Cultural Bhutan: Hidden Festivals and Local Life
Experience the local, authentic culture of Bhutan on this fascinating trip of hidden villages, festivals, temples and scenery
Personalised journeys from start to finish
Save an acre of rainforest each time you travel
Every detail taken care of
- This tour is date dependant and takes place over
- Exclusive, tailored tours including a hike to Tiger's Nest
- Village festival experience
- Private tour options in Thimphu, Punakha and Paro
- Luxury accommodation throughout with all meals included
- Meet and greet service
- Full support from your Travel Concierge before, during and after your trip
At a glance
Discover authentic Bhutan with our expert guides on this exclusive eight night trip. Enjoy colourful festivals, meet locals and visit hushed-up villages far removed from western life.
Beginning in the capital, Thimphu, you’ll have plenty of cultural encounters on our privately guided tours. Visit ancient dzongs, temples and museums and take part in a local village festival to experience the alluring way of Bhutanese life.
Then, venture further into the country with a stay in Punakha and stunning hikes to find hidden villages, farmhouses and monasteries set in pastoral scenes. The idyllic walks continue into Paro Valley where you’ll spend your last three days. Meet a Bhutanese author and marvel at striking temples, before ending on a high with a hike up to the spectacular Tiger’s Nest.
Example Trip Itinerary
Private transfer to Thimphu hotel
Accommodation in Thimphu
- Sixteen suites
- Living and dining room
- Outdoor dining deck
Nestled in a pine forest in Thimphu Valley, this dzong-inspired retreat peacefully looks down to the city from the upper reaches of the Motithang area. Whitewashed stone buildings house slick suites, lounges and spa, while the Amankora service is of course exemplary, with a mood of effortless pampering prevailing throughout. Sink into your king-sized bed and look out to views of the courtyard, stream or forest from your suite’s window banquette. Then head to the outdoor dining deck for further scenic views and delicious western and Thai cuisine. Plenty of activity is also available from fishing to archery, Bhutan’s national sport, to trekking and white water rafting. Though the Amankora Thimphu enjoys a quiet location, its proximity to the city promises you are still close to the capital’s sights and shopping, with Paro airport just two hours away.
- 66 guestrooms
- Two restaurants, a bar and tea lounge
- Heated swimming pool
Blending Bhutanese Dzong architecture with the highest of modern international standards, Taj Tashi is a grand property in the heart of the Thimphu Valley. Ringed by the Himalayas, its enchanting surrounds are echoed in the hotel’s style with classical hand-drawn Buddhist murals decorating the walls, signature Asian treatments at the spa and many local, elegant touches throughout. Rooms and suites look out to breath-taking views with some boasting private sit-outs that open out to green mountains rising high above the valley. All of course enjoy the finest amenities, though opt for a suite if you fancy the further luxuries of canopy beds, pillow menus, walk-in closets and stand-alone bathtubs. The food here is also superb. Don’t miss a chance to savour the fiery flavours at Chig-ja-gye, the hotel’s Bhutanese restaurant, while three more eateries ensure those with a taste for European and Tibetan dishes are catered for too.
Spend your time in Bhutan's capital exploring the market, Taschichho Dzong and small, chock-a-block shops. A wander around this relaxed and friendly city gives a look at a more urban side of Bhutan which accompanies a wide display of traditional art, architecture and Buddhist sights steeped in ritual. A visit to the Arts and Crafts School, the Textile Museum and the Traditional Medicine Hospital are recommended. Your Travel Designer can help you to plan your stay here according to your interests.
On your way to Thimphu from Paro, you'll visit the National Museum. The museum houses over 3000 pieces of Bhutanese art, covering more than 1,500 years of Bhutan's cultural heritage. It has a formidable collection of antiques from Buddhist temples, and artefacts once used by both the nobility and common folk. Highlights include masks, armour, paintings, prehistoric items and natural history exhibits. A short drive from the museum takes you to the Rinpung Dzong, a large Buddhist monastery and fortress that's regarded as one of Bhutan's most impressive and well-known dzongs - and perhaps the finest example of Bhutanese architecture. From the 17th to the late 19th century, dzongs served as defending fortresses and were built with strong walls, false doors, reservoirs for water and food and hidden armouries. Dzongs were also headquarters for the religious and the political administrations. Once you've seen inside the Rinpung Dzong, enjoy the short walk across a wooden cantilever bridge on the dzong grounds.
