ARRIVE IN PARO
PARO – PUNAKHA
PUNAKHA – THIMPHU
THIMPHU – PARO
PARO – DEPARTURE
WELCOME IN BHUTAN
SIP TEA BELOW THE CLOUDS ATOP THE DOUCH LA PASS OVERLOOKING THE BHUTANESE HIMALAYAS
HIKE THROUGH THE PUNAKHA VALLEY TO THE PUNAKHA DZONG
RAFTING ON THE PO CHHU RIVER
TAKE A BREATHTAKING HIKE THROUGH THE CHERI GOEMBA ROUTE
BUDDHA POINT HIKE
CLIMB UP TO THE TAKTSHANG MONASTERY (THE "TIGER'S NEST"), SET INTO A CLIFF FACE 800 M (2,624 FT) ABOVE THE PARO VALLEY
So exotic. So dramatic. Its magical essence can't be articulated. From the rich Buddhist culture to its remote Himalaya setting. Here the people live unimaginably hard but full lives, rooted in age‐old tradition yet ready to join the 21st century. Bhutan seems like a place that couldn't still exist. A place you feel lucky to have experienced.
ITINERARY IN DETAIL
Day 1 Arrive Paro
Upon arrival, meet our Bhutanese guide (and WWA friend!) for the trip. A gracious host and invaluable resource, our local guide comes from a typically modest Bhutanese background and offers a unique perspective on the country.
Keep in mind that although Bhutan is a champion of progressive issues such as increased democratization and wildlife preservation, the Bhutanese live a largely simple, agrarian‐based lifestyle. Villages still lack some basic modern services, such as garbage removal, so don't be surprised if you see debris along the trails. (Please make sure to bring your non‐biodegradable trash back to the hotel for disposal.) Bhutan may be short on modern conveniences, but it's overflowing with friendly people who are happy to talk to travelers about their country's rich cultural heritage and natural wonders.
Following a quick shuttle ride, set out on foot along a dirt road toward Dzong Drakha, a stunning Cliffside temple complex. At the complex, take time to wander through the temples, set high above the valley. With few tourists at this site, you feel immersed in the landscape and transported back in time. Then a short but steep descent leads to a chorten (religious monument), where our lunch awaits. Refueled, we meander to the valley below and follow a stream bordered by forest, rice fields and hamlets.
This afternoon we shuttle to Le Méridien Paro, Riverfront, our plush retreat for the night. You have time to relax before tonight's welcome reception and dinner. If you're interested, consider taking advantage of a spa treatment (not included in the trip price.)
Overnight: Le Méridien Paro, Riverfront
Day 2 Paro – Punakha
Shuttle to Thinleygang via Dochula 3 Hours
Walking & Hiking Options:
Royal Monastic Route: 4.3 Miles (1,300' elevation loss) Valley View Route: 5.2 Miles (400' loss)
We start the day's adventures by shuttling out of the Paro Valley along a spectacular route that took seven days to cover on foot before it became accessible to vehicles several decades ago. After following the Paro Chhu to its confluence with the Thimphu Chhu, we continue north along the narrow river valley, passing terraced rice fields, virgin forests and scattered villages with homes built in the traditional Bhutanese style of flat red roofs and painted woodwork. Our slow and winding journey takes us over the 10,023‐ foot Dochula (la is the Bhutanese word for a mountain pass). If the weather cooperates, relish breathtaking views that encompass several snowcapped Himalayan peaks, including Gangkar Puensum, Bhutan's highest at 24,740 feet.
At Dochula, we stop for tea then continue to the trailhead at Thinleygang. Descend through pine forests, past rice paddies and over streams on bridges built by locals. The monastic body once used the trail that parallels our route to travel between Thimphu and Punakha. They still spend summers in Thimphu and winters in warmer Punakha, but no longer use the path. Dropping into the Punakha Valley you'll notice we've entered a semitropical zone. Punakha, whose historical richness rivals that of the old capital, is the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding area.
