Our guide to vacations to Bhutan
Bhutan is one of the last truly unspoiled corners of the earth, with amazing people, traditional architecture and the beauty of the Himalayan Mountains all around you. We tailor all our itineraries by hand, but here is some information to convince you to travel to one of our favorite destinations in the world!
When is the best time to visit Bhutan?
Bhutan is best visited from late September to May. In the summer months from June to August, the monsoon hits, meaning you can expect a lot of rain, the mountains will be obscured by cloud. As the monsoon comes to an end through September, the clouds clear ensuring excellent views and lovely temperatures. It cools down in December, getting a little chilly by night but is still absolutely fine by day, especially in low-lying towns like Punakha. January is generally the coldest month in Bhutan, and the high pass from Thimphu and Punakha can receive some snow, making driving more difficult. It warms up as the spring sets in, actually getting pretty warm into April and May. Therefore the very best months to travel are October, November, March and April. Do remember that these months are the busiest in terms of passenger numbers so book early to ensure you get the hotels you want!
How do you get into Bhutan?
There are only two airlines that fly into Paro which has a short runway and can only handle smaller Airbus 319s or smaller meaning they can only operate on fairly short-haul routes, meaning you don’t get Middle Eastern airlines flying in. The main flag carrier is Druk Airways, operating modern Airbus 319s and Tashi Air (also known as Bhutan Airlines) which also flies an Airbus 319. The main hub airports you can fly from are Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta, Bangkok and Singapore. There are also flights from Bagdogra in India, the main access point for combining Darjeeling and Sikkim with Bhutan. There are also flights on an ATR to the town of Bumthang. Do note that if flying via India, you would need to get a visa in advance, so most guests choose to go via Bangkok as it doesn’t require an entry visa.
Are visas to Bhutan really expensive?
To travel to Bhutan, you must book through an officially recognised tour operator, like Scott Dunn, and pay a minimum of $250 per person per day, but do note this includes your accommodation, transfers, meals and taxes. Generally when using the better hotels, transfers and guides, you always exceed that amount, but it doesn’t mean the visa cost is $250 a day, it actual fact it is $65 per person a day! The visa is arranged by Scott Dunn, all we need is a scanned copy of your passport and we will send you the visa with your final documents. If you are spending more than a week in Bhutan, the visa costs go down, and children under 12 do not pay a visa fee when traveling with their parents. Do also note that most hotels include all your meals, and some like the Amans, all your drinks so when you are traveling through Bhutan you don’t have to spend any more that the cost of the vacation.
So where is everything in Bhutan?
Scott Dunn only organize private customized journeys for couples, honeymooners and families. You will have your own private expert guide throughout as well as a driver and a modern AC vehicle. This little team will ensure you really make the most out of the destination, but also means itineraries do have a great deal of flexibility in terms of them understanding what you like and don’t like.
Bhutan has one main highway which links Paro and the airport in the west with Bumthang in the east. As you leave Paro you then reach Thimphu the capital, Punakha, Gangtey, Trongsa then Bumthang. If you continue east you reach the towns of Mongor and Trashigang. The government of Bhutan are currently widening the roads, meaning there can be delays and the odd bumpy section, just think that the destination you are heading to is absolutely worth it! Most itineraries take you out along the road, then turn back stopping at the destinations you didn’t stop off at on the way out. The other option is to drive all the way to Bumthang and then fly back to Paro (or the other way around), but this flight can be unreliable should the weather not be perfect for flying into this remote airport. A general rule of thumb is that the further down the road you go, the more remote you find things with fewer fellow tourists!
Paro to Thimphu – 1.5 hours
Thimphu to Punakha – 3 hours
Punakha to Gangtey – 3.5 hours
Thimphu to Gangtey – 5.15 hours
Gangtey to Bumthang – 4.5 hours
Bumthang to Trongsa – 2 hours
Trongsa to Punakha – 5.15 hours
What are the main highlights of Bhutan?
Obviously Bhutan has the iconic Tigers Nest Monastery which is located in Paro and the steep climb to reach it is absolutely worth the effort. There are a range of fantastic fortified Buddhist monasteries, or Dzongs, and these can be found in Paro, Thimphu, Punakha (the best one), Trongsa and Bumthang. You can see museums in Thimphu and Paro, spot Black-Neck Cranes in Gangtey and visit smaller temples throughout the country. Do try to blend this with experiences that show off the local life, such as having tea in local homes, sitting in on Buddhist monks chanting at evening prayers or taking a range of day-walks through local villages.
Luxury hotels in Bhutan
Bhutan is at the fore-front of offering luxury hotels that are located in remote rural areas, meaning you can have an amazing authentic experience of the destination, yet return to a comfortable bed at night. Aman Hotels and Resorts opened five lodges throughout the country, meaning you can go on an Amankora Journey staying at all of them. If you stay in the Amankora Lodges for 7 nights or more, they include a driver and guide complimentary. Gangtey Goenpa lodge opened in 2013 and is widely considered to be one of the finest luxury boutique hotels in Asia. COMO hotels now offer two hotels, the Uma Punakha offering some of the best views from any hotel in Bhutan, and the Uma Paro which was the first luxury hotel which opened in Bhutan. They offer combinations between the two hotels. Taj Hotels opened the Taj Tashi in Thimphu. You can of course choose to take an Aman or COMO journey, but getting a blend of all the different luxury hotel styles will add to your experience in Bhutan.
