Travelers seeking an exotic, off-the-beaten-path destination in Asia, are drawn to Bhutan, a small country that tightly controls tourism to maintain its culture and pristine environment. Famous for being one of the happiest countries in the world, a trip to Bhutan will be unlike anywhere you’ve ever visited. For many centuries, Bhutan isolated itself from the rest of the world, keeping the country cloaked in mystery. The small nation only started welcoming tourists in 1974, and it was the last country in the world to legalize television and the internet. Today, Bhutan has become more modernized, but it hasn’t lost sight of its traditions. Visitors will see locals walking around in traditional dress (cell phones firmly in hand).
Bhutan’s unique charm lies in its commitment to preserving its cultural identity and natural beauty. With a limited number of tourists allowed each year, the kingdom has managed to retain its authenticity and traditional way of life. From the iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery perched precariously on a cliff to the vibrant festivals that showcase the country’s vivid traditions, Bhutan offers a captivating blend of spirituality and serenity.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Bhutan.
The Best Time to Visit Bhutan
The best time of year to visit Bhutan is either in the spring (March through May) or fall (from September to November), as this is Bhutan’s dry season. Temperatures are at their mildest during these times as well. Time your trip for late spring to see the country’s many rhododendrons bloom, providing a spectacular backdrop for photos.
We recommend visiting Bhutan in September or October when you’ll have good weather, as well as the chance to experience one of the country’s famous festivals.
Birdwatchers may wish to visit between late October and mid-February, as that’s when you’ll have the best chance of seeing the rare black-necked cranes in the Phobjikha Valley.
Avoid traveling in June through August, which is Bhutan’s monsoon season, especially if you plan on doing any trekking. December through February can get bitterly cold, and so are also not good times to visit Bhutan.
The Best Bhutan Itinerary
Are you looking to spend a week or two in Bhutan? Copy our 9-day itinerary, which combines city days, festivals, and hiking for the perfect overview.
Day 1: Fly into Paro, the main airport in Bhutan. Pro tip: sit on the left-hand side of the plane to get a glimpse of Mount Everest on your flight in.
Visit Paro Dzong, a fortress that’s a beautiful example of traditional Bhutanese architecture. The national museum located above the fortress is worth spending an hour or two in as well.
Where to Stay: Le Meridien, Paro. The luxurious Le Meridien is the best place to stay in Paro.
Day 2: Drive just outside of Paro to hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Perched on the ledge of a cliff above the Paro Valley, this mystical-looking structure is one of the most famous sights in Bhutan. The hike to Tiger’s Nest takes approximately 2.5 hours and can be done by anyone who is relatively fit.
Where to Stay: Le Meridien, Paro
Day 3: Get a taste of hiking in the Himalayas with a trek along Bhutan’s gorgeous Druk Path. This high-altitude walk showcases some of the best mountain views in the country.
Where to Stay: Camping
Day 4: Continue hiking along the Druk Path. Make sure you stop at Jele Dzong, a 14th-century monastery located high up in the mountains.
Where to Stay: Camping
Day 5: Continue hiking along the Druk Path to Jimi Lang Tscho, a stunning lakefront camping site.
Where to Stay: Camping
Day 6: Final full day of hiking the Druk Path. Today you’ll see some of the most spectacular views of the highest mountains around.
Where to Stay: Camping
Day 7: Descend into Motithang, a good exit point for the Druk Path. From here, it’s a short drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Spend the afternoon exploring this charming town, which is the only capital city in the world without a traffic light. Instead, you’ll find police in full dress uniforms directing traffic by hand.
Where to Stay: Terma Linca Resort and Spa. After so much hiking, treat yourself to a stay at Terma Linca, a four-star resort with a spa, steam room, and hot tubs.
Day 8: Spend the day watching dance performances and celebrating with the locals at one of Bhutan’s whirlwind festivals.
Some of the best festivals in Bhutan to time your trip around are:
- Thimphu Tshechu (Thimphu, September 15-17)
- Paro Tshechu (Paro, April 2-6)
- Haa Summer Festival (Haa Valley, July 13-14)
The Best Things to do in Bhutan
Some of our favorite things to do in Bhutan were:
- Tiger’s Nest Monastery
- Walk around solo in Thimphu
- Sample Ema Datshi, the firey national dish of Bhutan
- Test your bravery by crossing Bhutan’s longest suspension bridge in Phunaka
- Visit the giant golden Buddha Dordenma outside Thimphu
- Thimphu Festival
- Visit Dochula Pass, which features 108 shrines overlooking incredible mountain views
- Explore Punakha Dzong, a traditional fortress on the banks of the Mo Chhu River
- Hike the Druk Path
- Soak in a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath
How to Visit Bhutan
Visitors to Bhutan must pay a $200 per person per day Sustainable Development Fee (SDF). The Bhutanese government levies this fee to help keep their tourism industry sustainable. This means, if you are a couple who wants to take a week-long trip to Bhutan, you’ll pay $2,800 in addition to entrance fees, transportation costs, meals, lodging, and tours.
However, tourists are no longer required to book mandatory tour packages (that included guides, meals, and lodging), a requirement that was lifted in 2023. You can now travel to Bhutan independently, without a tour.
You will need to get a visa in advance of visiting Bhutan, which costs a surprisingly affordable $40.
There are a lot of complicated requirements around visiting Bhutan, including prepaying the SDF and finding a driver, hotel, etc. We recommend booking a package tour which will take care of all of the requirements for you. When choosing a tour, make sure you opt for one that includes the SDF in the price of the package.
We visited Bhutan on Exodus Adventure Travels’ Druk Path Trek tour which we got on sale for around $7,000 in 2023, and highly recommend it. (This price included the visa to Bhutan.) Exodus Adventure Travels used wonderful local guides that gave us great insight into local culture. Having someone else handle all of the logistics made it easy to fit trekking, festival, and city touring into just a week-long trip.
Packing for Bhutan: Bhutan Packing List
Wondering what to wear in Bhutan? These are the essentials that you should pack for Bhutan.
There are no rules around what tourists have to wear in Bhutan. However, the locals dress modestly, and you may feel more comfortable if you follow suit. You’ll need to have your and shoulders knees covered when visiting temples, monasteries, and festivals, so pack long skirts, a shawl, and lightweight pants to meet the dress code.
- Water bottle—I brought this water bottle that has a built-in UV filter, which was great for hiking.
- Waterproof hiking boots. These ones from Danner are my favorite since they are cute enough to wear around town as well as on a hike.
- Rain gear, especially waterproof gloves—It rained for three solid days on my Druk Trek hike, and having good waterproof gear made it less miserable.
- Layers. Since Bhutan is in the Himalayas, it can get very warm during the day and very cold at night.
- Lightweight shawl for visiting temples.
- Casual, long dresses. I wore this affordable one from Amazon and got so many compliments while still being super comfortable.
- Socks. You have to remove your shoes before entering temples, so if you don’t want to go barefoot and you’re wearing sandals, pack a clean pair of socks in your day bag.
- Day bag.
- Hiking backpack.
- Sunscreen (the sun is very strong at Bhutan’s high elevation).
- 3-in-1 jacket to handle any kind of weather.
- Travel Umbrella
- Portable charger.
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