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Bhutan landscape

Bhutan Travel Guidelines For Indian Nationals

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Bhutan opened its doors post COVID with a promise of a better experience for its visitors from around the globe. Better infrastructure and improved services are some of the perks that welcome you this year. Yes, visiting Bhutan isn’t as affordable as before, but it’s totally worth it as it supports Bhutan’s sustainability efforts.

What has changed, what is mandatory, what do you need to carry- read on for all the details.


Bhutan is levying a daily sustainable development fee (SDF) on visitors to support Bhutan’s development. It is mandatory for Indians to pay 1,200 ngultrums, or the equivalent amount in Indian rupees, per person, per night. Children aged 6-12 years will be given a 50% concessionary discount on their SDF. Those aged 5 or younger are exempt. 

Update (June 2023): According to the new rules, Bhutan has lowered the SDF for visitors paying in dollars. Tourists paying the daily fees for four days will be allowed to stay an extra 4 days. Those paying SDF for 12 days can stay for a full month. This will stay in effect till 2024.

Day visitors to the Bhutanese towns bordering India are also exempt from paying the SDF until they reach a point designated by the Bhutanese government.


It is now mandatory for Indians to be accompanied by a guide for journeys beyond Thimphu and Paro. Guides are thus also mandatory for visitors who enter Bhutan via land borders and plan to travel beyond the border towns. All treks must also be undertaken with an accredited tour operator or guide. 


ROAD:  Indians coming to Bhutan by road are required to obtain an 'Entry Permit' on the basis of valid travel documents from the Immigration Office of Royal Government of Bhutan at Phuentsholing, located on the Indo-Bhutan border opposite Jaigaon, West Bengal. 

Note: Daily fee of 4500/- levied under "green tax" needs to be paid if driving your own vehicle. 

AIR:  Indians coming by air must possess valid travel documents and get an Entry Permit at the Paro International Airport. 

Note: The 'entry permit' allows an Indian tourist to visit Thimphu and Paro only. However, any tourist going beyond Thimphu and Paro needs to acquire a 'special area permit' from the RGoB Immigration Office at Thimphu on any working day (Monday to Friday).


1) Visitors from India require a passport or voter ID card. Children under 18 years of age require a birth certificate or passport and must be accompanied by a legal guardian.  

2) Passport-size photograph.

3) Travel insurance* valid for the whole duration of the trip. 

*There is an option to purchase domestic travel insurance from Bhutanese insurance providers at the port of entry during arrivals.

No visa is required to visit Bhutan for Indian nationals.

Fixed Departure Tours (Nov and Dec 2023)

25th Nov - 1st Dec

09th Dec - 15th Dec

23rd Dec - 29th Dec

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  • Ujjaini R Das     December 24, 2022

I would like to know if a guide is required for 2 people?? I read somewhere that Indian nationals can travel in Bhutan without guide. If the group is more is more than 4 then definitely guide is required.

  •   Reply 0 Like
  • TourGenie     February 21, 2023

Hi Ujjaini, a guide is mandatory for anyone visiting Bhutan, even if it's one person.

  • sheeldarshi     February 28, 2023

Hi, I am planning to visit Bhutan in April from Hyderabad via Jaigaon,India route. However, the permit office in Phuntsholing is closed on local holidays. So I am not sure where to get the list of local holidays( I can only find public holidays listed). Can you help to confirm the dates in April which have public holidays?

  •   Reply 1 Like
  • Pradeep Desai     March 07, 2023

We r a senior couple from Pune, India. We want to visit Bhutan in our own car. April end this year. Please guide us.

  • Nedup     June 05, 2023

You will need to pay a daily fee of Rs. 4,500 for your car as "Green Tax" plus the daily fee of Rs1,200 per person

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Bhutan Travel Guide

Bhutan travel guide for indian tourists, travel documents requirement for indian tourists visiting bhutan.

Indian tourists visiting Bhutan are required to carry either a valid Indian passport which has a minimum validity of six months or valid Voter Identity card issued by Election Commission of India. Indian tourists do not require tourist visa to visit Bhutan. However entry permits must be processed to enter into the country. The entry permits can be processed on arrival or in advance by a local  travel agent in Bhutan .

Processing entry permits for Indian tourists visiting Bhutan

Indian tourists must process for an entry permit on arrival either at the airport or at the Department of Immigration Office at the point of entry if traveling by road. With the entry permits, Indian tourists can stay up to 15 days in Bhutan with possibility of extension subject to approval by the Immigration.

Documents required for processing entry permit for Indian tourists

  • Valid Indian passport with a minimum validity of 6 months or valid Voter Identity Card
  • Duly filled entry permit application form
  • 2 standard size passport photographs
  • Hotel booking voucher (hotel bookings in Bhutan must be confirmed prior to applying for the permit)
  • Tour Guide details (Indian tourists must avail the service of a certified local tour guide)
  • Processing the entry permit can take up to few hours and for Indian tourists travelling to Bhutan by road should note that the Department of Immigration offices are closed during the weekends and therefore must plan their trip accordingly to avoid unnecessary delays.

Indian tourists must note that the entry permit allows them to enter Bhutan and visit Paro, Thimphu and Phuntsholing district only. For Indian tourists wishing to visit other places which are not included in the list must apply for Route permit on arrival in Thimphu at the Immigration office.

Documents required for processing route permit for Indian tourists

  • Duly filled route permit application form
  • Copy of the Entry Permit
  • These must be processed and should not be ignored. The immigration check post en route to most places will check for this permit and Indian tourists failing to apply for it will not be allowed to continue their journey.

Procedures for Indian tourists wishing to drive private Indian car to Bhutan

Indian tourists wishing to drive private Indian car to Bhutan must apply and avail authorization letter from the Royal Safety and Transport Authority of Bhutan (RSTA) on arrival at the border town prior to proceeding to other places in Bhutan.

Documents required for processing the authorized letter from RSTA Bhutan

  • Vehicle insurance
  • Vehicle fitness certificate
  • Valid driver’s license copy
  • Entry Permit Copy
  • Copy of Passport/Valid Voter ID Card
  • Duly filled authorized letter application form
  • Authorized letter from the owner of the car

Flights to Bhutan from India

The Royal Bhutan Airlines and Bhutan Airlines operate inbound flights to Paro International Airport in Bhutan from New Delhi, Kolkata and Bagdogra airport in West Bengal and Guwahati airport in Assam.

Flight duration from various Indian cities to Paro Bhutan

Traveling to bhutan by road from india.

There are three border entries from southern Bhutan. Phuntsholing town in the south western Bhutan links with Indian state of West Bengal. It is roughly 170 kilometers away from Bagdogra International Airport in West Bengal. Tourists can catch a taxi or local bus and drive to Phuntsholing town from the airport. It is about 5 hours’ drive from the airport to the border town. This is the most popular point of entry for tourists in Bhutan.

Gelephu town in south central region and Samdrup Jongkhar town in south eastern region connects to the Indian state of Assam. Guwahati International airport in Assam is roughly 105 kilometers away from Samdrup Jongkhar town. Tourists can catch a taxi or local bus and drive to Samdrup Jongkhar town from the airport. It is about 3 hours’ drive from the airport to the border town. This point of entry is recommended if tourists plan on exploring the eastern region.

Traveling to Bhutan from Kolkata by road

Tourists can take a bus ride from Kolkata to Phuntsholing Bhutan. The bus services are operated by Royal Government of Bhutan. It is an 18 hours journey to Phuntsholing from Kolkata.

Kolkata to Phuntsholing Bus Service schedule

Traveling to Bhutan by train from India

There are no train stations in Bhutan. Tourists preferring to travel by train to Bhutan from India have to stop at Indian train stations that are closer to the Bhutan border. Tourists will need to get to one of the following train stations and catch a taxi or bus to the border town of Phuntsholing.

Traveling to Bhutan from Kolkata by train

Indian tourists can get to Bhutan from Kolkata by boarding the Kanchan Kanya Express or the Karmabhoomi Express. Tourists will have to board the train from Sealdah train station (SDAH) in Kolkata and the final stop will be at the Hasimara Railway station (HSA) in Alipurduar district of West Bengal. From Hasimara Railway Station, tourists will have to take a 40 minute taxi or a bus ride to Phuntsholing Bhutan.

Traveling to Bhutan from New Delhi by train

To reach Bhutan from New Delhi by train, tourists will have to board the Rajdhani or the Assam Express from the New Delhi railway station and get off at the NJP station in state of West Bengal. Tourists will then have to take a taxi or bus to Phuntsholing Bhutan from New Jalpaiguri Raiway Station. It is around 5 hours’ drive from NJP to the Indo Bhutan border.

Tour options for Indian travelers

Bhutan honeymoon tour.

Bhutan is the perfect destination for couples looking for some break time after a series of exhausting wedding programs because every couple deserves a beautiful beginning of their lovely journey for a lifetime of togetherness.  Or for couples looking for a chance to reignite their love by spending some quite alone time away from home and a much deserved break from the kids and the families. Bhutan offers the best couple experience with tailor-made tours just designed for your comfort and likings.

For a memorable honeymoon couples can choose to stay in the most tranquil private resorts tucked away into the secluded beautiful mountains with the most beautiful views to wake up to. There are always the popular tourist attractions to explore together and if the pair is quite the adventurous type they can take a hike to the most amazing tiger’s nest or choose to camp at the most beautiful campsite under the stars and enjoy a mini night picnic gazing at the beautiful stars.

Bhutan family tour

Bhutan is the perfect holiday destination for your family as it offers a wide variety of group activities and provides a chance to explore this rich culture infused country with the people you love the most in this world.

Bhutan can be chance for your family to relax and breathe some fresh air by taking a break from the scorching heat. For the best experience as a family, you can choose to explore the popular tourist attraction of the country like the Buddha point which is considered the largest statue of sitting Buddha in the world. It’s very important that your kids also have the best memory of their tour, so the Motithang Takin preserve which is a mini zoo, centenary children’s park near the Changlimithang stadium and national museums can be great for your kids.

Bhutan nature & adventure tours

Bhutan is guarded by high Himalayan snowcapped mountains and blessed with glacial fed river navigating lush valleys across the country. The range of climatic conditions cramped in this small country has rewarded Bhutan with rich ecology and diverse natural environment. The mountainous terrain in most part of the country are accessible by motor roads and the stop at the mountain passes at over 3000 meters offers a spectacular view of the Himalayas and rejuvenating moments for all travelers. For thrill seekers, Bhutan offers river rafting and kayaking on some of the largest river basin passing few historic monuments. For the nature lovers, Bhutan offers photography and wildlife safari in some protected nature preserves and many hiking and trekking trails.

Bhutan motor biking tours

Cross country motor bike tour is getting popular among the Indian bikers. Bikers start their journey from southern western border of Phuntsholing town and ride north to the capital city. Bikers continue their journey to the extreme eastern region of Bhutan before descending to the southern eastern border of Samdrup Jongkhar district and exit to Indian state of Assam. The journey takes bikers through many districts in Bhutan including most popular tourists attractions and few secluded villages. Bikers will also come across four major mountain passes at over 3000 meters. Bikers will ride through the sub-tropical climatic region to the cold mountain passes which may be covered in snow depending on the travelling period. The journey is sure to offer an adventurous experience.

Bhutan cultural tours

Bhutan can be a paradise for history enthusiasts. Bhutan is considered a living monument. Its self-imposed isolation has helped Bhutan preserve and keep its ancient heritage relevant in the modern era. Tourists can explore the medieval fortresses across the country. Tourists can learn about its history and understand how these ancient fortresses still remain occupied and play a significant role in modern administration.

Visit to the country side offers a way to understand the Bhutanese traditional way of living. With the boom of the tourism industry, many scenic country sides offer authentic farm stay experience. It includes spending a night in a traditional Bhutanese house; enjoy Bhutanese cuisine, a hot stone bath and interaction with the local people.

For more details on tours and itineraries check out our Bhutan tour packages for 2018/2019.

Shopping in Bhutan

Shopping in Bhutan in itself is an amazing experience while traveling to Bhutan. Shopping in Bhutan is an opportunity to learn about exclusively authentic arts and crafts of Bhutan. Native to only some regions of Bhutan, some handicrafts are unusual and hard to resist. Bhutan has long been known for its rich cultural heritage and its efforts to preserve its unique traditions. Each and every handicraft piece has a history of its own as the art has been passed down for generations in an effort to preserve its significance. Tourists will not only be buying a gift but buying a piece of history. This article endeavors to make you acquainted with top souvenirs that must be collected as the best memories of your Bhutan tour.

Check out some must buy souvenirs in Bhutan .

Dos and Don’ts

  • Few temples and monasteries maybe off limits to tourist, so asking permission before entering is a must.
  • Remove your shoes and hats while entering temples and monasteries.
  • It is very important to understand if photography is allowed in some areas as it is strictly prohibited to take photographs of the idols and murals in the monasteries and temples.
  • Visitors should be modestly dressed while visiting important sites like Dzongs and monasteries.
  • Do not wash, swim or dispose waste in lakes which may be considered sacred.
  • Smoking in public area is strictly prohibited and violators will be penalized by authorities.

Bhutan trip cost from India

Flight from india to bhutan and rates.

NOTE* the flight rates are indicative and subject to change. Please confirm with the airlines for updated rates.

Transportation services within Bhutan

Indian tourists on arrival to Bhutan can avail car rental services. Depending on the size of the group or tourists preference, the following vehicle options are available.

NOTE* the daily rates are calculated at minimum and may vary at the time of confirmation. Terms and conditions of hiring apply.

Popular tourist hotels in Bhutan

The Tourism Council of Bhutan regulates the hotel industry and mandates minimum criteria in terms of hotel infrastructure and service to be rated and eligible to cater to tourists visiting Bhutan. As per Tourism Council of Bhutan, the hotels are categorized in 5 star, 4 star, 3 star and budget hotels.

Luxury hotels in Thimphu

Le Meridien Thimphu: LM Thimphu is a 5 star hotel in Thimphu city. The hotel was opened in 2015. It has 78 rooms with modern contemporary design. The hotel has a fine dining restaurant specializing in pan Asian cuisine and a multi cuisine restaurant and a hip bar serving elegant sparkling cocktails. The hotel is centrally located in Thimphu town.

Taj Tashi: Taj Tashi is Thimphu’s first 5 star property. The hotel is centrally located in Thimphu. It has 66 traditional design rooms with modern amenities. The hotel has a fine dining restaurant specializing in Bhutanese cuisine and a multi cuisine restaurant. The hotel has a spacious lawn barricaded by walls to ensure guests privacy.

Zhiwaling Ascent:  Zhiwaling Ascent is a newly opened property in Thimphu. The hotel is beautifully located near an animal preserve area, away from the city. The elegant design of the hotel with reminiscence of ancient fortress perfectly blends into the nature. The hotel has 17 spacious rooms decked with huge windows that offer an amazing view. The open restaurant with floor to ceiling glass and the rooftop bar provides an amazing dining experience for the guest.

Budget hotels in Thimphu

City Hotel Thimphu: City Hotel is one of the first hotels in Bhutan to have a shopping arcade connected to the hotel. It is centrally located in the heart of town. The property opened for business in 2017. It has 32 spacious rooms and a multi cuisine restaurant.

Hotel Bhutan Thimphu: Hotel Bhutan is a boutique hotel in Thimphu. The hotel is located in Chubachu, an area within the city center. The hotel has 24 rooms. It also offers fine dining, a bar and 24 hour front desk service. Hotel Bhutan is a vegetarian hotel.

Luxury hotels in Paro

Le Meridien Paro: LM Paro is Marriot’s second edition in Bhutan and sister property of LM Thimphu. It is located along the bank of Pachhu River in Paro. All the rooms at the property offer a spectacular view of the river and the local community on the other side of the river. The property has 58 rooms with modern contemporary design. The hotel has a fine dining restaurant specializing in pan Asian cuisine and a multi cuisine restaurant.

Zhiwaling Heritage Paro: The property nestled in the secluded area in Paro district is known for its architectural design and for its idyllic hotel premises. The extensive wood carved beams and intricate art work ceilings and walls are ubiquitous across the hotel. Ideal for a retreat, the complex has its own meditation center, in house temple, a beautiful tea house and lush lawns paved with footpath illuminated by street lamps. The property has 45 grand suites.

Budget hotels in Paro

Hotel Olathang: It is one of the oldest hotels in Bhutan. The hotel is located on a hill amidst 28 acres of pine forest. It offers a great view of the Paro valley from the property location and tourists can enjoy the rejuvenating effect of nature during their stay. The property has 59 rooms.

Tashi Namgay Resort: The property sits beautifully next to Paro River across the airport. The 5 acre compound by the river offers you peace and calm environment to ensure a memorable stay for tourists. The property has unique blend of traditional architectural design with modern touches. The resort has 51 rooms.

Budget hotels in Punakha

Drubchhu Resort: This family managed resort takes pride in how the property is management. The entire resort is fed with spring water. The property manages its own kitchen garden to serve organic meals for the guests. The property is conveniently located next to the highway and the rooms offer an amazing view of the paddy. The resort has 27 spacious rooms maintained with excellent cleanliness.

Zhingkham Resort:  The name of the property translates to heaven. The property boasts its idyllic location perched on a hill overlooking the glorious Punakha fortress and the valley. The property rooms have an extended outdoor balcony that offers this amazing view. The property has 40 rooms.

