One of the most common questions we hear among serious hikers is how these two iconic long-distance treks compare. The Tour du Mont Blanc or Everest Base Camp? The Tour du Mont Blanc is probably the most famous trek in Europe and a rite of passage for intrepid walkers. But Nepal’s Everest Base Camp trek is potentially the most famous trek on the planet. Which to choose?

Well, as with any worthy comparison, there are no easy answers. While both are strenuous endeavors that offer some of the best scenery in the world, they also have many significant differences. A number of factors such as location, fitness, comfort requirements, season and available time need to be considered when deciding between these two awesome trips.

Timing and Weather

TMB:

Located in the European Alps, the TMB is very much a summer trek. Some people manage it in June but usually have to deal with quite a bit of snow and by mid-September you need to be prepared for cold nights and new snowfall. Which leaves you with about a 10-12 week window from late June to early September. We trekked from September 2-12 and were pretty fortunate, having 2-3 days with some rain but it was mostly sunny and we just missed the snow that hit the people a couple days behind us.

EBC:

There is a much longer window to hike the EBC, as it is technically possible to do it basically any time outside the rainy season (May-September). The beginning of October to mid-November immediately following the rainy season is perfect, with clear skies and lush greenery at lower altitudes, but any later than that it gets very cold at higher altitudes and snow is a real concern. Then it is feasible again from the beginning of March to the end of April, featuring spring flowers but occasionally a bit of haze left over from the dry winter.

Length

TMB:

Depending on route options and variants the TMB is around 170 kilometres from start to finish. We followed the fairly common 11-day itinerary we found in the Kev Reynolds guidebook, with no rest days but we started in Les Houches and ended in Chamonix (skipping the long descent from Le Brévent that would have completed the circle). We definitely could have hiked a bit farther some days if we had to but were certainly always tired by the end. If you are particularly fit or have time constraints it is possible to reduce the time to as little as 7-8 days but, in my opinion, that would be very exhausting and not nearly as enjoyable.

EBC:

The EBC trek isn’t nearly as long (130 kilometres) but the number of trekking days will still be similar because you are restricted by how much altitude gain your body can handle each day (typically 300-600 metres). If you fly into Lukla and follow the general acclimatization guidelines (i.e. extra days in Namche Bazaar and Dingboche) it will take 8 days to reach base camp and, released from altitude concerns, just 3-4 days to get back down depending on how excited you are to reach someplace warmer. Also, as I’ll discuss in the next section, if at all possible it is a good idea to build a couple extra days into your itinerary in case you need to alter your schedule because of altitude sickness, and leave some leeway on either side of the trek just in case your flights are delayed (as they often are).

Difficulty

TMB:

Anyone that tells you the TMB is easy is probably just trying to impress you, because even the fittest trekker is going to feel an average of 1,000 metres of elevation gain per day (and corresponding knee-buckling descents). However, the trail is generally comfortable and many of the longest climbs are reasonably gradual. The highest points are around 2,600 metres so you don’t have to worry about altitude sickness, although you’ll definitely feel the hills a bit more above 2,000 metres. But if you pace yourself properly, any regular hiker should have no problem completing the full circuit.

EBC:

In the Everest region, altitude is far and away the biggest issue. Most people spend 5-6 nights above 4,000 metres, where sleeping can be difficult, nausea and headaches are common and trekking is much more difficult. The final climb from Gorek Shep (5,200m) to Kala Pattar viewpoint (5,600m) is absolutely crushing. However, if you follow all the acclimatization guidelines and pay close attention to your body then, just as on the TMB, any reasonably fit hiker should be capable of completing it. The most common mistake is ignoring the symptoms of altitude sickness, which not only affects your enjoyment and saps your energy but can also be incredibly dangerous. It is always best to have a couple extra days to play with in case you need to spend an extra night at a certain altitude or even head down lower for a night. In general, there are more issues to deal with on the EBC.

Accessibility

TMB:

While the most common route starts in Les Houches and goes counter clockwise, it is possible to start anywhere along the way and go in either direction. You can hike the whole thing or just a couple of days, or skip certain sections.

EBC:

First of all, you have to get to Nepal which, for most trekkers, is far less convenient than eastern France. Then you have 3 choices: 1) take a 6-hour bus ride and hike 5-6 days to Lukla, 2) take a 10-hour bus ride and hike 2 days to Lukla (our choice, arranged along with our porter by Info Nepal Treks), or 3) take a 4-hour bus ride in the middle of the night to a tiny airport at Ramechhap and fly to Lukla (20 min). Supposedly to reduce congestion at the Kathmandu airport, during high trekking season they have begun re-routing all early morning Lukla flights (the only time you can reliably expect clear enough skies for the flights to go) to Ramechhap. Actually, there is a 4th option – $2,500 helicopter charter, which I personally suspect is the real incentive behind these new regulations.

