The ABC Trek is one of the most-hiked in Nepal, taking you from lush green valleys all the way above 4,000m to the Annapurna Basecamp, where you find yourself encircled by some of the Himalayas’ highest peaks.
It takes 7 to 11 days, depending on your pace and where you start. It’s definitely worth the effort, as the views are just out of this world.
While you can do the trek through an organized tour, or with the help of a locally recruited guide or porter, it is also possible to trek ABC independently or even solo.
I chose to trek to Annapurna Basecamp independently. Based on my experience (in 2017, post updated in 2021), I will share a few tips and insights. (And for much more about Nepal, don’t miss my backpacker’s travel guide to Nepal!)
Independently or guided?
It is very common to hire guides or porters (people who can carry your luggage) when trekking in Nepal.
It may feel a bit excessive to do this, especially if you’re a good walker, though it benefits the local economy a lot and can make trekking more enjoyable. Hiring guides or porters is often highly encouraged and no one thinks less of you for using a porter.
Costs are very reasonable by Western standards: about $10-$15 per day for a guide or $5-$10 for a porter.
Some benefits to guides that are often touted include their safety expertise, as well as the friendship and knowledge they can share.
That said, on a popular trek like ABC, it’s certainly also very possible to trek independently. This isn’t stated very explicitly online, as most websites about the trek are from tour companies, but it’s absolutely a common way to do it.
Advantages of taking a guide:
- A bit safer if you are trekking alone
- It could be more fun to hike with a group
- Your accommodation is pre-booked (advantage in busy peak season)
- Provides more support if you’re inexperienced
Advantages of going independently:
- You don’t have to pay $400 to $800 for a trekking package
- You can set your own pace entirely
- You can enjoy the epic views even after the groups have left
Personally, I preferred to just hike with my friend without a group or guide. Since it’s a popular trail and there are guesthouses at least every two hours or so, I found this to be perfectly doable.
By the way, whether you hike by yourself or with a guide, it’s highly advised to get travel insurance.
I met a guy during my trek who injured his knee and needed to be taken to a hospital; his helicopter ride cost over $10,000 but was fully covered by his insurance. It’s great to have for situations like this.
I recommend insurance from Heymondo; be sure to tick the box for the ‘adventure sports’ add-on, so that you are covered even for altitudes of above 3,000m (this trek reaches 4,130m).
Insurance (includes mountain trekking)
Travel insurance will cover you for theft, medical expenses, cancellation, and more. Heymondo offers great coverage, COVID-19 included, zero deductibles, and an app with 24/7 assistance & doctor chat.
Annapurna Basecamp vs. Circuit
Something important to understand is that the trek to Annapurna Basecamp is not the same as the Annapurna Circuit.
The Annapurna Circuit goes in a huge circle all around the Annapurna massif and typically lasts at least 2 or 3 weeks.
The Annapurna Basecamp Trek goes straight to — you guessed it — the Annapurna base camp at 4130m and then back again the same way. It usually takes 7 to 10 days.
Confusingly, this trek is known under various names:
- Annapurna Basecamp Trek
- ABC Trek
- Annapurna Sanctuary Trek
- Annapurna South Trek
To be clear, these all refer to the same trek!
The best time to go
I have only done this trek once, so I’m not going to speak for what it’s like across the year, as I simply haven’t experienced it.
All I can say is that the time I chose worked out very well.
I liked doing the Annapurna Basecamp trek in summer as it meant fewer worries about the cold. I did it at the very end of the hiking season in late May, when accommodation is easy to arrange by yourself (you basically just show up).
The late May / early June timing turned out to be a real blessing. It’s at the tail end of the hiking season but before the monsoon arrives. There is a greater risk of adverse weather during this time, though I luckily had no issues. And what’s amazing during this time is that it’s quiet!
I met other trekkers only every now and then. There were enough people to ensure a nice atmosphere at the tea houses, but not so many as to detract from the nature experience. Amazingly, when my friend and I made it to the top, there were only two other trekkers there.
I’ve heard the peak months of October or November get much busier. Those who’ve done it described it to me as basically a single conga line of people going up the mountain. This sounded rather different from the serene and quiet experience I had.
A Nepali hiker who’d done ABC several times told me that in the peak of high season, it’s sometimes difficult to find a place to sleep when you’re trekking independently. This meant that on one occasion he had to sleep in the dining room. Perhaps during these peak times, it’s best to pre-book with a guided group.
Is the ABC Trek difficult?
Short answer: yes, it’s difficult!
Mind you, it’s not difficult in the sense of logistics. You’re never too far from another guesthouse or resting area, and the paths are very well sign-posted and easy to follow.
What’s difficult is just how much climbing you will have to do. Expect to have to grit your teeth a few times!
Trekking to ABC was honestly among the more exhausting things I’ve done. It gets particularly fierce mid-way through when you quickly ascend 500m, then descend 500m, and ascend 500m again. The climb is more gradual after that, though the air gets thinner at this point as well.
