Bhutan Travel Guide

Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon. Is there another country on the planet with a cooler catch phrase? Bhutan sounds exotic, mystical and almost otherworldly. Bhutan is such a joy to travel to, this tiny country straddling the Himalayas. If you want to see Bhutan before it gets to be modernized, go now. It is a feast for the eyes and an eye opening cultural experience. Explore the dzongs, marvel at the Himalayas, eat chilies and cheese, learn about Buddhism, and have one of the most unique travel experiences of your life.

Bhutan Map

The Kingdom of Bhutan is located in the south of Asia and is a landlocked country on the southern slope of the eastern section of the Himalayas. The country is bordered by China in the north, northeast and northwest and is bordered by India's Sikkim and West Bengal in the west and south.

Bhutan is geopolitically in South Asia and is the region's second least populous nation after the Maldives. Thimphu is its capital and largest city, while Phuntsholing is its financial center.

The country's landscape ranges from lush subtropical plains in the south to the sub-alpine Himalayan mountains in the north, where there are peaks in excess of 7,000 meters (23,000 ft). Gangkhar Puensum is the highest peak in Bhutan, and it may also be the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. The wildlife of Bhutan is notable for its diversity. You can get Map of Bhutan at bookshop in Kathmandu.

Flights to Bhutan

It’s best to take plane to Bhutan. At present, only Kathmandu in Nepal, New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bagdogra, Gaya and Guwahati in India, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Yangon in Myanmar, Bangkok in Thailand and Changi in Singapore have operated direct flights to Bhutan.

Bhutan doesn’t strictly follow the rules of the international aviation. Flights in and out of Bhutan are exclusively operated by Royal Bhutan Airlines, and other airlines are not allowed to fly the Bhutan route. Even if it is monopolized, objectively speaking, the airline is never inferior to its international counterparts in safety and service.

Paro Airport is the only international airport in Bhutan and there is no international airport in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. As the flights are monopolized by the Royal Bhutan Airlines, air fares cost higher, and no discount is available.

Language in Bhutan

The official language is Dzongkha. Nepali is spoken throughout southern Bhutan. Many people will speak and understand English and Hindi.

Bhutan Currency

The unit of Bhutan currency is the ngultrum (Nu), which is pegged to the Indian rupee. The ngultrum is further divided into 100 chetrum. There are coins to the value of 25 and 50 chetrum and Nu 1, and notes of Nu 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. The Nu 1 coin depicts the eight auspicious symbols called Tashi Tagye, while each note depicts a different dzong.

Indian rupees may be used freely anywhere in Bhutan (don't be surprised if you get change in Indian rupees). Officially 500 and 1000 Indian rupee notes are not accepted due to large amounts of counterfeit notes; however, in practice 500s are usually accepted. Ngultrums cannot be used in India.

Bank of Bhutan (BoB), Bhutan National Bank and Druk PNB Bank ATMs accept some foreign credit cards, but ATMs in Bhutan use the magnetic strip rather than digital chips, and some foreign banks do not permit withdrawals via this method. The government also periodically blocks international ATM transactions for short periods to combat fraud. It always pays to carry cash in case you have problems.

Bhutan Tourist Visas

All visitors to Bhutan (except those from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives) are required to have a visa. All visitors must also book their travel through a local tour operator. This tour operator will obtain the visa once your trip expenses are paid in full.

You must have a current, valid passport and a valid visa to enter Bhutan. It is included in your Bhutan holiday price & you cannot obtain a Bhutan Visa yourself. It is a government regulation that you must use a licensed Bhutanese Tour Operator to book your travel to Bhutan or one of their international partners.

  • You will need to send us a scanned copy of your passport details at the time of booking in order for us to make the application for your Bhutan Visa. IT must be the passport you will be travelling with.  
  • Please ensure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months from the date you will arrive in Bhutan that the passport details you send to apply for your Bhutan Visa is the passport you will be usingyou’re your Bhutan Trip.
  • Upon receipt of your final balance payment for your holiday we will make the Bhutan Visa application. Visa process takes only a few days. Upon which we will then send you a copy of your Visa Clearance Letter.
  • You must take two copies of paper visa on your Bhutan Holiday with you and present it (and your valid passport) upon arrival at Paro International Airport, upon which the Bhutan Visa will be stamped in your passport.
  • The Bhutan Visa is often confused with the daily charge that all tourists to Bhutan must pay. This charge is best described as a minimum daily package tariff, which is imposed by the Bhutan Government.

