When Bhutan creaked open its doors to tourists in 1974, Buddhists from around the world flocked there seeking divine intervention. Considered the world’s only remaining Buddhist kingdom, spirituality seekers come to chant with monks in mountain monasteries and pray to the fertility gods in penis-covered temples.
And while travelers are still hoping Bhutan’s peaceful spirituality will rub off, its swanky lodges are observing a new trend among its guests. During a fireside chat with the general manager of Gangtey Lodge, she noticed that adventure activities have now replaced spirituality for many travelers.
Luckily for them, Bhutan is bursting with outdoor adventures, from white water rafting to biking. But no activity is more beloved than hiking. With more than 70% of the country covered in mountains and forests, it’s hard to compete with the postcard-perfect vistas of this Himalayan nation. To meet demand, the country’s best five-star lodges are offering guests luxurious hiking experiences. Whether it’s an hour or an entire day, these outstanding outings make the uphill climb well worth it.
Skipping out on a hike to the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan is like avoiding the Eiffel Tower in Paris. No trip to this magical country is complete without summiting its incredible cliffside temple. But after two hours up and two hours down at over 10,000 feet, you’ll need to recoup.
When your legs reach the point of jelly, Amankora Paro’s private cabin, hidden below the entrance to the Tiger’s Nest, is a welcome reprieve. This beautiful Bhutanese log cabin, originally designed as a place for prayer, is now a respite for weary hikers in need of butter tea with views of the country’s biggest tourist attraction. Guests can also tuck in for a post-hike lunch prepared on a traditional Bukhari stove followed by a 30-minute foot massage.
In one of Bhutan’s most lauded valleys sits the incomparable Gangtey Lodge. Here, guests can opt for a Gangtey Picnic 360° Hike. While it starts with a short drive back toward yak-filled Lawala Pass, hikers will have a 30- to 40-minute hike at over 11,000 feet. They’ll trudge along bamboo-lined paths that are sprinkled with rhododendrons in the spring and peek-a-boo views of snow-capped Himalayas in the winter.
Once everyone’s caught their breath, guests can marvel at uninterrupted views of Gangtey Valley and the staggering Himalayas. Wander the remote meditation huts along the ridge used by monks from nearby Gangtey Monastery, then sit down to a three-course breakfast or lunch made up of your favorite pre-selected foods and drinks.
Zig-zag up a nature trail behind Six Senses Thimphu for striking views over Bhutan’s capital city. Guests can sign up for the Lungsigang High Tea, which comes with a 30-minute hike up to a local mountaintop plateau called Lungsigang.
At the top, hikers can rest among the fragrant pine trees and the flapping prayer flags as they take in views of the towering Buddha Dordenma Statue and the sloping valley beyond the lodge. Local snacks, like homemade momos, Khabsey (a local bread snack) and Zao (a Bhutanese popped rice treat), are served with fresh juices, masala chai and, of course, yak butter tea.
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The valley’s warmer temperatures, lower elevation and snaking river make it a favorite for visitors with outdoor activities on the brain. It’s also home to one of the country’s most revered monasteries, the centuries-old Punakha Dzong.
But the destination’s best hike is arguably to the top of Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chörten, an important prayer site. Commissioned by Bhutan’s queen mother, hikers pass by sprouting chili fields and grazing cows. After 45 minutes, a traditional Bhutanese stupa comes into view, but it’s what’s inside that counts. Climb the different levels of this four-story chorten, marveling at the colorful and elaborate images handpainted on its walls, and its sprawling valley views. And while not a packaged experience per se, COMO Uma Punakha recommends its guests follow up the hike back at the spa with a traditional hot stone bath using rocks picked from the river below.
Gangtey’s Nature Trail is a much-trodden stroll through the towering pine trees, past Bhutanese farmhouses, cows and potato fields. And during the winter months of October to February, naturalists flock to Phobjikha Valley to catch roughly 500 rare Black Neck Cranes that have migrated from Tibet.
Six Senses sweetens their Gangtey nature walk with a stop for rich hot chocolate and boozy hot toddies. After roughly an hour, guests will have a prime view of the giant birds grazing below while sipping steamy drinks and snacking on Bhutanese bites before getting cozy back at the lodge. Just be sure to pack your binoculars!
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