Many people only come to Bhutan for a few short days, others come for weeks to tackle some of the most difficult treks in the world. Either way, there will be plenty to keep you occupied and mesmerized. I’ve compiled a typical Bhutan itinerary to give you a perfect introduction to the best places to visit in Bhutan on this 7 day Bhutan tour, especially if you are not a trekker.
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If you haven’t already, start with my post, A Bhutan Guide, to explain how to travel to Bhutan and what you need to know before planning this Bhutan itinerary! Bhutan is unlike anywhere else. You can’t just hop on a plane and show up. Our 7 day Bhutan tour was in November and the weather was absolutely fantastic!
Druk Asia Bhutan Tour
We opted to travel to Bhutan with Druk Asia and never regretted that decision for a second! They literally organized everything for us. We chose the 7 Day Essential Bhutan Tour and picked our dates and purchased flights for Kathmandu (our connection point to Bhutan), and they took care of the rest. The 7 day Bhutan itinerary was already preplanned.
The Best Places to Visit in Bhutan
There are so many more incredible places in Bhutan than what we could fit into a 7 day Bhutan tour. But for someone looking for an introduction to the most popular places to visit in Bhutan, this Bhutan itinerary will give you a great taste of the country and the culture and allow you to experience Bhutan at a comfortable pace.
Visit the Paro Region of Bhutan
Paro is the location of the international airport where you will arrive and depart from Bhutan, and where you will likely be greeted by your guide. It is a beautiful valley with the small city of Paro situated in the middle. On our 7 day Bhutan tour, we spent our time in Paro at the end of the itinerary.
Visiting the Tiger’s Nest Monastery Near Paro
Undoubtedly the most famous and iconic symbol of Bhutan is the cliff-perched Buddhist monastery of Paro Taktsang, AKA Tiger’s Nest Monastery. There really is no where in the world like it. At 3120 meters in elevation in the mountains near Paro, the monastery was built in 1692 around the caves where Guru Rinpoche was said to have arrived, flying on the back of a tigress from Tibet, meditated for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days, and 3 hours and brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century.
The site served as meditation caves from the 8th century until the building of the monastery in 1692. Monks still live and meditate here in the temples and in these caves. In recent history, there was a significant fire in 1998 which destroyed much of the monastery and devastatingly, killed a monk. The monastery was completely restored to its original form in 2005.
The trek to the Tiger’s Nest is really not as difficult as it may seem. Because it is such an iconic hike, I think I’d built it up in my mind as incredibly difficult. It is mostly uphill, but taking it slow and steady we made it just fine. The mild altitude can add to the difficulty though, so it’s recommended to do this hike at the end of your time in Bhutan, after acclimating to the elevation in Paro for a couple days.
How Long Does it Take to Hike Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
The hike to the Tiger’s Nest begins not far from Paro town. When you arrive at the car park area and walk a little bit, you’ll see the monastery up in the mountains. It looks like a little white speck in the far distance, which can be quite intimidating. You can see it in the middle of the previous picture. But rest assured, it will be less daunting than it looks. Our day looked like this:
- 7:15 AM – Left hotel in Paro to drive to the trailhead
- 7:40 AM – Began Hiking
- 9:20 AM – Arrived at Tiger’s Nest
- 11:00 AM – Left Tiger’s Nest
- 12:25 PM – Arrived back at the car park
As you can see, we made it to the top in less than 2 hours. This included a stop at the little cafe halfway up the trail to use the restroom, pet some kitties, and take in the view.
Getting closer, the views get better. You get glimpses of the Tiger’s Nest through the trees and prayer flags are strung all over.
Until finally you descend some steep stairs, passing by a waterfall and stupa, then back up some stairs again to the monastery.
Since monks still live and meditate at the Tiger’s Nest, you will see them here just like any of the other monasteries in Bhutan. The bummer (or, depending on how you look at it, the best thing about Tiger’s Nest) is cameras are not allowed inside the monastery at all. When you get to the base of the Tiger’s Nest, you must check your bag. Embrace it.
I will definitely say, seeing the Tiger’s Nest was a spiritual experience and a highlight of my Bhutan itinerary. We were able to see a number of the different meditation rooms and even took the time to sit on the cold wood floor, the breeze and morning sunshine drifting through the open windows, and meditate with our guide for a few minutes.
Visit Paro Town
Paro is an adorable little town with easy to navigate streets and some lovely shopping. It’s a great place to walk the streets and look for local goods to bring home as souvenirs. We stayed at a hotel a bit out of town called Metta Resort and it wasn’t really within walking distance, but our guide and driver dropped us off for a couple hours then picked us up. If you want to have easier access to town, consider requesting this when planning your trip.
After having so many Bhutanese meals, you may crave a cafe to get a cappuccino and sweet treat. We were thrilled to find Champaca Cafe! They have pastries and light meals and a nice little seating area upstairs overlooking the street.
