bhutan monks dzongs temples

Monks, Haa Valley, Bhutan

Wonderful encounters with Bhutan’s flourishing Buddhist culture fill our journey from the Haa Valley to the Phobjikha Valley.

Photo by Hashmat Singh

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Festivals of Bhutan route-map

Trip Details at-a-Glance

Cost From: $5395  
Length: 10 days
Arrive: Paro, Bhutan
Depart: Paro, Bhutan
Lodging: 4 nights deluxe hotels, 5 nights welcoming lodges
Meals: All meals included
Activity: Cultural Adventures, Walking
Trip Level: 7 hiking days on easy to moderate trails, 1-5 hours a day, altitudes between 7,000-10,500 feet
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Highlights

  • Experience a Buddhist festival on every departure
  • Exhilarating day hikes to traditional villages and mountain temples
  • Hike to the famous cliff hermitage of Taktsang, the “Tiger’s Nest”
  • Meet farmers, monks, and nuns


Wow! A life-changing trip that I will never forget.Joe H.—Eastsound, WA

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Choosing the Right Trip

We work hard to help you choose the right trip for you, paying attention to your individual interests, abilities, and needs. If you have questions about the level of comfort or any of the activities described in this itinerary, please contact us.

References

We are proud to have an exceptionally high rate of repeat travelers. For more information, we would be happy to put you in touch with a client who has traveled with us.

Pre-Departure Information

Once you have signed up on the trip, we send a complete packing list, relevant health information, and required travel documents.

In the secluded Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, Buddhism permeates every aspect of daily life, hidden valleys shelter ancient fortress-monasteries, and the king decrees “Gross National Happiness” as the standard by which to measure the country’s wealth. On our journey through this magical Shangri La, you’ll hike to tiny villages and spectacular mountainside shrines, explore lively artisan markets, and meet red-robed monks in the chanting halls of majestic dzongs. Each departure features a Tsechu festival, with its wildly colorful masked dances, and our November trip attends the Wintering Crane Festival in the Phobjikha Valley. And no matter what time of year you go, you’ll get a chance to try your hand at archery, Bhutan’s national sport!

Itinerary at a Glance

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

Days 1-4
Paro / Thimphu / Punakha Valley (Paro Festival Departure)

From Paro, set in an emerald-green valley at 7,500 feet, we head to Thimphu, where we visit the Arts and Crafts school and the sanctuary sheltering a herd of takin, a goat antelope endemic to the Himalaya. Crossing the Dochu La (10,200'), whose summit is festooned with fluttering prayer flags and more than 100 chortens (stupas), we reach the Punakha Valley, a tranquil region of farming hamlets and rice terraces. One of our walks brings you to the Nunnery Vocational School, where young nuns train and study Buddhist text and meditation, and we visit the stunning 17th century Punakha Dzong, an architectural wonder and seat of the head abbot of Bhutan.

Days 5-7
Haa Valley

Heading over the Cheli La (13,000'), we arrive at the mountain-ringed Haa Valley in westernmost Bhutan. Renowned for its deep cultural traditions, the Haa Valley is a beautiful pastoral realm of ancient farmsteads flanked by steep, forested mountains. Here we hike to exquisite 8th century temples nestled on wooded hillsides, share butter tea with the locals, and taste traditional Bhutanese dishes in a family farmhouse. Our overnights are in newly-built cottages at Rigsum Lodge. When it first opened its doors in 2004, Wilderness Travel had the honor of being their very first guests!

Days 8-10
Paro / Paro Festival

In the Paro Valley, our hike brings you through pine forests festooned with Spanish moss to breathtaking Taktsang Monastery, the “Tiger’s Nest.” Later, try for a karay (bulls-eye) during your lesson in archery (we can arrange a friendly competition to test your newfound skills!). At the Paro Festival, we witness an exuberant multi-day event that is both a community gathering and a Tibetan Buddhist ceremony during which locals watch elaborate masked dance-dramas and receive blessings. On one morning, we witness the unrolling of a giant thongdrol (sacred tapestry). Depart on Day 10.

