The country of Bhutan is located between Tibet and India and has a lot to offer for travelers. Experience famous sights as well as hidden places and impressive cultural and natural highlights. Among the most famous places in Bhutan are certainly the Tiger’s Nest, which stands on a 3,000-meter cliff, and the Dzong of Punakha, one of the most beautiful monastic fortresses in the country. Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, is not comparable to any other Asian capital.
There are many little visited areas in Bhutan where you can discover almost undiscovered natural treasures and authentically immerse yourself in the culture of the local people during a round trip.
In Bhutan, personal happiness is at the center of life and it is a special concern of the government to measure and improve the “Gross National Happiness” annually – something special in the whole world! Here’s our list of the 16 best places to visit in Bhutan.
Taktsang, translated as “Tiger’s Nest”, refers to a Buddhist temple complex in the west of the Kingdom of Bhutan, carved into a rock face of the Himalayan Mountains at about 3000 meters above sea level. The monastery was built as early as 1692 and the ascent has always been linked to an arduous hike. But not only the exciting history of the temple, but especially the spectacular views cause people to take this strain on themselves again and again. Those who start the five-hour hike are accompanied by weeping pines, blooming rhododendrons and colorful prayer flags.
Paro is a historic small town in the west of Bhutan. It is located at an altitude of about 2,400 meters and has about 15,000 inhabitants. The city boasts an enormous wealth of sacred sites and historic buildings scattered throughout the surrounding area. In addition, the green Paro Valley is one of the most beautiful in all of Bhutan. Paro is the ideal destination for people who love nature and appreciate the peaceful tranquility of a place that touches the soul. Despite the uninviting concrete buildings and the hustle and bustle of the bazaar, Paro, along with Punakha and Jakar, is part of the “Golden Triangle” of Bhutan’s most popular tourist destinations. The main street with its traditional constructions made of wood captivates with its simplicity, peculiar character and charm.
14. Trongsa Dzong
In the heart of Bhutan, near the small village rises the strategically located and most famous monastic fortress of the entire country: The Trongsa Dzong. Once, the Trongsa Dzong controlled the trade routes and made the respective governor in the region a rich and powerful man. However, besides this strategic importance, Trongsa Dzong is now mostly known as the place where the first king of Bhutan came from, who was crowned in 1907. Visit the Trongsa Dzong in the center of Bhutan, catch a glimpse of the beautiful surrounding landscape and learn about the roots of the hereditary monarchy that rules Bhutan today.
In the west of the country of Bhutan, the capital Thimphu is located at an altitude of about 2,400 meters above sea level and represents the center of the Himalayas. In the small capital city, traditional buildings, modern technologies and time-honored traditions blend with a basic spiritual attitude, making Bhutan such a unique destination. Explore the diverse city of Thimphu with its exotic-looking buildings, learn about the weekly market, the school of traditional arts and the beliefs of the local people. Impressive highlights in Thimphu are furthermore the seat of government of the king and the memorial chortens. Thimphu will fascinate you with a variety of extraordinary highlights and is an ideal start for a trip through Bhutan.
Punakha is located in the west of the country, at an altitude of about 1400 meters and has, unlike many other places in Bhutan, subtropical climate with sufficient rainfall, which is ideal for rice cultivation and characterizes the landscape.
This tranquil little town was the site of the coronation of Bhutan’s first king – Ugyen Wangchuk – in 1907. The coronation site was none other than Punakha Dzong – a Buddhist monastery castle (UNESCO) – which is a magnet for visitors. The 6-story structure is 72 meters wide and 180 meters long and was built under the Shbdrung rule in the 16th – 17th centuries.
Every year in February, the monastery hosts Punakha Chekhu, the famous monastery festival that attracts many visitors. The festival, as in Paro, is held in honor of Guru Rinpoche, who is credited with introducing Tantric Buddhism throughout the Himalayas. Again, masked dances in colorful costumes are performed by the monks. The highlight is the unfolding of the thangka – the sacred scroll.
