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Our top 6 reasons to visit Bhutan in 2020


On the Himalayas’ eastern edge, Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom, neighbouring Nepal, India, Tibet and China. Once Asia’s best-kept secret, it now holds the crown for Lonely Planet’s top place to visit in 2020. The landscape ranges from the Himalayan mountains in the north, with year-round snow, to the rich, subtropical plains of the south. It’s steadily making its way to the top of our bucket list. Here’s why…
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1). You can head away from the crowds

We love to get off the beaten track at Rickshaw. But Bhutan takes it to another level – it’s one of the least-visited countries in the world, with only around 70,000 international tourists each year.

This means you can really make the most of the low seasons (December to February and June to August) and have the temples, trails and museums mostly to yourself. Word is slowly spreading about the Dragon Kingdom, however – so get ahead of the curve!

Canopy bridge Bhutan
Tigers nest monastery

2). The stunning Tiger’s Nest Monastery

This incredible monastery is reason enough to visit. The legendary Tiger’s Nest Monastery or Taktsang Goemba is one of the most sacred sites for Buddhist pilgrims, perched on the side of a vertical cliff at 3000m. It’s believed that Guru Rinpoche flew to this cliff on a flaming tigress and meditated here. As you can imagine, the treks up and views are simply magical.

3). It has some of the spiciest food in the world

Bhutanese food takes influence from its neighbouring countries – Nepal, Tibet and India, and is as diverse as it is unique. It’s traditionally eaten on wooden kitchenware by hand and generally consists of lots of red rice, with curries and stews.

Don’t miss out on the national dish, ema-datshi – melted yak’s cheese served with chilli peppers and (more) red rice. But – be careful! Spice tolerance is high here.

Bhutan is one of the only places in the world where chilli is used as a vegetable rather than a seasoning, the chilli peppers help to warm up the body when the temperature drops. If you’re not a fan of spice, try kewa datshi which swaps out the chilli for potatoes – phew!

Local people with food Bhutan
Green landscape Bhutan

4). Its natural wonders and unclimbed mountains

With such varying temperatures and landscapes, Bhutan is home to some impressive natural wonders – and gives habitats to a diverse range of wildlife. You might even be lucky enough to spot primates as well as the Bengal tiger, golden langur and the sloth bear in the warm south, or the snow leopard and takin in the north.

Trek across the mountains and witness the rich flora & fauna in one of the many national parks. Nature is a big part of Buddhist life, and nearly 56.3% of all Bhutanese are involved with agriculture, forestry or conservation.

Bhutan even has some of the highest unclimbed mountains in the world, including Jitchu Drake and Mount Jhomolhari. But don’t rush to grab your mountain gear – they’re unclimbed as the government forbids people from climbing the peaks, as the Bhutanese believe that these are the homes of deities and spirits.

This illustrates Bhutan’s deeply ingrained Buddhism and the importance it places on its ancient traditions and beliefs. So these mountains are just for admiring from afar.

But don’t worry, Bhutan is full of stunning locations and viewpoints to trek.

5. It has festivals down to a fine art

Spiritual music, whirling dances and colourful wooden masks; a Bhutanese festival, or Tsechu, is completely unique. For many, Tsechus are the highlight of the Buddhist calendar in Bhutan. So, when planning a trip to Bhutan, it’s well worth taking into account which festivals are on when so you can visit one during your travels.

As a foreigner you’re able to move around the festival pretty much as you wish so you can get some fantastic shots of the action. Although you can’t always approach the dancers there’s a good chance you’ll be harassed by one of the local clowns wielding a wooden phallus!

If you head to the valleys of Punakha in February/March, you might just catch the Punakha Domchoe. In Paro, there’s a very popular Tsechu festival which begins in Paro Dzong in March/April – prepare for a kaleidoscope of colour as you’re treated to four days of ritual dancing here. Head to Thimpu for the Tsechu in September/October and you’ll be treated to one of the most celebrated festivals in Bhutan. This one draws in huge crowds of spectators every year with performances by monks dressed in decorative costumes and masks.

Bhutan festival
Woman with local kids Bhutan

6. It’s one of the happiest places on Earth

Bhutan prides itself on its sustainable approach to tourism, and the King of Bhutan (and the government) really try to ensure that their people lead happy lives.

You may have heard that Bhutan is the first country to measure its success by Gross National Happiness. This is their development philosophy, based on Buddhist values which measure its people’s quality of life based on their well-being. Of course, GDP is measured too, but they monitor GNH as an alternative development philosophy, and in many ways, it’s thought to be much more important.

Education and healthcare are both free under Bhutanese policy, and often their values and priorities can be very different from the western world, where money is often the most important factor.