Our destination is Dhensa Boutique Resort, our home for the next two nights. Built in 2014, this new hotel offers unrivaled access to our daily activities. Take in sweeping views of rice terraces and the river from the hillside deck or treat yourself to a relaxing massage treatment.
Day 3 Punakha
Punakha Dzong Guided Walk 1 Hour
Shuttle to Sirigang 45 Minutes
Chorten Nebu & Sirigang Valley Route 6.1 Miles (1,400' elevation gain) Shuttle to Dhensa Boutique Resort 1 Hour
This morning our Bhutanese guide leads us on a tour of Punakha Dzong, which sits at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu (Mother and Father Rivers). Appearing to have been ripped from the pages of National Geographic, the 17th‐century dzong has served as the winter capital of Bhutan for more than 300 years and is the site of the annual Punakha Serda festival. The fort hosted the 2008 coronation of the fifth king, celebrations commemorating the country's transition to democracy, a royal wedding and a celebration of the newborn prince.
After shuttling to Sirigang, hike up to 700‐year‐old Chorten Nebu (The Old Temple), which serves as a monastic school housing about 40 young monks. WWA was one of the first foreign groups to be warmly welcomed into what was previously a more obscure monastery. We remain friends with Chorten Nebu's monastic body to this day. Our visit helps us gain insight into traditional Bhutanese life, as Chorten Nebu is representative of monasteries that lie far from the main roads. We stop for a packed lunch under an old oak tree outside the chorten, where our guide reveals more about the customs, history and religion of Bhutan. Back on the trail, drop from the ridge into the valley, passing through a small village and by local school. There's a good chance we'll be accompanied by curious children running home after school!
Enjoy the riverside scenery during the shuttle ride back to the hotel, where there's time to relax before we rejoin our local guide for a culture and history Q&A session followed by dinner in town.
Day 4 Punakha – Thimphu
Shuttle to Po Chhu 30 Minutes
Po Chhu Route 4.8 Miles (400' elevation gain)
Rafting on the Po Chhu River 2 Hours
Shuttle to Thimphu 2½ Hours
Following breakfast we shuttle to the Po Chhu for a hike on a scenic trail to our rafting put‐in spot. In the hands of expert river runners we navigate small but thrilling rapids, all the while enjoying spectacular views of the Punakha Valley and Punakha Dzong. Keep an eye out for some of the brightly colored birds found in this area, such as the minivet, red‐headed trogon or rare white‐bellied heron. We pull off where a delicious catered lunch awaits on a sandy beach.
After rafting we shuttle to Thimphu, home to just under 100,000 people and perhaps the world's only capital city without traffic lights. Though it is in the midst of rapid growth and modernization, much of the city's infrastructure hasn't caught up. For example, the modern multistoried buildings under construction are being built behind large bamboo (no steel yet) scaffolding.
Once in Thimphu, we check into the elegant Taj Tashi, situated in the heart of town. Tonight's dinner is at your leisure; feel free to visit the hotel's Chig‐ja‐gye Restaurant for tasty Bhutanese and Tibetan cuisine or kick back with relaxing room service (included in trip price). This evening, head to the hotel's courtyard to take in a dance performance by native Bhutanese, complete with traditional costumes, masks and fire dancing.
Day 5 Thimphu
Shuttle to Dodina 45 Minutes
Cheri Goemba Route 2 Miles (800' elevation gain)
Shuttle to Thimpu 45 Minutes
We start our day with a shuttle past embassies, the parliament building and the royal palace toward the far end of the valley for the start of our hike to Cheri Goemba. This monastery was built in 1620 by the Shabdrung, one of Bhutan's most important historic characters. Cheri Goemba was the site of Bhutan's earliest organized monastic body and, while it's a steep climb up, provides a beautiful perspective on the rural outskirts of the Thimphu Valley. After descending from the monastery, we savor a picnic lunch in a riverside meadow before heading back Thimphu.
