Planning Your Trip to Bhutan
Bhutan is relatively compact yet rugged and mountainous. Most visitors concentrate their time in the fairly accessible western regions, where it's possible to have a more or less complete Bhutan experience in as short as five days.
You can enjoy an enriching immersion in Bhutanese cultural and natural attractions in five days by focusing on the region around the capital city and its neighboring valleys chock-full of ancient monasteries. You'll have time to explore the highlights of Thimphu and the Punakha and Paro valleys, including a hike to the iconic Tiger's Nest Monastery. Or you could opt instead for a quickie five-day hike in the Himalayas, such as the Dargala "Thousand Lakes" trek.
Up to 10 days in Bhutan would let you explore further afield or enjoy a more concentrated experience, such as birding. Bhutan is a birdwatching paradise, and you could check off scores of Himalayan species on your wish list during a 10-day birding itinerary in Thimphu, Punakha, Paro, and Phobjikha (Gangtrey) valleys. October through February are particularly good for birding, as black cranes flock to Gangtrey.
With two weeks or longer to play with, you can include eastern Bhutan in your exploration, taking in all the major cultural sites of the country by flying to Bumthang and making the overland journey west back to Thimpu and Paro. Or mount up for a 15-day cycling adventure through several valleys in western Bhutan, including more off-the-beaten-track routes. And October through May, trekking enthusiasts might splurge on a complete month-long sojourn in the high Himalayas as they follow the acclaimed "Snowman Trek" along the Bhutan-Tibet border.
Bhutan in 5-6 Days
Despite its small size, Bhutan is a mountainous Himalayan country, and domestic travel can eat up considerable time if you plan on spanning the country. Nonetheless, you can experience most of what makes Bhutan unique in as little as five days by focusing on western Bhutan or as part of a multi-country itinerary that includes one or two of Bhutan's neighbors. Short-stay vacations are especially suited to short treks and other special-theme journeys.
For example, this six-day Bhutan Highlights itinerary hits all the must-see sites around Thimpu (the capital city) and the surrounding valleys. In Thimpu, you'll discover how traditional lifestyles coexist with modernity and check off such sites as the Giant Golden Buddha and the Tashicho Dzong. Then drive over the Dochu La pass to the semi-tropical Punakha Valley, the former winter capital of the Kingdom, including visiting 17th-century Punakha Dzong. Finally, in the verdant Paro Valley, you'll hike to the iconic Tiger's Nest Monastery, perched on a mountainside.
If you fancy a quick trek in the Himalayas, check out this five-day Dagala Trek itinerary. It leads you through the "Thousand Lakes" region (one of Bhutan's most beautiful regions), with views of Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest and nights spent camping under the stars. Arriving in Thimphu, you'll transfer to Gyenekha to begin trekking through yak pastures and the Labatama Valley to Uthso Tsho Lake, then along the western side of Dala Tsho to a summit (14,829 feet/4,520 m) with staggering views. On your final day, you'll descend the Tale La Pass to Chamgang, then return to Paro for your departure.
Check out this article for more five-day itinerary options.
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Bhutan in 7-10 days
One week to 10 days is an ideal time to spend in Bhutan and permits you to explore more of its natural beauty and distinctly preserved culture.
With this seven-day culture and outdoor adventure in Bhutan, you can explore the best of the country's natural wonders and cultural highlights in depth. Start in Thimphu, including the Memorial Chorten and giant Buddha Dordenma statue, then head to Punakha for rafting down the Po Chu River and an evening prayer ceremony at a local Buddhist nunnery. You'll also hike through rhododendron forest to Lungchutse Goemba temple and Trashigang Goemba monastery, cycle via the cliffside temples of Dzongdrakha to Paro, and hike to the Tiger's Nest Monastery to round out this exciting active adventure.
Ornithologists can opt for this 10-day Bhutan Birding itinerary, featuring guided trips to the country's top avian habitats, including in the Thimphu, Punakha, Paro, and Phobjikha valleys. Expect to spot such species as Rufous-bellied woodpeckers, Nepal house martin, Himalayan mona, and red-rumped swallows. In-between birding, you'll visit Tashichu Dzong and the Giant Buddha Statue in Thimphu, Punakha Dzong, and Lungchutse Monastery in Punakha, plus the Black-Neck Crane Center and Gangtey Monastery in Gangtrey, among other top sites. You'll also get to hike to the Tiger's Nest Monastery, of course.
This 10-day Bhutan Trails, Wildlife & Culture itinerary provides a complete perspective of this Himalayan Shangri-La. You'll take in the top sites around Thimpu, then head over the Dochu La Pass to Gangtrey for hiking in the Phobjikha Valley, including to the Black-necked Crane Centre and Gangtey Gompa. Then explore Punakha's top sites before a day hiking to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Monastery—a prelude to a longer hike from Chele La Pass down through rhododendron forest to Kila Goemba nunnery and the Paro Valley. Before hiking to the Tiger's Nest Monastery, you'll visit the top sites.
Bhutan in 2 Weeks and More
With two weeks or longer, you can head to the further reaches of Bhutan, exploring several regions in-depth while gaining a more immersive experience of the local culture at a more relaxed pace.
With this 14-day Culture & Trails of Western & Central Bhutan itinerary, you'll combine short day hikes with such must-see iconic attractions as Tiger's Nest Monastery in the Paro Valley. You'll also visit off-the-beaten-track regions, beginning with a flight to Bumthang, a major religious hub centered on the Tang Valley. You'll then drive west via Gangtrey, where you'll hike the Gangtey Nature Trail before continuing to Punakha, with a hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Monastery. After two days around Thimpu, you'll hike in the remote Haa Valley, then return to Paro via the Chele La Pass.
Despite being mountainous, Bhutan is easily explored by bicycle along little-trafficked roads. Cyclists can check out this 15-day cycling adventure, which begins with a Tiger's Nest Monastery hike before heading to the Haa Valley to start bicycling. You'll combine homestays and farm stays with camping, plus top-site visits, as you cycle east via Dobji Dzong and through the Punakha Valley, then remote Chuzomza and over the Lawa La Pass into the lovely Gangtey Valley to ride the old Gangtey trekking trail. Finally, you'll ease up for a downhill ride to the Wangdue Valley en route back to Paro.
With an entire month at your disposal, you can tackle the "Snowman Trek" on this 30-day Himalayan trekking itinerary. Considered one of the world's finest treks, your challenging 24-day hike is bookended by short hikes to Tiger's Nest Monastery and visits to the must-see sites around Thimphu and Paro. Beginning on Day 4, the trek accesses the remote region of Lunana. It crosses 10 high passes over 14,700 feet (4,500 m) as you follow the Bhutan-Tibet border along yak herder trails, with stops at secluded mountain hamlets and tiny Buddhist monasteries that few visitors ever get to see.
Check out this article for more two-week itinerary ideas.
More Great Bhutan Itineraries
Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Bhutan? Check out these other Bhutan itineraries, with outdoor adventures, cultural trips, and best-of tours to hit the highlights.