Bhutan has been high on my bucket list ever since a dear friend mentioned a few years ago that it was one of her favorite places to visit. She’s extremely well-traveled, so I knew it must be special! We’ve been looking forward to enjoying this Bhutan itinerary with kids ever since hearing about it from her about 5 years ago.
And it did not disappoint! It truly was such an incredible destination for families or anyone interested in meaningful cultural immersion, stunning nature, and religious history. We loved our time there1
Here’s everything we did on our 5 day Bhutan itinerary with kids. It felt like the perfect amount of time for a first trip to the country to explore some of the scenic and cultural highlights and get us excited for a return trip sometime in the future!
When to Visit Bhutan
We visited Bhutan in July, which was really beautiful. Still, it was technically rainy season. We only encountered heavy rain on our final day (on the way down from a long hike, no less!), but it’s definitely possible to get a lot more. We were told a few times that early fall (September-October) is a really ideal time to come when the rains are mostly gone and the weather is clear and cool.
What to Pack for Bhutan with Kids
Here are a few items we brought along that I’d definitely recommend:
- Rain jacket, especially during wet season. Women, men, kids, toddler, baby
- Baby sleeping tent – cribs were not available in our hotels
- Sturdy shoes – especially if you’re planning on doing some trekking, pack some good shoes. I managed fine in my favorite walking shoes and my beloved hiking sandals, but if you’re doing some more intense hikes, you may want full hiking boots. (These are my personal favorite women’s hiking boots.)
- Diaper belt bag – instead of carrying around a big diaper bag, I love this little belt bag that has plenty of room for a couple diapers, sunglasses, insect repellent/sunscreen, credit cards, a pen, lip balm, and even has a waterproof zipper pocket for wipes and a fold out changing pad. It’s the best.
- Motion sickness medication or ginger chews – the roads can be quite windy
- Good socks – I liked to carry a pair for each person for going in and out of temples and dzongs (this is my favorite sock brand)
- Sun protection – though it was never boiling hot, I appreciated having a hat and sunscreen at times. I brought along this hat and this is my favorite facial sunscreen.
Where to Stay in Bhutan
If you’d like the short version of where to stay on a 5 day Bhutan itinerary, we visited 3 cities and that felt just about right. Here are the places we stayed in each:
- Punakha (1 night) – Four Boutique Resort
- Thimphu (1 night)- Tara Phendeyling Hotel
- Paro (2 nights) – Bhutan Mandala Resort
We don’t always love moving around after one night, but it made sense in this circumstance to be able to see these different cities in a short period of time. Our favorite hotel for families in Bhutan was for sure the Tara Phendeyling in Thimphu – they had a really lovely family suite they set up for us that was extremely comfortable. Plus, they were all incredibly kind, and my kids were all obsessed with the two house kittens.
Each of the hotels provided breakfast and dinner for us, which was convenient, especially as vegetarians. We didn’t have trouble finding vegetarian-friendly food in the country, but it was nice knowing it was always ready and prepared for us, and that we’d be eating some local flavors. Keep in mind these were definitely not fancy hotels, but were simple and clean and well-suited our needs as we weren’t there much.
How To Get To Bhutan
Since our visit to Bhutan was part of a larger South and Southeast Asia trip, we were able to arrive in the country a bit more easily. We flew from Kathmandu, Nepal to Paro, Bhutan, which is only about an hour flight time. We even got a very quick peek of Mount Everest along the way! Keep in mind that only two airlines operate international flights in and out of Bhutan – Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines, and prices tend to be fairly steep even for short flights.
After arriving in the morning, we quickly went through customs and immigration, which was astoundingly quick and helpful – we had multiple immigration officers working on different family members at the same time. Paro was also likely the most gorgeous, clean airport I’ve ever experienced!
