Is visiting Bhutan on your bucket list? This will take you to see the highlights. And if it’s not on your bucket list, you should add it (photos here and here). Below is how to do it with minimal planning and maximum fun.
We did this trip with 2 adults (kids 8+ ok). I recommend 10 days at least, and it will take you two days each to get there and back. Book as early as you can, as domestic flights sell out fast (see below why you want those).
This post focuses only on the itinerary aspects of this trip, and makes some recommendations on choices to make. The quickest way to book this is to copy the itinerary section below into an e-mail to a local travel agent (recommendations at the bottom) and have them come up with proposals. Book the flights yourself, or through your home agent.
- Day 1/2 – Fly to Paro (PBH) – the one international airport in Bhutan.
- Day 2-10 – Fly to Jakar/Bumthan, then slowly make your way back to Paro. Make sure you visit.
- Taktsang Gomba (Tiger’s Nest). Do it on last day when acclimatized. The operator will plan to be back in Paro a day early anyway, in case of delays because of road closure etc.
- Do a home stay. We stayed in Ngang Lhakhang Manor, but there are plenty.
- Stay at Ogyen Choling. This was our best hotel. Shift your dates if you must :-).
- Stay in town in Timphu, so you can walk the town and shop in the evening. This is where you want to shop.
- Trust the operator and guide. They have done this many times. Small changes to the itinerary are no problem if you are in a small group, so if you want to see one more temple, or say the textile museum, you can easily arrange that after arrival.
- Visit a big Festival if the timing works out.
- Day 12/14 – Fly home.
- If you have extra time, visit the Taj Majal and Delhi on the way in/out.
You have to use a Bhutanese airline to fly to Paro, Bhutan. We flew from Delhi. Bangkok is another good option.
Delhi is awesome because you can visit the Taj Majal during the layover. But in DEL you have to go through immigration (no transfer) and it is slow, both entering and leaving the country. Expect to spend up to three hours both arriving and departing. Going out there is nothing you can do to accelerate, but going in will be easier with a proper visa from the embassy. Don’t use an e-visa until they increase processing time. If you do, know that the second time entering (on the way back) you can go to the regular, faster line.
As a Westerner, you need to book through an approved local tour agency, and it will cost $250/day (minimum). There is no benefit of adding an intermediary who takes a cut, so just book directly with the local agency.
The $250 will cover everything but drinks other than water and tea, souvenirs, and donations at temples (unless you want unnecessary high-end hotels). This is true whether you are in a big group, a small group or even single. Thus just do your own tour. Which, if you are just 2 people, will give you a very comfortable SUV instead of a van or bus.
For your money, you will be accompanied by a guide and a driver every day. They are not a minders. After they drop you at the hotel, they will hang out with friends and family and you are free to go explore on your own.
Bhutan has one major east west road. You can drive the road both ways, but it will take you at least an extra day (i.e. $250). You can safe yourself pain, time, and money by flying to Jakar, and just drive back. It’s a no-brainer. Some agency don’t fly the guide with you to save money, so you get two different guides. Make sure your agency flies your guide with you (the poor driver has to drive the car, though). Note: This flight has only 20 passengers due to high altitude, so seats sell out quickly. Book as early as you can!
You can trek in Bhutan, but at $250/day it’s a bit pricey. Consider trekking in Nepal and spend your time in Bhutan on a cultural visit instead. You still have plenty of opportunity to walk, either on a dedicated hiking day, or just around town at the various stops. Tell the operator and the guide that you like to walk, and he’ll send the driver ahead to the hotel, while you walk around town.
Bhutanese have their own national dress (Gho/Kira), and most of them wear it most of the time. As a tourist, you need to be properly dressed, too. This means a long sleeved shirt (full length, no 3/4). It seems for men, a polo with collar is ok, but a t-shirt without collar won’t get you into the administrative buildings, which means most castles. Jeans and a shirt would work, but you may be better off with the standard westerner hiking pants/shirts from your outdoors store. Leave your shorts at home, you cannot wear them. You will have to take off your shoes in temples, so wear socks.
We used Firefox (Google for [Firefox Tours Bhutan). They are super responsive. Send an e-mail to Firefox, with your dates, and the above itinerary, and you’ll get a few suggestions back.
Firefox Tours: firstname.lastname@example.org