For a more complete description, Download Full Detailed Itinerary

Optional Extensions

If you would like to continue your adventure, we offer the following extensions:

What the Trip is Like

This trip is Level 2+, according to our trip rating system. The hikes are moderate and suitable for people in good shape who enjoy mountain hiking. The longest hike is about 3-4 hours, and for the most part you can set your own pace. Although you carry only a daypack, there are some steep ascents and descents, and the hikes are at moderate altitude, which can make them feel strenuous.
    
Getting in Shape
For your own enjoyment, we recommend you make a special effort to be in good physical condition for the journey by hiking, running, swimming, bicycling, or engaging in other forms of aerobic exercise well beyond your normal routine. Walking up and down flights of stairs is also an effective way to train for the steep ascents and descents in the Himalaya. Weekend hikes that involve long sections of uphill and downhill walking are great for conditioning your legs.

Accommodation and Food
Our accommodations in Bhutan range from rustic to very comfortable. The Zhiwa Ling Hotel in Paro and the Le Meridien in Thimphu offer a great deal of comfort, while the lodges in Punakha, the Haa Valley, and the Phobjikha Valley are rustic, but well situated and cozy. Most rooms are twin-bedded. At most guesthouses, simple buffets are provided at lunch and dinner. Bhutan’s cuisine is generally based on basic rice with stir-fry and stew options.

Explanation of Trip Levels

 

Departures & Leaders

2015
Nov 6-15, 2015  Wintering Cranes Festival

2016
Feb 13-22, 2016  Punakha & Serda Festival
Mar 16-25, 2016  Paro Festival
Sep 8-17, 2016  Haa & Thimphu Festival
Nov 6-15, 2016  Wintering Cranes Festival
Dec 11-20, 2016  Dochula Festival

Trip Cost

Prices are for 2016
$5395 (4-15 members)
Single supplement: $1565
Forced single supplement: $1365
Internal airfare: $980 (subject to change)
Bhutan Visa Fee (WT acquires visa for you): $40
more on pricing

Trip Payment Schedule

At time of reservation: $500
120 days prior to departure: 20% of trip cost
60 days prior to departure: Balance

Cancellation and Transfer Fee Schedule*

More than 90 days prior to departure: No charge!
90-46 days prior to departure: 25% of trip cost
45 days or less: 100% of trip cost

Internal Airfare Payment, Change, and Cancellation Fee Schedule:* Payment for Internal Air will be collected from each trip member approximately three to six months (or even more) prior to departure, depending on flight availability and seasonal ticketing deadlines. Once issued, internal air tickets are subject to a $100 per person fee for any changes or cancellation until 60 days prior to the trip. Within 60 days of the trip, all tickets are non-refundable. The name on your tickets must match your passport exactly, and any name changes are subject to these same fees. We therefore request that you send us a scanned copy of your passport photo page immediately upon reserving your trip. Internal Air payments and cancellation fees are in addition to Trip Cost payments and cancellation fees as noted above.

*Please note that this differs from our regular catalog departures.

Trip Cost Includes:

  • Expert leadership of a Wilderness Travel Trip Leader and local guides
  • All accommodations; please note that rooms with double beds are usually not available in Bhutan. Most lodge rooms are twin-bedded.
  • All meals included
  • All government taxes and fees
  • All land transportation, airport transfers for passengers as noted in the Full Trip Brochure

Trip Cost Does Not Include:

International airfare, hotels in Bangkok, airport transfers for individual arrival or departure, airport departure taxes, any meals not specified after each itinerary day in the Full Trip Brochure, optional tipping or gratuities to leaders or staff, additional hotel nights that may be necessary due to airline schedule changes or other factors, pre-trip expenses of medical immunizations (if any), travel insurance, or passports and visas; and other expenses of a personal nature (alcoholic beverages, laundry, etc.).

Le Meridien Hotel

Le Meridien Hotel

Days 1 to 2 (2 nights), Thimphu, Bhutan

Opened in 2014, Le Meridien’s brilliant white building capped with a vibrant red roof and orange-trimmed windows reveals a modern twist on ...
Click here for full description and more photos

Yulo Guest House

Days 3 to 4 (2 nights), Phobjikha, Bhutan

This small, rustic country lodge with its classic Bhutanese architecture is set in a wonderfully remote location in one of Bhutan’s most pristine valleys. The rooms are simple, clean, and comfortable, with private bathrooms and showers. Please note that the electricity is generator-powered, available in the mornings and evenings. The staff can prepare a hot-water bottle to warm up your bed at night, a pleasant treat during Bhutan’s chilly evenings.

