Approximately the size of Switzerland, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan issues only around 30,000 visas a year. The country has only one international airport, at Paro, served exclusively by the national carrier Druk Air.
Bhutan remains an unspoiled gem in Asia, yards beyond the airport perimeter fence, you enter an exquisite landscape that has remained essentially unchanged for centuries, where milky mountain torrents are overhung by weeping willows; rice paddies give way to rhododendron forest; and occasionally a tantalizing glimpse of gleaming snow on the Himalayan peaks to the north.
Everywhere, the influence of Tibetan Buddhism is apparent in the brightly colored prayer flags flutter in the breeze; and the golden-roofed fortified monasteries (dzongs) dominate the idyllic scenery. The roads are narrow and winding and the drives long, but are consistently colorful and endlessly fascinating, with mountain vistas.
Bhutan is truly unique is its government’s pursuit of measured development, rather than the straightforward aim of economic growth: the modern world is held at arm’s length. Traditional clothes are compulsory; new buildings are constructed in an indigenous style; and nearly all of the country’s 2.5 million people are engaged in agriculture. An enchanting break from the overdeveloped world.
Fall is the popular festival season, book well in advance
Spring and even Winter are great alternatives
- Bhutan is not only about hiking, but offers rich immersion into a culture largely unaffected by the outside world.
- Finer hotels during festival season can fill up to a year in advance
Contact us for quotes and suggested routing and carriers.
Private trips from US$500/day
Best Months: April, May, September
Moderate: March, June, October, November
Adverse: Late June, July, August, December
Country Code: 975
Time: GMT + 6 hours (+16 hours EST)
Mobile: GSM Mobile Network
Current: 230V, 50Hz
National Carrier: Druk Airlines
A visa is required in advance of arrival. Your actual visa is processed in advance by us (please send us an email with a photo of your passport page), and and Druk Airlines will have record of and verify your "e-visa"in their reservation system as you check in and will be stamped in your passport after arrival at Paro airport. A visa fee of US$40 will have already been paid by us to the Government, please do not pay Visa fees at the airport.
As Paro airport is "daylight restricted" and totally dependent on weather, flights can sometimes be delayed. Passengers should keep at least 24 hours transit time for connecting flights out of Paro. Flights into Paro are also sometimes disrupted by the weather. To be prepared for such an event, it is advised to carry essential personal items like medicines, toiletries, minimum change etc. in your hand baggage (in a clear plastic bag).
Travelers Flying via Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport
The Bhutan & Druk Air check-in desk at the Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International airport is at Row W at the far end of the concourse, to save time ask your driver to drop you at that end. Please check-in with your airline ticket receipts we have enclosed and mailed within your pre-tour packet. A backup digital copy has also been uploaded to your Dropbox folder.
Travelers Flying via India
All passengers flying to and from Bhutan via Kolkata or Delhi must apply for an Indian Visa prior to their departure if they intend to stay overnight – if they remain in transit no Indian visa is required.
Hand Baggage Allowance
Bhutan Airlines and Druk Air requests that passengers limit their hand baggage to one piece, the size not exceeding 45+35+20 cm (17 ½ +13 ½ +8 inches) and the weight not exceeding 5 kg (11lbs).
Checked Baggage Allowance
Economy Class: 20 kg (44 lbs) Business Class: 30 kg (66 lbs)
Due to the limited hold space baggage is often left behind, most often from Bangkok. Bulky items should be booked ahead as unaccompanied baggage/cargo.
Though you may be traveling at a warmer period of the year, you will be traveling over high-mountain passes which can be dramatically cooler than the valleys. Please see our packing list which emphasizes layers for the changes in temperatures. You may expect some drizzle year-round as well.
The Kingdom is a year round destination which in general experiences warm days and cool nights with temperatures only getting below freezing at Uma Paro on winter nights.
March, April, May – warm days and cold nights (max 75°F/24°C vs min 37°F/2°C ) with some chance of rain. Camping Trek Season (temperatures can drop below freezing at high camps).
