Bhutan is a small country located in the eastern Himalayas, sandwiched between India and China. With its unique culture and traditions, stunning natural beauty, and commitment to preserving its environment and heritage, Bhutan is a must-visit destination for any traveler seeking an authentic and meaningful travel experience. If you are planning a trip to Bhutan in 2023, here is everything you need to know before you go.
Let’s see Bhutan travel guide 2023 – Everything you need to know before travelling Bhutan for the first time
Getting to Bhutan
The easiest and most convenient way to get to Bhutan is by air. The country’s only international airport is located in Paro, and is served by Drukair, Bhutan’s national carrier, as well as a few other airlines. Drukair operates flights from several major cities in Asia, including Delhi, Bangkok, Singapore, and Kathmandu. The airport is situated in a beautiful valley, surrounded by mountains, and the approach to the runway is considered one of the most thrilling in the world.
All foreign visitors to Bhutan must obtain a visa before arrival. The visa application process is handled by licensed tour operators in Bhutan, who will apply for the visa on your behalf. To obtain a visa, you must have a confirmed itinerary and a pre-booked tour with a licensed Bhutanese tour operator. The visa fee is included in the tour package, and you will be issued a visa clearance letter, which you must present at the airport in order to board your flight to Bhutan.
Best time to visit Bhutan
Bhutan is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit is from March to May and from September to November, when the weather is pleasant and the skies are clear. During these months, you can enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, trekking, and sightseeing without being hindered by rain or fog. The summer months (June to August) can be hot and humid, and the winter months (December to February) can be cold and snowy, particularly in the higher altitudes.
Accommodation in Bhutan
Bhutan offers a range of accommodation options, from budget guesthouses to luxury hotels. However, all tourists must book their accommodation through a licensed tour operator, as independent travel is not permitted in Bhutan. The tour operator will arrange your accommodation based on your preferences and budget. If you are looking for a unique and authentic experience, you can opt for a homestay with a local family, where you can learn about Bhutanese culture and way of life.
Transportation in Bhutan
Most of the tourist destinations in Bhutan are located in remote areas and are not easily accessible by public transport. Therefore, the best way to get around is by private vehicle, which will be arranged by your tour operator. The vehicles are comfortable and equipped with air-conditioning and heating systems. If you are interested in hiking or trekking, your tour operator will arrange for a trekking guide and porters.
Best things to do in Bhutan
Bhutan offers a range of activities and attractions for tourists, from cultural sightseeing to outdoor adventures. Some of the must-visit destinations include:
- Paro: This picturesque town is home to Bhutan’s only international airport and several historic and cultural landmarks, including the iconic Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) monastery, which is perched on a cliff 900 meters above the Paro valley.
- Thimphu: Bhutan’s capital city is a vibrant and bustling metropolis, with a mix of modern and traditional architecture. Some of the top attractions in Thimphu include the Buddha Dordenma statue, the Tashichho Dzong fortress, and the National Memorial Chorten.
- Punakha: Located in a lush valley surrounded by rice paddies, Punakha is home to Bhutan’s most beautiful dzongs (fortresses), including the Punakha Dzong, which is considered one of the most impressive architectural masterpieces in Bhutan.
- Hike to the Tiger’s Nest: One of the most popular activities in Bhutan is hiking to the Tiger’s Nest monastery. This strenuous hike takes around 4-6 hours round-trip, but the views from the top are breathtaking and well worth the effort.
- Visit the traditional villages: Bhutan is known for its traditional way of life, and visiting a village is a great way to experience this firsthand. Some of the best villages to visit include Gangtey, Bumthang, and Haa.
Food and drink in Bhutan
Bhutanese cuisine is known for its spicy and flavorful dishes, which are often served with red rice and vegetables. Some of the most popular dishes include ema datshi (chili and cheese stew), phaksha paa (pork cooked with chili and radish), and momos (dumplings filled with meat or vegetables). Bhutanese tea (suja) and locally brewed beer (ara) are also worth trying.
Culture and customs
Bhutanese culture is deeply rooted in Buddhism, and visitors are expected to respect local customs and traditions. Dress modestly when visiting temples and other religious sites, and remove your shoes before entering. Taking photographs inside temples and dzongs is generally not allowed, so be sure to check with your guide before snapping any photos.
How much would it cost a trip in Bhutan?
The cost of a trip to Bhutan varies depending on the time of year you visit, the duration of your trip, the type of accommodation you choose, and the activities you participate in. Bhutan operates a policy of “High Value, Low Impact Tourism,” which requires all tourists to book their trip through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator, and to pay a minimum daily tariff. The daily tariff is inclusive of accommodation, meals, transportation, and guide services.
As of 2023, the minimum daily tariff for tourists traveling in a group of three or more during the peak season (March to May and September to November) is US$250 per person per day, and US$200 per person per day during the low season (December to February and June to August). For individual travelers and smaller groups, there is an additional surcharge, ranging from US$40 to US$290 per person per day, depending on the size of the group.
In addition to the daily tariff, there are other costs to consider, such as airfare, visa fees, travel insurance, and optional activities such as trekking and cultural tours. Overall, a 7-10 day trip to Bhutan for one person could cost anywhere from US$2,500 to US$5,000, depending on the factors mentioned above. It’s important to note that the daily tariff includes a high level of service and comfort, and supports Bhutan’s sustainable tourism model, which focuses on preserving the country’s culture, environment, and way of life.
How many days are enough in Bhutan?
The ideal length of stay in Bhutan depends on your interests and the activities you want to do. However, most tour operators recommend a minimum of 7 to 10 days to fully experience Bhutan’s culture, traditions, and natural beauty.
During this time, you could explore the country’s iconic landmarks, such as the Tiger’s Nest monastery and Punakha Dzong, visit traditional villages, attend cultural festivals, and participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, and rafting. You could also take time to immerse yourself in Bhutan’s unique way of life and learn about the country’s commitment to Gross National Happiness.
If you have less time available, a shorter trip is still possible, but you may have to prioritize the activities and sights that are most important to you. A 3 to 5-day trip may allow you to visit a few key attractions, while a 10-day trip would give you more time to explore the country in-depth.
Ultimately, the length of your stay in Bhutan will depend on your interests, budget, and travel schedule. It’s important to work with a reputable tour operator to create an itinerary that suits your needs and allows you to make the most of your time in this beautiful and unique country.
A trip to Bhutan is not just a vacation, it is a journey of discovery and enlightenment. The country’s commitment to preserving its culture and environment, combined with its stunning natural beauty and warm hospitality, make it a truly unique and special destination. With this travel guide, you should be well-prepared to plan your trip to Bhutan in 2023 and make the most of your visit.