BHUTAN TRAVEL GUIDE
Bhutan is a unique country both culturally and environmentally. Perched high in the Himalaya, it is the world’s last remaining Buddhist Kingdom. It has developed the philosophy of Gross National Happiness; where development is measured using a holistic approach of well-being, not just based on gross domestic product.
Bhutan lies west of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and east of Nepal. Thimphu, the capital, is at an altitude of 7700 feet, a small charming city in the heart of the Himalayas. Modernisation is strictly monitored and buildings must be made in the traditional Bhutanese style and cannot even exceed a specified height. In fact, the first and the only traffic light was installed near a chorten (a small Buddhist temple) but was later removed upon the order of the king as not suitable to the environs of Thimphu!
Monasteries with ancient sanctum alive with legends of the past; trails that take you deep into the valleys; people who are happy walking the path of their ancestors - these are just glimpses into your rejuvenation experience in Bhutan.
BHUTAN QUICK FACTS
Currency: ngultrum (Nu., BTN), pegged 1:1 with the Indian rupee (₹, INR)
Area: 47,000 km²
Population: 754 394 (2018)
Language: Dzongkha (official), Bhutanese speak various Tibetan dialects, Nepalese speak various Nepalese dialects
Religion: Vajrayana Buddhism (official, 74.7%), Indian and Nepalese-influenced Hinduism (22.6%), indigenous beliefs (1.9%), other (2.7%)
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
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BHUTAN PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
21 February, Anniversary of His Majesty the King, the 5th Druk Gyalpo
2 May, Anniversary of the Birth of the 3rd Druk Gyalpo
2 June, Coronation of the 4th Druk Gyalpo
18 June, Birth of Guru Rinpoche
1 November, Coronation of the 5th Druk Gyalpo
11 November, Anniversary of the Birth of the 4th Druk Gyalpo / Constitution Day
17 December, National Day
Also, Traditional Day of Offering, Losar, Shabdrung Kurchoe, Blessed Rainy Day (Thrue Bab), Lhabab Duchen, and Winter Solstice, which are movable holidays according to the Tibetan calendar; Buddha’s Parinirvana and First Sermon of Lord Buddha, which are movable holidays according to the Buddhist calendar; and Dashain, which is a movable holiday according to the Hindu calendar.
FESTIVALS IN BHUTAN
BEST TIME TO VISIT BHUTAN
Bhutan has four distinct seasons:
- Spring (March to May): The weather is mild and comfortable, with clear skies and blooming wildflowers, making it a popular time for trekking and sightseeing.
- Summer (June to August): This is the monsoon season, with heavy rain and thunderstorms. While it can make some of the trekking routes difficult, it is still a good time to visit as the rain brings a lush green landscape and the waterfalls are more powerful.
- Autumn (September to November): This is the main tourist season, with mild weather and clear skies, making it ideal for trekking and sightseeing. Additionally, the rice fields are harvested during this time, adding to the picturesque beauty of the country.
- Winter (December to February): This is the coldest season, with temperatures dropping below freezing in some areas. Snowfall can be seen in some regions of Bhutan, and it can be a good time to visit if you are interested in winter sports and activities.
Please note that these seasons are based on the general weather patterns and they can vary depending on the location and altitude of your visit.
The best time to visit Bhutan depends on what you are looking to see and do. The main tourist season is from September to November, when the weather is mild and clear, making it ideal for trekking and sightseeing. Additionally, the rice fields are harvested during this time, adding to the picturesque beauty of the country. The spring season from March to May is also a good time to visit, as the rhododendrons and other wildflowers are in bloom. If you're looking to avoid the crowds, you can consider visiting Bhutan in the winter (December to February) or the monsoon season (June to August) when the rain can make some of the trekking routes difficult.
BHUTAN WEATHER SYNOPSIS
Bhutan can also be characterised into six agro-climatic regions: alpine, cool temperate, warm temperate, dry subtropical, humid sub-tropical, and wet-sub tropical. The climate varies dramatically because of the countries varied topography and geographical location at the edge of the tropical circulation in the north and Asian monsoon circulation in the south. The northern part of the country is characterised by snow-capped peaks of elevations above 7,300 meters with abundant glaciers and alpine pastures. Regions at lower elevations and closer to the south tend to have higher temperatures as well as more precipitation while the northern regions of the country are often cooler and experience less precipitation.
BHUTAN TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN BHUTAN
HIKING & CYCLING IN BHUTAN
BEACH OPTIONS IN BHUTAN
SURFING IN BHUTAN
KITESURF IN BHUTAN
Kitesurfing spot details and weather
HEALTH RISKS IN BHUTAN
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
BHUTAN TRAVEL COSTS
Traveling to Bhutan can be expensive, as the Bhutanese government has implemented a "high-value, low-impact" tourism policy. This means that there is a minimum daily package cost for tourists, which includes a set of services such as accommodations, meals, transportation, and a licensed guide.