Budget hotels in Phuntsholing

Hotel Lhaki: To cater to the hot and tropical weather of Phuntsholing town, Lhaki hotel offers air conditioned rooms with modern amenities. It also operates a multi cuisine restaurant. The property has 30 rooms and 6 suites.

Park Hotel: The property focuses on delivering comfortable stay for the travelling guests with customized services to help their guests unwind after their tiring journey. The property is located at the heart of Phuntsholing town. The convenient location provides easy access to shopping centers in the town. The property has 32 rooms.

Peling Resort: The resort is roughly 7 kilometers drive away from the town center en route to Thimphu. The property is perched on a hill overlooking the Phuntsholing town and the Indian plains beyond. For tourists preferring a quieter environment and away from the town, Peling resort is ideal. The property offers air conditioned rooms and the restaurant is known for its delicious Indian cuisine.

How much should Indian tourists budget for food while traveling to Bhutan?

The cost of meal depends on the profile of the restaurant. If tourists prefer to eat at the hotel or at a good restaurant catering primarily to tourists that offers good food and service, it will cost a minimum of INR 500 per meal per person. However there are plenty of cheaper places to eat, however tourists should manage their expectations on the quality and the cleanliness accordingly.

Attraction and monument entry fees

Most popular attractions in the country charge tourists an entrance fee. Charges of few attractions are shown below.

NOTE* 50% discount is offered to students and children below the age of 5 do not have to pay the entrance fee.


The SDF Levy for regional tourists is set at Nu 1,200. However tourists visiting 11 of the 20 districts which are Trashigang, Lhuntse, Trashiyangtze, Mongar, Samdrupjongkhar, Pemagatshel, Zhemgang, Tsirang, Sarpang, Dagana and Trongsa will be exempt of SDF for both tariff paying tourists and regional tourists.

Entries via Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar will also be open to regional tourists.

Regional tourist children under the age of 5 do not have to pay the levy and those between 6 and 12 only need to pay 600.

The rule shall be effective from July 2020.

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Things You Must Know Before Making Trip to Bhutan

Amen bhutan

  • Dec 26th 2023
  • Bhutan Travel Update

Embarking on a journey to Bhutan requires a thoughtful understanding of its unique cultural and geographical landscape, and Amen Bhutan Tours and Treks is your trusted partner in ensuring an enriching and seamless experience. Before you set foot in this mystical kingdom, it's essential to appreciate Bhutan's commitment to preserving its rich heritage and fostering sustainable tourism. Amen Bhutan Tours and Treks stands as a beacon of expertise, offering valuable insights and meticulously crafted itineraries that allow travelers to delve into the heart of Bhutan's spirituality, vibrant festivals, and breathtaking landscapes, all while prioritizing responsible travel practices. With a commitment to personalized service and a deep respect for Bhutanese traditions, the journey with Amen Bhutan Tours and Treks promises not just a vacation but an immersion into the soul-stirring essence of the last Himalayan kingdom.

Here's what you need to know before you go.

Visa requirement (process).

Before embarking on a trip to Bhutan, understanding the visa requirements is paramount. Travelers must obtain a visa in advance, and this process is facilitated through authorized Bhutanese tour operators. The Tourism Council of Bhutan manages visa applications, emphasizing the country's commitment to sustainable tourism. It's important for prospective visitors to plan their journey with a licensed Bhutanese guide, as the country follows a minimum daily package policy, encompassing accommodation, meals, transportation, and guide services. Adhering to these guidelines ensures a seamless entry into Bhutan and supports the nation's efforts to preserve its unique cultural and environmental heritage.

Daily Fee and SDF

Bhutan imposes a mandatory minimum daily fee for tourists, which covers accommodation, meals, a licensed guide, and transportation within the country. This fee varies depending on the night and the number of travelers in your group. As per as latest news the new SDF of Bhutan Tour is $100 per person per night. 

Tour Guides

When planning a trip to Bhutan, it's essential to be aware of the requirement to have a licensed Bhutanese tour guide accompany you throughout your stay. Bhutan enforces this rule to ensure a deeper cultural understanding for visitors and to promote sustainable tourism. These guides contribute to the immersive experience by providing insights into local customs, history, and traditions. Travelers are encouraged to embrace this unique aspect of Bhutanese tourism, enhancing their journey with the expertise and guidance of knowledgeable local guides.

Tour/Trekking Permits

When planning a trip to Bhutan, it's crucial to navigate the country's unique permit system. Travelers must secure a tourist visa through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator, who also facilitates permits for specific regions or trekking routes. Bhutan's government enforces a minimum daily package covering accommodation, meals, transportation, and a guide to promote sustainable tourism. This well-regulated approach ensures an immersive and culturally enriching experience. Prioritize understanding the permit requirements, work closely with your tour operator, and embrace the opportunity to explore Bhutan's captivating landscapes and vibrant culture.

Flight Options (Druk Air / Bhutan Air)

The main international airport in Bhutan is Paro International Airport, and the country's national airlines Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines operate flights to and from various destinations, including Delhi, Kathmandu, Bangkok, and Singapore. Direct flights to Paro are limited, and travelers often need to transit through these cities. Additionally, flight schedules to Bhutan can be subject to weather conditions, particularly in the mountainous region around Paro. Checking with airlines, booking well in advance, and remaining flexible with travel dates can contribute to a smoother and more enjoyable journey to the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

Travel Insurance 

It is mandatory to obtain travel insurance before your trip to Bhutan and to ensure that it meets the specific requirements set by the Tourism Council. Bhutan's Tourism Council requires all tourists to have travel insurance that covers emergency medical evacuation (minimum coverage of $250,000). You may be asked to provide proof of insurance when obtaining your visa. Additionally, check with your chosen tour operator or travel agency in Bhutan to confirm any additional requirements or recommendations regarding travel insurance. 

Climate and Clothing

Bhutan, located in the eastern Himalayas, experiences a diverse range of climates due to its varying altitudes. However, the climate in Bhutan is Hard to generalize since Bhutan's weather is challenging to determine. The Himalayan climate of Bhutan varies enormously from one region to another. As a result, the choice of clothing should be adapted to the specific weather conditions of the area you plan to visit.

Bhutan has four seasons and the temperature is not the same everywhere, even in the same season.

Spring : March, April, and May

Summer : June, July, and August

Autumn : September, October, and November

Winter : December, January, and February

When planning a trip to Bhutan, it's essential to be aware of the currency used in the country. Bhutan's official currency is the Ngultrum (BTN), but Indian Rupees are widely accepted. Travelers should be prepared to use local currency for transactions, and it's advisable to exchange or obtain Ngultrum upon arrival. Additionally, it's beneficial to check the current exchange rates and have a mix of small denominations, as smaller towns and markets may prefer cash transactions. Having a basic understanding of the local currency ensures a smoother experience when navigating through Bhutan's unique and culturally rich destinations.

Altitude Sickness

Bhutan's higher altitudes can cause altitude sickness. If you plan to visit places like Paro or Punakha, which are above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), acclimatize gradually, stay hydrated, and consult your doctor if necessary. For those planning a trip to Bhutan, being aware of altitude sickness is paramount. The country's varying altitudes, with some locations reaching high elevations, necessitate a gradual acclimatization process. Travelers should stay hydrated, avoid strenuous activities upon arrival, and consider medications like acetazolamide to alleviate symptoms. It's crucial to listen to your body, prioritize gradual ascents, and be mindful of the potential effects of altitude to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in Bhutan's breathtaking landscapes.

Photography and Drone Usage

 While photography is generally allowed, some religious sites may have restrictions, so it's advisable to seek permission before capturing images. Additionally, the use of drones is prohibited in Bhutan without explicit authorization from the Civil Aviation Authority. Respecting these guidelines ensures a respectful and harmonious experience, allowing travelers to appreciate Bhutan's breathtaking scenery and cultural treasures without compromising local sensitivities or privacy.

Language in Bhutan

Dzongkha is the official language, but English is widely spoken, especially in tourist areas. Having a basic grasp of common phrases in Dzongkha can enhance your cultural experience and interactions with locals. While language barriers are minimal, showcasing an appreciation for the Bhutanese language can foster positive connections during your exploration of this enchanting destination.

Wi-Fi and Mobile Connectivity

Urban areas generally have decent coverage, remote regions may experience limited network access. It's advisable to check with your mobile service provider regarding international roaming options and data plans. Consider purchasing a local SIM card upon arrival for more reliable connectivity. Embracing the possibility of intermittent network availability allows travelers to fully immerse themselves in Bhutan's serene landscapes and rich cultural experiences, while staying connected when needed.

Respecting Bhutan's dress code is essential for a culturally sensitive experience. The traditional attire, especially for visits to religious sites, involves covering the shoulders, chest, and knees for both men and women. It is recommended to wear modest and conservative clothing to show respect for local customs. Additionally, when attending festivals or formal events, it's customary to dress in the traditional Bhutanese attire, known as the "kira" for women and "gho" for men. Adhering to these clothing guidelines ensures a harmonious integration with the local culture and enhances the overall travel experience in Bhutan.

Local Cuisine 

Exploring Bhutan's local cuisine is a must for any traveler, offering a unique gastronomic experience. The national dish, Ema Datshi, a spicy blend of chilies and cheese, is a culinary delight worth trying. Bhutanese cuisine is known for its bold flavors, incorporating red rice, buckwheat, and a variety of locally grown vegetables. Don't miss out on trying dishes like Phaksha Paa (pork with red chilies) and Momos (dumplings). While traditional food is prevalent, international cuisine is also available in urban areas. Embrace the opportunity to savor the distinctive flavors of Bhutan, making your culinary journey an integral part of your travel adventure.

Respect for culture and environment  

Respect for culture and the environment is of utmost importance in Bhutan, and the country has policies and practices in place to preserve its unique heritage and natural beauty. Bhutan's commitment to Gross National Happiness, which includes environmental and cultural well-being, makes it a unique and inspiring destination. By respecting the culture and environment, visitors contribute to the sustainability of Bhutan's rich heritage and pristine landscapes.

Health Precautions

Prioritizing health precautions is vital when planning a visit to Bhutan. Given the varying altitudes and potential for altitude sickness, it's advisable to acclimatize gradually. Pack any necessary medications and ensure your travel insurance covers potential medical emergencies. Additionally, be mindful of local water and food safety practices to prevent gastrointestinal issues. Stay hydrated, protect yourself from the sun at higher altitudes, and consider consulting with a healthcare professional before your trip to address specific health concerns. Being proactive about health measures ensures a safe and enjoyable exploration of Bhutan's unique landscapes and cultural gems.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Do i need a visa to visit bhutan.

Yes, all foreign nationals, except for citizens of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, need a visa to enter Bhutan. The visa must be obtained through an approved tour operator, and a pre-planned itinerary is required.

What is the Best Time to Visit Bhutan?

The ideal time to visit Bhutan is during the spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) seasons when the weather is generally mild and favorable for outdoor activities.

What Currency is Used in Bhutan?

The official currency of Bhutan is the Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN), and Indian Rupees are also widely accepted. It's advisable to carry both currencies.

Is Bhutan a Safe Destination?

Bhutan is considered a safe destination for travelers. The country prioritizes its citizens' well-being and has a low crime rate. However, like any other destination, it's essential to take standard safety precautions.

How Should I Dress in Bhutan?

Bhutan has a dress code, and it is recommended to dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites. Both men and women are encouraged to wear long skirts or trousers, and men usually wear a knee-length robe called a "gho."

What is the Minimum Daily Package for Tourists in Bhutan?

Bhutan has a minimum daily package requirement for tourists, which includes accommodation, meals, a licensed guide, and transportation. As per as latest news the new SDF of Bhutan Tour is $100 per person per night . 

Can I Travel Independently in Bhutan?

No, independent travel is not allowed in Bhutan. Tourists must book their trip through an authorized tour operator, and a licensed guide must accompany them during their entire stay.

Are there Restrictions on Photography in Bhutan?

While photography is generally allowed, there may be restrictions in certain religious or cultural sites. It's essential to ask for permission before taking pictures, especially in temples and monasteries.

What Altitude Sickness Precautions Should I Take?

Bhutan has varying altitudes, and travelers should acclimatize gradually to prevent altitude sickness. It's recommended to stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, and be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness.

What Cultural Etiquette Should I Follow?

Visitors should be respectful of Bhutanese customs and traditions. It's customary to walk clockwise around religious monuments, show respect to elders, and ask for permission before entering someone's home.

 As you prepare for your Bhutanese adventure, Amen Bhutan Tours and Treks emerges as the ideal companion, offering a wealth of knowledge and support. Recognizing the significance of responsible tourism and cultural appreciation, the company ensures that your journey is not just about visiting a destination but about forging meaningful connections with Bhutan's heritage and its warm-hearted people. With Amen Bhutan Tours and Treks , your trip becomes a curated exploration, where every detail is crafted to enhance your understanding of Bhutan's unique blend of tradition and modernity, making it an unforgettable and transformative travel experience.

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Bhutan travel: Everything you need to know before going to Bhutan

A complete guide with everything you need to know about traveling to Bhutan. Includes information on the cost of travel, Bhutanese culture, language, and everything else you need to know before you travel to Bhutan.

Closed to the rest of the world until recent years, Bhutan is an idyllic mountain kingdom deep in the Himalayas. These days, times are a-changin’ and tourists are now welcome in the isolated but culturally rich little land. Lonely Planet called it the number one destination to visit in 2020 —I don’t disagree—and I’m sure many people will visit despite the relatively high cost of visiting Bhutan.

The country makes great efforts to preserve their culture in the face of globalization; tourists should be sensitive and respectful. Though most tourists are required to visit with a guide or tour, there are still things you need to know if you want to travel to Bhutan! Read on—I’ll give you the rundown on everything you need to know before you travel to Bhutan.

Traveling to Bhutan? This travel guide has all the tips you need to plan your trip to Bhutan. Includes advice on what to wear in Bhutan, religion and culture in Bhutan, how much it costs to travel in Bhutan, information on visas in Bhutan, and more. Click through to learn what you need to visit Bhutan. #Bhutan #Travel #TravelGuide

Bhutan basics

  • What to wear

Interacting with locals

  • Vegetarian and vegan travel
  • Best time to visit
  • Money and cost
  • Transportation

Connectivity and SIM cards

Traditional Bhutanese houses on the way to Haa Valley

Typical Bhutanese village scenes (plus chilies!) on the way to Haa Valley

The Kingdom of Bhutan is caught between leviathans China and India, in the Eastern Himalayas. The country has a population of roughly 750,000 people. Thimphu, the capital, sits in the west of the country.

Never colonized, and isolated due to its geography, Bhutan developed a strong national identity and culture. It’s also the most peaceful and least corrupt country in South Asia, and ranks first in ease of doing business and economic freedom in the region. It’s an outlier in every way!

In 2008 Bhutan changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Although the King is much beloved and respected by the people, his political powers are mostly ceremonial.

Given its small population and restrictive mountainous location, the country lacks major industries and revenue streams. Agriculture is the main livelihood of most Bhutanese people, while tourism and hydropower are close behind.

Sustainable tourism

Necessity is one of the reasons tourism is so carefully managed in the country. Though tourism has immense potential to financially support the country, it has just as much power to overwhelm its small population and delicate cultural balance.

Tourism in Bhutan has been restricted through pricing for decades. “High value” tourists were the only ones able to access the kingdom via mandatory guided tours at a standard, controlled price. Revenues benefit more than those in the tourism industry; 30% of tourism money goes to a “sustainable development fee” that provides free health care, free education, infrastructure, and more for all of Bhutan’s population. I find it hard to be bitter about a system that so clearly benefits local populations!

However, these days the scales are tipping. India has extensive soft power over its small neighbour, and pressured the country to allow its citizens to visit without needing a guided tour. Given the rapidly growing popularity of travel in populous India, Bhutan is increasingly overwhelmed by Indian tourists; in 2018, more than half of foreign tourists in Bhutan were Indians.

How will this influx affect Bhutan’s previously-functional sustainable tourism structure? Only time will tell, but from July 2020 on, regional tourists will have to pay 1,200 Rs per day (around $16) to visit Bhutan .

Female traveler with local women in Thimphu

My dzongkha was too poor to speak with these local women, but sometimes you don’t need words to communicate. They were a riot!

Dzongkha is the official language of Bhutan.  A variety of regional languages exist, but Dzongkha is the lingua franca .

English is also widely taught in school; many young people speak English well. English skills are especially pronounced in the tourism industry, where almost everyone speaks English.

If you travel to Bhutan, you will have little trouble communicating. Even if someone doesn’t speak English, nonregional tourists will have a guide on hand to translate if desired. Regional tourists will notice than many  Bhutanese people understand some Hindi due to consuming large amounts of TV and films from neighboring India.

Useful Dzongkha phrases

  • Kuzu zangpo la – Hello
  • Kadin chey la – Thank you
  • Inn – Yes
  • Menn – No
  • Gaday bay zhui? – How are you?
  • Legshom – I’m fine

Need some inspiration? Check out these stunning photos of Bhutan!

Foreign visitors and his guide and the India - Bhutan border

Crossing overland from India to Bhutan via the Gelephu border crossing

Most nationalities need visas to visit Bhutan. Since most also need to be on a guided tour, your tour agency should take care of the visa as part of the tour fee. No need to spend too much mental energy on that!