Visit the Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong)
Not my favorite of the dzongs (fortresses) we saw in Bhutan, but definitely the most important in Paro, this monastery is from 1646. It currently holds the administrative offices for the town. From here, you can cross a bridge to the other side of the river.
The National Museum of Bhutan
Built as a watchtower, this round building sits above the Paro (Ripung) Dzong as a vantage point to protect it. In 1968, it was converted into a museum containing thousands of pieces of Bhutanese art. You can walk a path from the museum down to the Rinpung Dzong, and then across the bridge. This is a great vantage point for watching planes coming in and landing in Paro.
Farm House Visit for a Hot Stone Bath
This one you can’t miss. Make sure whatever tour you take can include a visit to a local family’s home for dinner and a hot stone bath. I really believe it is one of the most memorable experiences of our 7 day Bhutan tour. For us, this happened to be on Thanksgiving back home, which made it even more special to be sitting around the big table sharing food with a local family, our guides, and other guests.
The hot stone bath was admittedly kind of a weird experience, because the bath house was outside in a shed. But it was clean, smelled like cedar and campfire smoke, and was totally relaxing and authentic. The woman who’s home it was used big tongs to drop stones that had been in the fire into the end of the tub (which was separated by the wood boards so you couldn’t burn your toes, as long as they weren’t poking through).
After a good soak, we were thoroughly warmed to the bone and went back in the house for a huge delicious meal and tea where the welcoming family dinner was the perfect way to spend Thanksgiving away from home.
Visit Thimphu, Bhutan
We made the windy drive directly to the capital city of Thimphu after our guides picked us up at the airport upon arrival to Bhutan. It takes about 1 hour to get there. I got extremely car sick, so I’d recommend taking a motion sickness tablet if you’re prone to this like me.
National Memorial Chorten
This stupa is a prominent and visible landmark in the town of Thimphu built in 1974. Many elderly Bhutanese visit the site religiously each day, navigating the memorial in a clockwise direction, spinning the prayer wheels and praying as they go. A prayer festival is also held here and many people congregate for the blessing by the religious head of Bhutan.
Simply Bhutan Museum
Showcasing Bhutan traditions, this museum is a great way to visualize a glimpse of history and witness some of the cultural traditions. You walk through the museum with a guide who explains different aspects of Bhutanese culture and history. You can even try a shot of arra, a rice spirit similar to sake. Finally, you can test your skills at archery and watch a traditional dance.
Wangditse Day Hike
This easy(ish) little day hike begins at the BBS (Bhutan Broadcasting Service) tower and takes around a couple hours total. You are rewarded with views of Thimphu valley and a glimpse into the restoration of a dzong from 1750 by traditional craftsmen. You can watch them hand carving the intricate wood designs. The prayer flags everywhere make it quite stunning and authentic.
This was one of the more beautiful dzongs we saw in our 7 days in Bhutan. Like the rest of Bhutan, there were no crowds, the architecture was breathtaking, and to see monks going about their business feels quite sacred. The fortress was originally constructed in 1641, then restored in the 1960’s. This is also a good place to observe the “wheel of life” depiction on the front of one structure and learn about what it means in Buddhism.
Centenary Farmers’ Market
If you can be in Thimphu on a Friday through Sunday, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the farmers’ market. It’s a great place to see the local culture, intermingle with local people, and take some photos. This is where I bought some of the local incense to bring home.
The oldest monastery in Bhutan is Changangkha Lakhang. Built in the 12th century, it is on a hillside overlooking Thimbu. A smaller site to visit but still nice views over Thimphu and beautiful details.
If you want to see an impressively huge gold Buddha, look no further. At the top of a mountain overlooking Thimphu is this 169 foot tall Buddha statue.
Changlimithang Stadium & Archery Ground
Bhutan is famous for archery, as it was declared the national sport in 1971. If you find it at all fascinating and want to witness the impressive sport, head to Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu to watch the masters.
Where to Eat and Stay in Thimphu
I was thrilled to discover Ambient Cafe in the heart of Thimphu. Bhutanese meals don’t typically involve dessert – and let’s be honest – that’s not really my style. So I was beyond ready for a cappuccino and a slice of cake by the time I found this place.
There are a few hotels in Thimphu but Druk Asia booked all our hotels for us. In Thimphu we were quite content at the quaint Namgay Heritage Hotel. It’s simple but within close walking distance to the small downtown and the staff was lovely. The girls at the front desk helped me put on my traditional outfit in the morning. Trust me, it’s a little complicated.
Visit Punakha, Bhutan
This approximately two and a half hour drive from Thimphu to Punakha is a lovely one. Punakha was one of my favorite areas during our 7 days in Bhutan because it felt more like a glimpse into rural life and traditional culture.