June, July, August – warm days and balmy nights (max 79°F/26°C vs. min 57°F/14°C) with the chance of rain. Best time for flowers and bird life.
September, October, November – warm days and cold nights (max 73°F/23°C vs min 37°F/2°C ) with some chance of rain. Camping Trek Season (temperatures can drop below freezing at high camps). Autumn begins in September. The end of monsoons brings clear Himalayan skies and festival season, with several big celebrations this month. Weather is typically very mild and clear with fall colors everywhere and the sky at its clearest, affording magnificent views of the Himalayan range.
December, January, February – crisp sunny days and cold dry nights (max 73°F/20°C vs. min 25°F/-4°C ) Best time for Mountain Views - snow may fall but won’t settle for long at Uma Paro. In the Himalaya, conditions can be unpredictable. While we endeavor to run all activities as they are described below, and at all times of the year, our guides may suggest an alternative if the weather turns. This is for your comfort and safety.
The Effects of Altitude
At 2,300 meters above sea level, most of our trips lie below the height where Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) might begin to affect people. It is caused by going too high too fast and in some rare cases can be fatal if the warning signals are ignored. It is important to take care, allowing your body time to adjust to the smaller quantities of oxygen. Some people adjust quickly, while others take longer, but very few people are incapable of acclimatization, given sufficient time. All our itineraries are designed with easy days at the start and some become more challenging towards the end, after acclimatization has occurred. To aid the process drink lots of water (3-4 liters a day), listen to your body and avoid over exertion.
We do advise that all guests over the age of 55 years or with a pre-existing condition consult their doctor about their travel plans. To fully enjoy this hiking destination, trip preparation is vital (see below).
Please consult with your doctor or traveler’s medical clinic to discuss for recommendations (Hep A and Typhoid may be recommended). Boosters for Tetanus and Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR). Malaria does not occur in typical itineraries (see map below), unless crossing over from lowland India.
Predicted distribution of Anopheles (Anopheles) barbirostris species complex in Buthan.
In the event of a serious medical emergencies, air evacuation to Bangkok is recommended. This can be an expensive service and we recommend taking out International SOS insurance or similar coverage (ask us).
It is strongly recommended that you be insured against medical and personal accident risks (including repatriation costs, air ambulance/evacuation and helicopter rescue services) and that you also take out cancellation insurance. You should be aware that some policies restrict coverage or do not cover travel to Bhutan and may not cover activities such as trekking and mountain biking. Please ensure that your policy provides a sufficient level of protection and covers you for the activities involved. You must carry proof of insurance (e.g. your insurance certificate) with you to Bhutan.
GMT + 6 hours (13 hours+ of PST), one hour behind Thailand. Bhutan does not observe any Daylight saving time.
Bring new US Dollars for your trip. Credit cards are nto widely accepted. Given your trip is almost all-inclusive, you won't need to carry much more cash than for some meals, laundry, tips, souvenirs, and drinks. A hundred dollar bill gets a higher exchange rate than smaller bills or traveler's checks. The Bhutanese unit of currency is the Ngultrum and 1Nu = 100 Chetrum. The Ngultrum is pegged to the value of the Indian Rupee and at 01/08/2010 was worth the following:
1 $US = 44.30 Nu
1 UKP = 72.00 Nu
1 Euro = 62.80 Nu
1 $Sing = 34.95 Nu
1 Japanese Yen = 0.50 Nu
There are foreign currency exchange services at the front desk of larger hotels but please note that while very few businesses in Bhutan take credit cards and there are still no international ATMs, though the Uma Paro and other large chains now have the facility to do so. Please also note that while Indian Rupee currency can be used in Bhutan the Bhutan Monetary Authority does not allow 500 and 1,000 Rupee notes to be traded in Bhutan. Also please note that Thai Bhat cannot be exchanged in Bhutan by order of the Bhutan Monetary Authority.
