Bhutan’s landlocked location lies between the autonomous region of Tibet in the north, Arunachal Pradesh in the east, and the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam in the south.
Featuring a landscape of peaks and valleys, Bhutan can be roughly divided up into three areas: the southern borderlands and foothills of the Himalayas, which so happens to be the most densely populated and fertile region; the valleys of central and western Bhutan, where most of the major towns are located in; and the mountain chains of the high Himalayas up north.
Thimphu, which is located in west Bhutan, is the capital city.
Having ready access to local currency is vital, so here are some things we think you should know:
The currency of Bhutan is the Ngultrum (Nu.). 1 Nu = 100 chetrum. The ngultrum is fixed in value to the Indian Rupee, which is also accepted as legal tender throughout the country. You can only get ngultrum in Bhutan.
ATMs are found in all main towns throughout Bhutan and money can be withdrawn using Visa and MasterCard cards. The Bank of Bhutan has the largest ATM network. You can also exchange money at the local bank or convenience stores – just ask your guide!
Wherever they are accepted – mostly in cities like Thimphu and Paro – you can use Visa and MasterCard to pay for your purchases. American Express cards are not widely accepted in Bhutan, although some luxury hotels and handicraft stores accept them. However, there may be a surcharge on the final bill.
We recommend bringing traveller’s cheques (preferably American Express) and some cash in US Dollars for miscellaneous expenses. Traveller’s cheques can be easily cashed into ngultrum at banks in Thimphu and Paro.
All tourists must pay a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) of US$200 per person per night. The SDF goes towards environmental conservation, social welfare programs, and the continued improvement of infrastructure for tourists in Bhutan.
Bhutan has only one international airport in Paro. The only airlines to fly to Bhutan are Druk Air, the official airline of Bhutan, and Bhutan Airlines. The crew are specifically trained for flying in the Himalayan terrain, and both airlines have the same safety record as Qantas – which is to say, excellent.
Visitors can catch a direct flight from Bangkok, Singapore or India (Delhi and Kolkata are possible but flights are not on a daily basis).
Flights are weather and daylight dependent. Therefore, it is important that visitors leave a 24-hours transit time between connecting flights to account for delays.
We deal with visa applications on your behalf with the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Just remember to print a copy of the visa confirmation letter sent to you. Visas are stamped in your passport on arrival when you produce a copy of the visa letter.
On arrival, visitors will be given a Baggage Declaration form. This form ensures that visitors don’t re-export items brought into the country. Visitors will be required to list expensive belongings such as laptops and cameras.
The Baggage Declaration Form must be shown before visitors leave Bhutan. If misplaced, visitors must inform their guides to have it replaced.
Exporting antiques and wildlife products is strictly prohibited. If visitors wish to buy an antique-looking souvenir, they should have their guide certify it as a non-antique item with the Department of Culture.
There is a duty free allowance of 1L of liquor.
Visitors may bring in one carton of cigarettes (200 sticks) into the country. However, this attracts a 200% duty payable on arrival. Visitors will not be able to buy tobacco in Bhutan as there is a nationwide ban on the sale of it. Smoking in public places is also prohibited.
March – May: Spring makes for ideal weather for travellers to Bhutan. There is little rainfall during this period. However, this is also the peak period for trekking. Travellers are advised to plan and book flights in advance as accommodation options get snapped up quickly.
June – September: This is the monsoon rain season. Trekking is not advisable during this period.
September/October – November: Autumn is another high season when the weather is pleasant. It’s also a great time to witness the rice harvests.
December – February: In winter, visitors can expect nice weather but temperatures can drop, especially in December and January. Due to their lower altitudes, the southern regions have considerable warmer winters. For travellers who want to save some money, travelling during the non-peak season is an option.
Currently, there are no vaccinations required to travel to Bhutan. However, visitors coming from an area infected with yellow fever are required to get a yellow fever vaccination. This must be administered at least 10 days before arrival.
Likewise, visitors arriving from a cholera-infected area must get vaccinated.
Anti-malaria medication is strongly recommended for travellers visiting rural areas bordering India. Malaria is limited to the lowland areas adjoining the Duars and the low valleys of Punakha. However, there is no risk of malaria in Paro, Thimphu or any of the other main trekking areas.