The Wonders of Bhutan
Our comprehensive Wonders of Bhutan holiday will take you deep into the ‘last great Himalayan Kingdom’ - a magical and fascinating place quite unlike anywhere else in the world. Rich in culture and Buddhist tradition, this remote country boasts a breathtaking landscape dotted with ancient monasteries and dzongs, untainted by commercialism and modernity.
- Explore the sacred heritage sites of Kathmandu
- Discover the ancient kingdom of Patan
- Fly over the Himalayas into Bhutan
- Relax into the traditional culture in gentle Thimphu
- Pay your respects at the Temple of the Divine Madman
- Witness thriving ancient lifestyles & craftsmanship
- Traverse mountain passes with extraordinary views
- Admire Bhutan's extraordinary religious fortresses
- Spin prayer wheels at the photogenic Punakha Dzong
- Tuck into a home-cooked meal with a farming family
- Chat with local shepherds in a remote valley
- Trek to the spectacular Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan’s most revered Buddhist site
Kathmandu, Bumthang Valley, Phobjikha, Punakha, Thimphu, Paro, Tiger's Nest Monastery
On arrival in Kathmandu, you'll be met by your private guide, who will accompany you to your hotel.
Join your expert guide for a day exploring Kathmandu’s sacred sites, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Start with Pashupatinath Temple, one the oldest and most sacred Hindu temples in Nepal, before visiting the Boudhanath Stupa, the largest stupa in Nepal, and the holiest Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet. After lunch, head out of Kathmandu to Bhaktapur, one of the three former royal cities of the Kathmandu Valley (the other two being Kathmandu & Patan) and home to some of the finest religious architecture in Nepal. Wander through its maze of narrow streets to see evidence of Bhaktapur’s rich cultural heritage: courtyards are filled with fired clay pots, women sit weaving cloth, and craftsmen carefully chisel timber into furniture and statues.
Also known as Lalitpur — ‘City of Beauty’ — Patan is the oldest of Kathmandu valley’s three ancient kingdoms. It boasts the finest collection of temples in the whole of Nepal, and is a well-known hub for craftsmen and artisans. Spend the morning strolling through its narrow alleyways, marvelling at extraordinary architecture and ancient sites, including the richly decorated wing-roofed Royal Palace, which houses an excellent museum packed with bronzes, sculptures and old photos. Nearby, you'll find the 17th century Krishna Mandir, an Indian-style temple constructed entirely from carved stone, the Taleju Temple, and the Kwa Bahal, a monastery decorated in brass and bronze.
Fly to Paro in Bhutan, making sure you request a seat on the left-hand side of the plane for the best views of the Himalayas and Mount Everest! Once you've arrived and cleared customs, you'll be met by your Bhutanese guide and transferred to Thimphu, where the rest of your day will be at leisure.
Hop on a quick flight to Bumthang, enjoying excellent views of the Himalayas. Meet your expert local guide to explore some of Bumthang’s sacred sites, including the ancient temple of Jambay Lhakhang, and the 17th century Jakar Dzong. Once home to the first king of Bhutan, the dzong has a secret passage to a nearby spring, allowing access to water during times of siege. You may also like to visit Bumthang’s famous Swiss cheese factory, established by ex-pat Fritz Maurer and (perhaps unsurprisingly!) the only commercial cheese factory in Bhutan — or tour Bumthang Brewery, producer of the country’s best beer.
Head into the picturesque Tang valley, passing through several villages where life has remained unchanged for generations, and pausing at Rimochen Lhakhang, a sacred spot where — legend has it — Guru Rinpoche used to meditate. Trek the last leg of the journey to Ogyen Choling Palace, a place of considerable significance since the 14th century. A number of rooms have been carefully restored to give an authentic and fascinating insight into the lifestyle of Bhutan's religious nobility during previous centuries. Having strolled through the palace and explored its museum, you'll be driven back to Bumthang via Mebar Tsho, ‘the Burning Lake’, an important pilgrimage site.
Spend the day exploring Ura, Bumthang’s highest valley and arguably its most picturesque and peaceful. Follow the Chamkhar Chhu river before climbing to Shertang La Pass, which sits at 3,600m. On a clear day, the pass offers views of Gangkhar Puensum, the highest unclimbed mountain in the Himalayas. Pause at Ura Monastery, where symbolic murals decorate the walls and the flagstone courtyard is frequently used for local gatherings. With your guide as interpreter, you will hopefully get the chance to chat with the locals, who are typically sheep herders living a traditional lifestyle.
Leave Bumthang through a picturesque landscape dotted with villages and monasteries, perhaps stopping to watch the local weavers at work on the colourful hand-spun textiles for which the region is famous. Wind your way over the Yotong La Pass (3,425m above sea level), before zig-zagging down into Trongsa for lunch and a stop at the town's spectacular dzong and its excellent museum. Traverse the Pele La Pass (3,330m) — the traditional boundary between east and west Bhutan — keeping an eye out for yaks grazing at the roadside. If the weather is good, you may also get views of Jhomolhari, the sacred peak, before finally arriving at your hotel in Phobjikha Valley.