You'll begin the day with a sightseeing tour of Buddha Hill. Your driver will collect you from your hotel and drive you to the Kuenselphodrang Nature Park where you'll be greeted by the massive statue of the Buddha Dordenma - one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world - sitting atop a hill overlooking the southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. Measuring 51.5 meters, the statue takes the form of Shakyamuni and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold with 125,000 smaller Buddha statues placed inside it. The statue is a recent construction that was built to commemorate the centennial of the Bhutanese monarchy and to fulfil two Buddhist prophecies, one ancient and one modern.
Next, you'll be brought to the Textile and Folk Heritage Museum for a glimpse into traditional Bhutanese life. This restored three-storey building has been constructed using rammed-earth and timber to replicate a traditional farmhouse and inside it's furnished as it would have been 100 years ago. Both the house design and its furnishings reflect many aspects of both past and present rural Bhutanese life today. After a guided museum tour you'll stop for a refreshing lunch.
After lunch, you'll be brought on a guided hike to the Chagri Dorjeden Monastery, also known as the Cheri Temple. The temple is found at the northern end of the Thimphu Valley, roughly an hour's walk up a steep hill. This Buddhist monastery was established in 1620 A.D. by the founder of the Butanese state Ngawang Namgyal and is now a major teaching and retreat center.
Today you will enjoy the merriment of the festival at Shelmaka Village. As we reach Shelmakha, the village headman will welcome you as one of the village's chief guests. You'll be entertained with a series of masked dances and folk performances enacted by the village youth. The festival of Shelmakha is an important event for the local people where they can meet one another and introduce newer members of the family. For younger people, it's an opportunity for romance and to plan marriages. After a picnic lunch, we will visit some farm houses to discover the local life of the hamlet. We then drive back to Thimphu where the rest of the evening will be spent exploring the Capital City.
Transfer to Punakha with stops at Wangdue Dzong, Chhimi Lhakhang and Punakha Dzong
Accommodation in Punakha
- Eight suites
- Dining room
- Spa with yoga and meditation room, treatment rooms and steam room
- Library and lounge
- Four hour drive from Paro airport
Wrapped in lush rice fields and fruit orchards by Mo Chhu River, with views to the seventeenth century Punakha Dzong, is a former traditional Bhutanese farmhouse: the Amankora Punakha hotel. Intimate and exclusive, this stand-out property provides just eight classically designed suites. Each boasts heaps of space and comfort, plus a traditional wood burning ‘bukhari’ stove for a peek into local life. Dining, pampering and adventure are all well catered for, from the communal dining room, tea pavilion and alfresco courtyard to the two-story spa and meditation room, to exciting white-water-rafting tours.
- Eleven suites
- Restaurant and bar
Nestled deep in the hush of Bhutan’s flourishing wilderness, this heavenly mountain retreat looks out over the rushing Mo Chu River as it winds through orchards and rice fields. Discreetly sleek with its calming, signature COMO style, Uma Punakha enjoys spectacular untouched valley and river views. Gaze at these sublime panoramas from your hillside room or villa. While some feature private terraces, all boast enormous beds, wood-burning stoves and neutral colour schemes peppered with traditional hand-painted wall designs portraying local scenes. The restaurant, Bukhari, then offers an array of delicious dishes made from fresh, local farming produce for an authentic taste of local life. Meanwhile the spa promises complete relaxation with holistic, Asian-inspired treatments, therapies and massages.
Capital of Bhutan and seat of the government until 1955, the little town of Punakha still enjoys a serene and regal ambience left over from its stately days. Found in a fertile valley at a relatively low 12,000 metres above sea level, visitors come here for warm, sultry days filled with plenty of activities such as mountain biking, trekking and river rafting. Then step into the area's history with a visit to the town's show-stopping Punakha Dzong.
Today, you will begin with a hike up through fields along the banks of the Mo Chhu River to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, a stunning monument recently built by the one of the Fourth King’s Queens with spectacular views down the valley. Following the hike you will drive back up the valley towards Khuruthang passing Punthsho Pelri Palace and several other winter homes of the Royal family. After lunch, continue towards Talo village to experience the beautiful hamlet there. Finally, visit Nalanda Temple for a chat with the monks there.
