How To Visit Bhutan: Ultimate Bhutan Travel Guide
Bhutan is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited – but so many people have never even heard of it. Nobody I knew had ever been there before so I couldn’t ask anyone for Bhutan travel advice beforehand. Lucky for you, I’ve tried and tested one of the most booked Bhutan travel packages and will let you in on all the secrets. This article covers everything you need to know before traveling to Bhutan.
Updates on Tourism in Bhutan following the COVID-19 Pandemic
Bhutan officially opened their borders to all travelers on 23rd September 2022. Visitors may be subjected to random RT-PCR testing at the points of entry to maintain covid-19 surveillance for new variants. These tests are free of charge. Here are some other updates to note regarding tourism in Bhutan:
- Bhutan has revised its tourism policy after 30 years to realign on its ‘high value, low volume’ focus.
- Visitors are now required to pay a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) of USD 200 per person per night for adults (12 years and above). Children aged 5 to 12 years only pay USD 100 per person per night, while those below 12 years old are exempted from the SDF.
Indians nationals will however pay only 1200 Rp per day til end 2023.
- Visa application fee of USD40 per person is still applicable and must be paid separately.
- Visitors have the flexibility to customize their own itinerary and plan their own trips to Bhutan after paying for SDF themselves.
- Visitors can still engage a trusted travel agency like Druk Asia to plan their visit to Bhutan though it’s no longer mandatory.
- Visitors are required to pay an entrance fee between 1000 BTN to 2000 BTN (~USD12.50 to ~USD25) to visit certain historical or monumental sites.
How much does it cost to visit Bhutan?
With this new policy, Bhutan tour prices are expected to rise by 30%.
Previously, a 7-day tour in Bhutan, which is the average duration for most visitors, would cost at least 1,740 USD, which includes the current SDF, lodging, all meals, and the transportation services of a trained guide and driver. If operators try to keep out-of-pocket expenses to a minimum, they expect this cost to be at least $2,500 USD.
Basic Information about Bhutan
- Capital City: Thimphu
- National Language: Dzongkha, a Sino-Tibetan language
- Currency: Ngultrum (BTN), 1 USD = 70,95 BTN
- Official Religion: Vajrayana Buddhism
- Timezone: BTT (Bhutan Time), UTC/GMT +6 hours, No DST
- Climate: Weather in Bhutan depends upon the altitude; from arctic to tropical.
Mind-blowing Facts about Bhutan
Check out my article 10 amazing facts about Bhutan you won’t believe for more details.
- People in Bhutan don’t have surnames.
- No animals are killed in Bhutan.
- Chopping trees is illegal.
- Tuesdays are dry days.
- The Bhutanese love cheese.
- They wear their traditional dress daily.
- There are no traffic lights in Bhutan.
- Marijuana grows wild… everywhere!
- The Queen’s father is a pilot for Druk Air.
- Bhutanese people speak Dzongkha.
Bhutan Travel Packages & Bhutan Travel Agents
When I tell people about my awesome Bhutan travel experience,, I often get responses that it seems to be a country that is difficult to visit. In fact, it’s not hard at all to travel to Bhutan. If you’re wondering how to travel to Bhutan, here’s what you need to know:
It’s true that you cannot just book a flight to Paro airport (the only international airport in the country) and travel around solo in Bhutan, you must book your Bhutan trip via one of the government approved Bhutan travel agents. You can fly into Bhutan from the following airports: Delhi, Kathmandu, Singapore or Bangkok. I chose to fly in from Nepal and spent four amazing days in Kathmandu prior to my Bhutan trip.
It’s true that you cannot just book a flight to Paro airport (the only international airport in the country) and travel around solo in Bhutan, you must book your Bhutan trip via one of the government approved Bhutan travel agents. You can fly into Bhutan from the following airports: Delhi, Kathmandu, Singapore or Bangkok. I chose to fly in from Nepal and spent four amazing days in Kathmandu prior to my Bhutan trip. The only way around this is to consider chartering a plane from somewhere like Jettly, as private planes have access to many more airports than commercial planes – plus, you would arrive in serious style!
