The greenest and happiest country in the world, Bhutan is leading the way in environmental protection with their negative carbon footprint. Around 70% of the land is covered in forest, making a trip inside this natural paradise feel like ascendance into a higher world. This celestial kingdom is not known to many however; it is lost amidst the sweeping mountains.
A true mystery to the outside world, Bhutan deliberately keeps itself fairly closed off in order to protect its cultural traditions. But visiting this enigmatic country is not impossible, albeit with some travelling restrictions. Here is what to know when planning an epic journey into the euphoric country of Bhutan.
How you can visit
As an isolated nation, Bhutan only has one international airport: the Paro Airport (PBH). This country’s landscape is a blessing in every way except one, that being this airport is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world. With only two airlines and under two dozen pilots certified to fly here, part of the Bhutan adventure is, well, arriving.
But not to worry, as flights are only allowed in daytime and in appropriate weather conditions. To find out more, check out this short clip provided by the BBC’s Travel Show following one pilot’s successful landing.
Drukair has flights connecting to five different countries, those being Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Singapore and Thailand. Since flights are limited, check out the monthly schedule first before planning your trip.
You must have a visa and valid passport in order to enter and exit Bhutan. Whilst visas are only issued on arrival, you will need to apply before your trip through a tour operator and be approved. This visa application fee will cost around $40 USD.
As part of Bhutan’s traditional tourism policy, you will be expected to pay a daily fee of around $200 to the local tour operator. It does not cover any of your additional travel costs like food, accommodation and travel. If you are a Bengaline, Indian or Maldivian citizen however, you are expected to pay a smaller fee of ₹1,200 per day.
This policy has been set up to counter mass tourism and to preserve Bhutan’s natural and cultural landscapes. Whilst it does make Bhutan one of the more challenging destinations to visit, these measures go toward a greater cause and help to keep Bhutan as the mysterious but marvellous country that it is.
Travellers visiting Bhutan are required to see the country through a trusted tour operator. But since the public transportation in Bhutan can be overcrowded and difficult to navigate, this can be considered a blessing in disguise. Less time spent worrying means more time to take in the incredible mountain views!
For a week in paradise, check out Intrepid Travel’s 7-day Bhutan Discovered tour: which includes 6 nights of accommodation and 3 meals a day, everyday, all in the price-point. Bhutan is not the most budget-friendly, but this is one of the more affordable tours available. For slower-paced and tailor-made travelling, Audley Travel will be better suited to you.
Things to do
A kingdom famous for its legendary monasteries and dramatic mountains, Bhutan is jam-packed with exciting activities that will keep you busy and breathless. Whether you wish to wander through the paddy fields of Thimphu or visit this capital’s most astonishing sights, such as the gilded in gold Buddha Dordenma Statue or the lively Simply Bhutan museum, is entirely up to you. Stop by the Choki Traditional Art School to feel moved and inspired by how the local community has come together to support underprivileged children and assist in their education.
The highlight of most trips to Bhutan however is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Constructed around the late 17th century, the Paro Taktsang towers over the valley by 800 meters. As you can expect, trekking up here makes for an ambitious hike! It will take roughly 4 to 5 hours to complete a round trip here, in addition to at least an hour touring the monastery itself. Fortunately, the trail is mostly dirt-path and not too steep: meaning that completing this hike is a goal within reach.
Food & Drink
Vegetarian travellers can get by fairly well here, as menus often feature bite-sized Indian treats like chaat, dosas, and samosas. Bhutan’s national dish combines spicy with sweet, as the Ema Datshi is a simple stew featuring chillies and the unique datshi cheese: that resembles cottage cheese.
But meat-lovers need not fret, as Chinese food also plays a great influence here. Chicken, beef and yak meat are the most popular here, but you can also find dishes with pork as well — usually served with rice.
Eating with your hands is encouraged here, and one way to enjoy the food here is to shape some rice into a bowl and use it to scoop! But before you dig in, always wait until everyone has been served.
Alongside your appetising dinner you will want to try a glass of Ara: Bhutan’s national drink. An alcoholic beverage served warm, Ara is made of native grain cereals. But if you would rather skip the alcohol, then try a cup of Suja (Butter tea) that is equally cosy.
When to visit
For the brightest and clearest weather, the best time to visit Bhutan will be between the months of October to November, or March to April. Temperatures at this time of year average around 14 to 18°C, making a trip to Bhutan all the more pleasant. Furthermore, nature lovers may be keen to see Bhutan at this time — as this is when the rare black necked cranes make an enthralling appearance. There is even a November festival dedicated to this stunning creature!
Whether you are a city goer or countryside person, you will fall head over heels with Bhutan once you visit. From awe-inspiring monasteries that sit at panoramic cliff-edges to hiking the Himalayas, visiting this country is like exploring a sky castle. A Shangri-La come to life, Bhutan is South Asia’s best kept secret.