Enjoy centuries of traditions set amid views of forests and mountains with this trip through western Bhutan. You'll start in the capital city of Thimphu to experience Bhutanese traditions as they've evolved into the modern era, then descend into the glacial valley of Phobjikha, the winter home of the black-necked crane. End your journey in the emerald Paro valley with a hike up to the famous Tiger's Nest monastery in its cliffside home.

Highlights

  • Ascend to the famous mountainside Tiger's Nest Monastery
  • Visit Phobjikha, the valley of the cranes
  • See Kyichu Lhakhang, Bhutan's oldest temple
  • Hike through rhododendron forest to views of the Himalayas

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Paro & Drive to Thimphu Thimphu
Day 2 Sightseeing in Thimphu & Drive to Phobjikha Phobjikha
Day 3 Explore Phobjikha & Drive to Punakha Punakha
Day 4 Punakha to Paro via Dochu La Paro
Day 5 Hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery Paro
Day 6 Depart Paro  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Paro & Drive to Thimphu

Thimphu center
Thimphu center

Welcome to Bhutan! You'll arrive at the airport in Paro; the easiest connecting flights usually depart from Delhi, Kathmandu, or Bangkok.

Once you arrive, meet your guide at the airport and head to Thimphu, Bhutan's capital and largest city, roughly a 90-minute drive away. You'll visit the great Tashichho Dzong Buddhist monastery and fortress, as well as the National Memorial Chorten stupa and the Giant Buddha statue. Take in the views over the valley from the Giant Buddha as the sun sets, then head to your lodging in Thimphu for the evening.

Day 2: Sightseeing in Thimphu & Drive to Phobjikha

Phobjikha valley
Phobjikha valley

Your day starts in the capital with a half-day tour of Thimphu's cultural sites and monuments. Stops will vary depending on the day but are all compelling. Learn about traditional medicine at the Indigenous Hospital or experience the religious culture at the nunnery at Zilukha, Zangdopelri temple, Changangkha monastery, and Simtokha Dzong monastery. Arty stops may include the Traditional Art school, crafts workshop, Textile Museum, and weekend market. And if you stop at the Takin Sanctuary, you can meet the national animal of Bhutan.

After your tour and a stop for lunch, you'll get on the road to the Phobjikha valley. The road climbs to the Dochu La pass for mountain views to the north, then descends to the subtropical Punakha valley. Continue to the glacial valley of Phobjikha, and stop at the black-necked crane to learn about the birds that call the valley home before you retire for the night.

Day 3: Explore Phobjikha & Drive to Punakha

Punakha Dzong
Punakha Dzong

Set out for Phobjikha valley after breakfast with a visit to the Gangteng Monastery, also known as Gangtey Goemba. From there, you'll follow a nature trail down into the valley, reaching the wetlands at the valley bottom where the black cranes make their winter home. You have the option to stop in the valley or continue to nearby villages to visit local monasteries and farmhouses.

After your hike, drive about 2 hours to Punakha. You'll stop at a local house to cook lunch together, then visit the Punakha Dzong administrative center and considered one of the most beautiful dzongs in the country. All of Bhutan's kings have been crowned at Punakha, which seats at the confluence of two rivers. Head to Punakha town afterward to wander the market and attend the evening prayer ceremony at the nunnery before you turn in.

Day 4: Punakha to Paro via Dochu La

Monk enjoying the mountains
Monk enjoying the mountains

Get an early start on a short hike to Chimi Lhakhang temple, devoted to Bhutan's famous saint Drukpa Kuenley.

After your walk, get back in the car to drive to Dochu La pass, with views of the mountains of northern Bhutan in the distance along the natural boundary of the Tibetan plateau. The views only get better as you take another hike up to Lungchutse Lhakhang, roughly 1,640 feet (500 m) above the Dochu La pass. A two-hour hike through rich vegetation of moss, laden birch, hemlock, and rhododendrons trees, will bring you to the Lungchutse temple to enjoy the scenery and a picnic lunch.

Walk downhill for about an hour to the Trashigang Goenba retreat and monastic center, then meet your driver to continue to Paro, roughly another 2-hour drive away. Paro has plenty to see as well, including the Ta Dzong watchtower and National Museum, Rinphung Dzong fortress, and Dumtse Lhakhang temple, known to hold some of the finest murals in the kingdom.

Day 5: Hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery

Taktsang Goenba
Taktsang Goenba

Spend a full day hiking up to the famous Taktsang Goenba, also known as the Tiger's Nest monastery. You'll take a steep climb for 1-3 hours to bring you up to the monastery, a sacred Himalayan Buddhist site perched on the edge of a cliff.

Keep going beyond Taktsang to more remote monasteries such as Zangdopelri and Ugyen Tshemo for valley views and space all to yourself. Then return to Paro valley, where you'll visit Khyichu Lhakhang, Bhutan's oldest temple, and enjoy your final evening in Paro town.

Day 6: Depart Paro

Listen for the  bells
Listen for the bells

Wave goodbye to Bhutan after breakfast, with a transfer to the airport to catch your flight home or on to your next adventure.

Map

Map of Highlights of Western Bhutan - 6 Days
Map of Highlights of Western Bhutan - 6 Days
Bas
Written by Bas Naus, updated Feb 21, 2020