We’ve all heard Bhutan is beautiful, but is Bhutan worth $250 per day? After three weeks in Bhutan, here are my honest thoughts on whether or not Bhutan is worth your money.
$200 to $250 per day, per person. At least.
Compared to budget-friendly neighbors such as India and Nepal, Bhutan’s minimum daily fee for tourists is steep. Yet there’s no denying the country’s allure, and I know many of you are beyond intrigued. Ever since I entered the country, I’ve been fielding the same question over and over:
“Is Bhutan worth the money?”
After more than three weeks of travel in Bhutan—and obsessively assessing whether or not the tourist fee is fair—I have my final answer to the question whether Bhutan is worth $250 a day:
If you can afford it, absolutely.
Let’s talk about Bhutan’s daily tourist fee
I’ll elaborate on why Bhutan is worth it in a hot second, but first, let’s clear up some misconceptions about the cost of travel to Bhutan.
How much does it cost to travel to Bhutan?
Basically, all foreign, non-regional tourists in Bhutan must pay a minimum daily fee.
The minimum daily fee is:
- $250 per person per day from March – May, and September – November
- $200 per person per day from December – February, and June – August
If you’re traveling solo, add an extra $40 per day. If you’re traveling on a private tour with only two people, you’ll pay another $30 per day, per person.
Note: Indians, Bangladeshis, and Maldivians are exempted from this daily charge. There are also some discounts available, primarily for students and children ages 5 – 12. See the Tourism Council’s website for more details.
Those looking for more luxurious accommodations in 5-star hotels and resorts should expect to pay several hundred dollars more per day. The same goes for those interested in trekking with high-quality gear and camping equipment.
What’s included in Bhutan’s tourist fee?
Many people assume Bhutan’s tourist fee is something paid on top of other expenses in the country. Not so!
The daily fee should include:
- Licensed Bhutanese guide from an official Bhutanese tour operator. My guide was incredibly chill, helpful, and a great companion throughout my 3+ weeks in Bhutan.
- Driver and transportation. Usually means a comfortable and new 4×4, or a medium-sized tour bus. Internal flights are not covered.
- Accommodation. Hotels are all at least 3-stars, clean, and often spacious with impeccable service. Homestays and camping can also be requested.
- Entrance fees to tourist sights
- Food and most non-alcoholic drinks. Hotel restaurants are the norm, but if your tour group is small, ask to eat at local restaurants. Your guide should grant your wishes without any extra cost, but you’ll have to pay for any alcohol. (Protip: Bhutanese wine not recommended.)
- Trekking gear. If you’re going on a trek, that is.
- All taxes within the country.
Basically, this tourist fee covers all of your necessary expenses within Bhutan. The only common costs not covered by this fee are:
- Flight to/from Bhutan
- Tips for guides and drivers (expected at around 10% of the tour cost)
Once you’ve paid your tour company, you could theoretically waltz into Bhutan without cash, no problem… though your guide will deserve a tip by the end of your trip!
Where does my money go?
Ah, the important question!
Obviously, a slice of the pie goes to the tour agency, guides, drivers, hotels, etc. What’s more interesting is the $65 per day going to the government’s “sustainable development fee”.
Fancy name aside, this means around 30% of your money goes to free health care, free education, poverty relief, and infrastructure for Bhutan’s people. And unlike some of Bhutan’s less scrupulous neighbors, you can rest assured this money is actually being used as intended.
Even to the average tourist, the results of this money are visible. I had extended English conversations with 12-year-olds, there’s a slick new highway being built across the country, and I was told stories of Bhutanese people being sent abroad for medical treatment… free of cost!
But why is that important?
Some of you have griped to me that it’s not a tourist’s responsibility to play charity, but consider Bhutan’s situation:
Bhutan is a land-locked country of only 700,000 people, with limited options for export or industry due to its mountainous terrain. Much of the country’s population is poor, and 12% live below the international poverty line. The government is grappling to maintain Bhutan’s well-preserved culture in the face of rapid development and modernization.
