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Exploring Paro, Bhutan: Travel Guide with Essential Tips!

Exploring Paro, Bhutan: Travel Guide with Essential Tips!

The historic town of Paro, located in the picturesque Himalayan valley of Bhutan, is a treasure trove of cultural landmarks, natural beauty, and unique experiences. Discover the beauty of the must-visit places in Paro, dive into the rich culture and history, and enjoy the most distinct food experiences that make Paro a truly enchanting destination.

With the essential travel guide, be prepared to embark on the most exciting journey to Paro in the Land of the Thunder Dragon. 

Visa Requirements and Travel Permits

Before you hop on a flight to this dreamy destination, Bhutan requires you to hold a Bhutan Visa. The visa is required for all nationals to enter Bhutan except those from India, Maldives, or Bangladesh. These three nationals will be endorsed with an entry permit at the point of entry. 
The visas are processed online by a licensed Bhutanese tour operator for the rest of the nationals. Note that Bhutan requires that all tourists have a registered guide and private vehicle, all of which are arranged by an approved tour operator. 


Your tour operator will manage all of the essentials and ask you for specific documents, including:

  1. Passport-sized photos
  2. Personal details and necessary information to fill out the online visa application form
  3. Valid travel insurance for the duration of travel
  4. Copy of a passport that has a minimum six months validity from the intended date of departure from Bhutan
  5. Detailed travel itinerary and pre-booking information (for example, a voucher as confirmation of hotel booking in Paro) with the designated tour operator
Travel days - $200 per day SDF Exempt from paying SDF for extended days
4 days - $200 per day No need to pay SDF for 4 more days
7 days - $200 per day No need to pay SDF for 7 more days
12 days  - $200 per day No need to pay SDF for 18 more days

Here the traveler who pays for four days can stay an additional four days without paying the SDF fee and, accordingly, for 7 and 12 days. 

There is a 50% concessionary levy on this fee for kids aged 6 to 12 years and a total exemption for children aged 5 years or under. 

While India, Maldives, or Bangladesh nationals won't need a Visa before entering, they will have to pay the required amount for SDF, the amount of which is different.

Reaching Paro and local transportation

There are two ways of reaching Paro: via air and land. 

If you are traveling from nearby neighboring countries, then you can opt to travel via bus and enter the border via three land entrances in India - two in Assam and one at Jaigaon-Phuentsholing in West Bengal. 

The other way to reach Paro is via air, as Paro has the only international airport in Bhutan. There are many daily connecting flights from destinations like Delhi (India), Kathmandu(Nepal), Thailand, Singapore, and Bagdogra (India) from airlines like Druk Air, Bhutan Airlines, and Tashi Air.

Once in Paro, you can use local buses or taxis for travel. While local buses have irregular schedules and are crowded, Taxis are convenient but cost more. At a cost, your travel agency can schedule a private vehicle to explore the city, which can be a part of your total travel cost. 

Things to Do in Paro

There is a lot that Paro has to offer to tourists, including interactions with locals, understanding the religion, history, and culture, or escaping into nature.

Visit Monasteries and Dzongs 

The best thing that Paro has to offer is its historic and religiously significant monasteries and Dzongs. Hence, you can visit the different monasteries like the famous Tiger's Nest Monastery, the Rinpung Dzong. In addition, you can also discover the ruins of the historic Drukgyel Dzong.

 A hike to these Dzongs will give you insights into the rich history and breathtaking Paro Valley views. 

Engage in Bhutanese Cooking Classes

The ideal way to understand the culture and tradition of the heart of Bhutanese culture is by learning the art of traditional Bhutanese cooking. Take a cooking class in Paro to witness the flavors, techniques, and stories behind this distinctive cuisine, like Ema Datshi, Shakam Paa, Jasha Maru, Khatem, and more. 

Witness Traditional Archery

Another interesting part about your visit to Paro is witnessing the national sport of the country, Archery. You can watch or participate in a game of traditional Archery where you will learn from the experts about the tricks and history of this ancient sport.

Explore Temples:

Paro boasts a lot of ancient temples situated across the town. You can visit some of these temples, including the oldest temple, the Kyichu Lhakhang, and others like Jangtsa Dumtseg Lhakhang, Druk Choeding, and Dungtse Lhakhang, to name a few. 

