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Nestled among the eastern Himalaya, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan captures the imagination with serene landscapes, sacred temples, and a culture steeped in ancient Buddhist traditions. Set out to discover the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” on an exhilarating adventure that includes three days in Bumthang, Bhutan’s most sacred valley. Cross mountain passes strung with colorful prayer flags, traverse stunning glacial valleys, and visit hilltop monasteries populated by red-robed monks. In charming villages long isolated from the modern world, meet gracious Bhutanese people and witness their dedication to preserving their country’s natural beauty and daily rituals. Along the way, delve into Bhutan’s unique artistic heritage in the cultural centers of Thimphu and Paro.
Trek across high mountain passes, through alpine forests, and among the lush farmlands of Bhutan’s most sacred valley.
Hike to magnificent dzongs, or fortress-monasteries, and discover their extraordinary histories.
Meet traditional Himalayan highlanders: farmers, villagers, and monks.
Experience Bhutan’s thriving Buddhist culture on visits to museums, monasteries, and local homes.
Itinerary - 14 Days
Days 1 & 2 — Bangkok, Thailand/Paro, Bhutan
Arrive in Bangkok late in the evening. The following day, board an early morning flight to Paro, taking in views of the some of the highest peaks of the eastern Himalaya, including Mount Everest, if weather permits. Check into our hotel and enjoy lunch together before setting out on a short walk to the Paro Dzong. This medieval fortress, perched on a hillside overlooking the town, now serves as the administrative and religious center of the region.
Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel; Zhiwa Ling Hotel (Day 2: B,L,D)
Day 3 — Paro
After breakfast, drive up to Cheli La (12,500 feet), a mountain pass from which we may see the sacred peak of Jhomolhari and the Haa Valley if it’s a clear day. Set out on our first hike from here, descending past fluttering prayer flags to the green slopes of Paro, and stopping for a picnic lunch along the way. Enjoy a free afternoon to relax or explore Paro on your own. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Thimphu
Drive to Thimphu this morning, where we’ll begin a steep, hour-long climb to Cheri Goemba, a monastery established in 1620. Hike another hour up to Tango Goemba, a Buddhist institute for higher learning originally founded in the 12th century. This afternoon, experience Bhutan’s colorful pageantry during a lively performance of traditional music and dance. (4-5 miles hiking, 3-4 hours) Ariya Hotel (B,L,D)
Days 5 & 6 — Punakha
Journey over Dochu La pass (10,000') to Punakha, Bhutan’s ancient capital, and visit the magnificent Punakha Dzong, which guards the southern end of the valley at the confluence of the Pho (male, or father) and Mo (female, or mother) rivers. If you wish, hike to a nearby fertility temple dedicated to a beloved saint, lama Drukpa Kunley, known as the Divine Madman for his unconventional teachings. The following day, hike to a farm, where we’re invited for lunch with the family. Visit a nearby village and its school, and, on our way back to Punakha, stop at Dho Jhaga Lhakhang to stroll the temple gardens and attend a special blessing service. (2 miles hiking, 1 hour; 3-4 miles hiking, 3-4 hours)
Kunzangzhing Hotel (B,L,D daily)
Day 7 — Phobjikha
Continue to Phobjikha on the western slopes of the Black Mountains. Considered one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan, Phobjikha is also the largest wintering site for endangered black-necked cranes, which arrive here in November and stay through March. Today’s hike brings us through pine and rhododendron forests to a local farmhouse, where we’ll stop to meet with the family. (2 miles hiking, 1 hour) Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Gangtey/Trongsa/Bumthang
Begin the day at Gangtey Goemba, one of the oldest Nyingmapa monasteries in Bhutan. Recently renovated, the monastery allows us to examine the fine workmanship of Bhutan’s best woodcarvers, sculptors, and painters. Travel to the town of Trongsa and explore its massive dzong, which commands a lofty perch overlooking the valley. At one time, the only mule and foot trail between eastern and western Bhutan passed through Trongsa and the dzong itself. Then cross Yutong La pass (11,234′) and explore a local weaving center before continuing to Bumthang, a deeply spiritual area where Buddhism was first introduced to Bhutan in the seventh century A.D. Yugharling Resort (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Bumthang
Discover Bumthang today, seeing important Buddhist sites that date back more than a thousand years. Take an easy walk from Jambay Lakhang to Kurjey Lakhang, visiting the temples and learning the rich legends associated with them. Then hike along a dirt road to Tamzhing Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its unique murals. After lunch, explore Jakar Dzong and, if time permits, you may choose to visit a cheese factory, go on another hike, or enjoy time at leisure in town, or more hiking. (3 miles hiking, 2 hours) Yugharling Resort (B,L,D)
Day 10 — Bumthang
Cross the river to a secluded trail that ascends steeply through pine forests and meadows to Pedseling Monastery. Stop for a picnic at the monastery and time to explore the grounds. Then descend the other side of the mountain into beautiful Tang Valley, winding through Tang villages. On our drive back to Bumthang, stop to see religious sites along the road to Jakar, including Tang Rimochen Lakhang, a nunnery, and Member Tsho (Burning Lake). (9–11 miles hiking, 4–5 hours) Yugharling Resort (B,L,D)
Day 11 — Paro
Catch a morning flight from Bumthang to Paro. After checking into our hotel, set out for the National Museum, housed in an old watchtower above the Paro Dzong. The museum’s collections include displays of spectacular thangkas (religious scroll paintings), bronze statues, and elaborate stamps. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 12 — Paro
Set out on a steep, two-hour hike to a teahouse that affords fantastic views of the legendary Taktshang Lhakhang, or Tiger’s Nest Monastery, perched on a cliff nearly 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley. If you wish, continue another hour to a closer viewpoint. Later this afternoon, try your hand at archery, Bhutan’s national sport, during a festive display with local experts. Toast our adventure with a farewell dinner this evening. Schedule permitting, we may be joined by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche, who is recognized as the incarnation of a great Buddhist master. (4 miles hiking, 4-5 hours) Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Days 13 & 14 — Paro/Bangkok
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for our flight to Bangkok. The following morning, board your homebound flight.
Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel (B daily)
National Geographic Active Expeditions are unique, active itineraries for intrepid travelers that combine spectacular places, cultural interaction, and physical challenge. You'll explore fascinating, off-the-beaten-path places with top guides, and wherever possible, meet National Geographic experts in the field.