Private Transfer to Paro with Lunch and Tachogang Visit
Accommodation in Paro
- 24 suites
- Spa facilities
- Includes: all meals and picnics
- House beverages with select wines and spirits
- Laundry service
- Internet access through in-house laptop
- 30 minutes from Paro International Airport
Situated in Balakha Village, the Amankora Paro contrasts rustic elements with contemporary design. Its pleasing features include natural rammed-earth walls, gently sloping roofs, wood-panelled interiors and spectacular views of blue pine forests, the 17th-century Drukyel Dzong and Mount Jhomolhari. This impressive lodge features 24 suites, each with a combined lounge and bedroom and traditional wood-burning stove. Centred by a large flagstone courtyard, a lime-washed stone pavilion houses the living and dining room facilities with floor-to-ceiling windows, a library and an outdoor terrace overlooking a small stream. A spa set on two levels features a yoga studio with glass walls and treatment rooms with outdoor baths.
- 29 suites
- Fitness centre
- Bar, lounge and restaurant
- 10 minutes from Bhutan International Airport
Located on a 38-acre site sitting on a forested mount, Uma Paro was once the home of a Bhutanese nobleman and is a resort of exceptional style and elegance. The building, one of Bhutan’s only boutique hotels, features handcrafted stone, wood and tiles and white walls vividly painted by local artists. 29 suites including private villas can be found amongst glades planted with azaleas, and each suite features a traditional wood-burning stove. The circular dining room offers a unique atmosphere for dinners while a cosy bar and lounge afford complete relaxation. Spa facilities incorporate a unique hot stone bath house, a large indoor pool with outdoor sun deck and steam rooms. There is also the use of a fitness centre and a boutique to complete your stay.
The pretty valley of Paro is one of the kingdom's widest and is covered in fertile rice fields crisscrossed by a beautiful meandering river. While Bhutan is famous for its splendid monuments and monasteries, perhaps the most impressive can be found here. You'll encounter the "Tiger's Nest" Monastery, medieval style-bridges, imposing dzongs and a town filled with traditional architecture.
The main street of the town was only built in 1985 but it's lined with cheerfully painted wooden shop fronts and restaurants in a classic Bhutanese style. Facing up the mountain, you'll be awed by the 8th-century Taktsang or "Tiger's Nest" Monastery, perched high on the sheer cliff face. Just outside of the town, lie both the dominating Paro Dzong - a prime example of Bhutanese architecture, and the 7th-century Kyichu Lhakhang which was one of the first Buddhist temples built in the country.
Today, you'll be brought on a lively hike to the Upper Tsento region, lasting for approximately 2 to 3 hours before being driven back to your hotel in a private vehicle via the ruins of the Drugyal Dzong fortress and monastery.
After lunch, you'll be brought to visit the Kyichu Temples. This two-temple complex consists of the Jowo Temple and the Guru Temple. The Jowo Temple is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the Tibetan Emperor Songtsan Gampo. The Guru Temple was built in 1971 by Kesang Choden Wangchuck, the queen of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.
After your visit to the Kyichu temples, you'll have the opportunity to meet a Bhutanese author before returning to your hotel for dinner.
Today you’ll experience Bhutan’s most valued attractions and one of the main reasons people come to Bhutan, the famous Taktshang monastery or "Tiger’s Nest". This spectacular temple clings to a 1,000 foot high cliff and was built in 1692 by a prominent historical figure named Gyaltse Tenzin Rabgye. We hike for about three hours to reach the Tiger's Nest, climbing steeply uphill from the valley floor with a break at a tea house along the way. The Tiger’s Nest is one of the most sacred sites for the Buddhists. It's said that in the 8th century, Guru Padma meditated here for three months. Guru Padma, also known as the 2nd Buddha, first initiated Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress from Khenpajong and built this temple as a result. For Buddhists, the story of the temple is an important lesson about taming the inherent forces of Anger, Ignorance and Greed.
We then hike for approximately two hours back downhill. On your return, treat your weary limbs to an indulgent soak in a hot stone bath.
In the evening, explore Paro town on foot. Visit a farmhouse to soak in a herbal hot-stone bath which is known to be therapeutic and helps ailments related to joints and muscle aches, besides simply soothing your mind and body and going perfectly with the locally brewed Red Panda Beer.
Private transfer to Paro Airport
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Cultural Bhutan: Hidden Festivals and Local Life
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