The minimum daily package cost for tourists is as follows:
- $250 per person per day during the peak tourist season (March to May, and September to November).
- $200 per person per day during the lean tourist season (December to February and June to August).
This cost does not include international airfare, visa fees, and personal expenses. Additionally, travelers must also pay a $40 visa fee and a $10 sustainable development fee upon arrival.
It's also important to note that solo travelers are required to pay an additional surcharge, while groups of two or more people will receive a slight discount on the minimum daily package cost. It is also possible to customize your itinerary, with additional cost to your package.
It's worth noting that the pricing structure is intended to encourage sustainable tourism, preserving the environment and culture of Bhutan, and supporting the Bhutanese people and economy.
A sample budget for a seven-day trip to Bhutan during the peak tourist season (March to May, and September to November) would be:
- Minimum daily package cost: $250 x 7 days = $1,750
- Visa fee: $40
- Sustainable development fee: $10
- International airfare: $1000 (approximately)
- Personal expenses (souvenirs, additional meals, etc.): $300 (approximately)
Total: $3,100 (approximately)
Please note that this is just an estimate, and actual costs may vary depending on your specific travel plans and the level of luxury you prefer. Additionally, you may have to pay more if you are traveling solo, and less if you are traveling in a group. It is important to keep in mind that the daily package cost includes accommodations, meals, transportation, and a licensed guide. So, you don't have to worry about additional expenses for those.
It's also worth noting that some travel agencies and tour operators offer package tours that include airfare, visa fees, and other expenses, so you may be able to find a better deal if you book through one of those.
BHUTAN TRAVEL TIPS
Here are some travel tips for visiting Bhutan:
- Plan ahead: It's important to plan your trip in advance, as the Bhutanese government has implemented a "high-value, low-impact" tourism policy, which means that there is a minimum daily package cost for tourists, and you'll need to book your trip through a licensed tour operator.
- Dress appropriately: Bhutan is a culturally conservative country, so it's important to dress modestly, covering your shoulders and legs when visiting temples and monasteries.
- Respect the culture: Bhutan is a deeply spiritual and religious country, and it's important to be respectful of the culture and local customs. For example, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering a temple or home.
- Be prepared for altitude: Bhutan is a mountainous country, and many of the trekking routes and tourist destinations are at high altitudes. Be prepared for the effects of altitude sickness, such as headaches and fatigue.
- Pack for the weather: Bhutan has a wide range of weather conditions depending on the season, from hot and humid to cold and snowy. Make sure to pack accordingly, including warm clothing and rain gear.
- Take out travel insurance: It is always a good idea to have travel insurance when traveling abroad, in case of any unforeseen events such as illness, accidents, or trip cancellation.
- Learn some basic Dzongkha: Dzongkha is the official language of Bhutan, and it will be helpful to know some basic phrases such as "hello" and "thank you" to show respect to the locals.
- Be eco-friendly: Bhutan is a country that prides itself on being one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world, it is important to be conscious of your environmental impact and take steps to minimize it.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF BHUTAN
Bhutan is divided into 20 dzongkhags (districts), which are further divided into 205 gewogs (blocks). The main regions of Bhutan are:
- Western Bhutan: This region is home to the Paro and Haa valleys, as well as the famous Tiger's Nest Monastery. Other highlights include the Punakha Dzong, the Jigme Dorji National Park, and the Chele La Pass, which offers stunning views of the Himalayas.
- Central Bhutan: This region is known for its beautiful temples and monasteries, including the Trongsa Dzong, the Jakar Dzong, and the Kurjey Lhakhang. The region also offers great trekking opportunities, including the Bumthang Cultural Trek.
- Eastern Bhutan: This region is known for its pristine forests and diverse wildlife, including the Royal Manas National Park and the Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary. The area also includes the towns of Trashigang and Trashiyangtse, which are known for their traditional textiles and handicrafts.
- Southern Bhutan: This region is known for its subtropical climate and rich biodiversity. The region is home to the Sarpang District, which is known for its cardamom and orange orchards, and the Royal Manas National Park, which is home to tigers, elephants, and many other species of wildlife.
- Northern Bhutan: This region is known for its high-altitude landscapes and remote villages. The region is home to the popular trekking destination of the Snowman Trek and the Laya and Gasa districts, which offer an insight into the traditional way of life of the Bhutanese people.
All these regions have their own unique culture, history and beauty that are worth exploring.