Hotels in the Punakha Valley

Days 5 to 6 (2 nights), Punakha Valley, Bhutan

In Punakha we stay at one of the following properties based on availability and choice of accommodation:

Hotels in Paro

Days 7 to 9 (3 nights), Paro, Bhutan

In Paro we stay at one of the following properties based on availability and choice of accommodation:

Extension Accommodations

If you would like to view the accommodations offered with our extensions options:

Note: Listed above are our signature accommodations for this trip. Although it is highly unlikely, we may make substitutions when necessary.

Kipchu Dorji

Kipchu Dorji, whose name translates to “Calm Water Thunderbolt,” was born in the village of Katsho in Bhutan's little-visited Haa Valley. Kipchu attended Dr. Graham’s School in Kalimpong, India, and completed his professional training back in Bhutan, with studies in Buddhist iconography, culture, history, and botany. When Bhutan's doors were first opened to outsiders in the late 70’s, Kipchu was at the frontier as one of the first official guides to his country. In addition to his decades of experience as a Trip Leader, Kipchu has also traveled to England and Nepal for advanced trek leadership training. He has led countless WT trips throughout Bhutan since 1985, certainly earning the rank of one our most experienced—and beloved!—Trip Leaders. Kipchu shares the rhythm of daily life in Bhutan with his travelers, through personal welcomes in villages and farmhouses and tastes of the traditional Bhutanese food (be careful—the national favorite, chili-yak cheese ema datse, is fiery!). Equally appreciated for his caring nature, deep wisdom, and attention to detail, Kipchu leads our remote treks, hiking trips, and cultural adventures, and when he's not on the trail, you'll likely find him visiting his farm in Haa, practicing archery, or birdwatching with his children.

Upcoming Trips:

Bhutan: The Chomolhari Trek, October 4-16, 2015
Festivals of Bhutan, November 6-15, 2015

Client Testimonials:


Kipchu is the best trip leader I have ever traveled with. He brought the local culture to life, making things easy to understand, and he has a wonderful calm spirit and great sense of humor. Kim M., Phoenix AZ
Hiker’s Bhutan
Kipchu must be the dean of Bhutan trip leaders. He was exceptional in every aspect you could think. Susasn M., Pittsburgh PA
Hiker’s Bhutan
Kipchu Dorji has a great sense of humor, patience, and modesty—the best guide I’ve ever had. Ann D., Santa Fe NM
Hiker’s Bhutan
Kipchu Dorji is a gracious and mindful host and guide, with great attention to detail. He has an easy interaction with staff and guests alike. Alix B., New York NY, Bhutan: The Chomolhari Trek Kipchu was gentle, but firm, tactful, and so caring. A very wise man with a lovely sense of humor. Lorian J., Mamaroneck, NY
Hiker’s Bhutan
Kipchu made this trip. Wise, caring, thoughtful, and sensitive. One of the best trip leaders I’ve had in the seven walking trips I’ve taken. Joel J., Mamaroneck, NY
Hiker’s Bhutan
Kipchu made this trip an experience I will never forget. He is charming, knowledgeable, and warm. Joanne L, Long Beach CA
Hiker's Bhutan
We’re such fans—what can I say! Susan C., Florence, MA Kipchu is one of the best guides I have had throughout my travels—extremely professional with attention to detail and true warmth and care. I will never forget how special he made this trip for our group. Karen M., Danbury, CT
Hidden Bhutan
Kipchu's attention to details, vast knowledge, and patience really made the trip. Bee Y., Brussels, Belgium
Hidden Bhutan
Kipchu was fabulous and a terrific representative for his country. Scot R., Dalhart, TX
Festivals of Bhutan
Kipchu was a marvelous guide. He was extremely well organized, very knowledgeable, attentive to all our needs and requests, and a charming person. Julia K., Bend, OR
Festivals of Bhutan
Kipchu was first-rate and I felt privileged to have him as our trip leader. He also knew so much that I felt at ease in asking him any question. Melodie M., Seattle, WA
Festivals of Bhutan
Kipchu was absolutely a treasure. He was knowledgeable about everything Bhutan (culture, history, religion, flora, and fauna). He was kind and helpful and a truly delightful person. Ellen K., Boulder, CO
Hiker's Journey to Bhutan
How do I even begin? We have had many many wonderful tour guides in many different parts of the world, but Kipchu Dorji is truly in a class by himself. His unflappable patience, his serene optimism, his endless store of knowledge about all things in Bhutan, and his overall gentle presence will be something that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life. I consider it a great and wonderful blessing that we were able to spend 10 days with this enlightened human being. As incredible as the scenery, festivals, and hikes were, my personal absolute favorite aspect of this trip was getting to know Kipchu. Margot L., Superior, CO
Festivals of Bhutan
We could not have asked for a better trip leader than Kipchu. He was extremely knowledgeable and provided great insight into the nature of Buddhism and the history of Bhutan. He is obviously well known throughout the country, and was greeted with great warmth by many of the locals at every location we visited. Ray L., Superior, CO
Festivals of Bhutan

