Bhutan is the last Himalayan kingdom, shrouded in amazing snow Peak Mountains and shadowy forests that create picturesque landscape. But that’s not all; the unique and best thing about Bhutan is that it is the only country that is 72% covered in forests making it not only carbon-neutral but the world’s only carbon negative country. Apart from this, Bhutan is a place where traditional Buddhist culture meets majestic fortress like dzongs and monasteries, it is undoubtedly a magical and mystical place to be. Its unique monastic architecture and the graffiti on the walls that bear paintings of penises as a sign to drive away the evil make Bhutan a sui generis destination. Reputed to be the last Shangri La, this one of its kind country is certainly the best place to visit for family vacation, honeymoon tours and even for adventure holidays. And to be a part of this enthralling place you can have your own share of Bhutan experience through this guided list of the top tourist attractions that you must see and do.
Places to Explore while in Bhutan
Thimphu is an intriguing destinations and the capital of Bhutan. The city nestled in the higher ranges of the Himalayas offers astonishing sights of their emerald forests and beautiful view of the Raidak or Chuu River. Thimphu is culturally a must visit place graced with old world charms and modernity. You might just be amazed to witness their red light to be a traffic policeman. Interestingly, the red light lasted in the city for mere three days until the locals disliked and found the light to be rather negative, hence replaced with the human traffic controller. Today, the city is flooded with camera-wielding tourists exploring the unique treasures of Bhutanese culture, cuisine and lifestyle. Basically, the top sightseeing places that are popularly explored in Thimphu are Buddha Dordenma, Memorial Chorten, Dechencholing Palace, Clock Tower Square, Motithang Takin Preserve. Other tourism places include Dzong such as Tashichhoe and Simtokha; Monasteries such as Dechen Phodrang, Tango and Cheri. For an excursion breaker, Thimphu also offers charming cafes and bars as well as nightclubs and restaurants to socialise and meet like-minded people.
Its peaceful serene beauty and clean air, surrounded by unlevelled mountains, lush green fields and historical buildings make Paro the foremost popular destination in Bhutan. It is here in the city, where the only international airport can be found. Thus, Paro receives maximum number of tourists year round. There are frequent visits to the attractive dongs such as Paro and Zuri; monasteries and palaces like Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest Monastery), Pelri Goemba, Ugyen Pelri Palace. Other best tourism places include temples, monuments and museums such as Bondey Lhakhang, Khangkhu Lhakhang, Tago Lhakhang, Druk Choeding and National Museum. Paro is a historic town with peaceful atmosphere and it is best explored on foot. It is worth a stroll witnessing the everyday life of the locals which ultimately makes it a must visit place in Bhutan.
Another breathtaking destination in Bhutan is Punakha and this place is widely visited by adventure seekers. ‘The best place to be’ for those who enjoy the adrenaline rush of river rafting in the two rivers/chhus – Mo and Pho. However, Punakha is widely famous for the 17th-century fortress Punakha Dzong which sits majestically besides the Pho and Mo Chhu. This Himalayan town hosts masked dances and traditional music during Punakha Tshechu, a religious festival of Bhutan. The feeling the place offers is surreal, and thus many people visit here mostly to understand the Bhutanese culture and history as well as to relish its divine natural beauty. Surrounding the town in the Punakha Valley, it has some must visit attractions like Chimi Lhakhang and Namgyal Chorten. From these points, one can get a grand view of rivers and mountains. Punakha Dzong and Limbhukha are also best places to see while in Punakha.
Trongsa sits in the central Bhutan and its lush flora creates a beautiful place to surround your senses and simply meditate. This must see place in Bhutan is conveniently placed in the centre with a strategic junction connecting roads to Bumthang, Gelephu and Punakha. A noteworthy attraction in Trongsa is the Trongsa Dzong. This is one of the best Buddhist monasteries beautifully topped with red roofs and white wash walls set down above a valley. Trongsa is a sleepy little town and apart from sightseeing the only thing one can do to pass the time is to take a stroll along the shops that are beautifully decorated with pot plants and crowded by gleeful locals.
