Choosing the Trail for You

Annapurna Circuit versus Everest Base Camp

The Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp (EBC) trails top most trekkers dream list, but if you had to choose only one, which trail is the right one for you? Nepal is a beautiful country filled with viewpoints and smiling people no matter where you go. However, these trials differ greatly, and depending on what you personally wish to gain from your experiences — choose wisely.

The Annapurna Circuit is a mixture of views and culture. It is the most well rounded hike within Nepal. Starting off at lower altitudes you experience the Nepali jungle climate of lush, green ferns, cascading waterfalls, and friendly but hungry leeches through to the alpine climate of Throng La Pass, where it’s usually snowing. Your eyes feast upon views of some of Nepal’s most beautiful peaks — Annapurna I, II, III, IV, Gangapurna, Manaslu, Chulu, Dhaulagiri, and Tilichu — as you circle the valleys. What truly characterizes the Annapurna Circuit are not the peaks, but the villages and communities you journey through.

Tourism is a huge part of Nepal’s economy, but it’s not the only part. Along the circuit you will see people attending to their daily tasks; harvesting the fields, taking bushels of freshly chopped wheat and knocking the grains off to make bread, and drying baskets of colorful yellow and purple kernels of corn in their front gardens. You will pass women sitting in the street weaving scarves of yak wool as men guide herds of goats. This hike exposes you to everyday life in Nepal in a way that other treks do not.

The route is very accessible via public or tourist buses because of its close proximity to Pokhara and Kathmandu. Many hikers dislike the large road network because it is destructive to the natural environment. However the road network makes for easy travel to and from the start and end of the trail and in between locations. But this growing network is also the reason that the lodges along the route can thrive and offer amenities, like hot shower and wifi, for free or at low cost. Alternative routes are slowly being created as the road network expands. There are also side trails that provide additional views, including Poon Hill and Tilicho Lake — the highest lake in the world at 4,949 meters.

So the Annapurna Circuit provides the traveler with many spectacular experiences. On the other hand, if what you crave grand snow-covered peaks and majestic views of the Himalayan range – views so heart-stopping that they dwarf humanity — then the Everest Base Camp trek is for you. As you trek, the black face of Everest and Ama Dablam’s squared peak will loom in the distance. Unlike the Annapurna Circuit, where peaks are only visible from afar, along the Everest Base Camp trek you climb towards the mountains, reaching their bases. From Kala Patthar, you will digest the panorama of Lotse, Everest, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Pumari, and Khumbu Glacier, regaling the results of forceful tectonic collisions. From Gorak Shep you will walk to the base of Everest, proudly taking your photographs at the EBC sign. In Dingboche you will rest at the base of Ama Dablam as the setting sun sends the peak into a world of orange and red hues.

The EBC trek has a primary route, accessible only via a costly flight into the Lukla airport or the less popular trek in from Jiri. Food in the Everest Region is very expensive because it arrives solely by airplane and porters’ baskets. Within the Everest region tourism is the main income and thus, while amenities are not as popularized due to location, most cities and constructs are built for the tourists’ pleasure or comfort — including such shops as pubs, bakeries, and the few internet cafes.

The primary EBC route can be extended by alternative trails, thus avoiding completely retracing your steps to and from Lukla airport. You can create a more interesting trek by exploring the different trails within the National Park, exposing yourself to the elements beyond the commonly known “Everest.” Hiking towards Goyko offers a beautiful viewpoint of Everest and the Gokyo chain of lakes, with the ability to continue eastwards across Cho La Pass to Lobuche and on towards EBC.

If you crave the extremes that only the Everest region can fulfill — and also want to experience more than just the alpine mountains of Nepal — then begin the trail by trekking in from Jiri rather than flying. It provides you with jungle terrain and an even steeper ascent, so it is great for those who  do not crave the easy way. One of the best perks is it that you gradually assimilate to altitude over the course of seven days, rather than landing at 2800 meters as you do when you fly in. Trekking through the lower altitudes also provides you with plenty of sights of village life, agriculture, and – yes — the jungle leeches.

The Everest Base Camp trail is filled with extremes, both in views and environment. Most of the route is above 4,000 meters, making it a hard hike physically and also a colder environment. Acclimation is of the utmost importance. The Annapurna Circuit offers lots of transportation options along the trail if you need to cut your trek short. However, while hiking in the Everest Region, you are limited to aid from horse or helicopter. The alpine environment and altitude make helicopter evacuations more common. Travel at a pace that is good for you and stay aware to your body’s signals.

Even though it’s rural and difficult to ascent, the EBC trail is so popular that is has a highly touristy ambiance. It is common to be sharing the path with another couple of groups six to twelve people big — unlike the Annapurna Circuit , where you’re more likely to encounter couples and small groups.

The end of the hikes also differ greatly. The traditional ending to the Annapurna Circuit is recovering in the lakeside city of Pokhara, where you can feast and drink cheaply, while also visiting Fish Tail viewpoint for sunset. By contrast, the Everest Base Camp ends with a hectic flight out of Lukla that is weather dependent and lands you back in the bustling city of Kathmandu.

Picking a trekking route is a highly personal decision. Remember to not be swayed by what people tell you to desire, see, or experience, but focus on the elements that you personally wish to gain from this journey. Nepal is an exhilarating country and all places will provide a beautiful and unique setting for the experience of a lifetime.

** Trail Notes coming soon!!!

iPhone snapshots from the two parks:

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