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How much does it cost to travel to Bhutan in 2022?

Sep 27, 2022
Reading time: 15 minutes

The trip budget. A core component to every travel planning exercise. If you wish to travel to the Land of the Thunder Dragons, you naturally want to know: how much does it cost to travel to Bhutan? Here's what it'll cost you as of September 2022 ...

'High value, low impact' tourism

We’re going to go out on a limb and say that you want to travel to Bhutan because you’ve heard about its pristine mountain environment and unique culture. Are we right?

Well, one of the core reasons for the integrity of the nation’s natural and cultural heritage is that the Bhutanese have been very clever about how they implement tourism. 

The Government of Bhutan has opted for a ‘high value, low impact' tourism policy that limits the number of visitors that can enter the country at any given time.

This policy has protected Bhutan against the worst effects of mass tourism, like trampled nature and disrupted ecosystems. Also, by keeping tourist numbers down, Bhutan has been able to retain its character and so remain the holiday mecca we all know it to be.

Follow-Alice-to-Bhutan-5-1024x683.jpg

Bhutan's high value, low impact tourism policy has helped the country retain its character and pristine environment

Bhutan visa 

One of the key methods of implementing the policy of high value, low impact tourism is the daily visa every tourist must purchase while in Bhutan. 

As of September 2022, when Bhutan reopened its borders to tourists after a long coronavirus-related closure, the daily visa fee is 200 USD per person per night in the country.

Lhuentse, Bhutan

It's not cheap to visit Bhutan, but it's money very well spent!

A changed tourist visa system

For those familiar with the pre-2022 tourist visa fee system, please note that your visa fee will NO LONGER cover any of your expenses while in Bhutan.

As we discuss in A tourist visa for Bhutan now costs more (2022 update), the entirety of the new daily visa fee is to be used for sustainable development. The aim here to is to use the money from tourists' visas to help the Bhutanese Government look after its people, environment and economy.

The daily tourist fee levied by the Government of Bhutan no longer covers any of your accommodation, meals, transport, and so on. The daily visa fee is now purely a sustainable development fee.

So this is a very important change to note. In one sense, the most notable takeaway for you, as a potential tourist, is that a holiday in Bhutan will now cost you more.

How do I obtain a Bhutan visa?

The easiest way to obtain a Bhutan tourist visa is through a registered tour operator, as the company will obtain your visa on your behalf. If travelling independently, ask your travel agent to secure you a visa. Note that there is a visa application fee of 40 USD per person.

Please note that you must secure a visa before entering Bhutan.

Note that you must obtain a Bhutan visa before you'll be allowed to fly to the country. You’ll receive a visa clearance letter that you present at immigration when you land at Paro International Airport.

A tour guide

It used to be that nobody could travel in Bhutan on their own – every visitor had to be accompanied by a Bhutanese tour guide.

Now, however, you can choose if you want a tour guide or not. Naturally, a tour guide will up your budget.

Bridge Bhutan - Bhutan cost

A local tour guide is no longer compulsory on a Bhutan holiday

At Follow Alice, we believe that using local guides is a really good thing. Firstly, it's important that tourists' money create jobs for locals. (Long live sustainable tourism. 💪🏾) And secondly, a tour guide offers many benefits to the traveller, such as:

  • keeping you safe
  • being someone local whom you get to know well and have meaningful conversations with
  • removing any possible stresses to do with admin and navigation
  • translating things for you and facilitating engagements with other locals
  • ensuring you don't miss out on special places and lesser-known experiences! 
Passang and FA clients Bhutan Tiger-s Nest

Passang, seen here taking the group pic, is our local leader in Bhutan

Tour guide prices vary from company to company, and will be included in your package fee. So it's normally not easy to know what precise sum goes to the local guide unless you ask for a price breakdown.

Note that the minimum monthly wage is just under 50 USD (or 3,750 Bhutanese ngultrum – BTN). The Bhutanese Government is pretty good in terms of providing oversight to ensure employees of the tourism sector are being properly looked after. So you shouldn't come across any tour companies that are being dodgy around the compensation of their guides.

Accommodation

Accommodation is one of the biggest items in any holiday budget. So this is a figure you want to calculate as accurately as possible.

There are many three-, four- and five-star establishments in the country, and prices can vary wildly from one to the next within the same rating. For instance ...

  • A standard double room in a 3-star hotel in the city of Thimphu in November (peak season) can cost anywhere from around 40-80 USD (taxes and fees included).
  • A standard double room in a 4-star hotel in the city of Thimphu at the same time of year generally costs anywhere from 90 to 250 USD (taxes and fees included). That's a huge range!
  • As to a five-star room ... well, if you're looking into that, you're probably not going to be reading a blog post about costs. 😉

So really, there's something for every budget and preference. Of course look for specials and discounts, as these can make all the difference.

Namgay Heritage Hotel, Thimphu, Bhutan

The gorgeous entrance to Namgay Heritage Hotel in Thimphu

Finally, note that if you head to less visited parts of the country, like the east and south, you can expect cheaper accommodation there.

If you go on a multiday trek like the Laya trek or Jomolhari trek, your accommodation (tents) will be included in your trekking package fee (which will also likely include meals, a cook, a porter, and your trek guide).

Food and drink

Here is the cost of some basic items and meals in Thimphu to help you plan your budget:

  • A 330 ml still water: 15 BTN (20c USD)
  • A 330 ml Coke: 30 BTN (40c USD)
  • A regular cappuccino: 85 BTN (1 USD)
  • A 330 ml imported beer: 250 BTN (3 USD)
  • A bottle of mid-range wine: 250 BTN (3 USD)
  • A fastfood cheeseburger: 70 BTN (85c USD)
  • A cheap meal in a restaurant: 180-200 BTN (2.20-2.50 USD) per person
  • A decent meal in a restaurant: 250-400 BTN (3-5 USD) per person
The restaurant at Terma inca Resort and Spa in Thimphu

The restaurant at Terma Linca Resort & Spa in Thimphu

A vehicle and driver

The best and easiest way to get around Bhutan outside of the cities and towns is by car. Bhutan has no trains. There are very few internal flights. And while public buses are available in certain districts, they're generally overcrowded and uncomfortable.

It used to be that a vehicle, petrol (fuel) and the services of a driver were part and parcel of the Bhutan daily visa. Now, however, hiring a car will be an added expense. And if you want a driver, that will be a further expense too.

While you can drive yourself in Bhutan (provided you have a valid driver's licence), there's a lot of value to hiring the services of a driver if you can. Most obviously, you can simply say where you'd like to go and be taken there, instead of trying to read a map and shouting at your friends over who is to blame when you land up in a cul de sac in a misty forest. 

Entrance fees

You can expect to pay an entrance fee to visit museums, monasteries, palaces, memorials and other such sites in Bhutan. If you wish to attend a Bhutanese tschechu (festival) – and if you're smart, you wish to indeed! – you'll also need to pay an admittance fee.

As reported in the Daily Bhutan in July 2022, most sacred sites now carry an entrance fee of 1,000 BTN (~12.50 USD) per person. These sacred sites include the country's many dzongs (fortress temples) as well as the famous Buddha Dordenma in Thimphu.

Taktsang (or Tiger's Nest Monastery) – Bhutan's most famous dzong – is an exception to the rule, costing 2,000 BTN (~25 USD) per person.

Tiger's Nest Bhutan

Bhutan's ever-popular Tiger's Nest

If you visit Bhutan with a tour operator, your tour guide will organise and pay for entrance fees on your behalf.

Finally, note too that there are now six days (national holidays) when such sites will be closed to foreigners as locals will be visiting in large numbers for celebrations. These dates are determined each year by the lunar calendar. So it's best to speak with your tour operator ahead of time to see if your visit will coincide with any such closures for tourists.

