Top 10 Destinations in Bhutan
OUR PICK #1
Tiger's Nest Monastery
One of the most sacred places of pilgrimage in the country, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, known by the Bhutanese as the Taktsang Monastery, has become the unofficial symbol of Bhutan. Perched on a sheer ridge at a dizzying height of 3,000m above sea level, and appearing to cling to the side of a rugged cliff face, the sight of this exquisite holy building will leave you breathless in every way possible. The building itself has fascinated historians and architects for decades and can only be accessed by trekking for several hours, making the reward of seeing it all the more sweet. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche, father of Bhutanese Buddhism, rode here on the back of a tigress in order to meditate back in the 8th century, hence it acquiring its nickname. The monastery was then built in 1692 to honour this site and rebuilt in 1998 after it was destroyed by a fire.
OUR PICK #2
Home to the glorious Punakha fortress (dzong), which sits at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu rivers, Punakha is the former capital of Bhutan. The fortress is often described as one of the most beautiful in the country, with its sparkling white-washed walls and intricate patterned roof. The sound of the rivers adds an additional atmospheric element for those wandering through the dzong’s hallowed halls. Another particular point of interest in Punakha, which should be on the ‘to-see’ list of all visitors, is the Khamsum Yuley Temple. This temple contains many exquisite paintings and murals, a dream come true for art and history lovers. Surrounded by rugged, green mountains and blessed with a year-round mild climate, Punakha is an adventurous destination for those seeking to get off the beaten track for a while.
OUR PICK #3
Located in the heart of Bhutan, Wangdue is a delight for all the senses, encompassing picturesque scenery, majestic architecture and an ancient culture eager to be experienced. The Wangdue Dzong was one of the main features of this city but, unfortunately, it burned to the ground in 2012. Reconstruction is currently underway but this monumental task is expected to take several more years. According to legend, the dzong was originally built in this location because, whilst searching for a suitable building site, locals saw four ravens fly, from that point, off in four different directions. This supposedly symbolised the spread of Buddhism to the four points of the compass. There are few better places to escape from the stresses of modern life and reconnect with nature than Wangdue. Travellers can also interact with the local monks in order to learn about their traditional lifestyle and the inner workings of Buddhism.
OUR PICK #4
The city of Paro is home to a wealth of architectural and natural beauty. All visitors to Paro should definitely make time to check out the Rinpung Dzong, a marvellous monastery that commands unparalleled views of the lush Paro Valley. Whilst in the city, travellers can partake in a range of activities, including mountain biking, rafting and hiking. One particularly popular option is the Snowman Trek, a challenging yet exciting trail that stretches over 5km through high altitude passes. If you don’t manage any of these, fear not, adrenaline will be pumping from the get-go as you come in to land in the narrow valley that houses Paro’s international airport. For something more tranquil, try meditating outside as the sun rises from behind the region’s dramatic peaks. If a meditation session doesn’t seem like quite your thing, a leisurely stroll along the peaceful water can be just as, if not more, relaxing.
OUR PICK #5
An intriguing blend of modernity and antiquity, Thimphu - Bhutan’s capital, allows travellers to step away from the typical tourist experience and be part of something wholly unique. Being one of just two nation capitals in the world that doesn’t use traffic lights, police beckoning and waving traffic along are a common sight here. Stately monks draped in blood-red robes weaving in and out of magnificent monasteries are also commonplace in this spiritual city and a trip to see the Tashichho Dzong (Fortress of the Glorious Religion) is an absolute must. Travellers arriving in Thimphu are sure to be pleasantly surprised by the spectacular views over the surrounding region’s natural beauty as well as by the range of amenities available, such as cafes, bars and nightclubs, all of which are transforming the international view of the mysterious Bhutan. With so much on offer, it is hard not to fall in love with this intriguing city.