From there, we met up with our bus from Bhutan Swallowtail Tours. They planned our entire Bhutan itinerary for us and made the whole visit easy, immersive, and special. We don’t often use tour companies to plan out our entire visits in countries, but on a shorter timeline when we wanted to experience a variety of activities, a tour company was definitely the way to go, and Bhutan Swallowtail did a perfect job. They chose wonderful activities, had a terrific balance of active time and rest, chose lovely places to stay, and best of all, had a fantastic guide and driver. I’d highly recommend them!
Bhutan Itinerary Day 1
Once we were picked up from the airport by Bhutan Swallowtail, we headed straight to lunch at Dochula Pass, on the road from Thimphu to Punakha. The pass holds 108 chortens in honor of Bhutanese soldiers killed in a battle against Indian insurgents in 2003. On a clear day, there are gorgeous views all around. It was misty and foggy when we were there, but honestly still just as beautiful! It made the entire surroundings feel ethereal.
Lunch had been ordered in advance for us, which we really appreciated since everyone was tired and hungry after an early morning. It was delicious and we especially loved trying the cheesy potato dish very common in the country, both the spicy kind with chiles and a mild version for the younger kids.
Visiting Punakha Dzong with Kids
Punakha is the old capital of Bhutan and because we changed our visit to 5 days instead of 4, we were so happy to have time to drive out to visit it. This was one of our favorite stops of our whole visit!
A dzong is a fortress that also serves religious purposes, and Punakha dzong is the second-oldest and second-largest in the country. It was also the seat of government for Bhutan until the capital was moved to Thimphu in 1955. There are several important relics from a form of Tibetan Buddhism housed at Punakha, and it was so special seeing and learning about them.
Our guide, Kinzang, took us around the dzong and explained everything from the prayer wheels to the sacred relics. It was so special and fascinating learning from her. And honestly the architecture just BLEW me away – it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before in my life. The dzong-style architecture is used really consistently throughout the country and it’s a really beautiful effect, but I especially loved seeing it in these traditional buildings.
After the dzong, we headed over to the iron suspension bridge. My kids thought this was so fun! I thought it was only a little bit nerve-wracking but it was safe and we all survived. 😉
From there, we headed over to our hotel for showers, dinner, and bed.
Bhutan Itinerary Day 2
For the second day, we started by visiting the farmers market in Punakha. We love visiting markets in different countries, and loved seeing the various fruits and vegetables.
From there, we head ed to Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery. This is a newer nunnery built in a traditional style high up on a hilltop. The site itself has a long and sacred history, and it was special being allowed to sit and listen to the nuns chanting for some time. The views are also beautiful!
Our next stop was the Chimi Lhakhang monastery, or phallus temple. This shirne is dedicated to Drukpa Kunley and couples often come here seeking blessings of fertility. We received a prayer thread here, which was special, as well.
After that, we had another lovely lunch in town before driving back to Thimphu. Once we arrived there, we walked around the downtown area of the capital a bit. We explored a few shops, and purchased some yak cheese and yogurt, which the kids thought was very fun, before, heading to our hotel for dinner.
Bhutan Itinerary Day 3
This was our busiest – and maybe most fun – day of the trip. We started the day by visiting Buddha Dordenma in Thimphu. This is a 51.5 meter bronze Shakyamuni Buddha statue gilded in gold. We had seen it up on the hilltop the night before but were still taken aback by just how big it looked up close! It’s truly difficult to capture the massive scale in photos. There are also 1,000 smaller Buddha statues inside. It was quite the site and we were grateful to Kinzang for sharing a number of insights and facts about Buddhism in general.
Next, we stopped by a shop where we were all able to try on traditional Bhutanese dress – Kira for women, and Gho for men. Bhutan is very committed to preserving traditional clothing, and it is required for work and schooling during the week. So we saw a lot of traditional clothing during our time there! It was a privilege to be able to try on some of the beautiful pieces and take photos with a gorgeous dzong in the background.
After that, we had a lovely picnic lunch in a serene little spot in the woods with gorgeous views from the hilltop. It honestly felt pretty idyllic! Also, Bhutanese picnics definitely put traditional American peanut butter & jelly sandwiches to shame. This was a full hot meal out in fresh air and it was amazing!
