Bhutan Photo Expedition

  • 12-day journey with an acclaimed National Geographic photographer
  • Photograph Paro, Punakha, Thimphu, and local villages.

Expedition Details


Set out into the mountains of Bhutan to shoot images of exquisite temples, timeless farming villages, and the towering Himalaya. Capture scenes from a lively market or crimson-robed monks against a backdrop of whitewashed dzongs. Hike into forests where wild moss creates an otherworldly atmosphere, and photograph breathtaking panoramas of snow-clad peaks.

Trip Highlights

  • Capture images of daily life in Bhutan on hikes to local villages and excursions to lively markets.
  • Hike to Bhutan's most famous pilgrimage site, Taktsang Lhakhang (Tiger's Nest Temple).
  • Photograph the exquisite carvings and sculptures of the newly renovated Gangtey Gonpa temple.
  • Mingle with community leaders and government dignitaries at a banquet dinner and gain insight into modern Bhutan.

Itinerary - 12 Days

Days 1 & 2 — U.S./Bangkok, Thailand

Depart the U.S., cross the international date line, and arrive the next night.
Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel

Day 3 — Bangkok/Paro, Bhutan

From Bangkok, fly to the Paro Valley (7,300 feet) in Bhutan. Transfer to our hotel and enjoy time to relax, or head to the seventh-century Kyichu Lhakhang to photograph one of Bhutan’s oldest temples in the afternoon light. Tonight, gather for a welcome dinner.

Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 4 — Paro/Punakha

After a special Buddhist blessing ceremony, journey to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan. With your camera in hand, delve into the colorful and boisterous Punakha Tsechu festivities, which take place around the town’s stunning dzong. People travel from distant valleys and towns to socialize, celebrate their Buddhist heritage, and enjoy one of the most important events on the Bhutanese calendar. 
Capture the joyous atmosphere of the festival in photographs, and document the elaborate costumes and dances.
Meri Puensum Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Punakha

Return to the dzong this morning to photograph the festival’s dramatic closing ceremonies. Then set off on an invigorating hike to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten, a spectacularly situated temple offering incredible views of the valley below.
Meri Puensum Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 6 — Punakha/Phobjika

Travel to the beautiful alpine valley of Phobjika (10,000 feet), the largest wintering site for the endangered black-necked crane. Along the way, stop to photograph the changing landscape as it transitions from semi-tropical to pine forest, and then to an alpine environment where rhododendron, dwarf bamboo, and Grey Langur monkeys can be found.
Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 7 — Phobjika

Against a backdrop of forest-clad mountains, the Gangtey Gonpa temple complex rises dramatically from a cluster of hilltop cottages. One of the oldest Nyingma monasteries in Bhutan, the Gangtey Gonpa has recently been renovated, and the fine workmanship of Bhutan’s best woodcarvers, sculptors, and painters here makes for fantastic photography. Then set off on a half-day hike, stopping to visit with a village family and meet students at a local school along the way.

Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 8 — Phobjika/Thimphu

Travel to Thimphu (7,900 feet), the capital of Bhutan. Cross the Dochu La pass (10,000 feet) en route and photograph a 200-mile panorama of Himalayan peaks (weather permitting). Upon arrival in Thimphu, visit the National Textile Museum and browse its exhibitions. Bhutan’s weavings and brocades are considered spiritual expressions and are admired for their diversity and sophistication.

Taj Tashi Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 9 — Thimphu/Paro

Spend the morning exploring the country’s more modern side in Thimphu. Visit the Traditional School of Painting and the Arts to capture close-ups of students practicing the ancient arts of Bhutanese thangka painting, mask making, and wood carving. After returning to Paro, get a behind-the-scenes perspective on contemporary Bhutan during a lively Bhutanese banquet with members of the government, local dignitaries, and respected professionals.
Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 10 — Paro

Our journey in the kingdom culminates with a photo hike to the most famous pilgrimage site in Bhutan: Taktsang Lhakhang, or the Tiger’s Nest Temple (9,300 feet). Visible from afar, this stunning monastery clings to a vertical granite cliff 2,000 feet above the valley floor. This evening, celebrate your Bhutanese adventure at a festive farewell dinner.
Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)

Days 11 & 12 — Paro/Bangkok, Thailand/U.S.

Fly to Bangkok and check into our hotel. The following morning, transfer to the airport for your return flight, arriving home the same day.
Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel (B, L; B)

Optional Extension

Related Trips

National Geographic Expert

Ira Block

Ira BlockFor more than 30 years, Ira Block has covered assignments around the world for National Geographic magazine. His photographic subjects are as varied as the destinations stamped in his passport—from dinosaurs in the Gobi desert to hidden treasures in China, Mongolia, and Tibet; from Incan mummies in Peru to the North Pole by dogsled; from Aboriginal people in Australia’s Arnhem Land to the Native Americans of the southwestern United States. His enchantment with Asian culture led to “The Samurai Way,” a story he shot in Japan, and “Restless Spirits,” featuring the Terra Cotta soldiers of Xi'an, China. He recently led a photography workshop in Bangkok and has embarked on a personal journey into the study of an ancient Japanese martial art. Ira leads National Geographic photo workshops in New York City, and he has also taught in Abu Dhabi, Boston, Maine, and at the School of Visual Arts Digital Masters Program in New York. Ira’s most recent National Geographic story, illustrating prehistoric global warming, appeared in the October 2011 issue.

Ira will join the following departure:

Oct 17 - 28, 2014


  • Oct 17 - 28, 2014 ALT

ALT indicates a departure that has a slightly different itinerary than the one shown on this page. Click the ALT icon to see the day-to-day itinerary.

Expedition Cost



Prices are per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,995 in 2013 and $2,095 in 2014. There is an additional Bhutanese government tourism tariff of $400 per person.

International airfare to/from Bangkok and airfare between Bangkok and Paro is not included in the expedition cost. The group flight between Bangkok and Paro is from $960 (subject to change).

What To Expect

This is an active trip with hikes and excursions that involve stairs and uneven footing. The average elevation in Bhutan is 8,000 feet above sea level. This trip is not suitable for those with cardiac, respiratory, or circulatory disorders, or limited mobility. We stay at first-class hotels in Bangkok, Paro, and Thimphu; a simple Bhutanese-style hotel in the Punakha Valley; and a rustic lodge in Phobjika.