You will pass over 3050 meter high Dochula Pass, which, on a clear day, has views of all the mountain peaks in 360 degrees. We were unlucky with a lot of fog, but the 108 chortens (little stupas) are beautiful and the area feels mystical. It is quite cold up there, so bring a jacket. There is also a little cafe serving tea and snacks to warm up.
This temple, known as the fertility temple, was built in 1499 after the site was blessed by the “Divine Madman” and saint, Drukpa Kunley. He was known for his unusual way of teaching Buddhism with a major sexual emphasis. Women come here on fertility pilgrimages to be blessed with children or be divinely given names for their unborn babies.
To reach this site, you’ll walk with your guide about 20 minutes down a dirt track near a little village called Sopsokha where all the buildings have colorful penises painted on them. In this Punakha region, you will see phallic symbols EVERYWHERE: painted on houses, statues, wooden phalluses hanging from the eaves of houses…it’s quite entertaining (and artistic).
This impressive dzong is set along a turquoise colored river where you cross the bridge to get there. It features impressive woodwork and ornate details. It was one of my favorite dzongs.
Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge
This 160 meter long Punakha Suspension Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan and is a must see if you’re in the area. It connects the dzong with the village of Punakha on the other side and locals use it as part of their commute across the river to visit the dzong. It has beautiful views of the turquoise river and surrounding valley and village and is quite fun to cross. The dogs loitering in the area are adorable and sweet as well.
Where to Stay in Punakha
We stayed at the quaint Hotel Lobesa, a humble lodge with only a few rooms and beautiful views of the valley not far from town. The food was good, our room was large, and the staff was lovely.
If you want to upgrade to something with the WOW factor, look no farther than Como Uma Punakha. Ask your tour company to book it for you.
Visit the Haa Valley
The drive from Paro to the Haa Valley is a beautiful one and takes a good couple hours. Bring layers because the temperature will vary as the elevation rises and falls.
Chele La Pass
You will cross the Chele La Pass to go from Paro to the Haa Valley. This is the highest drivable pass in Bhutan at 3,988 meters in elevation. If the weather is good, you’ll be able to see for miles and see some of the highest, snow capped peaks in Bhutan.
It’s nice to stop at the pass and have a walk around to marvel at the views. There will be prayer flags everywhere and locals taking in the views with you.
This tiny little town in the Haa Valley is the perfect place to get a taste of local Bhutanese life with no tourists around. We didn’t see one other tourist and the school children looked at us with bewilderment as we strolled around.
We even saw a random horse walking around by itself.
My mom popped into a shop to get some candy (it was probably from India).
Lhakhang Karpo, the White Temple
This was another one of my favorite temples in Bhutan. The symmetry and layout of the temple was quite beautiful and there were young monks going about their day who curiously noticed us. We were the only tourists at the temple. I humbly asked our guide if he thought it would be appropriate to ask them to pose in a picture with we, and he did. They were shy and adorable, and totally happy to do so.
There is really no infrastructure for tourism in the Haa Valley, so you’ll likely drive back to Paro for the night.
Unique Tours of Bhutan
There are a variety of tour styles in Bhutan, and Druk Asia offers many unique options for experiencing Bhutan. The trekking options vary in length from just a couple of days to the massive, 28 day Snowman Trek. Some Bhutan treks can even be combined with festivals in the mountain villages. Other unique adventures include photography tours of Bhutan, birdwatching trips, a Bhutan marathon, sports festivals, wedding photography, luxury escapes, and of course, tons of festival centered Bhutan tours. You can explore Druk Asia’s unique options HERE under “packages.”
Packing List for Bhutan
Depending on your level of activity for your Bhutan itinerary, there are some items you should remember to pack.
First and foremost, comfortable hiking shoes are a must. Depending on if you’re just doing day hikes like the Tiger’s Nest or if you’re doing a multi-day trek, you can decide what kind of hiking shoe is appropriate for you. I just got these La Sportivas on the right and am loving them.
A Packable Rain Jacket
I wouldn’t normally include these on a travel packing list, however Bhutan is known for its active tours and as a hiking destination. These straps have quite literally changed my life. I can now hike downhill without knee pain. I can’t stop telling people about these things!
You may only need these if you’re doing a trek, but some people like them for any hike. I definitely didn’t feel like I needed them for the Tiger’s Nest, as I was only carrying a day pack.
For changing temps, elevations, and weather, bring layers. If you plan to wear the traditional Bhutanese costumes, consider bringing warm leggings for underneath it. You can click on any of these photos to link to the product.
Let’s follow Bhutan’s lead with environmental consciousness, and stick with mineral sunscreens, shall we?
Camera Equipment and Portable Charger
Photography equipment may just mean your cell phone, or may mean an entire extra suitcase for professional equipment. Bhutan is definitely a place worthy of any photography.
I like this universal one.
- Passport + a backup photocopy
- Tour Itinerary and contact info
- Airline tickets/confirmations
- Health Insurance Card
- Travel Insurance Documents
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