Bhutan is a small, landlocked nation located in the eastern Himalayas between India and China. Its landscape ranges from subtropical plains and forests in the South to sub-alpine forests and snowy mountains in the North. Bhutan is a predominantly Buddhist country and is known as the last stronghold of Mahayana Buddhism.

Officially known as the kingdom of Bhutan, the dragon nation is a landlocked Himalayan country in south Asia. Bhutan is positioned in the eastern Himalayas bordered by Tibet in the north and India in the east, west and south. Surrounded by the mighty Himalayas, Bhutan is a tiny country sandwiched between India and Tibet, just east of Nepal and north of Bangladesh. The northern border is the Chumbi Valley in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Bhutan is bordered by Sikkim and West Bengal in the west, and portions of West Bengal along with Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the south and east.

After you’ve arranged your trip and paid the SDF, the actual processing of a Bhutanese visa is little more than a formality. After you’ve made your tour payment and have sent a digital photograph, scan of your passport photo page and proof of your (mandatory) travel insurance, the agency will email you a copy of your visa authorization after a few days. The visa itself costs US$40 and will likely be bundled with the overall tour price.

Visas are not issued by embassies overseas, but rather stamped into your passport upon arrival at Paro airport after you present your visa-authorization letter. At land borders, you will meet your guide at the crossing; they will process the visa for you as you wait.

After the work and cost of making all the other arrangements, the process of obtaining a visa for Bhutan is quite stress-free.

The main exception to the new fee rule is Indian tourists, who pay a much smaller SDF of just 1200 ngultrum (US$15) per person per day. Indian visitors must pre-arrange a guide and hotel accommodation, plus permits for travel east of Thimphu. After confirming and prepaying these arrangements, Indian nationals do not need a visa to enter Bhutan. They do, however, need to apply for a permit to enter the country, either online or upon arrival.

Many Bhutanese travel agents point out that with Indian tourists making up over 70 percent of annual visitors to Bhutan and many arriving in their own vehicles on budget trips, it’s hard to see how Bhutan can justify its foreigner-aimed fee system – which exists to promote sustainable tourism – over the long term.

There are a number of airports where you can fly into Bhutan from (Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai.). At present two carriers operate to Bhutan, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. Also, there are three land border crossings which you can travel into the kingdom overland. All crossings are along the Indian border only – Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar. All travel arrangements to Bhutan must be made through a local tour operator. A list of tour companies operating in Bhutan is available on this website. Your selected tour operator will make all the necessary arrangements.

On top of the fixed SDF of US$100 per person, per day, you will also have to figure in the obligatory cost of hiring a guide for your time in Bhutan, as well as a driver and transport for getting around the country. All hotel accommodations and food should be part of your budget, too. Entry fees to major destinations will add US$100–200 per person to most tours.

Under the new rules, you are free to choose any hotel or homestay that is allowed to accept foreigners. These start at US$50 per night, though most four-star tourist hotels charge around US$100 for a double room.

All told, an itinerary booked directly through a Bhutanese tour agency will likely cost around US$250 to US$350 per day per person, depending on the itinerary and group size. Visiting as a solo traveler will be costlier, since you won’t be able to pool the costs of your guide, transportation or accommodation.

Families get a bit of a break, with children ages six to 12 paying only half the SDF (US$50 per day); children under five are exempt from the fee.

Through April 2024, the Bhutanese government is waiving one day of SDF for any tourist who visits the border communities of Samtse, Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.

Since 2022, tourists have been able to book trips directly with hotels. So if you are just planning a visit to Thimphu and Paro towns, you can theoretically just book a stay, a guide and a couple of airport transfers directly through your accommodation.

For an itinerary involving multiple overnight stops, cultural programs, day hikes, trekking and other activities (which means most trips), you are better off booking with an experienced local tour agency like World Tour Plan.

It’s important to start planning your trip to Bhutan early. You will need at least a month to pin down your itinerary, pay the tour operator and get your visa approved. If you are visiting in the high season months of October, November, March and April, you will want to book your international flights to Bhutan far in advance, as the few flights do fill up.

Once you’ve agreed on your itinerary and tour price, the next step is to pay your agency, most likely via a bank transfer to the agency’s account at the Bhutan National Bank.

Most visitors pay the daily SDF directly to their travel agent (who remits it to the government).

There is no limit on the number of tourists allowed to visit in a year. In order to protect our culture, traditions and natural environment, the government has adopted a unique policy of “High Value, Low Impact ”. This policy is aimed at attracting discerning tourists that will respect the unique culture and values of the Bhutanese people while also providing the visitors with an unforgettable one of a kind experience.

The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillies are an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that is not spicy. Rice forms staple Bhutanese diet. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are consumed most often. A wide selection of western and Indian food is also available in many of the restaurants around the country.

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