Bhutan stretches the boundaries of the surreal. Hidden in the Himalayas, this warm and welcoming nation celebrates the beauty of alternative culture. Its unique identity has been effortlessly preserved into the 21st century, along with astonishing nature and the spellbinding sweetness of tranquility. This is the land of happiness, where progress is measured in smiles and spiritual tones float elegantly on the alpine breeze. Authentic and authoritative, our classic luxury Bhutan tour helps you explore the country's new definitions of reality. You experience an untamed way of life that brings purity to every moment.
Our signature Bhutan tour explores the different sides to the country, both geographically and culturally. Immerse yourself in the Bumthang region, a cultural heartland that's quick to show the country's ambiance. Discover fortresses and shrines on the journey through the Himalayas to the astonishing Black Mountain National Park. Spend two days in and around ancient capital Punakha, home of sacred and surreal icons. On day nine you arrive in Thimphu, admiring the country's careful remodeling towards some Western ideas. Then on day ten you sleep in Paro, preparing for the pilgrimage to Tiger's Nest Monastery the next morning.
The Tiger's Nest Monastery is the appropriate culmination to luxury Bhutan tours, such unique balance between the paradigms that make the country so unique. There is Buddhist heritage and legend, told by pilgrims and monks you meet. How about Himalayan indulgence and the humbling power of nature in its primitive form? Old-world lifestyle tells the secret of modern happiness. Culture and identity can be personified in a single image, yet explained in infinite ways. All these come together at Tiger's Nest Monastery. Whenever Bhutan seems to be mentioned on the web, it's accompanied by a photo of this mystical monastery. On day 11 you'll join the pilgrims and hike to the story behind the legend.
Throughout this tour you'll visit many temples and monasteries. While none have quite the visual wow of Tiger's Nest, each is equally captivating in its own right. Buddhist legends accompany you at every turn and the locals narrate them with enthusiasm. Serene jewels are hidden in the forests, sacred relics are guarded by eye-catching deities, stories tell of the Divine Madman and of treasures uncovered from a burning lake. At these dzongsand religious structures you'll have many opportunities to meet and learn from the monks who pray there. For these are not just sights, but the living exemplars of Bhutan's identity.
After a domestic flight to the east on day two, you travel by chauffeured vehicle. Most days involve some driving, although the journeys are never laborious. You're surrounded by the wonder of the Himalayas, every corner bringing a new photogenic viewpoint. Imposing peaks peer down, bucolic valleys stretch out, and the locals wave as you pass. While Bhutan's great allure is its untouched culture, its otherworldly landscapes provide an untamed backdrop. You can feel isolation, appreciate the beauty of seclusion, and marvel at the sense of escapism this tiny nation can offer. Nothing is rushed. Everything is tranquil. And over the 12 days you find that this cultural adventure is also the ultimate getaway.
In many ways, Bhutan is a celebration of our approach to travel. Our luxury tours go beyond sightseeing, uncovering the subtleties of destinations. Meeting the locals is integral to the experience, both the random everyday encounters and the pre-planned meetings with the country's intriguing characters. This classic Bhutan tour has the flexibility to build on these encounters. While the day's overall route is relatively fixed, there's a freedom to accept invitations from strangers and continue conversations with new friends. There's a beauty in every encounter and you'll be able to experience life as it has been for centuries.
Of course, as with all our tours, careful attention is paid to the contemporary details. We select hotels and guesthouses that reflect the atmosphere while ensuring modern comforts. Guides are such an essential factor in the experience and we take pride in identifying those that can always add value, not merely be your gatekeeper to Bhutan's world. On most days there are options over different excursions and the guide will tailor the timetable to your mood and energy levels. Intimate and exclusive, these 12 days are more than a showcase of Bhutan, but an immersion in all the paradigms that make it so special.
Touch down in Bhutan and you immediately feel the sense of remoteness. Himalayan peaks provide a majestic backdrop to the formality of local Bhutanese dress; you'll immediately notice men and women wearing elegant traditional wear on their journeys to the dzongs –themonastic and political centerpieces of local life. Monasteries and temples dot a bucolic valley, each a memoir to everyday life. Paro's lanes have an ascetic simplicity, shunning the excesses of commercialism. You'll have a full afternoon to explore, both the old city of Paro and its surrounding valley, where the country's second oldest temple helps introduce the country's various legends. This 12-day Bhutan luxury tour has many highlights; perhaps none are as memorable as this first day, when you absorb the country's redefinition of reality.
Fly east to Jakar, where the valleys converge and sacred monuments whisper the secrets to Bhutan's happiness. There are few prettier settings in Asia, rolling green landscapes punctuated by ancient temples and vibrant flowers. This Bumthang region is Bhutan in quintessence; remote, resplendent, and rolling to the rhythm of spirituality. It's the cultural heartland, offering an easy immersion in both the atmosphere and architecture of the country. You'll spend the day exploring a series of sublime temples, both old and new, as well as local caves and unique woodcarving. To give an idea of the grandeur, Kurke Lhakhang is a complex of three temples, surrounded by 108 stupas, picture perfect as it overlooks the valley.
Silence reigns. Isolation envelops. Bhutan enchants. Meet monks at pre-eminent religious centers, wander through striking hillside villages, and enjoy special permission to enter a 16th-century ancestral palace. Prayer flags flutter in a granite gorge and your guide explains the local legend, of Pema Lingpa diving into the Membartsho (burning lake) to pull out terma, Buddhist teachings hidden for future generations. In one sense it's religious mythology, but it feels poignantly real when you explore the Tang Valley. Today's destinations explore Bhutan's surrealist boundaries, finding the point where fable morphs into reality, appreciating how belief is so commonplace in this tiny Himalayan nation.