Tourists from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives currently do not need visas to visit Bhutan. However, permits are required when crossing into the country by land.

Layap women sitting in front of a yak hair tent at the Royal Highlander festival

Local Layap women chillin’ in front of their yak hair tent at the Royal Highlander Festival in Laya

Bhutan’s cultural heritage is rich and carefully guarded . The country is unique in how it protects and fosters its cultural heritage, rather than abandoning its history to globalizing tides. This is the primary reason many tourists have their eyes on Bhutan… and the country knows it.

Bhutanese culture is strongly influenced by Buddhism. Many cultural festivals take place each year all across the country, showcasing the diversity of its heritage. Unlike other countries, many of these festivals aren’t typical tourist traps, but rather experiences catering to locals showcasing authentic traditions in their regions. Some in more popular areas like Thimphu and Paro might skew touristic; the further off the beaten track you travel in Bhutan , the more local these festivals are guaranteed to be.

Read: Livin’ it up in Laya at the Royal Highlander Festival

Bhutanese women taking a selfie in Thimphu

Traditional clothes and what to wear

Clothes are an integral part of Bhutanese culture. Men typically wear a robe called gho . Women wear a shirt and wrap combination, kira .

These traditional clothes are no longer mandatory for Bhutanese people—unless they’re on official business—but you’ll see many people wearing them, even in the capital. Bhutan Street Fashion is a great Instagram-insight into clothes and culture in modern-day Bhutan, run by a friend of mine named Karma Wangchuck.

Foreign tourists aren’t expected to wear local clothes… but that doesn’t mean you can wear anything and everything! Although the country is much less conservative than some of its regional neighbors, tank tops and short skirts are definitely not a common sight in the country (unless you go clubbing in Thimphu, that is).

Dzong fortresses and monasteries are the only place with official dress codes. Visitors to  dzongs must wear long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and closed shoes to enter. Local men have to be in gho. Hats are not allowed for locals or foreigners. Shoes and hats are also forbidden inside monasteries.

Old Bhutanese woman laughing in Phubjika Valley

Bhutanese people are very friendly, if initially shy; the more off the beaten track you go, the more people will want to have a chat with you! Again, language isn’t such an issue since most tourists will be with a guide who can translate.

To avoid offending anyone, make sure to only use your right hand when shaking hands, eating with hands, or giving/accepting gifts—sorry lefties—and don’t touch anyone on their head.

People who have heard of Bhutan often think of its Gross National Happiness index. Many people associate this with the idea that the country is an incredibly happy one, or that the government somehow forces people to be happy.

This is a misconception. Surveys suggest that Bhutanese people aren’t significantly happier than other people.

The GNH index means decisions made by the government have to be for the good of the majority of people, and have to take into account the general wellbeing and the overall quality of life of Bhutan’s citizens. Still an enlightened policy, but not quite as rainbow and sunshine as simplified news makes it out to be.

Monk standing on the doorway of a small monastery in Punakha

A small monastery inside Punakha’s dzong

The majority of Bhutanese people follow Vajrayana Buddhism , which is also the state religion. Bhutan has a Hindu minority, most notably in the southern regions bordering India.

The country guarantees freedom of religion, but proselytizing is forbidden. People travelers encounter are generally open to people of other religions, and don’t mind if you’re nonreligious.

However, when visiting, make sure to show respect for its religious traditions and buildings. Never wear shoes inside a religious building. Behave appropriately when visiting temples and monasteries. Always walk clockwise around stupas. Never point with your finger at images; use an open palm facing slightly upwards. Don’t climb stupas for selfies (looking at you, Indian biker bros ).

Rules when visiting religious places

There are a few rules to adhere to when visiting religious places:

  • No shoes or headwear inside, including sunglasses
  • Don’t take photos inside unless you’re officially allowed
  • Walk clockwise around stupas, always an odd number of times
  • Use an open hand with the palm up when you want to point to anything
  • Don’t make loud noises
  • Don’t climb stupas, statues, or anything remotely religious for selfies

Homemade chili chutney

Bhutanese ezay , chili chutney, at someone’s home in Kuengarabten

Bhutanese food is spicy . Proof: Bhutan’s national dish is ema datshi, chilis and cheese. It’s delicious and I urge you to try it at least once…but make sure to go for the real version, not watered down tourist cheese.

If you don’t like spicy food, never fear. Tourist restaurants adjust the spice level of their dishes for the average (Western) foreign palate.

If, like me, you do want the spicy stuff, you’re in luck. Bhutanese people cook and eat chilies like any other vegetable. Ask your guide for recommendations for local restaurants, and don’t be afraid to tell homestay hosts to bring on the chilies!

Freshly picked homegrown beans in Birtii

Traveling as a vegetarian or vegan

Surprisingly, despite its pervasive Buddhism, Bhutanese aren’t all vegetarian. Though animal slaughter is forbidden in Bhutan for religious reasons, importing meat is not a problem. India literally does Bhutan’s dirty work; aside from yak, most of the meat in the country is imported from its neighbor. Chicken, beef, pork, yak, and more are common in Bhutanese cuisine.

However, many Bhutanese people are very poor, and cannot afford to eat meat regularly. Meat is something often offered as a luxury to guests. So, vegetarians can relax—vegetarian food is common Bhutan!

Vegans will have more difficulty as cheese and eggs are common in local cuisine. Here’s what vegan traveler Shivya Nath of The Shooting Star has to say about being vegan in Bhutan:

“It’s super easy to be vegetarian, but vegan is a bit more tricky since cheese surprisingly makes it way into a lot of things. Still, I feasted as a vegan. Thimphu was quite easy, and in small villages, most hosts are inclined towards Buddhism and sort of understand the ethical aspect of why someone wouldn’t want to eat animal products. Plus a lot of amazing produce grows in the country (at least in western and central Bhutan) so the food is yum.”

If traveling on a guided tour, your tour company of choice should be able to arrange vegan options for you throughout your trip if informed ahead of time.

Tiger's Nest Monastery in Paro

The famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery, one of the main draws to Bhutan

The best time to visit Bhutan

The best time to travel in Bhutan is generally in the months of March, April, May. This is the high season for travel in Bhutan, and popular areas will be at its busiest. The weather is generally pleasant around this time, and valleys will be in full bloom. These months are generally dry, but there might be some pre-monsoon rain in May.

September and October are also good times to visit the country. The air is at its clearest in October, so you’ll be greeted by amazing Himalaya vistas. There might be an odd shower here and there in September, and temperatures will start dropping in October.

June to August is usually considered the low season in Bhutan. June and July can be very wet, so if you want to enjoy Bhutan’s nature it’s best to avoid these months. Prices to go down in the low season (see more on this below).

Money and the cost of travel

Here comes the fun part everyone wants to know about!

Due to its tourism policy , Bhutan is relatively expensive to travel compared to its South Asian neighbors. Foreigners must be on a guided tour that costs $200-250 per day per person, depending on the season. This means visiting is not for everyone—heck, I only made it in because I was on a sponsored trip !

If you can afford to travel to Bhutan, I believe it’s worth it. Here’s my in-depth article about the cost of travel in Bhutan and why I believe it’s worth the money. Check it if you want to learn why Bhutan is so expensive to travel in, what the $250 price tag includes, and why I hard agree with Bhutan’s pricing policy. Yes, even as a broke backpacker.

Note: When I visited in 2017, tourists from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives were exempt from the minimum daily fee. However, this is changing. From July 2020 on, regional tourists have to pay 1,200 Rs a day (rouhgly $16) to visit Bhutan .

Traveling to Bhutan? This travel guide has all the tips you need to plan your trip to Bhutan. Includes advice on what to wear in Bhutan, religion and culture in Bhutan, how much it costs to travel in Bhutan, information on visas in Bhutan, and more. Click through to learn what you need to visit Bhutan. #Bhutan #Travel #TravelGuide

Bhutanese currency is called ngultrum (Nu). Its value is pegged to the Indian rupee. You can pay with Indian rupees in Bhutan, but 500 and 2000 rupee notes are not accepted. Ideally, you’ll just pay with local money.

ATMs in Bhutan don’t always work. Make sure to bring some US dollars or euros for buying souvenirs, drinks, and tipping your guides and drivers. Tipping is expected on tours in Bhutan , a result of years of West-oriented tourism.

Note:  There’s no bargaining culture in Bhutan. No need to haggle.

Two foreign tourists walking in front of their tour bus

A typical tour bus in Bhutan

The most common way of entering Bhutan is by flying into Paro airport. Overlanding is becoming increasingly popular for regional tourists, especially Indians. Bikepacking is becoming increasingly popular too.

When I entered Bhutan, I crossed in from India at the little-visited Gelephu border crossing , and flew out from Paro.

Since the majority of people who visit Bhutan do so on a tour, the tour company will arrange all of your transport. Usually, this means buses for groups and cars/jeeps for private tours.

Roads in Bhutan are very hit and miss. A massive road project to pave the main west-east highway is underway, but not all parts of this highway are finished. It’s not uncommon to transition from smooth blacktop to gravel to potholed mess in a matter of 10 minutes.

Once you leave the main highway, most of the roads are in very poor condition. Mountain roads are often bumpy and windy—prepare your bum, and don’t forget to pack motion sickness medicine if necessary.

Tourists walking across a bridge over a small river

Scenic as it is, trekking in Bhutan is not without risks

No two ways about it—Bhutan is safe. Crime incidents involving tourists are rare, and the majority of Bhutanese people are honest and friendly. An example: at one point during my trip, I learned I had to send my passport back to the capital for a visa extension. My guide simply gave my passport to the first person who drove past us in the direction of the capital, and asked him to deliver it to an office… and the stranger did!

Safety while trekking

If you go trekking in Bhutan, naturally there’s risk involved. The Himalayas are rugged and unforgiving, you never know when a rogue pack donkey might step on the wrong body part, and the paths are uneven and rarely  clearly marked.

If trekking in Bhutan is in the cards, make sure to take standard precautions for trekking in the mountains, and don’t forget to invest in good travel insurance that covers high altitude trekking. I use and recommend World Nomads.

A yak standing between prayer flags

A yak hiding out in the prayer flags on top of Chele La mountain pass

Bhutan’s cities have decent mobile coverage, and most hotels offer free WiFi (whether or not it works is another matter). Connectivity is spotty to nonexistent in the mountains… not that you should ever expect anything more.

Tour operators can arrange local SIM cards for you if desired. The kingdom’s major mobile operator is the state-owned Bhutan Telecom, operating under the B-Mobile brand. The second operator is called TashiCell, which is much smaller. I used B-Mobile during my three weeks in the country, and I was satisfied with my coverage.

If you travel to Bhutan independently you can buy a SIM card with data at one of the many branded mobile stores for about 100 Nu. Bring copies of your passport.

Interior of Trongsa dzong

The elaborate interior of the Trongsa dzong fortress

Other things to know before going to Bhutan

One last round of tips and then you’re free, I swear! Here are a few more things about going to Bhutan that tourists might want to know:

  • Drones are not allowed into Bhutan.  Your bags will be scanned if flying into the country.
  • You cannot buy tobacco products in Bhutan … legally, anyway. You can bring your own cigarettes (up to one standard carton), but there’s a 200% import tax on any cigarettes brought into the country. They’ll ask you if and when you declare your cigarettes upon entering the country. If you’re really desperate, some shops secretly sell cigarettes under the counter; your guide might be able to help you if they’re chill.
  • Avoid drinking unfiltered tap water in Bhutan . To minimize your plastic waste, I recommend packing a SteriPen UV sterilizer (what I use) or LifeStraw water bottle so you don’t have to rely on bottled water.

More posts on Bhutan

  • Is Bhutan really worth $250 per day?
  • The best thing about traveling in Bhutan was…
  • 50 breathtaking photos of Bhutan
  • Living it up in Laya at the Royal Highlander festival
  • Tiny towns where smiles abound: off the beaten track in Bhutan

Have more questions about traveling Bhutan? Ask them in the comments!

Planning a trip to Bhutan? This travel guide has all the tips you need to travel to Bhutan. Includes advice on what to wear in Bhutan, religion and culture in Bhutan, how much it costs to travel in Bhutan, information on visas in Bhutan, and more. Click through to learn what you need to visit Bhutan. #Bhutan #Travel #SouthAsia

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Traveling in Bhutan: What You Need to Know Before You Go

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

Unless you're from a select few countries, such as India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, travel to Bhutan is expensive and not easily undertaken. However, the distinctive Buddhist culture, unspoiled scenery, and fresh mountain air make it very worthwhile. The number of people visiting Bhutan is increasing every year, reflective of growing interest in the country as a tourism destination. Here's what you need to know to plan your trip.

Tours and Independent Travel

The Bhutanese government is hesitant about allowing visitors into the country. Independent travel to Bhutan is opening up, but it's not something the government encourages. Generally, visitors to Bhutan must either be tourists or guests of the government. The only other options for visiting the country are to receive an invitation from "a citizen of some standing" or a volunteer organization.

With the exception of passport holders from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, all tourists must travel on a pre-planned, prepaid, guided package tour or custom-designed travel program.

Getting a Visa

Everyone traveling to Bhutan must obtain a visa in advance, except for passport holders from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives. Passport holders from these three countries are classified as "regional tourists" and can obtain a free Entry Permit on arrival upon producing their passport with a minimum of six months validity. Indian nationals can also use their Voters Identity Card. Citizens of these countries must still pay a Sustainable Development Fee of $17 per day. An exemption applies to tourists visiting 11 specific districts in eastern Bhutan, from Trongsa to Trashigang. The Bhutanese government is aiming to increase tourism in this region.

For other passport holders, the Sustainable Development Fee is $65, which is included in the "Minimum Daily Package" rate (see below). The visa cost is $40. The visas must be applied for and paid for in advance, from registered tour operators (not embassies), at the same time as booking the rest of your trip. You should make your travel arrangements at least 90 days before travel to allow time for all the formalities to be completed.

The visas are processed through an online system by the tour operators and are approved by the Tourism Council of Bhutan once full payment of the cost of the trip has been received. Tourists are issued a visa clearance letter to be presented at immigration upon arrival at the airport. The visa is then stamped in the passport.

Getting There

The only international airport in Bhutan is located at Paro, about an hour's drive from Thimphu. Currently, two national airlines operate flights to Bhutan: Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. Departure points include Bangkok (Thailand), Kathmandu (Nepal), New Delhi and Kolkata (India), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Yangoon (Myanmar), and Singapore.

It's also possible to travel to Bhutan from India overland by road. The main border crossing is Jaigaon-Phuentsholing. There are two others, at Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.

The minimum price of tours (called a "Minimum Daily Package") to Bhutan is set by the government to control tourism and protect the environment, and can't be negotiated. The price includes all accommodations, meals, transportation, guides and porters, and cultural programs. Part of it also goes towards free education, healthcare, and poverty alleviation in Bhutan.

"Minimum Daily Package" prices vary according to the season and the number of tourists in the group.

High Season: March, April, May, September, October, and November

  • $250 per person per day for a group of three or more people.
  • $280 per person per day for a group of two people.
  • $290 per day for single individuals.

Low Season: January, February, June, July, and August

  • $200 per person per day for a group of three or more people.
  • $230 per person per day for a group of two people.
  • $240 per day for single individuals.

Discounts are available for children and students.

Do note that each tour operator has their preferred hotels. These are often the ones that cost less. Therefore, tourists should find out the hotels they've been assigned to, do some research about hotels in Bhutan, and ask to switch hotels if they are not satisfied. Most people assume they're stuck with a fixed itinerary and the hotels allocated to them. However, tour companies will, in fact, accommodate requests in order to keep business.

Tour Companies

The Bhutan Tourist Corporation Limited (BTCL) is highly recommended for making travel bookings to Bhutan. This company is owned by members of the royal family and advertises itself as Bhutan's number one travel agency since 1991. The drivers, guides, and accommodations provided are excellent. If you're interested in photography, see what Rainbow Photography Tours of Bhutan has to offer.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan also has a list of registered tour operators on its website.

The Bhutanese currency is called Ngultrum (BTN) and its value is linked to the Indian Rupee. The Indian Rupee can be used as legal tender in Bhutan, but the Ngultrum is not legal tender in India. There are a limited number of ATMs available.

Development in Bhutan

Bhutan is rapidly changing with a great deal of construction going on, particularly in Thimphu and Paro. As a result, these places have already started to lose their charm and authenticity. Visitors are advised to fly internally from Paro to Bumthang, in the heart of Bhutan, in order to experience the traditional Bhutan. If you're thinking about visiting Bhutan, it's better to go sooner rather than later!

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What languages are spoken in Bhutan?

There are 19 languages spoken in Bhutan, but the national language is Dzongkha. English is used throughout Bhutan’s education system, so it is widely used and understood.

What is the weather like in Bhutan and when is the best time to visit?

Bhutan is a year-round destination. There are four seasons: summer (June to August), autumn (September to November), winter (December to February) and spring (March to May). But because of the range of altitudes in the country, and the influence of the north Indian monsoons, the climate is incredibly varied. 

In the south, the humid, subtropical climate is fairly consistent year-round, with temperatures between 15oC and 30oC. Central Bhutan, with its temperate forests, has a more seasonal climate, with warm summers and cool, dry winters. The northern regions are much colder during winter. Because of the high altitude, mountain peaks are snowy year-round and the lower reaches remain cool in summer. 

