(This post contains affiliate links* and advertising) – When I started thinking about heading to Bhutan a few years ago I soon found out that travelling there individually is not possible unless you have a passport from India, the Maldives or Bangladesh. So when I decided that my next trip would be to this Himalayan Kingdom I knew that there were only two options: going on a (small) group tour or hiring my own local guide through a Bhutanese agency. For a while I considered hiring a private Bhutanese guide but since it would have been more expensive I chose to travel through Bhutan with G Adventures.* It is a Canadian adventure travel company which offers small group tours. I had done a few trips with them before to remote and off the beaten path destinations like Tibet, Borneo, the Chinese part of the Silk Road, to Jordan and Uzbekistan.
G Adventures offers three tours in Bhutan, the classic style Bhutan Adventure,* an active trip named Bhutan Trekking – The Druk Path* and the comfort trip Wonders of Bhutan.* I chose the classic style “Bhutan Adventure”.
Best time to travel
For the classic „Bhutan Adventure“ G Adventures offers travel dates from March till October, for the Druk Path Trek and the comfort trip „Wonders of Bhutan“ even tours from March till November. The best time to travel to Bhutan is from March till May and from mid-September to mid-November. During the monsoon season from June till August there might be heavy rains.
I was in Bhutan in March. At this time the average temperature is around 16, 17 degrees Celsius during the day and 3, 4 degrees Celsius at night. Two days before I arrived in Bhutan there was an unexpected onset of winter with snow and ice. The temperatures were significantly lower than the average temperature. In Gangtey and Haa Valley we had night-time temperatures of below zero.
If you travel to Bhutan in March, October or November you should be prepared that those temperatures might occur.
The „Bhutan Adventure“ has the physical rating 4. The tour includes two extended hikes, the hike up to the Tiger’s Nest on day two of the trip and the two-day Bumdrak Trek on day three and four. During the hike to the Tiger’s Nest you ascend 800 metres of altitude from 2.300 to 3.120 metres. Hereby it is possible to hire a donkey up to a teahouse where you take a break half way. But the following ascend is only possible on foot. The Bumdrak Trek starts at a height of 3.000 metres and leads up to an altitude of 4.000 metres where the Bumdrak Camp is located. This was where we spent the night in tents. The following day we took a different route for the descent maybe due to weather conditions.
You need a visa for Bhutan. If you take a tour with them, G Adventures will arrange this for you through their local Bhutanese partner agency.
International health insurance is required if you want to take a G Adventures tour. However, I highly recommend to get an international health insurance on all trips outside of your home country. Getting sick or having an accident abroad might cause high bills which you have to pay by yourself if you don’t have international health insurance. I have an annual international health insurance policy which only costs me 10 Euros per year. In addition, I recommend a travel cancellation insurance which also covers trip interruption. This covers the cost of your travels if you have to cancel your trip before leaving home or if you have to interrupt or break up your travels. I have an annual travel cancellation insurance policy without excess which also covers trip interruption and break up.
Since their clients come from all over the world all G Adventures tours start in the respective destination country. All Bhutan tours start in Paro, the city with the only international airport of Bhutan. Only two airlines, the government-owned Druk Air and the private Bhutan Airlines, fly there. They fly from and to Bagdogra, Delhi, Gaya, Guwahati, Kolkata and Mumbai in India, Bangkok in Thailand, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Kathmandu in Nepal plus from and to Singapore. That means that you have to book a flight to and from Paro from one of those destinations in addition to your international flight. Flights with Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines are very limited and should be booked well in advance. I reserved my space on the Bhutan tour first, booked my flight with Druk Air and confirmed my space on the Bhutan trip afterwards. At last I booked my international flight from Germany to Kathmandu and back.
When you fly to Paro from Kathmandu, make sure to be at the airport very early and try to get a window seat on the left side. From there you have a wonderful view of the Himalayas and you also get to see Mount Everest.
The transfer from and to Paro Airport is included on all Bhutan trips regardless of the tour style. Our Bhutanese tour leader Kinley Wangdi picked us up at Paro Airport when we arrived and he took us back there on the departure day.
On this 10-day tour we visited the following places:
- the Tiger’s Nest also known as Taktsang Monastery
- Bumdrak Trek with an overnight stay at Bumdrak Camp
- Gangtey Valley with an overnight stay in a Bhutanese farmhouse
- Haa Valley
- Chele La Pass
After our welcome meeting in the afternoon of the first day we wandered to the Paro Dzong, also known as Rinpung Dzong, from where you have a wonderful view of Paro Valley. In Tibet and Bhutan monastery castles are called Dzongs. In Bhutan they are often built on cliffs or at rivers.
