Bhutan is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. Bhutan is often referred to as the last Shangri-La on earth, nestled deep in the valleys of the Himalayan mountains in southern Tibet. Travelers, the country is known as Bhutan, but the population calls itself proud Druk Pa and her country Druk or Druk Yul – the land of the thunder dragon. The number of tourists traveling to Bhutan each year is deliberately kept low to protect the country from excessive influence and make the trip a unique experience for every visitor.
A Rich Culture
The people of Bhutan are a rich mosaic of lifestyles and languages. However they are also united by their friendliness and unique cultural heritage rooted in Mahayana Buddhism that has remained isolated from western influence. They also treasure their environment, and live in harmony with its elements. The population is mainly concentrated in small towns and villages, and it is in these fascinating places that you can really discover the true spirit of the Bhutanese people.
Bhutan is a place where the mountains, rivers and valleys are abodes of the gods. The constant scenes of hills dotted with ancient temples, monasteries and prayer flags are testament to this, whilst in streams prayer wheels powered by the natural water flow turn day and night. Some sites are amongst the most sacred in the Himalayas such as Taktsang Monastery in Paro, and the many ancient Buddhist sites in Bumthang, Bhutan’s spiritual heartland.
The Bhutan monarchy was formed in 1907 under the leadership of the First King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk. The King of Bhutan is formally known as the Druk Gyalpo, the Dragon King. Bhutan’s current King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned in 2008. The legacy of the Wangchuck dynasty is one of peace and progress. This includes initiating the drafting of Bhutan’s first Constitution.
The stunning Bhutan Himalayan peaks are permanently capped with snow, mostly unclimbed, and tower over its dense forests, alpine meadows, lush valleys and rushing streams. Bhutan hosts peaks that reach between 5,000-7,000m (16,000-23,000ft) in height, and are neighbors to Mount Everest. The best way to really experience these landscapes is to incorporate a trek into your itinerary.
Incredible Diversity of Flora & Fauna
Bhutan’s spectacular environment is recognised as one of the world’s ten most important biodiversity hotspots. Its subtropical southern forests feature elephant, tiger, buffalo and deer whilst the high Himalayas have blue sheep, snow leopard, yak, takin. The Kingdom harbours an estimated 770 species of bird and is the wintering ground to the Black-Necked Crane.
For those travellers who would prefer to experience Bhutan in luxury, we offer a boutique range of luxurious resorts, lodges and hotels. Here guests will find every modern convenience, whilst resort facilities often include spa, meditation, yoga as well as a range of holistic therapies. We can also mix your accommodation style to experience traditional Bhutanese lodgings and a touch of luxury.
Land of Adventure
Bhutan provides the perfect backdrop for a host of adventure tour options. Why not combine a tour of Bhutan’s cultural highlights with an outdoor adventure experience. Options include white water river rafting the Class II and IV rapids east of Punakha, cycling through mixed forests, pastures, and villages, as well challenging treks and hiking and walking through meadows and valleys dotted with medieval villages.
Gross National Happiness
Gross National Happiness is a holistic and sustainable approach to development, which balances material and non-material values with the conviction that humans want to search for happiness. It is considered as the guiding philosophy of Bhutan’s development process, the philosophy was pronounced by His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck shortly after his enthronement in 1972. It is used as an indicator to measure the national progress. It serves as a philosophical guiding system for all national endeavors. GNH in its essence articulates that the collective happiness of its people is paramount to the progression of a nation. Gross Domestic Product while important, is deemed inadequate to accurately gauge the progress of a nation in the GNH paradigm. Gross National Happiness constitutes a set of values which are Socio Economic Development, Cultural Preservation, Good Governance and Environmental Conservation.
The intuitive guiding principle of Gross National Happiness led to a practical conceptualization for the foundation of the four pillars which are as follows:
Good Governance determines the conditions in which Bhutanese thrives accordingly with the policies and programs which are developed in Bhutan. These policies and programs are intended to keep conformity with the values of GNH. There are also a number of tools and procedures engaged to guarantee that the values are indeed well-established in social policy.
Sustainable Socio-economic Development
A prosperous GNH economy must value social and economic contributions considering all the aspects of households and families, free time and leisure given the roles of these factors in Happiness.
Preservation and Promotion of Culture
Preservation of the Bhutanese culture is a contributing aspect to Happiness because it instills a unique belonging to one’s land. Developing cultural resilience, which can be understood as the culture’s capacity to maintain and develop cultural identity, knowledge and practices, and able to overcome challenges and difficulties from other norms and ideals.
Environmental Conservation is considered a key contribution to GNH because in accumulation of the existing eco-system services, the environment also contributes to aesthetic and other factors that can directly heal people who enjoy vivid colors and light, untainted breeze and silence in nature’s sound.
The four pillars are further structured into nine domains, which articulate the different elements of GNH in elaboration and forms the basis of GNH measurement, index and screening tools.
• Living standards
• Community Vitality
• Psychological well-being
• Good Governance
• Cultural resilience and promotion
These nine domains demonstrate that various many inter-related factors are considered to be important in creating the conditions for happiness from the perspective of GNH.
