Also known as the “Last Shangri-La”, Bhutan is an exotic travel destination suitable for people of all ages and interests.
Traveling to Bhutan is a rave because of the deeply rooted Buddhist culture, traditions, and the mesmerizing beauty of the cultural heritage. The statues, paintings, scriptures, and architecture are renowned worldwide because of their rich cultural and historic values.
What is even more enthralling is the wide range of protected forests and a diverse array of flora and fauna. There are still lands that are yet to be ventured by humans, opening up a gate of mystery and thrill for trekkers and adventure seekers all over the world. Do not miss out on the calling of the pristine snow-capped mountains from the great Himalayas, inviting you to visit the land of magic, Bhutan.
Country Visa and Entry Procedure
Travelers will require a Visa in advance before entering Bhutan except for nationals of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. The Visa procedure is required to be handled by your travel agent so, you need to have communication with a Bhutan based travel agency beforehand.
All you need to do is send a copy of your passport to your tour operator based in Bhutan who will then apply for the Visa on your behalf. The clearance will be processed by the TCB (Tourism Council of Bhutan) after you have made your payment for the trip including the 40 USD cost of the Visa. Upon entry, all you need to do is show the Visa clearance letter which will be stamped to your passport and you are all ready to go.
Find more information regarding Bhutanese Visa at the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at http://www.mfa.gov.bt/?page_id=220.
Popular Destinations to Visit
The capital, Thimpu is one of the most popular visiting destinations. You can visit the Memorial Chorten, dedicated to the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the father of modern Bhutan. Likewise, Budhha Dordenma, Heritage museum, and Rinpung Dzong are some of the most visited sites that give you a view of the Bhutanese culture.
Protected areas like Manas National Park and Royal Takin Reserve also see a reasonable number of tourists every year. However, the Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest monastery) is one of the major attractions of Bhutan and a place you should not miss. Perfectly placed on the side of a cliff overlooking the beautiful stretch of Paro valley, the monastery is a hub of magic and mystery that mesmerizes all the travelers who spare a visit. Other popular destinations to visit in Bhutan are Phobjikha Valley, Jigme Dorji National Park, Haa Valley, and Chele La Pass to name a few.
Things to do in Country
Ranging from peaceful cultural treks and excursions to high peak climbing, there is no lack of activities you can enjoy while in Bhutan.
Most travelers advise a peaceful time, visiting the many monasteries, Dzongs, and cultural heritage sites in Bhutan. You can take painting classes to recreate the beautiful traditional Thangkha paintings for yourself. Or, you can just marvel in the paintings and statues that adorn the walls of the monasteries.
For people looking for some physical activities, Bhutan has many vicarious trekking routes ranging from easy to hard difficulty levels. You can explore the vast jungles of Bhutan or ascend to the higher altitudes to view the glistening Himalayas. Treks like Chomolhari Trek, Druk Path Trek, and Snowman Trek are some of the most popular trekking trails across Bhutan.
For a country that takes its cuisine very seriously, keeping chilly as not only a condiment but the actual dish, Bhutan takes the activity of food travel to a new high. You can try out their unique food and also shop around the traditional markets as well.
Trekking Seasons in Country
Since Bhutan lies in the lap of the Himalayas, autumn and spring seasons are the best times to trek in Bhutan. Autumn kicks in with the start of October and lasts till the end of November. The skies are clearer and the temperature is warmer, providing a good ambiance to trek, especially in higher altitudes. The beginning of March signifies the start of spring which is also one of the best seasons to go lower altitude trekking in Bhutan. It generally lasts until the end of May.
Monsoon in Bhutan brings in heavy rainfall and thunder clouds, which earned Bhutan the name “The land of the Thunder Dragon”. The thunderclouds are especially active in the south and central regions making it hard to conduct treks because of safety concerns. As such, the slippery trekking routes due to the rain are also a nuisance for trekkers. Winter is also harsh for higher altitude treks as the trails are covered in snow so deep it is almost impossible to climb up.
If you plan on sticking to only cultural tours and trips then you do not need to worry about altitude sickness as the trips do not explore higher altitudes. However, if you are planning to indulge in activities like treks and peak climbing, you need to have ample information regarding altitude sickness.
