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Bhutan offers the kind of Himalayan trekking that few know about. It has all the huge snow-capped peaks you'd expect along the border with Tibet, plus plenty of epic high passes, glittering turquoise glacial lakes and even the occasional snow leopard.

What it doesn't have is Nepal-style crowds or the infrastructure of trekking lodges and tradition of independent trekking. Trekking here is all organised, expedition-style, and costs more than anywhere else in the Himalaya.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend many months travelling and trekking in Bhutan while researching five editions of travel guides to Bhutan. To do this independently would have cost me tens of thousands of US dollars.

So why spend all the extra money to come trekking in Bhutan? The main thing I noticed when visiting here after Nepal was the lack of crowds. Your campsites are in remote valleys, not yet connected by well-trodden paths, and the enchanting forest trails are some of the most beautiful in the Himalaya.

There's a wide range of hiking in Bhutan. The most adventurous routes climb over a series of high passes into the remote, rugged regions of Lingzhi, Laya and Lunana, dotted with fortresses, yak pastures and hanging glacial valleys. The peaks here are jagged and raw and it feels like very few people have gone here before you. There are few places where you can find that these days. If you can afford it, look no further.

The best treks in Bhutan

Our experts' top picks

Bradley Mayhew
By Bradley Mayhew

Of all Bhutan's trekking regions I'd say that Laya is my favourite, because of the mix of great mountain scenery and rich local culture. The Layap women here wear fabulous woven bamboo hats and the men are mostly yak herders.

Bhutan

Jomolhari Basecamp trek

By HorizonGuides
  • Distance: Approximately 47 miles (75 km)
  • Duration: Seven to nine days
  • Start and end point: Paro
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Jomolhari (or Chomolhari) basecamp trek is a circular trek that begins and ends in Paro. It is a moderately challenging trek of approximately 47 miles (75 kilometres) and takes about seven to nine days to complete.

During this short, high-altitude trek you’ll enjoy marvellous views of the Jomolhari and Jichu Drake peaks, as well as alpine meadows and dense forests. The terrain includes rocky paths, steep ascents and descents.

The trek also offers glimpses into Bhutan's history. Along the way, you'll encounter remote villages where traditional Bhutanese culture thrives and you can meet locals, gaining insight into their way of life.

Bhutan

Laya trek

By HorizonGuides
  • Distance: approx. 80 miles (129 km)
  • Duration: Ten days
  • Start: Sharna Zampa, Paro
  • End: Koina, Gasa
  • Difficulty: Strenuous

This challenging trek takes around ten days to complete and has steep ascents and descents. You should have a good level of physical fitness and will need to acclimatise to the high altitudes. During the trek, you will reach an elevation of 4,100 metres (13,450 feet) and will need to be prepared for variable weather conditions.

Highlights along the way include breathtaking mountain views, alpine lakes, and remote villages showcasing traditional Bhutanese culture. Along the way you can also encounter a variety of wildlife including blue sheep, takins, and various bird species like the Himalayan Monal and the Yellow-billed blue Magpie. If you’re lucky, you could catch a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard.

Bhutan

Snowman (Lunana) trek

By HorizonGuides
  • Distance: 216 miles (347 kilometres)
  • Duration: 25 to 30 days
  • Start point: Paro
  • End point: Sephu
  • Difficulty: Strenuous

The Lunana Snowman Trek in Bhutan covers approximately 216 miles (347 kilometres) and takes around 25 to 30 days to complete. The journey begins in Paro and ends in Sephu. The route crosses mountain passes up to 5,000 meters high, such as the Gangla Karchung Pass, and traverses deep valleys. It's tough work!

You might see a variety of wildlife, including blue sheep and musk deer as well as more elusive animals such as snow leopards, red pandas and the Himalayan black bear. The trek also passes through remote villages where you can learn about the local culture and meet Bhutanese people who live in the area.

