley.
Langur ABC
The big group of langurs was right next to the path and they didn’t seemed to be too bothered by our presence.

Once we reached Deurali we found a village with four lodges laying in the high valley surrounded by mountains. As it had been raining a lot, tons of waterfalls were running down the sides of the mountains, making for some beautiful scenery.

ABC trekking
Tons of small waterfalls were running down the sides of the mountains.
Annapurna Base Camp
Hiking toward Deurali, we finally felt like we were getting close to the high mountains!

Day 4: Deurali to Annapurna Base Camp (4,130 meters) via Machapuchare Base Camp (3,700 meters)

From the relatively high town of Deurali it only took us about three hours to get to Annapurna Base Camp. The first hour and a half we hiked along a green valley toward Machapuchare Base Camp. The trail was easy aside from one long and relatively steep uphill section. When we reached Machapuchare Base Camp we were rewarded with amazing views of the namesake mountain above us. The 6,993 meter high mountain is believed to be a holy by the Nepalese and therefore has not been and cannot be climbed – a band has been in place since 1965.

 Machapuchare
The sacred mountain Machapuchare was one of the most beautiful mountains I have seen.

There are a few lodges at Machapuchare Base Camp and a lot of hikers stopped here to spend the night, but as we wanted to see the sunrise over Annapurna and were only an hour and a half away from Annapurna Base Camp, we moved on after a short break. While we were resting our legs, we started talking to a local who was cleaning some strange looking plants. They turned out to be caterpillars that get infected by a fungus, which apparently are a natural super drug in Chinese traditional medicine and are worth an unbelievable $32,000 a kilo. I asked the man to clarify if he meant 32,000 rupees but he was quite clear that he did not.

ABC
The caterpillars are worth a ton of money, but it’s hard to find more than a few hundred grams in a season.

The remaining hour an a half on the trek to Annapurna Base Camp was uphill, but moderate and basically flat for the last half hour. We had to stop every couple of minutes though to turn around and enjoy the incredible views of Machapuchare, which was perched high above us and looked so close as you could almost touch it.

Annapurna Base Camp
We were happy to reach Annapurna Base Camp and enjoyed the best views of the whole trek

We reached Annapurna Basecamp just before the usual noon time bad weather set in. It was already cloudy, so the views of Annapurna were obstructed and we would end up having to wait until the next morning to see it. There are four lodges at the base camp, and all seemed pretty nice. We had to pay $4 for a double room and the food was also a lot pricier than down lower. Being over 4,000 meters, it was the first day on the Annapurna Base Camp Trek that we actually felt cold, especially since none of the common rooms in the lodges had a furnace or fireplace.

Day 5: Annapurna Base Camp to Bhanuwa

We woke up around 5am to see the sunrise over Annapurna. Annapurna Base Camp is situated just above a glacier and memorials to hikers who’ve passed on the mountain are perched above the drop-off. The memorials are a few minute walk from the lodges and the best views of Annapurna are from this area.

Annapurna Base Camp memorial
A memorial to the famous Anatoli Boukreev, a mountaineer who saved multiple lives during the 1996 Everest disaster.

After waiting for a few clouds to clear we ended up with a perfect view of Annapurna 1, over 8,000 meters high and generally considered the deadliest mountain in the world.

Annapurna Base Camp
We ended up with a perfect view of the massive mountain, which looked very close despite being almost 4,000 meters above us.

After breakfast we started heading back down the same way we came up. Once again we enjoyed the views of Machapuchare rising up in front of us. Just after Deurali when we were about to enter the forest again, we saw another big group of langurs sitting on a rock just above the path. The rest of the day passed by quickly, as we descended around two kilometers in altitude all the way Bhanuwa.

Annapurna Base Camp
Machapuchare sitting opposite the Annapurna Massif with Annapurna Base Camp in the foreground.

Day 6: Bhanuwa to Ghandruk – Bus/4×4 to Pokhara

Our last day on the Annapurna Base Camp trek was going to be another long and strenuous one. Although we were losing altitude overall, we still had to climb over 1,000 meters total up to Chomrong and Ghandruk. We wanted to avoid going down over 1,000 meters on stone stairs, so we decided to take a local bus from Kimche, just below Ghandruk after a short lunch break. When we reached the bus stop we learned that the local bus would be $3.50pp to get to Pokhara. Just as we were about to buy the tickets a man approached us offering to take us in his 4×4 for $15 total. After a bit of haggling we brought him down to $10 for a ride all the way to Lakeside in Pokhara, where most of the hotels are.

