Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan shows just how stunning this South Asian destination is (Picture: Getty Images)
Bhutan only opened its borders to outsiders in the 1970s and has a stellar reputation for being the happiest country in the world.
It’s more than 70% forested and is the first carbon negative country in the world, so you needn’t worry about commercialised tourist traps or underwhelming and over-influenced experiences.
Prayer flags are strung for miles across gorges and hillsides – a testament to Bhutan’s deeply entrenched religious culture as a Buddhist kingdom.
Think epic landscapes, authentic dishes and hot stone baths as just some of the breath-taking offerings this untouched gem has to offer.
Nick Pulley, the founder of Selective Asia, has spent more than 35 years travelling through Asia but has ‘never been anywhere more fulfilling’ than Bhutan.
The Dochula Pass in Bhutan, located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu (Picture: Getty Images)
‘It’s a serene, immersive, uplifting destination with remote, rustic barefoot luxury lodges, clifftop temples and treks rich in wildlife and Buddhist culture,’ Nick tells Metro.co.uk.
If we haven’t already convinced you to book your flights, here’s the ultimate guide to the less-charted Bhutan…
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Nick says: ‘The first king of a unified Bhutan was crowned in 1907 and, although the country is a democracy, the king still wields a lot of power and is heavily involved in parliamentary decisions.
‘The current king is only the fifth king, so in many ways it’s a very young country with a fresh energy.
‘It is illegal to force any religion on anyone, and Buddhism is not a national religion but rather the country’s spiritual heritage.’
Bhutan’s top attractions
Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan which is the only carbon-negative country in the world. (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Head to Paro at the start or end of your trip, because you’ll be flying to and from Paro International Airport, to tick off some truly stunning sights.
Just 10 minutes from the airport is the National Museum, the Rinpung Dzong fortress and the iconic Taktshang Goemba, otherwise known as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
It’s also the home of the Paro Weekend Market which will give you an array of handmade souvenirs to choose from.
For food, Momo Corner offers fresh handmade dumplings – yes our mouths just watered too.
Bhutan is also known as the ‘land of the thunder dragon’.
Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and is home to the Thimpus Dzong on the Wang Chhu river – a government fortress. There’s Mojo Park and Grey area for after the sun goes down and you fancy a drink and a dance.
Gangtey Valley is home to the Gangtey Goemba, a gorgeous 17th-century monastery, but the region is the best for outdoor adventurers who wish to hike, cycle and trek their hearts out.
The Dzongs or monasteries are some of the main attractions in Bhutan (Picture: Getty Images)
If you feel like taking it one step further head 12 hours from the capital to Laya, the highest village in the entire country with stunning views of the Himalayas.
It’s a car-free village, which farms mushrooms and herds yaks and if you go in later October the Royal Highland Festival which features gift offerings and epic poem recitations.
Things to do in Bhutan
The country may put an emphasis on low footfall high quality tourism but that doesn’t mean there aren’t an abundance of activities to do.
Bhutan is great for camping due to the sheer amount of green spaces and lush forests. There is the option to stay in luxury villa tents in pine forests – think glamping – or you can camp more ruggedly at a higher altitude.
With little light pollution, think of the stunning views of the stars accompanied with the hearty cuisine Bhutan has to offer.
Iron Chain Bridge of Tachog Lhakhang Monastery on the Paro River, Bhutan (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
During the day treks and hikes are a great way to spend your time. Nick says: ‘It has world-class trekking. You can cross the entire country on foot on the Trans Bhutan Trail and it’s rich in birdlife.’ Bring your binoculars.
According to Lonely Planet naturalists should visit between late October and mid-March to see the famous endangered black-necked cranes that migrate yearly from Tibet.
The Trans Bhutan Trail has also been not long ago restored and until the 1960s it was the only way to travel the country and communicate. The past hundreds of years have seen it used by pilgrims, messengers, armies and traders.
Cycling is another great way to adventure around the kingdom. There’s something for every level too with smooth beginner trails and off-road biking on mountain trails.
Specialised tours operate in Bhutan which can tailor your cycling experience to your level and plan around the sites you’d like to see.
Different hikes you can do across Bhutan
Changangkha to Buddha point Hike (1.5 -2 hours)
Gangtey Nature Hike (1 hour)
Paro Taktsang Hike (5-6 hours)
Chelela and Kungkarpo Sky Burial (1 day)
Zuri Goenpa Hike (5-6 hours)
Bumdra Hike (5 hours)
Phajoding Hike (6 hours)
Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Hike 2
Tango Monastery Hike (2 hours)
Gangtey to Longtey Village Hike (4 hours)
Bumthang Cultural Hike (2 hours)
Ngang Lhakhang to Tahung Hike (6 hours)
Source: Bhutan Travel
Rafting is another great activity you can try on one of the seven major rivers in Bhutan: Puna Tsang Chhu, Wang Chhu, Sankosh River, Mangde Chhu, Mo Chhu and Drangme Chhu.
The rivers are ranked in difficulty so there’s no need to worry about getting in over your head.
Traditional sports is also something you might want to get involved in. Bhutanese archery, Khuru (type of darts), Soksom (javelin with a target) and Pungdo (shot put).
A valley view at Thimphu, Bhutan one one of it’s seven rivers (Picture: Getty Images)
Average cost of a trip
There is one downside to Bhutan and that is it certainly isn’t a budget destination.
But bear with us because it’s not just overpriced for the sake of it – there’s a good reason.
Nick explains: ‘First of all, visitors pay a daily sustainable development fee meaning that their travels there directly benefit the Bhutanese people and the environment.
‘Because of the daily fee (about £80 pp per day), tourism footfall is low as is the impact on the country and the experience is therefore vastly enhanced.’
There aren’t direct flights to Bhutan either, so you’ll have to fly to Delhi, with flights starting at £319 on Skyscanner, and then to Paro for £288.
Food, drink, accommodation and transport are all fairly cheap once you’re there.
Alternatively you can book with Selective Asia on their Bhutan in Brief tour which lasts eight days and starts from £2790 per person. It’s a tailor made trip with all accommodation, food, guides and transport included.
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It’s the first carbon negative country in the world.