Bhutan – What you need to know to start planning your trip

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Population: 754,000+/_

Capital city: Thimpu

Major airports: Paro (PBH)

Main tourist draws: Tiger’s Nest monastery, Chomolhari trek, Haa Valley trek, many other popular treks, cultural tour of various monasteries and government buildings – You can read about my Haa Valley Trek here Haa Valley

Exchange rate: 1 USD = 65.45 BTN (ngultrum) (March 2017)

Local cuisine: momos (dumplings, similar to Nepalese dumplings), ema datshi, which is basically chilies and cheese,  nakay which is seasonal and also called fiddlehead-fern curry, and as my connection in Bhutan explained to me the Bhutanese eat chilis as a vegetable, not a condiment. I love it.

Beer: Druk Lager, Druk Supreme, Druk 11000 Super Strong, and Bunthang Red Panda – I like Red Panda because it is a wheat beer like a Hefeweizen. The others didn’t really do it for me.

Bhutan visa and tour info: Everyone needs a visa to enter Bhutan except people from India, Bangladesh, and Maldives if they have at least 6 months remaining on their passports. Everyone visiting Bhutan for tourism purposes must also book through a licensed tour operator, of which there are many. The Bhutanese government does this in order to protect their country and their people from the negative effects of tourism, and also to limit the numbers of people who visit each year so they can prevent environmental damage.

I recommend booking through one of Bhutan’s many tour operators rather than one in a surrounding country that offers a package including Bhutan. Here’s why. One, your money will go directly to the people of Bhutan. Two, you’ll be certain that you are getting the right information about your tour/trek. Three, you will pay less. There will be no extra fees that go to the tour operator. Tour operators in other countries are just middle men. They have to contact and work with a tour operator in Bhutan to book your tour, and you will pay for that middleman service.

Tourism fees are set by the government and do not vary from operator to operator within Bhutan. I consulted several websites for a variety of tour operators within Bhutan and for the trek I wanted to do, every operator charged the same price. That’s because they don’t charge by the activity you want to do, they charge a fee per day that is set by the government. For groups of three or more, the fee is 250 USD a day. For a solo traveler or a couple, it is a bit more per day. I went with one friend, and we paid 280 USD per day. This does not include our airfare. It is a bit cheaper during off peak season.

Wow, that is steep, you say? Actually, it’s not a bad considering what is included. All our lodging, food, guides, visa, and any entrance fees (not sure there are any…), and a 65 USD tourism fee is included to ensure responsible tourism. The only things not included are alcohol, souvenirs, and tips for the guides. So if you know how long you want to stay in Bhutan, you can multiply the number of days by 250 USD (or 280 USD or 300 USD I believe if you’re traveling solo) and you’ll know how much your tour costs without even asking. All the tour companies I checked online post this government set fee on their website.

There are no hidden fees. You will not be asked to pay this and that when you arrive. I needed to rent a sleeping bag from my tour operator and I was told up front before arriving what that would cost, however if you are trekking, you need to have your own gear because it is not available to buy within Bhutan. I basically rented a sleeping bag that belonged to the manager of Snow Leopard.

Tipping is most definitely expected. It was impossible to get a straight answer about how much to tip the guides on our trek.

Hope you enjoy these pictures from my trip. They cannot do the beauty of Bhutan justice.

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Mary Lyons
I have had incredible travel opportunities since moving overseas eleven years ago. I created this blog to share my experiences, what I've learned, and my mistakes and frustrations, in hopes of entertaining readers and helping people to create and plan their own travel opportunities.

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