Current is 230V, 50Hz (unlike U.S. 110 volts) but almost all camera, phone and laptop batteries automatically adjust to. Electric sockets are an unusual three round pins set in a triangle or French-style round pin, two-prong plugs. Adapters are provided in better hotels and also sold cheaply in local shops. Most hotel rooms have limited electrical plugs bring a multi-purpose plug if you are using many devices such as laptops, tablets and mp3 players, one with USB ports like this handy one.
Bhutan enjoys a robust GSM cell phone access for roaming mobile phones in almost the entire region between Paro and Punakha. Bhutan Country Code: 975 (from US dial 011+975+number). Most foreign cell or mobile phones will work in the Kingdom, however some PDAs such as Blackberrys do not receive a signal in Bhutan. Bhutan has a decent a GSM mobile phone network due to the broad expanse and mountainous areas of the country. Check with your provider regarding roaming coverage (typically very high) or bring an unlocked GSM phone to use a local chip. Wireless, broadband Internet access is available in hotels and a few Internet cafes in larger cities, though expect degraded performance and sporadic outages in this remote country.
Dzongkha is Bhutan’s official language and there are countless dialects, although English, taught in schools, is widely spoken in larger city shops and tourist hotels.
Bring clothes that are comfortable, appropriate for varied weather conditions, including light rain, and activities for your trip. For protection against cold, a number of relatively thin layers are better than fewer thick ones, and easier to add or peel off as you move from lower to altitudes to higher and back down again. Wide variation in temperature is a feature of travel in Bhutan.
By all means pack older, well-worn clothes rather than rushing out to buy new ones since they will probably get fairly rough treatment in Bhutan. You may have to wash & dry clothes in less than ideal conditions, such as trekking, so wicking fabrics like wool may be best for your trip. Women travelers should pack at least one skirt or sarong for temple visits.
Pack warm layers of clothes for the dramatic differences in altitude as you cross the country's high passes, especially between cooler November and March.
Gear & Supplies
Books are essential in Bhutan as most hotels are located away city centers and evening activities are non-existent aside from Thimphu and Paro. You may also want to load music or podcasts to your music player for the long drives.
Bring an electrical multi-plug. Most hotel rooms have limited electrical plugs so you will need a multi-plug if you are using a number of devices such as laptops, tablets and mp3 players. It's also wise to bring a universal travel adapter.
Pack Dramamine or other medications to prevent nausea if you are prone to motion sickness during long drives.
Plastic bags are banned in Bhutan and are not available there. Hotels in Bhutan do not provide combs, toothbrush, toothpaste or cosmetics. High altitudes may affect contact lens wearers, please also bring a pair of glasses. Also see specific day packing list for festivals.
Photography Packing List
Being prepared and enjoying even light hiking at altitude in the Himalayan kingdom requires some preparation. At least a few months before your departure, gradually increase your hikes from a half hour up to about ninety minutes, a couple of times a week. Mix in some short, harder efforts during these hikes. This a good time to break in new hiking shoes as well. About two weeks before your trip, taper your efforts with easy and shorter maintenance hikes to arrive well rested. After arrival, even if you are feeling spry and ready to go, please take it easy the first couple of days to acclimatize.
Our walks and lighter treks are mostly on established trails, and there are no particularly difficult sections, although some of the trails are steep and rocky and can be muddy and slippery after rain. Sturdy trail shoes or light boots with ankle support and a trekking pole are recommended.
We can arrange both on-road and off-road biking trips to suit all interests and abilities. We have a range of KONA Cinder Cone (’08) mountain bikes, helmets and gloves so if you are interested in biking with us please advise us of your height as soon as possible to secure a bike for your size.
For transfers and tours we use small private minibuses and 4 x 4 vehicles such as Hyundai Santa Fee depending on the size of the party. Be prepared for long driving days when crossing over passes.
