With the recently passed tourism bill in Bhutan (June 24, 2022) the entire industry is in a bit of an uncertain state making some of the information on this page no longer relevant. I have worked through and removed the items that are no longer relevant. My apologies if something seems unclear, we are going through a rather disruptive time.
Length of Trip
As you can see from the trip calculator, the price is going to be highly dependent on the number of nights that you stay in Bhutan so you will likely be trying to visit Bhutan as long as possible against the cost of the trip.
What is the absolute minimum number of days to see Bhutan?
Staying just one night in Bhutan is not going to be useful, because if your flight reaches late afternoon and your departing trip is early the next morning, you are probably not going to see anything except for the airport and hotel. I guess if you were just visiting Bhutan and wanted to check off that you visited the country it could work, but there is more to Bhutan than just landing at the airport and then leaving the next day.
Could you manage to see things with 2 nights stay? I suppose if your goal is only to visit Taksang and not much else, you could probably reach one day see a couple of things in Paro, rise early the next morning and quickly do the hike to Taksang. Then drive to Thimphu and see either Buddha Point or the National Chorten. The third day would be heading back to the airport and unless your flight was in the late afternoon the third day is not helpful. We actually had one guest stay for just two nights like this; they wanted to sample Red Panda beer as part of their trip, so we bought them a bottle of the beer and they drank it while climbing to Taksang!
Three nights would give at least a bit of a breather but to be honest 4 nights is the minimum that we recommend and we have organized a number of tour groups from Thailand doing this sort of basic itinerary but it does mean a lot of time in car especially if you include Punakha as part of the tour. With a 4-night trip you should really only consider Paro and Thimphu, but Punakha could be squeezed in as a very long day trip. A 5-night itinerary will make things considerably more relaxed and enjoyable.
Pick the Destination and Activities
While any tour operator can take a request for a 6-day trip and give you an itinerary, it is probably a much better trip if you provide the tour operator with a list of activities that you are interested in and then let the tour operator can assemble an itinerary. If the itinerary turns out to be too long or too short, then it can be adjusted. If you leave the entire trip to the operator, they might send you to more monasteries whereas you might have preferred doing more hikes. Don’t be afraid to tell the tour operator what you want to see; remember that this is your trip, you don’t have to take just what the tour operator thinks you might be interested in.
In Bhutan there are three primary things that you will see: nature, monasteries and dzongs. The nature views (mostly mountains and valleys) are spectacular (providing it is cloudy). The dzongs and monasteries are quite interesting to visit when you first arrive because you have probably never experienced anything like this before. However if you are in Bhutan for 6 days and each day you are visiting a Dzong and a few Monasteries, you might wonder why you spent the money to stay in Bhutan for so many days just to see the same types things over and over again! This is why you should spend some time first and read about the destinations so that you are seeing things that you will find more interesting. One group who visited Bhutan through us, met us in person (sometimes it is possible to meet us before trip) and reviewed the proposed itinerary and told us to skip the Ta Dzong museum because they didn’t like museums…it was sort of a surprise to us because we had always included that museum as part of our tours.
Please check my page “Things to see in Bhutan”. I’ve made the list from our itineraries but it is mostly a simple list at the moment. Some of the activities have pages with a description and photos but this is a very slow and ongoing process that I will be working on over the next year. However, if you take the name of the activity/destination and put it into Google, you will find lots of information, photos and reviews from places like Trip Advisor.
I suggest copying my list (I’ve provided the GoogleSheet) into your own GoogleSheets or Excel and adding a “Yes”, “No” or “Maybe” column. Then you can mail the list to the tour operator and tell them to give you a tour that hits each of these items. Then it is the tour operator’s job to figure out the order or if it is even practical to see the items in the trip duration requested.
When you are booking trips to other destinations, the hotels are usually chosen and then booked directly by you. When you are booking a trip to Bhutan, the tour operator has to do the actual booking, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t be involved in the choosing; after all it is your trip.
Tour operators have their own preferred hotels that tend to be used most often. The tour operator frequently with the 3-star hotels and receive a preferential rate and the tour operator will be trying to reduce costs as much as possible. However, just because the tour operator has a preferred hotel doesn’t mean that you have to use that specific hotel. You, as the traveler, have all the rights in to specify a particular hotel that you have researched. If a tour operator refuses to use your hotel choice then you are allowed to move onto another operator Keep in mind that some hotels and category of rooms are going to be more expensive than others and your tour operator might agree to book a different hotel but at an increased price of your tour (the minimum is just the minimum). No tour operator is going to give you the $1500 per night 5-star hotel if all you are paying is the standard $250 per night. The $250 per night only guarantees only that you get put in some 3-star hotel but not all 3-star hotels are the same quality.
Also, be aware that if you request a certain hotel that the operator doesn’t work with on a regular basis, there could be some new cancelation policies or booking deposits that will be required.
We do have the occasional request from clients to be put into a specific hotels and if we think that the hotel is not kept up to date we will tell the clients. In the end however, we will book the clients into hotels if they specify.
When you are contacting a tour operator and you don’t specify a specific hotel then your tour operator will likely write “Any 3 star” or “Hotel X or similar” in the itinerary or they might not say anything at all. Just remember that unless it says specifically which hotel, then you are not guaranteed of anything except that it will be a 3-star hotel. When booking 4- or 5-star hotels, the prices vary dramatically so make sure, make sure that the itinerary says exactly which hotel is being booked. You don’t want to be expecting the $200/night property but then end up getting the $80/night property; they might be still 4-star but location of the $80 hotel is likely to be less impressive.
We will be including breakfast in the hotel as part of our package. The lunch and dinner options will be left entirely up to you. You can talk to your guide about your preferences.
Picking a Package
Every tour operator will have a collection of tours of different lengths. If you are in a situation where you just don’t know where to start, pick one of the existing packages and see if it contains things that you want. If a tour operator doesn’t show a 5-night option on their website, don’t worry, they will create one for you. If the package is close but doesn’t cover all of your desires, then just ask and it will be amended.
If you read through my article on “How to Reach Bhutan from Here”, you will find out that you need to pick an arrival city which is usually Bangkok, Delhi, Kathmandu or Kolkata. Before contacting the tour operator, it is a helpful idea to at least think about which of these cities you will be transiting through because it can allow the operator to plan the itinerary based on typical arrival times in Bhutan. If you don’t know which of these cities to use, just tell the tour operator and they can maybe help you decide or just leave it open while you work on the Bhutan part of the tour.
Guide and Driver
This is one place that you generally don’t have much choice and you have to go with the tour operator’s decision. All of the guides in Bhutan are licensed and go through a guide training course and therefore should knowledgeable and their ability to speak English will be good. If there is a serious problem with the guide let your tour operator know as soon as possible and generally the guide will be switched out.
Some tour operators employ their own guides full time but most of the guides in Bhutan are operating freelance and are used by multiple tour operators as work becomes available. We do have some repeat customers who request certain guides to be used if available.
The transportation is similar to the guides. When there are just 1 or 2 guests, we tend to use small SUVs like the Sante Fe or Creta. If the group size gets a little bit bigger, then a Toyota HiAce van is used. If the group size exceeds the size of the van then we have to book a Coaster Bus.
Picking a Bhutan Tour Operator
I’ll assume now that you have done your basic research either have selected the number of days, found an itinerary online that you like, or you have a list of:
- Things you want to see or experience
- Hotel requirements if you want to be involved with the choice
- Any food desires
- The transit city
- The target number of days
Now you have to go through the most difficult part of the process…picking a tour operator (or several) to try and develop the final itinerary.