Bhutan

The “Land of the Thunder Dragon” is one of the most unique countries in the world.  The former kingdom became a constitutional monarchy in 2008, but the Vajrayāna Buddhist country retains its many ancient traditions in the local culture. The numbers of tourists is not restricted as many are led to believe. Actually, the limited number of flights each day into it’s single international airport is the restricting factor.

Bhutan has focused on tourism as a way to fund its schools and medical infrastructure and as a result has a minimum charge per day–though it includes meals, guides, accommodation, and transportation. As a result of these policies you won’t find budget backpackers and over-touristed sights. Instead, you’ll find a friendly, authentic culture, fascinating festivals, spectacular mountain scenery, and well-educated people in a quiet country with a population of only about 800,000.

Take a look at the sample itineraries below that we can use as a starting point to design your unique trip.

 

 

Bhutan Tour Itineraries:
Bhutan Weather Patterns

The best months to visit Bhutan are March through May and September through November. However, December through February is also a good time, especially in western Bhutan in destinations such as Paro, Thimpu, and Punakha where daytime temperatures are still comfortable.

The months of June through September is the monsoon season. It’s possible to travel then but daily rain storms are the norm. For treks to elevations over 12,000 feet, April through early June and late September through early November are the best months.

 

Select a month from the drop down list next to the map below to see how we rate the time to travel for different regions in the country:

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Our Recommended Bhutan Hotels and Lodges

We’ve inspected and stayed in dozens of places throughout the country. The standard hotels, which come with the most basic packages in Bhutan are generally of 2 to 3-star international quality, but that quality can vary significantly. We will not only recommend which hotel may be best for you, but which room category. Upgraded hotels range from 4 to 5-star categories, and can add significantly to the cost of a tour.

The types of accommodations can be divided into:

  1. Hotels, Resorts, and Guesthouses: Hotels in Bhutan are rated according to a National 5 Star rating System.  Most 4 and 5-star hotels and resorts provide their guests with television, room service, Fitness centers, spas, wi-fi, and restaurants. However the exact services available will vary and the quality of the lower category hotels and guesthouses can vary widely.
  2. Farm-stays and Home-stays: Visitors have the option of spending a night in the traditional home or farm house of a Bhutanese family. All officially sanctioned home- and farm-stays are located in the countryside, far from the noise and crowds of population centers. In order to experience the traditional life, electricity and running water may not available at home-stays. Hot water for washing can be provided by the family but will be served in a wash basin/bowl.

Here’s a few places that we highly recommend based on the quality of the rooms and facilities, cleanliness, standard of service, and locations. These aren’t always the cheapest hotels, but they are among the best hotels in their category.

Hotel Druk, Thimpu

Hotel Druk has been in operation since 1985 and has been renovated to give it a modern Bhutanese style that is powerfully felt in uncluttered spaces. Each floor, differently inspired, explores a subtle palette drawn from water, air, earth, fire and sky. Every room includes a balcony with city views. This property is centrally heated and cooled and includes a spa, fitness center, and bar. It’s a great, mid-range option with a great location in the center of Thimpu.

Visas

Both US and Canadian citizens must have a visa to enter Bhutan, which must be arranged through a tour operator like Red Lantern Journeys and must be shown when you check in to your Druk Air flight into Bhutan. We’ll provide complete instructions.

 

Covid-19 Restrictions – As of March 10, 2021

Currently, no tourists are allowed via land or air. There is no time frame for opening. Our best guess is that it will be open by the fall of 2021.

Bhutan plans to vaccinate the entire eligible population of 533,000 in a one-week period starting March 18th, 2021, though the exact dates could change.

The country has recorded less than 900 positive cases with a 99.76 percent recovery rate and only one death (of a terminally ill patient).

Common Questions and Answers about Bhutan

 

Where is Bhutan?

Bhutan is a small, landlocked nation located in the eastern Himalayas between India and the Tibetan portion of China. Its landscape ranges from subtropical plains and forests in the South to subalpine forests and snowy mountains of the Himalaya.

 

What are the benefits of a private tour?

There are so many that it’s hard to quantify, but here’s a few major benefits: 1) the tour is customized for your interests, which means you get to see and do the things you’re most interested in. 2) you’re not running on a fixed daily schedule, which means you have flexibility to stay as long as you want or move on early from something or even skip it altogether if that’s what you decide on the spot. 3) We’re able to design the activities at popular sights to avoid the crowds!

