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Often referred to as the last Shangri-La, Bhutan has been an intriguing destination for travelers since this tiny, land-locked kingdom officially opened up to tourism in 1974. Never having been colonized, Bhutan has retained its pristine landscapes, traditional architecture, and distinct culture for centuries. Spirituality is still sacred here, with the predominant religion of Buddhism influencing many aspects of life.
Join us on this journey where we explore both Bhutan’s dramatic landscapes and fascinating Buddhist culture. We hike through lush river valleys with snow capped, sacred mountains looming in the distance, share tea and conversation with young monks at a local monastery, partake in guided meditation sessions in centuries old temples, and learn about Bhutan’s fascinating Gross National Happiness concept by speaking with a local expert. Many more once-in-a-lifetime experiences await you in the Land of the Thunder Dragon!
Arrival in Bhutan; transfer to Thimphu
Welcome to Bhutan! We land in Paro at Bhutan's only international airport. We are met by our local guide and transferred to Thimphu, home of the royal family. Before becoming Bhutan's official national capital city in 1961, Thimphu was a simple, rural farming valley. Small and secluded, it is unlike any other world capital. The city is quiet, and may be the only capital in the world without a traffic light.
We enjoy a short hike to stretch our legs after our travels. Our destination is Great Buddha Dordenma, the gigantic golden Shakyamuni Buddha statue perched above Thimphu. This imposing statue commemorates the Bhutanese monarchy and fulfills two prophecies—one claiming such a statue would be built in the area to bestow blessings, peace, and happiness on the entire world.
Zhiwa Ling AscentThimphu, Bhutan
Located outside the city center on 25 acres bordering the Motithang Takin Preserve, Zhiwa Ling Ascent is a retreat from the hustle and bustle and welcomes guests to relax in a park-like setting with panoramic views of the countryside. The hotel’s spacious rooms were designed to maximize natural light and the superb scenery. Guests may enjoy a juice bar, massage, and yoga.
Mandala making; traditional medicine
We begin our day with a traditional cleansing ceremony led by a local monk. After enjoying breakfast at a local farmhouse, the monk teaches us about the mandala, an aid used in focusing the mind during meditation. Mandalas are common in religions throughout the world, and the monk shares specifically how Bhutanese mandalas are made and their popular themes. We have a chance to try our hand at making our own colorful creations, before destroying them as part of the Buddhist concept of impermanence.
We also visit the Institute of Traditional Medicine's museum to learn about the medicinal properties of various Himalayan plants and animals. These have played a role in the health and well-being of the Bhutanese people for centuries.
This evening before dinner, we enjoy a private yoga session before attending an informal cultural teaching delivered by a local expert on Bhutan's remarkable Gross National Happiness concept, an opportunity to learn more about Bhutan's unique culture.
Lungchuzeykha Temple Hike
Today we transfer to the Punakha Valley, our home for the next two nights. En route, we cross the Dochula Pass (10,230'), which offers a great view of the eastern Himalayas. We stop and explore the meditation caves here, and after a guided meditation led by a local monk, we hike to Lungchuzeykha Temple. We take a slow, easy pace due to the elevation and are rewarded with near 360-degree views of the mountains surrounding this remote monastery. After soaking in the epic scenery during a picnic lunch, we return to Dochula Pass and continue our drive to Punakha.
On the road to Punakha, we stop in a small village for a short walk to the Chime Lhakang temple, dedicated to the Lama Drukpa Kunley, one of Bhutan's favorite saints. More commonly known as the "Divine Madman," Kunley traveled throughout Bhutan and Tibet using songs, humor, and outrageous behavior to dramatize his teachings, believing that the formality of the clergy and social conventions were keeping people from understanding true Buddhism.
Dhumra Farm ResortPunakha, Bhutan
Nestled amidst the green hills with an enviable view of the Punakha Dzong, Dhumra Farm Resort has been built with nature in mind, from the local building materials to the farm’s organic produce cooked in the traditional earthen oven. This small, boutique hotel is committed to providing guests with an extroadinary and authentic Bhutanese experience.
Today's adventure takes us north of Punakha to the Gasa District to experience an important part of Bhutanese health and wellness — the tsachu. These mineral hot springs are found throughout this small, mountainous country. The Bhutanese believe hot springs have healing powers making these sites not only a place of relaxation and well-being, but also of holy significance. Tsachus are often featured in Bhutanese folklore.
Our drive to Gasa is slow-going as the road is rough and infrequently traveled. Gasa is fairly remote, and few foreign travelers venture here.
Khamsung Yuley Namgyel Temple
We begin today's hike by first ascending a series of switchbacks to the Khamsung Yuley Namgyel Temple. From this modern temple, we are afforded grand views of the Mo Chu River Valley below. We then descend from the temple and follow a well-worn path down the valley through rice fields and small villages. Along the way we are rewarded with stunning views — the terraced rice paddies providing an exotic backdrop to the river below.
