Tens of thousands of people flock to the Himalayas each year to hike among the highest mountains in the world. Stretching across Nepal, China, Bhutan, India, and Pakistan, the mountain range boasts incredible trekking routes. The most popular of these are the Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp, but there are other options as well, the best of which is Nepal's Manaslu Circuit.
Opened to foreigners in 1991, the Manaslu Circuit is often referred to as the "new Annapurna Circuit," reminiscent of what the Annapurna Circuit was like before it got busy. The route makes its way around Manaslu—the 8th highest mountain in the world at 26,781 feet—and encompasses spectacular mountain views, remote villages, and Tibetan Buddhist culture. Here is everything you need to know before embarking on this breathtaking trek in Nepal.
Why Choose Manaslu over Annapurna?
The popular Annapurna Circuit is getting crowded and, with a road running along much of the route, is almost too accessible. The Manaslu Circuit is just to the east of the Annapurna Circuit, yet it still feels relatively untouched.
This trek reaches remote mountain villages and comes close to the border of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Due to its location, the Manaslu region is a restricted area, which has stopped it getting too busy. It only began to become popular in 2010 when enough teahouses were built to cover the whole route.
The proximity to the border has also resulted in a strong Tibetan and Buddhist influence. Trekkers will see colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind, and will pass multiple stupas, mani walls, and prayer wheels in various forms on the paths and in the villages. There are a few monasteries visible on the trek, including Pungyen Gompa at over 13,100 feet. A visit to this monastery is a popular choice for an acclimatization day walk from Samagoan.
What to See on the Manaslu Circuit
As you make your way from 2,300 to 16,752 feet, the landscape of the Manaslu Circuit changes every day. It begins by following the Budhi Gandaki River, from where you can see waterfalls cascading down cliffs. The land changes from rice fields to bamboo forest to alpine forest, finally becoming almost barren at the highest altitudes. The Larkya La Pass, at 16,752 feet, takes you over glacier moraines, frozen lakes, and snow. Glaciers cling to the mountains above the pass.
On the trails, lines of mules navigate precarious ledges carrying supplies to the remote villages. At the higher altitudes, mules give way to yaks, a massive cow-like animal with a thick coat for the freezing mountain temperatures. The local people use these creatures for their milk, meat, and warm coats.
Best Time to Go
The best time to trek the circuit is in October or November, before winter sets in. At this time, clear skies are pretty much guaranteed. September and March to May are also good times to go, but the weather is dependent on the timing of the snow and the monsoon rains.
How to Get There
Any trip to Nepal begins in the capital, Kathmandu. Trekkers usually spend a few nights there before they fly in and out of the country. If you booked a tour, a private jeep takes you northwest to the start of the trek in Soti Khola.
Many people take a public bus to Pokhara after their trek. Pokhara is a beautiful lake-side city with breathtaking mountain views on a clear day. It is closer to the circuit than Kathmandu and a great spot to unwind after an arduous journey.
How Long Does It Take to Hike?
The actual trek, from Soti Khola to Besisahar, is usually done in 12 days. Add on a few days for traveling to and from the trek—as well as time in Kathmandu or Pokhara—and in total the whole trip will take around 17 days. It is possible to spend more time on the circuit if you wish to extend the route or take more breaks along the way.
Note that you will need a decent level of fitness for this hike. You will tackle challenging terrain, walk for five to six hours each day, and reach over 16,000 feet in altitude. The full distance covered on foot is approximately 105 miles.
What to Pack
There are many great lists of what to pack for a trek in the Himalayas, but here are some of the absolute necessities:
- The circuit covers multiple climates, so pack layers for sweat-inducing heat and below-freezing temperatures.
- A pair of sturdy hiking boots is a must.
- A warm sleeping bag for cold nights.
- Water purification tablets are the best way to ensure you are drinking clean water.
- Stock up on high-energy snacks from home or in Kathmandu as these are very expensive on the route.
- When it comes to altitude, trekkers often take Diamox. Your guide will advise you when it is best to take this and ensure your group takes acclimatization days to prevent altitude sickness.
You can opt for a porter if you don’t want to carry your bags, but it's best to pack light either way.
Do I Need a Permit?
You need a permit to hike this route as it is in a restricted area. You also cannot take the circuit alone; you need at least one other person with you, and you must also be accompanied by a registered guide. The guides are a great addition as they are friendly, set the pace, and provide a wealth of knowledge.
The permits you need are the Restricted Area Permit (RAP), Manaslu Conservation Area Project (MCAP) permit, and Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) permit. The RAP is $70 per week plus $10 for each extra day; the price drops slightly outside peak season. The MCAP and ACAP are each around $30.
Permits can be obtained through the Nepal Tourism Board office or a registered trekking agent in Kathmandu. If you book a tour, the agent will sort out the permits for you. Either way, you will need to provide four passport photographs.
Do I Need Travel Insurance?
You must have travel insurance for this trip. Most trekking companies won’t take you without it, and will also check that you are covered for the altitude and mountain rescue.
Top Tour Companies
You can arrange your guide and permits on your own or you can book a tour. The tour company will arrange the whole trek for you, making everything easier. Some recommended tour companies are:
Where to Stay
There are teahouses available for every night of your trip; they offer basic accommodation, often a room with two single beds. Pillows and blankets are usually provided, but the nights get cold pretty early on, so a warm sleeping bag is essential. Teahouses don’t have heating, but some light fires in the evening. Be aware that the higher you go, hot water is harder to come by.
The teahouses will also be where you eat breakfast and dinner. As you get more remote, the options for meals diminish. The most nutritious option and the one always available is dal bhat, the staple Nepalese lentil, rice, and vegetable dish.