With the world becoming increasingly connected and open, it might feel like there’s no place you can go that isn’t already overrun by visitors and the Western trappings we know so well. Fortunately, Bhutan has managed to preserve its traditional culture and lifestyle, creating a one of a kind travel destination. Come with us as we explore this fascinating and exclusive Himalayan kingdom.
Want to learn more about Bhutan?
Where is Bhutan?
Bhutan is located in South Asia, or more specifically, the Eastern Himalayas. You’ll find China to the north, while the country also borders India to the east, south, and west. India separates the country from nearby Nepal and Bangladesh.
When is the best time to visit Bhutan?
Spring and fall are the best and most popular times to visit Bhutan. You should book early to ensure you’re all set, but once you arrive you’ll be treated to great weather and some of the country’s most intriguing festivals. Winter and summer can result in cold weather or monsoon rains, so you should be aware of that before deciding to go.
Visa Policy of Bhutan
Getting into Bhutan can be a trip in of itself. The country adheres to a policy of “High Value, Low Impact Tourism” which means that the amount of visitors is highly regulated and costs are high. Since a limited amount of visitors are allowed in at any given time, you need to apply for a visa beforehand and go through an approved Bhutanese tourism company. For more on prices and daily fees, check out the ‘Prices in Bhutan’ section at the end of our Travel Guide.
How do I get around Bhutan?
Transportation is included in your travel package and will generally consist of a car or minibus with a driver. In many cases a 4WD vehicle is preferable (especially in the east). Public buses are usually only used by residents. While roads can get you across the country, be warned that the options are slim and the drive can be less than pleasant if you’re prone to carsickness.
Language in Bhutan
Dzongkha is the national language and the most widely spoken throughout Bhutan. You’ll likely hear a bit of Nepali or Lepcha too depending on where you are (as well as some others). That being said, many people do speak English – especially those associated with the tourism industry.
Destinations in Bhutan
As the capital, largest city, and home of the Dragon King, Thimphu is a great place to take the pulse of Bhutan so to speak. While you might be coming here for the traditional culture and Himalayan landscape, Thimphu provides a window into the modern side of Bhutan. The city has grown in recent years, both in size and in a commercial sense, though you’ll find that it retains many of the classic elements of Bhutanese culture and its way of life. That being said, if you want to enjoy the comfort of bars and cafés before setting off into the mountains – this is your opportunity.
Thanks to the location of Bhutan’s sole international airport, there’s a better than good chance that your journey will begin and end in the town of Paro. Well there’s no problem with that, because there are few places we’d rather explore twice than Paro and the surrounding valley. To just touch on the town itself first, it’s a charming place (though not as bustling as Thimphu) that is great for exploring on foot. The Rinpung Dzong Buddhist monastery is home to some spring festivals and is a must-see. You should also try to catch some archery while you’re here!
The real treat when it comes to Paro however isn’t just the town…it’s the entire valley. It’s places like this that must have resulted in Bhutan’s long association with the mythical Shangri-La. You’ll find lush green fields, orchards, and picturesque hills – all surrounded by mountains where you can stumble upon some great trekking trails. The crown jewel of the Paro Valley (and perhaps the entire country) however is Paro Taktsang (or Tiger’s Nest) – a sacred Buddhist site located on the cliffs of the upper valley. Perhaps the most enduring image of the country, the site truly is a can’t-miss attraction.
Located in the north-central part of Bhutan, Jakar is a great home base to start exploring some of the taller Himalayan peaks. The town is more than just a stopover however, with a unique and enthralling history of its own. The birthplace of Buddhism in the country, Jakar has a special place in the cultural makeup of Bhutan…and is one of the preeminent locales in the north.
Located in the middle of the country, both the town and the eponymous Dzongkhag (district) are great places to visit. Trongsa is pleasant, if a bit sleepy (though that’s part of the charm) while the district is widely known for a deep connection to the ruling Wangchuck dynasty. Beyond this, it’s home mostly to forests and monasteries, as well as the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.
Even by Bhutan’s standards, Eastern Bhutan is off the beaten path. While the west dominates the tourism industry, the east is miraculously crowd-free – though no less fascinating. You’ll find plentiful Buddhist dzongs, remote mountain settlements, and dense forests. While accommodation and transportation can be sparse, Eastern Bhutan is a great place for trekkers and those that just want to do a little exploring.
Flights to Bhutan
While you can enter Bhutan through India, the most common way of getting there is flying into Paro. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines are your two options, with most flights originating from Nepal, India, Thailand, Singapore, or Bangladesh. Check out prices for the major airports in these countries to get a better idea of how much your trip will cost. Though you should expect variation and deals on offer, the prices can add up.
Prices in Bhutan ($$$$)*
We mentioned previously that Bhutan operates under the policy of “High Value, Low Impact Tourism”. As such, if you do get a visa, you’ll be expected to pay a flat daily fee of US$250 ($200 during low season, with an extra $40/$30 if you’re travelling alone or with only one other person respectively). This has made Bhutan one of the more exclusive and expensive countries to visit, with much of the fee going towards education, healthcare, and other public services in the country.
Luckily, your daily fee covers all accommodation, food, guides, and transportation (namely a vehicle and driver). So while the cost is high, you can essentially view Bhutan as your own all-inclusive resort. Though tourism is regulated and you have to book with pre-approved companies, you have the freedom to choose where you want to go instead of being whisked around on a predetermined path. There are some potential additional costs associated with certain amenities (hot-stone baths) or activities (mountain biking for instance), but the $250 covers most expenses. Bhutan is still an expensive country to visit but there is a sense of ease when it comes to the flat fee.
Is Bhutan safe?
Bhutan is a mostly safe country, with no nationwide advisory and normal security precautions recommended throughout by the Canadian government. That being said, petty crime is a problem (namely pickpocketing and purse snatching). Roads (especially in the mountains) can be dangerous, though experienced local drivers approved by the tour companies do most of the driving.
For more on travel safety, check out the Canadian Travel Advisory for Bhutan.
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