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Home : Holidays : Asia : Bhutan : Bhutan Overview

Bhutan Overview

Bhutan, nestling in the heart of the great Himalaya, has for centuries remained aloof from the rest of the world. Since its doors were cautiously opened in 1974, visitors have been mesmerised: the environment is pristine, the scenery and architecture awesome and the people hospitable and charming. Trade agreements with India have been essential to the Bhutanese economy since the 1940s. Yet despite its close relations with Delhi, Bhutan has occasionally switched its support to its other great neighbour, China. Over the years, relations with China have been dominated by the issue of Tibet; thousands of refugees entered Bhutan after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959 and the country has become a centre for Tibetan exile politics. The refugee issue also dominates relations with Bhutan's other neighbour, Nepal. Tens of thousands of Bhutanese refugees are housed in camps in the east of the country. Most are ethnic Nepalis whose citizenship is in dispute. (The Bhutanese population is divided between two main ethnic groups ¨C the Nepalis and the Drupka.) The Nepali government wants them to return to Bhutan; the Bhutanese refuse to take them.


ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:  Independent travel is not permitted in Bhutan. Visitors are required to book travel through a registered tour operator in Bhutan. This may be done directly or through a travel agent abroad.  Further information, including a list of authorized tour operators in Bhutan, may be obtained through the Bhutanese Department of Tourism, P.O. Box 126, Thimphu, Bhutan, telephone +975-2-323251, 2-323252; fax +975-2-323695 or at

Entry by air is available only via India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Thailand. The border with China is closed. The minimum daily tariff is set by the Bhutanese Department of Tourism and cannot be negotiated. The rate includes all accommodations, all meals, transportation, services of licensed guides and porters, and cultural programs where and when available. The rate is the same for both cultural tours and treks. Travelers should contact the Department of Tourism for the latest daily tariff.  At this time, the only carrier servicing Bhutan is Druk Air, the Bhutanese government airline. More information on the airline is available at  Druk Air will board only travelers with visa clearance from the Tourism Authority of Bhutan.

A passport and visa are required for entry into and exit from Bhutan.  Visa applications are available from selected travel agencies.  Travel agencies will usually arrange for a traveler??s entry visa and clearance. 

CRIME:  There is relatively little crime in Bhutan. Petty crime, such as pick-pocketing and purse snatching is occasionally reported.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:  General road conditions outside of urban areas are poor, and emergency services generally are not available.  However, because tourists to Bhutan are required to arrange their trips through registered tour operators, most tourists do not drive themselves, but rather travel in groups with experienced drivers.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:  Visitors are advised to carry cash or travelers checks, since credit cards are not widely accepted in Bhutan.  When credit cards are accepted, an extra service fee, usually a percentage of the overall purchase, is often charged.

Druk Air, the only carrier servicing Bhutan, has rigid restrictions on the amount and size of luggage passengers may carry into the country. Passengers are advised to book bulky items ahead as unaccompanied baggage, since the aircraft servicing Bhutan have limited space available for large bags, and airline employees may not load large pieces of luggage. Flights into and out of Paro Airport are restricted to daylight hours and are dependent on suitable weather conditions. Flights are sometimes delayed or cancelled, particularly during the monsoon season between June and August. Passengers are advised to allow at least 24 hours transit time for connecting flights from Paro Airport and to travel on non-restricted air tickets so that they can be rebooked on the first available air carrier if a connecting flight is missed.

Bhutanese customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Bhutan of items such as firearms, ammunition, explosives and military stores; narcotics and drugs (except medically-prescribed drugs); tobacco products; wildlife products, especially those of endangered species; and antiques.


Bhutan recently implemented extremely strict restrictions on the sale or use of cigarettes and other tobacco products.  A traveler caught selling tobacco products could be charged with illegal smuggling and fined or imprisoned.  Smoking is prohibited in public places.  Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Bhutan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.  

The Kingdom of Bhutan has adopted a very cautious approach to tourism in an effort to avoid the negative impact of tourism on the country's culture and environment. All tourists must travel on a pre-planned, pre-paid, guided package tour through a registered tour operator in Bhutan or their counterparts abroad. The rate is fixed and controlled by the government. There are still plenty of takers wanting to explore the breathtaking terrain of this astonishing country. The tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning that tourism must be environmentally and ecologically friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable. The number of tourists visiting Bhutan is also regulated to a manageable level because of the lack of infrastructure.

Bhutan is a small land-locked Himalayan country led by a king, and is in transition to a constitutional monarchy. Facilities for tourism are limited. The Bhutanese name for Bhutan, Druk Yul, means 'Land of the Thunder Dragon'. Existing archives trace Bhutanese history back to AD450, although many of the intervening events remain a mystery. Guru Rinpoche is believed to have brought Mahayana Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet in the eighth century. Bhutan, the world's last Buddhist kingdom, first became a coherent political entity around the 17th century and has never been conquered or ruled by another foreign power.