In summer, the Indian monsoon season runs from late June or July to late September, mostly affecting the southern regions. Most farming activities take place in the summer, when crops thrive in verdant landscapes.

Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. It is characterised by bright, sunny days and some early snowfall at higher elevations. It’s the season of feasts and festivals as farmers reap the fruits of their work.

From late November until March, the crisp, clear and sunny winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 metres. The winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds at the highest altitudes through high mountain passes, giving Bhutan the name Drukyul, which means Land of the Thunder Dragon in Dzongkha (Bhutan’s national language). 

Bhutan’s generally dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. It is a botanist’s delight, with nature in full bloom. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues to late June.

What currency is used in Bhutan?

Bhutan’s currency is called ngultrum. It’s 1:1 with Indian rupees.

Which power plug is standard in Bhutan?

Three different electrical plugs are used throughout Bhutan: the British plug (three square pins, compatible with type G sockets), the European plug (two round pins, compatible with type C socket) and the Indian plug (three thick round pins, compatible with type D sockets). It’s a good idea to bring adaptors for all three.

What is the international country code?

For telephone calls, Bhutan’s country code is +975. Make sure you add this to the beginning of any number if calling Bhutan from abroad.

Planning your trip

Do i need a visa to enter bhutan .

Visitors of all nationalities, except those from India, require a visa before entering Bhutan. For all visitors, except those from Bangladesh and the Maldives, this visa must be applied for and approved in advance of travel. Visitors from Bangladesh and the Maldives also require a visa, but this can be applied for and approved either in advance of travel or upon arrival in Bhutan. 

Visitors from India are able to apply for a permit but are required to hold an Indian passport or an Indian voter ID card. For Indian nationals under the age of 18, a passport or a birth certificate can be used to enter and they must be accompanied by a legal guardian.

Nationals from Switzerland and Thailand holding diplomatic or government-official passports are eligible for a visa at their port of entry.

How do I apply for a visa?

You can apply online for a visa by completing this application form , or if you’re travelling with a tour operator, they may apply on your behalf. Read more about the visa here . 

Visitors from Bangladesh and the Maldives requiring a visa can apply either online before travelling or in person upon arrival in Bhutan.

Are there any nationalities restricted from being granted a visa to enter Bhutan?

No, there are no restricted nationalities in Bhutan.

I’m an Indian national, or from Bangladesh or the Maldives. How can I obtain a travel permit or visa?

Before travelling, visitors from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives can apply for a permit (Indian nationals) or visa (Bangladeshi or Maldivian nationals) here . You may also apply at the point of entry, but please be aware that there may be a long wait depending on the number of applicants at the time. We recommend arranging your permit/visa beforehand.

How long does it take to issue my visa?

A correctly input visa application can take up to five days to process.

How much does the visa cost? 

There is a one-off fee of US$40 for the processing of your application. This is payable at the same time as your Sustainable Development Fee (SDF), as part of the process of submitting your visa application.

How long does my visa allow me to stay in Bhutan?

The visa allows you to remain in Bhutan for a maximum of 90 days from the date of entry.

Can I extend my visa while I’m in Bhutan?

Yes, provided the extension is applied for before the original visa or permit expires. 

Visitors can extend their stay via the online visa application portal , using the same log-in details that were used to process their original visa. 

The fees for processing your extension application, and daily SDF for the duration of your extended stay, will be payable via the same portal.

Can I use my international credit card to pay for my visa / SDF online?

Yes, it is possible to use your credit card to pay for your visa and SDF online. However, we strongly recommend that you notify your bank prior to making the credit card transaction to ensure that the payment is processed successfully.  If they are not informed in advance, sometimes international banks will block online payments to Bhutan as part of the bank’s online security measures.

Is travel insurance mandatory?

Yes. All visitors must have full, valid travel insurance for the duration of their visit. For all visitors except those from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives, it is required to be in place when you make your visa application. 

Visitors from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives have the option to purchase domestic travel insurance at their port of entry.

Do I need to use a tour operator to book my travel?

No. In the past, all visitors needed to book their travel to and within Bhutan through an accredited tour operator. Any visitor travelling to Bhutan after our reopening on September 23rd 2022 can now book all aspects of the journey independently. Still, we warmly recommend our many accredited tour operators for their expert knowledge and excellent service.

If I want to drive my own car into Bhutan, how much does it cost?

There is a charge of Nu. 4,500 per car, per day. A guide is also mandatory and will be at an additional charge.

If guests want to bring their own car, the cars must meet the requirements of Bhutan's Roads Safety and Transport Authority, and must also have a valid driver's license, insurance documentation, pollution control documentation, an entry permit, and a vehicle in reasonable condition. A valid Indian driver's license is accepted for self-driving within Bhutan. The same fees and rules apply for motorbikes.

In case the vehicle is not owned by the guests travelling to Bhutan, an authorisation letter is required. For more information on this subject please contact our Hosts team.

How can I plan my trip to Bhutan?

If you would like to book completely independently, there are plenty of online resources for inspiration, research and booking – including this website. There are lots of experienced, accredited tour operators that can help you too.

Our host team is also on hand to help provide you with information as you plan your journey.

How do I get to Bhutan?

The country has one international airport located in Paro. Flights operated by Drukair and Bhutan Airlines arrive and depart from destinations including Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodhgaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati and Singapore. Private jets or charters can fly into Bhutan after obtaining the relevant approvals. 

There are also domestic airports in Yonphula in eastern Bhutan, Bumthang in central Bhutan, and Gelephu in south-central Bhutan.

Are face masks required to be worn in any places or at any times in Bhutan?

Face masks are no longer required to be worn at any venue or at any time in Bhutan, except in hospitals and health centres. However, guests can choose to wear face masks at their convenience should they wish. Also, it may be mandated by the government that face masks need to be worn in the future if the number of COVID-19 cases go up, therefore it is recommended that guests always travel with a face mask in their luggage as a precaution.

What are the current covid-19 regulations in Bhutan?

Although we recommend all visitors stay up to date with vaccinations against covid-19 to help stop the spread of the disease, there are now no covid-19 vaccination requirements for adults or children to enter Bhutan from September 23rd 2022. There is no quarantine requirement either.

No random covid-19 testing will be undertaken at any port of entry into Bhutan, however this may be done if a guest is showing symptoms or asks for a test.

If a guest tests positive for covid-19 during their stay in Bhutan, they will be admitted entry into the country without any quarantine period, however will be required to wear a face mask at all times and maintain other precautionary measures until they test negative again.

There will be no covid-19 protocols to leave Bhutan, unless the country the guest is travelling to requires them.

How can I get to my hotel from the airport?

You can take a taxi from the taxi rank outside the airport or organise an airport transfer with your hotel or tour operator. There is no other public transport available at the airport.

What are my transport options for travelling around Bhutan?

The most convenient way to travel in Bhutan is to hire a vehicle and driver from a car rental company or a tourism service provider such as a Bhutanese Tour Operator. It is not possible to hire a self-drive vehicle in Bhutan.

Your hotel may also be able to provide or arrange transport for you.  

If you are travelling with a tour operator, your transport will be arranged for you. 

Domestic flights are often the fastest way to travel longer distances within Bhutan. Domestic airports operate flights to and from Yonphula in eastern Bhutan, Bumthang in central Bhutan, and Gelephu in south-central Bhutan.

For special itineraries, helicopter services can be arranged. For more information about helicopter services, visit the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services page or contact your travel partner.

Can I go hiking or trekking independently, without a tour operator?

All treks must be undertaken with an accredited tour operator or guide. Your tour operator will assist you with all the necessary logistics and safety precautions.

Please contact our hosts for the Department of Tourism's list of approved tourism services.

Do I need a guide or a route permit to travel around Bhutan?

A local guide will help you see the best that the country has to offer and will ensure your safety when exploring unfamiliar terrain and altitude. It is mandatory to be accompanied by a guide for any journey or any trek beyond Thimphu and Paro. Guides are also mandatory for visitors who enter Bhutan via our land borders and plan to travel beyond the border towns. 

Guests no longer require a Route permit to travel around the country, so long as they are accompanied by a guide certified by the Department of Tourism. Please contact our hosts for the Department of Tourism's list of approved tourism services.

While guides aren’t necessary for all experiences, such as dining out and shopping, we strongly recommend that guides accompany visitors for experiences such as visiting temples and local places of interest. It is mandatory to have a guide when visiting monuments such as dzongs, for instance.

If you are following an itinerary or taking part in a trip organised by your hotel, you will not need to book a guide as one will be arranged by the hotel.

What kind of accommodation is available in Bhutan?

Bhutan offers a wide range of accommodation, from luxurious five-star hotels to cosy homestays in traditional village settings.

Please contact our hosts for the Department of Tourism's list of approved accommodation.

Can I stay in a private home, or campsite, in Bhutan?

You may only stay in accommodation or campsites approved by the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

Is it safe to travel in Bhutan?

Bhutan is a very safe place to visit, even if you’re travelling alone. There is very little crime experienced by locals or visitors, although we advise you to take care of yourself and your belongings. In some areas you may encounter stray dogs – please be cautious around them as they are not domesticated. They normally keep their distance, but please stay away from them as much as possible, especially if travelling with children. Please don’t feed or pat these or any other wild animals.

Bhutan’s physical environment presents occasional safety hazards, including flooding and landslides. From June to September the monsoons can affect transport and services. Check with your hotel or tour operator for possible disruptions.

Where can I find more information about visiting the different regions of Bhutan?

There is some very good content in the form of SHINE Tourism Attraction Books that list activities and helpful information available to download at the following link: https://shine.grat.at/photos/

The tour operators in Bhutan would also be able to provide you with good on the ground knowledge about the highlights of each regional district (Dzongkhag).

Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) information

What is the sdf and how is it used.

The Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) is a daily levy paid by visitors to support Bhutan’s development. Since the kingdom first opened its doors in 1974, guests have played a critical role in our country’s growth.

The SDF is collected by the national exchequer and funds are allocated to various projects that create long-term, sustainable opportunities for the Bhutanese people, through free healthcare, education and training, upskilling the tourism and hospitality industry, improved infrastructure, environmental preservation and conservation, cultural preservation programmes and initiatives that support local businesses and economies. The SDF is also a vital means of maintaining the exceptional forest cover and carbon-neutrality for which our small nation is world-renowned and globally critical. The SDF also helps us to ensure that we can continue to offer guests tranquillity and an intimate experience.

How much is the SDF?

The SDF is USD 100 per night for adults from all countries except for India. Children aged between 6 years and who have not yet turned 12 are eligible to pay USD 50 per night. Children who have not yet turned 6 years old do not have to pay any SDF.

The SDF for Indian nationals (showing a valid Indian passport or Voter ID card) is Nu. 1,200 (or the equivalent amount in Indian rupees) per person, per night. Children aged between 6 years and who have not yet turned 12 are eligible to pay Nu./INR 600 per night. Children who have not yet turned 6 years old do not have to pay any SDF.

Can guests combine the SDF incentives with the 24-hour border-town SDF waiver?

No. This incentive is not combinable with the SDF waiver for border towns. 

What is the 24 hour SDF border town waiver?

Tourists visiting Samtse, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samdrupjongkhar towns for 24 hours need not pay Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) beginning April 14, 2023. The waiver will be enforced for a year. The SDF  waiver will only apply for tourists who do not travel beyond the designated zones of border towns. However, SDF will apply for visitors who travel beyond the designated zone of border towns.

Tourists will be charged SDF if they go beyond Gurung Basti in Samtse, and beyond Rinchending Checkpost in Phuentsholing. The designated zone in Gelephu is at Aipoli Bridge and Pinchinna checkpost in Samdrupjongkhar.

If guests who are already in Bhutan wish to extend their stay, what is the process?

Extensions must be made in person at the Department of Immigration and must be paid in US Dollars.  

For Indian Nationals, extensions can be made in person at the Department of Immigration and must be paid in INR.

What happens if a guest wants to take advantage of the SDF revision before they have arrived in Bhutan?

The guests should cancel their visa application and apply again. Please allow at least five working days to process the visa application. The SDF that they have already paid can be used when applying again and any excess will be refunded. SDF payments cannot be refunded after guests have either arrived in Bhutan or have departed Bhutan.

Can guests who have already obtained a visa take advantage of the new SDF incentives?

Yes, guests who have already obtained a visa and booked trips to Bhutan can take advantage of the new SDF incentive. They will need to cancel their existing visa application and re-apply. Please note that DoI will forfeit their original visa fee (USD 40) and guest will be required to pay the USD 40 visa fee again when they process their new visa application. The SDF that they have already paid can be used when applying again.

Are guests from Bangladesh and Maldives eligible to pay the reduced SDF?

Only guests from India are eligible to pay the rate of Nu. 1,200 (or equivalent in Indian Rupees) per day.

If I cancel my trip will my SDF be refunded?

Yes, the SDF will be refunded by the Department of Immigration for any cancelled or shortened trips; any bank charges will be deducted from the total refunded. Requests for SDF refunds should be submitted online using the visa portal . The refund will be processed after visitors leave Bhutan.

If a guest decides to leave Bhutan earlier than planned, are they eligible for an SDF refund?

Yes, the SDF will be refunded for any nights that are not spent in the kingdom.

The most convenient way to travel in Bhutan is to hire a vehicle and driver from a car rental company or a tourism service provider. It is not possible to hire a self-drive vehicle in Bhutan.

You can also book a local driver or transport service provider (as well as airline tickets and tour operators) using the Druk Ride app . Your hotel may also be able to provide or arrange transport for you.  

 Domestic flights are often the fastest way to travel longer distances within Bhutan. Domestic airports operate flights to and from Yonphula in eastern Bhutan, Bumthang in central Bhutan, and Gelephu in south-central Bhutan.

Who can I speak to about general SDF questions, how the SDF is calculated or how much it is going to cost to visit?

Please email [email protected]

During your trip

Are there visitor information centres.

Yes – Bhutan's Department of Tourism has a dedicated visitor centre at Paro International Airport. Others may be found at the four border entry points.

Where can I exchange currency?

You can change your local currency for ngultrum upon arrival at Paro International Airport or at banks, larger hotels and authorised currency exchange businesses in Thimphu.

How much cash can I bring into Bhutan?

You may bring cash equivalent to US$10,000 into the country.

Can I use my credit card and ATM card in Bhutan?

ATM and banks accept Visa and Mastercard. International credit cards are widely used in urban areas of Bhutan. However this service may not be available in other parts of the country. Visitors can download the digital wallet app goBoB launched by the Bank of Bhutan, which can be used with a local SIM card and is widely accepted throughout the country.  Another option is the MyPay digtal wallet app launched by Bhutan National Bank. Both apps can be connected to international credit cards and used widely.

Cash in US dollars and Indian rupees is also widely accepted. We advise bringing some cash in either of these currencies, or in Bhutanese ngultrum.

Is there good internet connection and Wi-Fi in Bhutan?

Most hotels have Wi-Fi in Bhutan, but we recommend obtaining a guest SIM card for more convenient access to data and a more reliable internet connection. Mobile data in Bhutan can also be expensive. You can find the B Mobile SIM in mobile stores in larger cities, which you can easily top up using the Bank of Bhutan app goBoB . This app also facilitates other payments within the country.

Where can I get a visitor SIM card?

SIM cards can be purchased from the Paro International Airport’s visitor information centre on arrival, or from branch offices of Bhutan Telecom and TashiCell, or from authorised agents in towns.

Are there any restrictions on dress?

There are no rules about what visitors should wear. However if you are planning to visit places of religious significance, respectful smart-casual clothing that covers your body from shoulders to knees is appropriate and appreciated.

Do I need a guide to enter monuments and Dzongs in Bhutan, and are they chargeable?

Yes, a guide is required to enter monuments and Dzongs in Bhutan. While some of the monuments and Dzongs have no entry fee, others have a fee on arrival, which can be paid in cash or via the GoBob app.

Where are good places to buy handicrafts and gifts?

There are plenty of places to shop for special objects, from high-end pieces to small mementos. Many visitors enjoy shopping at the Cottage and Small Industries (CSI) Market and the Centenary Farmers’ Market . The Textile Museum shop has a wonderful selection of artisan-made textiles and homewares, as do the nearby Tarayana and Craft galleries. Our OGOP shops are also excellent places to find food, drink and handcrafted products sourced directly from the country’s artisans and farmers.

Are there certain things I can’t take out of Bhutan when I leave?

Keeping important antiques and artefacts in Bhutan is a key part of how we preserve our heritage for future generations. We have a law that sets out which artistic, historic, cultural, religious, social, archaeological and technical objects you may not take with you when you leave. To ensure any items you acquire comply with the law, you will need an Export Permit for Non-Antique Artefacts. Find out more about the permit and how to apply for one here .

Where can I find customs information?

You can find a full, detailed list of prohibited, restricted or declarable items here .

Who should I contact if I have a complaint or a problem?

We hope your visit to Bhutan will bring you nothing but happiness, but if you encounter any issues or problems, please let us know via Facebook , Instagram or by phoning +975 1712 2257 (or 2300 within Bhutan). You may also contact our hosts for assistance if you encounter a problem during your visit.

Who should I contact in an emergency?

If it is related to your tourism experience, you can phone the Department of Tourism directly on +975 1712 2257 (or 2300 within Bhutan). If you require one of the emergency services, please telephone 110 for fire, 112 for an ambulance or 113 for police.

