13 Amazing Bhutan Travel Tips | Travel to Bhutan with Yak Holidays International, a local Bhutan Tour Operator based in Thimphu.
Bhutan travel @ Spanish Actress, Pilar De Cano Macarena traveled to Bhutan for Snowman Trek.
13 Amazing Bhutan Travel Tips
1. Who can travel to Bhutan?
No backpackers or budget travelers, unfortunately. This is not discriminatory, but a simple check to over-tourism.
Bhutan has always been an outlier, be it in its pursuit of happiness for its citizenry or in its unique policies that seek to bring about a holistic progress to the country. One such policy has been about who is allowed to travel to Bhutan. Being conscious of its fragile Himalayan environment, its age-old tradition and culture, and the unadulterated Buddhist way of life, the country encourages limited tourists each year.
Monks chanting prayers at Punakha Dzong.
This means travelling to Bhutan comes with a minimum daily tariff—USD 250 during peak season and USD 200 during non-peak season.
This policy automatically screens out backpackers and budget travelers. The government’s idea has been to make traveling to Bhutan a unique experience and the country a sought-after luxury destination that promotes high-end, socially-conscious tourism. Moreover, Bhutan is a small, environmentally sensitive country that could be easily overwhelmed if its entry points are opened to all.
At Yak Holidays Int’l, we help plan our clients’ Bhutan travel to each tiny detail so that your travel in Bhutan becomes an experience of a lifetime.
2. When is the best time to visit Bhutan?
The best time to visit Bhutan is during the spring months (March, April, May) and autumn months (September, October, November). Considered peak tourist seasons, spring and autumn in Bhutan means colorful flower blossoms, crisp air and bright sun, blue skies, cultural festivals, and inviting Himalayan trails for wonderful treks.
Bhutan is a four-season country—Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn. And weather greatly determines how and where you travel in Bhutan and what you get too see as you travel through Bhutan.
Travel to Bhutan in Spring — March, April, and May — is a riot of colors, of resilient greenery, and vast blue skies. These months of also feature cultural festivals. You could go on short day-hikes or just wander around soaking in the many beauties of the land. These spring months lift your spirits, and if you’re seeking some insights into the Buddhist way of life you will possibly want a reflective moment or two.
Travel to Bhutan in Summer — June, July, and August — brings monsoon showers, and is less predictable for lengthy travels. Days remain bright but could suddenly gave way to light showers. Sometimes, a late monsoon may spare the month of June from showers which would mean a great time to be in Bhutan. Moreover, these months fall inside the non-peak season, which means your daily tariff is USD 200 only. You could take a chance for day hikes in the warm weather or make brief stops at places of interest.
Travel to Bhutan in Autumn — September, October, and November — is the much sought-after peak season spell for visitors wanting to explore Bhutan’s hinterlands, trek further up into the Himalayas or hike across its easy but undulated trails. The season has many magical cultural festivals in each calendar year. From religious mask dance festivals to traditional folk culture, the country becomes a great cultural bazaar. If you are a photographer, then Bhutan is your travel destination.
Travel to Bhutan in Winter — December, January and February — is not harsh in Bhutan. The cold is beatable, the days sunny, and the countryside a little quiet. High mountain passes receive a good amount of snowfall, but the lower altitudes remain fairly navigable. This means no trekking in the highlands, but you could go for short day hikes. You could visit most cultural sites and interact with the locals for a deeper understanding of their lives and culture. You could also travel to the beautiful Phobjikha valley to see the elegant Black-Necked Cranes in their roosting grounds. These migratory, endangered birds fly into Bhutan from the great Tibetan Plateau for three months in winter. Again, the daily tariff is USD 200.
We recommend careful planning depending on what aspect of the country you are interested to see or experience. Yak Holidays will curate your itinerary in close consultation with you. We value your time and money.
3. Bhutan travelers first get to see Mt. Everest.
Approach to Bhutan is always a scramble for the best seat in your airplane. It’s your ultimate mountain flight, and a bit more, since it showcases what many would have dreamed all their lives—a close view of the world’s highest peak, Mt. Everest. Yes, you heard it correct. As you enter Bhutan, the Himalayan mountains greet you first. And then we greet you at the airport.
It’s first-come-first-serve at the check-in counters of your port of departure. If you’re travelling to Bhutan from Delhi (India), Mumbai (India), or Kathmandu (Nepal), you may request the ground staff at the check-in counter to assign you a seat on the left, possibly by the window. If you’re entering from Bangkok (Thailand), Singapore, or Kolkata (India), you may request for a seat on the right.
