Bhutan is one of the last truly unspoiled corners of the world, filled with stunning scenery, friendly locals and fascinating culture. There’s an incredible wealth of things to do and see here, so we’ve narrowed it down to our can’t miss highlights for a first trip to Bhutan. We know that once you go, you’ll want to return time and time again to this infectious region.
1. Attend a Festival
Festivals (Tsechus) in Bhutan are vibrant affairs that take place throughout the year, celebrating everything from the Black-necked crane to mushrooms. They’re a great way to get involved in local communities and soak up the spirit of the country. If you’re feeling extra festive, we recommend getting in on the action by dressing up in traditional Bhutanese garb. Women wear elegant wraparound skirts called ‘kira’ and the men wear checked, floor length belted robes called ‘Gho’.
2. Meet a Monk
Be part of a level of spiritualism that has been largely lost in the world today. 10% of Bhutan’s population are monks and Buddhism is a massive part of the country’s national identity. This immersive and special experience is perfect for kids as well, children as young as six in Bhutan are taken to become monks, and getting to meet monks their own age provides a wonderful way to see life from a different perspective. Though the cultural differences may be vast, they’ll surely have a surprising amount in common. They’ll hear stories of getting up each day before first-light for prayers and their daily routines.
3. Punakha Dzong
There are tons of breathtaking, impressive Dzongs dotted throughout Bhutan and though we highly recommend them all, a standout is the Punakha Dzong. Its name translates to he palace of great happiness or bliss, and is the finest of its kind in the country, dating from the 17th century and located on the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Po Chhu Rivers. Constructed by Ngawang Namgyal in 1638, it is the second oldest Dzong in Bhutan and was the seat of the Bhutanese Government until 1955, and also the place where the current King and Queen were married. Visit on the weekend to combine the Punakha Dzong with a trip to the Khurunthang Saturday Vegetable Market or the Wangdue Market. Wander the stalls, getting a glimpse into daily life and maybe haggle with locals for the best deal on locally grown beans or a bag of chili.
4. The Butterfly Trail & Rafting in Punakha
For an excellent way to get under the skin of Bhutan’s nature, go trekking in Punakha. You’ll weave through a lush green forest awash with butterflies, leading you to a verdant valley of terraced paddy fields. Along the way you’ll pass by local farmers at work and stop for tea in a local home before ascending up to the Khamsm Yulley Chorten for spectacular views of the Punakha valley. Continue your adventure at the Mo Chu River, where you’ll raft with expert guides. It’s a great way to take in this lovely valley.
5. Tiger’s Nest Monastery
We couldn’t leave one of the most iconic and perhaps most picturesque sights off the list; the Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Taktsang Goemba) in Paro. This is one of the most amazing and important pieces of architecture in Bhutan. Hugging the side of a rocky cliff above the Paro Valley, it’s truly a wonder to behold. Legend has it that this cliffside was where Guru Rinpoche landed on the back of a flying tigress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. You’ll start the hike to the monastery early to avoid the heat and crowds, passing a waterfall and entering the main gates which are decorated with colorful murals. Surrounded by tranquility and spectacular views you can’t help but be swept away by the special atmosphere.