11. Royal Manas National Park
The park has an area of 1,057 km², which is still relatively undeveloped. It is considered the crown jewel of Bhutan and a genetic resource. Previously, the national park was a royal hunting ground. The park forms the largest tropical and subtropical ecosystem in the country and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With thousands of animal and plant species, many of which are considered globally endangered, Royal Manas National Park is not only Bhutan’s most biodiverse protected area, but also one of the most globally exceptional places. Located in south-central Bhutan, its southern border extends to Manas National Park in India.
The Manas River forms the border between Bhutan and India. To the north, the national park borders the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. In 1966 Royal Manas was designated a Wildlife Sanctuary and in 1993 it was declared a national park. The area is exceptionally rich in species, including Royal Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, water buffalo, armored rhinoceros, clouded leopard, ruffed bear, golden langur, Gangetic dolphin, and Anterior Indian pangolin. More than 365 bird species have been officially sighted here.
However, it is believed that another 200 bird species are present in the park. Globally endangered species such as the Nepal hornbill, banded sea eagle, the second largest heron species, the imperial heron, spot-breasted pygmy dwarf, mountain wagtail and magnificent cuckoo, among others, live here. Many of the more than 900 plant species found in the park have commercial, medicinal, traditional or religious significance.
10. Gangteng Monastery
In 1613, Pema Trinley the grandson of the famous Nyingmapa saint Pema Lingpa laid the foundation stone of the monastery. Gangtey Monastery rises on a small hill overlooking the Phobjikha Valley and is surrounded by a large village inhabited by 140 families, the Gomchen. En large painting of Hayagriva can be seen at the entrance of the monastery. The monks’ quarters are all located in the courtyard of Gangtey Monastery. In 2001 the renovation was started. The woodwork on the temple is well worth seeing. Wooden sculptures are sold near the monastery. In the eighth lunar month, a religious festival is held in the courtyard of the monastery. Gangtey Monastery, also sometimes written as “Gangtey Gompa” is one of the most important monasteries of the Nyingma-Pa school of Buddhism. The headquarters of the Pema Lingpa tradition.
Trashigang district stretches across the eastern side of the empire to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is the largest district in the country with an elevation of 600 meters to over 4000 meters.
The largest river in Bhutan, the Dangmechu, flows through this district. The town of Trashigang is situated on a scenic hillside and was once a vibrant trading center for merchants exchanging goods in Tibet.
Today, it is the crossroads of the east-west highway as a transportation link to Samdrup Jongkhar with the Indian state of Assam. The town of Trashigang is also the main market for the semi-nomads of Merak and Sakteng, whose unique dresses stand out from those of regular Bhutanese Gho and Kira.
8. Haa Valey
The Haa Valley can be reached in about 3-4 hours from Thimphu or in about 2 hours from Paro (via the Chelela Pass, 3.950m).
The Haa Valley is still largely undeveloped for tourism, as it was only opened to tourists in 2002. There are numerous beautiful monasteries on the mountain slopes and still pristine villages stretch along the main road. Buckwheat and potatoes are grown in the fields and pasture farming is practiced.
The Haa Valley is also suitable for beautiful hikes and walks. A drive over the Chelela Pass (3,950m) offers a magnificent view of the Jhomolhari Massif and Jichu Dracke in good weather. In summer and autumn, mountain flowers of all colors bloom on the pass, e.g. edelweiss and gentian.
The most famous trek in Haa Valley is the Nubtshonapatta and Juniper Trek, which lead to altitudes around 4,500m.
Bumthang is a collective name for the four valleys in central Bhutan: Chokor, Tang, Ura and Chumey. The main attractions are in Chokor, often when people say Bumthang they mean Chokor. You have the possibility to hike through the valley and visit some monasteries. There are of course private transports to the monasteries for those who do not want to walk. Visit Kurjey Lhakhang, an impressive monastery that includes three temples. In one of the temples there is a sacred cave where the Guru Rinpoche, meditated after defeating the demons and bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. Other monasteries worth visiting are the Tamshing Goemba and the Konchogsum Lhakhang. Also worth a walk into town and a visit to the local dzong in Jakar, where you have a beautiful view over the valley.
The lively border town is opposite the Indian city of Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and is therefore fondly called the “Gateway to Bhutan”.