The view of the Himalayas on a Drukair flight from Delhi – Kathmandu – Paro,
If you are entering Bhutan from Delhi, Mumbai or Kathmandu, you will see a spectacular mountain panorama, indeed five peaks above 8,000 meters: Mt. Cho Oyo (8,188m), Mt. Everest (8,848m), Mt. Lhotse (8,516m), Mt. Makalu (8,463m), Mt. Kangchenjunga (8,586m), and Mt. Jomolhari (7,326m). But if you enter Bhutan from Bangkok, Singapore, or Kolkata, then you will see the panoramic Mt. Kangchenjunga and Mt. Jomolhari.
The chances of seeing these wonderful high points on the earth’s surface will be higher if you’re travelling to Bhutan in winter, early spring, or in late autumn. Also, morning flights mean better chances since there will less or no clouds obstructing the mountain ranges. Come to think of it, your daily tariff is worth every penny if you are lucky enough to view these famed Himalayan mountain ranges. If not, do not worry, Bhutan has many things on offer for her guests.
4. Bhutan is a veritable museum
The country’s Buddhist heritage, rich culture and tradition, diverse flora and fauna, and the natural scenic beauty makes travelling in Bhutan a memorable experience. From ancient Buddhist temples and monasteries to several endangered species of animals, the country presents itself as a natural museum. Every nook and cranny of Bhutan boasts sites of historical and cultural significance. For example, the district of Paro, where you disembark upon reaching Bhutan, is known for its famed Tiger’s Nest Monastery. The monastery clings on a sheer cliff-face and is an architectural feat. Similarly, Thimphu has one of the world’s tallest statue of a sitting Buddha overlooking the valley.
Taktshang Monastery/Tiger’s Nest.
Bhutan is famed for its Dzongs or fortresses. Each district has one, and most of them were built about 400 years ago. They are massive complexes and serve both spiritual and temporal purpose. They house the district’s monk body as well as function as an administrative center. Of course, your Bhutan travel will not be complete without witnessing an archery match or a mask dance. You will also be able to see centuries-old suspension bridges built with locally produced cast iron. We will facilitate your internal Bhutan travel with much flexibility so that you do not miss any important or significant landmark.
5. Great adventure awaits you in Bhutan
While travelling to Bhutan itself is bound to be an adventure of the highest sort, experiencing Bhutan through the many unique adventures the country offers will add up to elevate your overall travel experience.
Bhutan has some of the toughest trekking routes like the famed 25-day Snowman Trek which was featured in National Geographic some years ago. There are other easy 2-day to somewhat difficult 5-day routes. But all these treks lead into the Himalayas. Then there are wonderful and refreshing day hikes that take through the ups and downs of a Himalayan life.
Many Bhutan travelers choose to experience other outdoor adventures like whitewater rafting in Punakha or mountain biking through its circuitous roads and trails. For example, the Tour of the Dragon is one of the most sought-after mountain biking events where participants come from several countries around the world. We recommend daytime whitewater rafting for fun as well as for viewing the scenic beauty of Punakha valley.
6. Bhutanese food is spicy and exquisite
Late Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef and television personality, who was in Bhutan in 2017, has spoken very highly of Bhutan’s highland food. Bhutanese love meat and cheese and rice. Most hotels serve a mix of Continental, Bhutanese, and Chinese cuisine. You could also try the pure Bhutanese dish, like the one they serve at Simply Bhutan Museum-Restaurant.
In rural Bhutan, where water is often scarce, people ball up soft rice in their hands to clean them, then eat the meal with hand, and later again play with the last bit of the rice to clean the hand. Most Bhutanese do not use fork and spoon. When you travel in Bhutan, you could also try tasting meals directly with your hand. There are also several cafes and eateries in most towns that offer variety of food, including burgers and fries.
Bhutan is known for its healthy, locally grown red (sometimes called brown) wholegrain rice. Thin strips of dry beef cooked with radish and dry red chili is something the red rice lovers go for. You could also try cottage cheese stir-fired in butter, and wash it all down with suja, Bhutan’s unique salt-and-butter tea.
7. A cultural carnival of sorts
The cultural side of travelling to Bhutan is generally the major highlight of a typical tourist experience. This is because Bhutan is known for its unique culture that it has taken great pains to preserve and promote. As a small nation-state wedged between the Asian giants of India and China, Bhutan has positioned its age-old tradition and culture as a way of exerting its geo-political soft power. The result is a country that deeply attaches itself to its historical roots.