Can I use a drone for photography while in Bhutan?

A permit, which must be applied for in advance, is required to fly a drone either recreationally or commercially in Bhutan. Please email [email protected] to find out more about the regulations.

If I drive my own car into Bhutan, do I still need a guide?

Yes. A guide is required at all times for all guests who drive their own cars to Bhutan. It is highly recommended to pre-book guides before arriving at the borders. If you need help with arranging a guide, please contact our host services team here.

Are Route Permits required for guests to move around between areas in Bhutan?

Route Permits are no longer required to move around Bhutan. However, anyone on a business visa or for an official purpose is required to have a Route Permit.

Are permits required to enter National Parks in Bhutan?

Yes, permits are required to enter National Parks in Bhutan. However the process can be done online and the permit should be issued quickly. Please visit this link for more information: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScM4k5SPaGI_GnV6NJuQHstpS5ai9G4wOlpLSq0fsy73EZK7A/viewform

Are there any fees to enter monuments or other sites in Bhutan?

While most monuments in Bhutan are free, some are chargeable. For the full list of monument fees, please click here for more information. Children below 18 years will have a 50% concession and children aged five years and below will be exempted. Most monuments are open from 9am - 5pm each day. In June 2023 it was announced that foreign visitors can now visit monuments whenever they are open to the general public, without any restrictions.

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is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

12 Things to Know Before Visiting Bhutan in 2023

05/08/2023 by Ashley Yap 2 Comments

This post was written by Ashley Yap, BMTM’s Malaysia-based writer.

Gross national happiness over gross national product. The world’s first carbon-negative nation.

Bhutan is a mysterious land of just over 700,000 people that seems to be doing things right. Nestled in the Himalayas, sandwiched between two of the biggest countries in the world — China and India — this tiny kingdom is for the curious, the spiritual, and the privileged few.

After having dreamt of visiting “the Land of the Thunder Dragon” for over 10 years, I finally had the opportunity to go explore it and answer a few questions:

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

Are Bhutanese truly happy? Is air really fresher there?

And how do you even prepare for a trip to Bhutan?

Here are things to know before visiting Bhutan in 2023:

Table of Contents

1. Bhutan Is a Privilege

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

In September 2022, two years after the lockdown, Bhutan reopened its doors to international visitors, with a new daily tourist fee: $200 USD per day, a steep jump from the $65 per day before the pandemic hit. The fee goes toward the country’s continuing effort to promote “carbon-neutral tourism while building a more sustainable tourism sector.” It also helps the government to maintain its “high-value, low-volume” tourism strategy.

So, if you plan on spending one week in Bhutan , that’s $1,400 USD of tourist fees on the table. You also need an average of $200-300 per day for midrange accommodations, transportation, food, entrance fees, and a tour guide. (I flew into Bhutan from Bangkok, from which a round-trip economy-class ticket costs $950 USD.)

It’s safe to say, then, that being able to travel in Bhutan is a privilege, and it’s not a trip where you can just wing it. So I am grateful to have had the opportunity to explore the beauty of this kingdom with my own eyes, and can wholeheartedly say that it was worth the hefty fees and more.


How Much Does It Cost to Travel Bhutan?

2. Tour Guides Are No Longer Mandatory, But…

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

While I am all about traveling independently, Bhutan is not a destination I’d explore on my own. There’s very little information online, and you are only allowed to travel without a tour guide in Thimphu and Paro, anyway.

After hours of researching online, I engaged with Breathe Bhutan , a local tour company known for its bespoke and unique experiences. Kinley, the founder, is a “multipreneur” who also runs a radio show, a pub, and a printing company, and you can be sure that they are all creatively included in Breathe Bhutan’s itineraries!

This was my first time traveling with a tour company, and I did not want an ordinary itinerary. Breathe Bhutan knocked it out of the park by combining the must-sees with interesting elements that you won’t find with other companies. I like that its recommendations and unique itinerary were based on our interests and tailored for us.

For instance, I was able to meet a Bhutanese teacher-blogger and chat about the nation’s education system and the youth’s obsession with TikTok. And our driver, Phuentso, who was mostly quiet throughout the trip, kindly offered home-cooked breakfast prepared by his wife on our last morning in Bhutan. These little details made our trip that much more special.

3. The Best Time to Visit Bhutan

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

The best months to visit Bhutan are April and May and September through November. These offer pleasant temperatures with minimal rain. Plenty of festivals also take place then, so definitely check with your tour company for their exact dates.

We spent seven nights in Bhutan: Thimphu (three nights), Punakha (two nights), and Paro (two nights). I wish we had had an additional night in both Punakha and Paro.

4. What to Bring to Bhutan

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

You will be spending a chunk of your time in the car, driving along mountainous roads. Most were scenic and I didn’t get bored at all, but you might want to download some podcasts or music just in case. If you are prone to motion sickness, prepare the necessary medications. You will also be hiking at high elevation, so pack altitude sickness medication and any others that you think you might need.

Bring US dollars. You can withdraw local currency and/or exchange money at the airport, though most places also accept USD. Credit cards are accepted in hotels, some restaurants, and souvenir shops.

Bring a universal plug for your electronics. A power bank is also recommended, as you may spend an entire day out and about.

Pack comfortable hiking clothes, and be clever with layering, as there’s often sudden change of temperatures. Here’s what I packed:

  • 3 short-sleeved T-shirts (to layer)
  • 3 long-sleeved tops (to layer)
  • 3 pairs of pants ( hiking pants , thermal pants and jeans)
  • 3 jackets ( 1 windbreaker , 1 short coat , 1 long trench)
  • 1 hat, 1 scarf, 1 pair of hand gloves
  • 2 sets of sleepwear
  • Enough socks, underwear and bras for the trip
  • 1 pair of very good hiking shoes (we recommend Merrell and Salomon )
  • 1 pair of casual sneakers
  • 1 pair of sandals or flip-flops
  • Toiletries (don’t forget your sunscreen )

(You could cut things down by having less of everything and doing your laundry during your trip.)

The Bhutanese dress conservatively, and you are expected to dress appropriately when visiting dzong s (religious, military, administrative, and social centers) and monasteries, so long sleeves and long pants are the way to go.

5. It’s Home to the Most Dangerous Landing in the World

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

Be sure to book a seat on the left side of the aircraft when landing at Paro International Airport. There is nothing like having the Himalayas welcoming you to the country. I was smiling ear to ear as we approached the airport — until I started noticing that the houses on the hills felt too close to the aircraft for comfort. It was then I was reminded that we were (well, the pilot was) performing one of the most dangerous landings in the world. Fewer than 20 pilots are qualified to land at this airport, and it is only permitted during daylight — for good reason!

6. No Traffic Lights Are Required

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

Bhutan is the only country in the world that does not have a single traffic light. Traffic in the Thimphu district, where it is supposedly the heaviest, is directed by the Royal Bhutan Police from a booth. I stood and watched as the police kept the intersection’s traffic under control using what looked more like a dance to me. It was pretty amusing, but hey, it works!

Fun fact: traffic lights were installed back in 1995; however, most drivers failed to follow them, and the traffic lights were proved unnecessary. They were then removed, and so it was back to the police.

7. Killing Is Forbidden

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

I couldn’t help but noticed many street dogs, cows, horses, and donkeys roaming about. However, unlike back home, I never saw any dogs fighting for food, and they were not afraid of us. Dogs and cats approach people for a quick pat, and very often, I saw people feeding them by the roadside. When I mentioned this to our tour guide, he said it was “because they know they are safe here.”

There’s not a single slaughterhouse in Bhutan. Fishing is illegal. The country’s belief system is deeply rooted in Buddhism, where killing a living being is simply forbidden. Bhutan imports meat from neighboring India, and you can easily find meat dishes at restaurants, but the majority of Bhutanese are vegetarians. It was an eye-opener and made me rethink my relationship with meat consumption.

8. Chili Is Life

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

Speaking of food, the Bhutanese love it hot! Chili is served as a dish, not a condiment, and it is present at every meal. Restaurants and hotels catering to tourists keep the heat manageable, which I am thankful for, because the one time I tried the locals’ style of chili and cheese, my tongue caught on fire.

That said, I enjoyed every meal in Bhutan, which mostly consist of several organic vegetables, mushrooms, eggs, and Bhutanese rice.

9. Spirituality Is a Way of Life

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

I was celebrating my birthday on the trip and requested a local birthday ritual. Our tour guide arranged for a 30-minute chant by young monks in a monastery. We prepared sweet rice, butter tea, and a birthday cake as offerings, which we shared with the monks. It was the most special birthday party I’ve ever had.

There were so many magical moments like this: I watched as our tour guide poured water into his bottle cap, offering it to the forest before drinking. I found myself completely speechless when a local showed us a dedicated room in her home completely decorated with religious paintings and statues. Elderly Bhutanese walked past us on the way to the Tiger’s Nest monastery as they chanted Buddhist mantras. At Chimi Lakhang, a fertility temple, our tour guide excitedly showed us an album full of pictures of new parents with their babies, conceived with the Lama’s blessings.

The Bhutanese are some of the most spiritual and gentle people I have met. In a world where everything seems to be in a rush, it was refreshing to see people take their time and simply be.

10. There’s More Than the Tiger’s Nest

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

If this is your first time visiting Bhutan, the Tiger’s Nest is a must-see. The sacred site hangs cliffside near Paro, 900 meters above ground, around the cave where Guru Rinpoche arrived on the back of a tigress from Tibet (hence the name), meditated, and later introduced Buddhism to the country. Tiger’s Nest is truly a sight to behold, but there’s so much more to the nation than its most recognized monastery.

I did four hikes in one week in Bhutan. Some of my favorites were the Lungchutse trail in Punakha, which took about four hours, beginning from Tashigang Goemba and ending at the Dochula Pass; and the Phobjikha Valley trail in Wangdue, which was an easy one-hour hike through a stunning valley.

We also visited several temples and monasteries; some favorites include Chimi Lhakhang, Khamsum Chorten, and Gangtey Monastery. I recommend including these on your Bhutan itinerary.

Definitely do a bit research and give your tour company a list of the places you want to visit, and ask for additional recommendations. You can read more about my Bhutan itinerary here .

11. P Is for Phallus, and Protection

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

I will admit, my 15-year-old teenager’s sense of humor was very entertained by the phallus symbols found on doorways and buildings all over Punakha, and I may have bought more than a few phallus sculptures and keychains home as souvenirs.

When you visit Chimi Lhakhang in Punakha, you will learn about the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kunley, a Lama many Bhutanese worship, who founded the fertility temple. It may be strange to non-Bhutanese that a country so conservative and gentle would venerate the male genitalia, but I’ve come to find the Bhutanese take on the phallus refreshing and thought-provoking, after learning more about the Divine Madman’s philosophies, which largely involve sexual overtones and controversial humors.

Today, Drukpa Kunley’s bold teachings remain widely followed in Bhutan, and the phallus images painted on houses are believed to offer protection from evil spirits and invoke the fertility gods.

12. Bhutanese Art Is Impressive

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

From wall paintings to the intricate thangka (a Tibetan Buddhist painting), Bhutanese art blew me away, and I am surprised that travel guides don’t really mention this. Almost all of the buildings we saw in Bhutan had stunning hand-painted drawings and patterns on them. We also visited a few galleries looking for a thangka painting to purchase, having really comle to admire the amount of work required to complete one.

Some handicrafts I recommend purchasing are brass sound bowls, wooden sculptures, paintings, incense, and yak fur products. They are handmade in Bhutan (but confirm this with your tour guide) and make unique souvenirs.

I have learned so much from this beautiful country in a week, and can only hope that more might follow Bhutan’s footsteps and focus on what truly matters: happiness and Mother Nature’s well-being. With everything that’s going on in the world, knowing that a tiny land is doing its best to keep its kingdom safe and unspoiled gives me a deep sense of hope.

There’s truly no place like Bhutan, and I hope you will have the opportunity to visit yourself!

*This post was brought to you in partnership with Breathe Bhutan . All opinions on the tour operator and the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon are my own. Your trust comes first!

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05/09/2023 at 7:52 pm

Thanks for sharing your adventure in Bhutan! It looks and sounds absolutely magical. The mountain views are amazing. The Tiger’s Nest monastery and dzongs are breathtaking. I would love the food there with my diet! No traffic lights, I don’t mind that! That would be really neat to see how they make that work. Then you have the truly intricate art, culture and spirituality plus the views, and connection with nature on top of it all. I could find a lot of peace in this place. It is pricey, thanks for the warning but if can afford it a must see someday. Mentioning the Divine Madman, phallus and fertility was very interesting. Many religions/spiritual philosophies extol the idea of enlightenment through refraining from sexual activity, even castration so this is a refreshing take to show that you can achieve spiritual heights without depriving you of natural needs and even embrace it (phallus the opposite of castration). Fertility in nature is always wished for, good crops, abundant herds, etc. and we pray for it so why not wish it for ourselves? Things in nature are not evil or good in my thoughts, we make it so by our actions which in a way links the East to the West. The “evil” spirit mentioned here sounds similar to the “evil inclination” in some Western religions to ward off the “evil inclination” of people and often pray to keep this inclination in our behavior away, A friend a long, long time ago gave my family a phallus like piece of art that we did not understand that looks a lot like what is shown here, but now I do! Thanks! Oh and honestly, the adolescent in all of us was evoked when we received it at first. It is natural too but can’t be too serious all the time!

Justin James says

06/28/2023 at 8:07 am

Love the content here. Such an informative blog! Keep posting!

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Can I travel to Bhutan? Entry requirements explained


Bhutan has relaxed Covid restrictions, but entry into the country still requires British nationals to jump through a few hoops.

Here’s what you need to know about the entry rules and Covid tests required if you're planning a trip to Bhutan.

Can I go to Bhutan on holiday?

Yes. Bhutan is open to British travellers arriving by air at Paro International Airport. However, entry requirements are changing frequently so it is important to always check with your tour provider or the FCDO’s travel advice page for Bhutan for up-to-date information on the requirements.

What are the Bhutan travel restrictions for Covid?

As of Friday 23 September 2022, you no longer have to provide a negative PCR test or undergo quarantine to visit Bhutan, regardless of vaccination status. However, these entry requirements can change at a moment's notice so it is important to check with your tour provider or sponsoring organisation before travelling.

There are no test or quarantine requirements upon returning to England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland as the UK lifted all Covid travel restrictions earlier this year.

Can you travel to Bhutan unvaccinated?

Yes. British nationals are no longer required to provide a negative PCR test or undergo quarantine, regardless of vaccination status.

What are the passport requirements?

Your passport needs to be valid for at least six months following your intended departure from Bhutan.

Do I need a visa to visit Bhutan?

Yes. You will need a visa, which is issued on arrival but you must apply in advance through the Bhutan website and receive visa approval before travelling. 

For more information on acquiring a visa and identifying a tour operator to visit Bhutan, please refer to FCDO’s travel advice page for Bhutan .

Lit up by a beam of sunlight a monk ascends a stone stairway at Punakha Dzong.

Is it safe to travel to Bhutan now?

Travelling to Bhutan comes with difficulties. While it is technically considered safe, the country requires complex entry rules with little to no consular support.

In Bhutan, Britain is represented by an Honorary British Consul , who can provide some guidance. British nationals can also receive consular support from the British Deputy High Commission in Kolkata, India .

It is also very important to take local law and customs seriously in Bhutan. If you’re ever in doubt – be sure to speak to your tour guide.


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Bhutan Travel Guide and Itinerary

Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon.  Bhutan sounds exotic, mystical, almost otherworldly. Well, it feels that way too. Bhutan is a joy to travel to, this tiny country straddling the Himalayas. It is a feast for the eyes and an amazing cultural experience. Explore the dzongs, marvel at the Himalayas, eat chilies and cheese, learn about Buddhism, and have one of the most unique travel experiences of your life.

Bhutan Stats

Official Language: Dzongkha

Population: 730,000

Capital City: Thimphu

Currency: Bhutanese ngultrum (BTN)

Power Outlet: Type D, F & G

Tigers Nest Monastery

Top Experiences in Bhutan

Tiger's Nest (Paro Takstang). Gaze at this Buddhist monastery precariously perched on the side of a mountain hundreds of meters off of the ground. It's worth the uphill hike to get here and this is your chance to see one of Bhutan's most popular icons.

Paro. Most people spend at least a little time in this city since it is home to Paro International Airport. This is also your home base for the hike up to the Tiger's Nest.

Thimphu. Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan. There is a lot to do here. Visit the Cheri Monastery, see the Takin Preserve, spin prayer wheels at the Memorial Chorten, or gaze up at Buddha Dordenma, the largest sitting Buddha in the world.

Dochula Pass. The Dochula Pass is a high mountain pass (3,150 meters, 10,330 ft) on the road between Thimpu and Punakha. Get a glimpse of snow-covered Himalayas and walk among the 108 chortens that serve as a memorial to Bhutanese soldiers killed in a uprising in 2003.

Punakha. This city was once the capital of Bhutan. Visitors come here to see the amazing Punakha Dzong sitting on the banks of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu Rivers.

Chimi Lhakhang. This is a Buddhist monastery located near Punakha. Lama Drukpa Kunley, the Divine Madman, is one of Bhutan’s favorite saints, famous for his sexual exploits. His temple is now visited by childless couples searching to increase their fertility. Be blessed by a wooden phallus to ward off evil spirits...a travel experience you won't soon forget.