Back at the Taj Tashi, you can choose to join your leaders for a tour of Thimphu, visiting a farmers' market, archery grounds and Memorial Chorten. You can also opt to go shopping in town, relax at the hotel pool or indulge in a spa treatment. Or, if the chance to golf at one of the world's most remote courses is too tempting to pass up, play a round—you may even bump into a diplomat or two (golf fees not included in the trip price).
Tonight, dine on your own at the hotel or at one of Thimphu's emerging casual restaurants.
Day 6 Thimphu – Paro
Buddha Point Hike 5.5 Miles (900' elevation gain)
Shuttle to Paro 2 Hours
Today begins with a shuttle followed by a hike to the Buddha Dordenma, a giant golden statue towering above the Wang Chhu. At 169 feet tall, it's one of the largest Buddha statues in the world and houses an astonishing 125,000 smaller figures inside. Watch as the morning sunshine illuminates the gilded exterior then turn your gaze to relish sweeping views of the valley below.
After visiting the statue, set out climbing along a trail recently created for Thimphu residents' recreation. At the top, as thousands of colorful prayer flags flap in the wind above you, take in stunning views of the giant Buddha down below. Continue on the trail as it makes a short but steep decent then undulates through a tranquil pine forest that offers a bird's‐eye view over Thimphu Valley. Arrive on foot at a local Thimpu restaurant for a scrumptious lunch of local specialties.
Rest your legs in the shuttle to Paro, where we stop to explore town before continuing on to our home for the next two nights, Zhiwa Ling. This charming hotel is built in the style of a traditional Bhutanese temple. When construction began, we watched gigantic logs being hand‐sawed on the site and marveled at the intricate hand painting that went into every surface. We are proud to offer this hotel on our trip. A foot massage or other treatment at the hotel's spa may be the perfect afternoon diversion.
In the evening for a shuttle to the nearby village of Nemjo for a special dining experience in a 300‐yearold converted farmhouse. We gather around a bonfire in the courtyard to hear stories from our Bhutanese guide and learn about traditional village life. Then we head inside for a Nepalese hot pot meal complemented by Bhutanese dishes. It's sure to be a night of great food, storytelling and lively conversation!
Day 7 Paro
Shuttle to Taktshang 30 Minutes
Walking & Hiking Options:
Taktshang Teahouse Route: 3.3 Miles (1,700’ elevation gain)
Taktshang Monastery Route: 6.1 Miles (2,200’)
Start the day with a shuttle to Taktshang for a hike to one of Bhutan's most sacred places and an important pilgrimage destination: the Taktshang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery. Partly damaged by fire in 1998, the cliffside monastery was built atop the cave where Guru Rinpoche, father of Mahayana Buddhism, meditated for three months after arriving in the Paro Valley on the back of a legendary tigress. Locals often display handicrafts for sale at the start of the hike— evidence of individual enterprise rarely seen until the past few years.
Begin with an immediate ascent, following the trail high above the valley and passing through forests and by large prayer wheels turned by a stream. Continue hiking up a steep portion of the path to a ridge where prayer flags rustle in the wind. Just beyond, at 9,200 feet, is the Taktshang teahouse, where we stop for a hot drink and striking views of the monastery across the valley. The scene seemingly belongs to a bygone era—it's only when a cell phone rings that you realize it's the 21st century! Once at the monastery, hear stories about Guru Rinpoche and take time to look around before beginning your descent back to the valley. Here our shuttle awaits to return us to Zhiwa Ling for lunch.
In the afternoon, spend time in Paro exploring the stunning architecture or perusing the local shops. You can also choose to try your hand at the ancient sport of archery. Or, if you'd prefer some down time, pamper yourself with a spa treatment and enjoy some R&R at the hotel.
Tonight we celebrate our sojourn with a farewell dinner. You may decide to partake in a nightcap beside the hotel bar's stone fireplace, or turn in early to get a good night's sleep before our morning departure.
Day 8 Paro
Today connect your flight back home.