Bhutan is a wonderful, secluded little country in the Himalayas. It’s definitely not the easiest country to visit, but it’s worth the effort if you’re looking for a really unique travel experience. I spent one week in Bhutan recently and enjoyed every moment.
Most people spend 5 to 7 days in Bhutan, and an itinerary like that gives you enough time to see many of the top highlights of the country, although you’ll still probably be sad to leave.
Bhutan is full of interesting culture and nature, and yet it’s pretty unspoiled by tourism. Even places that would normally be very crowded and touristy, like the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, still feel refreshingly authentic and personal.
In this travel blog, I’ll share my ideal Bhutan itinerary and some of the best things to do if you have one week in the country! This is basically the same itinerary I used in Bhutan, with a few improvements based on my experience.
Best Bhutan Tour Company
For most nationalities, the only way you can visit Bhutan is with a visa and tour organized by a local Bhutanese tour company. There’s also a daily tax of $100 USD per person, which is a rule established by the Bhutanese government to try to ensure ‘quality over quantity’ tourism.
I visited Bhutan with a tour company called Maebar Travel. It was a great experience, and I would happily recommend them to anyone! The owner of the company, Tsenrig, helped me craft the perfect 7-day Bhutan itinerary, with a visit to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery and lots of other great sights around the country of Bhutan.
Their most popular itineraries are 5 or 7 days, but they also have tours of 9 or 10 days, or even as long as 15 or 20 days. The itinerary is very flexible and you can choose the sights you most want to see on each day you spend in the country of Bhutan.
My private tour guide, L. Dorji, was fantastic and very helpful, staying at my side every step of the way. He even kindly insisted to carry my heavy backpack for me, and helped me swap between my camera lenses whenever I was taking pictures.
Dorji knew every detail about the history of Bhutan, and he’s been giving tours for decades. He was one of the best tour guides I’ve had anywhere in the world. Overall, I would highly recommend this company for your travel to Bhutan!
Bhutan Itinerary Day 1: Paro Acclimatization
• Ta Dzong
Welcome to Bhutan! You’ll probably be tired after your flight to Paro. Start your itinerary with a low key visit to Ta Dzong, located just a 20 minute drive from the airport.
This odd looking cylindrical building is a 17th century watch tower that now serves as the national museum of Bhutan. Inside, there are Bhutanese paintings, statues, weapons, and other artifacts.
For me, the best part was seeing the outside and the view of the valley below.
• Paro Dzong
For most tourists, the Paro Dzong will be your first real experience with a Bhutanese fortress-monastery (called a ‘dzong’). These are kind of like the castles of Bhutan.
Also known as the Rinpung Dzong, this is the main fortress and monastery in Paro town, and it was built in the 17th century overlooking the river and valley. The name basically means “fortress of the heap of jewels.”
The outside walls are impressive, and so is the inside of the courtyard. Don’t miss the giant bee hives hanging from the windows!
You can walk through this fortress in just 30 minutes or so, but it’s well worth a visit! The best photo spot is on the path leading to it.
• Kyichu Lhakhang
Kyichu Lhakhang is a small Buddhist temple that dates back to the 7th century, making it one of the oldest temples in Bhutan.
This one is just a 10 minute drive north of Paro town, so it’s easy to visit even if you’re short on time.
• Archery Match
Archery has been the national game of Bhutan since 1971, and the locals are always practicing their skills with a bow and arrow. It’s fun to watch an archery match and some of these guys are really skilled.
I decided to skip this since I was exhausted and wanted to save energy for other things, but I still got to witness some archery matches from a distance later on when we were driving around the countryside of Bhutan.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to see archery while you’re traveling in Bhutan.
• Paro Town
If you still have energy, you can spend the rest of the day roaming around Paro town and shopping for souvenirs. There are lots of shops on the main street and they have a good selection of Bhutanese crafts, plus the usual shirts and fridge magnets, and other items for sale.
Bhutan Itinerary Day 2: Thimphu
• Drive To Thimphu
After breakfast, you’ll drive to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. Even though the distance from Paro to Thimphu is only 45 kilometers, the drive takes 60-90 minutes because of the winding mountain roads.