Once you decide on the Bhutan travel package of your choice, the travel agent arranges the trip for you, including flight, accommodation, Bhutanese guide and driver.
I booked my Bhutan trip through DrukAsia, an approved tour agency for Bhutan travel with 30 full time guides and 15 freelance guides. All Bhutan tour guides undergo a 3-month-long tourism training by the Bhutanese Tourism Organization and are subject to regular drug testing to ensure the best tour experience to all guests.I chose the “7 Day Essential Bhutan Tour” covering the most important attractions in Bhutan. This tour starts from $1,550 USD and is available year-round.
How much does it cost to travel to Bhutan?
The Bhutan travel cost per day is $200 USD.
This might seem like a steep price but it already includes accommodation, food, transportation and guide during your entire stay. Plus, a part of this daily tariff is also used to fund Bhutan’s education and healthcare system.
The Bhutanese government introduced these strict tourism regulations in order to prevent mass tourism from destroying the country’s unparalleled natural wonders and deep-rooted Buddhist culture.
Bhutan Travel Visa
There are certain Bhutan visa application requirements that need to be met in order to be able to visit Bhutan.
It is not possible to travel Bhutan without a visa except for Indian and Bangladeshi citizens, who can travel to Bhutan without a visa.
A Bhutan travel visa is issued to tourists who booked a Bhutan tour package with a local tour agent approved by the Bhutanese government.
I booked my Bhutan trip with the Bhutan travel specialist DrukAsia, who submitted my Bhutan visa application to the Tourism Council of Bhutan in Thimphu on my behalf. They took care of the entire process – the Bhutan travel visa fee is also included in the Bhutan tour package price.
Travel Insurance for Bhutan
In order to visit Bhutan and qualify for a tourist visa, you need to have travel insurance for Bhutan. Although Bhutan is very safe, unexpected disasters, accidents or other kinds of damage can always happen.
Adequate insurance not only provides you with medical coverage (if you get sick or break your leg), but also covers things like your camera full of epic shots getting damaged or stolen, your flights getting cancelled, or you getting caught up in a natural disaster.
In short, it’s an insurance against potential issues that arise when you’re traveling and can save your life (or at the very least, a lifetime of debt).
BOOK | I recommend booking World Nomads travel insurance.
World Nomads provides travel insurance for travelers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
Best Time to Travel to Bhutan
In general, Bhutan is a great destination for year-round travel because of the different climate within the country. However, October to December is said to be the ideal time to visit Bhutan because the air is clear and fresh with sunny skies.
January and February are colder, but from then until April the weather remains dry and pleasant. Late spring is also very popular as the famous rhododendrons bloom spectacularly, flooding the valleys with color.
From May, heat and humidity increase and from June to September the monsoon rains dominate the mountains of Bhutan.For those wanting to spot the rare black-necked cranes in Phobjikha Valley, you should plan your Bhutan trip between late October and mid-February.
Is Bhutan safe for traveling?
Many of my fellow travel ladies keep asking me “Is Bhutan safe for solo female travelers”? The answer is: Yes!
Bhutan solo female travel might not yet be a “thing” but it definitely could be. At the same time, you’re never truly alone since you are traveling with a guide and driver for the majority of your tour.
During my own Bhutan trip, I traveled in a private tour with only a Bhutanese guide and a driver – both male and about my age. They were super professional and laid-back at the same time and it felt like traveling with new friends.At no point did I feel unsafe during my trip in Bhutan. That being said, yes, Bhutan is safe for solo female travelers!
Dos and Don’ts for Visiting Bhutan
Religion is incredibly important in Bhutan and visitors should show respect accordingly. The following tips will help you avoid unnecessary faux-pas when traveling to Bhutan.
