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Within the folds of Bhutan's mountains lie sacred temples, dazzling rice fields, and villages unchanged by time. On this magical journey, experience the wonders of the last Mahayana Buddhist kingdom of the Himalaya. Hike to ancient dzongs, meet local families, wander through serene monasteries, discover unique artistic traditions, and witness one of Bhutan’s spectacular local festivals.
Hike to Bhutan's most famous pilgrimage site, Taktsang Lhakhang (Tiger's Nest Temple), and explore Gangtey Goemba, one of the oldest private monasteries in the country.
Mingle with community leaders and government dignitaries at a banquet dinner, and gain insight into modern Bhutan.
Witness colorful parades and processions at vibrant local festivals.
Stay at the spectacular Zhiwa Ling, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World that exemplifies the artistry of Bhutanese
Itinerary - 11 Days
Day 1 — Bangkok, Thailand
Arrive in Bangkok this evening and check in to our hotel. Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel
Day 2 — Paro, Bhutan
Fly to Bhutan's Paro Valley (7,300 feet), and visit the seventh-century Kyichu Lhakhang temple. Explore our stunning hotel—a member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World
collection—before a welcome dinner tonight. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Punakha
After a special Buddhist blessing ceremony, journey to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan. This afternoon, visit Chimi Lakhang, a small but famous temple in the center of the golden Punakha Valley. Settle into our hotel and enjoy dinner together. Meri Puensum Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Punakha
After an invigorating hike to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten, a spectacularly situated temple, be rewarded for your efforts with incredible views of the valley below. Then visit the Punakha Dzong, an impressive fortress guarding the southern end of the valley at the confluence of the Pho (male) and Mo (female) Rivers. Meri Puensum Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Phobjikha
Travel to the beautiful alpine valley of Phobjikha (10,000 feet), the largest wintering site for the endangered black-necked crane. Along the way, the environment changes from semi-tropical to pine forest, and then to an alpine zone that is home to several species of rhododendron, dwarf bamboo, and Grey Langur monkeys. Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Phobjikha
Against a backdrop of forest-clad mountains, Gangtey Goemba temple complex rises dramatically from a cluster of hilltop cottages. One of the oldest Nyingma monasteries in Bhutan, the Gangtey Goemba has recently been renovated, allowing us to examine the fine workmanship of Bhutan’s best woodcarvers, sculptors, and painters. Our visit coincides with the annual Crane Festival, a charming mix of traditional masked and folk dances. Held in the courtyard of the Goemba, this festival was created by the community to raise awareness for the rare cranes that winter in the valley. Today is also celebrated throughout the country as “Children’s Day” in honor of the fourth king’s birthday. After the festival, set off on a half-day hike, stopping to visit with a village family along the way. Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 7 — Thimphu
Travel to Thimphu (7,900 feet), the capital of Bhutan. Cross the Dochu La pass (10,000 feet) en route and gaze at a 200-mile panorama of Himalayan peaks (weather permitting). Tonight, get a behind-the-scenes perspective on contemporary Bhutan during a lively Bhutanese banquet with members of the government, local dignitaries, and respected professionals. Taj Tashi Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Thimphu/Paro
Spend the morning exploring the country’s more modern side in Thimphu. Depending on the day of the week, either visit the capital's colorful outdoor market, where farmers and vendors from throughout the country come to sell an array of fresh produce; or the National Textile Museum, where Bhutan’s finest weavings and brocades are on display. Return to Paro in the afternoon and settle back in at the Zhiwa Ling. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Paro
Our journey in the kingdom culminates with a 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 10 & 11 — Paro/Bangkok, Thailand
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)
Medical anthropologist Carroll Dunham has resided in the Himalaya for the past 25 years and currently resides in Nepal. An expert in Himalayan cultures, she is passionate about sacred geography, pilgrimage, and indigenous medicinal plants. Carroll has written four books and produced films for National Geographic, PBS, and the BBC. Carroll is the director of Wild Earth, an organization that works with rural Nepalese women who create handcrafted products to generate income.
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.
The itinerary shown describes the November 2016 and 2017 departures, which include the Crane Festival in Phobjikha. Festivals and celebrations on other departures include:
Private masked dance performance on the September 2016 departure
Paro festival on the April 2017 departure
Thimphu festival on the September 2017 departure
Prices are per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $2,175. 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 flights between Bangkok and Paro are $960 (subject to change).
Featured Expedition Moment
What To Expect
The average elevation in Bhutan is 8,000 feet above
sea level. This is an active trip, 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 Bhutanese-style hotel in Punakha;
and a rustic lodge in Phobjika.