Phuentsholing is the second largest city in Bhutan. The border gate is located within the city limits. If you want to enter Bhutan by land, Phuentsholing is your only possibility to enter the land of the Thunder Dragon. In Phuentsholing you can visit the Buddhist temple Zangto Pelri Lhakhang. Inside the temple there is an impressive four meter high statue of Guru Rinpoche, who plays a major role in Bhutanese Buddhism.
For trading, the Indian merchants in their special clothes and the Bhutanese in gho and kira meet here. The climate in the village, which is only 300 meters high, is in stark contrast to that in the highlands: it is tropically hot in summer with high humidity, but warm and pleasant in winter.
5. Wangdue Phodrang
On a ridge above the town in the Wangdue Phodrang district of the same name lies the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong – the “Palace of the Four Directions”.
Wangdue Phodrang, a small town built in the typical style of Bhutan, shows a wonderful view over the Phobjikha valley.
The dreamy town with its narrow alleys invites you to visit the market with its variety of colors or the monastery castle, called Dzong.
In the Phobjikha Valley there is an information center about the black-necked cranes that winter here. The center has an observation room with a very good telescope and a small souvenir store.
Mongar is the gateway to Eastern Bhutan. The towns in the east of the country are built on the mountain slopes, in contrast to the west, where they are located on the valley floor. The small town with numerous stores is grouped around the dzong, which is relatively new. Its construction was ordered only by the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The royal inn is near the dzong with a beautiful view over the Mongar valley. Some of the most famous weaving villages are found in the Mongar region.
In the northeastern corner of Bhutan lies the ancient region of Kurtoe, now known as Lhuntse. It is the ancestral seat of the kings and is home to several of the country’s sacred shrines. It is located 77 km from Mongar (3 hours by car) and is one of the most remote districts in Bhutan.
The scenery is spectacular with steep cliffs overlooking river gorges and dense coniferous forests. The region is famous for its weavers and their distinctive textiles are generally considered the best in the country. Kurtoep women are particularly skilled at weaving a textile called kishuthara. Eastern Bhutanese culture is characterized by high alcohol consumption compared to other parts of Bhutan. Ara, the traditional alcohol of Bhutan, is mostly made from rice or corn, either fermented or distilled. It can only be legally produced and consumed privately.
Attractions in the region include Lhuntse Dzong, Khoma Village (famous for weaving), Singye Dzong, Beyul Khenpajong, and Phunying Pass. The textile products of Khoma village in Lhuntse are considered the best in the country. The looms are ubiquitous in almost every household.
Most of Lhuntse district belongs to the environmental protection areas of Bhutan. The district includes parts of Wangchuck Centennial Park in the north, Thrumshingla National Park in the south and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the east. These three parks are linked by biological corridors that traverse the central and southern regions of the district.
2. Chimi Lhakang
In the center of Bhutan, near the small town of Punakha, there is an important pilgrimage destination for all childless couples in the country. The small temple Chimi Lhakang has been standing on its hill not far from the city since the 15th century and is supposed to fulfill infertile women’s long-awaited wish to have children.
Let yourself be carried away by the spiritual atmosphere at Chimi Lhakang and learn more about the history and significance of the temple for the devout people of Bhutan. Pilgrims can also be seen time and again visiting the Chimi Lhakang, hoping for the blessings of the Lama who founded the temple in his time. At the Chimi Lhakang, you will learn more about the multi-layered meaning of faith in the country in addition to seeing one of the oldest temples in Bhutan amidst a charming backdrop.
Very close to the Chimi Lhakang temple in Punakha is the longest suspension bridge in all of Bhutan, which is a special experience for guests who are afraid of heights. The suspension bridge is 150 meters long and leads over a small river. The small adventure is rewarded by a magnificent view, which is especially recommended from the middle of the bridge.
Tang is the most difficult section of the above-mentioned Bumthang Valley to reach. A place of beautiful greenery and fir-covered hills, monks and intrepid travelers alike are drawn to impressive Buddhist relics.
Mebar Tsho (or the so-called burning lake) is one of the great highlites here and a site associated with the miracles of Pema Lingpa in the 14th century.
The museum at Ogyen Choling is also worth a visit. Here there are collections of local handicrafts and preserved living quarters of centuries-old Buddhist monks to decipher the deep connections between this nation and its religious beliefs.