Bordered by forested mountain peaks, Paro is a small valley town in western Bhutan and one of the most beautiful arrival points…
Bhutan nudged its door open to tourism in the late 80s and by the mid-90s was allowing a restricted 3,000 people in per year. We were one of the first companies to be fully accredited and have been organising holidays there ever since. In Bhutan, it is still who you know rather than what you know, and we know all the right people.
One cannot fail to like a country which measures itself through gross national happiness. It offers peace and tranquillity, unmatched physical beauty, an attractive culture and people and a genuine sense of wellbeing and enlightenment. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the ancient monasteries, or dzongs, which serve as the administrative headquarters for each region. Bhutan is a tonic for the soul and should be visited by everyone once in their lifetime.
In the early days, Bhutan was considered the preserve of the more dedicated traveller. Travel was challenging, the roads were poor and the standard of hotels left much to be desired. However, with the opening of new luxury lodges, holidays to Bhutan have taken on a different aspect and it is now possible to drive and fly (by internal flight or private helicopter) the width of the country in great comfort.
Our local partners are some of the best in the business and provide the highest standard of service, offering incredible guiding, extremely experienced drivers and the most comfortable vehicles available. Visiting the key sites of Bhutan are of course important during your trip, but we endeavour to always show you something a little different, away from the usual tourist routes.
In an effort to protect Bhutan’s environment and culture, the government has placed a minimum fee of $250 per person per night for visitors to Bhutan. Included in this cost is standard accommodation, all meals at the standard hotels and local restaurants, services of an English speaking guide, private transport with an experienced driver, sightseeing, entrance fees, basic camping experience/equipment and taxes.
Steppes uses the best standard hotels available in each region, however, they can be very simple the further east you travel. If you prefer a more luxurious approach to travel, luxury hotel brands such as Como, Taj, Six Senses and Aman operate across Bhutan and we’d be happy to discuss which of these would suit you best.
It’s all here. Things to see and do, places to explore and moments to discover.
If you are short on time and wish to avoid the long drives, take a short 20-minute flight from Paro to Bumthang. Alternatively, drive to Bumthang stopping off en route but then return to Paro by plane.
The Bumthang Owl Trek is short, yet fascinating. The trail takes you through dense forests of bamboo, juniper, blue pine and rhododendron trees, with gorgeous views of Mt. Gangkar Peunsum peak.
Take a short 10-minute hike up to the sacred Guru Rinpoche cave. A series of ladders you past a lovely butter-lamp shrine to a rock-face chapel.
Spot the rare and beautiful Black-Necked Cranes of the Phobijkha Valley during their migration from Tibet, between November to mid-March.
The Gangtey Nature Trail is a gentle two-hour trek that lets you admire and absorb the remarkable Phobjikha Valley.
Spend the day walking through traditional farmland and paddy-fields to Khamsum Chorten, where the views down to the Mo Chhu (river) and Punakha Dzong (monastery) are utterly spectacular.
Chimi Lhakhang or the ‘Fertility Temple’ is a small temple dedicated to the rogue Buddhist leader, known as the Divine Madman. The temple is unique due to the sheer number of illustrations of the phallus.
With Archery as Bhutan’s national sport, watching an archery tournament in Thimpu’s stadium is a thrilling event. Competitors demonstrate exceptional skill, hitting targets up to 145m away.
This massive golden Buddha statue commands the entry to the Thimpu Valley and houses a large chapel full of thousands of Buddha statuettes.
Marvel at the beautiful work produced by the students at Thimpu’s Painting School. It is hard not to be impressed by their exceptional skill and discipline.
Some of the wonderful places to stay that we frequently recommended.
With its superb setting and sweeping views over the stunning Phobjikha Valley, this lodge offers an excellent base to explore this beautiful area. Drawing its inspiration from the traditional, rural Bhutanese architecture, the lodge was designed and decorated using interiors and furnishings to showcase the vibrant local culture. The focal point of the lodge is the informal lounge and dining space with comfortable sofas set around open fires, alongside floor-to-ceiling views of the lush valley below. The twelve beautifully appointed guest rooms also each have their own fireplace. Friendly, engaging staff ensure your stay is memorable.
Amankora Bumthang rests adjacent to the historical Wangduechhoeling Palace, within the town of Jakar in the Choekhor Gewog. This beautiful valley is sprinkled with an exotic mix of sloping pine forests, apple orchards and restful fields of farm produce. The 16 suites are located in one building and are identical in design to those of the Aman properties in Punakha and Paro. There is a library, well-appointed living room and an impressive dining room. Located in the courtyard between the lodge and Wangduechhoeling Palace is an informal bonfire area for pre-dinner drinks. The spa offers three treatment rooms and a steam room.
Six Senses Bhutan are the finest collection of remote lodges in Asia and a welcome addition to the other luxury-level accommodation on offer. Designed to be experienced as a circuit, a stay at each lodge provides a seamless experience between the five lodges. Each lodge is different, yet all share the same farm-fresh dining and extensive spa facilities.
The Taj Tashi reflects Bhutan’s rich heritage and architecture with its interesting combination of traditional Bhutanese hand-painted design and modern design. The hotel enjoys majestic views of the mountains surrounding the Thimphu valley and has 66 rooms, together with a luxurious spa and indoor heated pool. Gourmet dining is offered at the hotel’s restaurant where you can indulge in both Continental and Asian specialities. There is also a contemporary bar and a Tea Lounge serving butter tea, a local favourite guaranteed to take the chill off in the colder months. There is a golf course a 5-minute walk away and a trip to the National Library and Textile Museum takes ten minutes by car.
Aman Gangtey is located in a stunning position overlooking the unspoilt valley of Phobjikha. The eight suites are identical to those of Amankora Thimphu, offering an open plan bedroom and bathing area. The aesthetics combine wood panelling and chocolate brown walls, the traditional bukhari, terrazzo-clad bath, shower and vanity and daybed offering views across the valley. Suites are individually heated during the cold winter months.
Situated in the heart of Thimpu, Bhutan’s capital city, is the Galingkha Hotel, one of the oldest in the kingdom. The hotel has been restored, maintaining a delicate and fine balance between the traditional Bhutanese architecture and practical modern amenities. The location is the plus point of this hotel, although the sounds of the city can be heard in the rooms.
Travelling with kids in Bhutan isn’t going to be a walk in the park, but it’s certainly a worthy experience. Swap the kids club for a more enriching holiday for the entire family.
The type of family that comes to Bhutan loves exploring and getting stuck in. With the constant reassurance of your excellent guide, kids can have a go at so many activities.
This 13-day classic journey is the perfect holiday for anybody visiting Bhutan for the first time, taking in the main sites of Western and Central Bhutan whilst staying in a mix of traditional Bhutanese guest houses.
A passion for travel runs right through every one of our experts - meaning they're always ready with first-hand insight about their specialist countries.
My travels were first inspired by my love of the UK, which I take as much pleasure in exploring as countries far and wide. For me, travel is all about the adventure, the people I meet and the food I sample along the way.
Charlotte is the Conde Nast Traveller chosen Specialist for Asia.
My strong sense of belonging in Asia stemmed from a childhood in Hong Kong and Nepal. My Grandmother was born in a tent in India. Some of my clearest memories are of walking through a dense, tropical jungle while hailstones the size of cricket balls rained down on us; of being carried on my father’s shoulders as we trekked through the Himalayas; my mother wearing flipflops on a snowy mountainside; and me falling into Dal Lake in Srinagar as we disembarked from our houseboat.
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