From the famous Tiger's Nest Monastery to the sleepy streets of Paro, visiting Bhutan is all about the simple pleasures of natural beauty and a distinctly preserved culture. Experience this long-isolated country's stunning mountains, colorful architecture, and lush countryside on this comprehensive 10-day tour.

Highlights

  • Hike a mountainside to the iconic Tiger's Nest Monastery
  • Witness a colourful Buddhist masked dance festival in Punakha
  • Enjoy the quiet streets of Bhutan's sleepy cities, Paro and Thimpu
  • Trek through river valleys, peaceful forests, and terraced farmland 

Brief Itinerary

Day 1 Sightseeing in Paro
Day 2 Hike to Tiger's Nest
Day 3 Drive to Haa Valley via the Chele La (Pass)
Day 4 Paro to Capcha
Day 5 Capcha to Thimphu
Day 6 Thimphu to Gangtey, Phobjikha Valley (128 km, 5 hours)
Day 7 Gangtey sightseeing and drive to Punakha (78 km, 3 hours)
Day 8 Punakha sightseeing (festival)
Day 9 Punakha sightseeing and drive to Paro
Day 10 Depart

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Sightseeing in Paro

The main street of Paro

Landing in the Paro Valley is a perfect entry into the other-world of Bhutan, with its pure air and feeling of serenity. Fields of green and brown cover most of the valley floor, while hamlets and isolated farms dot the landscape. Get settled and have lunch before paying a visit to the Paro Dzong, the 'Fortress of a Heap of Jewels.' Constructed in the early 15th century as a diminutive fort, it was developed into a much more commanding fortress in 1646. One of the kingdom’s finest examples of traditional Bhutanese architecture, the structure now houses a monastic school. 

On the return trip you'll cross Nyamai-Zam, a traditional wooden covered bridge which spans the Paro River. Perched above Paro Dzong is its watchtower renovated in 1968 to house the National Museum. The unusual round building is built in the shape of a conch shell, and its displays include an impressive collection of ancient and modern thangkas (Buddhist paintings) as well as fearsome festival masks. Later, visit the Kyichu Monastery, via the Drugyel Dzong ruins. It is one of the oldest monasteries in the country, built in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo. Spend your first night of the trip in Paro.

Day 2: Hike to the Tiger's Nest Monastery

The iconic Tiger's Nest Monastery

After breakfast, drive around 25 minutes to hike to one of Bhutan’s most revered pilgrimage sites, the Taktshang Lhakhang, popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. The trek offers spectacular views of this sacred monastery perched precariously on a sheer rock face nearly 3,000 feet (900 m) above the valley floor. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche, father of Mahayana Buddhism, arrived in the Paro Valley more than a millennium ago on the back of a tigress. He meditated for three months in a cave, which was converted into this monastery. 

Begin the hike from the base to the cafeteria, which will take at least 90 minutes along well-maintained trails, and stop here for a rest. From here it’s about an hour’s trek through stunning landscape to reach the monastery, which clings to a vertical rocky cliff. On your return, stop again at the cafeteria for lunch, then descend to the base of Ramthanka. The return hike takes around two hours. In the evening, unwind with a traditional hot stone bath before your second evening in Paro.

Day 3: Drive to Haa Valley via Chele La (Pass)

Prayer flags draping the hillsides of Bhutan

Start early for the drive to Chele La, the highest road pass in Bhutan. It snakes upwards through blue pine and rhododendron forests for 22 miles (35 km). On a clear day, the view sweeps down to the Haa Valley, which only opened to foreigners in 2002 due to its proximity to the border with Sikkim (India) and Tibet.

Passing along the edelweiss-covered ridge, you will pass a sky burial site, the traditional Tibetan method for disposing of their dead.  Then descend for approximately two hours through dense rhododendron forest (possibly sighting shaggy yaks!) to Kila Goemba, an ancient nunnery nestled in a craggy patch on the mountainside below. Kila Goemba is a serene retreat for 32 anim (Buddhist nuns) who lead an undisturbed life of religious studies, prayer, and meditation. This sacred place has a timeless quality, which is ample reward for the effort of the hike. Having made your offerings and perhaps even been blessed, it is time to descend back to the road.

For those who would prefer a leisurely sightseeing day, there is the option to drive from Chele La down the other side to the Haa Valley. In case Chele La is not accessible during the winter, your guide will propose an alternative for this day's excursion.

Haa is the ancestral home of the Queen Grandmother and the illustrious Dorji family. Here, there are a couple of important temples and a few shops surrounded by farmhouses and apple orchards beside the fast-flowing Haa River. The hills of Haa provide an ideal location for hiking or mountain biking, with the chance to stop and visit remote shrines and temples and discover the unchanged lifestyles of nomadic herders.

Day 4: Paro to Chapcha

Ornately decorated traditional windows

After a hearty breakfast, head toward the scenic valley of Chapcha, about an hour and a half away. Perched on a hilltop stands the Dokhachu Goenpa, a remote monastery that offers rare insights into the way of life of the 20-30 monks who reside there. Spend the day relaxing at the monastery and observing the lifestyle of the monks and overnight at the Monastery Guest House.

