Why is Bhutan so expensive and is Bhutan worth visiting despite a hefty price tag? What is the destination that emphasizes low volume and high impact of tourists really like? Read this and more about our experience in Bhutan in November in this post!
This post's overview:
Why is Bhutan so expensive?
Visiting Bhutan is not cheap – unless you’re from SAARC counties (India, Bangladesh and some other counties), you need to buy a tour to visit Bhutan. The government set a minimum daily fee for a tour – $200 per during a low season and $250 during the high season.
So why is Bhutan so expensive? Well, it’s honestly the decision of the government – they don’t want a high volume of tourists that would change the lifestyle of the country. They want a few high paying tourists and setting a minimum tour fee is a perfect way to reach that. Bhutan emphasizes the quality of the tourists and not the quantity and the high price of the tours ensure that people coming are interested in the country.
However, you aren’t just paying $200-$250 per person per day for nothing – you get a very good tour car, a guide and a driver, all meals and all hotels included. If you don’t buy souvenirs and don’t tip anyone, you can leave the country without spending a cent more!
However, there is an additional charge for couples and solo travellers Bhutan prefers groups and people coming alone or as a couple need to pay more. That’s something I don’t understand.
So is Bhutan worth the price?
Because of the relatively high price (unless you work in Silicon Valley and $200 per person per day is nothing for you), Bhutan can be considered a luxury destination. Most people choose 4-5 day tours that cover most of the highlights in the country like Paro, Punakha and Dochula Pass.
Moreover, flights to Bhutan are also expensive. We flew from Kathmandu and returned to Dhaka and paid over $800 for both of us. The flights were very short (1 – 1.5 hours) and for this money, you can fly Business class in Europe or fly 10 times from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong.
All that adds up and makes Bhutan expensive. But is it worth the price?
Well, depends what you’re looking for. If you’re curious about the country and interested in its history and traditions, then definitely yes. If you like “hidden gems” and lesser-known places, you will love Bhutan. If you’re looking for some life-changing experience and very beautiful nature, then probably you need to lower your expectations.
What is Bhutan like?
There isn’t that much information about Bhutan online and most of these articles about “20 facts about Bhutan” are half-true. Bhutan is just a normal country with normal people, there is nothing mystical about it. Like everywhere else people live in cities and the capital, Thimphu, has a lot of cafes, karaoke bars and snooker bars for locals to go out to. There are plenty of shops including Korean stores, as Korean soap operas and K-pop is also popular there. Many people wear traditional outfits but many others wear jeans and padded jackets.
Bhutan is a developing country, so don’t expect the best roads, fastest internet and luxury hotels. When you pay the standard fee, you usually get 3* hotels included and they are just normal standard hotels you find anywhere in the world.
If you want to experience better hotels and perhaps always have hot water in your room and even heating (it gets to -7C at night in Paro in December and most 3* hotels only have tiny portable heaters), you’ll have to pay for the upgrade.
How crowded in Bhutan? Are there many tourists?
I also thought (for some reason) that visiting Bhutan would be very exclusive and we will be on our own in most locations, however, most of the touristic hotspots are quite crowded. As I mentioned before, Bhutan is free to visit for the tourists from the SAARC countries and 80% of the tourists come from India and Bangladesh and many travel around in large tour buses. So yes, while it’s not as crowded as Louvre, it’s still quite busy. Especially when a couple of these buses arrive. The hike to Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest was probably the busiest out of all the attractions.
Summary of our trip to Bhutan: was it worth it?
My ultimate target is to visit as many counties as possible in a lifetime and visiting Bhutan and seeing what is it like was very interesting! I (personally) prefer travelling without organised tours and deciding on the places I want to visit myself, but unfortunately, in Bhutan, it’s not possible (unless you’re from India or Bangladesh). I found $560 per day (250×2 plus couples fee of 30×2 ) a bit too much for the hotels we stayed at (we had an issue in one of the hotels, I don’t think it should host any guests in the wintertime).
Our itinerary was also very laid-back – most of the time, we only had 2-3 spots in the itinerary and were at the hotel by 5 pm. With no good internet or no places to go to, there was absolutely nothing to do at the hotels in the evening. We also didn’t walk much and I felt like I desperately needed some walking or sport (apart from the last day, when we hiked to the Tiger’s Nest).
However, as an independent traveller, I’m a bit biased. If you like organised laid-back tours and itineraries where everything is decided for you, you will love your trip to Bhutan!
Overall, as I mentioned before, I’m very happy I had a chance to visit Bhutan and saw all these amazing places with my own eyes! I don’t think I will return, but it was a great experience.
If you want to read more about our itinerary for 4 days in Bhutan, head to this post.