What it’s Like to Travel To Bhutan

Travel to Bhutan, or Druk Yul, “the land of the thunder dragon” is shrouded in mystery. Ok that was a tad dramatic but it’s essentially how I perceived this country, sometimes referred to as the last Shangri-La (What does that even mean? It sounds cool though, right?) Part of the reason for this mysteriousness is that The Kingdom of Bhutan was largely cut off from the rest of the world until the early 1960’s. Entering the country was difficult as it was only accessible by foot from two main entry points, one in the north via Tibet and one in the south via West Bengal and Assam in India. Now Bhutan is more accessible and you too can travel to Bhutan!

Bhutan is one of the more distinctive places I’ve visited, it’s Buddhist culture so rich and strongly rooted that you can’t help but marvel at the dedication to the religion. They practice a form of Buddhism that is different than many eastern countries and I enjoyed learning about it. From the prayer flags delicately flowing in the wind, decorating the vibrant green mountains to the colorful ubiquitous prayer wheels, you can’t help but feel that you are somewhere special.

How Do You Plan Travel To Bhutan?

First Decide When You Will Go

The most popular months to travel to Bhutan are October through May although many will say it’s an all-year destination. October to December has clear sunny skies and mountain peaks will be more visible but it will start to become cool. January and February are colder, but from then until April the climate remains dry and pleasant and in late spring the famous rhododendrons bloom flooding the valleys with color. June to September is warm with monsoon rains. (I went in September and it was warmish with some cloud and rain).

Next Pick Your Departure City

At present only two carriers fly to Bhutan, Drukair also known as Royal Bhutan Airlines. You can choose the following cities to fly from: Bangkok, Singapore, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata or Bagdogra. Apparently the route from Kathmandu to Paro is the most thrilling and scenic, passing 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the world. The airport in Paro happens to be one of the prettiest and most unique airports I’ve ever seen.

Royal Bhutan Airlines at Paro Airport

Pick a Tour Company

This is the easy part. Figure out when you want to go, what city you will fly from and then find a tour company. They will do the rest. All tourists (excluding Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian passport holders) who wish to travel to Bhutan require a visa and must book their holiday through a Bhutanese tour operator or one of their international partners. The tour operator will take care of the Visa arrangements. They will also book your flights in and out of Bhutan.

Click here for a list of officially sanctioned tour operators. I used Druk Asia and would highly recommend. They were a pleasure to deal with.

Green valley between blue mountais in Bhutan

What Does Travel to Bhutan Cost? (Minimum Daily Package)

The Royal Government of Bhutan sets minimum selling prices for packages to Bhutan. These must be paid in US dollars prior to arrival in Bhutan. The minimum daily package applicable per tourist per night for tourists traveling in a group of 3 people or more is as follows:

     •  USD $200 per person per night for the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December.

     •  USD $250 per person per night for the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November.

The minimum daily package covers the following services:

  • A minimum of 3 star accommodation (4 & 5 star may require a premium payment).
  • All meals
  • A licensed Bhutanese tour guide for the extent of your stay
  • All internal ground transport
  • Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours.
  • USD 65 Sustainable Development Fee (SDF)

Prior to your trip to Bhutan, you will be asked to wire the full payment for your holiday to the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

You must wire the tour payment calculated by your tour operator as well as USD 40 (one-time visa fee) to the Bhutan National Bank through one of their certified international partners with the Bhutanese tour operator specified as the ultimate beneficiary

A significant portion of the minimum daily fee that you pay to travel to Bhutan goes towards government programs that provide free education, healthcare and alleviate poverty so overall it’s money well spent. The Bhutanese government opened up tourism in a shrewd and common-sense way. The country benefits financially from tourism without the burden of massive numbers of tourists. This is more pleasant for both locals and tourists, in my opinion.

Bhutan Basics


Dzongkha and English

Kuzu Zangpo La is a greeting that you will hear everywhere and locals love hearing it from you.