Follow the Gangtey Nature Trail through Phobjikha Valley, starting at the prayer wall near the Gangtey Goemba monastery, passing through pasture, pinewoods, a village and marshlands to the 15th century Khewang Lhakhang temple. En route you can stop at the Black Necked Crane information centre, which sits beside the wetlands where these endangered birds spend winter. After your trek, return to Gangtey Goemba for a proper visit. This 16th century monastery is one of the largest in Bhutan, and enjoys uninterrupted valley views from its elevated location.
Relax on the picturesque drive from Phobjikha to Punakha Valley, and enjoy lunch before a stroll through the rice fields to Chime Lhakhang, 'the Temple of the Divine Madman'. Built in the 15th century, the temple is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kunley, Bhutan's famous nonconformist saint. His rather unique approach to enlightenment predominantly revolved around sex, and legend has it that he defeated a demoness at the temple site using his, um, ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’. The temple is appropriately revered for its fertility powers! Having meditated on this story, your afternoon will be at leisure to do as you please.
Visit the impressive Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, commissioned by Bhutan’s Queen Mother to promote world peace. It's a fine example of traditional architecture, despite being built in the 1990s. It's reached by a walk uphill through fields of rice, chillies and beans, and its panoramic valley views are well worth the effort! The intricate murals adorning its walls and ceilings are equally impressive. Return to Punakha for lunch, before visiting Punakha Dzong, widely considered to be the most impressive and beautiful dzong in the country. Painted timber windows peek out from its towering white-washed fortress walls, and vibrant murals depicting the life of Buddha adorn its interior.
Set off for the drive to Thimphu through the pine forests and fluttering prayer flags, via the Dochu La Pass, where you'll stop for tea with (on a clear day) spectacular views of the Himalayas. Once you've arrived, your guide will help you explore the local sights, starting with the Tibetan-style National Memorial Chorten, where you’ll discover an endless procession of Bhutanese circumambulating the chorten to gain merit. Move on to the Tashichho Dzong and, if you happen to be in Thimphu at the weekend, the bustling market. Finally, head out into the hills to admire a gigantic bronze statue of Buddha Dordenma, its base housing a large meditation hall and 125,000 smaller bronze Buddha statues.
Spend the morning at the Tango Goemba, built by Lama Drukpa Kunley — aka ‘The Divine Madman’ — in the 15th century. It is now an acclaimed Buddhist studies college, home to around 150 monks. It holds huge religious significance, with historical connections to the great Tibetan lamas, and is understood to be home to an important young tulku (reincarnated lama). You'll reach the monastery along a one hour gradually inclining trail, lined with miniature stupas placed by pilgrims to ward off evil. After lunch back in Thimphu, spend some time at Thimphu’s Institute for Zorig Chusum. Established to preserve and promote Bhutan's traditional arts and crafts through training and education, the institute welcomes visitors to watch craft demonstrations by the students.
You'll be driven to Paro in time for lunch, before visiting the National Museum, where you'll begin a picturesque hike through forested hillside with beautiful valley views. It’s a fairly easy trek, and en-route you’ll pass by the charming Gonsaka Lhakhang temple, before arriving at Zuri Dzong. Built in the 14th century, it's thought to be one of Bhutan’s oldest dzongs, and is dedicated to Paro valley’s protector gods. Meet your driver and return to Paro for an afternoon at leisure. In the early evening, you'll visit a local farmhouse for a traditional Bhutanese meal. It’s a fascinating insight into local life, and your guide will act as translator so you can interact with the family.
After a hearty breakfast to prepare for your day of trekking, you'll meet your guide for the drive to Ramthangkha, the start of your hike to Taktsang Monastery - the Tiger's Nest. You'll follow the steep trail up through pine forest, catching glimpses of the monastery through the trees. Pause halfway at a small café, before continuing via some spectacular viewpoints. Inside the monastery complex, you can explore small temples, meditation caves and ornate shrines. The smell of incense fills the air, and you are likely to hear the sound of monastic chanting.
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
- English speaking, local guide
- All accommodation listed
- Land transportation by private air-conditioned vehicles
- Any domestic flights listed (unless marked otherwise)
- One way flight from Kathmandu to Paro
- All admission fees at attractions, temples and activities as mentioned in the itinerary
- All meals listed, with tea, coffee and water
- Bhutan entry visa
- International flight reconfirmation.
- Nepali entry visa
- International airport departure taxes
- Any meals not listed in the itinerary
- Drinks, other than tea, coffee and water
- Personal expenses (laundry, telephone, drinks, tip...)
- Travel insurance
- All other services not listed in 'inclusive'