Sheila Poh and her husband Curtiz Jr. witnessing Punakha Festival, 5th March 2020
You must experience this idea of culture-based self-preservation by coinciding you Bhutan visit with one of the annual cultural events called tsechu or a festival of mask dances. There are many happening all throughout the year, and depending on your timing of Bhutan visit, we at Yak Holidays will work out an itinerary that features at least one major cultural festival.
At these festivals, you will be able to experience Bhutan’s way of life first-hand and interact with the local population. We will help you dress up in Bhutan’s national dress of gho (for men) and kira (for women). Expect lots of fun, smiles, and genuine hospitality from Bhutan’s shy, respectful, and dignified people. Write yourself into their memories!
8. Hike the day in a journey inward
People often travel to Bhutan not just to see places and people or experience their culture and way or life, but also to seek that journey inside oneself. Bhutan’s provides a perfect milieu for self-reflection and introspection. You need not mediate or do yoga. You could just hike yourself into the depths of your awakened soul. The magic feeling of being alive in the beautiful Himalayan landscape is at the heart of physical adventure in Bhutan.
The wonderful day hikes in and around Thimphu, Paro, and Punakha add deep value to your Bhutan visit. These are light and uplifting hikes along reliable trails that weave through pine forests, rhododendron bushes, and farmhouses. The air is crisp and birdsongs keep you company. The lightness of being overtakes you as you enjoy the nature’s precious gifts of life and what makes life possible. Many day hikes will take you through human settlements and paddy fields where you get the opportunity to interact with farmers and experience their way of life. The easy altitudes afford deeply satisfying personal fulfillment, and you may wish the journey inward had begun earlier. But since you’re here now, we would go any lengths to help make your experience as memorable as possible.
9. Homestays for an up close cultural and social experience
As Bhutan continues to evolve into a luxury tourist destination, so does the country’s hospitality-related infrastructure like hotels and restaurants. That’s why you could choose to stay and eat in a high-end five-star property or could opt for humbler and more authentic food and accommodation in a community-based property like the homestay.
Tourists typically seek rich and authentic experience, as close as possible to the native lifestyle. This means you may want to experience the country and not just see it casually. You may want to engage with the people you come across and participate in their act of living. At least, this is what we consider as important for our guests at Yak Holidays. Therefore, we suggest that you consider expanding your dreams. For example, if you spend a night in a five-star luxury hotel, we also advise you to spend at least one night in a homestay.
The experience is poles apart. In a homestay, which is generally in a farm, you could try cooking your own meal from locally sourced organic vegetables and wholegrains. The people of Bhutan are known for their warm hospitality, and this is bound to enrich your Bhutan visit. You will also experience the Bhutanese culture up close if you choose to spend a night or two in a more grassroots-based homestay.
10. Bring cash US dollars for shopping and tips
Part of what makes traveling to Bhutan an authentic and exotic experience is the country’s slow start and approach to the contemporaneous idea of development. The wheel moves in a slow motion, so that you may be able to catch the much needed breath and unwind yourself more satisfactorily.
While machines are replacing certain aspect of life in Bhutan, old norms still rule supreme. For example, you’ll realize how important it is to carry actual cash as you start your Bhutan travel. Most shops prefer cash to cards. Indeed, a lot of these shops have not stalled the card-payment facilities. Cash would also come in handy when you tip a guide or a waitress. So, do carry some amount of cash in US dollars when you travel to Bhutan.
11. Thank you for not smoking
Yes, smoking is banned in Bhutan. In fact, sell of all forms of tobacco products is prohibited in the country. You may bring in small quantities of tobacco (please check out the specific quantity in our…) for personal use. But then, you cannot smoke in public places. These include restaurants, marketplaces, sport complexes, streets, pubic parks, or offices. Also, note that most public places do not have designated legal smoking zones. This means you may light up in your room (provided you’ve asked for a smoke-OK room) or in solitary spaces.
Areca nut and betel leaf with a dash of lime known as Doma
However, people in Bhutan are known for their fondness for a different kind of stimulant, locally known as doma—a quid of areca nut and betel leaf with a dash of lime. In Bhutan, chewing doma defies time and space, and age and gender, and is a fundamental part of the Bhutanese culture and ethos. You may want to try a quid, but be careful about some instant side effects like flushing, sweating, or even a mild kick of sorts.
12. Dip yourself in a hot stone bath
Another highlight of your travel to Bhutan could be what locals call the ‘hot stone bath’. It’s a traditional way of cleansing yourself. It’s an ancient practice, part of Bhutan’s search for an indigenous alternative to the Western idea of wellness.