Bhutan Tour Cost

Also called the Minimum Daily Package, this is the daily fee, per person, to visit Bhutan. This tariff covers your stay in a 3 star accommodation (4 and 5 star accommodations require an additional fee), all meals, a licensed Bhutanese tour guide, all internal transportation, and camping equipment if you are going trekking. This fee also includes taxes and the Royalty fee of $65.

The fee is $200 per person, per day for the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December. The fee is $250 per person, per day for the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November. Children under the age of five are free. Children between 5 and 12 years old receive a 50% discount.

  • 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.
  • An additional $45 per person per night applies if the group is 2 persons & $90 per night if just one person.

Notel: Your payment needs to be wired to the Bhutan National Bank before your visa will be issued. This fee is mandatory. There is no negotiating down the price of the tourist tariff.

Daily package covers the following services

  • A minimum of 3 star accommodation (4 & 5 star may require an additional premium).
  • All meals
  • A licensed Bhutanese tour guide for the extent of your stay
  • All internal transport (excluding internal flights)
  • Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
  • All internal taxes and charges
  • A sustainable tourism Royalty of $65. This Royalty goes towards free education, free healthcare, poverty alleviation, along with the building of infrastructure.

Best Seasons to Travel to Bhutan

September through November are the best months to visit Bhutan, with clear skies, pleasant temperatures, and the greatest number of festivals. Springtime, from March through May, are also good, with comfortable temperatures but a small chance of rain. The summer months, June through August, can be hot and this period gets the most rainfall. The winter months, December through February, have clear skies but cold temperatures and has the fewest tourists.

  • Northern alpine climate zone: With an altitude of over 5,000 meters, the zone is sparsely populated. The climate there is very similar to that of Tibet in China. Except for adventurers and hikers, the zone is rarely visited by tourists.
  • Middle temperate climate zone: The altitudes of this area are somewhere between 2000 and 3000 meters. The climate is mild and pleasant. It is not hot in summer and not too cold in winter. And even so, the best seasons visiting there are autumn and spring.
  • The middle region is also the most developed region, where includes the major regular tourist routes.
  • Southern Subtropical Climate Zone: The altitude is less than 1500 meters. The climate is hot, rainy and humid. The region is rich in trees and abundant in rain. It is the main area for grain producing.

Note The major tourist destinations in Bhutan are in the lower places, and hence can cater to tourists all year round. And in March to June and September to October, the climate is more pleasant.

Rules for Tourists in Bhutan

Every country in the world has its own cultural traditions. When travelling to another country, you’re supposed to accept the local culture and customs. The Kingdom of Bhutan is a country with unique culture, beliefs and folk customs. Although Bhutan is still poor and backward, Bhutanese care little about the materials, instead they weigh a lot on the protection of the traditional culture. They are not sophisticated but very friendly to foreigners.

  • When you travel to Bhutan, you shall not give the local people medicines, candy, food and other things unless the tour guide give you consent.
  • The Bhutanese government attaches great importance to its cultural protection. It is illegal to buy cultural relics without permission from the government.
  • Taking pictures is high on agenda for many foreign tourists. But travelling in such a religious country, you need to notice that photographing is forbidden in religious temples and sites.
  • The Bhutanese government also rules that the airline shall require the passengers to provide visa application documents issued by the government before tickets being sold to foreigners. The government also stipulates that foreign tourists are not allowed to travel there on their own, instead they need to join tour groups with a tour guide accompanied.
  • On top of that, before taking pictures of the Bhutanese, you have to ask for their consent. Or, the local people may feel being offended.

Dressing Guide in Bhutan

Though it is in the subtropical zone, Bhutan features greatly different climates in different places due to its terrain of varied altitudes and Indian Ocean warm and humid monsoon airflow. And it also boasts a large day and night temperature difference. Hence, it’s essential for tourists to pack some thick clothes.

Of course, the climate also varies in different seasons. Check our suggested equipment lists and you can pack clothes accordingly.

  • As a religious country, Bhutan holds a more conservative view in dressing, especially that of women’ s. Therefore, you’d better not dress too scantily.
  • Shorts are also not recommended for women. It is important to wear long pants or long skirts over the knees. While visiting important religious sites, you need to wear solemnly and take off your hats and shoes.
  • In addition, do not wear clothes with patterns that are against the teaching of Buddhism, which shows disrespect to Bhutanese.

Tipping in Bhutan

Generally speaking, it is recommended to tip in Bhutan, given the fact that tour guides and drivers already have generous income as their government sets the expensive standard for tourism. But as more and more western tourists visit there, tipping has gradually become a normal. Therefore, it’s suggested that you can tip appropriately, maybe 5 dollars per day, a common standard for tipping in South Asia.