- Bring warm socks to wear inside temples and monasteries
- Speak quietly in and around religious places
- Use a stretched palm when pointing to someone
- Small donations at temples or monasteries are welcome (5 or 10 Nu)
- No hats, shorts or sleeveless shirts
- No shoes inside shrines or temples, socks are allowed
- No smoking in and around temples/monasteries and religious monuments
- No shouting/loud talking in and around religious areas
- No pointing with your finger at people, statues and religious figures
The Best Places to Visit in Bhutan
Memorial Chorten, Thimphu
The National Memorial Chorten is a beautiful white structure crowned with a golden spire. It was built in memory of Third Druk Gyalpo and is dedicated to World Peace. People come here to make their rounds around the stupa for prayers, especially in the morning hours. On auspicious days, you can even visit the inside of the stupa and see a beautiful golden Buddha statue.
Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu
The Buddha Dordenma statue sits atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park overlooking the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy from the 8th century A.D that is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world. At 51.5 meters high, the statue is among the largest statues of Buddha in the world.
Dochula Pass is a popular tourist spot on the way to central Bhutan. Besides stunning 360-degree views of the Himalayas, it is also home to 108 stupas that were built to memorialize Bhutanese soldiers killed in a 2003 battle with Indian insurgents from the Assam region. Certainly an impressive location to visit in Bhutan.
This fortification is one of Bhutan’s most stunning structures and was built strategically between the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers in 1637. Punakha Dzong is one of only five in Bhutan. Dzongs serve as administrative and government offices and monasteries and their massive architecture is unique to Bhutan, Tibet and parts of India.
Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge
Located next to Punakha Dzong, the 160-meter-long Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan. It offers spectacular views of Punakha Dzong and the Pho Chhu Valley.
Paro (Rinpung) Dzong
Another one of Bhutan’s five majestic Dzongs, Rinpung Dzong in Paro literally translates to Fortress on Jewels. It received its name due to the fact that the dzong was built using stones rather than clay. It’s considered one of the most beautiful examples of 15th-century architecture in Bhutan.
Phobjikha (Gangtey) Valley
One of my personal highlights was visiting Phobjikha Valley. This bowl-shaped valley is home to many of the most beautiful wild animals of Bhutan, including muntjac, sambar, serow, or yak.
Taktsang (Tiger Nest) Monastery
A trip to Bhutan wouldn’t complete without climbing to Tiger Nest Monastery. This dramatically set Buddhist relic hanging from a cliff is going to be the highlight for any traveller to Bhutan. The 2.5-hour hike up the mountains fills you with spiritual bliss when you ascend over two thousand feet over the valley floor.
What to pack for a trip to Bhutan?
Because the weather can vary greatly in the different height levels in the country, you’ll need to pack both warmer and cooler clothes. Here’s a list of the most important things to pack for your trip to Bhutan:
- warm jacket
- good leather or waterproof fabric boots or shoes with good soles
- waterproof jacket
- warm hat
- sunhat and sunscreen
- a sufficient supply of any medication you are taking
- thermal underwear (for evenings and in the winter)
- head lamp
- insect repellent
- lip balm
- Camera & gear
- Adequate wet weather gear
Recommended Travel Guides for Bhutan
If you want to learn more about Bhutan and have a handy travel guide in your pocket, check out these three options below:
Bhutan Travelog aims to provide readers with information about Bhutan’s history, values, and customs, as well as travel tips and recommendations. This book also includes 9 exclusive first-hand accounts from different travelers who have visited Bhutan to give readers a glimpse into this idyllic country. Buy this book.
Lonely Planet Bhutan is your passport to the most up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, as well as what hidden discoveries await you. Join the pilgrims at the colorful Changangkha Lhakhang, hike to the dramatic cliff-hanging Taktshang Goemba, and stroll through Thimpu’s bustling weekend market with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Bhutan and start your journey right away! Buy this book.
Culture Wise! Bhutan will provide you with a more in-depth understanding of the country’s history, values, customs, and age-old traditions. It highlights changes in people’s attitudes and behavior as the country modernizes, and it offers practical advice on how to meet Bhutanese people on their own terms, paving the way for a more meaningful experience of this fascinating and beautiful country. Buy this book.
Are you ready for your trip to Bhutan?
Now that you’ve read this guide about visiting Bhutan, you are ready to embark on your very own Bhutan adventure! Hit up DrukAsia and let them know Linda from Linda Goes East sent you.
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