When Bhutan finally came out of isolation in the latter part of the 20th century, it made a very important decision about how its tourism industry was going to operate. Instead of the backpacker-style independent travel offered in nearby Nepal and neighbouring India, Bhutan opted for high-end, small scale tourism in the hope that this would help to preserve its unique culture for as long as possible.
This method has largely been successful, and as a result a visit to Bhutan is a once in a lifetime experience, full of beauty, wonder and staggering landscapes.
So how can you become one of the few to travel to this mountain state and enjoy the privilege of seeing what Bhutan has to offer?
Everyone entering Bhutan must have a valid visa for the duration of their stay. Your visa will be granted when the full cost of your tour is paid to the Tourism Council of Bhutan. The Council retains the money until your trip is complete and you’ve left the country, when it will then be released to your tour or Bhutan trekking operator.
Independent travel is not permitted in Bhutan, so you must organise a planned tour package for the entire time that you’re in the country.
In an attempt to keep tourist numbers low whilst getting as much economic benefit as possible, all visitors are required to pay a daily tourist tariff for the time that they’re in Bhutan. In 2012 this was set at $250 per person per day and covers accommodation, meals, a licensed guide and a range of other benefits. (Included in this, is a $75 ‘tax’ paid to the government that is spent on infrastructure and so on).
The first thing to do is to decide which towns, villages and religious sights you want to see and then pull out a map and plot the best way to see them all. Most good Bhutan tour operators will be able to suggest itineraries that will help you to take in as much as possible, while still giving you some free time to enjoy the unique experience of the mountain nation.
For the more active traveller, Bhutan is home to some of the most scenic treks in the Himalayas, and as tourist numbers are controlled, when you trek Bhutan it’s more than likely that you’ll have the entire vista to yourself.
For sightseeing, one of the most famous sights in Bhutan is Paro Taktsang or ‘Tiger’s Nest’, a monastery perched high on the side of a cliff overlooking the Paro Valley.
Another highlight is a visit to Thimphu, the tiny capital of Bhutan. Lying in a wooded valley with a river running through it, the city is truly magical. Traditional buildings line the streets selling handmade wares and giving you a glimpse of authentic Bhutanese life.
It is possible to combine a trip to Bhutan with a tour of one or more of its neighbors. A popular route is to begin in Kathmandu where you’ll experience the vibrant and exotic culture of Nepal, before travelling onto the Indian tea-producing region of Darjeeling. From here you can continue on to Sikkim, India’s least populous, but arguably most beautiful state, before travelling to Bhutan along one of the most stunning roads in the Himalayas.
Inspired to visit Bhutan? Have a look at trips Royal Mountain Travel can offer in this tiny Himalayan kingdom: