Rufous-bellied woodpeckers, spotted nutcrackers, white-bellied herons, hill mynas, sparrow hawks: these are just a few of the rare birds you're likely to spot on this 10-day trip around Bhutan. The itinerary leads you through various avian habitats in the valleys of Thimphu, Punakha, and Paro, stopping to visit temples and cultural monuments along the way. After more than a week of birdwatching, you'll trek to the world-famous Tiger's Nest Monastery to finish the trip.

Highlights

  • Spot the elusive Rufous-fronted tit in the wild 
  • Take a scenic hike to the Lungchutse Monastery
  • Search for the ibisbill in the Thimphu Valley
  • Trek to the legendary Tiger's Nest Monastery
  • Enjoy a day of cultural sightseeing in the capital of Thimphu

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Thimphu Thimphu
Day 2 Explore Bird Habitats in the Thimphu Valley Thimphu
Day 3 Sightsee in Thimphu Thimphu
Day 4 Take a Scenic Drive to the Punakha Valley Punakha
Day 5 Search for Birds in the Punakha Valley Punakha
Day 6 Drive from Punakha to Phobjika Phobjika
Day 7 Go Birding on the Way to the Paro Valley Paro
Day 8 Visit Bhutan's Oldest Temple Paro
Day 9 Hike to the Tiger's Nest Monastery Paro
Day 10 Depart   

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Thimphu

A blue-fronted redstart perches on a tree branch, Bhutan

Welcome to Bhutan! Arrive at the airport in Paro, then head straight for Bhutan's capital city: Thimphu. The best birding areas in the capital are suburbs like Upper-Motithang and the northern end of the valley (Cheri, Doedena, and Begana), so stow your bags at the hotel and venture outside the city center for an afternoon of birdwatching.

Start with the Upper-Motithang area, a good place to see species like the Rufous-fronted tit. Sparrow hawks, Rufous-bellied woodpeckers, hoopoes, Nepal house martin, and hill myna are also common here. In between birdwatching, visit the Tashichu Dzong and the Giant Buddha Statue before heading back to your hotel for the night.

Day 2: Explore Bird Habitats in the Thimphu Valley

Bhutan's capital city, Thimphu, in the foothills of the Himalayas

Rise early on your second day in Bhutan for a pleasant drive through the rich vegetation of fir, pine, rhododendron, and apple trees just outside Thimphu. The red-billed chough is seen frequently in this area, so keep an eye out on the way. Make your way to the northern end of the Thimphu Valley, where chances are high that you'll see ibisbills, common sandpipers, crested-pie kingfishers, red-rumped swallows, long-tailed minivets, grey wagtails, yellow-billed blue magpies, spotted nutcrackers, white-bellied erpornis, black-browed tits, upland pipits, and many more.

Day 3: Sightsee in Thimphu

Bhutanese children in Thimphu

Take a break from birdwatching to visit prominent sights around Thimphu. The capital has endless sights for visitors to explore while here, including the Traditional Art School, the Indigenous Hospital, and the Nunnery at Zilukha. After a break for lunch, continue on to other attractions such as the Takin Sanctuary (where you'll see the national animal of Bhutan), Zangdopelri Temple, Changangkha Monastery, Simtokha Dzong, the Textile Museum, and the National Stadium.

Day 4: Take a Scenic Drive to the Punakha Valley

The view from Dochu La Pass

After an early breakfast, make your way east, stopping at the Dochu La Pass. On a clear day, the pass offers breathtaking vistas of the entire Himalayan mountain range on the border between Bhutan and Tibet. The area around the pass is also a birding haven. Lace up your boots and hike through a forest of fir, birch, and rhododendron, where various birds species thrive, making your way up to Lungchutse Monastery. The most prized sighting in this area is Ward’s trogon. Other birds that you may encounter include spotted nutcracker, large hawk-cuckoo, Darjeeling woodpecker, yellow-billed magpie, chestnut-tailed minla, white-collared blackbird, ultramarine flycatcher, and brown bullfinch.

In the afternoon, descend into the bird-rich subtropical valley of Punakha. Before you get there, make a brief stop to explore the edge of the forest and agricultural land in a nearby village. Sub-tropical species most likely to be seen here are the red-headed trogon, wedge-tailed Pigeon, fire-capped tit, white-gorgeted flycatcher, the rare yellow-vented warbler, magpie robin, green magpie, and osprey. 

Day 5: Search for Birds in the Punakha Valley

A river running through the Punakha Valley

Punakha is one of the lowest places in this part of Bhutan and has a subtropical climate. Following an old trail along the bank of the Mo Chhu River, explore its bank and surrounding vegetation. This area is renowned for the critically endangered white-bellied heron. Further up the road, pause to visit the impressive Punakha Dzong, arguably the most beautiful dzong (a kind of fortress) in Bhutan.

Then make your way into the forests of the upper Punakha Valley where bay woodpeckers, red-headed trogons, wedge-tailed pigeons, fire-capped tits, white-gorgeted flycatchers, rare yellow-vented warblers, magpie robins, green magpies, ospreys, river lapwings, ruddy shelducks, and Eurasian wigeons dart into and out of sight along riverbanks and villages. Keep an eye out for a variety of skulkers that also call this region home, including the spotted elachura and pygmy cupwing, and two of Bhutan’s three species of tesia. 

Day 6: Drive from Punakha to Phobjika

Prayer flags symbolizing peace, health, and good wishes 

Wave farewell to Punakha, passing ruins and the construction site of Wangdi Prodang Dzong as you depart for Phobjikha. Along the way, stop often to explore the edge of a river channel, scanning the forests for flycatchers and wedge-tailed green pigeons. This area is also home to the scarlet finch, black drongo, chestnut-bellied nuthatch, slaty-backed forktail, gorgeted flycatcher, white-throated laughingthrush, Eurasian jay, wedge-tailed green pigeon, mountain imperial pigeon, verditer flycatcher, and more.

If you're traveling between October and March, famed black-neck cranes await in the wild. In the second half of the afternoon, stop at the Black-Neck Crane Center and, if time permits, take a leisurely walk in the glacial Phobjika Valley, where white-throated laughingthrushes, mountain imperial pigeons, slaty-backed forktails, rusty-flanked tree creepers, white-browed bush robins, and white-winged grosbeaks make their home. While you're here, don't miss the century-old Gangtey Monastery overlooking the valley.

Day 7: Go Birding on the Way to the Paro Valley

Looking down at the Paro Valley

Say goodbye to Phobjikha and its cranes as you drive east to Pele La Pass, where the morning is the best time to spot the area's most beloved birds: satyrs tragopan, blood pheasant, khalij pheasant, Himalayan monal, yellow-billed magpie, chestnut-tailed minla, white-collared blackbird, and ultramarine flycatcher. Then head back to the car for a leisurely drive — with many birding stops along the way — to Paro. The most elusive find on this drive is the shriek babbler.

Day 8: Visit Bhutan's Oldest Temple

The country's oldest temple, Kichu Lhakhang

Start your first morning in Paro with a walk along the Po Chu riverbank to the Drukyul Dzong area, where you're likely to spot various species of birds, including fire-capped tits, spotted laughing thrush, and brown dipper. Later, visit cultural attractions like the Buddhist monasteries Rinpung Dzong and Ta Dzong as well as Bhutan’s oldest temple, Kichu Lhakhang.

Day 9: Hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery

The picturesque Tiger's Nest Monastery

Get an early start on your hike to the iconic Tiger's Nest Monastery (Taktsang Monastery) for your best chance of spotting the area's most unique birds. This is one of Bhutan's most popular hiking trails, which means the later you hike, the more crowded it becomes — and the more birds steer clear. So start with the sunrise and keep your eyes open for brown dippers, spotted laughingthrushes, and fire-capped tits.

In the afternoon, visit another of the Paro Valley's best birding areas: the banks of the Paro River. The most common bird here is the ibisbill, which is found throughout the year. Other birds likely to make an appearance include black-faced laughingthrushes, brown dippers, spotted laughingthrushes, and fire-capped fits. In the late afternoon, head back to Paro for your last dinner of the trip.

Day 10: Depart 

A mother and child in rural Bhutan

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your onward journey. Safe travels!

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