A mountain kingdom home to one of the world’s most famous monasteries – the widely-known Tiger’s Nest, clinging precariously to cliffs in the upper Paro Valley – Bhutan is a bucket-list destination for many, and it’s easy to see why. Here, traditional Buddhist culture combines with a modern approach to life, and breathtaking landscapes are dotted with trees. In fact, there’s a law in Bhutan that states at least 60% of its landmass must be forested, a figure that currently stands at over 70%, and it is also a carbon neutral destination.
The country’s capital – and largest city – is Thimphu, a location that retains its cultural identity while offering the visitor an array of modern conveniences, such as a variety of restaurants, internet cafés and even shopping centres. Curiously, Thimphu has no traffic lights and vehicles are instead directed by policemen at certain intersections, through the use of exaggerated hand movements.
There is no ‘best time’ to visit Bhutan as each season offers something different to the intrepid traveller. In spring, you’ll be able to feast your eyes upon vibrant rhododendrons in bloom. From October to January, temperatures will be cooler with sunny, clear skies, making for pleasant touring weather. Summer in the country tends to bring with it humidity and monsoons.
- Visa - You will, of course, require a valid passport to both enter and exit Bhutan. Additionally, you will need a visa, but they are only issued on arrival. For this, you must apply in advance through a tour operator and you will then receive visa approval before your scheduled travel date. It is advised to retain a photocopy of your passport visa pages and flight ticket as well as your original documents while travelling. All tourist visas are approved from the capital, Thimphu, and are only issued to tourists who have booked with a local licensed tour operator, either directly or through a foreign travel agent.
- Currency - In Bhutan, the currency is the Ngultrum, which has the symbol of Nu.
- How to Dress - If you’re travelling between March and July, it’s likely you’ll encounter hot weather and humidity, so layers will be essential. Bhutan is prone to rain, so be sure to pack waterproofs and maybe an umbrella. It’s advisable to pack a good pair of walking shoes, we would recommend you bring a camera and it might be an idea to bring a decently sized backpack with you to bring for each day’s touring. Women also tend to wear long-sleeved tops and long skirts, so be mindful of being respectful of the country’s customs.
- Cultural Differences - It may be useful to know that the buying and selling of tobacco products in Bhutan is illegal, and that smoking in public spaces is also strictly prohibited. Be sure to dress respectfully in the country, especially when entering temples or dzongs. If you are a member of the LGBT community, we would advise you to check the FCO’s official advice for this destination, as its attitudes might be different than what you’re used to. Bhutan is considered to be a safe place with little crime, making it ideal for both female and solo travellers, and the pace typically tends to be slower than what most will be accustomed to. The main meats eaten in Bhutan are poultry, yak, beef, fish and pork, but rice and corn are also considered to be staple foods. Vegetarians should be well catered for in Bhutan.
- Language - Dzongkha is the official language of Bhutan, but there are many other dialects within this and English is both widely spoken and written.
- Tipping -Tipping isn’t something ingrained into Bhutanese society, but with tourism it has become part of a typical visit. 10% of total bills is a good amount and sometimes 10% Bhutan Sales Tax might be added to a bill already, so it’s always wise to check before you pay.