Annapurna Circuit Trek 2018: Budget
There are few banks or ATMs in the Annapurna Conservation Area and the few they have are unreliable, charge high fees, and have terrible exchange rates. When you are in either Pokhara or Kathmandu before your trek, it is essential that you exchange your country's currency for Nepalese rupees and bring all the cash that you will need for your entire time on the trail. No inns or shops take credit cards or foreign currency. We met a few people during our trip who were cutting their trek short because they ran low on funds on the trail. Bring more than you think you will need.
So How Much Is Enough?
Obviously, this answer will vary for everyone depending on how much time you intend to spend in the Annapurna Conservation Area. We -- two people -- spent a total of $979.62 while hiking the Annapurna Circuit from March 22-April 11, 2018. This breaks down to roughly $25/person/day.
This includes: local transportation (bus, jeep, and taxi) to/from trailheads, inn lodging 20 nights, 3 meals a day for two people (mostly vegetarian dishes, which are quite a bit cheaper sample menu) + the occasional dessert or nightcap, ACAP and TIMS permits (required), and miscellaneous items we purchased on the trail (toilet paper, souvenirs, snacks, etc.)
This does not include: airfare to Nepal, gear purchases that we made in Kathmandu in preparation for the hike, or expenses in Kathmandu and Pokhara before and after the trek.
We noticed that prices rose on the Western side of the pass, probably because of the large volume of Hindu pilgrims from India traveling to the temple in Muktinath. Trekkers have far less bargaining power on the Western side near Muktinath, Kagbeni, and Jomsom. For example, on the Eastern side of Thorong-La Pass, we typically paid $0.00 to $3.00 per night for a room. On the Western side, it was normal to pay $5.00 per night for a room with an attached bath and two twin beds.
Reference Price Points for Gear Rental, Apparel Purchases, and Local Transportation
For EVERY purchase -- from taxis to Snickers bars -- you have two options in Nepal: pay twice as much as you should by accepting the price they initially tell you OR haggle a bit. Haggling works best when you have some idea going into the bargaining process what the "right" price should be. You have more bargaining power when you rent or buy in bulk (e.g. two sleeping bags + a down jacket, instead of just a single sleeping bag). Here are a couple of price points we discovered that may or may not be the "best" but we felt pretty good about the outcome:
RENTAL sleeping bag (2) and down jacket: 100 NPR (~$1.00 USD) per item per day + 1200 NPR cleaning fee (~$12.00 USD) + $250 USD deposit. The shopkeeper will want you to pay up-front for a pre-determined number of days. If you return from your trek earlier than planned, you forfeit the money pre-paid. Do not do this. Instead, insist on a contract with a fixed price per item per day to be paid when you return the items at the end of your trek. You will need to pay a deposit amount up-front, but this will be returned when the items are returned.
PURCHASE Apparel in Kathmandu-Thamel: We purchased a woman's lime-green knock-off NorthFace down-jacket for $40 USD (initial asking price was $75 USD). At another store, we bundled a bunch of items for a bigger discount. We paid $38 USD total for: a men's red knock-off "waterproof" NorthFace windbreaker (proved not to be waterproof; glad we only paid $17 USD), 2 pairs of men's wool socks, 2 rain covers for our packs, and one pair of men's long underwear.
Jeep to Chamje from Besisihar: 2000 NPR (~$20 USD for two people)
Taxi from Birethanti to Pokhara: We paid 1500 NPR (about $15 USD). I think the initial asking price was double. We knew the fair price because we asked one of the innkeepers on the trail several days before we had to hail the taxi.
Snickers bar: First we paid 150 NPR (~$1.50 USD) for a Snickers bar. Then we had buyer's remorse when the next shop charged us 100 NPR (~$1.00 USD). :-)
Tips for Negotiating Inn Rates on the Annapurna Circuit
The inns on the Annapurna Circuit are no longer the quaint "tea houses" of the past. They are bona fide hotels, often with surprisingly modern conveniences (relatively speaking). Room prices are regulated by ACAP and appear on the inn's menu, but we always paid lower than the published rate - sometimes without even asking! The innkeeper would ask what we paid at the previous inn and then match that price (so when we paid $zero at the previous inn, we would frequently pay nothing at the next place).
Each inn will have a list of amenities posted on their signage; however, you'll want to clarify a few of the details before committing to a particular property for the night. These questions, asked with a smile, will also help you negotiate a room rate suitable to the inn's features:
Breakfast: What time do you serve breakfast? Most trekkers like to be on the trail early, having eaten breakfast before 7:00 a.m. Most inns serve breakfast starting at 6:00 a.m., but the occasional inn will balk. Validate that the breakfast time will work for you.
WiFi: Do you have WiFi? Is it working? How strong is it? Can I test the signal? Have a WiFi speed signal test app installed on your phone to test it yourself. We used Dr.WiFi by Trend Micro. We rarely encountered a signal strong enough to send more than a text message.
Electricity: Is your electricity (and WiFi) solar-powered? Most inns, especially in the higher elevations, are powered by solar. If it's cloudy, chances are high that the power will run out before dark. Plan accordingly.
Charging: Do you have a charging station in each bedroom? Frequently, the only charging station is shared by all guests in the dining area. In the higher elevations, they may also charge you a fee per device. If charging occurs in the common area, ask if they charge a fee and how much. They will usually tell you 100 NPR (about $1 USD) per device, but you can sometimes negotiate for more devices or a lower rate.
Private Toilets: Do you have rooms with an attached bathroom? Does the bathroom have a western toilet? A hot shower? What is the price for a room without attached bath vs. attached bath? Most inns these days offer a variety of room types (and price points), including shared dorm rooms, private rooms that share a common toilet, and private rooms with attached (private) bathrooms. Always inquire about the price difference between rooms. We often stayed in a private room with attached bath for free as long as we paid for dinner and breakfast at the inn; other times we paid a private room fee even when we chose a shared squat-toilet bath. (We never stayed in a shared dorm room.)
Showers: Do you have hot showers? Are they solar-powered or gas? If solar-powered and it's after 3:00 p.m. or the day has been cloudy, test the hot water. They will all say 24-hour hot shower, but solar-powered showers are only hot between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. if the sun was shining. They are cold in the morning and evenings and on cloudy days and after a bevy of other hikers have beaten you to the shower. If it's a gas shower (truly hot all the time), do they charge for the shower? We only paid 100 NPR for a shower one time, in Ghorepani. Every other gas shower was free.