So you’ve decided on Nepal as your next trekking destination? We don’t blame you! Nepal is a Mecca for trekkers and mountaineers alike, many of whom make several pilgrimages to explore the endless vistas and challenges the highest mountains on Earth offer.
Nestled in between China and India, Nepal rivals either of its giant neighbours in what it can offer those seeking adventure. From lofty mountain peaks to spectacular white water rafting and exploring the diverse range of cultures throughout the country.
Things have progressed profoundly since the early European expeditions of Herzog (Annapurna), Mallory and Hillary but if one thing remains it is the reliance on the people of the local communities to safely and expertly assist in providing access to these regions. Not only can you now drive or fly up to convenient trek start points but many routes are now well-serviced by local-run teahouses, restaurants and other tourist-facing services.
There are endless trekking options in Nepal, from community trekking in the green Himalayan foothills, 6,000m ‘trekking peaks’ and arguably the best teahouse trekking in the world. The two most popular areas by far are the Annapurna and Everest regions. Both of these areas have developed the reputation and infrastructure to attract thousands of eager trekkers each year, keen to explore some of the highest mountains in the world, and most don’t leave disappointed!
In this short guide, we look at the main differences between these two popular areas to help you decide which is the right fit for your first Himalayan adventure!
History & culture
Although Annapurna was the first 8,000m mountain to be summited, three years earlier than Mt. Everest, its logistical and technical challenges, as well as its relative obscurity outside the world of climbing, have meant that the peak is much less popular in terms of the number of attempted climbs.
The tale of Annapurna’s first ascent in 1950, documented in Maurice Herzog’s book ‘Annapurna’, is one of daring, courage and ultimately a mix of successes and disasters as they raced to attempt a summit bid before the impending monsoon season. It speaks of a time where these mountains were largely unexplored and even figuring out how to get to them was a challenge in itself. Things have moved on since then and many now flock in the footsteps of the early pioneers to explore this great mountain range.
Travelling through the Annapurna region you will notice a variety of ethnicities, religions and cultures such as the Gurung, Magar and Tamang. Trekking through the region allows insight into how these hillside farming communities have lived for hundreds of years. In that respect, the Annapurna trek is the more social and cultural option.
There is no area with such a rich and compelling mountaineering history as the Everest Region. The rush for the first ascent of Everest started in the early 1920s and continued until it was finally accomplished by Tenzing and Hillary in 1953. This didn’t stop people wanting to stand on the highest point on earth and many hundreds have followed since. Countless books and films have been made of the dramas, achievements and tragedies witnessed on the mountain. The trekking routes up to basecamp are steeped in the history from these stories and the cultures of the mountain communities still living there, from the Tengboche Monastery, Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar to the Everest Memorial Cemetery.
Trekking to Base Camp in the March to May climbing season you are likely to encounter climbing expedition teams set up at a bustling base camp and the accompanying yak trains carrying the required equipment up the trail.
The Sherpa people inhabit the valleys on this side of Mt. Everest. You’ll also notice a strong Tibetan influence with Buddist prayer flags adorning the tops of passes and summits, allowing the flags to flutter in the mountain breeze. Stupas and prayer wheels line the route, adding to the sense of spirituality in these special mountains.
The start point of the Annapurna Base Camp Trek is easily reached by car from Pokhara. Getting to Pokhara is either a short flight or 7-8 hour bus journey from the capital, Kathmandu.
Everest trekking is usually accessed by a hair-raising flight to the mountain village of Lukla. If small propellor planes and James Bond like runways off cliff edges aren’t your thing, then this might be enough to put you off! It is possible to avoid this flight by extending the trek to Jiri, but this involves a long bus ride and 6 extra days of trekking.
Mountain weather often disrupts the flight schedule between Kathmandu and Lukla, so it is important to allow some spare time between the end of your trek and international flight in case of delay. Helicopters can be used, at additional cost, to get back to Kathmandu in the event of flights not running or emergency evacuation.
Trekking – Which is more difficult?
Both areas have a variety of routes to choose from, but the most popular for each are the classic routes to the respective base camps. You don’t need any previous experience to attempt either option, but a base level of fitness and some practice of multi-day walking will certainly make either trip more enjoyable!