Bhutan

Druk Path trek

By HorizonGuides
  • Distance: Approximately 50 miles (80 km)
  • Duration: Five to six days
  • Start point: Paro
  • End point: Thimphu
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Druk Path is a popular hiking route in Bhutan which covers about 50 miles and takes five to six days to complete. A moderate difficulty suitable for most hikers, the route goes from Paro to Thimphu.

Highlights include the Tiger’s Net Monastery in Paro, Jele Dzong fortress and Phajoding Monastery as well as high-altitude likes like Simoktra and Jimilang.

You can also spot a range of wildlife, including langur monkeys, blue sheep and takin, Bhutan’s national animal as well as, if you’re lucky, the rarely spotted snow leopard.

Bhutan

Soi Yaksa (Jomolhari Loop)

By HorizonGuides
  • Distance: Approximately 71 miles (114 km)
  • Duration: Eight to ten days
  • Start and end point: Paro
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Jomolhari Trek is a moderate and rewarding circular hiking route in Bhutan. It is about 71 miles (114 km) long and typically takes eight to ten days to complete. The trek begins and ends in Paro and along the way, you can explore the stunning landscapes of the Jomolhari region.

One of the highlights of the trek is the Jomolhari Mountain (also known as Jumolhari or Chomolhari), which serves as a spectacular backdrop for the entire journey. You’ll also be able to see Himalayan blue sheep and herds of yaks.

Bhutan

Bumdra monastery hike

By HorizonGuides
  • Distance: Approximately 10 miles (16 km)
  • Duration: One to three days
  • Start and end points: Paro
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The trail leads to Bumdra Temple and its surroundings, along the trail, you can also see mountain vistas, alpine meadows and glacial lakes. Heading off the main trail, you can also visit the Taktshang Monastery which is perched on the cliffside and holds spiritual and cultural significance.

Paro valley bhutan

Bhutan's glorious Paro Valley

Planning a Bhutan trek

Everything you wish you’d known before you booked

How to deal with the infamous tourist tax

Bhutan is notorious for its hefty tourist tax (officially, Sustainable Development Fee, or SDF) which is currently priced at USD$200 per person per day (Indian, Maldivian and Bangladeshi citizens get a discount). The principle behind the SDF is to limit overall numbers and ensure that anyone who does visit makes a sizeable contribution to the country’s development and infrastructure. Like it or not, it’s a bold solution to a problem that has plagued much of the rest of the world.

Discounts are currently available which are intended to encourage longer stays. If you pay seven days of the fee, you now get another seven days free (worth US$1,400). If you pay for 12 days, you can get up to 18 more free (worth US$3,600). You have to make your trip before the end of 2024 to qualify.

Jomolhari base camp

Part of the allure of Bhutan is its fiercely protected reputation for remoteness and unspoiled tranquillity, which makes recommending Jangothang (aka Jomolhari Base Camp) a bit of a contradiction: with half a dozen trek routes converging here, this is the one vaguely busy spot. But the views looking up at the eastern face of Jomolhari (7,314m) are simply astonishing, and well worth tolerating some crowds for. I recommend spending at least two nights here (important for acclimatisation), preferably three, as there are some amazing day hikes to explore.

Before and after your trek

In some ways the real draw of Bhutan is its stunningly preserved traditional culture, more than its raw Himalayan scenery. Don't get me wrong, the mountain scenery is superb, but then so is Nepal's – at a fraction of the price – so I'd always recommend adding on an equal amount of time sightseeing in the Paro, Thimphu and Punakha valleys. To come only for trekking is to miss out on Bhutan's true uniqueness.

Trashigang eastern bhutan

Trashigang, eastern Bhutan

Bhutan trekking FAQs

Your questions, our expert answers

Question

When is the best time to go trekking in Bhutan? Is it year-round? What are the best and worst months?

Answer

The best months are October and November for the clearest views, and April and May for spring blooms. Don't come in the monsoon (July, August).


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

Is altitude sickness a problem while trekking in Bhutan?

