One could argue that it’s possible to count the last truly off-the-beaten-track tourism destinations on one hand.
Bhutan is certainly one of them. The landlocked south Asian nation, which sits on the eastern ridge of the Himalayas between India’s northeastern states and China, can only be visited by booking through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator or international partner.
Not only is this great news for agents – there are plenty of UK operators selling the destination, including Intrepid Travel, Hayes & Jarvis and Regent Holidays – but it also helps preserve Bhutan’s environment and cultural heritage.
Regulations, such as the $200-250 minimum daily spend package and $40 visa for international visitors, help fund the nation’s free healthcare and education and bolster the country’s “high-value, low-impact” tourism model, which places Bhutan as an exclusive travel destination.
Yet Bhutan exudes a different kind of luxury than the flashy, six-star hotel kind.
“The Kingdom of Bhutan appeals to guests that are more active, as a lot of the experiences are centred around hikes and walking,” said Suhail Gupta, managing director for Asia at andBeyond. “It also appeals to clients interested in meditation and wellness.”
From exploring fertility temple Chimi Lhakhang to joining monks in prayer in the Phobjikha Valley, andBeyond offers myriad wow-factor experiences.
There are also options to trek through ancient rhododendron forests, walk among the hills and multicoloured prayer flags of capital Thimphu, and hike mountainous paths leading to Paro Taktsang Buddhist temple.
With andBeyond’s Punakha River Lodge scheduled to open from 1 October 2020, the operator has added yet another eco-friendly, socially-conscious product to its Bhutan portfolio.
Gupta said: “We rate [Bhutan] as the ‘Last Shangri-La’, as it is a country with about 760,000 people the size of Switzerland and yet only 80,000 Western tourists visit a year.
“It’s still an unspoilt and authentic destination.”
Flights: Clients can reach Bhutan from the UK via Delhi, Kolkata or Kathmandu. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines fly from these destinations into the valley town of Paro.
Visa: International visitors must apply for a visa, which is submitted through a licensed tour operator.
Climate: For every 1,000-metre increase in altitude the temperature drops around 7°C. In Thimphu, temperatures range from -2.5°C in January to 25°C in summer.