I'm hiking Nepal for 3 weeks, do I trek Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Circuit?

Himalayan specialist Bradley Mayhew, who writes our guidebooks to Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, answers a question about trekking routes in Nepal.

Question: I have three weeks planned for trekking in Nepal and I can’t decide between the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit treks. Can you help?

Answer: Ah, so many trails in Nepal, so little time… 

Firstly, the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp treks have some things in common. Both offer excellent lodging in hundreds of trailside teahouses and an infrastructure of shops, bakeries, wi-fi and guides that makes for easy logistics. Both have world-class mountain scenery in valleys flanked by some of the world’s highest peaks, both require acclimatization to altitudes of over 5400m (17,717ft) and both are packed with trekkers in the high season months of October, November and April.

Mountaineerers climb a glacier trail with ropes to support them
Allow extra time to explore Everest’s Gokyo Valley © Daniel Prudek / Shutterstock

Everest is iconic, but more costly and complicated to reach

But there are also differences. Everest is a bit more complicated and expensive to reach. Most people fly to the trailhead Lukla and start the trek straight off the runway, which is convenient but expensive (US$430 return) and can face challenges when bad weather grounds flights for days at a time. (Be aware also that during high season flights to Lukla often depart from Ramechhap not Kathmandu, which adds on a five-hour drive.) The only alternative to flying is a long, punishing ride in shared jeeps, or a weeklong walk (my preferred option, if you have the time). 

You need a minimum of two weeks to trek to Base Camp and back and I would strongly recommend adding up to a week to investigate the quieter but equally stunning side valley of Gokyo. In contrast, the core Annapurna Circuit section to Jomsom can be done in as little as nine days.

Everest has the irresistible lure of the world’s highest peak but you actually don’t see much of it; far more interesting is the climbing literature and the fact that you are walking in the footsteps of the world’s great climbers. The Everest trek gets you closer to the heart of the high mountains than the Circuit, which offers more in the way of traditional village life. Finally, Everest Base Camp is an out-and-back trek, so you’ll repeat some sections, whereas Annapurna is by its nature an A to B loop.

A street scene in a mountainous area with a road stretching upwards towards the peaks
Annapurna’s trails start an hour’s drive from the town of Pokhara © Valdis Skudre / Shutterstock

Annapurna’s trails are often roadside, but offer greater flexibility

The Annapurna region is a lot more accessible; in fact you can be walking the trails in less than an hour by bus from Pokhara town. The big downside with the Annapurna Circuit (and it’s a big downside) is road construction. A jeep road now reaches as far as Manang on the eastern side, and Muktinath on the western side, which leaves only three days of roadless walking between them. The roads have taken a lot of the charm away from the Circuit, so if you do decide to walk it I’d really urge you to read up on the alternative NATT trails that lead you away from most of the dusty road. During the second half of the trek in the Kali Gandaki Valley these side trails and excursions make for some stunning day walks, returning to roadside teahouses. It’s a different kind of walking, but it gives you great flexibility, meaning you can adjust your Annapurna Circuit trek to anywhere between a week and 21 days.

So, which is better?

Both trails offer a fabulous taste of Nepal trekking, but both are busy in high season and reward a bit of research into the excellent alternative trails and side trips which, for me, make these treks stand out. If avoiding the crowds is important to you, consider something different completely: the wonderful Manaslu Circuit teahouse trek, or an adventurous rough-and-ready trek out to the base of Kangchenjunga in the far east. Whatever you choose, your first trek in Nepal will almost certainly not be your last.

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