After enjoying a picnic lunch along the river, we continue our walk to the Punakha Dzong. Constructed in 1637, the Punakha Dzong was the second of Bhutan's dzongs and for many years it served as the seat of the government. Today it is the home to Bhutan's spiritual leader, the Chief Abbot Je Khempo, who resides here with 1,000 monks during the winter months.
Following our hike, we visit the Nalanda Buddhist Institute for a special opportunity to meet and chat with the young resident monks there. Those seeking further immersion may opt to stay overnight at the monastery. Guests will join the monks in their evening and early morning rituals and connect to Buddhism and a way of life few experience.
Before returning to Paro, we head to the Gyatshothang Farnhouse, a small working farm, for a glimpse of Bhutan's agrarian past. We are treated to a tour of the grounds by the owner, Aum Karma Yangchen, who tends to the land much like her ancestors did, growing produce and making cheese and butter from her milking cows. She also guides us in a cooking class, as we learn to make some classic Bhutanese dishes using ingredients picked fresh from Aum Karma's fields.
We bid the charming Punakha Valley farewell and drive west to Paro. If time allows, we may stop at the former Pangrizampa Monastery, now home to the College of Bhutanese Astrology.
Before dinner, we can enjoy an optional yoga class to recharge, rejuvenate, and stretch after today's drive.
Naksel Boutique Hotel & SpaParo, Bhutan
Naksel is an eco-friendly, community-based property—its traditional windows, mud-bricks, framework, and furniture were crafted in nearby Ngoba Village. Rooms feature in-floor heating and ensuite bathrooms, and guests may enjoy the onsite a restaurant, bar, and cozy coffee house.
Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery
This morning, we hike to the famous cliff-side hermitage called Taktsang — "Tiger's Nest" — a monastic retreat built into a sheer cliff face high above the Paro Valley. Our hike begins on the valley floor and is a steady uphill climb on a wide hiking trail that switchbacks through pine forests, with glimpses of Tiger's Nest along the way. We pass water-powered prayer wheels and mani stones, as well as a shrine where a high lama was supposedly born — all reminders that for many, this is not just a hike, but a spiritual pilgrimage. Legend has it that the Tibetan Buddhist saint, Padmasambhava, flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. We return to the valley floor, where we enjoy a trail side picnic lunch before heading back to our hotel.
We have some time this afternoon to unwind and relax after our hike, or perhaps stroll the Paro market before dinner.Our afternoon is free to unwind and relax after our hike. You may decide to try a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath or perhaps stroll the Paro market before dinner.
This evening, we celebrate our journey and what we have learned from this amazing country and its warm and welcoming people.
Departure from Paro
We are transferred to the airport in time for our departing flight as we begin our journey home or continue to other exciting destinations.
Please note that this is a typical itinerary, and actual activities may vary due to weather conditions, local events, and to allow serendipity to play a hand in your experience. Accommodations are as outlined in the itinerary, although we reserve the right to change these or the order visited should the need arise.
Apr 7-14, 2021
Oct 8-15, 2021
$4,595 Per Person
First two reserved:$45
See single supplement policy below.
Accommodations (hotels, tents, cruise cabins) are based on double occupancy. A single supplement is paid by participants who specifically request single accommodations, subject to availability. If you reserve at least 120 days prior to departure, you may be eligible for a reduced or free single supplement.* This is generally limited to the first one or two solo travelers to reserve, and the reduction is outlined in the pricing for each trip. Please note, free or reduced single supplements are not combinable with other offers or promotions.
If you are traveling alone and wish to share accommodations, we will try to match you with a roommate of the same gender. If you reserve at least 120 days ahead and a roommate is not available, you will only be charged a “forced” single supplement in the amount of 50% of the standard single supplement* (unless otherwise noted in the detailed itinerary). Single accommodations are limited so you are encouraged to reserve early!
*This may not apply to certain trips with unique accommodation arrangements. Please see specific trip information for more details.
Boundless Journeys trips are designed for energetic and flexible individuals who like to be active and have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. This trip is rated 2, easy to moderate, on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the most strenuous). The walks and hikes on this trip are easy to moderate, generally from 2-5 hours in length, with minimal vehicle support. Some of the hikes will involve some steep ascents and descents, however the terrain is not technical. A few days involve drives on narrow, winding roads.
Most Convenient Airport: Bangkok International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand (airport code BKK)
Meeting Time and Place:Your Boundless Journeys guide will meet you at the Paro, Bhutan airport upon the arrival of your flight from Bangkok (other regional airports upon request).
Departure Time and Place:Paro, Bhutan in time for the departure of your flight to Bangkok (other regional airports upon request).
The mountainous areas of Bhutan have pronounced rainy and dry seasons. The driest weather and clearest skies are typically in October and November and it is the harvest season. During March through May, beautiful flowers are in bloom and it is the panting and ploughing time of year. The months of December through February are clear and cool (can be below freezing at night) and it is the shoulder season, so you will encounter fewer visitors. June through August is the monsoon season and it is generally not recommended to travel to Bhutan at this time of year. You may obtain more detailed weather information at www.weatherbase.com.
