If you get the chance to visit Bhutan, you absolutely should. It remains one of the most unique and unspoiled countries in the world, both environmentally and culturally. It’s most famous around the world for its Gross National Happiness, a measurement of the happiness of its citizens that goes further than simple economics. The eco-friendly traveler can also rest easy choosing Bhutan as a destination as it’s the most carbon-neutral country in the world.
Some of the country’s most famous sights are located in the Paro Valley. From important historic markers to religious temples and glorious, unspoiled scenery, this is any trekker’s dream vacation spot and is a must for anybody visiting this fascinating country. If you haven’t already put Bhutan on your BUCKiTDREAM Planner, now is the time to do it, before the fascinating country starts attracting more tourists!
A unique country has a unique entry system and all visitors – except citizens from Bangladesh, India and the Maldives – must obtain a visa before arriving. You will need to book your vacation and pay for it in full before getting your visa, either with a licensed local tour operator or an approved international partner in your area. Visas are expensive – between $200 and $250 per day – but that will include all your accommodation, transport, meals, water and will entitle you to reduced entry fees.
Arriving into Paro is an adventure in itself. Its local airport has long been described as “the most difficult commercial airport in the world”. On your descent, look out your window to the incredible peaks of the Himalayas and try not to think about the challenge that the low-density altitude of the valley presents to the pilots!
Paro town itself is utterly charming, packed full of historic and sacred sites and is incredibly easy to explore on foot; perfect for a little warm-up before your more vigorous hike. It’s worth spending an hour strolling through the main street. Despite the fact that it was only built in 1985, a huge effort was made into creating the colorful, authentic, wooden structures.
Once you’re finished exploring the town, it’s time to decide what hike you’ll take and you certainly won’t be short of options. Paro is a perfect base for day hikes, most of which are accessible for anyone with a moderate level of fitness.
Choose Your Adventure
Taktshang The toughest trek of them all is also the essential one, so prepare to work a little to get here because what visit Bhutan would be complete without seeing the iconic Taktshang Monastery? Taktshang Monastery – meaning ‘Tiger’s Nest’ – is accessible only by foot. The trek is roughly 10 kilometers long and will take about 2-3 hours, depending on your speed and level of fitness. There’s a convenient cafe approximately halfway through where you can rest and it’s also a great photo spot to take pictures of the famous monastery nestled into the jagged cliff rock. Many visitors only make it this far but if you’re prepared for another 45 minutes uphill, you’ll be rewarded with even more epic views. Best of all, you can visit the monastery itself. While you’ll have to put away your camera for the experience, there are incredible statues, paintings, and meditation caves, as well as the sheer pleasure of basking in the mystical atmosphere in this wonderful building.
Kila Gompa This trek starts with a 45-minute drive to the Chele La pass. At an altitude of over 12,000 feet, you’ll have a stunning view the Himalayas on a fine day. From here it’s a 90-minute hike uphill and then a relaxed walk through a beautiful forest full of sparkling streams, eventually stumbling on the Kila Gompa Nunnery. A sacred meditation site, it’s the oldest nunnery – or anim dratshang – in the country. They rarely get visitors so it’s likely you’ll be able to visit the tiny temples by yourself. From here, you’ll pass the monk residence of Girona Lhakhang on your descent before returning to your car.
Drakarpo Monastery If you truly want to see the entirety of the Paro valley, this is the trek for you. After a one-hour uphill hike, you can – and should – take a small detour before you reach the monastery itself to find a fascinating meditation cave. Best of all, the cave affords spectacular views of the valley and the village below. Continue up to the temple itself to explore the four shrines and learn about the local spirits that live on in the local legends.
Tips & Advice
Ensure you’re acclimatized to the altitude as much as you can be before attempting any trek. It will make the entire experience easier and more enjoyable!
Always bring your rain gear. The weather in Bhutan is notoriously unpredictable and bright sunny skies can change to rain in a matter of minutes.
Spring and autumn are the best times to attempt trekking in the region so you can avoid the mud and snow, as well as getting some relief from the midday heat.
If you intend on entering any of the monasteries on your treks, you will probably have to remove your shoes. Despite the heat of the day, it can be cool inside so wear thick socks!
No matter how tired you get, never rest on a stupa or mani stones. These are sacred items and it would be incredibly disrespectful to the Bhutan people.
You may not be able to use your camera inside a monastery but that doesn’t mean you should leave it at home. The views en route are spectacular and many of the locals are happy to pose for pictures. Share them Instagram and Facebook afterward so more people can get to know Bhutan!