Along the way, you’ll pass another monastery across the river called Tachog Lhakhang, as well as an old iron suspension bridge. Your guide can make a quick stop to let you take some photos of it before continuing to Thimphu.
• Taschichho Dzong
The Tashichho Dzong is a giant fortress-monastery that also serves as the seat of the government in Thimphu.
I was lucky to visit Bhutan during the annual Tshechu festival, which is usually held in Thimphu in late September or early October, so I was able to watch the mask dance here, together with thousands of locals wearing their colorful national clothes.
It was pretty fascinating, and I consider it one of the highlights of my trip to Bhutan!
• Cheri Monastery
The Cheri monastery hike is a nice little excursion into the forest near Thimphu, where you can see some wildlife and a 17th century monastery on the hillside.
This hike takes about 45-60 minutes going up, depending on your pace, and a bit less going down. Most of it is uphill, but it’s not as hard as the famous Tiger’s Nest hike, so most people won’t have any problem with it.
We saw birds, mountain goats, and langur monkeys here. My guide told me you could sometimes hear tigers roaring in the distance during the 1980s, and they still occasionally see Himalayan black bears in this area since it’s on the edge of the Jigme Dorji National Park.
Bhutan Itinerary Day 3: Gangtey Valley
• Dochula Pass & Drukwangyel
Day three begins with the drive from Thimphu to Phobjikha. This takes about 3 hours because of the usual zigzag roads of Bhutan, but there’s lots of great scenery to enjoy along the way.
After about 45 minutes of driving, you’ll stop at Dochula Pass, a high mountain pass with an altitude of 3,150 meters (10,335 feet). Morning is the best time to come here.
On a clear day, you can get some great views of the snow capped Himalayan mountains in the distance. One of these is Gangkhar Puensum, the highest mountain in Bhutan and the highest unclimbed mountain in the world!
There’s also a monastery at Dochula Pass with 108 stupas, which were built to commemorate 100 years of monarchy in Bhutan. The weather was cloudy when I went, but we were still able to catch some glimpses of the mountains in the distance.
• Gangtey Monastery
After more driving, you’ll reach Phobjikha and visit the Gangtey Monastery, a colorful 17th century building that overlooks the valley.
When I visited, the place was packed with locals and they were practicing their dance moves for another upcoming festival.
• Kwewa Village Nature Trail
From the Gangtey monastery, there’s a nice little point-to-point nature trail that goes down the hill, through the forest, and across the valley of Phobjikha.
Most of this hike is mild and easy, but it takes about 1 hour or more to reach the end of the trail, where your driver will be waiting for you and your guide.
You can see horses in the valley, and black necked cranes also migrate here during the months of November to February.
• Black Necked Crane Center
After seeing the Phobjikha valley, you have the option to visit an information center for the black necked cranes that tells more about the birds, and they also have telescopes for bird watching.
I decided to skip this and rest at the hotel, since the black necked cranes were out of season when I visited in September.
Bhutan Itinerary Day 4: Punakha & Wangdue
• Punakha Dzong
After breakfast, it’s time for the 2 hour drive from Phobjikha to Punakha, which will start to take you back west again, in the same direction you came from earlier.
The first place to visit in Punakha is the Punakha Dzong, which is one of the oldest and biggest fortresses in Bhutan. The view from across the Mo Chu river is an iconic photo of Bhutan.
You can go inside this dzong and wander the courtyard. There are lots of nice details on the inside, including an impressive gold door. Overall, I’d say it’s the best dzong I visited in Bhutan.
The altitude in Punakha is only roughly 1,200 meters (about 4,000 feet), so it’s a lot lower than the other places you’ve visited in Bhutan so far. That also means it’s warmer, so you may want to dress lighter here.
When I visited Punakha in September, I was hot even without a jacket! I felt like swimming in the river to escape the heat.
• Chimi Lhakhang
The Chimi Lhakhang is probably one of the oddest temples in Bhutan. It’s a fertility temple with phalluses and other sexual symbols, established by the ‘divine madman’ in the 15th century.
