Describing Bhutan can quickly become a barrage of superlatives: the mystic wonders; the calming Buddhist influence and spirituality; the magnificent Himalayan panoramas; the rich, fertile valleys and the indulgent holistic ethos… It’s a destination that doesn’t ever disappoint.
This considerately-designed, compact journey ensures you get a rounded taste of Bhutan’s key ingredients in just 8 days, with a free-flowing route that allows you to absorb the country’s spirit and essence. Connecting journeys are short, leaving you time to settle into the relaxed pace of life, explore some major dzongs and monasteries and find an alternative pathway to the iconic Tiger’s Nest.
Unlike many of its peers, Bhutan lends itself to compact trips (although the longer you can spend here the better). There are two key considerations if you opt for a shorter visit: leaving suitable time for acclimatisation (you’re landing at 2,200m and then going higher) and factoring in a night in Nepal, India or Thailand, in at least one direction, to accommodate the somewhat clunky flight connections. This route has been built with multi-destination travel in mind, as those necessary stopovers are easily extended into full dual-country trips.
Thimphu might feel bustling by Bhutanese standards, but in comparison to many other Asian cities it retains a very small town, laid-back feel. Time spent here is all about taking it slowly, allowing yourself to get used to living and breathing at a significantly higher altitude than most of us are familiar with. Spend a couple of days just wandering, acclimatising and absorbing the holistic ethos of this traditional Buddhist city.
In Thimphu’s centre - and exemplifying its serene, reverent vibe - is the National Memorial Chorten. Watch devotees circumambulating this relief-adorned, white and gold structure to gain merit, as you begin to find your bearings. Contrast the imposing order of the Tashichho Dzong rising over the city with the friendly buzz of the weekend farmers market, where you can immerse yourself in the tastes and aromas of a feast of local and international dishes. If you feel like pushing the boat out, treat yourself to a sumptuous stay at the Six Senses resort and enjoy panoramic views over the surrounding mountains.
Bhutan’s many valleys, nestling in sheltered seclusion between its unspoilt peaks, are bubbles which feel totally apart from the ups and downs of the rest of the world. Punakha Valley, which is an uncomplicated but interesting drive from Thimphu, offers a taste of this mid-mountain life without having to spend too much time on the road. Make sure you pause halfway at the Dochu La Pass to enjoy a leisurely cuppa and appreciate the phenomenal Himalayan vistas.
Punakha’s low-level terrain is lush with rice and fruit plantations that thrive in the valley’s warmer, sheltered landscape, quenched with the waters of the region’s two major rivers. At their confluence, the magnificent white and russet edifice of the Punakha Dzong rests against the riverbank. Stroll through rice fields to reach Chime Lhakhang, 'the Temple of the Divine Madman', and eat lunch with a local farming family as you discuss the temple’s rather, erm, ‘fruity’ legend! You can even spend time in conversation with student monks at the Nalanda Buddhist Institute. Whatever you choose to explore, make sure you leave time to sit and soak up the unique valley atmosphere - the serenity here is absolute.
Before tackling any serious pilgrimage trekking, there’s time to take stock and look around in Paro. Picture-postcard pretty, with traditional-style buildings lining its attractive main street, Paro is somewhere to wander at leisure, take artistic photos, peruse local handicrafts and indulge in a bit of cafe-hopping. If you feel inclined, take a wander to the famously impressive Rinpung Dzong, or spend time with a local family who’ll welcome you with a home-cooked meal in their farmhouse kitchen. You can even roll up your sleeves and get involved with the cooking. Try your hand at making the fiery ema datse (large chillies in a cheese sauce) which is a staple base of Bhutanese cuisine and the perfect combination of comfortingly creamy and head-poppingly spicy! Just right for filling your belly before a heavy day’s hiking...
The Tiger’s Nest, or Paro Taktsang, is one of Bhutan’s most recognisable landmarks, and exerts a strong pull on visitors to the country. The only way to reach the monastery is on foot, so prepare yourself for a hearty trek through the pine forests. Although visitor numbers to the country are limited, it can sometimes feel like every single one is on the pathway towards Paro Taktsang. It’s easy to understand why, as it is a phenomenal place, clinging to the cliff-face with the rays of the sun glancing blindingly from its walls. Our focus is always on keeping away from routes with the heaviest footfall, and there are ways to see the monastery that offer a less crowded perspective.
Our favourite way to reach the Tiger’s Nest is from above, which you can do if you camp above the monastery overnight and drop down to the complex first thing in the morning. Set out early and arrive well before most, giving you plenty of time to wander through the halls, exploring the small temples, meditation caves and ornate shrines, as the smell of incense fills the air.
The guide price of £2,990US$3,390 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 2 nights in Thimpu, 2 nights in Punakha and 3 nights in Paro; all in our favourite mid-range hotels. How yours looks is up to you, our tailor-made specialists work with you to create your perfect journey.
Interested in upgrading? Bhutan is home to some of Asia’s finest lodges and we particularly love the combination of the Six Senses in Thimpu and the Como Uma in both Paro and Punakha. Total trip price from £5,090US$5,890.
Find peaceful moments in monasteries and temples, and experience Paro’s distinctive, small-town feel. Wander through Bumthang’s green fields and Phobjikha valleys where the Black Necked Cranes land.