Annapurna Base Camp
The green valleys were nice, but we missed the huge white capped mountains.

The three hour 4×4 ride was certainly more comfortable than the local bus, but we were still relieved when we reached Pokhara. The road leading down the mountain from Kimche to Nayapul is gravel with big holes in it and a lot of crazy bends. From Nayapul to Pokhara the road improves somewhat, as it is paved for most of the way and wider. Once we arrived in Pokhara, it was easy to find accommodation in one of the hundreds of hotels. If you have more time or want to extend your Annapurna Base Camp trek, there is the option to hike to Ghorepani and up Poonhill, another popular add on to the Annapurna Base Camp hike.

Accommodation & Food During the Trek

Like on the Everest Base Camp Trek, you’ll be able to stay in tea houses and lodges during the hike to Annapurna Base Camp. Costs for a room with two beds typically ranges between 200 and 400 rupees. Some of the lodges we stayed at were really nice and clean,while others were basic and a little dirty, but most of the time you’ll be able to choose from different options. Prices for food increase the higher you get, being the most expensive at Annapurna Base Camp, where we paid at least 600/$6 rupees for a warm meal. At most lodges it is possible to take a hot shower, after passing Ghandruk all the places we stayed at charged between 150 and 200 rupees for the service.

Everest Base Camp
Most rooms are basic but private, have mattresses, and a light bulb.

What to Bring

  • Your TIMS card and national park permit
  • Rent or buy a sleeping bag – A negative 10 degree Celsius bag should be enough
  • Good backpack with hip straps
  • Enough cash to pay for accommodation and food in Nepalese Rupee
  • GPS and/or map
  • Hiking boots (although we saw people walking in running shoes)
  • Water purification tablets/water filter – saves you a lot of money as purified water can be expensive
  • Water bladder or Nalgene bottle
  • Warm clothes, rain jacket and waterproof pants
  • Sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Toilet paper
  • Headlamp
  • Towel and toiletries
  • Book or playing cards for the evening
  • Diamox or a similar medicine in case of altitude sickness

Most of the gear can be bought in Thamel in Kathmamdu or Pokhara. Hundreds of trekking and outdoor stores carry a wide choice of knockoffs and genuine clothing. The prices can vary a lot, so it’s best to shop around a bit outside of the main streets.

Trekking with or without a Guide/Porter

We decided to hike to Annapurna Base Camp without hiring a guide or porter. Our main reasons for this were for independence, to save money, and we had a positive experience doing the same while trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp days before. As we had done other long and high altitude treks before and were in relative good shape, we felt confident trekking without a guide. Of course there a benefits and drawbacks to either approach.

Everest Base Camp
Our Everest Base Camp trek without a guide was a great decision for us, so we repeated it on the hike to Annapurna Base Camp.

There are advantages of hiring a local guide: you’ll support the local community, won’t have to plan the trek, and you will probably learn about the local culture and the country. A porter is also an option if you’re feeling unsure about the shape you’re in or planning on bringing a lot of gear. If you are confident that you are in decent shape, have some experience trekking for multiple days, and a good GPS, you may consider trekking to Annapurna Base Camp without a guide. You will save a good deal of money and will be able to plan the hike according to your own pace and liking. As the trail is generally very straightforward and marked, it would be very difficult to get lost.

General Advice

  • If you’re trekking to Annapurna Base Camp in May, you should start hiking each day early. The weather is generally better in the mornings and can start raining/snowing around lunchtime.
  • Be aware of the possible risk of altitude sickness. Although Annapurna Base Camp trek won’t lead you as high as a lot of other treks in Nepal, at over 4,000 meters some people can experience symptoms. If you feel any symptoms, such as a headache, shortness of breath, or loss of appetite, you should descend a few hundred meters and see if you feel better before continuing the hike.
  • It’s recommended to follow a vegetarian diet during the trek, as hygienic standards and the quality of the meat might not be what western stomachs are used to and cases of food poisoning are common.

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