After sharing our experience trekking in both the Annapurna Conservation Area and the Khumbu region, I want to provide specific comparisons between these two treks. While this information is by no means comprehensive, I hope it will be of use to any readers who are considering a trek in Nepal.
This post is organized as a series of topics or concerns, and under each I will summarize first Annapurna and then Khumbu/Everest. Elevation is always given in meters.
The Annapurna Circuit loops around the mountainous Annapurna Massif in the Annapurna Conversation Area, northeast of Kathmandu. The full circuit took us 21 days with an acclimatizing side trek and couple of rest days.
The Khumbu or Everest region encompasses Sagarmatha National Park. The most popular route is to Everest Base Camp/Kala Patthar. An alternative route branches off to the Gokyo Lakes, which can also be added to the classic route by crossing a high pass (we did not). Including flights and rest days we spent 14 days here.
Annapurna is easily accessed by bus from either Kathmandu or Pokhara. Jeeps are available for those who want to shorten the route, but beware of the abysmal road safety in this area. Some trekkers opt to fly out of Jomsom airport after crossing Thorong La Pass.
Most trekkers in the Khumbu fly in and out of Lukla airport (though a long walk-in is possible). There are no roads here, so the whole route must be walked— unless you decide to hire a horse!
The Annapurna Circuit allows for slow and steady acclimatization, particularly if you start from the beginning on the typical anticlockwise route. There is still serious elevation to contend with starting around Ngawal/Manang, which we reached after a week of hiking. We spent two nights above 4000m on this trek.
The Khumbu is very different, as trekkers reach 3500m at Namche Bazaar on day 2. The route also ascends faster, which means that we often walked for only 3 or 4 hours before we hit the recommended ceiling of 500m elevation gain. Short days sound nice, but often meant sitting around freezing all afternoon. Here we spent 4 nights above 4000m and one cold, uncomfortable night above 5000m.
We trekked both routes during the peak season of October/November. During the first three days of Annapurna, the weather was hot and humid (but comfortable at night). As we ascended, the weather was cooler but still sunny. We wore trekking pants and either a t-shirt or light long sleeve on most days. It’s cold at night but not terrible. Our guesthouses did not build fires until 4000m, so we just layered up after sunset.
The Khumbu is freezing. We brought the same clothes that we took to Annapurna but had to wear most of our layers most days. We regretted not getting better quality sleeping bags— ours were not as warm as they were rated, and my zipper broke the first night. I recommend getting your water bottle filled with hot water every night and putting it at the foot of your sleeping bag. Ice froze on the window panes every night!
In short, the cold in Annapurna is bearable but Everest is miserable.
Money and Cost
Getting to the trail is much cheaper on the Annapurna Circuit. For two buses we paid about $11 each. In comparison, flights to and from Lukla run about $180 each way.
We did not have a guide or porter on either trek. Our daily budget for accommodation, food, etc. for two people was about $40-50 on the Annapurna Circuit. In the Khumbu, we spent $60-70 per day. You can easily spend more, but it would be hard to cut that down much. Don’t underestimate the power of a hot pot of tea to make the trek more enjoyable!
There were no working ATMs on the Annapurna Circuit, which is one reason trekkers often cut out early by catching a jeep or bus. Bizarrely, Lukla and Namche (inaccessible by road) both had ATMs. Still, it’s best not to count on them and instead bring enough rupees for the whole trek.
On the Annapurna Circuit we enjoyed a shower almost every day. The first two nights were simple cold showers, but we were very hot and it felt great. At higher altitudes showers are heated with propane. Hot showers were included with the room until 4000m.
In the Khumbu, showers are never included with your room. The price can be pretty steep— up to $10 per person. To be honest, even if the water is hot the room is often cold and drafty. Like many trekkers, we paid for hot showers in Namche (a reasonable $4) and made do with baby wipes in between. Our guidebook had a great proverb:
The Tibetan people have long known that it is more valuable to be warm than clean.
Both Annapurna and Khumbu have similar and standardized trekking menus. We definitely recommend trying Nepali dishes like momo, curry and dal baht. Most places also do a decent job with Western food like sandwiches, pasta and pizza. More produce is available on the Annapurna Circuit, where the peak trekking season is also the season for fresh apples.
Both trekking routes are well developed, with fancy coffee and bakeries available frequently along the way. I’m not even sure I want to trek anywhere I can’t get chocolate cake after being spoiled in Nepal!
No trekker in Nepal should buy bottled water, period. Every visitor is responsible for planning their own water purification.
We travel with a USB-rechargeable Steripen that has served us very well for two years. There are also purifying tablets available for dirt-cheap in Kathmandu and on the trail. Boiled water can be purchased at guesthouses.
The Annapurna Circuit had plentiful taps right on the trail. Often a cloth is tied on to filter any large particles that might be in the spring. Step right up and refill your bottle, then purify however you choose.
Such taps were very rare in the Khumbu. Usually we had to ask at guesthouses for cold water. The pipes freeze overnight so water is often stored in large barrels. The quality was less good— often there were “floaties” that we either ignored or dumped out.
Litter was a problem on the Annapurna Circuit. We loved our Snickers bars on the trail, but I certainly don’t want to see the wrappers on the ground. We carried a large Ziploc bag to contain the rubbish from the snacks we brought with us.
Not surprisingly, Nepal doesn’t run garbage trucks in the mountains. A lot is burned, including plastic. Beer bottles are often thrown in a heap in the yard. Be mindful of the waste from your consumables and make smarter choices accordingly. Remember that even organic waste doesn’t break down above 4000m.
The Khumbu region is commendable for the rubbish/recycling depots found all along the trail, as it certainly kept the route cleaner. Although to be clear, there is absolutely no reason that a trekker can’t carry their rubbish to the next village instead of dumping it in the bin for some porter to haul out.
Annapurna sees more hikers, but thankfully these numbers are spread out along the route since people have different amounts of time to trek. Particularly at the beginning and the end of the Circuit, we saw few other trekkers.
After landing in Khumbu, we noticed the crowds immediately. With one primary entry/exit point, the trail from Lukla to Namche can be bottlenecked. Everest also sees more organized groups of 15-20+ people, which was almost nonexistent in Annapurna.
Both treks are popular, which was fun because we met people from all over the world. To avoid walking in a big group on the trail, we quickly learned to set out a bit later. Most people tend to start around the same time each morning.
The Annapurna Circuit offers more variety due to the length of the trail and range of elevation. At lower altitudes we saw tons of waterfalls, jungle, rice fields and flower gardens. There were impressive rock formations and mountain peaks, plus we saw the Annapurna mountains from many sides.
The Khumbu has a greater concentration of mountains in a smaller area. Everest itself is not a particularly beautiful mountain, but obviously many people trek in this area just to see the world’s tallest peak. Ama Dablam is the true jewel of this region, in my opinion, being much more aesthetically appealing.
Both treks follow beautiful rivers and trekkers will cross a lot of suspension bridges. Nepal is a gorgeous country so you can’t go wrong either way.
Trekking in the Himalayas is a truly incredible experience for any avid hiker or outdoor enthusiast. Of course, Nepal offers many more trails than the two compared here. Annapurna and Everest are simply the most popular.
If you’re seriously interested in coming to Nepal to trek, I hope this comparison has given you a better sense of which route you would most enjoy. If you have any specific questions, feel free to comment below or send me a message.