Ka Ding Che means “Thank You”


Ngultrum (Nu) ($1 USD = 71 Nu). This currency is fixed to the Indian Rupee which is also accepted. USD is accepted if bills printed after 1966. ATMs are not plentiful and cash is king here if you do any shopping and of course for tipping your guides. There is one at the Paro airport and a few in the bigger towns. Make sure to contact your bank ahead of time to let them know you will be using the ATM card here. Credit Cards are not widely accepted.


Bhutan is a democratic constitutional monarchy. The 4th king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated the throne in 2006 to his more politically progressive son and called for the country to have democratic elections for the first time, therefore limiting the power of the monarchy. He was also the one who advocated the use of a Gross National Happiness index to measure the well-being of citizens rather than the Gross Domestic Product


Vajrayana Buddhism is the state religion but it’s not mandatory. Approximately 75% of the population are Buddhists and 25% are Hindu. Although the Buddhism practiced here originated in Tibet, it differs significantly in its rituals, liturgy, and monastic organization.

Things You Should Know

  • Bhutan is the first nation in the world to ban the sale of tobacco. You can bring your own cigarettes but there will be a duty of 200%. Don’t be entrepreneurial and try to sell them there.
  • Be cautious about purchasing old and used items since if anything is antique, you will not be permitted to take it out of the country.
  • Photos are NOT permitted in any temple. Don’t be an idiot and try to sneak a photo. There are cameras everywhere. Be respectful.
  • Dress conservatively since this is the norm here. For women that means knees and shoulders covered. I will be writing a post on what to wear in Bhutan so stay tuned!

Things to See in Bhutan

Now for the fun part. What you will actually do in Bhutan. Keep in mind there are many ways to travel to Bhutan. If camping, climbing and trekking is your jam, there are tours for that. The tour I did was sort of a “basic” itinerary that gave me a taste of Bhutan. I definitely enjoyed it and it was the perfect amount of time for what I was hoping to see. I wanted to see nature and learn about the culture. This list is not exhaustive, fyi.


Flying into Paro Internationa Airport is thrilling. Its considered one of the most dangerous airport landings in the world because the tiny airport is nestled between two 18000 feet high mountain peaks and only a small number of pilots in the world are qualified to land here. Also, they can’t use navigation and the runway is really short. So it’s both terrifying and stunning!

After flying into Paro, we had a 90 min drive to the capital, Thimphu where we started our tour. We stayed at the Namgay Heritage Hotel which I loved. It was actually much more luxurious than I had expected. On this first day we checked in, had our welcome cup of suja tea (the local salty butter tea…it’s weird but nice) and had the afternoon and evening to ourselves to walk around Thimphu. Thimphu is Bhutan’s most modern city with restaurants, internet cafes, nightclubs and shopping centers but still has a charming cultural identity despite the modernization.

Thimphu, Bhutan Pink Building with Flowers and clock tower

Buddha Point

This 169 feet bronze statue of Buddha Dordenma is one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. It symbolizes indestructibility and is meant to emanate peace and happiness to the entire world.

Large Golden Buddha with blue sky behind in Travel to Bhutan

National Memorial Chorten

This memorial was built in memory of the Third King of Bhutan and is a popular place for locals who spend their Saturday praying (and socializing) here. It was probably the busiest site I visited the entire trip.

White Stupa with Decorative Wood Entrance Framing It

Wangditse Day Hike

We walked from the Radio Tower to Choekhortse Goemba with was an easy hike ending in superb views over Thimphu and the chance to play with some adorable friendly cows. Choekhortse Goemba is a private temple where monks go for mediation and the royal family uses. No photos were permitted since it is still under construction.

See the National Animal, the Takin

This rare mammal fees on bamboo and is only found 4000 meters above sea level. It is sort of cross between a cow and a goat. It looked a bit like a wildebeest to me. There is a zoo in Thimpu where you can see them or, do it the unofficial way and drive to a certain area where you can look into the zoo without going to the zoo (if that made sense).

