Hikers during the Annapurna circuit trek

Destinations The Ultimate Guide to Annapurna

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Everything you need to know about Annapurna

Annapurna, or to give the mountain her proper name, Annapurna I, has historically had a reputation as the deadliest mountain in the world. However, figures show that in the last 10 years there have been less fatalities and more successful ascents and descents than ever before. This does not mean that just anyone can climb this technically challenging 8,091m high super mountain. Oh no. She still requires an incredible amount of fitness, mental stamina, skill and support from those who wish to conquer her.

As the tenth highest mountain in the world and one of the 14 summits over 8,000m, Annapurna is no easy feat and the unique terrain means this peak in particular has a high avalanche risk, is prone to unpredictable weather and the routes to the summit are exceptionally steep, especially the south face, which is renowned for being one of the most difficult climbing routes in the world.

Sound fun?! Probably not. The good news is that the Annapurna range has plenty of more accessible trekking routes that are suited for abilities from budding mountaineers through to experienced climbers. You can even get a scenic flight over Annapurna but where’s the fun in that!?

Where is Annapurna?

Annapurna sits within the Annapurna massif which is part of the Annapurna Conservation Area in central northern Nepal. The Annapurna range is home to the highest peak of the same name as well as 13 other peaks over 7,000m and 16 peaks over 6,000m. It is safe to say that the Annapurna massif has some pretty incredible mountains.

The mountain summit of Annapurna is about 175km or 109 miles northwest of Kathmandu as the crow flies and there are a variety of ways you experience the mountain without actually climbing it. There are two other summits over 8,000m within a relatively short distance of Annapurna which is Dhaulagiri, 8,167m high and approximately 38km or 24 miles away and Manaslu, at 8,163m and approximately 73km or 45 miles from Annapurna. The Dhaulagiri range is separated from the Annapurna range by the stunning Kali Gandaki gorge which is one of the deepest in the world and follows the Gandaki river.

Hikers during the Annapurna circuit trek

How do you get to Annapurna?

For those interested in climbing Annapurna you can walk or get a helicopter to Annapurna Base Camp then ascend from there. Otherwise, to enjoy less technical/dangerous/expensive walking around Annapurna there are a few different options, depending on the route or trek you choose.

The nearest airport to Annapurna is in Pokhara which is a 25 minute flight from Kathmandu or around 7 hours by car or bus, depending on conditions. For those wanting to trek the Annapurna Circuit you turn off the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway before Pokhara and drive east to Besisahar where the walking trail starts. For the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek you would take an hour’s drive northwest from Pokhara to Nayapul to find the Annapurna trail start there.

The history of Annapurna

Annapurna was named after the Hindu goddess Annapurna, ‘anna’ meaning food and ‘purna’ meaning filled completely. Annapurna was a manifestation of Parvati, the wife of Shiva, and was known as the goddess of food, nourishment and fulfilment. It is said that Annapurna I was named after the Hindu goddess as she was believed to reside inside the mountain.

Interestingly, Annapurna was the first 8,000m peak in the world to be summited when a French expedition led by Maurice Herzog climbed the north face in 1950. It wasn’t until 1970 that the infamous Annapurna south face was climbed when members of a British expedition led by Chris Bonnington summited the peak via this route. Since then, the mountain has been solo climbed, summited in winter and via other routes than those first established.

Summiting Annapurna

As of winter 2022, it is thought that 365 people have successfully summited Annapurna although the Annapurna death rate is still around 20%. It used to be that 1 in 3 mountaineers climbing Annapurna died during their expeditions but the last 10 years this rate has been improved as global temperatures have warmed, equipment has improved, and technology has allowed for more accurate weather forecasting.

There are new world records being set involving climbing Annapurna all the time. This year Kristin Harila and Tenjen Lama Sherpa became the fastest people in the world to summit all 14 8,000m peaks in just 92 days. In addition to this, three Pakistani mountaineers set separate world records, one being the first Pakistani woman to summit Annapurna, another being the youngest person to summit 11 8,000m peaks and another climbed Annapurna without supplementary oxygen.