Still, I completed the trek on just an average fitness level (though I do like to hike). My friend, who rarely hikes and wasn’t at the best fitness level, made it to the top as well. In his view, you don’t necessarily need the most strength to make it, just enough strength of character to keep going. Wise words.
How many days needed
The length of the trek depends. As you research the ABC trek, you’ll no doubt see various lengths mentioned.
Firstly, there are several different starting points, which can make your trek longer or shorter. Early on, you can also take a detour to Poon Hill and other places. I chose not to do this, but it can add some days to your trek.
Some itineraries are very careful to manage the altitude changes, putting in loads of time for acclimatization. Others are a bit quicker for more experienced trekkers.
I did the trek in 7 days, starting from Siwai. I met some hardcore trekkers who did it in 6 days, though this is unusually fast and leaves very little time for altitude acclimatization, so I wouldn’t count on being able to do it this fast. At a more leisurely pace, count on 8 or 9 days, but it’s possible to spend up to 12 by doing the side-routes.
Route and what to expect
The route is quite straightforward, essentially going in a direct line to the end-point, so you won’t be easily confused about which path to take.
Local stores in Pokhara sell trekking maps; just grab up and you should be ready to go. The latter half of the trek (anywhere after Chomrong) is especially easy to follow, but I think it’s always worth having a basic map, especially one that doesn’t need a battery charge.
I could imagine snowfall during winter making things more complicated. Keep in mind I’m talking in this post about my summer trek in May, when visibility was great.
Below is my crude map of the core Sanctuary Trek:
The Annapurna base camp is the highest point you can reach in this mountain range via a walkable path, i.e. without needing to be an alpinist or mountaineer.
Whatever you do, try to stay the night at least once at either MBC or ABC (the final two stops) both for acclimatization and to properly enjoy the stunning views. This is not a part of the trek you want to rush.
There are guesthouses all along the trek where you can eat, drink, or stay the night. Early on you’ll come across a guesthouse about every 30 minutes. In the final parts of the trek, they tend to be spaced about 2 hours apart.
There are a few shops in the town of Chomrong, which is about halfway up. Here, you can re-stock on snacks and basic supplies, though it’s best to do your shopping back in Pokhara where it’s a bit easier and much cheaper.
Costs for ABC Trek
These were my basic costs while trekking independently:
|TIMS permit (trekker registration)||$30 (~3000 rupees)|
|ACAP permit (national park entry)||$30 (~3000 rupees)|
|Taxi to your starting point||1500~2000 rupees|
|Taxi back to Pokhara||1500~2000 rupees|
|Lodging and food||About 2000 a day|
I trekked to ABC in 7 days and ended up spending about $200 in total, which is much less than the $400 – $800 that’s charged by companies for guided treks. (Note: permits still cost $20 when I went, but have now increased to $30. I updated the table above.)
My total cost includes a few extras I paid for, such as some hot showers, using WiFi once, a battery charge, and a couple of beers. Other than that it was just lots of breakfast, lunch, dinner, lodging, and lots of tea/snack breaks and water refills along the way.
A frugal backpacker could probably bring this down to about $130~140, for instance by taking the bus from Nayapul or Chimrung instead of taking a taxi, not buying any extras, or eating mainly cheap local meals like Dal Bhat.
The guesthouses along the route charge a nominal fee for the beds (e.g. 200 rupees) though they expect you to buy your meals from them. Most meals are in the 500 to 700 rupees range, with menus and prices standardized by the national park.
A range of basic meals were on offer, including pasta, noodles, pancakes, a simple pizza, etc. Nothing fancy, but anything will taste delicious anyway after a long hike.
5 pro tips for trekking ABC
1. Get your permits!
You won’t get in the park without it. Get this at the Tourism Office in Pokhara [location]. You need four passport photos, which they can make for you on-site. Getting the permits is super easy.
2. Bring a refillable water bottle
It was heartening to see virtually no discarded plastic water bottles along the trail. You can help reduce waste by bringing your own bottle. You can get water refills (filtered) at most guesthouses.
3. Bring water purification tablets
You can get these from shops in Pokhara. Between the guesthouses, you can often find pipes delivering fresh water from the top of the mountains—pop in a tablet and you have safe drinking water.
4. Get a map
A map costs like $2 in Pokhara and even though the route is not complicated, it can still be pretty handy. You can also download MAPS.ME on your phone, which lets you view maps while offline.
5. Get a walking stick (seriously)
I’m not usually a walking stick kinda guy. I’m still somewhat young and spritely, so I don’t need any help, OK?
I rented some anyway at the insistence of the guesthouse owner in Pokhara (cost: $3) and I’m glad! It especially relieves a ton of pressure on your calves and knees on the way down. Highly recommended. I’ll never make fun of walking sticks again.
All I’m left to say is that this trek was one of the best things I’ve done in my travels. A trek such as this could take up a considerable chunk of your time in Nepal, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Whether you decide to hike the ABC Trek or one of the many others known to be less crowded — such as Langtang, Manaslu, or Mardi Himal — doing some mountain trekking is an essential experience in Nepal.
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