Two Takins (cow like animals) lying on grass in Bhutan

Centenary Farmers’ Market

We were lucky to be here on the weekend to witness the largest domestic market in Bhutan on the banks of the Wangchhu RIver.

What was really nice about my Druk Asia tour was that the itinerary was not set in stone. Being on a small private tour meant we could customize it. If we felt like skipping a temple and going to a brewery instead, that could be arranged. We had an impromptu sports watching session as we walked around Thimphu on a Saturday. It was fun to watch a group of men participating in archery, which is sort of the national sport! Our guide translated all the betting and smack talk that was happening (Men are literally the same everywhere, amirite?) Bhutan was represented in the 2016 Summer Olympics for archery so they are really good. I, on the other hand, tried a few times and failed miserably. We also saw the soccer stadium, watched a bit of tennis and some volleyball.


On the day we left for Punakha our guide offered us the chance to wear traditional clothing which we eagerly accepted. The men’s outfit is called a Gho and the woman’s is a Kira. We felt very proud in these and local people were delighted to see us in them. We received compliments all day.

Mand and Woman Wearing Traditional Bhutanese Clothing

Punakha is the ancient capital of Bhutan, about 2 1/2 hours drive from Thimphu across the Dochula Pass. This beautiful pass is as over 3000 meters and gives panoramic views of the Himalayas mountain ranges, but only on a clear day. Which we did not have.

White Memorial Site in Bhutan

Druk Wangyal Chortens

The construction of 108 chortens was commissioned by The Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to commemorate a victory over the Indian militants and to pay tribute to the lives lost. This was a beautiful monument and one of the few places I went that I would call “crowded” with tourists, simply because there is a rest stop here to have tea and every tour group comes here. It still wasn’t that bad.

Woman in Pink bhutanese dress sitting at memorial site

Chimi Lhakhang

This is the infamous fertility temple is the village of Sopsokha, right before the junction in Lobesa. The monastery was constructed in 1499 by Ngawang Choegyel, the 14th Drukpaheirarch. The monastery is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kunley, aka the Divine Madman. I need to give a little backstory here or these next few photos will seem very strange. Also, no photos of the temple are permitted (this is pretty much the norm in Bhutan).

Drukpa Kunley had the title of “The Saint of 5,000 Women”. Among other things, women would seek his blessing in the form of sex. He demonstrated that celibacy was not necessary for being enlightened. He is credited with introducing the practice of phallus paintings in Bhutan and placing phallus statues on rooftops to drive away evil spirits. Because of this power to awaken unenlightened beings, Kunley’s penis is referred to as the “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom” and he himself is known as the “fertility saint”. So there you go. One of the more interesting religious historical figures out there, huh?

It’s actually hilarious walking through the village and seeing all the phallic art and gifts. They take it really seriously and it’s not supposed to be funny. Yet it is.

So now the temple is visited by couples from around the world who are having fertility problems. They do a ritual here that involves holding a large wooden phallus and walking around in a circle with chants and blessings from a monk. Apparently, it works and there are many happy new parents out there who have written and sent photos thanking the temple. As someone who does NOT want to have children, I was a bit nervous here after getting an unsolicited blessing from a monk.

Here’s me running away from all that fertility.

Woman in pink traditional clothing running in field for Travel to Bhutan

Punakha Dzong

Strategically placed at the junction of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu rivers, this Dzong was built in 1637 to be the administrative and religious seat in the region. It is absolutely stunning and was my favorite Dzong in Bhutan. This is where the current king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the 5th Druk Gyalpo, was married.

Travel to Bhutan

Nearby is the Pho Chu Suspension Bride, which at 160 meters long is the longest in Bhutan.

Large Suspension Bridge over a river in Bhutan


The valley of Paro was the final stop. It is home to the country’s only international airport as well as many old monasteries and temples.