Boutique guesthouses and hotels
For years, the accommodation in Bhutan was exceptionally poor, offering basic guesthouses which completely lacked any form of amenities. If you chose to opt for these guesthouses, they never actually confirmed your booking until a month before travel, and often moved guests to another guesthouse – certainly not an ideal situation! Some however have upped their game, added modern bedrooms, offering excellent service and food – and absolutely guarantee your booking. Dewachen in Gangtey is one that has just added a host of new bedrooms and offers great views. The centrally located Druk Hotel in Thimphu received a complete make-over and is now a great option. Bumthang Mountain Resort was always a simple, yet iconic lodge in the region, but the family built a new wing in 2014 with new comfortable bedrooms. Terma Linca in Thimphu opened in 2012 and very much adapted the Aman style. Dhensa in Punakha opened in 2014, and drew on the designs of Aman and COMO to create a sensible priced mid-range option in the town. In Paro, Zhiwa Ling blends traditional Bhutanese design with modern amenities and the boutique Naksel Resort offers very comfortable rooms with the best views in town, overlooking the mountains.
We always our itineraries, but have created a few suggested itineraries which can of course be adapted when you speak to us.
If you don’t have a great deal of time and want to see all the main sights of Bhutan then our Highlights of Bhutan combines Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. If you want to tag on Gangtey then consider the Ultimate Bhutan which also uses more luxurious hotels. Comprehensive Bhutan takes you all the way to Bumthang and covers all the major sights and sounds of Bhutan. Real Bhutan gives you a really great blend of Bhutan, whether it is dipping into seeing local life such as visiting local homes, a night camping under the monastery at Bumdra and a mix of luxury hotels and boutique guesthouses.
Bhutan for families
Bhutan is a great place to take the family. Children under 12 do not pay any government royalties or taxes, and when traveling as a family it is deemed as a ‘small group’ so you don’t pay a visa fee surcharge which you pay when traveling as a couple. It is a really safe destination and packed with experiences they will absolutely love. Take a look at our Family Bhutan itinerary which then finishes on the beach in Thailand. Children can create an official Bhutan stamp – a photo will be taken of them and they can then send a postcard back home! Punakha offers a mix of gentle walks, rafting down the Mo Chu River and visiting a Buddhist Monastery where they can meet a Buddhist monk their own age. In Paro they can make their own Buddhist Prayer Flags before walking up Tigers Nest Monastery to hoist them. They can visit local homes for tea, do some light cycling to a remote picnic spot and learn to write their name in Bhutanese script. Bhutan is simply packed with experiences that will make them smile and add to that the chance to get some sun on the beaches of Thailand to finish.
Bhutan for honeymooners
If you are looking for an utterly special honeymoon, Bhutan ticks a lot of boxes. Just think of the many day-walks you can do to remote picnic spots, or maybe heading to a Buddhist Monastery to take part in a ceremony where your marriage is blessed! Throw in a selection of luxury hotels, amazing al fresco dinners and you can the perfect combination with luxury beach resorts in Thailand and you have a pretty incredible honeymoon.
Bhutan for trekkers
We understand seeing the cultural side to Bhutan might not be your cup of tea, but you are more interested in getting into the hills and off-the-beaten track. Obviously we can tailor any itinerary to incorporate more day-hikes and these are available throughout Bhutan. If you want to do more than this, then you can select from the popular Druk Path Trek, which links Paro and Thimphu, the Punakha Winter Trek, which links Thimphu and Punakha or the Bumdra High Camp which gives you a night away from Paro. We have a suggested trekking itinerary which just focuses on these main treks in one journey. We also rather like the three night Bumthang Cultural Walk if you have more time in Bhutan. If you want the ultimate trekking experience we can offer the Jumolhari Trek (9 days) or what is said to be the most difficult trek in the world, the epic 25-day Snowman Trek.
We love coming up with interesting and fun experiences to show off the destination in new and innovative ways. Whether you want to visit local homes, meet Buddhist monks, have a private dinner in a Yak Herders hut, free-wheel cycle down from high passes, take the Butterfly Trail through remote villages in Punakha, visit a cheese factory in Bumthang or just finding that perfect picnic spot with amazing views, we have some little gems up our sleeves and will tailor an itinerary that will simply make you smile time and time again.
Combinations with other countries
Bhutan is obviously a fantastic destination to twin with other destinations. Maybe consider an ultimate Himalayan odyssey tying together Nepal and Bhutan. India is a popular entry point for Bhutan, and the eastern Himalayas boasts tea estates and a fantastic village trek, from where you can hop into Bhutan at the end. There are daily flights to Bhutan from Thailand, so is perfect to add on a touch of beach at the end of a tour of Bhutan. Singapore is another popular choice, whether as a city break or maybe a private island experience at Batu Batu.
Bhutan is well known for its colorful festivals, or Tsechus. Do take a look at our Bhutan Festival itinerary and this can be tailored to fit in with a range of festivals. September is a great month to travel given you can see more than one festival on an itinerary, combining the Thimphu Festival and the Punakha Festival. Festivals do occur throughout the year and can be worked into an itinerary. Click here to see a list of dates and places.
Similar destinations you might like too
If you like Bhutan and love the mountains with a unique culture then you might also like to consider Peru, Oman, Laos, Ethiopia, Nepal, Ladakh, Yunnan Province in China. Scott Dunn operates in many destinations in the world.