Nearing the foothills of Chokhor Valley lays Jakar, locally known as Chamkhar. This region is mainly known for its trading centre and the famous attraction in this place is the Jakar Dzong. Peacefully sited above the town in the Chamkhar Valley of Bumthang, this popular dzong is most probably the largest all over Bhutan. Jakar most likely may take several days for a complete tour of the surrounding valleys. Here, apart from the Jakar Dzong, other interesting and widely visited attractions are Wangdichholing Palace which was built in 1857, Bumthang Brewery, Lhodrak Kharchu Goemba founded in the year 1970s by Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche; Cheese Factory which is the only commercial cheese factory in Bhutan and the 14th-century Jakar Lhakhang. The domestic airport in Jakar is Bathpalathang Airport which is located on the east bank of the Chamkhar Chhu.
Phobjikha is an enormous U-shaped glacial valley bordering the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. This ever enchanting land is where the beautiful black-necked cranes are found during winters. Not just that, as picturesque and quiet this place maybe Phobjikha witnesses thrilling festivals as well. Held every year in the confines of the Phobjikha Valley, Tsechu Festival and the Crane Festival that welcomes the black-neck cranes are vigorously celebrated in the Gangten Monastery courtyard. However, this abode on the western slopes of the Black Mountains offers spellbinding views of beautiful valleys, marshy land and grassy pastures. In addition to the cranes, since Phobjikha is close to Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, you can sight muntjacs (barking deer), wild boars, sambars, serows, Himalayan black bears, leopards and red foxes in the surrounding hills. Apart from the wildlife in Bhutan, other attractions in Phobjikha are Gangte Goemba, Nyelung Dechenling, Khewang Lhakhang, Kumbhu Lhakhang, Damchen Lhakhang, White Chorten and Wangmo Hand-Woven Carpet Factory.
Yet another place to visit in Bhutan is Wangdue Phodrang, it is a beautiful and calm town. This place is located in Central Bhutan located and is a border town near Punakha. Wangdue Phodrang is widely famous for its bamboo products, slate and stone carvings. Another noteworthy attraction here is the Wangdue Phodrang dzong which is opened for visitors only during Wangduephodrang Tsechu celebration held during autumn. With the confluence of Punakha Chhu and Tang Chhu, Wangdue Phodrang provides rich pastureland for cattle and offers attractive scenery. While here, the tourist interest places that are widely visited are Radak Neykhang, Archery Ground, Vegetable Market, Army Training Centre, Dzong Gate and Eight Chortens.
Jigme Dorji National Park
Jigme Dorji is a National Park located in Bhutan and is one of the top travel destinations in Asia for wildlife. This park is the second largest national park covering the districts such as Gasa District, Thimphu District, Paro District, Punakha, and Wangdue Phodrang Districts. Why Jigme Dorji National Park is famous because, it has the best of both worlds, including wildlife, there are cultural sites within the park as well. In fact, the park consists of about 6,500 people living within the park taking care of the agriculture and animal husbandry; it has been listed as a tentative site by the UNESCO. However, aforementioned national park is home to various flora and fauna. Here, there are about 37 known species of mammals as well as endangered species such as clouded leopard, snow leopard, takin, Bengal tiger, Himalayan blue sheep, Himalayan black bear, black musk deer, red panda and Ussuri dhole. Nonetheless, this national park is also home to the sambar, serow, barking deer, marmot, goral, pika and more than 300 species of birds. Jigme Dorji National Park is the only park that has national animal – Takin, National Flower – Blue Poppy, National Bird – Raven and National Tree – Cypress existing together in the same premises. These features make the park one of the best places to visit in Bhutan.
Rafting in Paro Chhu
River Raftering is a thrilling water sport and it excites all adventure junkies to embark on a new current every time. However, rafting in Bhutan’s Paro Chhu will offer you a unique experience. Apart from racing against the rapids screaming with thrill and zest, you can glide down the gurgling river surrounded by beauty and exhilarating rapids. Along with enjoying the rafting, you will be surrounded by exquisiteness lush green valley where one can notice rare birds flocking around and the majestic Paro Dzong. Rafting in Paro Chhu is graded as moderate so now every adventure lover can try this famous water sport activity during their Bhutan tourism.