OUR PICK #6
Set in the centre of Bhutan, the town of Trongsa offers stunning views over the surrounding gorge and Black Mountains. Although dating back to the 16th century, its name translates to ‘new village’ in the Dzongkha language and the town is famed for its imposing Dzong. Commanding an impressive position above the Mangde River, this fortress has perhaps the most spectacular location in Bhutan. Visible for kilometres around, its historic buildings are connected by a maze of corridors, stone steps and paved courtyards. It was from this fortress that the first two Bhutanese Kings ruled over the country and tradition still dictates that the crown prince serve here before ascending to the throne. Besides the striking presence of the Dzong, the town also offers a range of beautiful day walks, offering ample opportunities to soak up the montane views.
OUR PICK #7
Possibly the most beautiful destination in Bhutan, the Gangtey Valley, or Pobjika Valley as it is known, is a wide glacial valley surrounded by the beautiful Black Mountains. As one of the most important conservation zones in the country, the valley sees a group of endangered black-necked cranes arrive every winter from the Tibetan Plateau. Alongside these birds, the area is famous for the Gangte Goemba Monastery. Built in the early 17th century, it is arguably one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the world and holds a proud position overlooking the rest of the valley. Its extensive complex was renovated in 2008 and contains a small guesthouse, monks’ quarters and outlying meditation centre. Visitors can also enjoy a range of nature walks and treks in the region, offering the chance to truly be immersed in one of Bhutan’s most breath-taking landscapes.
OUR PICK #8
Manas National Park
Lying in south-central Bhutan, Manas National Park is the country’s crown jewel. Only opened to the public in recent years, the park is Bhutan’s oldest protected area and forms part of a transnational conservation zone. It borders the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park in the north and the World Heritage-listed Manas Tiger Reserve in India. Home to the largest tropical and sub-tropical ecosystems in Bhutan, the park is rich in wildlife. The highly endangered Bengal tiger, Asian elephant and greater one-horned rhino all reside with its borders, alongside the golden langur – a primate found virtually nowhere else on earth. More than 426 species of birds and over 900 types of plants have also been recorded, making Manas one of the most biologically outstanding parks in the world. Visitors to this wilderness can explore on foot, by car or by boat, or even trek the park’s eco trail, as they try to spot one of its rare inhabitants.
OUR PICK #9
Commonly referred to as the ‘spiritual heartland of Bhutan’, Bumthang boasts some of the country’s oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. The region encompasses the four mountain valleys of Tang, Ura, Chhume and Chokhor, with the latter being the most well-known as it holds some of the most important temples and dzongs. Bumthang was where Buddhism was first introduced to Bhutan and the birthplace of Saint Pema Lingpa, to whom the Bhutanese royalty trace their descent. Besides its temples, the region is famous throughout the country for its brightly coloured wool products known as Yathra. And as it is blessed with stunning natural landscapes, walking is one of the most popular activities for visitors. The mixture of meadows, forests, villages and sacred sites provide a picturesque showcase of Bhutan’s rural scenery.
OUR PICK #10
Situated in the northernmost district of Bhutan, Gasa is a region of striking natural beauty. With elevations ranging from 1,500 to 4,500 metres, it boasts pristine forests and a scenic 17th century Dzong. Built in 1646, the Dzong defended Bhutan from several invasions in the 17th and 18th centuries. But perhaps the most notable feature of this region is its people. The Layaps are nomadic herders who still maintain their own unique culture. Their main source of income comes from their yaks, as they trade cheese, butter, meat or products made from their hair. The region is also famous for the Snowman Trek, one of the most demanding treks in the Himalayas, and its healing hot springs. And the newly established Royal Highlander Festival is becoming increasingly popular. Celebrating Bhutan’s nomadic highlanders, it’s simply a must-see for passing travellers.
Browse through our recommended places to visit in Bhutan
For further help planning your trip to Bhutan, take a look at these handy resources:
Best Time to Visit - climate and seasons in Bhutan
Tourist Visas - what you need to know before you go
Top Travel Tips - Bhutan's food, currency and info on health