Day 5: Chapcha to Thimphu, and sightseeing in Thimphu

Thimphu

After breakfast, head to Thimphu, situated in a large valley traversed by the Wangchu River and surrounded by high peaks. VIsit the Changangkha Lhakhang, a fortress-like temple perched on a ridge south of Motithang. From the courtyard, you'll find great views of the Thimphu Valley. Next, drive towards Dechenphodrang. Since 1971, it has housed the state monastic school - on any regular day the grounds hum with recitations emanating from the windows. The 12th-century paintings have been restored, and the upper floor features a large figure of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, as well as a chapel devoted to protective and terrifying deities. 

After lunch, visit the Folk Heritage Museum, which will give you a glimpse into the traditional Bhutanese lifestyle. There is an impressive collection of typical household objects, tools, and equipment. The museum also organizes regular demonstrations of rural traditions, skills, and customs, and hosts educational programs for children. Next, visit the Vast Art Gallery, the capital's main center for local artists. It's a great place to plug into the Thimphu art scene, check out the latest exhibits, and chat with artists. 

In the evening, drive towards the Tashichho Dzong, or the ‘fortress of the glorious religion.’ It was initially built in 1641, but rebuilt in its present form in 1965. The dzong houses the main secretariat building with the Throne Room of His Majesty the King of Bhutan. The National Assembly Hall is housed in a modern building on the other side of the river. Overnight at Thimphu.

Day 6: Thimphu to Gangtey, Phobjikha Valley

Dochula Monastery

Leaving Thimphu, head into the countryside towards the Gangtey Valley, home of the rare black-necked cranes. The drive ascends gradually to the Dochula Pass, with magnificent views of the Himalayas, where you'll stop in at the Dochula Monastery.

The descent to Wangduephodrang is vibrant and colorful, with fluttering prayer flags flying amid terraced farmland and rivers. Wangduephodrang is the last town on the highway before entering central Bhutan. Here, you can choose to stop at a viewpoint and see the ruins of the Wangdue Dzong, which was lost to fire but which is being rebuilt. Then, make your way towards the Phobjikha Valley, a wide glacial valley with a central stream that meanders through thickets of dwarf bamboo. The forest beyond the farms is mostly coniferous, and the general vegetation is composed largely of blue pine, birch, maple and several species of rhododendrons. Cranes migrate here in the winter.

Later in the afternoon, enjoy some traditional games. Bhutan’s national sport is dha (archery) which, along with khuru (darts), is the most popular sport in the country. Spend your evening at leisure in the hotel, or take a stroll in the with your guide to explore the fascinating glacier valley. Overnight at Gangtey.

Day 7: Gangtey sightseeing and drive to Punakha

Traditional Bhutanese village

Today you'll be sightseeing in the Phobjikha Valley. Perched on a small hill rising from the valley floor, the Gangtey Monastery is surrounded by a large village, mainly inhabited by villagers who take care of the monastery. Gangtey Monastery was founded in 1613, and the religious traditions of Pema Lingpa are still taught there. The monastery was rebuilt in the form of a Dzong in the late 17th/early 18th century.
 
Around the Phobjikha Valley, you can also enjoy the Gangtey Nature Trail. This pleasurable walk starts from the small hilltop overlooking Gangtey Goemba. Head downhill through flowering meadows to Simchubara Village, and from here through beautiful forest and into the open valley. After passing Khewa Lhakhang, the trail ends at the Tabiding football ground. The nature trail can be combined with a visit to Gantey Goemba. In the evening head to Punakha Valley, the winter capital of Bhutan.

Day 8: Attend a traditional festival; sightseeing in Punakha

A traditional Bhutanese masked festival

Today you'll hit the road early to attend the Punakha Tshechu Festival. Traditional festivals not only play an important role in preserving Bhutan’s rich culture, but also provide devout Buddhists with an opportunity for prayer and pilgrimage.  Time permitting, traverse the Punakha countryside by walking through paddy fields to Pana village to see the Chimi Lhakhang Temple. This temple was built in the year 1400 and is a popular pilgrimage point for Bhutanese people. Head back to Punakha for the night.

Day 9: Punakha sightseeing and drive to Paro

A village near Punakha

After an early breakfast, set out on a beautiful day hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Monastery. A thirty-minute drive from Punakha Dzong will bring you to the base of the hill on which this temple is built. From the car park, cross a suspension bridge and walk through rice fields before climbing a moderate incline surrounded by pine trees. The hike up is about an hour, and down about half an hour. Enjoy the serene natural beauty of the area and light traditional butter lamps at the temple - a powerful offering symbolizing wisdom. 

After the hike, drive back towards the Paro Valley, about a four-hour drive. Stop at the Dochula Pass for photographs and to hang prayer flags. Overnight in Paro.

Day 10: Depart Bhutan

Leaving Bhutan

In the morning you will be transferred to Paro International Airport for your return trip home. Tashi Delek!

Map

Map of Nature and Culture in Bhutan - 10 Days
Map of Nature and Culture in Bhutan - 10 Days