Not many tourists think about the kingdom of Bhutan as a top travel destination. This is mainly because Bhutan does not advertise itself among global vacation spots and is perhaps still, a well kept secret. Those who do know about Bhutan’s rich culture, beautiful scenery and colorful festivals, make it a bucket list item. Traveling to Bhutan is very different from other countries, so it is important to make yourself familiar with it’s policies and procedures.
There are Limited Flight Options
The tiny country is located between China, Nepal and India. There are flights only from four countries into Bhutan. These are from Singapore, Thailand, India and Nepal. Flights are generally very expensive. For example, New Delhi to Paro on Druk Air can cost between $400-700 round trip.
Bhutan is Not a Cheap Country
Bhutan has consciously remained closed off to the world, as they don’t want to flood their attractions with bus load of tourists. To keep travel to Bhutan exclusive, Bhutan Tourism Council maintains a minimum per day fee. You must pay a $250 per person per day royalty fee to the government. In return, they provide visa, accommodations (in basic 3 star hotels), 3 meals daily, guide, car and sightseeing. If you want to upgrade to a 5-star hotel, expect to pay additional $400+ per night. This does not include the “++” taxes, that amount to another 20%. You can also choose to camp or stay at farm houses, though this will not lower the price of your visit. Low budget travel and backpacking is out of question in Bhutan. Citizens of SAARC countries are exempt from the minimum royalty fees.
Bookings Must be Done in Advance
Because you need to obtain a visa well in advance and pay the royalty fee, it is best to contact a travel agent. You can book hotels online as well, but you cannot enter Bhutan unless you have all other documents in order (including guide, itinerary, visa approval). Bhutan Tourism Council also books trips directly or can recommend you a company.
Coincide Your Visit with Festival Season
There is really no bad time to visit Bhutan, though summer months tend to be wet. Winter runs from November – March and some of the places can get quite cold. Depending on which part of the country you visit, you can see freezing temperatures, as well as snow.
There are several festivals taking place throughout the year, the most famous being the ones in Paro and Thimphu during spring and fall. Festivals are a great way to indulge in Bhutanese culture as families dress up in their finest traditional dressed and spend days enjoying history and storytelling. Here is a list of all Bhutanese festivals.
Though a Small Country, You Will Need Some Time
Thought Bhutan is a small country, there is much to see, and getting around is not very easy. Road conditions through the mountains are not so good, making travel time consuming. There are a few domestic flight options too.
You should plan to spend 1 week in western Bhutan, visiting the main cities – Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. In Central Bhutan, visit Bumthang Valley and Gangtey to see origin of Buddhism and Royal history. Eastern Bhutan may require another week to see the agricultural lands, rainforests and local artisans in Mongar, Tashigang and Trashiyangtse.
There are also trekking routes spanning 1-10 days, for those looking for outdoor adventures.
Bhutan is a very safe country. Men and women are treated equally and there is very little crime. Tourists should not feel threatened when traveling through Bhutan. This is similar to when visiting Singapore, for example.
The local currency is Ngultrum, though most shops will accept US dollars and Indian rupees as well.
The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, but everyone also speaks English quite well and without any accent. You won’t find any Bhutanese going out of their way to make friends, but if you stop them for a question or ask for any help, they will pleasantly oblige. The locals keep to themselves for the most part, but are not unfriendly.