See a festival. Bhutan is a country that loves a festival. These are among the most colorful events in the world.

Snowman Trek. This is one of the hardest high-altitude treks in the world. Spend 25 days trekking through the Himalayas of Bhutan, crossing nine passes with altitudes over 4500 meters.

Bhutan Itinerary

7 day bhutan itinerary: thimphu, punakha, paro & the tiger’s nest.

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Crossing Overland into India

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Travel tips, tourist tariff.

Also called the Minimum Daily Package, this is the daily fee, per person, to visit Bhutan. This tariff covers your stay in a 3 star accommodation (4 and 5 star accommodations require an additional fee), all meals, a licensed Bhutanese tour guide, all internal transportation, and camping equipment if you are going trekking. This fee also includes taxes and the Royalty fee.

It costs $450 to $600 per solo traveler per day, or $475 to $500 USD per person per day if traveling as a couple.

Your payment needs to be wired to the Bhutan National Bank before your visa will be issued. This fee is mandatory. There is no negotiating down the price of the tourist tariff.

Is Bhutan Worth It?

Bhutan is an expensive destination. For travelers on a budget, spending several hundred dollars per day may not seem feasible. "Is Bhutan worth it?" was a question we asked ourselves (and travel forums) multiple times before booking our trip. I am so glad we did. Bhutan is one of the most unique places to visit on the planet. So yes, Bhutan is worth it. Read our posts to learn more.

Best Time To Go

September through November are the best months to visit Bhutan, with clear skies, pleasant temperatures, and the greatest number of festivals. Springtime, from March through May, are also good, with comfortable temperatures but a small chance of rain. The summer months, June through August, can be hot and this period gets the most rainfall. The winter months, December through February, have clear skies but cold temperatures and has the fewest tourists.

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

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Famous for Happiness, and Limits on Tourism, Bhutan Will Triple Fees to Visit

As Venice and other European hot spots explore permit systems and daily fees to limit the number of tourists, the tiny Buddhist kingdom will require a $200 tax on international visitors when it reopens this fall.

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

By Ceylan Yeginsu

  • July 5, 2022

The tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan on the eastern edge of the Himalayas, often referred to as “the last Shangri-La” for its abundance of natural beauty, sustainable development and rich cultural heritage, has long resisted the quick financial returns of mass tourism in favor of conservation. The approach is aligned with a cultural philosophy where the country’s wealth and prosperity is measured, through a national happiness index , as an alternative to the gross domestic product.

Since 1974, the year when foreigners were first permitted to visit Bhutan, the country has had a unique “high value, low volume” tourism policy , requiring international visitors to pay at least a daily rate of $250 that covered accommodations, meals, a mandatory tour guide and included a $65 “sustainable development fee” to the government. The package-like approach was aimed to preserve the natural resources of the country by limiting the number of international visitors and controlling where they went. While some tourists complained of poor hotel plumbing, slow internet access and bland food, many appreciated the ease of the predetermined tours.

Now as the government of Bhutan prepares to reopen its borders on Sept. 23, it has overhauled the tourism system and will significantly raise the cost to visit. Visitors no longer need to be on a package tour, but they will now have to pay a $200 daily fee directly to the government, and pay separately for their accommodation, meals, tours and other travel expenses. The new policy, officials say, will rebrand Bhutan as “an exclusive destination,” attracting “discerning tourists” who will have access to a wider range of higher-quality services.

“Covid-19 has allowed us to reset, to rethink how the sector can be best structured and operated, so that it not only benefits Bhutan economically, but socially as well, while keeping carbon footprints low,” said Dr. Tandi Dorji, Bhutan’s foreign minister and chairman of the Tourism Council of Bhutan. “In the long run, our goal is to create high-value experiences for visitors, and well-paying and professional jobs for our citizens. ”

But many tour operators express anxiety over the change. They are worried that the new structure will leave them without any business — uncertain whether they will be able to attract a sufficient number of tourists with the higher fee, or if tourists will even require their services at all, now that they will have the option to book directly through hotels, tour guides and the like.

“Just when we thought we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after two-and-a-half years of being out of business, the government’s tourism amendment bill has thrown us back in the darkness and we have no idea how to go about it,” said Pelden Dorji, the chief executive officer of the Bhutan Travel Club, a company that specializes in adventure travel experiences.

Mr. Dorji has already received cancellations from groups that had booked, but not paid for, packaged trips they had scheduled later in the year. He said the group members felt that they could not justify paying an additional $200 a day on top of the other expenses that had been agreed upon as part of the previous package deal.

‘Deep love and respect for nature’

Under the previous policy, all bookings and payments had to be made through registered local tour operators, who were required to organize a prearranged itinerary with fixed dates and overnight stops.

“It’s basically a package tour that lets you see an authentic, untouched corner of paradise while protecting itself from being invaded by tourists,” said Megan Petersen, 44, a London-based makeup artist who visited Bhutan in 2017. “It’s genius and places with overtourism problems should use the same model.”

Ms. Petersen spent eight days exploring Bhutan with her sister, trekking through forests and mountain meadows, hiking to cliff-side temples and meeting local communities in remote villages. Throughout their trip, they camped and stayed in basic three-star accommodations. Everything was included in their package.

“The lodges and food were pretty average, but that just added to the experience of being able to experience the real community and culture without the fake tourist treatment,” Ms. Petersen said. “What makes Bhutan so special is the kindness and spirituality of its people and their deep love and respect for nature and their land.”

Government officials say the previous policy discouraged additional out-of-pocket spending, as many travel agents would assemble their trip activities, food and other offerings to not exceed the $250 daily rate — the practice effectively turned the policy’s minimum rate into the maximum.

“The policy caused more misunderstandings than understanding and it has resulted in lowering the services that we are potentially able to offer,” said Prime Minister Lotay Tshering.

Under the revised tourism bill, which was passed by the Bhutanese parliament last month, Bhutan will be able to reinvest “in bringing up the quality of tourism products, especially in terms of training our guides, bettering the quality of our hotels, restaurants and food, while preserving the pristine environment that we have for generations to come,” the prime minister said.

One of the government’s main priorities, Dr. Tshering said, is to invest in waste management infrastructure and protect Bhutan’s biological corridors, nature parks and main cultural assets. Bhutan’s constitution mandates that 60 percent of the country’s land must be under forest cover and maintains strict laws to protect and uphold its carbon-negative status.

“This all costs money,” Dr. Tshering said.

‘Why fix something that is not broken?’

While Bhutanese travel representatives had expected some reforms to the country’s tourism policy, the threefold increase to the government’s sustainability tax came as a shock, with many fearing that the new model will turn tourists toward cheaper destinations at a time when the country is desperate for tourism dollars to boost its post-pandemic recovery.

Tourism revenue is a key contributor to Bhutan’s economy, making up 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Some 29,000 tourists visited Bhutan in 2020 before the borders were shuttered in March of that year, and generated a revenue of $19 million. In 2019, 315,599 tourists visited, earning the tourism industry $225 million, according to the Tourism Council of Bhutan. The kingdom eased its travel restrictions earlier this year, allowing in foreign visitors on a case-by-case basis and requiring them to quarantine.

Tourism operators argue that the minimum package framework incentivized tourists by including all essential services.

“Everyone is asking, ‘why fix something that is not broken?’” said Lotay Rinchen, co-founder of the tourism company Bridge To Bhutan, Bespoke Mindful Journeys . It “protected the travel industry and ensured a certain level of quality and business,” he said of the prior system.

Mr. Rinchen was always in favor of increasing the price of the minimum fee. But without the requirement of the package structure, he says he anticipates the Bhutan brand will be harder to sell. He has started to explore the possibility of offering luxurious products to lure in tourists willing to pay the higher costs, like chic boutique lodges, wellness retreats and upscale glamping. Previously tourists could pay extra for high-end hotels like the Taj Tashi and Le Meridien Thimphu , but many chose the basic options included in the minimum daily fee package.

“This is not the right timing. Bhutan’s economy is in bad shape, and we had expected to open up tourism and start earning hard currency again, but this price hike will keep tourists away,” said Mr. Dorji of the Bhutan Travel Club, adding that the new model could attract a demographic of older sightseeing tourists who would “skim from one luxury hotel to another, without experiencing the Bhutanese way of life.”

The prime minister said that was not the government’s intention. “We want to make sure that we get a set of tourists who are intellectually high-standing, knowledgeable and conscious of our needs and unique features,” he said.

Elsa Foster, 44, an American personal trainer who lives in Scotland, took a mountain biking tour in Bhutan with a group of friends in 2018. After a day of sightseeing in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, they embarked on a seven-day off-roading adventure, cycling through remote mountain valleys and villages. Ms. Foster said it was very practical to have hotels booked by their tour agent as they stayed in a different location each night.

“I really liked how everything was organized and packaged with the old fee system, all you had to do was show up,” she said. “But to pay 200 bucks on top of all the other expenses, you’ve got to be pretty rich and it’s a shame that Bhutan will become inaccessible to young people who won’t be able to afford it.”

The government hopes the new policy will have the opposite effect, attracting a wider demographic. “All we mean is to welcome with a very open heart all individuals and potential visitors who want to visit and experience the uniqueness we have to offer,” Dr. Tshering said. “Then we will ensure that the visitor will get the value of the money that is spent in Bhutan.”

The United States was one of the top tourism markets for the kingdom before the pandemic, behind India and Bangladesh, with 13,016 Americans visiting in 2019 and spending an average of 10 nights, according to the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

Karma Tshering, an environmental conservation and ecotourism specialist, said the government should use the increased tourism tax to meet its sustainability goals, which could include investing in hiking trails, highway amenities and training and support to service providers.

He is worried that without the minimum-spend policy, “which helps our service providers obtain minimum revenue to support their services, our people will be left in the hands of the tourists to negotiate and bring down prices,” Mr. Tshering said, adding that there could be “a chain impact on delivering quality services and high-end experiences.”

Some sectors see an opportunity in the change. Sonam Wangchuk, chairman of the Hotel & Restaurant Association of Bhutan, said the amendment was long overdue and will bring positive change where all hotels and restaurants will have equal opportunity.

“I guess it is now the survival of the fittest, where one now needs to pull up their socks and become a go-getter,” he said. “The old days of business knocking at your door are gone, therefore the harder we work the more promising it will be.”

Chencho Dema contributed reporting from Kansas City, Mo.

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

52 Places for a Changed World

The 2022 list highlights places around the globe where travelers can be part of the solution.

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Ceylan Yeginsu is a travel reporter. She was previously a correspondent for the International desk in Britain and Turkey, covering politics; social justice; the migrant crisis; the Kurdish conflict, and the rise of Islamic State extremism in Syria and the region. More about Ceylan Yeginsu

Open Up Your World

Considering a trip, or just some armchair traveling here are some ideas..

Italy :  Spend 36 hours in Florence , seeking out its lesser-known pockets.

Southern California :  Skip the freeways to explore the back roads between Los Angeles and Los Olivos , a 100-mile route that meanders through mountains, canyons and star-studded enclaves.

Mongolia : Some young people, searching for less curated travel experiences, are flocking to the open spaces of this East Asian nation .

Romania :  Timisoara  may be the most noteworthy city you’ve probably never heard of , offering just enough for visitors to fill two or three days.

India: A writer fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Darjeeling, in the Himalayan foothills , taking in the tea gardens and riding a train through the hills.

52 Places:  Why do we travel? For food, culture, adventure, natural beauty? Our 2024 list has all those elements, and more .

The Points Guy

Everything you need to know about visiting Bhutan

MSN has partnered with The Points Guy for our coverage of credit card products. MSN and The Points Guy may receive a commission from card issuers.

For travelers craving unspoiled nature, a less-crowded destination or an escape from life’s hustles, Bhutan is an ideal destination. Visiting the Land of the Thunder Dragon isn’t a simple or inexpensive trip to arrange, however, thanks to its remote location in the Himalayas.

Still, that complexity more than makes the effort worth it, as it adds to Bhutan’s charm. You won’t find giant shopping malls overrun with tourists, and you won’t encounter heaps of trash, either, as the country banned plastic bags back in 1999.

This way of life is intentional: The country prioritizes “Gross National Happiness” rather than gross domestic product. This means the Last Shangri-La (as it’s often called) limits how many tourists can visit annually — and it only opened to foreign tourists in 1974. Bhutan has strict rules in place to preserve its identity and its tranquility, so it can continue to offer idyllic experiences in a relatively untouched setting.

While this approach was easy to maintain during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, when Bhutan decided to fully close its borders to foreigners, after nearly two years, the country started welcoming visitors again Sept. 23, 2022. But with that reopening came an overhauled set of tourism rules.

If you want to have a memorable trip to this picturesque destination, here’s everything to keep top of mind when planning a trip to Bhutan, one of TPG’s best places to travel in 2023 .

Bhutan’s tourism rules

Visitors from Bangladesh and the Maldives don’t need permission to visit Bhutan, and Indian citizens only need preapproval from the government to enter. However, citizens from all other countries need a visa and must obtain it before traveling to Bhutan, as there is no option for getting one on arrival.

Additionally, all foreigners will need to pay a daily sustainable development fee, which subsidizes Bhutan’s national health care and education services for citizens and helps with the country’s “high value, low volume” approach to tourism . For Indians, this daily fee is 1,200 Bhutanese ngultrum (roughly $14.50). For other nationalities, the fee is now $200 per day for adults, with a 50% discount for children ages 6 to 12 (fees are waived for children 5 and younger).

Before September 2023, the visitor fee was $65 per day, though tourists also were required to book tour packages with government-established prices typically ranging between $200 and $300 per day — a policy that’s no longer in place. The removal of this tour package requirement, which included guides, meals and lodging, is welcome news to travelers who prefer to pick services a la carte and those who can use rewards points to cover some costs. It also makes it easier to budget for your trip, as the tour package fee would fluctuate depending on your chosen travel dates, unlike the revised visitor fee, which remains a set price no matter when you plan on visiting.

How to get a visa to visit Bhutan

Aside from the visa exemptions noted above, foreigners will need to pay a $40 visa application fee to visit Bhutan. It’s possible to pay for the visa application fee and the daily sustainable development fee online via the Bhutan Department of Immigration website .

To apply for a visa, you’ll need to submit a scanned copy of your passport (which needs to be valid for at least six months past your visit to Bhutan), plus a passport photo and proof of travel insurance covering your visit.

After providing your travel details, such as flight and hotel information, and uploading your documents, you’ll have two options for payment: bank transfer or credit card. The website does not charge a fee for bank transfers, but your bank may assess a fee for international wire transfers. For payments made with an international credit card, you’ll incur a 4.75% fee, though this fee is often less than what banks will charge for international wire transfers. For example, my credit card fee was $20.90, well below the $35 fee my bank would’ve required had I opted to pay by international wire transfer.

Payments will report as “general” or “other” on your credit card statement when paying by credit card. Thus, you should use your favorite credit card for everyday spending since you won’t earn extra points through bonus categories.

How to get to Bhutan

Although this landlocked country shares borders with India and Tibet, only the border with India permits land crossings at three points: Phuentsholing (in western Bhutan), Gelephu (in central Bhutan) and Samdrup Jongkhar (in eastern Bhutan).

There are no trains in Bhutan, so land crossings are only possible by bus or car. Road permits are required for tour operators, though these aren’t needed if you arrive by bus.

Buses are available between Phuentsholing and two cities in India: Kolkata (roughly 18 hours away) and Siliguri (about four hours away). Once you arrive in Phuentsholing, you can then take a bus or taxi to Bhutan’s larger cities — but take note of the requirement for guides (covered below) when traveling through these regions.

Arriving by air is also possible. Most tourists get to Bhutan by traveling to Paro International Airport (PBH) near Paro, Bhutan’s second-largest city.

Paro’s airport is served by just two airlines: Bhutan Airlines (a private company) and Drukair (the national airline also known as Royal Bhutan Airlines). Both airlines fly between PBH and the following airports:

  • Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) in New Delhi .
  • Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport (CCU) in Kolkata.
  • Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Bangkok .

Drukair also offers domestic connections between PBH and Bathpalathang Airport (BUT) in Jakar, Gelephu Airport (GLU) in Gelephu and Yongphulla Airport (YON) near Trashigang, plus routes to these international airports:

  • Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (DAC) in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
  • Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) .
  • Bagdogra International Airport (IXB) in Bagdogra, India.
  • Gaya Airport (GAY) in Gaya, India.
  • Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport (GAU) in Guwahati, India.

Ticket costs range from $110 per person each way for the shortest international flights to $550 per person for flights to Singapore. International airlines are not permitted to fly into Bhutan, which creates complications for award travel. You can’t book these flights with your favorite Oneworld or SkyTeam partners, and you won’t find these flights through the American Express travel portal or the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal . You must book directly with the airlines.

If you’re looking to use points and miles for flights to Bhutan, you have a few options for reimbursing yourself after buying a ticket:

  • You can cash out points for a statement credit .
  • You can redeem points and miles to cover travel purchases at elevated rates (with select Capital One credit cards and Bank of America cards , for example).

Where to stay in Bhutan

While using points and miles for flights to Bhutan is tricky, there are a few solid options for booking award stays at hotels in Bhutan.