Answer

Acclimatising properly is absolutely essential to a successful trek in Bhutan. Many passes are over 5,000m, and most are over 4,000m. Most treks have built-in acclimatisation days and it's essential to follow these.


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

How challenging is the trekking in Bhutan? Would you recommend it, say for a fit & active 60 year old?

Answer

There's a wide range of treks on offer in Bhutan. The 25-day Snowman Trek is one of the world's toughest treks. Less physically challenging but still adventurous treks include the popular Druk Path, or you can hike a section of the 400 km-long Trans-Bhutan Trail, which sticks to lower altitudes and offers village homestays.


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

Can you trek in Bhutan solo or without a guide?

Answer

No, all treks (indeed all travel) in Bhutan have to be fully organised and accompanied by a guide and trekking agency staff, who will arrange everything. On my first 'solo' trek here I had a guide, cook, three other staff and nine pack horses - just for me!


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

What sort of accommodations are there? Can we stay with locals?

Answer

Most trekking groups stay in their own double tents. A couple of route options (including the Trans-Bhutan Trail) overnight in village homes and there are good homestays in Laya.


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

What kind of food should I expect on a Bhutan trek?

Answer

Bhutan is the only place where I've actually gained weight on a trek, thanks to the three meals a day (plus snacks) cooked up by trek staff. Breakfast is toast, cereal, coffee and often eggs. Dinner is a multi-dish feast of rice and vegetable curries; lunch is similar but cooked in the morning and transported in thermos dishes for a hot picnic. You'll even get French fries once or twice.


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

Which is your favourite trekking region in Bhutan?

Answer

I'd say that Laya is my favourite region, because of the mix of great mountain scenery and rich local culture. The Layap women here wear fabulous woven bamboo hats and the men are mostly yak herders.


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

Is it safe? How about for solo female travellers?

Answer

Yes, Bhutan is incredibly safe.


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

What are the hardest and easiest treks in Bhutan?

Answer

The hardest, that's easy - the Snowman Trek. More people have summited Everest than completed this trek!

The easiest is probably the two-day Saga La Trek, which is really two half-days of walking bookended by some monastery and fortress sightseeing.

Another easy going trek, and one of my favourites, is the two-day Bumdrak hike. It's a one-nighter, staying in a luxurious fixed camp (real beds!) and the second day is all downhill, winding through lovely forests to temples and views above the famous Tiger's Nest Monastery, the country's single most famous sight.


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

What gear can I rent in Bhutan?

Answer

Your trekking agency will provide tents, a mattress and a sleeping bag, but I'd advise you to bring your own sleeping bag and mat for comfort and familiarity. There's not much quality gear available to rent in Bhutan.


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

What permits are required to trek in Bhutan?

Answer

In order to visit Bhutan you have to pay a Sustainable Development Fee of US$200 per person per day, on top of the cost of your trek (though there are currently some temporary discounts on this). Your trekking agency will then arrange all the national park and trekking permits that you need.


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

How does trekking in Bhutan compare with Nepal?

Answer

Apart from the much higher costs, Bhutan sees a fraction of the trekkers who visit Nepal, so there are no crowds, no backpacker scene and no trekking lodges in Bhutan. The environment is much more pristine and the culture more intact, but the peaks are on a slightly smaller scale.


Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew
Question

Trekking in Bhutan is expensive! Is it worth the money?

Answer

Trekking in Bhutan is costlier than Nepal or India for sure, but remember that US$200 per day of your trip fee is going to fund healthcare, education and environmental protection in Bhutan. For me the feeling I get from having a stunning Himalayan valley or view to myself is really priceless. If you are happier with the social nature of teahouse trekking, then maybe it's not worth the cost for you.

Bradley Mayhew
Answered by Bradley Mayhew

About the author

Trekking In Bhutan

Bradley Mayhew

Bradley is a travel journalist and guidebook author specialising in Central Asia, China and the Himalaya. He writes for Lonely Planet, Odyssey Guides, Insight Guides, among others.

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