Bhutan is generally delightful for hiking in the spring and fall. The driest weather and clearest skies are typically in late September, October and November. In the months of March, April and May, beautiful flowers are in bloom, and you will encounter fewer travelers.
Our trip begins and ends in Paro, which is situated at 7,300' in the foothills of the Himalayas. Our hotel in Thimphu is at approximately 7,500'. We then move to the Punakha Valley, which offers a relatively low elevation of approximately 4,300'. Our walks and hikes will take place at elevations from 4,300' to 12,500'. There is time to move at a comfortable pace, allowing the group to adjust to the altitude and mountain air. Staying well-hydrated, avoiding excessive alcohol, eating frequent, light meals, and getting plenty of rest will help with any effects of altitude that you may feel.
This itinerary includes a combination of the standard and deluxe hotel options available in Bhutan. Although the hotels in Bhutan cannot be compared to international standards, they are comfortable and offer all necessary facilities. We believe that any inconveniences due to these modest accommodations are far outweighed by the unforgettable experience of visiting Bhutan. If you prefer to stay in luxury hotels, please contact us to discuss a private journey.
Due to the unique tourism policy in Bhutan, we are unable to confirm which hotels we will be using until four weeks prior to departure. The accommodations listed will most likely be what we can expect, but may alter due to availability.
It is important to reserve your trip early, as the airlines flying into Bhutan will only accept reservations with the full payment of the ticket. Therefore we are unable to hold group seats in advance of reservations. Seats can only be confirmed upon receipt of your deposit, as well as the payment of $850 for these flights (subject to change). Please contact our office with any questions regarding these important policies.
Although visiting Bhutan in many ways is like stepping back in time and has been a longtime favorite of Boundless Journeys’ travelers for this reason, it is important to understand that this evolving society is also eager to keep pace in the modern world. While the government is approaching the development of their country with sensitivity towards preserving the environment and culture, you can still expect to encounter some of the less positive signs of modernization. Some examples include: road construction projects that may hinder driving or cause noise and dust; litter in developed areas; and begging. We ask you to visit Bhutan with an open mind and leave any rigid expectations about the pristine nature of the country behind. It is important to embrace what you see and experience without judgment and recognize that Bhutan, just as any country, is struggling to be a part of this complex and rapidly changing world. We are confident that with this attitude, the Bhutan you experience will be a fascinating and memorable place.
Bhutanese dishes borrow elements of Indian and Chinese cuisine, however it is also unique in its style and tastes. One of the most distinguishing features of Bhutanese cuisine is the ubiquitous chili. The Bhutanese are passionate about chili; you will see them spread all over to dry - on the roadsides, on rooftops and in courtyards. Ema datse, a dish made with chilis and cheese, is a spicy favorite. Some excellent non-spicy options include kewa datse (potatoes and cheese sauce), and shamu datse (mushrooms with cheese sauce). Bhutanese also love momos. Though a Tibetan specialty, these dumplings now occupy a permanent place in Bhutanese cuisine. Chicken or pork momos are favored, but cheese momos are most common. Another important feature of this exotic cuisine is the use of rice, found in various forms in dishes ranging from breakfast to dinner.We do our best to offer a la carte meals at unique local establishments, however, options are quite limited in the smaller towns, so many of the meals will be served buffet-style at our hotels. There are usually continental, Bhutanese, Chinese, and Indian dishes served.
While we do our best to offer our guests the best possible meals and food available in Bhutan, it is important to know that the food there is basic and does not offer the variety and quality that we may be accustomed to at home. Please travel to Bhutan with an open mind and do not have high expectations in this regard and you will not be disappointed. Vegetarians can easily be accommodated with advance notice.
Kinley (or Kelley, as he is known among his Bhutanese coworkers) joined our local staff of guides after completing extensive training in 2006. Kinley is extremely knowledgeable about the local area and culture and is always determined to make each trip special by taking guests' personal interests into consideration to make the trip a richer experience.
Kinley has led many tours for Boundless Journeys and is a favorite among our guests for his friendly, down to earth manner. Guests have enjoyed his joyous, enthusiastic nature and commented on his deep love and respect for his country and its people.
As a cultural and trekking guide for almost a decade, Arun is both an experienced and knowledgeable leader for your adventure in Bhutan. A resident of the town of Sinchula, in the country’s southwest, Arun has completed five national guide trainings through the Bhutanese government, as well as an internship in Gross National Happiness—his country’s official well-being policy. When he’s not on the trail in Bhutan, Arun is an avid adventure traveler himself and enjoys playing soccer.
With a Boundless Journeys guide, your experience is that of friend and local adventurer. We believe strongly in working with local guides, experts in the areas to which we travel, and they hold the keys to unlocking the hidden delights of your chosen destination. Although you will never know they are at work—the mark of a truly great leader—our guides make magical things happen and add a dimension to your trip that you could not experience on your own. Over the years we have forged bonds with some of the best guides in the world, and we typically work with a small team of guides in each region. You will be informed of the guide for your trip one month prior to your departure.
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Reserve your 2021 adventure with the peace of mind of free cancellations through December 31, 2020 (conditions apply).