If you have World of Hyatt points you’re hoping to use for your trip, consider redeeming them for a stay at the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary near Paro. You can also use a Category 1-7 free night award to bed down at this Small Luxury Hotels of the World property .

For travelers with Marriott Bonvoy points, there are two Marriott -affiliated properties to choose from as well: Le Meridien Paro, Riverfront and Le Meridien Thimphu. Both hotels are bookable with 35,000-point free night certificates most nights of the year.

IHG has a few Six Senses properties in Bhutan, too, but unfortunately, none of them can be reserved with IHG One Rewards points. Additionally, stays at these Six Senses outposts in Thimphu, Punakha, Paro, Gangtey and Bumthang do not come with elite benefits if you have status with IHG’s loyalty program.

There aren’t any options for using points from Hilton Honors , Wyndham Rewards or Best Western Rewards , but y ou can find hotels in the travel portals for American Express , Capital One , Chase and Citi , making it possible to use credit card points to pay for accommodations.

None of Bhutan’s hotels are available with American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts , Amex’s The Hotel Collection or Capital One’s Premier Collection . One hotel is available in Chase’s Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection , but you can’t redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for these bookings.

Related: A comparison of luxury hotel programs from credit card issuers: Amex, Chase and Capital One

To get around this issue of using points for hotel bookings, consider reimbursing yourself for expenses after making your hotel reservation.

The best things to do in Bhutan

Trekking in the mountains is an extremely popular activity in Bhutan, and you’ll find a range of trails for all skill levels, all seasons and all budgets.

If you’re interested in experiencing nomadic life and the birthplace of yeti myths, visit Merak village in the far east. This area only opened to tourism in 2012 and is the home of the seminomadic Brokpa people, many of whom have stories of personal encounters with the fabled yeti.

Travelers who want to enjoy nature can find plenty of it in Bhutan thanks, in part, to the government mandating 60% of its land be covered by forests . Head to one of Bhutan’s five national parks to take in the stunning scenery.

Phrumsengla National Park, in the center of the country, is a bird-watcher’s paradise, while Royal Manas National Park, near the border with India, is home to tigers, elephants, rhinos, leopards and golden langurs. Allot more than one day for wildlife viewing in case you don’t spot the critters you wish to see during your first outing.

The most popular site in Bhutan may be Paro Taktsang (the Tiger’s Nest). It was built in 1692 on the site where locals believe Guru Rinpoche (a national hero who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the eighth century) prayed and meditated for three months before fighting an evil that was afflicting the locals. According to legend, he arrived by flying on a tigress — thus the site’s name.

It’s possible to visit the Tiger’s Nest during a daytrip from Paro or Thimphu, though you’ll need to have at least a moderate fitness level to access the site, as it’s built into the side of a mountain. The hike starts at a parking lot next to a ticket booth that sits approximately 8,500 feet above sea level, so you may want to wait at least one day after arriving before taking this trip if you’re unaccustomed to high altitudes.

The temple is another 1,700 feet up the mountain, and reaching it typically requires two to three hours of walking for most people, plus several hundred stairs.

Hikers should begin when the ticket booth opens at 8 a.m. to avoid hiking during the hottest part of the afternoon. Guides advise that visitors with moderate fitness ability can return to their hotels for a late lunch, while those who move slower or take many breaks will need longer to see the site and can expect to return to their hotels at dinner time.

Determining whether to hire a guide

Is hiring a guide necessary for visiting Bhutan? In short, no.

Still, Bhutan’s Department of Tourism says, “A guide is strongly recommended.”

“Guides … help look after the safety and security of the visitors, as there are wild animals in the countryside, and the altitude and landscape can sometimes pose unique challenges.”

Though the Department of Tourism says guides don’t need to accompany visitors for activities such as dining at restaurants and shopping, it’s “recommended” that guides are employed “for experiences such as visiting temples and local places of interest, and it is mandatory to have a guide for all trekking activities and for any journeys that extend beyond Thimphu and Paro.”

And, as mentioned earlier, visitors who enter Bhutan through land borders are required to have guides when leaving the border towns.

“If visitors follow the itineraries or journeys set by hotels,” the Department of Tourism adds, “they will not need a guide as they will already have a guide who will be arranged by the hotel.”

Based on this guidance, it’s possible to visit Thimphu (the capital and largest city) and Paro (near the international airport) without a guide. Hiring a guide is recommended but not required in these areas, meaning you can find your own transportation and travel more independently. Beyond these areas, guides are mandatory.

If you don’t hire a guide in Thimphu or Paro, ensure you have the phone number of your hotel with you at all times, as you will need to give this to go inside temples and at passport control when entering Bhutan.

The best time to visit Bhutan

Before September 2022, costs for the sustainable development fee fluctuated. Prices were higher during peak tourist times and lower during the offseason. Thus, traveling during the cold winters could lead to savings.

Now, the visa and sustainable development fee costs are the same throughout the year, meaning there’s no longer a financial advantage to braving the Himalayan snowfalls and chilly winters.

So, when should you visit Bhutan? Here’s what to expect for each season in terms of trekking and festivals:

  • Winter: It’s possible to hike and trek throughout the year in Bhutan. Plan for low-altitude, shorter treks in winter to avoid snow and unpredictable weather at higher altitudes. Dec. 17 is National Day, which is tied to the coronation of the first king, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, in 1907. On Jan. 2, you can attend the Nyilo festival, which celebrates the sun’s return and is a traditional day of offering. February sees Losar, Bhutan’s Lunar New Year festival, and birthday festivities for Bhutan’s current (fifth) king, the Druk Gyalpo, on Feb. 21.
  • Spring: Thanks to the abundant flora and fauna, spring is one of the best times for trekking in Bhutan. However, trails may still be wet from the recent snowmelt. In April or May, Zhabdrung Kuchoe celebrates the life of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who unified Bhutan. May 2 also is a holiday: the birthday of Bhutan’s third king.
  • Summer: This is monsoon season. Treks are difficult and unpredictable but can provide great opportunities for reaching religious landmarks and ceremonies in Bhutan’s less-visited regions. Several summer festivals have dates that change yearly based on the lunar calendar, including Lord Buddha’s Parinirvana (the date Buddha attained enlightenment).
  • Fall: Autumn is an ideal time for hiking through Bhutan’s mountains. Trails begin to dry out and are at their best quality of the year, and the weather is excellent. Clear skies provide breathtaking views of the mountains. Near the end of September, Blessed Rainy Day celebrates the end of the rainy season and the autumn equinox. The Dashain festival in October is the most important holiday for the country’s Hindus, as it’s when believers celebrate Rama’s victory over evil. Nov. 1 is the anniversary of the king’s coronation, and Nov. 11 is the birthday of the fourth king. Additionally, Lhabab Duchen, which celebrates Buddha’s descent from the heavens to Earth, happens every year in October or November.

Bhutan’s many festivals are a highlight but also draw more tourists, making hotel rooms difficult to find. Plan ahead when visiting around these holidays, and be sure to check specific dates, as the dates for many holidays shift annually.

Getting around Bhutan

Unfortunately, tourists can’t rent a car or drive in Bhutan. Public transportation is also lacking in many areas, though taxis are available for rides between Paro (including the international airport) and Thimphu (the capital).

When you combine the transportation issues with the requirement for a guide when traveling beyond Paro and Thimphu, tourists who want to visit Bhutan independently won’t have access to large portions of the country.

However, visitors with a guide will have a few options aside from driving. There are guided treks and cycling tours, as well as a limited number of domestic flights and helicopter charters.

The cost of traveling to Bhutan

When planning a trip to Bhutan, you’ll need to consider multiple factors: flights, hotels, visas, meals, daily tourist fees, entrance charges for select attractions and tour guide services. Ultimately, though, the amount you spend will depend on how long you stay in the country, with each day costing at least $200 per adult before other details are accounted for.

One-way flights start around $115 per person and can climb to above $500 per person, depending on how far you’re flying. While shorter distances lead to cheaper prices, don’t forget to factor in the ease and cost of reaching those destinations. It may be easier (and therefore a better option overall) to transit through Bangkok or Singapore instead of Kathmandu or New Delhi.

Remember to look into visas for countries you fly to on the way to or from Bhutan as well, since some destinations require you to clear customs to check in for your next flight. This can add extra costs on top of the $40 visa fee and the $200 daily sustainable development fee Bhutan charges.

As for lodging, cash prices at Bhutan’s hotels vary greatly depending on the property you choose. You could pay as little as $15 per night for basic accommodations or more than $1,500 per night at all-inclusive properties providing guests with meals, spa services and activities.

The advantage of booking hotels where meals are included — or where there’s an on-site restaurant — is that you won’t need to search for places to eat, carry cash to pay for food and arrange transportation to and from dining venues. Factor this into your decisions when budgeting for meals. If you decide to stay at a hotel where food isn’t provided, expect to pay anywhere from $3 for fast food to $20 per dish at an upscale restaurant.

Many of Bhutan’s monasteries, temples and museums require foreigners to pay admission, so be sure to factor visits to these attractions into your budget as well. You can find the entrance costs for popular sites here . Most entry fees will set you back about $13 per person.

Should you decide to hire a guide, expect to pay approximately $100 for a guided daytrip to regional temples and a hike to the Tiger’s Nest; longer guided treks will be more expensive and should be negotiated in advance.

How to pay for trip expenses

It’s possible to pay for flights, the sustainable development fee and visa applications online with a credit card. It’s also possible to pay by card at larger, tourist-focused hotels — though you may incur a convenience fee for credit card payments.

However, cash is required to pay entrance fees at attractions, buy food at local restaurants and hire a taxi. If you don’t order currency before your trip, you can exchange foreign currency at the airport and most tourist-centric hotels, or withdraw money from an ATM in Paro’s airport.

Additional tips for visiting Bhutan

Before you apply for your visa and pay the sustainable development fee, you should confirm your travel plans. That’s because your visa will be issued for the exact dates of your trip — the dates you stated as your arrival and departure, backed up by tickets and hotel reservations. It will not be approved without these, and it will be issued only for the days you can prove you are visiting Bhutan.

Once you’ve decided on your dates, check flight schedules with Bhutan’s two airlines for availability based on your proposed itinerary, as seats on flights to and from Bhutan fill up quickly. Some destinations are served multiple times a week (such as Delhi, with six flights per week), while others operate seasonally. After finding flights into, out of and within Bhutan, check these against flights from your home airport. You will need to fly to India, Thailand, Singapore or Nepal before your trip to Bhutan.

After confirming your flights, finalize any plans with a guide (if you’re using one) and book your hotels. If you’re using a guide for your entire trip, the guide can apply for your visa on your behalf and take a single payment covering everything other than flights, including hotels, meals, activities and the daily sustainable development fee.

Following the submission of all the required documents, you should receive your visa within a week of applying. Ensure the information is correct, then print this document. You’ll need to show it when checking in for your flight to Bhutan and at passport control.

SPONSORED:  With states reopening, enjoying a meal from a restaurant no longer just means curbside pickup.

And when you do spend on dining, you should use a credit card that will maximize your rewards and potentially even score special discounts. Thanks to temporary card bonuses and changes due to coronavirus, you may even be able to score a meal at your favorite restaurant for free. 

These are the best credit cards for dining out, taking out, and ordering in to maximize every meal purchase.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Everything you need to know about visiting Bhutan

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8 Reasons why you need Tour Guide in Bhutan

Bhutan, which was in isolation from the outside world until the 1970s, may have unlocked the way for tourists, but it remains a mystery to modern visitors. Located high in the Himalayas, the enigmatic aura of Bhutan stems primarily from the government. It has forced all tourists to participate in pre-planned guided tours to Bhutan to reduce the influence of the tourism industry on the culture and ecology of the country. All tourists (excluding nationals of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives) must be accompanied by a Bhutanese guide and driver. So, having a tour guide is not an option when visiting Bhutan.

Unfortunately, solo travel in Bhutan is not feasible (except for Indians, Bangladeshis, and Maldivians). To grant the visas to Bhutan, westerners must engage a tour operator. Furthermore, once in Bhutan, you are only permitted to travel openly around towns with your Bhutan tour guide. 

Tiger Nest Monastery in Bhutan; popular places that are easier to reach with the help of guide in Bhutan

We understand that some of you are put off by the necessity for a guide, but we encourage you to embrace the need for a guided tour to Bhutan with an open mind and soul. Your Bhutanese guides will educate you more about Bhutan than you could ever study from a literature or TV. Another advantage of hiring a Bhutan tour guide is that they will handle everything for you, leaving you free to rest and cherish the experience. Furthermore, they will provide a perfect Bhutan travel guide . On your journey to Bhutan, without any doubt, you’ll make a new buddy. 

According to local regulations, it is only possible to book Bhutan tours as part of a tour package with a minimum daily fee set by the government. So, Bhutan tour guide cost varies depending on the season and the number of travelers in the party.  

The compulsory need for a licensed and certified guide has left no other choices to travelers rather than hiring them. However, even if it wasn’t a compulsion, you would still need and desire one. The government is currently contemplating mandating tour guides for Bhutan for the excluded nations as well. The top 8 reasons to do Bhutan tour with guide are listed below:

  • 1. Easy Navigation
  • 2. Government Regulations
  • 3. Cultural Experience
  • 4. Hassle-Free Travel
  • 5. Discover Lesser-Known Places
  • 6. Break the Language Barriers
  • 7. Unique Experience
  • 8. Discover Unique Stories about the Destinations
  • Why Book with Himalayan Glacier?

Can I join a group tour in Bhutan?

Can i travel to bhutan without booking a tour package, how much does it cost for a bhutanese tour guide, 1.  easy navigation .

You’d never be able to navigate the Bhutanese routes on your own as there are no single street signs on the roads. Also, many of the off-the-beaten-path in Bhutan sites are accessible only via lengthy and winding dirt roads. Moreover, when it comes to traveling to Bhutan, maps or GPS may not work accurately. So, if you are alone in Bhutan and taking assistance from some sort of device, then you wouldn’t get very far. That’s why a Bhutan tour guide is essential as they have fine knowledge about the short and safe route. 

Paro Valley is easier to navigate with guide; one of the reasons you need tour guide in Bhutan

The construction on a highway expanding program has been ongoing; however, the majority of the roads are just 1.5 lanes wide. Furthermore, all the roads are zigzagging up and down the mountains with high concrete barriers and very few handrails. So, travelers always get confused in identifying the best ways and routes to get around Bhutan. However, they don’t need to worry as they may only visit Bhutan on a guided tour. So, your guided tour package to Bhutan will include a tour guide and driver to assist you in navigating the route. 

2.  Government Regulations 

The government of Bhutan is hesitant to allow visitors to enter the nation. Independent travel to Bhutan is becoming more popular, although the government does not promote it. In general, visitors to Bhutan must be either tourists or government guests. The only other way to enter the country is via invitation from “a person of some standing” or a volunteer group. All visitors must go on a pre-planned and prepaid guided package trip to Bhutan or custom-created travel program, except the Indian, Bangladeshi, and Maldivian passport holders. 

Government Regulations in Bhutan mandate you to travel with a tour guide

On one hand, this government regulation is constraining; limiting fancy-free, carefree, personally preferred vacations. However, as a result of these limitations, one of the most intriguing cultures in the world has been maintained in a pristine alpine setting that has altered little over the ages.

3.  Cultural Experience

Unlike traveling in other nations, visiting Bhutan is more about cultural experience. Bhutan is the last Buddhist Kingdom in the world, which has a large collection of Buddhist art and culture. You’d never be able to handle the traditions and cultural intricacies or comprehend all the temple imagery unless you grew up as a Bhutanese Buddhist. Also, it is very difficult to understand the convoluted history and the current geopolitical position of Bhutan. So, the easiest way to understand most of the things is to ask a Bhutan tour guide. 

Gaining new Cultural Experience is another reason you need a tour guide in Bhutan

After landing in Bhutan, lots of questions might arise on your mind such as what are the symbolic interpretation of various animals. When must we remove our footwear? Why do we constantly go around the temples in the same direction? In the dzongs, why do you dress up in a scarf? So, if you want relevant answers to these questions, it is best to have a guided tour of Bhutan. When you travel with a Bhutanese guide, they will show you around the communities and let you engage with the locals. It will provide you with an excellent opportunity to learn about their culture and tradition. 

4.  Hassle-Free Travel 

One of the reasons that may prevent you from enjoying a fantastic trip to Bhutan is the need to sort out little issues when traveling. How to obtain a visa? Where should I go? What are my options for getting around? Paths? When does the destination open or close? You won’t have to worry about it if you hire a guide for a Bhutan tour. They will assist you throughout the journey and help you obtain the required entry permit for Bhutan with the help of a registered tour operator. 

Himalayan Glacier provides hassle-free Nepal and Bhutan Tour by including sightseeing in Kathmandu valley and offering popular hikes to Taktsang monastery, Bhutan Druk Path trek , and so on. So, enjoy the two wonderful Himalayan Kingdoms on a single trip. 

Additionally, you also won’t have to worry about creating an itinerary. If you choose a guided tour to Bhutan, the tour company and guide will create one for you based on your tastes and interests. You may also personalize them by taking help from the experts. So, a tour guide in Bhutan will take all your responsibilities and let you enjoy every moment without burdening you with the tour plans and requirements. 

