Annapurna Circuit map & highlights

Most full-circuit treks follow an anticlockwise direction, starting in Besisahar, as traveling clockwise involves a longer ascent of the Thorong La pass. The route is richly varied, taking you through layers of scenery and culture, from the subtropical Marsyangdi Valley where Hindu (Gurung and Thakali) settlements dominate, to the arid Tibetan Plateau, where prayer flags announce its Buddhist heritage. You’ll share the route with locals carrying impossibly huge packs, mule trains with tinkling bells and other trekkers. New roads stretch into the ranges, but forget tarmac and traffic, they are more like bridle paths. Occasionally, you cross or walk one, but bar the odd motorbike, they are largely peaceful.
Kali Gandaki Gorge

1. Kali Gandaki Gorge

The deepest gorge in the world, Kali Gandaki sits between Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, which both top 8,000m. The Gandaki River courses through on its way to the Ganges and bouncy suspension bridges link both sides. The Annapurna Circuit follows it for miles, taking in Tibetan villages like Marpha, with its whitewashed houses and orchards, as the landscape changes from semi-arid, to pine and juniper forests.

2. Jomsom

A major administrative center and the capital of the Mustang district, whether for lunch or an overnight stay, Jomsom is an almost-ubiquitous stop on most Annapurna itineraries. Some treks – and most which include the Tilicho Lake extension – will finish at the tiny military airport here, where light aircraft flights will take you a short 20 minutes down the valley to Pokhara.

3. Manang

The remote village of Manang at 3,519m has become an ideal rest and acclimatisation stop after your first week of walking on the circuit. The hulking peak of Annapurna II looms down the valley, while short day treks take you to spectacular views of the Gangapurna glacier. Wander its prayer-flag and yak-dotted alleys, check the weather forecast at the circuit checkpoint or catch up on some laundry.

4. Marpha

Uniquely for the Annapurna region, Marpha has worked hard to protect its cultural heritage in the face of rapid tourism – and road – development. The gentle tinkling of prayer wheels washes over clean, paved streets lined with whitewashed buildings at the base of the dramatic Kali Gandaki valley. Don’t miss Marpha’s vibrantly-painted Tibetan monastery – or its famous fruit brandy and apple pies.

5. Muktinath

Nestling below the Thorong La pass in Mustang, Muktinath is a sacred place of pilgrimage for Hindus and Buddhists. Worshippers at its tiny temple wash their cares away by running through 108 holy fountains or taking a dip in its freezing holy pools. Look out for, but please don’t take, the ammonite fossils amongst the riverbed pebbles when you leave, the holy ‘shaligrams’ prized by Hindus.

6. Pisang

Two Tibetan villages in one – Upper and Lower – Pisang sits at the base of Annapurna II and IV. Cross the river to medieval Upper Pisang where multicoloured prayer flags flutter from tall poles, bright against the buildings’ brown facades. Pass through its welcome gate, past a long mani or prayer wall, and join the monks in the monastery for evening prayer.
Poon Hill

7. Poon Hill

Poon Hill is a one-hour hike off the main circuit, but it’s worth the effort. Get up early to watch the sunrise illuminate the mountains. You won’t be alone – this is a popular viewpoint – but you will see both Annapurnas, Dhaulagiri, Himalchuli, Nilgiri and fish-tailed Machhapuchhare turn pink in the dawn rays. Streams of prayer flags trail down the hills, adding colour at ground level, too.
Tatopani hot springs

8. Tatopani hot springs

The hot spring baths in Tatopani are a welcome chance to soak tired muscles, ideally placed towards the end of the circuit if you’re heading anticlockwise. The waters are said to contain healing powers and while the facilities aren’t at luxe spa levels, bathing outside in ground water heated by hot rocks deep inside the earth is an excellent way to round off this trek.
Thorong La pass

9. Thorong La pass

Conquering the Thorong La is a high point (pun intended!) for most trekkers and after a steep ascent and several false summits you’re rewarded by a panorama of snow-capped peaks stretching into Tibet. This is a long but manageable day of walking, with 3am starts typical to allow time to cross it in a day, to avoid spending too long at high-altitude.
Tilicho Lake

10. Tilicho Lake

An optional, but popular side trek from Manang which adds three days before the Thorong La pass – but can help enormously with acclimatisation. At 4,918m this is one of the highest lakes in the world, its deep teal glacial waters overshadowed by the thick ice of the Grand Barrier – a vast rocky ridge separating the lake from the Annapurna peaks. Treks here necessitate a two night stay at Tilicho Base Camp at 4,150m.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Annapurna circuit or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Andrew Appleyard, from our Nepal trekking specialists Exodus Travels shares his favourite parts of the Annapurna Circuit: “I love the Tibetan side, after you come over the pass where the prayer flags give way to prayer horses, the Tibetan influence becomes more apparent and there’s local ladies selling Tibetan jewellery in the streets. I enjoy that part of the trek a lot – it’s more remote, more away from it all”.
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Yongyut Kumsri] [Kali Gandaki Gorge: Jean-Marie Hullot] [Jomsom: Jean-Marie Hullot] [Manang: Emanuel Kluge] [Marpha: Sundar1] [Muktinath: Prytomb] [Pisang: Solundir] [Poon Hill: Faj2323] [Tatopani hot springs: Greg Willis] [Thorong La pass: Sergey Ashmarin] [Tilicho Lake : Roman Yahodka] [Andrew Appleyard advice: Bryan_T]