Local Lunch

This local lunch was really special because our guide, Tshering, took us to his home where his grandmother cooked for us. We had Bhutan’s most famous dish, one we had almost every day and one that I’m honestly obsessed with, Chili Cheese. Almost every family has a stock of dried chilies, some drying on the roofs.

Ta Dzong, The Watchtower

This striking building looks down on Paro Dzong and was built to protect it from attacks by neighboring countries.

Ta Dzong, The Watchtower in Paro, Bhutan

Paro Dzong

Aka the fortress of a heap of jewels. Not sure why it’s known as this but it was really pretty. I really enjoyed the architecture in Bhutan, lots of intricately carved and painted wooden decor.

Kyichu Lhakhang

This is the oldest temple in Bhutan. It was one of the 108 temples built by the Tibetan King Songsten Gempo to subdue a female ogre that was obstructing the spread of Buddhism. According to legend, all of these temples were built in one night!

Haa Valley

From Paro, you can do a day trip to the Haa Valley via the Chelela pass. This is another high altitude pass at almost 4000 meters, the highest in Bhutan. On a clear day, you can see Bhutan’s 2nd highest peak, Mt. Jhomolhari. I sadly didn’t see it because the view looked like this:

Chelela Pass, Bhutan

The White Temple, Lhakhang Karpo

This was built in the 7th century by the Tibetan King I mentioned earlier, as part of a massive monastery building mission. We were lucky to watch some young monks practicing a dance for an upcoming festival.

Monks in Red Robes Dancing in front of monastery in Travel to Bhutan

The Haa valley only recently opened to foreigners in 2002 because of its proximity to the border with Tibet and Sikkim province in India. The regional politics are quite beyond the scope of this post but I can summarize briefly for the political and history junkies (like me) out there.

Regional History and Politics

When China annexed and occupied Tibet in 1950, this sent fear into neighboring tiny Bhutan. India was concerned as well since there were rumors that China planned to do the same to Sikkim province and Bhutan. India and Bhutan signed a Friendship Treaty in 1949. This called for peace between the two nations and non-interference. Bhutan had been one of the first countries to recognize India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947, giving these nations a special relationship. India shares a 605 km (376 mi) border with Bhutan and is its largest trading partner, accounting for 98 percent of its exports and 90 percent of its imports. Close ties with Bhutan and Nepal are part of India’s “Himalayan protection against China” strategy.

India keeps an army in the Haa Valley that serves to train the Royal Bhutanese Army and provide protection from China. India remains influential over Bhutanese foreign policy and provides billions in aid. Indian tourists are also the most numerous of any nation and enjoy some special privileges.

Taktsang Monastery aka The Tiger’s Nest

On the final day in Paro, we did the famous hike to Bhutan’s most well-known dzong, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. This is both a spiritual trip and one to test your fitness. According to legends, Guru Rinpoche flew to this location on the back of a tigress and meditated in one of the caves. He then emerged in eight manifestations and the place became holy.

Redhead Woman sits and look at view of Monastery in Mountains of Bhutan

The hike starts from the valley floor which is already at 7000 feet and you will ascend over the next 2 hours (give or take) another 3000 feet to a total altitude of 10,000 feet! This isn’t a difficult hike nor a long one but the altitude definitely makes it challenging. They have horses available to take visitors the first half only. From here if the day is clear, there are views of the Tiger’s Nest. I was appalled at how many young able-bodied people I saw riding horses, who were huffing and puffing as much as I was. One Indian man told me he regretted using the horse and felt guilty.

Here is my breakdown and this may not be a popular view but since when has that stopped me? Not all of us are entitled to see everything in the world just because it is there. If you can get to it without abusing another human or an animal, be my guest. But if you are not physically capable, perhaps you were not meant to see that particular place. For example, I am never going to see Mount Everest. I am not in the proper degree of physical fitness and I accept that. There are many places I will never see because my fitness don’t allow it. I don’t agree with exploiting animals because we MUST see everything that is beyond our capabilities. Ok rant over.