Adventure activities

As you can see in our Bhutan itineraries, this is a country designed for adventure!

You can go for a multiday trek in the Himalayas, or keep it smaller by opting to go:

  • white-water rafting (there are Class II to V rapids)
  • kayaking
  • cycling
  • mountain biking
  • hiking
White-water rating near Punakha Dzong fortress in Bhutan

Rafting on the Mo River in Punakha

You can hire a quality mountain bike for the day for around 35 USD. For a rafting trip on the Mo, Po or Manas Rivers, you're looking at 250 USD per raft (which can take up to six people).

Please do note that prices for services in Bhutan are likely to change over the coming year or so in light of the overhaul currently taking place within the tourism industry.

Traveller’s insurance

Something you’ll need to sort out yourself is your travel insurance. Travel insurance is an absolute must whenever travelling outside your own country. If you travel with Follow Alice, it’s a compulsory purchase. Be sure to factor this important item into your Bhutan travel budget. 

When taking out travel insurance, we advise choosing one that offers cover for all of the following:

  • Delayed, cancelled or interrupted travel
  • Medical insurance
  • Lost or damaged luggage

We give a few details about each item below ...

Delayed, cancelled or interrupted travel

Delayed travel covers things outside of your control like a traffic jam preventing you from reaching the airport on time, a mechanical issue with your plane, or severe weather preventing the plane from reaching its destination. Given bad weather is a part of the Himalaya vibe, this is an important aspect to cover. Delayed travel also covers missed connections that are out of your control.

Trip cancellation covers having to abort your trip beforehand for reasons such as injury, illness, severe weather, or a natural disaster or terrorist attack at your destination.

Trip interruption covers the costs involved when you have to abort your trip post departure, for any of the same reasons listed for trip cancellation. Both trip cancellation and trip interruption should also cover having to cancel or abort a trip as a consequence of illness or injury of a travel companion or family member. 

Medical insurance

Regular medical aids don’t cover medical expenses incurred outside of your own country. This is why medical insurance is a critical component of any traveller’s insurance. Proper medical insurance covers medical emergencies as well as medical evacuation. This means that should you fall ill or be injured, your insurance will pay for all hospitalisation and doctor fees as well as all transportation to and from hospital (including ambulance services) and to get you back home.

Lost or damaged luggage

The cover for lost or damaged luggage is important. Should your luggage go missing en route to Bhutan, you could use the insurance money to gather together what’s needed in Paro. You can then continue on with your trip without having to wear the same smelly pair of socks every day.

Recommended cover

We recommend that you cover yourself to the tune of at least 200,000 USD for each of the above categories of insurance (save luggage). We at Follow Alice always take out travel insurance with our partner World Nomads. They offer comprehensive yet affordable insurance. Whichever travel insurance you choose, we’ll require you to send us the details of your policy before your arrival in Bhutan.

Note that many credit cards offer free, automatic travel insurance when you book your flights with them, so do look into this. The cover usually isn’t enough on its own, but it’s a useful extra. Also, pay special attention to exactly what is and isn’t covered by your credit card. This is to ensure your independent traveller’s insurance covers all gaps and shortfalls.

Bhutan dzong with white flags

We don't ever advise exploring a new country without traveller's insurance

Tipping

Tipping isn’t compulsory in Bhutan, though it's appreciated. If you go with a tour guide and driver, please budget for tipping them at the end. If you're happy with the service received, then 10 USD per day for your tour guide is a good figure, and we recommend 6 USD per day for your driver.

If you go trekking in Bhutan, then tipping your support staff (like your guide, cook and porter/horseman) is also an appreciated gesture. Around 8 to 10 USD for your guide per day is a good rule of thumb if you decide to budget for tipping. Consider 5 to 8 USD per day for your other support staff.