Driving across Bhutan is magical. The roads can be rugged and slow. But the views always compensate, every corner a new photo. And the solitude will stay with you for eternity, the country's pure simplicity having a profound impact on all who visit. Trongsa is the home of an iconic medieval fortress complex, with mazy lanes connecting dozens of buildings and temples. It's the classic example of how Bhutan developed over the last five centuries, accompanied by tales from Tibetan history and the ever-warming smiles from locals. You'll be surprised at how much architectural ingenuity existed in the mountains here, long long before the kingdom was known to the Western world.
Snow leopards and Himalayan black bears are among the residents of Black Mountain National Park, two rare predators occupying a landscape that's never been interrupted by man. All of Bhutan is remote and unconnected; just imagine the untrammeled atmosphere when you visit national parks. Habitats collide, subtropical green blurring into temperate forest and alpine white. Imposing peaks look down on pine forests and some of the world's rarest birds find place to roost. Today you'll drive to Phobjikha and take initial walks in a far-flung national park, admiring the harmony of flora and fauna.
Our Bhutan luxury tours focus on more than the history and landscapes. They provide a connection with the Bhutanese, through unique encounters with families, monks and important local figures. Walking through the national park today you reach Gangteng Gompa, a legendary 17th-century monastery with a head lama incarnated from Pema Lingpa. Exploring complexes like these offers an insight into a culture and identity that's been preserved into the 21st century. This tour is a chance to share moments, exchange stories and understand a way of life that redefines notions of richnessand development. Today's other special encounters come with black-necked crane, a rare Tibetan bird that migrates to Phobjikha from November to March. There's an excellent Crane Center to visit, along with a selection of villages and forests.
Slate carvings and ornate bamboo dominates Wangdiphodrang, a surprisingly bustling market town on route to Punakha. There's a beauty in the day to day life here; the smiles of traders, bags and baskets overflowing with goods, the old-world barter and enchantment that's been replaced by soulless superstores across most of the planet. Driving onwards you stop at Chimi Lhakhang, dedicated to Drukpa Kunley, the Divine Madman. His name is accompanied by endless legends and the best history lesson comes from local villagers, who love to recount a maverick who taught thedharma 500 years ago. Later in the afternoon you arrive in Bhutan's ancient capital and there's free time to explore the colorful streets.
The Punakha Valley is home to some of Bhutan's holiest and most important icons. The Punakha Dzong is home of sacred relics from centuries past and present, preserver of Shandrung's remains. Khamsum Yueley Namgyel Chorten is the treasured temple in the forest, protected by deities that guard each of seven levels. Punakha is the country's old capital but it continues to serve an important purpose today, as the country's highest monks decamp here from Thimphu during the winter. Like most days, the strange names and stories will be elaborated upon by your expert guide and the locals themselves.
Bhutan luxury travel is about the boutique guesthouses that reveal tradition. It's about the exclusive connections that can't be found elsewhere, and the dzongs that help to change perspectives. It's also about the Himalayas, the world's greatest and highest mountain chain. Peaks glisten in every direction, consuming you with layer upon layer of detail. Whitened summits stretch down into floral valleys, mountain passes offer 360-degree vistas, and it's easy to be humbled by the enormity of nature. Today's drive takes you through the Himalayas to Bhutan's largest city, Thimphu, where you immediately notice the change in ambiance, the country's tradition tempered slightly by Western influence.
Thimphu is like a sociologist's dream, cultural identity preserved as Western sensibilities slowly make an impact. In some places it's a juxtaposition; in others, there's a symmetry to colliding identities and ideas. Sprawling local shops invite you to explore silver and weavings, turquoise beads and endless reams of prayer flags. Artisanal workshops bring regional specialisms into one place and the National Textile Museum is bathed in color and musty smells. Our Bhutan luxury tours are tailored to your interests and today presents many options; visiting a nunnery, joining a handicrafts school, meeting the country's national animal – the takin–and discovering the national obsession with archery.
If people around the world know one image of Bhutan it's of Taktsang Lhakhang, the spectacular Tiger's Nest. Clinging infeasibly to a vertical cliff, reaching out 600 meters above the valley floor, this mysterious monastery harmonizes Himalayan nature and culture. Approach as the pilgrims do, on foot. First ascend on a narrow trail, to a teahouse where many of the iconic photos are taken from. Climb further, up 700 steps, the journey a total of three hours steep hiking to this icon of the mountains. Its legend dates back to 747 CE and Guru Dorji Droloe subduing spirits from the back of his tiger. Don't worry if you don't make it this high. You don't need to make the temple and look inside to appreciate its beauty; the one-hour walk to the teahouse is enough to embrace the diaphanous wonder of Bhutan's most famous attraction.
Leaving Bhutan can be a strange experience. It may seem that a country as unique as this is the prime candidate to provide culture shock, when you arrive. Yet it's remarkably easy to lose yourself in the prevailing atmosphere, accepting the liberty that accompanies a simpler lifestyle. The Bhutan luxury travel challenge is returning to the modern world. You start to apply a fresh perspective on so many aspects of Western culture you'd previously accepted so readily. The Bhutan experience lives on after you leave, subtly impacting on your own identity. For this unusual byproduct, a 12-day Bhutan vacation is unlike traveling to any other country.
This morning you'll depart Paro for Bangkok, where you connect with your homebound flight and reconnect with a world that may seem different from how it was before.