View of the Paro Valley from the Paro Dzong
Tiger’s Nest and Kyichu Lhakhang Temple
On the second day we wandered to the probably most famous landmark of Bhutan, the Tiger’s Nest, also called Taktsang Monastery. We ascended 800 metres in height, from 2.300 up to 3.120 metres where the Tiger’s Nest is located. Since it had snowed the days before it was quite slippery. During these weather conditions trekking poles are highly recommended. We took a break at a teahouse half way. From there we already had a stunnig view of the Tiger’s Nest. It would have been possible to ride up on a donkey, mule or horse up to the teahouse but the further ascent is only possible on foot. Fortunately no one of our group needed to make use of a riding animal. At the Tiger’s Nest we didn’t only get to see the monastery from outside but also visited the interior. Please be aware that photography is not allowed inside monasteries and temples anywhere in Bhutan.
After the ascent we visited the Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro, the oldest temple of Bhutan, which was probably constructed in the 7th century.
Kyichu Lhakhang Temple
In the morning of the third day we started our ascent along the Bumdrak Trek. The paths there were even more covered with snow and even more slippery than on our hike up to the Tiger’s Nest. We took a break for lunch nearby a monastery from where we had a fantastic view over the valley. We reached Bumdrak Camp in the afternoon where we had tea, then dinner a little later and all went to bed early. The following day we descended down to the valley along a different path. For the trek we only took a daypack with the most essential items which was transported up to the camp by donkeys. We could leave our big luggage in the hotel in Paro and picked it up before driving to Thimphu.
After the Bumdrak Trek we drove by private bus to Thimphu. We visited the Thimphu Stupa, also known as National Memorial Chorten, a weaving company, the Buddha Dordenma Statue, the National Art School, the Bhutanese National Library, the Motithang Takin Preserve, the weekend market plus the Thimphu Dzong, also known as Tashichho Dzong.
Thimphu Dzong, also known as Tashichho Dzong
From Thimphu we drove by private bus over the Dochula Pass to Gangtey Valley. The Dochula Pass is famous for its 108 Chorten, also called stupas, and for the amazing view of the Himalayas and of the Gangkar Puensum, the highest peak of Bhutan, when the sky is bright. On our way to Gangtey Valley we were very lucky with the weather whereas in Gangtey Valley there was snow and rain. Nevertheless we hiked to the Black-Necked Crane Center where they took care of one injured animal when we were there. Afterwards we drove to a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse where we spent the night in the context of a farmhouse stay.
In the morning of the following day we visited the Gangtey Gompa before continuing to Punākha, the former capital of Bhutan.
In Lobeysa, about 10 kilometres from Punākha, we hiked to the Bhuddist Chimi Lhakhang Temple which was built in 1499. Then we visited the impressive Punākha Dzong, the second oldest and second biggest Dzong of Bhutan. Afterwards we crossed the longest suspension bridge of the country.
The following day we drove over the Dochula Pass back to Thimphu where we had some free time. This time we weren’t lucky with the weather at the Dochula Pass. From Thimphu we continued to Haa Valley where we visited the Lhakhang Karpo also known as the White Temple. Afterwards we took a walk through the little town Haa and enjoyed our afternoon tea in a local teahouse.
Chele La Pass – Kila Gompa Nunnery – Paro
On the way back to Paro we had originally planned to cross the Chele La Pass, the highest passable pass of Bhutan, and hike to the Kila Gompa Nunnery. Due to heavy snow and icy roads the way to the nunnery was impassable. Our bus driver Chimi brought us up to 200 metres of the highest point of the pass so that we could walk the rest of the way and hang up our prayer flags at the top. In the meantime he turned the bus. As a compensation for our missed visit of the nunnery our tour leader Kinley organized a picnic at the banks of a river with a stunning view.
Prayer flags at the Chele La Pass
The G Adventures sign in the snow, drawn by our tour leader Kinley
After returning to Paro we had some free time in the city centre. In the evening Kinley and the tour leader of the G Adventures active tour had organized a farewell dinner and a show with traditional Bhutanese dances and songs for our two groups. They did that since we were in Bhutan at a time when there were no Bhutanese monastery festivals. The following day Kinley took my travelmates and me to the airport where we catched our respective flights.