5.  Discover Lesser-Known Places 

Bhutan tour guides can take you to off-the-beaten-path locations you might not have discovered otherwise, as well as make customized recommendations on how to make the most of your vacation. There are several unexplored places in Bhutan like Phobjikha Valley, Rinung Dzong, Philatelic Bureau, Kila Nunnery, Lheunste, and so on. These destinations are less popular among travelers but equally stunning. 

Phobjikha Valley

With the assistance of a guide, you may explore all of these off-the-beaten paths and new locations that are outside the popular tourism destinations. Don’t you enjoy the excitement of discovering locations that aren’t evident and aren’t on regular tourist routes? You’d be surprised how off-the-beaten-path locations may be just as, if not more, spectacular than the main ones. So, to experience something different than those of regular travelers, you must choose your tour guide for Bhutan carefully.  

6.  Break the Language Barriers 

The primary language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, a Sino-Tibetan dialect. Even though Bhutanese people can comprehend and speak fluent English, they talk with a distinct tone of voice and accent than native speakers. As a result, it might be very hard for you to understand what they are saying. However, if you join the guided tour to Bhutan, then the guide will interpret for you. They will also help in breaking the ice with locals by teaching you a few Bhutanese words. 

Socializing with the local people in Bhutan; one of the reasons you need tour guide in Bhutan

Moreover, traveling in Bhutan allows you to discover and see beautiful rural communities. However, the older generation and village residents may not be able to communicate in English since they never attended schools. During such cases, you won’t be able to speak and interact with locals if you are traveling alone. As a result, you must employ Bhutan tour guides to avoid language barrier issues. 

7.  Unique Experience 

You’d surely lose out on unique experiences if you didn’t hire a Bhutan tour guide. You can do things you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise if you had a guide. There are several activities in Bhutan which demand special permission or local networks. To have a smooth conversation with monks or organize the freshly made meal at the farmhouse, help from a guide is mandatory. Moreover, if you want to meet the popular sacred Buddhist astrologer in town for a reading, you would need the help of a guide as you can’t put this together on your own.

Experiencing the local communities of Bhutan

8.  Discover Unique Stories about the Destinations 

By far the biggest benefit of hiring a Bhutanese guide is the ability to pick his or her brain about anything. You may not only explore off-the-beaten-path locations in Bhutan with the help of a guide, but you can also learn interesting tales and facts about the places you visit. It is simple to retain information and check them up online. Hiring a Bhutan tour guide will provide you with much more, including local perspectives, customs, histories, and up-to-date factual knowledge about the places. 

You will have a better, fuller insight into the places you visit if you are with the guides. They will be able to give you the historical background of the places as well as answer any questions you may have about them. Bhutanese Guides make your travel much more fascinating and contribute significantly to the worth of your vacation. 

Why Book with Himalayan Glacier? 

To begin with, Himalayan Glacier is a licensed travel operator that has been operating 300+ private and group tours to Bhutan for decades. We have a 100% success rate in our decades of running a Bhutan tour. Moreover, all the itineraries are prepared by the destination expert team by keeping the customers in mind. Himalayan Glacier will manage your tickets and visa procedures, as well as assist you in planning a private vacation, group trip, or business trip to Bhutan. With us, you have the option of booking a small group tour or private trip. You have complete control over your Bhutan trip itinerary, tour duration, and excursions. 

Plan your trip with Himalayan Glacier and be ready to either join one of our scheduled trip departures or arrange a personalized trip to Bhutan on your schedule. We may modify our regular itineraries to meet your specific needs. So, hurry up and book your dates! 

Overall, if you are an independent traveler, you must know that tour guides in Bhutan are something to cherish rather than fear. Bhutan is wonderful in and of itself but discovering it with a guide is the cherry on top of an even more delicious cake. Understanding the meanings of the magnificent murals to witnessing monkeys in the branches is much more fun if you are on a guided tour to Bhutan. 

Make an extra effort to take a Nepal and Bhutan tour together on your next vacation. If you have any questions about your travel arrangements, please give us a call or email us so that we can provide you with the answers you want.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Yes, you can join a group tour in Bhutan. The Bhutan tour cost is expensive for solo travelers. So, for budget and price-sensitive travelers, it is best to join a small group tour to Bhutan. There are many trip operators that run group tours to Bhutan. These kinds of tours especially focus on travelers who find solo trips intimidating and not as fun as group tours. Moreover, there are many websites and online organizations that exist to connect people who like traveling to Bhutan. You’re likely to meet people you’d like to travel with through one of these ways. 

Himalayan Glacier also offers a popular group trip to Bhutan in addition to custom-made vacations. The itinerary is formulated for the first-time tourist, highlighting the attractions of the nation, from walled dzong to the popular Bhutan Druk Path trek . In addition to being reasonably priced, our group tour allows you to travel and share your story with a group of like-minded people. 

No, you can’t travel to Bhutan without booking a tour package. As per the Bhutanese government regulations, you must book your vacation to Bhutan through a certified Bhutanese travel operator or one of their foreign affiliates. To enter Bhutan, all international visitors must obtain a visa in advance via a certified Bhutanese travel operator or one of their foreign affiliates. You must receive a visa clearance document from your tour operator before flying to Bhutan. That’s why it is mandatory to book a tour package. Indian, Bangladeshi, and Maldivian passport holders may acquire a visa on arrival.  

The government establishes the basic price of trips (called a “Minimum Daily Package”) to Bhutan to manage tourism and preserve biodiversity, and it is not negotiable. The basic price is inclusive of all lodgings, meals, transfers, Bhutan tour guide costs and porters, and other cultural activities. Also, this price varies depending on the season and the number of visitors in a group. So, there is no specific cost for Bhutanese tour guides as all the amount that travelers must spend per day is included in the Minimum Daily Package.

Note: Solo travelers need to add an extra USD 40, and a two-person private tour demands an extra USD 30 on the above-mentioned Bhutan guide tour cost. Also, the regulations of the Minimum Daily Package don’t apply to citizens of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives.

You may also be interested in:

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9 of the best things to do in Bhutan with kids

Chaitali Patel

Jan 22, 2024 • 9 min read

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

Have the ultimate family trip with this guide to travel with kids in Bhutan © Kateryna Mashkevych / Shutterstock

In the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan , a country that values happiness above everything else, children are welcomed with open arms.

Kept secret for decades, its isolation from the rest of the world has added to its mystery and allure. Now, Bhutan focuses on low-volume high-value tourism, and one of the best reasons to visit is to experience its unique customs and culture that remain largely unchanged. Traveling to Bhutan with children warrants stepping out of your comfort zone, but it's bound to be rewarding in unexpected ways.

Is Bhutan good for kids?

Scenic high mountain passes, fluttering kaleidoscopic prayer flags, forest covered slopes and air that's crisp and clean – the outdoors in Bhutan is invigorating and soul-stirring for the whole family.

Although having a local guide is no longer mandatory, this adds to the visit: having someone show you around their country and introduce you to their unique cultural nuances is a special experience. Your guide will be your go-to person, providing invaluable support, from where to stop for a bite to eat on long drives to helping you buy souvenirs.

With raw nature, ancient monasteries and welcoming locals, on paper Bhutan is the ideal canvas to build everlasting family memories. However, the high altitude can be troublesome and driving on sinuous roads is challenging for those prone to car sickness. Bhutan has outposts of some of the world's best luxury hotels around Paro and Thimphu, but in remote parts accommodation, restaurants and toilets tend to be basic.

While nappy changing stations, high chairs, kids' meals or play areas aren’t the norm, few rules have to be followed and nothing is frowned upon as far as children are concerned. Bhutan is a country that operates at its own pace and in its own way, and if you're looking for a family adventure, this might just be the perfect place to go.

Woman and toddler paddling in a stream in the mountains

Where in Bhutan is best for kids?

Arriving in Paro is nothing short of an adventure as only a handful of pilots are trained to swerve through the narrow valleys and land in the monastery-like airport adorned with frescoes and featuring the traditional Bhutanese carved and painted woodwork. Paro is Bhutan's second-largest city and, together with the capital Thimphu , is part of almost all itineraries. Both urban centers offer ample opportunities to sample Bhutanese traditions and culture, from museums and lively market squares to child-friendly activities.

Beyond these two big cities, Punakha in the western-central region – with its formidable Punakha Dzong , built on the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Po Chhu rivers – draws crowds through the year, particularly during religious festivals that take place in February or March. If your itinerary allows, explore Bhutan's outdoors and remote mountain villages – its real trump card – through treks and homestay experiences with your children.

Best things to do in Bhutan with babies and toddlers

Visit the colossal golden buddha statue standing guard over thimphu.

What sets apart the gleaming, golden Dordenma from other large statues is that within the outer shell are ensconced 125,000 smaller statues. It sits atop a sprawling hall adorned with intricate frescoes used for meditation. Built to honor the 60th birthday of the fourth king, the temple complex is one of the most-visited sites in Bhutan. Small children will enjoy running up the stairs leading to the temple and the openness the large courtyard affords.

Gawk at the Himalayas from Dochu La 

Take the windy road up from Thimphu to the 3100m (10,170ft) Dochu La for the best views of the Himalayas in the country. A sighting of the mighty snow-spattered Himalayas – the world's highest mountain range – never gets boring, but you are at the mercy of the weather gods. On a clear day lookout for Gangkar Puensum, the highest peak in Bhutan and the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. The Bhutanese believe mountains to be the abode of the gods and mythical creatures, and don't encourage climbing them.

After the taxing car ride up, toddlers will delight at having space to run around in the area near the viewpoint. To linger longer, strap on a baby carrier and take a short hike with your guide in the forest behind the chortens (stone Buddhist monuments).

A teen walks along a very long suspension bridge over a river

Best things to do in Bhutan with school-age kids

Get a souvenir unlike any other at the postal museum.

Personalized items are a real kid-pleaser and in Thimphu's Postal Museum , they can get stamps with their faces printed on them and use them to send out postcards. Take a look through the exhibits that highlight the country's postal history and browse through the collection of stamps released over the years marking significant events such as the Olympics and the King's coronation. 

Try your hand at Bhutan's national sport

Stand upright, draw the bow and arrow, focus on the target and release: archery, Bhutan's national sport, is bound to draw out the competitive spirit in young warriors and is a great way to get a feel of the country's local customs and traditions (fun fact: archery is the only sport Bhutan has participated in at the Olympics).

Played in teams, archery events are also spectacles of colorful costumes and local dances. Hotels can organize an archery experience for you, or try it at the family-friendly Simply Bhutan  museum in Thimphu.

Explore the formidable Punakha Dzong and walk across the Punakha Suspension Bridge

Of the many fortresses scattered across Bhutan, Punakha Dzong  stuns with its location right at the confluence of two rivers. Gaze up at its towering whitewashed walls, impressive frescoes that narrate the story of the Buddha, and elaborate tapestries. It was here that all the kings of Bhutan have been crowned. In spring, framed by flowering jacaranda trees, it's one of Bhutan's most visually memorable sights. 

A short distance away cross the icy-hued Po Chhu River via the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan . Adorned with hundreds of prayer flags and held by cables, children will squeal with excitement as a strong gust of wind rocks the bridge from side to side. 

See how handmade paper is created 

At the small Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory in Thimphu children and adults alike can marvel at how paper is made from the high-altitude daphne plant using a process that dates back centuries. Said to last over 1000 years, the paper is known to be naturally insect- and pest-repellent. Walk through the factory and learn about the process that remains largely unchanged. Before you leave, stock up on gifts at the cheerful onsite store that sells a variety of products made from handmade paper: tie-and-dye diaries and notebooks, wrapping paper embellished with dried flowers and leaves, lampshades and more.

Learn of your many past forms and your future at the College of Astrology

In an age where everything is instant and most answers come from a device, a visit to Pangri Zampa Lhakhang or the College of Astrology in Thimphu is like going back in time. Here in this 16th-century complex a resident monk consults ancient books and tells you about your past life, including the many forms you have taken. Don't be shocked to learn you were a pigeon in another life! From lucky days and colors to numbers, for children and adults it's fun having someone decode your life and future, whether you pay heed to it or not.

Four novice monks wearing red robes walk through a courtyard, with one giving a cheeky smile at the camera

Best things to do in Bhutan with tweens and teenagers

Hike up tiger's nest.

Shrouded in legend and lore, Taktsang Goemba , popularly known as Tiger's Nest, is one of Bhutan's most sacred and enchanting sites. Perched on a cliff face 900m (2952ft) above Paro valley, its location never fails to draw wonder and awe. Children of all ages will be fascinated by stories of Guru Rinpoche (also known as Padmasambhava or the “lotus-born”), who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, arriving on this spot astride a flying tigress before meditating here for days in the bitter cold without any food or water.

Getting to the serene monastery takes two to three hours of hiking up paths cutting through pine-covered forests, so this is not one for younger children. The air is thin and the climb itself arduous, but the monastery is an exhilarating reward and certainly one worth pushing through for. Midway up, the Taktsang Cafeteria, a cozy mountain-chalet-like restaurant, appears as a godsend. Take a much needed break and fuel up with hot beverages, snacks or a buffet lunch. The views of the monastery lit by the sun are some of the best. 

Once on top see the impossibly small cave where the Guru meditated. In rooms bedecked with golden statues, colorful tapestries and prayer objects, watch monks, some as young as six, chant with senior monks. 

Walk the ancient Bhutan Trail

There's no better way to teach kids about local culture and traditions than to immerse them in it. Walking a section of the newly opened 403km-long (250-mile) trail , which runs from Haa in the west to Trashigang in the east, allows you to traverse the country like the Bhutanese did before the advent of automobiles. 

Pass through Bhutan's big cities, past remote mountain villages circled by paddy fields, walk through rhododendron forests, run across suspension bridges and stop to interact with Bhutanese people along the way. 

On overnight treks, stay in homestays. These allow for meaningful interaction with local families: help out on their farms, learn to cook Bhutanese dishes or participate in festivals – there's no bigger learning experience than this!

Enthrall children with stories of garps  (trail runners) who ran like the wind delivering important messages between dzongs (fortresses). In the past, these human messengers were the only way to communicate with the outside world. 

Planning tips

You'll see school kids and Bhutanese people working with little children strapped onto their backs everywhere in the country, but outside of the bigger cities like Paro and Thimphu, you're unlikely to find diapers, formula, baby food and medicines, and it's best to carry sufficient supplies.

Swap strollers for baby carriers as sidewalks in larger cities tend to be narrow and can be at an incline. A trip through Bhutan involves a lot of long drives and moving from place to place. Speak to your guide in advance to ensure you can book a good vehicle and carry your car seat or booster if required.

Although kids’ menus are virtually nonexistent, you'll find sautéed vegetables, potato and cheese dishes and noodle dishes widely available. Bigger hotels and restaurants in more touristy hot spots also tend to feature Indian dishes, given the large number of Indian tourists that visit Bhutan.

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Can I travel Bhutan independently, without a tour operator? - Bhutan Forum

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Can I travel Bhutan independently, without a tour operator?

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is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

I read somewhere that it is impossible to travel around Bhutan without a government-approved tour operator. Is this true? Can I not travel the country by myself?

19 replies to this topic

' class=

Since the re-opening of Bhutan some rules have been changed. One of them is, that every visitor has to pay a fee, called SDF for every night halt, has to use a guide, and book hotels in advance.You also need a permit for all your drives outside the Thimphu and Paro area, you can take a taxi with driver for that.

You can do it all yourself, but if you use a tour operator, he'll do all that for you. The difference in price is not too big. Your choice. But a guide is mandatory. No individual travel is allowed Bhutan.

Please read the first pinned post in the list of threads, nd the top questions her in the right part of this page, to get a better idea of the rules.

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan


Please read this post. As an Indian, you really need to hire a guide. You may write to Biswa on this and check on what you need to do.

Solo trip is possible however you cannot travel in Bhutan without meeting the minimum requirement given below;

-guide mandatory

-approved hotel booking confirmation mandatory

-payment of SDF, for Indian it can be paid cash on arrival as well

-valid documents

-travel insurance mandatory

If you meet the above requirement you can travel freely within Bhutan, no problem at all.

Good luck planning @KD

is tour guide mandatory in bhutan

Short answer - Yes, you can travel around Bhutan without a government-approved tour agency. However if this is your first time visiting Bhutan and you're not quite up to speed on the new tourism process, I highly recommend using a licensed tour agency. Saves a lot of headache and if you're lucky, doesn't charge much in commission.

I started planning a trip without any agency and after 2 months, I was about to give up. Then I found an agent through a mutual friend in Bhutan who organized everything in 2 weeks! I had to pay only around 500INR per day extra compared to if I would have gone without them.

' class=

Can you share the Agent details ?

Hey Biswa could you give refrence of that agent who helped you for Bhutan trip.

Naming any agency on this forum is not allowed. However, you can send a private message to Biswa and I hope he will reply you.

Do you need passport or voter's ID card will do at Phuentsholing?

Also do you need to pay for guide if traveling from Phuentshiling to Thimpu with e-permit and as solo traveller?

Please open a new thread if you more questions.


Refer to this thread for more information on how you can visit Bhutan now.

Valid Voter ID is possible to travel to Bhutan.

And yes, you need to pay for the guide, transportation, hotels, SDF fee and entrance fees to places for the whole trip. No more free and easy tour for Indian tourists.

' class=

Planning a family trip including senior citizens, could you please message me your tour guide/operators details? Thanks

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is tour guide mandatory in bhutan


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