Bhutan is called the “Last Shangri La," or as defined by Merriam-Webster “a remote beautiful imaginary place where life approaches perfection.” Just reading about or looking at photos of this South Asian country would prove that moniker. The rolling hills, the lush forests, and the smiling people are enough to attract those looking for utopia.Bhutan just opened its borders to tourists in 1974 and in 2019, it attracted more than 315,000 travelers. The low tourism number is because of the country’s “high value, low volume” strategy, which aims to protect the environment and culture as tourists slowly multiply. After all, the country’s main attractions are its nature and rich culture.To practice their unique tourism program, Bhutan has a $250 daily fee for tourists, making it an expensive destination but worth it because zen is always within reach in this stunning Asian nation. For those who are eager to find peace, Bhutan means business.
Plan the Visit
A trip to paradise is not easy, but with the right tour operator and proper planning, it’s a breeze. The country is worth visiting, after all. Here are some reminders for a hassle-free trip:
- Foreign tourists must have a passport valid for six months, plus visa clearance processed by an authorized Bhutanese travel agent. Here’s the list of authorized tour operators.
- The currency restriction for entry and exit is $10,000.
- Consular services for citizens of the United States are handled by the embassy in New Delhi in India.
- All travelers entering Bhutan must quarantine upon arrival for 14 days for those vaccinated against COVID-19 or 21 days for the unvaccinated. Tourists should always check travel advisories.
The landing at Paro Airport is an attraction in itself because of its location in a deep valley, making it one of the most challenging airports in the world. When visiting Bhutan, these adventures are worth having.
Trekking, Cycling, and Paddling
What better way to enjoy a Shangri-La than by taking a journey into it? From the valley to the mountains, there’s paradise in every corner of Bhutan.
- The stunning Himalayas offers a mountain biking experience that's one for the books. From paved tracks to off-road trails, cyclists will be rewarded with majestic views of nature and man-made structures like dzongs.
- The Himalayan-fed rivers of Bhutan are clean and crystal clear, deserving of any paddling or rafting journey. There's the rapid Wang Chhu, the blue-green Sankosh, the Mangde Chhu that runs through national parks, the scenic Kuri Chhu, and the country’s largest river, Drangme Chhu.
- There are at least 19 trekking trails that will let guests drink in the majestic views of the mountains while they are hugged by lush forests. From lake trips and hot spring visits to owl spotting and cultural trek, there's something for everyone in Bhutan. For those who are up for an ultimate Himalayan challenge, they can even take a month-long hike. One recommended trail is the historic Trans Bhutan Trail, a mix of the country's best offerings.
Tourists should expect that in paradise, wildlife abounds from the streams to the peaks. Since 60 percent of the country is designated as protected areas, Bhutan is where the wild things are.
- Wildlife spotters who visit high-altitude areas might get lucky meeting blue sheep, takins, musk deer, marmots, red pandas, and snow leopards. Hiking through its southern forests, meanwhile, will let them see water buffaloes, swamp deer, golden langurs, hog deer, rhinoceros, or even elephants.
- The country has more than 300 types of medicinal plants and 46 species of rhododendrons. It is a botanist’s (Bhutanist?) paradise.
- Birdwatchers are in for a treat because the country has more than 670 species like the imperial heron and black-necked crane, both rare birds.
For tourists looking for bliss, Bhutan is the place to be. Aside from its traditional medicine, travelers can have a satisfying day in a spiritual retreat or a simple meditation in this bastion of Vajrayana. From resting the physical to rejuvenating the mental, wellness is business in this country.
There are also hot springs that offer another form of therapy. It’s famous among locals during winter, and visiting it will provide tourists an insight into why the country is dubbed the happiest country. Nirvana is always near in Bhutan.
The Tiger’s Nest
Bhutan’s most iconic monastery, the historic Paro Taktsang is a unique cliffside temple that has been serving the community since the end of the 17th century but has been a place of meditation since the 8th century.
It's a sacred Vajrayana site, a refuge in an already peaceful country. This legendary place looks stunning in pictures, more so when visitors lay their eyes on it while being welcomed by the Himalayan breeze. Many monks visit the Tiger’s Nest, and tourists can opt to walk for two to three hours to reach it — a little sacrifice for a piece of heaven on Earth.
Traveling is not all about taking pictures, sightseeing, and resting. Cultural immersion has been slowly gaining popularity among tourists and in Bhutan, it’s a colorful activity. It is always an enriching experience to learn a new culture when traveling.
- Tourists who will join a My Gakidh Village tour will let them experience community-based ecotourism efforts as they visit various villages. While home staying, travelers can dive into the Bhutanese lifestyle while enjoying each place's sights.
- Archery is Bhutan’s national sport, and visitors should not miss the chance to try the locals’ take on this activity. Archery is not just a hobby but a tradition in this humble country. Tourists who are curious to try it can challenge some locals who would not say no to some arrow action.
- Museum-lovers can visit Bhutan Postal Museum in the capital Thimphu. This is the perfect place to have a look back on the country's history and development through its postal system.
The Language of Bhutan
Language connects human beings, and tourists who want to take their travels to the next step can try learning a new tongue. Bhutan’s national language is Dzongkha, but locals can converse in Lepcha and Nepali, which are literary languages in its neighboring countries, aside from Hindi.
Learning a new language is more about a traveler’s immersion in the country’s culture and tradition. Besides, picking up new words might gain tourists some new friends who will guide them to less-traveled watering holes and such. From “kuzuzangpo la” (hello) to “kadrinchhey” (thank you), the Bhutanese language is the way to total the Shangri-La experience.
Traveling to this Himalayan nation might be expensive, but it’s always worth it. After all, Bhutan means business when it comes to beauty and bliss.