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.
Every captivating tailor-made itinerary needs a perfect base. Our team has handpicked this collection of properties to give you luxury options in styles to suit any adventure.
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 and uniquely styled five star comfortable hotels.
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.
Transfers within the country are done by road, which is a fantastic way to see the countryside. On longer journeys it is possible to stop off along the way and see some of the many sights Bhutan has to offer.
Bhutan is extremely safe and travellers on the whole never come into any problems during their trips. We always advise to keep an eye on your belongings and leave your valuables at home.
It most certainly is and is known locally as Ema Datshi. I actually really liked it but be warned a lot of the food in Bhutan looks quite similar and (as our Bhutan specialist Joe learnt to his peril) it is very easy to mistake it for another less fiery dish such as runner beans in a sauce. If you aren’t expecting Ema Datshi it can give you quite a shock!
This travel blog by Sophy Roberts tells the story of her recent trip to Bhutan with her young son, and is a descriptive and charming insight into travelling around Bhutan: http://www.departures.com/articles/the-wonders-of-bhutan.
Despite being a small, landlocked country, Bhutan is home to some of the Indian Subcontinents most stunning and majestic scenery. The famous Taktsang Monastery, also known at the Tigers Nest, perched on the edge of a cliff in the Paro Valley, is a truly breathtaking sight and a visit to this ancient Buddhist monastery should not be missed off any itinerary.
If you are flying to Paro from Kathmandu or Delhi a seat on the left-hand side of the plane will give you superb views of the Himalayas. It is not possible to pre-book these seats so we advise checking in nice and early to avoid disappointment. Don’t forget to carry your camera in your hand luggage.
When visiting Bhutan, it is always important to walk around Chortens (stupas) and spin prayer wheels clockwise. When photographing local people, it is best to ask beforehand. If in the country during a festival, visitors must stay within the crowd and not move into the performance area to get a better photograph – this is thought of as extremely rude by the locals.
While it certainly could most visits to Bhutan focus on the many cultural highlights of the country rather than trekking. On a typical visit, the main trek that most people would do is up to the Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery near Paro.
This climb is reasonably strenuous and will take between 2-3 hours up, and 1.5-2 hours back down. There is a cafeteria halfway with fabulous views and your guide will encourage you to go at your own pace and no faster. If you are interested in trekking there are some terrific options ranging from half a day to the epic Snowman Trek that takes around 25 days – the latter recognised as one of the world’s hardest treks.
Bhutan is six hours ahead of GMT.
From London Heathrow to Nepal or India, the flight time is between 10 and 12 ½ hours. The onward flight to Paro is then approximately two hours.
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