The enduring image of Bhutan for most visitors is the strong sense of culture and tradition that binds the landlocked Himalayan kingdom and its people.
Bhutan is one of the few places on earth where traditional culture remains largely unimpaired by western ways - even TV and Internet were only introduced in 1999. There are not many places you’ll witness such vibrant displays of ancient Buddhist culture re-enacted - mystical dancers in swirling robes, beautifully crafted wooden masks, spectacular fire displays - all to honour the Buddhist saint Guru Rimpoche who is known for bringing Buddhism into Bhutan. Intricately designed fortresses, known as Dzongs, are dotted around the country and are home to Bhutan’s friendly monks who chant from dawn till dusk. Bhutan's scenery is staggeringly beautiful with a wealth of hiking trails on offer; from the subtropical valleys in the south to the majestic and untouched Himalayan mountain ranges of the North.
But above all this, it is the spirituality of Bhutan and its people that is the real drawcard - the Bhutanese ethos is ‘Gross National Happiness’ and from the moment you step off that plane until the moment you take off this spirit pervades everything you do and see. Accommodation in Bhutan tends to be either high-end or homely. Whilst we love the luxurious comforts of the COMO and AMAN properties (and are eagerly anticipating the opening of the new Six Senses Bhutan in early 2018), there is also plenty of opportunity to experience a more authentic homestay in one of the many traditional family-run guesthouses dotted around the country. Our Bhutan itineraries are fully inclusive with the services of an experienced English-speaking Buddhist guide of Bhutan and private transfers.
THE S&A TO DO LIST
Try your hand at archery, Bhutan's national sport
Visit Takstang Lhakhang (Tiger's Nest Monastery). Clinging to a sheer cliff face, 900 hundred metres above the Paro Valley, this is Bhutan’s Machu Picchu, but thanks to Bhutan’s restrictions on visitor numbers, it doesn't feel overrun
The Paro and Thimphu Festivals take place over Spring and Autumn which are the best seasons to visit Bhutan
The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is home to some of the most magical mountain retreats in the world offering everything you need to completely unwind and refresh, from buddhist blessings to traditional Hot Stone Bath soaks to yoga masterclasses. Bhutan is at the fore-front of offering luxury hotels that are located in remote rural areas, meaning you can have an amazing authentic experience of the destination, yet return to a comfortable bed at night. From the alpine valley of Paro to the bustling capital city of Thimpu, the magnificent Dzong at Punakha and the remote Phobjikha Valley, Aman Resorts have a collection of five lodges spread across Bhutan; Amankora Paro, Amankaro Thimphu, Amankora Punakha, Amankora Gangtey and Amankora Bumthang, offering travellers unparalleled access to discover Bhutan’s interior whilst enjoying supreme comfort. If you stay in the Amankora Lodges for 7 nights or more, they also include a driver and guide complimentary.
Gangtey Lodge is a traditional wood and stone Bhutanese farmhouse that provides visitors with a homely retreat with bay windows which offer sweeping views of the Gangtey Valley and its 17th century monastery below. Just outside Gangtey on the edge of Black Mountain National Park, Dewachen is a cosy 16-room guesthouse with equally striking valley panoramas, well-located to explore Phobjikha, a glacial valley and protected nature area home to endangered Black Neck Cranes which visit from the Tibetan Plateau during the winter months. The centrally located Druk Hotel is a great option for a central city stay in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city, whilst Terma Linca has the sleek minimalistic look of an Aman property without the price tag, resting on a curve of the Thimphu River. In the heart of the Punakha Valley, the creators of Dhensa have also drawn on the designs of Aman and COMO with 24 beautiful suites all boasting handmade Bhutanese artefacts. Dhensa is only a five minute trek away from the magnificent Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Llakhang Nunnery which his home to one of the biggest and most spectacular bronze statues of Chenrigzig in Bhutan. In Paro, a convenient 5 minute drive to Tiger’s Nest is Zhiwa Ling, a boutique hotel that successfully blends traditional Bhutanese design with modern amenities.
The spectacular dzong monasteries, temples and festivals is what attract most visitors to Bhutan, but one of the best ways to escape and experience more of the real Bhutan is on a trek. Bhutan has a wealth of hiking trails on offer across the country’s many valleys and whether you’re winding your way up paths to visit magical monasteries like Tigers Nest Temple or hiking though the hills up prayer-flagged passes you're sure to be left mesmerised by the jaw-dropping scenery. The mountain passes and valleys in Bhutan all differ and cater to different abilities - if pressed our favourite would be Punakha Valley on account of the beautiful trails that wind their way through orchards and rice fields where villagers wearing traditional dress still plough with horses, and walking along the Mo Chu River - where adventurous travellers can also try their hand at white water rafting. The Eastern part of Bhutan is slowly opening its doors meaning visitors can now also explore lesser known paths through villages whose inhabitants rarely see tourists and offering visitors a glimpse into a lifestyle and culture long forgotten by the modern world. To get the most of this area you need to take the bare minimum approach, packing up light bags for 3 or 4 nights in mobile camps, trekking through Merak and Sakteng, a wildlife sanctuary home to the endangered Snow Leopard, Red Panda and Himalayan Red Fox. Those wishing to do unwind at the beginning or end of any hiking itinerary should consider a stay at the COMO properties in both Paro and Punakha. COMO Uma Paro, the first luxury hotel which opened in Bhutan, lies tucked away in the thick pine forest with the snow-tipped Himalayan mountain range as its backdrop whilst COMO Uma Punakha lies overlooking part of the Mo Chu River and across the valley floor – some of the best views from any hotel in Bhutan. Both hotels blend Bhutanese architecture with stylish interiors and are home to the COMO Shambhala Retreat, a holistic health spa with open-air yoga pavilions.
Looking to extend your trip?
Bhutan works well as a stand alone destination but can also be combined with time in northern India and Nepal.