 

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

Yes, it is a government regulation that you must use a licensed tour operator to book your travel to Bhutan or one of their international partners–such as Red Lantern Journeys.

 

Do I need a visa to enter Bhutan?

Yes, all international tourists wishing to enter Bhutan require a visa which must be pre-arranged through a license tour operator or one of their international partners. Visa clearance must be obtained through your tour operator prior to travel. Red Lantern Journeys provides this service.

 

How much does the visa cost?

International tourist visas cost USD $40. This can only be paid in advance to your tour operator. Red Lantern Journeys includes this cost in the tour cost.

 

How do I get to Bhutan?

Flights to Bhutan are only via Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai.  At present only two carriers operate flights to Bhutan, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. It’s best to book your flight through your tour operator as they will be able to efficiently make changes if necessary.

Also, there are three land border crossings for overland travel into the kingdom from India. These include: Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.

 

What does the daily tour package include?

The basic package includes 3 star accommodations/lodges, 3 daily meals, an experienced guide and transportation within the country. Also included in the price is a $65 per day Sustainable Development Fee that goes towards free education, free healthcare and poverty alleviation. It does not include the cost of upgraded hotels and meals in those hotels. Red Lantern Journeys packages also include unique activities, meetings with local experts, monks, and local festivals.

 

What currency is used in Bhutan?

Bhutanese currency is known as the Ngultrum. Its value is tied to the Indian Rupee on a one-to-one basis, which is also widely accepted in the country.

 

Is there a limit on the number of tourists that can enter Bhutan each year?

There is no limit on the number of tourists allowed to visit in a year. In order to protect our culture, traditions and natural environment, the government has adopted a unique policy of “High Value, Low Impact ”. This policy is aimed at attracting discerning tourists that will respect the unique culture and values of the Bhutanese people while also providing the visitors with an unforgettable one of a kind experience.

 

What’s the food like in Bhutan?

The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillies are an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that is not spicy.

Rice forms a staple of the Bhutanese diet. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are consumed most often. A wide selection of western and Indian food is also available in many of the restaurants and hotels around the country.

 

What are the typical costs of your Bhutan private tours?

If booking a private tour with us, costs can range from $300/day/person for staying in our preferred 3-star quality hotels to over $500/day/person in high-end luxury hotels. Staying in updgraded hotels can cost an average of $400 to $700/day/person. These cost estimates include not just accommodation, but also internal flights, airport transfers, tours and activities, entrance fees, private guides, and private vehicles with driver.

 

Is the water safe to drink?

No. It’s generally best to avoid tap water and use bottled or purified water in hotels to drink…and brush your teeth.

 

Is it possible to use my mobile phone in Bhutan?

It’s best to check your mobile plan to see if it has a roaming agreement with one of the two operators in Bhutan. If not, it’s possible to buy a local SIM card to install in your unlocked phone.  There are two GSM network providers in Bhutan. First is the government owned B-mobile (Bhutan Telecom) and second is the private Tashi Cell. Network coverage is better with B-mobile. We recommend getting B-mobile, especially if you’re traveling to less developed areas. You can purchase special short validity tourist SIM cards from the mobile operator office or from any authorized dealer in larger towns like Paro or Thimphu. You will need your passport photo page scan (sometimes they can make copy in the shop) and 200 Ngultrum (Nu). Getting a SIM card purchased and activated will not take more than 15 minutes. Your guide will assist you.

 

What electrical adapters are needed?

The entire country is well connected with electricity and electrical outlets in Bhutan supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts with a frequency of 50 hz. Take an international adapter that will fit 3 round prongs or 2 round prongs (Types C and D). Luxury hotels will have outlets that accept international plugs.

Call us at 206-568-0710 or fill out the form below. We’ll get back to you within 1 business day!

Please provide as much information as you can so we can generate some ideas before contacting you. For example:

  • Number of travelers – adults and children with ages
  • When you want to travel – are your dates fixed or flexible?
  • Destinations of interest – country or countries, plus destinations within a country
  • Activities of interest – like beaches, wildlife, hiking, shopping, art, local culture, adventure, etc.
  • Purpose of trip and Special Occasions – holiday, honeymoons, important birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
  • Approximate budget per person

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