A hot stone bath consists of a water-filled wooden tub and red-hot river stones. First, the large stones are roasted in a fire for hours. They are then dropped in the water-filled wooden tub. As stones sizzle in the cold water, you dip your hand to check the temperature and ask for the desired adjustment. You then lie on the tub as long as you want, soaking in the rich minerals released by the stones into the water. Leaves of Artemisia plant are added to the hot water to raise the bath’s medicinal value, and the stones are in a separate chamber of the tub so that you will not be hurt.
Bhutan’s hot stone baths draw on both Indian Ayurvedic and Tibetan traditional medicine practices.
Soaking in medicinal waters is part of Bhutan’s age-old culture, and people believe that one can be cured of many illnesses like joint pain, arthritis, hypertension, and stomach ailments through frequent baths in such medicinal waters. It’s said that Bhutan’s hot stone baths draw on both Indian Ayurvedic and Tibetan traditional medicine practices. We recommend you try this healing bath at least once, especially after your tiring hike to the Tiger’s Nest.
13. Learn some Dzongkha, the national language
Your guide, and most Bhutanese you’ll generally meet during your Bhutan travel, will speak a fairly good English. And this could be a hindrance, especially if you’re interested in picking up some local language skills as you travel through different parts of the country.
Dzongkha, Bhutan national language, is part of the Tibeto-Burman languages, and shares many similarities with the classical Tibetan language of Choke. While there are other local languages, native to regions and tribes, Dzongkha is understood by most people. We recommend you let us know in advance if you are interested in learning some Dzongkha during your Bhutan travel. Accordingly, our guide will try his best to teach you some Dzongkha, and also make opportunities for you to interact with locals in the native language.
We at Yak Holidays would love to welcome you to Bhutan at any time of year. We look forward to co-creating lasting memories and experiences with you. Let’s dig Bhutan together! Joenpa lekso, a warm welcome!
Our valued clients, Hollywood actor and actress, Keith and his beautiful wife Katrina’s travel in Bhutan.
How to Travel to Bhutan?
You can travel to Bhutan by flying directly to Paro International Airport or by traveling overland from the Southern part of Bhutan entering from 3 border ports, Phuntsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.
Flights to Bhutan: There are no direct flights to Bhutan from USA (US), Canada and European countries. If you wish to travel to Bhutan / Bhutan travel from United Kingdom (UK), Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ireland and other the European, East Coast of the US and Canada, you have to fly to Delhi, Kathmandu or Kolkotta to connect your flight into Bhutan.
If you wish to travel to Bhutan / Bhutan travel from Japan, Taiwan, Hongkong, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Macau, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and other Asian countries, west coast of the USA (US) and Canada, it would be easier and more feasible to travel to Bhutan via Bangkok. Please check the flight schedule below:
Bhutan Tourism – Tourism in Bhutan:
Bhutan tourism policy of “High value, low volume” have shielded many from visiting this jewel of the Himalayas. Tourism in Bhutan was started in 1974 with the number for tourists kept to an alarmingly low and at an environmentally sustainable level through government structured tourist regulations.
A Brief description of Bhutan:
Bhutan is a small, mountainous Buddhist kingdom, about the size of Switzerland, landlocked and sandwiched between the two Asian giants – China on the north and India in the west, east and south in the eastern Himalayas. The standard time is 6 hrs ahead of GMT. Bhutan is also called “Druk-Yul” or “The Land of the Thunder Dragon”. Bhutan’s landscape ranges from sub tropical foothills (150 m)in the south to alpine forests and snowy mountains (7000 m) in the north. It’s about 300 km from west to east and 150 km from north to south. With a population of just about 700000, about 70% of the land is still under forest cover, so it naturally has a well maintained and rich biodiversity with more than 700 species of birds, 50 species of rhododendron and an estimated 300 species of medicinal plants and orchids. The national language is Dzongkha, but English is widely spoken throughout the country. Your guide will speak fluent English as most young Bhutanese do.
Places to visit in Bhutan:
It really depends on what you hope to see and experience during your Bhutan tour. The magnificent Dzongs, Buddhist Monasteries and monuments; the stunning, pristine valleys and mountains; the ancient Bhutanese art and artifacts; the unique architecture; colorful Mask Dances; the Tshechu festivals of different valleys; the various mountain treks on offer; and the Bhutanese culture and tradition that is still intact and cocooned even today. Thanks to preservation efforts by the government, Bhutan is a living museum. Bhutan’s landscape and culture is so diverse across different regions that it offers distinctive charms and environs for exploration and experience to the spirited traveler.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Choeten
Western Bhutan, considered the gateway to Bhutan and the circuit comprises Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue and Haa districts. Paro is home to the spectacular Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) at 900 m above the Paro valley and the famous Drugyel Dzong or the “Fortress of Victorious Drukpa People”. Paro valley is also the rice bowl of Bhutan. Thimphu, the capital city, is a vibrant cultural center of all aspects that emanates Bhutan as a nation. Punakha, the ancient capital till 1950, enchants tourists with the magnificent Punakha Dzong at the confluence of the Pho-Chu and Mo-Chu (Male and Female rivers). And the Gangte Monastery overlooking the bowl shaped alpine wetland valley of Phobjika (3000 m), where the black necked cranes migrate in winter down from the Tibetan highlands at Wangdue district. The west, especially, Thimphu, Paro and Punakha, is also the starting point for many of Bhutan’s famous treks which traverse to the north of the country. Laya, Gasa, Lingtshi and the northern reaches of Bumthang and Trongsa complete this circuit.
Central Bhutan is the spiritual heartland of the nation and comprises the four valleys of Bumthang and the district of Trongsa. The temples and festivals of Bumthang and the historical grandeur and significance of Trongsa, showcase a rich and lively cultural heritage. With the initial experience of having traveled Western Bhutan under the belt, a sense of real insight begins to set in onto the traveler’s imagination and analysis of Bhutan, as a mystical, historical place and a very interesting country for you to discover.
Eastern Bhutan, a congregation of six eastern districts, is a world away from the world, be it the distinct way of life of Merak Sakteng or the fabric, art & craft and woodwork in Trashigang and TrashiYangtse. The Drametse Monastery at Mongar where the famous “Drametse Ngacham” Mask Dance is performed is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Our destination specialists will make the best recommendations as per your travel preferences, and you can in fact choose the exact Bhutan tour packages. Many travelers incorporate Paro (2280 m), Thimphu (2320 m), Punakha (1310 m), Wangduephodrang (1320 m), Gangtey (2800 m), Trongsa and Bumthang (2800 m), though some travel solely for the pleasure of trekking in the Himalayas.
All visitors require a passport, valid for at least 6 months longer than their journey, and an visa authority letter/visa clearance for Bhutan which must be pre-approved prior to your arrival in Bhutan. The Visa for Bhutan is issued in Thimphu and Bhutan visa fee is US $ 40. The Visa to Bhutan are only issued to the tourists who book Bhutan Tour with a local Bhutanese tour operator directly or through a foreign travel agent. Applications for tourist visas are submitted by your tour operator and takes at least 7 days to process. Air tickets to Bhutan can be purchased without visa clearance. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines are the only airlines that fly into Bhutan. A visa approval letter is issued after prepayment of your travel arrangements and the actual visa is stamped in your passport upon arrival at the Paro Int’l Airport. Please be sure you carry the same passport that you submitted for your Bhutan visa or you will be denied the entry.
Bhutan Tour Cancellation Policy:
Tour programmes booked and subsequently cancelled shall be subject to cancellation charges as follows:
- within 30 days of start of programme : no charges
- within 21 days : 10% of rate
- within 14 days : 15% of rate
- within 7 days : 30% of rate
- less than 7 days or without notice : 50% of rate
- after arrival to Bhutan : 100%
There is no charge for delays in arrival and departure because of weather conditions disrupting flights or road blocks. The tourist must however bear the cost of food, accommodation, transportation and other services required.
During the low season months (Jan, Feb, Jun, Jul, Aug and Dec), it costs $200 USD per person, per day and on the high season months (Mar, Apr, May, Sep, Oct and Nov), it costs $250 USD per person per day, for groups of three or more. For groups of two, it costs $280 USD per day, per person and for a single traveler, its $290 USD per day, per person.
The minimum price includes :
- All internal taxes and charges (including the royalty of $65 USD)
- 3 star Accommodation
- All meals
- All travel with a licensed Bhutanese Tour Guide
- All internal Transport
- Camping Equipment and Haulage for Trekking Tours
- There shall be no charge for children up to the age of 5 years. However, for those between the ages of 6-12 years accompanied by elders/guardians 50% discount on daily rates and 100% on royalty.
- Full time students below the age of 25 years holding valid identity cards from their academic institutions shall be given a 25% discount on daily rates.
- A discount of 50% on daily rates shall be given to one person in a group of 11-15 people. 100% discount shall be given to one member in a group exceeding 16 persons.
- 50% discount on royalty shall be provided after the 8th night and 100% discount on royalty after the 14th night.
- Visitors availing discounts under sections 1, 2 and 3 shall not be eligible under section 4.
Detailed info on flights, tour and trekking programmes, festivals, places of interest, hotels, etc. can be obtained from the tour operator.