Hot Stone Bath and Farm Dinner

The last evening in Paro was special. We opted for a traditional hot stone bath. The fancy hotel spas offer these but a local one is cheaper and more authentic. This was combined with a home-cooked dinner at a local family’s home. I enjoyed this whole evening immensely complete with an adorable baby, friendly kitty and ample homemade rice wine (ara).

Woman with cup of traditional drink in Bhutan Home

Many people have asked me if Bhutan is worth it, despite the somewhat prohibitive price and the relative difficulty to get there. I say resoundingly, YES. If you can afford it, go. It’s well worth the money for what you are getting. In one week you can see a wonderful taste of this unique country that has so beautifully preserved its culture yet still entered the modern era. If you have two weeks, even better as you can get into more remote areas and do more hiking if that’s your jam.

Travel to Bhutan

Are you interested in visiting Bhutan? What questions do you have?

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About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.


  1. Irich photography | 25th Jan 24

    Very detailed information

  2. Surekha | 1st Aug 23

    If you suffer from high altitude sickness does the tour company have any safety measures like oxygen or compressed oxygen in a can?
    Would love to do the hike to the tigers nest.

    • Cherene Saradar | 3rd Aug 23

      I’m not sure about that. I’m sure they can have that available if you request it. I’d definitely ask before booking.

  3. David Hernandez | 9th Jun 20

    I’m supposed to fly to Bhutan this summer. I think it won’t happen unfortunately. Too bad I was really looking forward to it.

    • csaradar | 11th Jun 20

      Aw I really hope you can still go!!

  4. Katie Mills | 9th Feb 20

    Thanks so much, that’s really helpful! 🙂

    • csaradar | 11th Feb 20

      So glad you think so:)

  5. Heather Markel | 8th Feb 20

    Wow this is amazing! I’ve wanted to go to Bhutan for a while. Thank you for the very comprehensive information.

    • csaradar | 11th Feb 20

      I hope you go someday!!

  6. Unicorn | 8th Feb 20

    Sounds like an amazing advenutre. I’ve been wanting to travel to Bhutan for a while, and now I’m really inspired to visit! Thanks for the great info.

    • csaradar | 11th Feb 20

      Once you decide what airport to start from the rest of planning is really easy!

  7. Katie | 8th Feb 20

    This is such an informative read! I have had my eye on Bhutan and love how they’ve welcomed tourists in a way that benefits them, instead of taking advantage. Also that fact about them measuring the Gross National Happiness made me smile and want to go even more!

    • csaradar | 11th Feb 20

      It is a really unique country and I love that they are controlling tourist numbers in a smart way.

  8. Jessica | 8th Feb 20

    Thanks for the detailed post! this is such great information!

    • csaradar | 8th Feb 20

      You are very welcome!

  9. Paula Martinelli | 8th Feb 20

    Buthan has been on the top of my list, and your blog post is fabulous and very helpful. Makes me want to go NOW! Beautiful pictures too!

    • csaradar | 8th Feb 20

      Thanks so much!!

  10. Katie | 4th Feb 20

    Thanks for the lovely post and all the great pictures! I’m considering a trip later this year. As someone who doesn’t do well with spicy food, would I starve? Also, did the food settle well with you and with the people in your group? I had some tummy issues in India and so I have lingering concerns about being able to enjoy a trip in the region. Was potable water easy to find? How much local cash do you recommend carrying for a trip similar to yours? How did you decided how much to tip your guide?

    • csaradar | 5th Feb 20

      The food is mostly mild. The only majorly spicy dish is the chili cheese so definitely avoid that! My friend and I didn’t have any trouble with the food except there was too much of it! They fed us very well. As for potable water, we didn’t drink the tap water, only filtered water which was available at all the hotels and the tours provided for us. We gave our guide (there were two of us splitting this) $150 and the driver $120. This had been recommended by the tour company. We gave some in local currency and some in USD. Other than that I rarely needed cash (I’m not a big shopper) but if you want to shop and eat out at restaurants maybe have $100 USD for that.

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