Optional Extensions

If you would like to continue your adventure, we offer the following extensions:

Burma

Burma Extension

Yangon and Bagan

Cultural Adventures
6 days  -  Level 2

Cambodia

angkor wat cambodia temples

Temples of Angkor Extension

Exploring the Glories of a Bygone Khmer Civilization

Cultural Adventures
4 days  -  Level 2

Laos

Laos: Luang Prabang Extension

Gilded Temples and Traditional Buddhist Culture of Laos

Cultural Adventures
3 days  -  Level 2

Myanmar

Burma Extension

Yangon and Bagan

Cultural Adventures
6 days  -  Level 2

Nepal

Karnali Lodge Extension

Exploring Bardia National Park

Photography, Safaris, Walking, Wildlife & Natural History
4 days  -  Level 1

Tharu Lodge Extension

Cultural Encounters, Jungle Walks, Elephant Rides

Cultural Adventures, Photography, Walking, Wildlife & Natural History
3 days  -  Level 1

Thailand

wat arun bangkok thailand

Bangkok Extension

Discover the Beautiful Cultural Monuments of Bangkok

Cultural Adventures
3 days  -  Level 1

Chiang Mai Extension

Explore the Wonders of Northern Thailand

Cultural Adventures, Walking, Wildlife & Natural History
3 days  -  Level 2

Phuket Extension

Explore a Jewel Set in the Andaman Sea

Cultural Adventures, Sea Kayaking
4 days  -  Level 2

Client Comments

Wow! A life-changing trip that I will never forget. Joe H., Eastsound, WA This trip was magical. It was so rich in spirituality, beauty, and friendliness. And amazing to visit a place still so untouched and pure in the native customs, costumes, and beliefs. Eliza S., Los Altos, CA It was an extraordinary experience and the most exotic place I’d ever been. I was actually hiking in the Himalayas in a beautiful Buddhist country! Sharon L., Bellevue, WA This was the most amazing trip I’ve ever done. The culture, the landscape, and the people were all amazing. Elizabeth K., Portland, ME The trip of a lifetime...of many. It will be hard to top. Jennifer S., Lafayette, CO It was a memorable trip and one we will remember forever. Alan L., Bellevue, WA Bhutan was everything I hoped for and more, and this trip showcased its natural beauty and culture very well. Pamela G., Omaha, NE We’re such fans—what can I say! Susan C., Florence, MA
Wonderful trip—I enjoyed it immensely! I completely lost track of the days (a sign of a good trip!) and found I was completely engaged in the experience and moment. I had wanted to go to Bhutan for a long time and the trip surpassed my expectations. Cathy H., Delaware, OH A dramatic journey to another world with a magical, spiritual, and most authentic vibe. Lynn L., Reddington Beach, FL We had many wonderful experiences...visiting a local school, observing a ceremony in monastery, coming upon an archery group practicing their skills, and, of course, the hike to Tiger's Nest. Marilyn G., Wyckoff, NJ Accommodations were excellent, keeping in mind that in more rural places the options were limited. Also, trip felt like it had the right balance of hiking and cultural experience. Have travelled with Wilderness many times before, and this was another excellent experience. Richard B., Philadelphia, PA This was an amazing trip and there is no way that I could possibly think of anything to complain about. The scenery was stunning, the people were gracious and friendly, the culture and festivals were fascinating, and the hikes were glorious. Margot L., Superior, CO