Hidden Kingdom Bhutan may be modernizing rapidly, but it's still one of the most unspoiled places on Earth
Bhutan is still remarkably off the beaten path, with just over 17,000 visitors last year. Tourists must use a licensed guide service (more than 100 are registered). The cultural knowledge and communicativeness of the guides vary widely from service to service, so contact previous clients about their experience before booking your trip. I used Lhomen Tours & Trekking (www.lhomen.com.bt). Your guide service will also arrange your plane tickets and visa.
Travel rates are set by the government, at a minimum of $200 a day ($65 of which goes directly to national health care and education). The fee includes essentially everything in-country: transportation, hotel, meals, guides, and so on.
When to go
The best months to visit are October/November and March/April. Expect heavy rain in the lowlands and heavy snow in the mountains during the monsoon season, which lasts from mid-May to early September.
About 15 percent of those who visit Bhutan sign up for treks, lasting from two to 25 days. If you’re more interested in mountains than monasteries, this is the way to go. Pack animals carry all camping gear, so you’re free to hike with just a daypack.
Beyond the Sky and the Earth, by Jamie Zeppa, and So Close to Heaven, by Barbara Crossette, are good, idiosyncratic nonfiction introductions to the country and its people. The best guidebook I have found is Lonely Planet’s Bhutan.