Everest Base Camp
The route to Everest Base Camp is higher for more of the route, reaching a maximum height of 5,555m, and having several more nights sleeping at high altitude. The trekking itself is on a well-trodden trail with plenty of steep climbs. Being at altitude, the days are generally shorter in distance to allow you the best chance of acclimatising, but this doesn’t make them any less tough! Most people see the Everest Base Camp as the more challenging of the two treks physically.
Annapurna Base Camp
The trek to Annapurna Base Camp starts much lower, meaning there is more trekking before worrying about the effects of altitude. Although the trek has flatter sections there are many stone steps to negotiate on the route, often worse going down than up! Annapurna Base Camp is still a challenging trek but well within the abilities of walkers willing to put a bit of training in the run-up to their trip.
Trekking to Everest Base Camp feels like trekking to the roof of the world. The views of the world’s highest peaks are unmatched and consistent throughout the trek. If visibility is good you will get views of Mt. Everest from Day 2 and incredible close-up views of mountains such as Ama Dablam (6,812m), Nuptse (7,861m), Lhotse (8,516m), Pumori (7,161m) and many more. f you are brave enough to face the cold mornings and evenings outside your teahouse you will often be treated to early morning sunrises and afternoon sunsets across stunning mountain vistas.
Annapurna trekking will see you travelling through lush and green forests and rice fields as you make your way slowly higher into the mountains. This provides great variety before reaching the stunning sanctuary at the top of your trek, an amphitheatre of mountain giants!
Both treks having stunning endpoints that make the trek feel that more worthwhile. On reaching Annapurna Base Camp you will be treated to incredible 360-degree views within a mountain amphitheatre. Our itinerary gives you a full afternoon to explore before returning to Machapuchare Base Camp to sleep and recover at the lower altitude and out of potential landslide danger. Everest Base Camp will either be an abandoned moraine field if travelling in the post-monsoon season (October – December) or a thrive of activity if trekking in the climbing season (March to May). Although you can’t see Mt. Everest from the base camp you get a real sense of the scale of the mountains surrounding you. The morning after your visit to base camp you will climb a small peak, Kala Pattar (5,555m), an incredible viewpoint surrounded by seven and eight thousand metre mountains on all sides. From here you will have you best view of Mt. Everest of the trip.
Annapurna Base Camp itineraries run anywhere from 9 to 13 days, plus travel days, and depending on fitness, pre-acclimatisation and goals of the trip different itineraries will suit different people. We have designed our ABC itinerary to fit into a two-week break, making it well suited to people looking to squeeze in an adventure in a tight window of annual leave. If you have more time we recommend adding an extra day in Kathmandu and Pokhara to have enough time to do them justice.
Everest Base Camp is a longer trek and the itinerary comes in at 17 days, once you’ve added your overnight international flights a total of 19 days should fit well into 3 weeks off work with a couple of days to recuperate when back home.
If time’s not an issue, it is possible to add extensions to Chitwan National Park, Pokhara or even Tibet to most itineraries.
Generally, the Everest Base Camp route is more busy, especially during peak seasons. Large groups of trekkers and climbers are common, drawn by the famous name of Mt. Everest. The Annapurna base camp route is popular but generally, sees fewer people in smaller groups.
Food and Teahouses
Both routes are well-serviced by teahouses along the whole route. In line with demand, there are more options along the Everest route and the quality is generally higher. In the larger villages, there are also now options of ‘luxury lodges’. Annapurna teahouses are generally more basic, often with outdoor bathrooms.
The Everest region is the more expensive option for a few reasons. 1. Flight required to Lukla adds cost to the trip 2. Higher elevations (most of the supplies are carried up the mountain by Yak or Porter, the higher they go the more it costs!), 3. Generally higher quality of food and teahouse. 4. Bigger brand name – the highest mountain on Earth has a huge draw and as such prices creep higher too!
We love both of these treks and they would surely both feature highly on any trekking bucket list. A few subtle difference may mean one is better suited as your first Himalayan trek but at the same time, it’s not unusual for people to come back and do the other!
Annapurna: A more varied and cultured trek. Meet more local people and different cultures. Less physically challenging and less time spent at altitude. Spectacular mountain scenery at the end of the trek. Start from Pokhara.
Everest: One of the best treks in the world for mountain scenery. Potentially busy in peak seasons. A slightly better standard of teahouse. Reach an epic 5,555m! Mountain communities such as Namche Bazaar and Tengboche are steeped in history and great places to visit in their own right. Spectacular (and bum-clenching) flight to Lukla!