Bhutan Travel Guide
Bhutan truly is ‘the Last Shangri-La’, an absolute treat even for the most passionate globe-trotters, with its pristine and mighty mountain landscapes, lush green valleys, sacred monasteries, prayer flags, all this and a lot more. For sure, this ‘Druk Yul’ or ‘Land of the Peaceful Thunder Dragon’ is no ordinary place! Bhutan is a colorful kaleidoscope with its festivals, dzongs, monasteries and natural landscapes, where its development is measured by its Gross National Happiness. Come descend into a happy realm!
Before you set out for your trip, it’s always a good idea to be prepared with all the facts and important details. Find all the essentials from our experts in our Bhutan travel guide.
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Visa and Entry
All visitors to Bhutan require a valid Tourist Visa three to six weeks prior to entering and we will arrange this for you. This costs about USD$ 40. Tourists to Bhutan are obliged to use Druk Air (the only airline serving Bhutan) either on entering or leaving the country.
If your international flight connections are through any of the Indian airports, it is mandatory to hold an Indian e-visa, even if you are only in India for transit purpose. Do carry a copy of your visa and authorization letter to the airline desk as they check the same before boarding.
It’s important that your passport is in good condition and valid for at least six months from your date of arrival. Find more information in the official state website here.
As Bhutan’s druggists are not always well stocked with westernized drugs/medicines, it is a good idea to come well prepared with essential medications. There are no private health clinics or physicians in Bhutan, but all district headquarters and towns have a hospital, where visitors in need of medical attention are looked after. The best facility is found at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu, which is well equipped with general physicians and several specialists, labs and operating rooms. Treatment here is free, even for tourists.
It’s best to drink only bottled or filtered water at all times and avoid frozen drinks or ice cubes. Before you travel, ensure that all necessary vaccinations are in place. Consulting your doctor at least three months before your vacation is highly recommended. Find more information here.
Currency and Cards
While it is not wise to depend on the usage of credit cards in Bhutan, they are however accepted at the government-run Handicraft Emporiums, a few other handicraft shops and some of the larger hotels in Thimpu, but this does take up quite some time to process. Credit card companies charge hefty fees and the verification office is open only from 9am to 5pm. The Bhutan National Bank has new plans in motion for rolling out point-of-sale credit card facilities, so please do check for the latest news.
Major currencies such as US Dollar, British Pound and Euros are easy to change. Whenever changing money, check every note. Do not accept any ripped notes, as these may not be accepted as payment. Remember, you must present your passport whenever you change currency or travelers’ checks. The ngultrum is on par with the Indian Rupee (both the Nu and Indian Rupee can be used in Bhutan). In the capital town of Thimphu some of the smaller bank branches are open Saturday and Sunday for currency exchange. Carrying a suitable amount of petty change enough for tips, in markets and for transport is recommended– about USD$ 70 is sufficient.
Ngultrum or rupees is what you need for purchases while in rural towns and villages. Most shops will accept US Dollars when making any major purchases like textiles or art.
Traveler’s Checks can be exchanged at banks in the larger towns (hours 10am to 1pm, Mon to Fri), at the larger hotels and at the foreign-exchange counter at the airport. Bank charges of 1% are levied for cheque encashment. American Express, Visa, Thomas Cook, Citibank or Barclays are useful names. There is no replacement facility for travelers’ cheques in Bhutan.
Getting Around Bhutan
Paro has the country’s sole international airport. It is in the south west of the country and served only by the country’s flag carrier Druk Air. As there are no other airlines for flights to Paro, Druk Air fares are expensive. There are no discounts. The Druk Air rules say that if fares are increased after the ticket is issued, they may collect the difference when you check in. Departure taxes are included in the airfares. There are no domestic airline routes within Bhutan at the moment. Druk Air does have mountain flights packages, designed especially with an aim to promote the travel and tourism industry of Bhutan.
All transportation in Bhutan is by road and there are no domestic airlines or trains. The roads are well-maintained and connect most towns and cities. However the mountainous terrain and winding road restrict the average driving speed of vehicles to about 35 km per hour.
Religion and Etiquette
Buddhism is the official religion, where a strong spiritual aura is evident everywhere. Monks in traditional red colored attire, local temples and old fortresses (Dzongs).
Here are some basic guidelines for visitors in Bhutan:
- Always step over doorsteps, not on them, when entering temples or Dzongs.
- If a monk offers you holy water, accept it in cupped hands, drink (or appear to drink) and wipe the rest across you head from front to back.
- Remember to walk around a ‘chorten’, prayer wheel or temple in a clockwise direction.
- During important religious festivals, you can freely take pictures of the temple dances performed in courtyards, even in the Thimphu Dzong. Refrain from photographing the Dzong at all other times.
- Bhutanese are obsessed with using chilly and spice in almost everything. Chili dominates all local food preparations; so, if sensitive to spice, ensure that you indicate this before placing orders.
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Go to Bhutan now! We don’t believe it is really going to stay this way for long. And it really is unique right now. Building laws require that dwellings be built in the traditional fashion and this makes for the most beautiful and original vistas. No one goes to Bhutan for the cuisine.
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