There are many things to see and do when visiting Bhutan, here are some of the best:
- Visit the Tiger's Nest Monastery: This iconic Bhutanese monastery, also known as Paro Taktsang, is located on a cliff face in the Paro Valley. The hike to the monastery offers stunning views and the monastery itself is considered one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in Bhutan.
- Explore the dzongs: Bhutan's dzongs are fortress-like structures that serve as both religious and administrative centers. Some of the most famous dzongs include the Punakha Dzong, the Trongsa Dzong, and the Paro Dzong.
- Go trekking: Bhutan offers some of the best trekking in the world, with routes that take you through lush forests, past snow-capped mountains, and through remote villages. Some popular treks include the Bumthang Cultural Trek, the Snowman Trek, and the Laya Gasa Trek.
- Visit a temple or monastery: Bhutan is home to many beautiful temples and monasteries, including the Kurjey Lhakhang, the Jambay Lhakhang, and the Tamshing Lhakhang.
- Visit a traditional village: Bhutan is home to many traditional villages that offer a glimpse into the country's rich culture and way of life. Some popular village visits include the Punakha Dzongkhag, the Bumthang Dzongkhag, and the Lhuntse Dzongkhag.
- Take a cultural tour: Bhutan's culture is rich and varied, and a cultural tour can be a great way to learn about the country's history, customs, and traditions. Some popular cultural tours include visits to the National Museum, the National Library, and the Institute for Zorig Chusum.
- Enjoy the natural beauty: Bhutan is known for its natural beauty, from the lush forests and sparkling rivers to the snow-capped mountains and deep valleys. Some popular places to enjoy the natural beauty include the Jigme Dorji National Park, the Phobjikha Valley, and the Royal Manas National Park.
- Festivals and events: Bhutan is known for its vibrant festivals and events, such as the Paro Tsechu, the Jambay Lhakhang Drup, and the Thimphu Tshechu. These festivals offer an opportunity to experience traditional Bhutanese music, dance and culture.
WHAT TO EAT IN BHUTAN
When visiting Bhutan, you will have the opportunity to try a variety of delicious traditional dishes. Some popular Bhutanese dishes include:
- Ema Datshi: This is Bhutan's national dish and is made with chili peppers and cheese. It can be made with different types of chili peppers, but the most common type is the fiery red chili pepper.
- Momos: These are steamed dumplings that can be filled with meat or vegetables. They are a popular snack in Bhutan, and can be found at most restaurants and street vendors.
- Goep: This is a traditional Bhutanese dish made from tripe, which is the stomach lining of a cow or yak. It is often served with chili and cheese.
- Jasha Maru: This is a spicy chicken stew that is often made with tomato and chili peppers.
- Phaksha Paa: This is a dish made with pork and chili peppers, and is often served with rice or dumplings.
- Red Rice: Bhutanese red rice is a staple food that is grown in the country. it is nutty, chewy and have a more robust taste than white rice.
- Doma: Doma is a sweet made from beaten raw cane sugar and is often served as a sweet snack or dessert.
- Suja: Suja is a traditional Bhutanese butter tea that is made by churning tea, butter, and salt together. it is often served as a compliment to food.
It's also a good idea to try the local beers and spirits, such as the locally brewed "Ara" which is a distilled spirit made from rice, wheat, or barley.
LGBTQ IN BHUTAN
WHERE TO STAY IN BHUTAN
When visiting Bhutan for the first time, it's a good idea to stay in a combination of different types of accommodations to get a well-rounded experience of the country. Here are a few options to consider:
- Paro: This is a popular starting point for many visitors to Bhutan, as it is home to the international airport. Paro has a good range of accommodations, including hotels, guesthouses, and traditional Bhutanese farmhouses.
- Thimphu: The capital city of Bhutan is a great place to experience Bhutan's modern side. There are many hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants in Thimphu, as well as traditional markets and shops.
- Punakha: This is a beautiful town located in the Punakha Dzongkhag and home to the Punakha Dzong. It's a great place to experience traditional Bhutanese culture and architecture.
- Bumthang: Bumthang is one of the most beautiful regions in Bhutan and it offers a glimpse into traditional Bhutanese life. There are many guesthouses, farmhouses, and homestays available in Bumthang, as well as a few hotels.
- Other tourist regions: There are many other regions in Bhutan that offer a great place to stay and visit, such as Gangtey, Trongsa, Lhuntse, and Haa valley which are known for their beautiful landscapes and cultural heritage.
It's important to note that most of the accommodations in Bhutan are eco-friendly and use traditional building techniques, which means that the amenities may be different from what you are used to in other parts of the world.
It's also important to note that Bhutan has a unique policy of "minimum daily package" for tourists which includes accommodation, meals, guide, and transportation which can range from $250 to $500 per day depending on the services you choose.
CHOOSE NEXT DESTINATION
PLAN YOUR TRIP
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