Experience Paro Tsechu

If your visit aligns with the Paro Tsechu festival, one of the most revered festivals in Paro, then, by all means, don't miss it. The festival lasts five days, starting from the second week of April. You will witness masked dances, traditional music, and a lively atmosphere.

Stroll Along Paro Chhu River:

You can enjoy the scenic Paro Chhu River by taking leisurely walks along the banks. Some adventure lovers also enjoy rafting and kayaking.

Connect with Locals in Paro Town:

There is a lot to do in Paro, including interacting with the lovely locals. The locals in Paro are friendly and welcoming. You can interact with them while shopping in the markets or sipping drinks at the local cafes.

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Places to visit 

Paro has many exciting places in store for the tourist; some of the most prominent are mentioned below: 

Tiger's Nest Monastery (Taktshang Goemba):

The most revered site in the Paro Valley is the Tiger's Nest monastery, perched dramatically on a cliffside about 10 km north of the town. This iconic landmark is a testament to Bhutanese spirituality and religion. As per the legend, the Buddhist master, Guru Rinpoche, landed on the back of a tigress and meditated in a cave at this location in the 8th century.

You can take a 3-hour hike to reach this stunning architecture with even more amazing views. Witness the age-old paintings, sculptures of Buddhist gods, and the surrounding valley beneath the hill.

Kyichu Lhakhang:

Another marvel of Paro is Kyichu Lakhang, one of Bhutan's oldest and most revered temples, located in the northeast near the town. Circulating the temple is often believed to bring positive energy and luck to pilgrims. You can witness the statues of Buddha and other deities, prayer wheels, and intricate carvings that display this temple's rich architecture and history.

Rinpung Dzong:

The historic fortress of Rinpung Dzong is located on the eastern bank of the Paro River. Located on a hilltop, the dzong boasts courtyards, temples, and majestic architecture. It is a true symbol of Bhutan's rich heritage and is the administrative center. You will witness intricate woodwork, fortified walls, ornate entryways, and wooden balconies. 

Chele La Pass:

Make sure to visit the highest motorable pass in Bhutan, the Chele La Pass, between Paro Valley and Haa Valley at an altitude of 3988m. It offers a scenic view of pine, fir, rhododendron forest, prayer flags, and small shrines. You can click pictures of the Himalayan landscape, a must-visit for nature lovers.

Paro Chhu River:

Another place worth visiting is the Paro River. A walk at the banks of the river offers a scenic backdrop and a tranquil vibe. Surrounded by green landscape, it is a perfect spot for picnics.

Drukgyel Dzong:

To understand the historical triumphs of Bhutan, it is best to visit Drukgyel Dzong, also called "the fortress of the victorious Drukpas," located 15 km north of Paro town. You will get an opportunity to witness the ruins of the dzong that speak of the founder of Bhutan, who built it in the 17th century to commemorate Bhutan's victory over Tibetan invaders. Witness the whitewashed walls, ornate woodwork, and surrounding views of Jhomolhari mountain. 

National Museum of Bhutan:

Another ideal place to visit is the National Museum, located atop a hill overlooking the Paro Dzong. The museum, built in the 17th century as a watchtower, now houses a collection of artifacts, textiles, weaponry, and tools that display Bhutanese history and tradition. The thematic galleries praise religion and monarchy. 

Jangtsa Dumtseg Lhakhang:

Worth visiting for its unique architecture and spiritual significance is Jangtsa Dumtseg temple, located on a hilltop in Paro. It was built in the 15th century and is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Witness the murals and depictions of Buddhist deities.

Paro Weekend Market:

The charming streets of Paro offer an experience to interact with locals and witness the local culture while shopping for goods. The weekend market is often set up on Saturdays and Sundays, offering fresh products and traditional handicrafts, household items, and crafts. It is a good place to take home traditional clothing like Gho and Kira, jewelry, and crafts as souvenirs.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Paro is spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November). During these mild and clear seasons, temperatures range from 10°C to 25°C, ensuring a pleasant climate for breathtaking mountain views; vibrant flora and optimal road conditions in Paro contribute to a comfortable travel experience.

During spring (March to May), the temperature in Paro ranges from 10°C to 20°C. Roads are accessible, and outdoor activities are encouraged. Moreover, the most anticipated festival Paro Tsechu is also celebrated in April. During autumn (September to November), the air is crisp, the flora and fauna are vibrant, and temperatures go from 10°C to 25°C. 