Tourism is one of very few major industries in Bhutan, but unbridled tourism can quickly consume a country and its culture… especially when the country is home to less than one million people.
Bhutan doesn’t want to become the next Venice sinking under the weight of millions of holiday goers, nor attract the hordes of culturally insensitive backpackers who flood Southeast Asia, Nepal, and India. The country wouldn’t be the same if drunk backpackers in elephant pants staggered by locals in traditional gho and kira. And that’s coming from someone who wobbled ‘round Asia in said pants years ago. Yes, I admit it.
Bhutan makes great efforts to adhere to sustainable tourism standards, and we should laud their efforts, not resist them. Though their system isn’t perfect, Bhutan’s daily tourist fee is a tried and tested method of limiting tourist numbers, while simultaneously ensuring tourism’s revenues reach the entire population.
If you’re still upset about the daily fee, remember that travel is a privilege, not a right. It’s well within the country’s rights to stem the flow of mass tourism using whatever means works best.
Why Bhutan is really worth your money
Okay, okay, it’s time for me to get off my soapbox. Though sustainable tourism is imperative, Bhutan’s forward-thinking policies aren’t the only reason it’s worth your money. You’ve stuck with me this far, so it’s about time I give you the answer you’ve been waiting for.
Why is Bhutan worth your money? Because it’s freakin’ amazing, and there’s no other place in the world like it.
You can while away afternoons in Bhutan listening to the patter of shoes slapping stone amongst the white walls of dzongs, fortresses. Sometimes it’s a red-robed monk off to say prayers beneath towering statues of demons on the monastery side of the dzong. Other times it’s a woman in a silky kira dress making her way to work in the administrative side of the repurposed fortress.
While driving through Bhutan, you can feast your eyes on the houses pretty enough to be mistaken for temples lining the country’s hills. Some are painted with intricate knots and auspicious animals, while others are painted with hairy, ejaculating phalluses. Yes, really.
In Bhutan, you’ll never have to worry about sharing trekking trails. Far from the overcrowded routes of Nepal, even the most popular of Bhutan’s paths are delightfully quiet. The country’s 72% forest coverage means you’ll never go too long without a bit of greenery up above. Even better, Bhutan’s nature is pristine and clean—something no other South Asian country can claim!
The vast majority of Bhutan’s people are genuine and kind. They want to speak with you out of curiosity or interest, not because they’re scheming to sell you something. And meeting local people is all too easy when you have an affable local tour guide by your side for some of the day.
The most straightforward reason Bhutan is worth your money, however, is the fact that it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. Words won’t do that claim justice, so here’s some visual proof instead:
To Bhutan, or not to Bhutan: that is the question
Ultimately, I can only convince you so much. Wonderful as Bhutan may be, you either have the money to visit Bhutan, or you don’t.
If you don’t have the money, don’t fret. Though they’re worlds apart from Bhutan, there are other mountainous countries in this world that are cheaper to visit. Nepal is the crowd favorite, though I’d personally recommend Pakistan.
If, however, you do have the money, I can’t recommend Bhutan enough. It might be a big decision, but I assure you, you won’t regret it.
Think of it this way: choosing where to travel is like buying groceries. You can buy cheap, imported apples at your nearest supermarket, or you can head to the farmer’s market for some locally grown, organic apples. The supermarket apples may be cheaper, but we all know the farmer’s market apples are the responsible—and tastier!—choice.
Not everyone can afford to shop at a farmer’s market all the time, nor can everyone afford to travel to Bhutan over other destinations. But if you have the means and the motivation, I promise choosing Bhutan will be one of the most golden and delicious decisions you can make.
Yay transparency! My trip to Bhutan was sponsored by Gray Langur Tours, but you can rest assured that I scrutinized the crap out of this topic just as I would if I paid my own way, and all these views are most definitely my own.