Getting Into Bhutan
The Kingdom of Bhutan remained largely cut off from the rest of the world up until the early 1960’s. Entering the country was difficult as it was only accessible by foot from two main entry points, one in the North and another from the South. The Northern route was through Tibet, crossing high mountain passes that were inaccessible throughout the winters. The second entry route from the South came through the plains of Assam and West Bengal. The high frozen passes in the North and the dense jungles in the South made it extremely difficult to enter the country.
However, carefully planned economic development has made the country much more accessible and there are now a network of roads entering and traversing the country, as well as one international and multiple domestic airports.
Today the main roads entering the country are through Phuentsholing in the south, linking Bhutan with the Indian plains of West Bengal through the border towns of Gelephu, in the central region and Samdrup Jongkhar in the east, that link Bhutan with the Indian state of Assam.
Travel By Land
Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar are the only land border areas open to tourists.
The town of Phuentsholing in south-west is located approximately 170 km east of the Indian national airport at Bagdogra.
Gelephu, in south-central Bhutan, is another entry point to Bhutan. It is approximately 250 kms from Thimphu.
The district of Samdrup Jongkhar in south-east Bhutan borders the Indian district of Darranga, Assam and is approximately 150 kms away from Guwahati, the capital city of Assam.
Travel By Air
There are flights to destinations that include Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai.
Paro is situated at a height of 2,225 m (7300 ft) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains as high as 4,876 m (16,000 ft). At present two carriers operate to Bhutan, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. There are also domestic airports in Yonphula in eastern Bhutan, Bumthang in central Bhutan, and Gelephu in south-central Bhutan.
Flying into Bhutan’s Paro International Aiport is typically an exciting experience as the descent into Paro valley brings you closer to the mountain tops than most other flights in the world. The flight between Paro and Kathmandu is one of the most exciting ones as the aircraft passes over four of the five highest mountains in the world. In fine weather, as you soar higher up, you can enjoy the spectacular view of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangchenjunga at their best.
Minimum Daily Package Rate
In order to provide quality and sustainable tourism, all tourists visiting Bhutan pay the minimum tariff set by the government.
The minimum daily rate is as follows:
|Peak Season||250 USD||March, April, May, September, October, November.|
|Low Season||200 USD||January, February, June, July, November, December.|
The price includes:
- The fee for sustainable development
- Accommodation in a three-star hotel in a double room
- Meals (food and soft drinks)
- A guide
- Travel expenses in Bhutan
- Supplements, travel, etc. for trekking trips
Supplements for individual travelers and small groups
Individual travelers up to two persons visiting Bhutan pay in addition to their daily minimum fare a supplement as follows:
|Number of Travelers||Surcharge|
|A Traveler||40 USD per night|
|Two Travelers||30 USD per night|
Why is there a daily fee?
Tourism in Bhutan began in 1974. It was introduced with the main objective of generating revenue, especially foreign exchange, making the country’s unique culture and traditions known and contributing to the country’s socio-economic development. Since then, the number of tourists visiting Bhutan has risen from 287 in 1974 to over 7,000 in 1999 and 250,000 in 2017. The government was always aware that unchecked tourism would have a negative impact on Bhutan’s pristine and rich environment, as well as its unique culture.
That is why it introduced the policy of “high-value, low-volume” tourism, which from the beginning controlled the way and quantity of tourism. Today, tourism is the second largest source of revenue for the national gross domestic product. Therefore, the government has changed the tourism policy from “low volume” to “low impact”. In order to maintain a high tourist value, the government uses financial mechanisms to control the number of tourists and promote Bhutan as a special travel destination. The impact of tourists on the culture and environment of Bhutan should be kept low.
At present, the government’s minimum tariff for cultural tours and trekking tours is $ 250 for the high season and $ 200 for the off-season. There is no quota or limit on the number of tourists allowed to come to Bhutan.
Bhutan’s main tourist attractions are its traditional culture and way of life, its religious festivals, historic monuments and untouched nature. Bhutan has received many international awards and honors for its prudent development policy, which gives high priority to the preservation of its natural and cultural heritage. The protection of nature and culture is part of the Bhutanese system of values and an important aspect of Bhutan’s traditional way of life. Tourism policy reflects this approach.
When is the best time to travel?
Weather and climatic conditions
There are four distinct seasons in Bhutan (winter, spring, summer and autumn). The spring and summer months are usually pleasant with mild temperatures throughout the region. In the summer, it can get hot during the day and occasionally rain easily. In the winter months it is very cold at night and in the morning, during the day it can be pleasantly warm.
Every season has its charm, for example, the spring and summer season is a planting season for farmers across the country. Everywhere are colorful flowers and lush green rice fields to see, making the landscape fresh and stimulating. During the fall season, crops are harvested throughout the country and the fields shine in bright gold. The highlight of the winter season is the clear blue sky with an uninterrupted view of the valley and the Himalayas, ideal for hikers and mountain pass enthusiasts.