Trekking in Mt. Jomolhari
Trekking is an ultimate adventure activity and the Mountain of Jomolhari will give the best travel experience for endurance travellers. This is the most popular trekking route in Bhutan and as you trek along the emerald forest you will be surrounded by a wide range of beautiful landscapes, fauna and flora. The highlights of this scenic Jomolhari trek are its virgin forest and soaring peaks, you will be passing high pastures where yaks graze and ancient dzongs stand and house red dressed monks that chant prayers. In fact, you can get a spectacular view of Mount Jomolhari from the base camp of the same name as well. Surrounded by splendid desolation, Jomolhari trek offers a unique experience traversing the spellbinding beauty of blue poppies and whispering winds, this trek has something or the other for all kind of trekkers.
Kayaking in Paro Chhu
Kayaking is yet another adventure sport in Bhutan after rafting that catches the eyes of adrenaline junkies. The river tributaries in Bhutan provide a variety of courses for both, amateur as well as veteran kayakers. And the Paro River locally known as Paro Chuu offers a heady mix of rapids where one can enjoy the thrill of the river as well as enjoy the beautiful forest and the attractive Paro Dzong which makes a picturesque sight. Despite the tourism in water adventure sport being rather new in Bhutan, it is enjoyed by every tourist visiting this country. With the rivers’ currents slowly changing from slow to fast, it gives a perfect opportunity to traverse and encountering the fort, meandering forests, rare birds and finally savouring the adrenaline rush in the white water raft Paro Chuu offers.
Mountain biking is an adventurous eco-friendly sport and Bhutan has outstanding trails with vivid landscapes for every biking lovers. Being a culturally and naturally rich place, you can paddle through the rugged terrain, climb and descent through many villages while taking a peek into local lifestyle. You can enjoy this thrilling activity mainly in places such as Paro Valley, Phobjikha Valley, Punakha, Tongsa, Wamrong, Wangthang La and many other locations in Bhutan. However, it is not just the uneven roads you can embark on traversing the beautiful backdrops of Bhutan, in fact, through this expedition, one can also witness the Buddhist culture and visit the monasteries that pass the tracks. Mountain biking, undoubtedly is the best way to see, feel and enjoy the destination with fun and ease.
Rock climbing is a thrilling activity that is full of adventure and ‘good feel’ ambience. Rock climbing in Bhutan is a must experience adventure sport that you can engage in the thick of the breathtaking view of the country. This exciting sport was first introduced in Bhutan by the Vertical Bhutan Climbing Club. And this club offers a full climbing session by training the climbers. The climbing rock, this club provides is called the Nose and it is located not far from the capital of Bhutan, Thimpu. This rock has several climbing routes and they all vary from moderate to difficult. You can test your skills in some of the climbing trails such as Dead Man Walking, Reach N Preach, Easy Peasy, Wedding Present and Half Moon.
A recreational activity in Bhutan that can be enjoyed at ease is fishing. And in Bhutan you will find a number of glacier fed rivers and beautiful lakes that provide a great place for fishing. The Bhutanese rivers are full of fishes and one can find species such as brown trout, snow trout and also golden mahseers in the southern regions of Bhutan. However, there are special permissions that are to be taken before venturing on this activity. And also, there are few laws one needs to look at, for instance, fishing is allowed only on catch and release basis. Besides, fishing is a perfect activity for families who are looking to spend some quality time with each other. Bumthang Valley, Paro Valley, Thimphu Valley, Trongsa Region and Lhuentse Region are few places great for fishing.
While travelling in Bhutan, one must witness Archery competitions held during festivals. The national sport of Bhutan Archery is played with high spirit every year during tournaments and festivals. Even before the officials declare of Archery as the national sport in 1971, this activity gained popularity in the late 1920s. Today, archery is an important Bhutanese sport and tournaments are held every year in Bhutan as a sign of festivities and competition. In fact, you may notice that on celebration of any festival in Bhutan, archery is often kept as a competition for entertainment. There are two types of archers; the traditional archers are made of bamboo arrows and bows. However, during the competition the participants of the tournament use modern equipments which are made of laminated carbon-fibre fitted with a bowstring which is made from synthetic fibre.