The Tour Leader
Our tour leader Kinley was a young Bhutanese man in his mid-thirties and he was absolutely fantastic. He had an incredible background knowledge and gave us a deep insight into his home country, the culture, religion and the Bhutanese traditions, festivals and holidays. He cared for all the little details and made sure that our journey was stressless and hassle-free and that we all had a good time. On the bus rides he always provided us with drinking water and chocolate bars. Usually the chocolate bars aren’t included. Furthermore he organized a picnic for us as a compensation for our missed visit of the Kila Gompa Nunnery which had to be cancelled due to snow and icy roads. Moreover he organized a cultural show on our last evening to give us an insight into the Bhutanese festivals and traditions. He also booked Hot Stone Baths and massages in Paro and Thimphu for those of us who asked him for that.
We were 14 people in the group. My travelmates ranged from mid-twenties to 60+ and came from Australia, the United States, Canada, the UK and Germany. We had two couples and two females in the group who knew each other from a previous G Adventures tour. The others were solo female travellers.
Our group, the trekking guides, the support staff and our tour leader Kinley (rightmost)
My Bhutan tour was a standard tour. That means that travellers are usually accommodated in 2- to 3-star hotels and guesthouses. However, the hotels on this tour were significantly better and more comfortable than on all my previous G Adventures standard tours. All hotels were good and provided free wifi. I especially liked the Bhutan Metta Resort & Spa in Paro.
Bhutan Metta Resort & Spa in Paro
Our hotel in Thimphu
During the Bumdrak Trek we spent one night in two-person tents at an altitude of 4.000 metres. The tents weren’t small but even provided proper beds plus warm beddings and pillows. To make sure that we didn’t feel cold, Kinley provided us with hot water bottles and solar lights before we went to bed.
The interior of my tent at Bumdrak Camp
In Gantey Valley we stayed in a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse. This was the only accommodation on our whole trip where it was cold. There was an oven in the living room of the family where it was warm and cozy but the bedrooms were unheated, the walls thin and the outside temperature was -5 degrees Celsius at night. I told this to G Adventures and got the information that they will be working with a new local Bhutanese agency and that in this context they are examing the heating in the farmhouse.
My room at the farmhouse in Gangtey Valley
If you travel solo, you will share a room with someone of your group of the same sex unless you pay the single supplement. That is what I did and I had my own room in all hotels, in the farmhouse in Gangtey Valley and I even had my own tent at the Bumdrak Camp.
If you want to arrive one day before the tour starts or leave one day after the tour ends, this is also possible in Bhutan. Different than on other G Adventures tours you must book additional days in Bhutan through the tour company or travel agent. An additional night costs 225 Euros. One of my travelmates arrived a day early because she couldn’t get a flight to Paro for the day the tour started. Other travelmates couldn’t get seats in Economy Class because this was booked out and they chose to fly Business Class instead. Due to them it was only slightly more expensive and the service worth the extra money.
All meals are included on all G Adventures tours in Bhutan. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served in a buffet style in the hotels or in restaurants including water, one type of tea (mostly black tea) and coffee. Other drinks had to be paid. Between breakfast and lunch plus between lunch and dinner we always had a tea break where we were provided with free tea, coffee and cookies. We were also served breakfast and dinner during our stay at the farmhouse in Gangtey Valley and during the Bumdrak Trek. On the Bumdrak Trek we even got a hot lunch which Kinley and the guides and porters prepared for us at a very scenic viewpoint.
We travelled through Bhutan by private bus. Our Bhutanese driver Chimi always drove us safely and reliably through his home country and made sure that we even got safely up and down the Chele La Pass despite the bad weather conditions we had there.
Futhermore there are two longer treks and hikes – the Bumdrak Trek and the hike to the Tiger’s Nest – plus several shorter and intermediate hikes.
The tour was fantastic. There were only two downsides which come into my mind. The night in the unheated rooms in the farmhouse in Gangtey Valley was a bit tough. But as mentioned above I told this to G Adventures and was informed that in 2018 they will be working with a new local Bhutanese agency and that in this context they are examing the heating in the farmhouse..
Also the price for the single supplement was a bit pricey but it is cheaper in 2018. In March 2017 I paid 969 Euros, in 2018 it costs 729 Euros. But you only have to pay for a single room if you explicitly add this to your booking. Otherwise you share a room with someone of your group of the same sex.
Bhutan with G Adventures – would I recommend it?
DEFINITELY. With Kinley Wangdi I had a fantastic tour leader who gave us an excellent insight into his home country, the Bhutanese culture, traditions, way of life and cuisine and who made sure that we all had an unforgettable time. The itinerary was great and the destinations, temples, monasteries and sights we visited, incredibly impressive. During our bus drives we often had breathtaking views of the Bhutanese landscape and of the Himalayas. A trip through Bhutan with G Adventures is something which I would recommend to everyone who is considering to visit Bhutan.