Tourists who want to visit a festival during their trip to Bhutan should plan their trip in spring or fall. The famous festival Paro Tsechu is celebrated in March or April and the Thimphu Tsechu in September or October. Parse Tsechu and Thimphu Tsechu are the country’s most popular mask dance festivals. Bhutan receives the most tourists during this time. Therefore, interested travelers should book their stay early to secure flights and hotel rooms.
If you want to do a trekking tour in Bhutan, you should plan the trip either in spring or autumn. The trekking routes remain inaccessible during the winter months, because the constant precipitation at higher altitudes makes walking difficult. In spring and autumn, on the other hand, there are mild climatic conditions and the weather is mostly dry, which is ideal for trekking tours.
Low Budget Travel
Budget-conscious travelers who would like to come to Bhutan should visit the country in winter or summer. During these periods, the daily rate will be reduced by $ 50 per person per night, significantly reducing travel costs. Airlines also offer cheaper fares during these times.
It is also possible to travel to eastern Bhutan at a cheaper rate: tourists only have to pay the sustainable development fee of US $ 65 per day.
Additional Travel Information
All travelers must apply for their visa prior to arrival in Bhutan. The tourism regulation stipulated by the Government of Bhutan stipulates that all tours must be booked through a certified local tour operator. The local tour operator applies for the tourist visa on behalf of the traveler. There is a one-time processing fee of $ 40 per person.
Customs and Duty Free
Travelers can bring the following items to Bhutan for personal use: 200 cigarettes, 30 cigars or 150 grams of tobacco. A person who imports tobacco products for personal use from India pays 100% sales tax, from all other countries 100% sales tax and 100% duty. While in Bhutan, if you are inspected by the Tobacco Inspector, you must keep and present the tax certificate.
The import and export of the following items is strictly prohibited:
- Weapons, ammunition and explosives
- All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs
- Wild animals, especially endangered species
- The import of plants, natural resources etc. is subject to the quarantine regulations.
- Visitors are advised to be cautious when buying old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate.
The local currency in Bhutan is Ngultrum. The ngultrum is linked to the Indian rupee. For up-to-date information on exchange rates, see the website of local banks and the airport. The exchange rate with the euro is usually 1 (Euro) to 70-80 (Ngultrim). Money exchange services are available at local banks. There are also many ATMs that accept VISA and MasterCard. Service fees may vary depending on the country and bank where the card was issued. Therefore, travelers are advised to contact their bank before traveling to Bhutan. Most hotels, restaurants and shops accept card payments.
Tourist SIM card
Local telephone companies offer tourists SIM cards for sale. Upon purchase, a copy of your passport must be presented. A SIM card costs 100 to 200 Ngultrum. SIM cards are available in standard, micro and nano sizes.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Where is Bhutan?
Bhutan is a small, landlocked nation located in the eastern Himalayas between India and China. Its landscape ranges from subtropical plains and forests in the South to subalpine forests and snowy mountains in the North. Bhutan is a predominantly Buddhist country and is known as the last stronghold of Mahayana Buddhism.
2. Do I need to use a tour operator to book my travel?
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.
3. Do I need a visa to enter Bhutan?
All International tourists wishing to enter Bhutan require a visa which must be pre-arranged through a license Bhutanese Tour Operator or one of their international partners. Visa clearance must be obtained through your tour operator prior to travel. For Indian passport (or VIC) holders, Bangladeshi nationals and persons from the Maldives may obtain a visa on entry.
4. How much does the visa cost?
For International tourist visas, a cost of USD 40 is applicable. This can be paid in advance to your tour operator or travel agent. For Indian passport (or VIC) holders, Bangladeshi nationals and persons from the Maldives, there is no cost incurred.
5. How do I get to Bhutan?
There are a number of airports where you can fly into Bhutan from (Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai.). At present two carriers operate to Bhutan, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. Also, there are three land border crossings which you can travel into the kingdom overland. All crossings are along the Indian border only – Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar. All travel arrangements to Bhutan must be made through a local tour operator. A list of tour companies operating in Bhutan is available on this website. Your selected tour operator will make all the necessary arrangements.
6. What does the $200/$250 per day minimum daily package include?
The $200 per day (January, February, June, July, August) and $250 per day (March, April, May, September, October, November) package includes a minimum of 3 star accommodations, costs for food, an experienced guide and transportation within the country. Also included in the price is a $65 per day Sustainable Development Fee that goes towards free education, free healthcare and poverty alleviation. All of these services will be arranged by your tour operator.
7. What currency is used in Bhutan?
Bhutanese currency is known as the Ngultrum. Its value is tied to the Indian Rupee which is widely accepted in the country.
8. Is there a limit on the number of tourists that can enter Bhutan each year?
There is no limit on the number of tourists allowed to visit in a year. In order to protect our culture, traditions and natural environment, the government has adopted a unique policy of “High Value, Low Impact ”. This policy is aimed at attracting discerning tourists that will respect the unique culture and values of the Bhutanese people while also providing the visitors with an unforgettable one of a kind experience.
9. What’s the food like in Bhutan?
The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillies are an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that is not spicy.
Rice forms staple Bhutanese diet. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are consumed most often. A wide selection of western and Indian food is also available in many of the restaurants around the country.