In a land where the Buddhist tradition ensures a respect and reverence for nature, you will find soaring Himalayan peaks rising above deep ravines cloaked in untouched forest. Throughout the land you can visit fortress-like dzongs and monasteries, witness traditional dance festivals and meet the engaging people. Bhutan may not be 'Shangri La', but it's as close as it gets.
best time to travel
The best time to travel to Bhutan is October through April. From October through December expect pleasant weather with clear skies. Winter is a quiet time offering dry crisp weather and the chance to see the rare black-necked crane (November through February). Late spring sees the spectacular bloom of the rhododendron. Bhutan's main festivals are held in spring and fall.
places to go
While Bhutan's capital is no longer the quiet backwater it once was, it is still an intriguing place where monks and government officials go around in traditional dress and where cafes, bars, nightclubs and restaurants stand shoulder to shoulder with traditional dzongs and chorten. Day trips can be made into the Thimpu Valley with its many cultural attractions, pleasant walks and nature reserves.
The wooden shop-lined main street of Paro makes for an interesting few hours of discovery after a day of sightseeing. But most people come here to visit the impressive Paro Dzong, one of the most impressive fortresses in Bhutan as well as Kyichu Lhakhang one of the country's oldest and most beautiful temples. The excellent national museum is another popular destination.
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest Monastery)
The archetypal image of Bhutan is that of the Tiger's Nest Monastery clinging to the side of a cliff. Here the only sounds are those of wind and water and the prayer wheels creaking. The hike up to the monastery is a highlight for many visitors to Bhutan.
En-route from Paro to the Haa valley, an hour's hike brings you to a viewpoint with magnificent views over the staggering Kila nunnery, a collection of 7 small temples.
Following the road from Paro to Punakha, you will climb steeply through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with bearded lichen, until you reach the heights of the Dochula pass. Sip some butter tea while enjoying the panoramic views of the Himalaya.
Vying with Paro Dzong for the crown of the most impressive dzong in Bhutan, Punakha Dzong is certainly considered one of the most beautiful, especially when the jacaranda trees bloom in spring.
Bumthang (Chokhor) Valley
Often referred to as the spiritual heart of Bhutan, the Chokhor Valley in Bumthang is a little-visited area of small villages, beautiful temples, dense blue-pine forests, meadows and bamboo groves.
Phobjikha (Gangtey) Valley
A large flock of rare black-necked cranes winter in this valley making the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park one of the most important wildlife preserves in Bhutan.
The sleepy town of Trongsa sits perched above a gorge right in the centre of the country. The dzong by the same name is one of the most spectacularly sited in Bhutan, sitting as it does on a cliff high above the river.
Due to its philosophy of low-volume-high-value tourism, Bhutan's culture, while by no means unchanged, is one of the least Western-influenced cultures in the world. Witness it in the architecture, the festivals, the monasteries and temples, the handicrafts and the food and most of all, in the educated, fun-loving people.
...and Nature Untouched
By law 60% of the country must remain forested forever. As a result you will find beautiful forests, rhododendrons blooming in spring, splendid mountain vistas and passes and unique flora and fauna.
Trekking in Bhutan
Most multi-day treks in Bhutan reach high altitudes. But the rewards are great, as you trek through rhododendron forests and alpine meadows set against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks, while getting a true cultural immersion. Some of the more famous treks are the Laya to Gasa and Jhomolhari treks (rated challenging), Chomolhari Base Camp Trek (rated moderate) and the Snowman Trek (Entry Level Mountaineering). One trek within the abilities of most people is the Druk Path trek, leading from Paro to Thimpu.
Hiking in Bhutan
For those wanting lighter activity there are plenty of day hikes to be done. Walks in the Haa Valley or to Zuri Dzong are rewarding, as are hikes in the remote Bumthang or Phobjikha Valleys. Walks through valleys and past temples are truly rewarding cultural immersions.
Hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery
The hike to the legendary Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Takshang Lakhang) is for many the highlights of their trip to Bhutan.
It is said that you have not been to Bhutan unless you have tried its national dish Ema Datsi (literally chilies and cheese). Sour cheese (datshi), mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, (suja) butter tea, arra (a smoky tasting alcoholic drink) and yak meat are specialties.
Drive the roads
Travelling Bhutan's roads can be a harrowing experience. But the experience of travelling through a country where time has almost stood still, with its beautiful forests and views of the Himalaya is an experience not easily forgotten.
Markets in Bhutan are a sensory experience, with different foods competing with prayer flags, handicrafts and textiles. Thimpu's weekend market is an experience not to be missed.
Festivals in Bhutan are colourful affairs attracting throngs of locals. They are great opportunities for photography and to immerse yourself in local culture while seeing monks dance and witness performers with fabulous masks and costumes. Some of the most famous festivals are the Paro Tshechu (held in spring) and Thimphu Tshechu, Thangbi Mani, and the Wangdue Tshechu (all in fall)