Generally, you will be accompanied by the same tour guide and often the same driver all the way in your tour in Bhutan. Hence, giving a certain amount of tip to them can showcase your appreciation and respect to them. And for tourists who go for hiking or trekking, tipping the guide and the staff accompanied is really necessary.

Whether to tip depends on you. We will always provide you the premium service. If there is anything else you want to know, you’re welcomed to ask us.

Top Travel Tips Experiences

Tiger’s Nest (Paro Takstang). Gaze at this Buddhist monastery precariously perched on the side of a mountain hundreds of meters off of the ground. It’s worth the uphill hike to get here and this is your chance to see one of Bhutan’s most popular icons.

Paro. Most people spend at least a little time in this city since it is home to Paro International Airport. This is also your home base for the hike up to the Tiger’s Nest.

Thimphu. Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan. There is a lot to do here. Visit the Cheri Monastery, see the Takin Preserve, spin prayer wheels at the Memorial Chorten, or gaze up at Buddha Dordenma, the largest sitting Buddha in the world.

Dochula Pass. The Dochula Pass is a high mountain pass (3,150 meters, 10,330 ft) on the road between Thimpu and Punakha. Get a glimpse of snow-covered Himalayas and walk among the 108 chortens that serve as a memorial to Bhutanese soldiers killed in a uprising in 2003.

Punakha. This city was once the capital of Bhutan. Visitors come here to see the amazing Punakha Dzong sitting on the banks of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu Rivers.

Chimi Lhakhang. This is a Buddhist monastery located near Punakha. Lama Drukpa Kunley, the Divine Madman, is one of Bhutan’s favorite saints, famous for his sexual exploits. His temple is now visited by childless couples searching to increase their fertility. Be blessed by a wooden phallus to ward off evil spirits…a travel experience you won’t soon forget.

  • See a festival. Bhutan is a country that loves a festival. These are among the most colorful events in the world.
  • Snowman Trek. This is one of the hardest high-altitude treks in the world. Spend 25 days trekking through the Himalayas of Bhutan, crossing nine passes with altitudes over 4500 meters.

Packing List for Bhutan Tour

We suggest you to pack all of your things in a 44L backpacking bag and your day bag. Bhutan tour is more like go out to explore on day tours that means moving around a lot, and potentially some hiking as well, so I recommend packing light in a comfortable pack.

Clothing

Bhutan is a conservative country, so much so that locals are required to wear their traditional dress most of the time. However, visitors are only required to wear certain clothes when entering dzongs or monasteries, but since this occurs most days in Bhutan, it’s best to be prepared.

  • Two pairs of lightweight, quick-dry trekking pants
  • One pair of yoga pants/leggings
  • Two t-shirts
  • One long sleeve shirt or thin sweater
  • Few pairs of underwear
  • Few pairs of blister proof socks
  • One packable down coat – October is autumn in Bhutan and can get cool at altitude.
  • One large hoodie – for warmth at night while camping
  • Running shoes or Flip flops
  • Comfortable hiking boots
  • One buff – I used mine as a headband to cover my hair when showering wasn’t available

Note: Foreigners are required to wear pants when entering a dzong or monastery. But if that doesn’t bother you, then just make sure you wear which cover your elbows and knees.

Hygiene & Personal Care

Bhutan is still a developing country, so pack accordingly.

  • Solid Shampoo and conditioner bar, face wash, Lip balm, sunscreen (recommended raw elements zero-waste and reef-safe sunscreen )
  • A book to read, Sunglasses and Small notebook
  • Toothpaste and Toothbrush – I prefer to use an environmentally friendly toothbrush as well
  • Hand cream/body lotion, Hair ties, Earplugs Hairbrush, Baby wipes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper (most bathrooms do not offer you toilet paper and instead provide you with a bucket of water and a cup to rinse off.
  • Any prescription medication you take and do not forget to take traveler’s diarrhea medication

Technology

  • Wifi is limited in Bhutan so Plan ahead and let your family and loved ones know not to worry; you won’t be able to check in as regularly as usual.
  • Headphones, Power adapter, Power bank, Camera, Extra memory cards, Camera battery charger

For the day hike

  • Day bag, Camel bag, Water bottle, Headlamp
  • Steripen – your tour company should provide you with bottled water daily, but I recommend being environmentally friendly and bringing your own purification system.

Travel Essentials

  • US dollar or Indian Rupees – You can exchange for the Bhutanese ngultrum when you are in Bhutan or  
  • A copy of your visa and itinerary – Whenever we tried to enter a monastery without our guide, we were kindly asked to produce a copy of our visa.
  • Travel insurance – Its always good to heave travel insurance when you are out on your tour so be prepared if in case.