Nearby Attractions

TMB:

If you haven’t already been there it’s pretty hard to argue with the relative proximity to Paris, the rest of the Swiss Alps or northern Italy. Even some of the towns in the immediate vicinity such as Annecy, Geneva and Zermatt are well worth some time before or after your hike. And, let’s face it, this is Europe, basically everywhere is within reach.

EBC:

Even though Nepal is overwhelmingly (and justifiably) known for its giant mountain scenery, it is actually a surprisingly varied travel destination. With ancient cities like Bhaktapur and Bandipur, fascinating Newar culture, the wildlife safaris of Chitwan National Park, the bizarre and solemn funeral ghats at Pashupatinath, not to mention world-class mountain biking and white water rafting, Nepal packs a lot of stuff into a relatively small place. And if somehow that isn’t quite enough to keep you interested, well, enormous and incomparable India is right next door.

Crowds

TMB:

Even in early September, the TMB was very busy and basically every accommodation was completely full. Even though we met a few people who managed to take advantage of late cancellations and the goodwill of hut managers to make it around without pre-booking, we reserved all our beds 6 months in advance and still had to change our itinerary by a day because some nights were already full. The bright side is that overall trekker numbers are basically limited to accommodation availability (and campers) so there should never be a point when it is completely inundated.

EBC:

Independent trekkers typically don’t book anything ahead on the EBC route which is nice in that you aren’t as committed to a certain itinerary, but a downside in that you can’t always guarantee availability at your preferred stop. While this is rarely a concern (and we’ve always been able to find a bed somewhere) some can find it stressful. Also, while it is usually possible to avoid the worst crowds by leaving early or late in the day, in the busiest times of late October and early April there are certain points along the trail where it can get particularly congested and feel a bit like you’re part of a 300-person tour group.

Accommodation

TMB:

An absolute pleasure for the most part. In the main cities (Chamonix, Les Houches, Courmayeur, La Fouly, Champex) you basically have your choice of any type of accommodation from dorms to modern hotels. But even the mountain huts were typically nice and comfortable, other than the normal issues that arise when sharing rooms with strangers. You don’t even need to carry a sleeping bag, just a light sleep sack, as every place provides adequate blankets.

EBC:

Of all the teahouse treks in Nepal, the Everest region has by far the most impressive selection and quality of accommodation. Of course, most of the time that’s still not saying much. From Lukla to Namche Bazaar you basically have your pick of standards, but as you go higher the choices are more limited. We love staying in the teahouses, as they are such an iconic part of Himalayan trekking, but they are generally pretty basic (a tiny plywood room with two plywood plank beds with foam mattresses). They can be pretty cold at night so a good sleeping bag is essential. The common rooms are usually freezing as well until they start a fire around 5 or 6 pm. The bright side – as a couple you will almost always have a room to yourself. The downside, the walls are basically transparent so it will still feel like you’re sharing with your neighbours.

Food

TMB:

Just as the accommodation options are varied and impressive, the food along the TMB was almost always a genuine treat. Certainly some of the huts were better than others but we never went hungry and were provided with several memorable feasts. Other than when we stayed in a hotel in Courmayeur (the outstanding Hotel Triolet), we always opted for half-board (dinner and breakfast). Then we either bought pack lunches or stocked up at occasional grocery stores so that we didn’t have to rely on finding food during the day.

EBC:

It will really help if you enjoy dhal bhat, fried noodles/rice and Tibetan bread. Which we do, although we’re usually pretty tired of them all by the end. It’s not that there aren’t lots of other choices – nearly ever teahouse has an extensive menu – it’s just that most of them don’t really do a great job of making Western specialties. You might stumble across the occasional decent pizza or some good soup, but every time I’ve been fooled into trying spaghetti or something similarly “exotic” I’ve usually regretted it. At least Kathmandu has a huge number of good restaurants, which is why a decadent post-trek binge in Thamel has become an integral part of our Nepal treks.