DISCLOSURE: I received a discount on the Bhutan tour from G Adventures. Nevertheless all opinions are my own.
*I am an affiliate of G Adventures. That means that I would earn a small commission if you book a tour with them through the given links, of course at no extra cost for you. All affiliate links are marked with a *. They help me to cover a part of the costs of running this site – so thanks a million in advance. When you are a returning traveller of G Adventures you even get your five percent discount in case you filled out the evaluation form within a month after your previous tour. After booking just send G Adventures an email or give them a call and claim your discount if it doesn’t appear on your bill automatically.
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I love your descriptive writing style depicting the attractions in Bhutan. It soared my appetite some more to visit the country to experience myself how the Bhutanese people use happiness as measure of progress.
Thank you so much for the kind words, Edelito. I cannot recommend a trip to Bhutan enough despite the high prices. The people are really welcoming and friendly and their philosophy of Gross National Happiness really amazing and worthy of imitation.
Vanessa! Your pictures are beautiful! This looks like such a fun experience. I would really love to do a group adventure like this at some point!
Thank you so much, Erin. Although I love to travel solo and independently I sometimes also take small group adventure tours when travelling in remote and off the beaten path areas. Bhutan was indeed a fun and amazing experience and our tour leader absolutely fantastic.
This sounds like such a great trip Vanessa, and very detailed.
I was thinking of going with G Adventure to India next summer, but the trip I want to go on (Rajasthan) doesn’t go during monsoon, and we’re travelling with our teenage son so we’d have to get him a private room of course, as he’s just 15!
Ah well. Perhaps for a trip to Bhutan in the future instead!
Thank you so much for your comment, Victoria. Bhutan was indeed an outstanding trip. In 2011 I did a trip through the Indian Himalayas with G Adventures and it was fantastic. I also looked into the Rajasthan tour and it looks amazing. Too bad that you could only go to India during the monsoon season when the trip doesn’t run. But maybe you could go together with your husband and son after he graduates from school. Regarding the private room, you don’t have to pay for that if your son doesn’t mind sharing a room with another male person. You only have to pay for the single supplement if he prefers to have his own space.
Always a pleasure Vanessa!
We’re going to India next year anyway, as our son is still interested in travelling with us (he’s 15), and in a few years he either won’t have time ‘cos of university, gap year, etc, or would prefer to travel with his friends! I’ve already booked our hotels, and will buy the flights in the next 3 months. Yay!
I’ve been to India before, so this will be a more relaxed trip…!
Wow, Victoria, these are great news. I am sure you and your family will have a wonderful time in India. Since you have been there already you won’t have to deal with the culture shock and you will be a wonderful guide for your family. I am looking forward to read everything about your journey to India on your blog. :)
I like your writing and the photos. The temples are absolutely amazing. The mountains and rivers are beautiful. I would wake in awe every morning. Now that I read your article about Bhutan, I definitely want to go there.
Thank you so much for the kind words, Bill. The mountains and rivers and the landscape of Bhutan in general are truly stunning. I highly recommend a trip to this Himalayan Kingdom.
I’m looking at booking this trip (and will use your affiliate link if I do) and was wondering if you knew what people did on their extra day?
Flights are unavailable on the departure day so I’ll need to spend the money for an extra night. Any idea if they organize more activities for those who arrive a day early or stay a day late?
I called G Adventures and they didn’t know (promised to get back to me but I don’t want to wait too long to book).
Hi, thank you so much for your comment. There was only one female in my group who arrived in Paro one day before the tour started. I think, she walked around in Paro a bit and spent some time at the tour hotel which is really convinient. I don’t know if the local company organized more activities for her.
Regarding available spaces on flights: did you try to book a space in Business Class? That might still be cheaper than the 210 Euros the extra night costs and it is what four of the people in my group did who couldn’t get a flight in Economy Class anymore. Or you could try another airline. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines both fly to Paro. You could also to try to fly into Paro from a different city, maybe there are spaces available when you fly in from a diffent place. There are flights to Paro from Delhi, Bagdogra, Kolkata, Gaya, Guwahati, Kathmandu, Singapore and Bangkok. I was also thinking to fly into Paro from Bangkok but the flight for the day the started was also booked out and I flew in from Kathmandu. Other people in my group flew in from Delhi and from Singapore. I hope that helps. :)