Childless couples often come here to pray for a child, and when you go inside the temple, they even have a bizarre tradition where they bop you on the head with a wooden phallus as a blessing.
The temple is set on a hill, so in order to reach it you have to do a mini trek up the hill for about 15 to 30 minutes, making it a bit harder to access than some of the other temples in Bhutan.
• Pho Chu River Bridge
One of the best sights in the Punakha area is the bridge over the Pho Chu river, which is actually known as the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan!
You can walk across the entire 200 meter bridge to the other side, and it has wonderful views of the valley and the turquoise glacier water of the Pho Chu river.
• Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten
My favorite view in the Punakha area was on our last stop of the day, when we hiked up to a stupa in the mountains. The name of this one is hard to say: Khamsum Yulley Namgyal.
Hiking to this spot takes about 1 hour, and it’s all uphill. Along the way, you get some amazing views of the rice terraces and the Punakha valley. The top has a 30 meter tall stupa and great views of the mountains.
If you’re reasonably fit and don’t mind a bit of hiking, this spot should definitely be on your Bhutan itinerary. It’s one of the best things to do in the country!
Bhutan Itinerary Day 5: Revisiting Thimphu
• Buddha Dordenma
After breakfast, retrace your route back to Thimphu by driving over the Dochula Pass again. The drive will take a total of about 2 hours from Punakha to Thimphu. Welcome back to the capital!
Start your fifth day of sightseeing in Bhutan with a visit to the giant golden Buddha statue on the hill overlooking Thimphu valley. It’s one of the famous icons of Bhutan.
The Buddha Dordenma statue, as it’s called, is also one of the biggest Buddha statues in the world, with a height of 52 meters (169 feet). At a cost of more than $100 million USD, it was built to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
• Sangay-gang Viewpoint
En route to the Takin Preserve, make a quick stop at the Sangay-gang viewpoint for a good picture of Thimphu city from above.
After a 20 minute drive up the mountain, you can see the entire city of Thimphu below you, and there are some nature trails here if you want to explore a bit longer.
• Motithang Royal Takin Preserve
The Takin (pronounced ‘tah-kin’) is the national animal of Bhutan. Before my trip, I didn’t even know these animals exist! They look kind of like a cross between a goat and a buffalo.
The Takin Preserve near Thimphu is home to almost two dozen takins, plus a few sambar and barking deer. There’s a metal walkway that runs along the outside of the sanctuary, so you can get a good view of the animals and easily take pictures.
The Takin is a protected animal in Bhutan, and they’re not seen very often in the wild except in places like Jigme Dorji National Park. The Takin preserve allows you to photograph them from a fairly close distance, while still giving them space to roam around and be themselves.
• National Memorial Stupa
After the Takin Preserve, we made a quick stop at the National Memorial Stupa, which is located in the center of Thimphu city.
This white stupa was built in 1974 to honor the third king of Bhutan, and elderly Buddhist believers come here to circumambulate (walk around the stupa) in a clockwise direction while praying.
• Zorig Chusum Arts & Crafts School
Zorig Chusum is a school in Thimphu where young people in Bhutan learn how to make traditional arts and crafts. This includes things like calligraphy, painting, carving, sculpting, textiles, and more.
There’s nothing for sale here, but you can watch the students working and training, which is interesting to see. Each room has a different art being practiced, and some of their designs are very good.
• Farmer’s Market
Our last stop of the day was at the farmer’s market in Thimphu, where we saw all kinds of fruits and vegetables for sale.
There was quite a selection and it was fun to walk through all the aisles and look at everything, even though I didn’t buy. Chili peppers were everywhere since they’re such an important ingredient in Bhutanese food.
There were even some of the more exotic fruits for sale, like dragonfruit, which I didn’t expect to see in a mountain country like Bhutan.