The first thing that strikes you after arrival in Bhutan is the dress that everyone around is wearing. The colorful dress of the men is called the gho which is something similar to the Scottish kilt. With length up to the knee, and the upper part of the dress wraps around the body and loosened as per the size & fitting. There are many pockets in the inside. Its surprising how much can be stored in these pockets. The women wear the kiras which are full length unstitched garments fastened at the shoulders by two hook like clips called komas and a waistband which is also of a similar cloth. Added to this is a blouse and a jacket which completes the dress. The range of colors is varied and the dress material fine. By law, and custom, every government worker, every teacher and almost everyone holding public office has to wear the traditional dress. Even school uniforms conform to this dress code.
You'll soon no doubt notice that this same uniformity spills over into architecture; every building has to have the basic traditional form. This is mandated by law so there are no "modern" looking buildings. There is a degree of uniformity and tradition that shows through.
Shopping is quite limited but improving and includes textiles, wooden handicrafts, paintings, prayer flags, prayer wheels, prayer beads and very colorful stamps. Bhutan has silver and gold jewelry that can be bought or ordered within a week’s time. Carpets are also highly regarded as are traditional textiles which can be expensive. If you are buying anything that looks antiquated or is expensive, make sure to obtain receipts to avoid customs problems at the airport. Textiles are recommended in Thimphu or in eastern Bhutan. Woolen fabrics are recommended in Bumthang (central Bhutan). Paro Market day is every Sunday and Thimphu Market (with an extensive handicraft and artifact section) opens on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Some bargaining may be done when shopping, but don't expect the deep discounts offered in other parts of Asia. Generally speaking, prices between shops does not differ much.
Apart from extra massage therapies and activities, drinks, souvenirs, tips, essential items and the items for sale in the Uma Paro shop there is little available to spend your money on.
Saturday and Sunday are the weekly days off for all Government Offices and some shops are closed however in the private sector the day off is Sunday. Please note that the National Museum in Paro is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
There is no tipping in restaurants and hotels. Guide and driver gratuities are customary although there is no set formula for what amount. We suggest about US$25 per day for your guide and about half this for your driver.
The government of has recently transitioned from a Constitutional Monarchy to a democratic elected one.
Bhutanese are by nature friendly and have no strict, regimented customs. It’s a silly notion of the travel press you must adhere to local customs or risk causing offense, but observance of the following will make your visit more sensitive to local customs:
Please note that no hats or umbrellas are allowed at the tshechu—please carry sunscreen. There are no water facilities, so also carry bottles as well as snacks. A light weight poncho is useful if rain rolls in. Carry lots of small change to donate to clowns. Keep all valuables and documents at your hotel.
The Raven Crown, The Origins of Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan.
See our Bhutan books page for more details on these and other books.
Oyssey Guide Bhutan, by Francoise Pommaret
Radio Shangri-la by Lisa Napoli
Buttertea at Sunrise, A Year in the Bhutan Himalaya, by Britta Das
Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, Queen of Bhutan A captivating blend of personal memoir, history, folklore and travelogue
Facts About Bhutan: The Land of the Thunder Dragon by Lily Wangchhuk
Raven Crown: Origins of the Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan by Michael Aris
Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom
Bhutan: The Land of Serenity by Matthieu Ricar
So Close to Heaven, The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas by Barbara Crossette
Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa
The Blessings of Bhutan (A Latitude 20 Book) by Russ and Blyth Carpenter
Children: In Search of the Thunder Dragon, by Sophie Shrestha (Illustrator), Romio Shrestha
Travellers and Magicians – a wonderfully evocative Bhutanese made film Little Buddha – some of the scenes for this Hollywood film were shot in and around Paro The Cup (DVD, 2002). For children.
No doubt you will be moved by the wonderful people you meet along the way. many who live in poverty. It may be hard not to feel compelled to give something, but think about doing so will change the dynamic of your people encounters and those who follow you. If you do feel compelled to give, we recommend pens, simple to carry with you, useful and beyond the budget of most families. We never encourage giving money, candy or the like. For giving before or after your trip, we recommend these charities.
Mr. Kesang Namgyel, Client Services Manager
4th Floor, Kelwang Office Complex
Norzinlam, Thimpu, Kingdom of Bhutan
Tel: (975-2) 323-556 & (975-1) 711-0026