Summer and Winter seasons are not considered the ideal time for travel to Paro. The summer season (June to August) brings the monsoon clouds. With this comes lush greenery, but the occasional rainfall may hugely affect road travel and outdoor plans because of the road conditions in hilly areas. The winter season (December to February) sees cold temperatures of about 2°C to 15°C. Situated high above the sea level means occasional snowfall makes travel to higher elevations challenging. However, Paro town remains accessible and offers a serene winter experience.

Travel costs and currency 

On average, you will be spending close to $250 to $300 per day per person. This includes fees for the tour operator, food, private vehicle, and hotel expenses. Generally, at this cost, you get to stay at a 3 to 4-star hotel. You will have paid most of the cost already during your pre-booking, managed by your agent, so you will not have to carry much cash except for your personal use and shopping. 
The official currency of Bhutan is Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN), which you must carry for transactions with small vendors in Paro. The major hotels and companies accept credit cards. Your currency cna also be exchanged at banks and authorized exchange centers.

Internet and Mobile Connection 

Bhutan has 100% mobile network coverage regardless of terrain, so communicating is easy. One can manage a prepaid SIM card from a BMobile and Tashicell networks sales outlet. You can use this for internet connectivity with a pre-activated 4G data plan for a month. Moreover, the hotels in Paro also offer decent wifi connections. 

On average, you'll spend nearly $30 to $40 for a tourist sim package for 7 days.

Accommodation

Accommodation in Paro offers a wide range of options. As it is a major tourist destination, there are many hotels and lodges, most of which allow authentic experience and all facilities like wifi, good restrooms, in-house dining, hot water, and comfortable beds. Decent hotels like Rema Resort, Tiger Nest Resort, and Taktsang Village Resort come at around $40 to $60 per night. 

If you are looking for a luxurious experience, hotels and resorts like Le Meridien Paro Riverfront and Como Uma Paro can give the experience at a high price of as much as $400 per night. 

It is best advised to ask your agent to make the bookings well beforehand to get a discount.

Food in Paro

Food in Paro is unique and delightful and reflects the culture and traditions. The local cuisine uses fresh and local ingredients like rice, vegetables, cheese, beef, spices, and buckwheat which are grown in high elevations. Due to the cold weather conditions, most dishes are hot, soupy, and spicy. 

In particular, you can try out staples like Ema Datshi - a spicy chilly and cheese stew, Kewa datshi - Potato and cheese gravy, Dumplings, red rice, Khur-Le - buckwheat pancake, and more. The local market is the best place to try out these cuisines that offer an authentic taste.

Culture, traditions, and festivals of Paro

Some of the things that tourists will immediately notice in Paro is how much culture and traditions are embroidered in the daily lives of Bhutanese people. You will witness locals wearing authentic dresses like Gho for men and Kira attire for women, which are long, warm robes. You will also come across many monks who wear long maroon robes. The language predominantly spoken in Paro is Dzongkha, but children are also taught English. 

Festivals are an integral part of the society in Paro, with the most important being the Paro Tsechu, celebrated in April annually, honoring Guru Rinpoche. It is celebrated in Paro's Ringpung Dzong, where locals from across valleys come to celebrate it together. It is a great experience to witness local customs and participate respectfully. 

Additional Tips

Before you visit Paro, there are certain tips with considering to make your travel delightful and worth remembering:

  1. Carry all necessary documents and permits and coordinate with your travel agent before visiting.
  2. As Paro sits at an elevation of around 2,200m, carry warm clothes with you and acclimatize by staying hydrated.
  3. Respect the local customs by removing your shoes and dressing modestly while visiting religious sites, asking before taking any pictures, and not inappropriately displaying public affection, as it is not a common practice there.
  4. Bhutan is very committed to environmental sustainability, so avoid using single-use plastics, and support eco-friendly products and practices.
  5. Consult with your doctor before visiting Bhutan to ensure you have the required medication and have taken the necessary vaccine. Also, take precautions while eating different cuisine. Let your travel operator know beforehand if you have any preexisting health conditions.
  6. Tipping is not customary in Paro, so if you like the service, you can tip on your own accord.
  7. The weather condition in Paro is sometimes unpredictable, so ensure you pack layers and carry appropriate clothing to enter religious sites. 
  8. 8.    It is always a great gesture to learn greetings like "Kuzuzangpo la," which means "hello," and "Kadinche la," which means "thank you," to foster a connection with the locals.

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