Top 7 Destinations in Bhutan
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. The building itself has fascinated historians and architects for decades and can only be accessed by trekking with your On The Go guide 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.
Home to the glorious Punakha fortress (dzong), 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 'must-see’ list of all visitors, is the Khamsum Yuley Temple. 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.
Thimphu - Bhutan’s capital, allows travelers 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 at the Tashichho Dzong (Fortress of the Glorious Religion). Travelers 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.
Paro and the Paro Valley
The city of Paro is home to a wealth of architectural and natural beauty. Whilst in the city, travelers 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.
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. Its extensive complex was renovated in 2008 and contains a small guesthouse, monks’ quarters and outlying meditation center. 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.
Commonly referred to as the ‘spiritual heartland of Bhutan’, Bumthang boasts some of the country’s oldest Buddhist temples and monasteries. Besides its temples, the region is famous throughout the country for its brightly colored 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.
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 symbolized 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. Travelers can also interact with the local monks in order to learn about their traditional lifestyle and the inner workings of Buddhism.
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