You can notice the symptoms of altitude sickness when you trek above the altitude of 2,400 meters for the elongated duration. Some of the symptoms of altitude sickness are nausea, headache, shortening of breath, dizziness, and loss of appetite. Make sure you are well equipped with medication and do not rush. Over exerting yourself in higher altitudes when you are not properly acclimatized can trigger the sickness so; do keep in mind to slowly let yourself get used to the altitude. If you ever feel the symptoms of altitude sickness then immediately inform your guide and climb down to decrease the effects. You can carry medications like Diamox to prevent and reduce the effects of altitude sickness.
It is better to have travel insurance with you while you are traveling to Bhutan. You will need it in case of emergency cases like theft or medical problems. Do make sure that your insurance policy also covers activities like trekking on higher altitudes. Since some insurance policies do not cover these types of risky activities, make sure that you have the right kind of insurance before you okay it. Likewise, the insurance should also cover theft, loss of property, medical expenses, and flight delays and cancellations.
Such travel insurance can be very helpful, especially during medical emergencies which can cost you thousands of dollars. Additionally, your insurance must also cover emergency evacuations and Heli rescue if you are traveling to remote areas.
Meals and Accommodations
Meals and accommodations are already paid for when you are traveling to Bhutan due to their strict policy. You will have to pay upfront the fee of 250 USD per day per person which will cover your food, accommodation, traveling, and guide expenses. Both the food and accommodation provided are simple, and are mostly organized by your travel agent so, make sure you are well connected with them. You can choose your preferred mode of accommodation which ranges from simple lodges to star hotels. These services are even luxurious in the cities. However, if you head to remote and rural areas, you will stay at teahouses and lodges. These offer basic services of dining and lodging.
The cuisine provided will be mainly traditional food as modern food is not that much enjoyed in Bhutan, especially when it comes to hotels in higher altitudes. You can find a limited variety of international cuisines in the cities; however, traditional Bhutanese dishes are famous across the country. These dishes mostly contain large volumes of cheese and chilly.
Banking, ATM’s and Money
The official currency of Bhutan is the Ngultrum and is equivalent to Indian Rupee. As such, Indian Rupee is also widely accepted across Bhutan.
Banks are mostly situated in main cities like Thimpu and Phuntsholing. The same goes for ATM booths. If you want to use foreign debit cards on one of the ATM’s then you will have to pay an extra charge. You can rather exchange your currency at one of the banks.
But, there will be no use of spending like that unless you plan on spending a hefty amount for souvenirs. This is because travelers have to spend a mandatory amount of USD 200-250 per day per person. So, you can easily plan for your trips and manage your travel budget properly.
Internet and Communication
Internet and communication services are good in major cities. Most of the hotels and restaurants in major cities are well connected when it comes to the internet and will provide you with free Wi-Fi as well. There is good mobile service and connectivity and also the provision of other communication facilities like telephone and fax. Mobile and cellular services are helpful when trekking in higher altitudes. Most of the areas have 3G coverage in Bhutan so, communication is not a major concern.
However, you may face some problems regarding connectivity and reliable cellular data and communication in some remote regions.
Internal Flight Delays
Internal flight delays might be the problem in adverse weather conditions, especially during monsoon and winter. Monsoon and winter are faced with harsh winds, thunders, and unclear skies which can be a danger for flights to operate because of the diverse geography of Bhutan. One of the most used air routes from Nepal to Bhutan also faces a lot of delays and cancellations.
There aren’t many internal flights, but the ones that are available need to be consulted beforehand as many areas in Bhutan are prone to adverse climates and weather. Thus, it is best if you travel in the autumn and spring seasons to avoid flight delays and cancellations.
Health and Safety Including Traveling alone in Country
Traveling alone in the country is not allowed in Bhutan except Indian, Maldives, and Bangladeshi nationals. You will travel with a tour guide who will plan the travel itinerary with you and guide you throughout the trip. Also, in most of the places, you will need your travel guide to approve permits on your behalf to enter protected areas.
For your health and safety concerns, make sure to be protected with insurance in case of emergencies. While engaging on treks, make sure that your body can handle it and also keep in mind your level of physical fitness. Being aware of health hazards like altitude sickness can also be useful during your trip to Bhutan.