Holidays in Bhutan is incomplete without exploring the wildlife. And as beautiful the country is, Bhutan is blessed with rich emerald forests as well as various flora and fauna. In fact, it is the only country to have 72% of forested area, which evidently make it a perfect place for varied animals, birds and plants. Unarguably, Bhutan is a land of Himalayan kingdom and it is a paradise for nature lovers. Here, there are multiple national parks and reserves that take you to wildlife safaris, tiger safaris and bird watching tours as well. Some wildlife places to visit are Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary, Jigme Dorji National Park, Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve etc. Here, you can find some enchanting animals like Asiatic elephants, black bear, golden langur and leopards. You also have the chance to see the majestic mighty beast, Tiger during the wildlife visits.
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery Trek
Clinging to a cliff, Taktsang Palphug Monastery or more suitably called as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is one of the best places to see. This pilgrimage place is also one of the most visited tourist destinations in Bhutan. Sited on the Upper Paro Valley, this monastery is located 3120 meters above the sea level and it showcases great traditional values of the country by its architecture. This unique monastery is ringed by the scenic beauty of the emerald forest and soothing ambience. The structure itself gives goose bumps every time you see with white building topped with the red and golden roof and wooden bordering windows. A visit here will give an unforgettable experience with blue sky backdrop and lush green hills that make this century old structure look stunning and more mystical. The best part is, this isolated monastery can only be reached by trekking through gruelling and rugged mountain paths.
Attend Bhutanese Festival
Thimphu Tshechu Festival,
Festivals in Bhutan are quite unique filled with mask dance, gastronomic delights and of course archery contests. Bhutan has a number of traditions and festivals that are celebrated with much rigour and gusto throughout the country. And one must attend festival like Thimphu Tshechu, which is held during the month of September; and is said to be the biggest festival in Bhutan. This auspicious jubilee is a long three day celebration that offers one the opportunity to experience vibrant and traditions of the locals. In this eventful week, various temples, monasteries and dzongs are decorated throughout the country marked by blend of colours, dance, music and food. Other than that, there are other festivals that must be attended as well such as Paro Tshechu held during the month of March, Jambay Lhakhang Drup on October, Punakha Drubchen on February and Haa Summer Festival on July. It is recommended to attend at least one of Bhutan beautiful and vibrant festivals in your life time.
Birding is a popular and recreational activity enjoyed by everyone. And if you are in Bhutan you will get a chance to witness some rare and beautiful species. This mystic land is endowed with rich natural beauty and thus this land houses over six hundred bird species. During your birding tour in Bhutan, you may catch a glimpse of some endemic and endangered species such as Cuckoos, Swifts, Bee-eaters, Warblers, Flycatchers, Imperial Heron and Black-Necked Crane as well as Nuthatch and Blyth’s Kingfisher. Bhutan truly is a paradise for the bird watchers and it is an important place of biological significance in the world. The country boasts of rare bird species and flora and fauna in locations such as Phobjikha Valley, Bomdeling, Trongsa, Bumthang, Tingtibi, Punakha and Thimphu. These places are ideal for bird watching.
Hot Spring Therapy ‘Gasa Tshachus’
It is always comfor ting to lay in the hot springs and gaze at the breathtaking sight of the surroundings. Luckily in Bhutan there are many such places where one can rejuvenate his tired body. Locally known as Tshachus in Bhutan, there are many hot springs across the country, and all require small treks through the surrounding beautiful forests to be reached. It so happens that, for centuries, the people of Bhutan visit the hot springs in order to seek or cure them from health problems. Evidently, these hotsprings are believed to have healing properties. The hot springs are best visited during the winter months and you can find them in places such as Dur Tshachu located in Bumthang, Gelephu located in Tshachu of southern Bhutan and Duenmang Tshachu located on the riverside of Mangde Chu. Amongst them all, Gasa Tshachus is a popular hot spring in Bhutan where one is required to do a ten hour trek from Punakha. Hot Spring Therapy is an interesting thing experience in Bhutan and hence it must not be missed.