Can’t Miss Bhutan Activities with Kids
The rest of the day was spent doing a few activities that are must dos when visiting Bhutan with kids. First was participating in the national sport of archery. I knew a couple of my kids would love this, but was surprised by a couple more that really took to it and found it way more fun than they anticipated. Such a great opportunities for kiddos to try out something new!
After that, we enjoyed one of our favorite activities from our time – a wonderful Bhutanese cultural program from a troupe of 10ish dancers. They put on a special performance just for us to share traditional folk dances from different parts of the country that would be performed for friends and family, lovers, deities, and more. We all LOVED this experience! It was also interactive and the kids loved the masked characters, trying the instruments at the end, and more. So so fun.
Finally, we were able to participate in a Bhutanese cooking class to make chili cheese, the very common dish. It was a perfect cooking experiment with kids because it was something super traditional that we’d all eaten a number of times by that point, but was also very simple to make. The kids all loved helping to chop and prepare the food and we all enjoyed eating it after. 😉
Bhutan Itinerary Day 4
Day 4 of our Bhutan itinerary with kids was possibly the one we’d most eagerly anticipated – the hike to the iconic Tiger’s Nest monastery. WOW is all I can say!
Paro Taktsang, or Tiger’s Nest monastery, is a monastery situated on the edge of a cliff where Padmasambhava is said to have come on the back of a tigress to defeat a demon, and meditated to bring Vajrayana Buddhism from Tibet to Bhutan. The monastery complex was built in the late 1600s.
I had trouble beforehand finding actual distances for the hike – they ranged from 3.8 – 5.5 miles, with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. My watch ended up tracking close to the latter. It was definitely not easy, but felt doable for those in pretty good physical shape and used to walking or hiking. Our 3 older kiddos (ages 12, 10, and 8) completed it with no trouble, while our 5 year old required quite a bit of encouragement. Our 3 year old got carried quite a bit, and the baby got carried the entire time. 🙂
It was definitely tiring from the elevation gain and felt fairly strenuous at times, but also doable. We stopped at the cafe both ways – it’s a little over halfway up from the bottom and provides beautiful views of the monastery. On the way up, we had a snack there, while we had a full meal on the way down. For our family, it took about 2.5 hours to hike up and probably about 1.5-2 to hike down (and down was in the pouring rain!). This included a stop to hoist prayer flags on the way up – a beautiful cultural and religious ceremony in which we were grateful to participate.
It was absolutely one of the most worthwhile hikes we’ve done. The views of the monastery are absolutely jaw-dropping! It’s so special seeing it from across the valley, and also going right up close to it. When we got to the top, Kinzang took us into each of the temples and explained the significance of each. Going with a guide made this whole experience so much more meaningful.
Bhutan Swallowtail also provided the option of driving our kids around to other activities while Dan and I did the hike. But we wanted to do it altogether and felt confident we would be able to complete it together, even if it were a bit slower with all the kids. They did great and I would highly recommend doing it if possible – truly one of the most special hikes in the world.
Bhutanese Hot Stone Bath with Kids
Once we finally made our way down – soaked to the bone – we headed straight to a traditional hot stone bath. This felt absolutely amazing!! It felt so great after our long hike and feeling damp for so long, especially since it was also cool out for the first time in a few days.
It was really fun to experience this traditional setup where you call out to the boy on the other side whether you’d like your bath hotter or cooler and he adjusts the input accordingly. We had a girls’ room and a boys’ room with two bathtubs in each, and it was super lovely.
Bhutan Itinerary Day 5
For our final day, we took in the gorgeous views from our hotel over Paro valley, ate breakfast, then headed straight to the airport for a flight to Kolkata, India. It was a wonderful experience for our first visit to Bhutan and an incredible family travel destination. Because it’s a small country that you can explore parts of in a short amount of time, it also lends itself well to an add on to a family trip to India or Nepal. I highly recommend adding this Bhutan itinerary with kids to your family travel bucket list!
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