Costs

TMB:

Well, the trek passes through France, Italy and Switzerland so, you know, it’s not a budget destination. Not at all. But if you opt to stay in huts/dorms and keep your beer/wine consumption at least somewhat in check, it isn’t actually that expensive in comparison to regular travel in western Europe. We averaged €50 per person per night for accommodation (usually including 2 meals) and spent another €20 per person per day on lunches, snacks and drinks. And while there are plenty of places in the world you can travel cheaper than that, but €70 per day per person isn’t too bad in Europe.

EBC:

At first glance, trekking in Nepal seems a lot cheaper. Most teahouses charge just 250-500 rupees (€2-4) for a basic 2-person room (shared bathroom), although we did pay as much as 3,000 (€24) rupees once for nice room with a private bath. Meals are usually in the 400-800 rupee range (€3-6), with prices increasing as you get further up the mountain. Alcohol is quite expensive relative to food (€4-5 per beer) and bottled water can really add up (and create a lot of trash) so we carried our own filter and purification tablets (which we would highly recommend). So, for food and accommodation you’re probably only looking at €15-20 per person. However, there are also 2 permits you need to buy – the Khumbu Entrance (2,000 rupees) and Sagarmatha National Park (3,000 rupees) which add up to roughly €40 per person. Then there is also the cost of a guide and/or porter. You can certainly do the trek independently but these jobs are a big part of the local economy and we personally felt a bit uncomfortable the one time we trekked in Nepal completely on our own. Now we normally share one porter to carry our sleeping bags, warm clothes and toiletries for about $20/day (€18). Most people fly from Kathmandu to Lukla and back, which adds another $350 (€320) per person. Now, adding all of that together a rough estimate works out to around €57 per day person. Therefore, if it costs even €150 more to fly to Nepal than the Alps, your Everest trip could end up more expensive overall. Of course, there are a multitude of additional options that could affect this: hiring both a guide and porter for the EBC, paying for luggage transfer along the TMB, choosing more expensive accommodation options on either trek. But even having done both I have to say I was surprised to find the numbers come out this close.

Scenery

TMB:

Consistently stunning, which isn’t surprising considering the trek circumnavigates the entire Mont Blanc massif, meaning you are never far from another impressive set of peaks. The views down the various valleys are likewise outstanding, and even the cities and towns en route are well known for their fabulous views.

EBC:

In some ways, it offers a bit more variety than the TMB, as the first couple days from Lukla pass through lush green river valleys, although the big mountain views don’t appear until later. Above Namche Bazaar the terrain becomes increasingly desolate but the mountains closer and more and more impressive. By the time you pass Pangboche and Ama Dablam, it is a steady dose of the most incredible mountain scenery you’ll ever see. There is no question that the TMB is a gorgeous trek but, in our opinion, nothing compares to the awe-inspiring scenery of the Nepalese Himalaya, whether on the EBC, around the Gokyo Lakes or even in the Annapurna region.

The Score:

Tour du Mont Blanc

Length

Difficulty

Accessibility

Crowds

Accommodation

Food

Everest Base Camp

Timing and Weather

Nearby Attractions

Costs

Scenery

Verdict: Tour du Mont Blanc or Everest Base Camp?

TMB 6

EBC 4

Based on the sum total of advantages and disadvantages, the Tour du Mont Blanc takes home first prize! Tremendous scenery, easily accessible, good accommodation, excellent food, and not nearly as expensive as it seems at first glance. It was so amazing that we even put together a detailed trekking guide. For the most part, the Everest Base Camp trek loses out because it is simply less comfortable. With far more basic accommodation and food options, difficulties getting to and from the trail and all the issues that come with high altitude trekking, it’s pros just don’t quite outweigh the cons by as much as those on the TMB. However, if you are one of those who see these factors as just minor inconveniences, then you simply can’t beat the Everest Region for an epic alpine experience.

Ideal Verdict

Hike both! Despite their similarities in length, difficulty and mountain landscapes, they are polar opposites in many ways. The only way to know for sure which suits your style better is to trek both and compare later. And, while the EBC is an iconic trek that deserves a spot on every hiker’s bucket list, our most recent trek in Nepal combined parts of the EBC route with portions of the Three Passes Trek and was probably the best of both worlds for us. Renjo La and Gokyo Ri provided two of the absolutely best viewpoints we’ve ever seen, and we managed to avoid most of the EBC crowds. Of course, the same comparison can probably be made between the TMB and the Haute Route, but as we haven’t yet tackled that one, it will remain a comparison for another day. Therefore, in conclusion, it may be somewhat unhelpful but… you can’t really go wrong either way. Happy trekking!

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