Sundries

Consider bringing along a little extra cash to buy souvenirs and other local items. The Bhutanese are renowned for their beautiful handwoven textiles, for instance, and you might wish to pad your luggage with a gorgeous silk wrap or stylish gho (long robe). 

bhutan festival - bhutan cost

The Bhutanese make gorgeous, high-quality handwoven textiles

Bhutan currency

The currency in Bhutan is the Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN). It’s set to trade at the same value as the Indian rupee. As of 2022, 1 USD buys you around 81 BTN, and 1 euro buys you around 80 BTN. 

In Bhutan, the currency is the Bhutanese Ngultrum.

As discussed above, you won’t need to carry too much cash on you. This is because most things will be paid for on your behalf out of your visa fee. But should you want to draw cash while in Bhutan, you’ll find ATMs in all of the major towns.

SIM cards

The cheapest way to stay connected while in Bhutan is to buy a local SIM card. You can purchase a special short validity tourist SIM card when you land in Paro for 200 BTN.

Just note that you’ll need to fill in a form and the seller will want to photocopy your passport photo. Your tour guide will help you with this if you have one and wish to ask for assistance.

You can also buy 1 GB of data for as little as 150 BTN (that's less than 1 USD or 1 euro).

Ours. S. Nyele La 4,830 m. Jigme Dorji National Park. Bhutan

Don't expect the same level of cell service throughout Bhutan!

Let’s now look at the best time of year to visit Bhutan ...

Best time to visit Bhutan

You already know from our discussion of the Bhutan visa fee that Bhutan charges more for entry during its peak seasons than during its off-peak seasons. Peak seasons are spring and autumn, which are March to May and September to November respectively.

Off-peak seasons are summer and winter, which are June to August and December to February respectively. 

You can have a fantastic trip to Bhutan at any time of the year. But here are some details to help you understand why spring and autumn have been given a higher daily visa fee. Armed with this information, you can decide if the perks of either of the peak seasons warrants the higher visa fee based on your preferences. 

Winter

Winter (December to February) in northern Bhutan can be very cold – even downright icy. Let’s not forget that Bhutan encompasses part of the eastern Himalayas! There can be heavy snowfall in winter, which can mean certain roads get blocked, certain places and trails are closed, and some activities (like river rafting) are a no-go. 

Spring

Spring (March to May) is a fantastic time to visit Bhutan. The temperatures are gentler, snow melt gluts the rivers, and the countryside is covered in fresh greenery. Rhododendron, jacaranda, foxgloves, cosmos, Himalayan poppies, lilies and many other beautiful flowers emerge, painting the Bhutanese landscape with vivid colours. 

Bhutan autumn scene - how much does it cost to travel to Bhutan?

Spring and autumn offer the best weather for visiting Bhutan

Summer

Summer (June to August) isn’t a great time to visit Bhutan as the Indian monsoons bring rain and high humidity to much of the country. And if you’re wanting to hike in Bhutan, summer equals slippery trails.

Autumn

Autumn (September to November) in Bhutan is a dream. The rains and humidity start to dissipate, and the temperatures are pleasant. It’s a perfect season for outdoor activities and exploration. And while the tshechu (religious festival) of each district varies year by year, the Black-necked Crane Festival is on 12 November every year. To witness this special occasion and its festivities is a cultural highlight of a visit to Bhutan.

black-necked crane in Bhutan travel guide

A black-necked crane

Around 50 species of migratory birds from northern Tibet and Mongolia also come to Bhutan in September and October to roost there for the winter. These birds include the black-necked crane, of course, as well as ducks, waders, birds of prey, thrushes, finches and buntings.

If you'd like a little more detail on this subject, please read Best time to visit Bhutan.

Ready to plan a Bhutan adventure? 

We can help! Take a look at our suggested Discover Bhutan itinerary. And please feel free to contact us to ask any questions you might have – we’re here to help!

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