I have always been told by other travelers that Nepal is a cheap destination. A place where it is possible to sleep for 1 $ per night and indulge in great Himalayan hiking for next to nothing. I am definitely arrived in the country too late, as I found myself into a really different situation: Nepal is not that cheap, especially when it comes to hiking: being the most lucrative tourist business in the country, in Nepal you will be asked about your walking projects since day one. I was even offered tour guiding services by one of the immigration officers at the border J
If you try to get information in any of the guidebooks, you will find a quoted daily expense oscillating among $20 to $30 per person per day. To some people, this is not a lot of money, but for me, as I am on a 10 months long trip, every penny counts. Consequently, I had to try to make it cheaper… and I made it. Here are some tips HOW to hike the Annapurna region for around 5$ per person per day in 2012:
- Do not hire a guide You do not need one, this is the bottom line. Unless you decide to go to any of the restricted areas such as Mustang, or more remote treks such as the ones in Eastern Nepal, to trek anything in Annapurna you really only need a pair of good hiking shoes. Any trail is nicely cut, signposted and idiot proof. If you cannot make it alone, you seriously have to contact an optician. This will save you 20$ a day for guiding fees. Pretty good savings on the budget, to start with.
- Do not hire a porter Carry light stuff and walk with your own small backpack. You will not need much more than a toothbrush, a walking stick, shampoo, a windproof jacket – if you will reach the base camp -, a pile jumper, a couple spare t-shirts and a change of pants. The hike can get hideously steep at times, but it’s all paved with staircases; carrying a normal weight will not slow you down or kill you. And you will save around 10 extra $ a day, bringing the 30 $ per day down to a nice 0 so far.
- Buy chlorine or iodine to purify your water The problem with Annapurna is the super high price of anything edible, sometimes 300% higher than normal. At least, water is copiously abundant and even rolls down from the mountains: get yourself a water tank, buy a bottle of chlorine for 20 rupees (20 eurocent) and put 3 drops per liter, saving the outrageous 100 rupees per refill to be found all over the path. You will need plenty of water during your 10 days on the mountains, so consider this tip as one of the most important.
- Share the food with someone I was travelling with my beloved Kit so this came quite natural, but when a plate of momos can reach 350 rupees in price – when normally oscillates among 30 to 70 in town –, you may want to team up with some other hiker and consider sharing food. It works this way: any lodge along the trail will take you for a very cheap room rate, and then will charge you heaps for any food or drinks. This is understandable, as the goods have to be manually carried by porters all over the trail, spiking up the prices like a hedgehog’s back. But it is your right and interest to try to make your hike as cheap as possible. Sharing food with someone can definitely keep the expenses down to around 5$ per person daily, including a bed and sometimes a hot shower.
- Do not follow hiking guides or routes Walk leisurely your own way. People say that the Base Camp – which is what I hiked – has to be done in 10 days, with multiple stops coming down from the summit, in the same places you walked going up. Actually this was not necessary for us, as we came down to Pokhara in 3 days – taking it easy on the second and third – instead of the 4 to 5 suggested. A day less on the mountain can save you up to 10$, sometimes more, according to your eating and drinking habits.
- Do not drink beer It is expensive and will slow you down. One beer in the mountains can cost up to 5$ alone; as much as you would like to guzzle down a cold one at night, if your concern is money, try to avoid it. There are other greener – and cheaper – ways to get happy on the trail if you look around just a bit…
The above are my personal tips, and something I used to very good effect during my 9 days hike of Gorephani/Poon Hill and Annapurna Base Camp. We walked naturally for around 6 to 8 hours per day, generally in two time slots of 7 to 11 am and 12 to 4 pm. We stopped every night in cozy lodges, slept in clean beds and had a decent amount of food to keep us healthy, warm and happy during the whole time of the hike. However, differently from most other hikers, besides the compulsory trekking registration card and Annapurna Sanctuary entry permit – which costs around 35$ per person -, we managed to spend around 10$ per day for two people, for 8 nights. This makes a grand total of around 80/90$ plus 70$ for permits, making the hike to base camp feasible for two people at 160$.
If you shop around Kathmandu or Pokhara’s agencies, you will probably think I am lying. Well, I am not. Thinking back, the only thing I would do better if I was to depart again tomorrow would be to carry with me a big amount of biscuits, snacks and dried foods from Pokhara, as this commodities get inflated prices all over the trail.
This may serve as a last extra tip which will make your life much easier up there… but remember: in any lodge, you have to consume food, or you will be charged a flat 600 rupees (6 euros – 8 $) for a simple bed. Have a great hiking trip, make it cheap, and enjoy the otherworldly Himalayan scenery!!