Trekker's hug when reaching a summit on the Annapurnas Circuit

Annapurna Treks

Annapurna trekking benefits from all the magic of walking through the Himalayas with none of the crowds that can clog up the Everest Base Camp treks. The Annapurna area is well known for its trekking routes and is home to both the Annapurna Sanctuary trek and the Annapurna Circuit trek. Both walking routes require a good level of fitness and contain both ascent and descent as you acclimatise to the altitude. In exchange for your efforts you’ll be rewarded with stunning scenery, unique views of 8,000m+ peaks, remote mountain passes and hidden Himalayan lakes, deep gorges and the incredibly friendly and welcoming local Nepali people who reside in the mountains.

Let’s take a closer look at two of the most famous Nepal treks in the Annapurna region.

The Annapurna Circuit

The Annapurna Circuit is a long-distance walking route around the base of the Annapurna massif. That doesn’t mean that this is a flat walking trail, oh no. As you trek from Besisahar north around Annapurna IV then northwest around Annapurna I there will be plenty of ascent and descent as you trek through untouched mountain passes and beautiful valleys. The Annapurna Circuit trek is one of the most popular hikes in the world due to the extraordinary scenery here, the varied terrain including suspension bridges and through deep gorges. This area of Nepal is also a great way to experience Buddhist culture and the way is scattered with monasteries and shrines.

Depending on which route you take, the circuit can vary from 160-230km, or 99-143miles. The reason for the variance is usually towards the end of the route where some adventure companies choose to walk from Jomsom to Pokhara along the road which passes through the Kali Gandaki gorge. This will add anything from 5-7 days to your trek.

Kandoo Adventures believe that viewing the gorge from above, rather than trekking along a road, is a much better end to your epic adventure and our Annapurna Circuit treks take 11 days with travelling days at either side. We fly from Jomsom to Pokhara as it is a spectacular plane journey and spend a night resting on the shores of Phewa Lake and the Gandaki river in the vibrant town of Jomsom before returning first to Pokhara then onto Kathmandu.

Trekkers on the Annapurnas Circuit

Annapurna Sanctuary

Annapurna Sanctuary is another name for Base Camp Annapurna. It is a bowl-shaped dip at an altitude of 4,130m, surrounded by a circle of high peaks and relatively hidden from the outlying terrain. There is only one way into the Sanctuary which is through a narrow pass and was historically closed to outsiders as it was believed to be the home of several Hindu and Buddhist deities.

The trek to Annapurna Base Camp begins with a drive from Pokhara to Nayapul where proper trekking begins. Kandoo Adventures Annapurna Sanctuary route takes adventurers up Poon Hill which is known as one of the best viewpoints in Nepal and then onto Machapuchare Base Camp before climbing the last section to the Annapurna Sanctuary.

This Annapurna trek takes you up stepped stone staircase paths, across suspension bridges over lush green gorges, through rhododendron forests and past mountain streams and waterfalls. You’ll discover hidden Nepali villages and surprising vistas throughout and experience the magic of the Himalayas every step of the way.

Annapurna Sanctuary, Nepal

What is the difference between the Annapurna Sanctuary and Annapurna Circuit treks?

The main difference between these two iconic routes is the altitude. On the Annapurna Circuit trek, you’ll ascend Thorung La which is 5,461m high. On the Annapurna Sanctuary trek the maximum altitude you’ll reach is 4,130. Apart from that the scenery and terrain are slightly different. The Circuit trek takes you around the north of the Annapurnas where the conditions are typically higher and more arid with less lush green vegetation but no less stunning scenery. The Sanctuary trek is a lower, shorter route which skirts around the south side of the Annapurna range and takes you through more forested and alpine terrain.

Aside from this, both trekking routes offer incredible views of the surrounding mountains and a unique insight into life in the Himalayas.

Best time to Trek the Annapurna Circuit

The most popular time to visit Nepal for trekking is in spring when the temperatures have thawed and the plant life is blooming. There is still a chance of showers and nights will be cool, but it is a beautiful time of year to visit Nepal.

Alternatively, wait until autumn when the days are longer and the temperatures are slightly warmer. You can bet on more clearer blue sky days from September to November as after this the monsoon rains sweep in and trekking becomes an altogether wetter affair.

Manang Valley during the Annapurnas Tour

Did you know...

The name Annapurna has been given to a whole raft of businesses, clothing and even restaurants, although quite why you’d want to visit an eatery named after such a deadly mountain is anyone’s guess. The most well-known namesakes of Annapurna are the world-famous gaming company, Annapurna Interactive, and the Mountain Equipment Annapurna jacket which is a popular high performance down jacket. For more information on other clothing and brands inspired by mountains check out our blog – The Mountains that Inspired the Brand Names.