Bhutan Itinerary Day 6: Tiger’s Nest Monastery
• Drive To Paro
It’s your sixth day in Bhutan, and that means it’s time to head back to the town of Paro where you started. After breakfast, you’ll drive approximately 1.5 hours to Paro and then a short distance past Paro to do the hike to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
• Tiger’s Nest Hike
It’s finally time for the grand finale of your Bhutan itinerary: the Tiger’s Nest Monastery!
A lot of tours in Bhutan save this for the end of the trip because it’s such a special place, and also because it gives you more time to become acclimated to altitude before attempting the hike.
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is an amazing 17th century building that clings to the side of a steep 900 meter cliff. It almost looks unreal.
This is easily the most famous and photogenic place in Bhutan, and I consider it one of the most amazing day hikes anywhere in the world.
You will need to spend a full day visiting the Tiger’s Nest since the hike takes about 4 to 8 hours, not including the time spent taking photos and touring the inside of the temple.
You can have lunch at the halfway point of the hike, where there’s a cafeteria with great views of the mountain. The whole experience is awesome.
The hike is a bit challenging, but most people of average fitness won’t have a problem with it. I wrote a complete guide for the Tiger’s Nest hike, which you can read in the link below.
Read More: How To Do The Tiger’s Nest Monastery Hike
• Bhutanese Cooking Class (Optional)
In the evening, if you’re interested, you can join a Bhutanese cooking class and learn how to make local dishes like Ema Datshi, Kewa Datshi, and Jasha Maru at a farmer’s house.
• Hot Stone Bath (Optional)
Another activity I was offered at the end of the day is a hot stone bath, where rocks from the river are heated up over a fire and then put in a wooden tub with herbs.
It’s a good way to relax and unwind at the end of your Bhutan trip, especially after hiking to the Tiger’s Nest earlier in the day.
Bhutan Itinerary Day 7: Paro Farewell
• Dzongdrakha Monastery (Optional)
It’s your last day in Bhutan. If you still have time and energy, you may want to do something extra before you leave. In my case, my flight back to Bangkok with Druk Air was at 4:20 PM, so that gave me a bit of extra time to use.
Another special place you can visit in the Paro area is the Dzongdrakha Monastery. This is a cliffside monastery similar to the Tiger’s Nest, although it’s a shorter and easier hike. Not as many tourists know about it, so you might have the place all to yourself.
Keep in mind the tour providers in Bhutan normally don’t include any activities like this on the last day of the trip, so there may be an extra charge to add it to your itinerary.
• Go To Airport
After a wonderful 7 days in Bhutan, my driver and guide brought me to the airport, and it was time to say goodbye. Bhutan was a special experience and I was sad to leave.
5 Days In Bhutan Itinerary
If you’re not able to spend a full 7 days in Bhutan, a 5 day itinerary can be a good compromise, and it still allows you to see some of the highlights of the country.
Here’s what a good 5 day itinerary for Bhutan could look like:
- Day 1. Paro acclimatization. Visit the Ta Dzong and Paro Dzong. Watch an archery match and then explore Paro town and shop for souvenirs.
- Day 2. Paro to Thimphu. On the drive to Thimphu, see the Tamchog Lhakhang monastery and suspension bridge from a distance. Once you reach Thimphu, visit the National Memorial Stupa, the Buddha Dordenma statue, and the Tashichho Dzong, plus the farmer’s market and any other sights that interest you in Thimphu city.
- Day 3. Thimphu to Punakha. On the drive to Punakha, stop at the Dochula Pass and visit Drukwangyel monastery for views of the Himalayan mountains. Then in Punakha, visit the Punakha Dzong, the Pho Chu river bridge, Chimi Lhakhang, and the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal.
- Day 4. Punakha to Paro. Drive back to Paro where you started, and hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. If you still have time afterwards, visit Kyichu Lhakhang and then enjoy a hot stone bath in the evening.
- Day 5. Leave Bhutan. No sightseeing activities on this day unless you have extra time available.
More Bhutan Travel Tips
Thanks for looking! I hope you enjoyed this 7 day Bhutan travel itinerary. These are some of the best things to do in Bhutan if you have a week.
I’ll be adding more Bhutan tips to my travel blog, so don’t forget to bookmark it and check back later!