5 Travel tips to know before planning your Bhutan Tour
Bhutan is a paradise full of amazing people, deep history, and mesmerizing culture unlike anything else in the world. Here, the past is ever-present and alive from its people to the architecture and everything in between. A perfect destination for travelers who want an air of mystery and vibrant city life mixed with tradition and spirituality.
Travel to Bhutan is easier than before thanks to the country slowly opening up to tourists from around the world. However, unlike most tourist destinations, Bhutan puts heavy emphasis on sustainable tourism which is in line with their commitment to being one of the most sustainable countries in the world.
There are a lot of fun things you can do in this lovely country like going outdoors or visiting temples. If you have not figured out what to do yet, here is a great Bhutan Travel guide you should definitely check out. But before you go, here are things you should consider when traveling into this wonderful nation.
Book a tour package
Unlike most countries today, tourists and visitors are not able to freely enter the country. One must book with one of the government accredited tour companies to be allowed to visit this country. The visa application costs $250 per day which can be very steep for most especially budget travelers.
But the high cost actually includes all the things you need during your visit such as hotel accommodations, choice of water or tea, entrance fees and your driver and guide including your own private transport. A large part of this fee also goes directly to funding the country’s education and health programs which makes you a direct contributor to the betterment of the country.
Indians, Bangladeshis, and Maldivians are exempted from the only guided tour policy. They are free to enter the country—either via land or plane—and are entitled to a 60-day Bhutan visa upon entry. If you are not a citizen from these countries, however, you need to coordinate with your travel agency to get your Bhutan visa application approved. They will send you a visa clearance letter from your tour provider which you will need to present before you are allowed to enter. Once inside, you are not allowed to travel between cities without your guide however, you are free to explore the city alone as much as you like.
Prepare for the climate
Bhutan has varied elevation throughout its entirety. From the lofty Himalayan peaks of the north to the low lying valleys scattered throughout the country. This could mean you get to experience in a wide variety of weather conditions depending on the locations you want to visit and the time of the year. Packing light is the best way to go for maximum mobility.
Spring and fall are the best times for a Bhutan trip. Though it can get cold, this offers clear skies perfect if you want to marvel at the great Himalayan peaks without the clouds blocking your view.
The weather would also be perfect for people who enjoy the outdoors without breaking a sweat. Bring a couple of outerwear like a jacket as it could get really chilly at times.
Summer is Monsoon season in Bhutan. Though heavy downpour is a rare occurrence, trecking might still be difficult and could even be temporarily closed off. Bring appropriate rain gear and footwear as trails can be really muddy. It usually rains for a couple of hours in the morning so try scheduling your treks a later in the day so you get to enjoy the trail without getting soaked.
Read up on local customs
Bhutan is still a very conservative country and visitors are expected to follow local courtesy and etiquette. Acquainting yourself with some of these basic courtesies ensures is crucial especially for first-time travelers. Never demean or insult the Royal family in any way as the Bhutanese people hold them in very high regard. Avoid being loud and rowdy especially around holy places like the temple complexes.
When visiting Dzongs—a kind of fortress structure with religious and administrative buildings inside—you should be wearing appropriate attire for you to be allowed in temple interiors. Proper attire includes long pants and long-sleeved shirts that completely cover your legs and arms respectively. Jackets need to be properly worn, i.e. not tied to the waist and should be buttoned and zipped. Hats and other head covering should be removed when entering temples although they are allowed outside the Dzongs or the courtyard.
Another thing you should prepare yourself for is the prolific use of phallic symbols all across the country. For outsiders, especially western tourists, this can be quite shocking to see. In Bhutan, these symbols are meant to ward off evil spirits and are therefore painted near entrances and doorways to homes and businesses.
Get the necessary medical preparations
So you have your itinerary all sorted out, you have also packed all the necessary things you will need on the trip. All that’s left now is to prepare your body for the journey. Before traveling to the country, it is a great idea to visit your doctor and get yourself screened. Going to a new unfamiliar place, it is best to get all the necessary vaccine shots in order to protect yourself. For starters, it’s great to get MMR and Hepatitis A shots. Getting a tetanus shot is also a good idea since you will be spending some time in the outdoors. If you need medications, it is best to get them ahead especially for hard to get medication.
Prepare for the Bhutanese food experience
If you’re a fan of hot and spicy food, Bhutan’s food is definitely up your alley. Bhutan’s food is known to be very spicy as chili has been deeply ingrained into Bhutanese society that they consume the spice on the daily. Ema Datshi—Bhutan’s national dish—is made with rice and a special cheese sauce all topped with very hot chili. A definite must-try for foodies worldwide. Do not worry though as your guides will ask you before-hand if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies. Most of the restaurants in the cities are also quite accommodating and will cook up a non-spicy batch for you provided that they are informed beforehand.