Recognized by Lonely Planet as the number one country to visit in 2020, Bhutan is also an immersive destination for families with school-age children. After a week-long family vacation in the remote Himalayan kingdom, I compiled a list of ten things to do in Bhutan with kids. I hope these suggestions inspire you to plan a family vacation in Bhutan.
See the Himalayas
Travel by vehicle up the 3000+ meter-high Dochu La Pass, where (weather permitting) you can see the magnificent snow-capped Himalayas. The tallest mountain range in the world passes through Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. On the summit of the Dochu La, you can walk amongst 108 memorial chortens (Buddhist shrines) and clusters of fluttering prayer flags.
Practice Bhutan’s National Sport
Archery is Bhutan’s national sport, and there are plenty of opportunities to pick up a bow and arrow while you are visiting the kingdom. Ask if your hotel offers archery experiences, or learn about the sport at the Simply Bhutan living museum in Thimphu.
If you ask my teenagers, I’m certain they will rank archery as one of the top things to do in Bhutan with kids. It’s a challenging sport!
Cross one of the country’s longest suspension bridges
Cross the Po Chhu River on one of the longest pedestrian suspension bridges in Bhutan. You can walk to this bridge before or after exploring the Punakha Dzong. The 160-metre suspension bridge provides views of the lush Punakha Valley and the glacier-fed Po Chhu River below.
Explore the Punakha Dzong
Punakha Dzong is the second oldest dzong (fortress serving administrative and monastic functions) built in Bhutan. And it’s considered to the be most beautiful dzong in Bhutan. All of Bhutan’s kings have been crowned at the Punakha Dzong. Once the seat of the government until it moved to Thimphu in 1955, Punakha Dzong is the winter residence of Je Khenpo (head abbot of Bhutan), as well as about 1000 monks.
Inside the Punakha Dzong, colourful wall murals depict the life of Buddha. After exploring the Punakha Dzong, walk across the covered Bazam Bridge. If you look over the side of the bridge, you’ll likely see large schools of fish in the river. In addition, some people (like our guide) bring food for the fish. It was incredible to see so many fish leaping to the surface of the water.
Hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten
Cross a suspension bridge (much shorter than the one near Punakha Dzong) over the Mo Chhu River before walking alongside terraced rice paddies and up a trail to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. It should take an hour or less to reach Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten.
You may see farmers (and their families) working the fields by hand or with the assistance of an ox and plow. Depending on the season, agricultural products may be available for sale along the trail to Khamum Yulley.
The Queen of Bhutan commissioned Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten in 2004 to promote peace and harmony. View the sculptures inside Khamsum Yulley and continuing climbing the steep stairs to the top level. You can go out on the roof of Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten for expansive views of the Punakha Valley.
Temple of Divine Madman
Wander through the unforgettable village of Sopsokha adorned with wooden penises and phallic murals. It is the only place in Bhutan that my kids refused to pose for a photo! After souvenir shopping (or not), follow a trail for about 20 minutes to Chimmi Lhakhang, also known as the Temple of the Divine Madman and the Fertility Temple.
This 15th-century fertility temple is dedicated to Drukpa Kunley, called the Divine Madman, because of his crazy wisdom and outrageous behavior. Newlyweds and childless couples hoping to start a family often make a pilgrimage to Chimmi Lhakang. However, anyone visiting the monastery can receive a blessing on the head with a decorative wooden phallus.
Gaze At One of the Largest Buddha Statues in the World
At 51-metres, the gilded statue of Buddha Dordenma is one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. 125,000 statues of Buddha between 8 and 12-inches-tall fill the massive body. Buddha Dordenma sits atop of a large meditation hall and outdoor meeting space on a hilltop overlooking Thimpu Valley.
Experience Simply Bhutan
Visit the Simply Bhutan living museum in Thimpu and learn about the country’s rich culture. After gathering in a traditional Bhutanese greeting space and taking an optional drink of ara (rice wine), a guide will take you through a replica Bhutanese village. At Simply Bhutan you can watch Bhutanese dancing and singing, practice archery, and taste authentic Bhutanese food at the on-site cafe.
Visit the National Memorial Chorten
The white-washed National Memorial Chorten topped with a gilded spire was constructed in Thimpu in 1974 in the memory of Bhutan’s third king.
We visited the National Memorial Chorten mid-day and during a celebration. As a result, an unusually large number of Bhutanese were circling the stupa in a clockwise direction. At the perimetre of the memorial site, elderly Bhutanese often sit and turn massive copper prayer wheels or rotate through 108 prayer beads. 108 is a sacred number in Bhutan.
Trek to Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Tiger’s Nest Monastery, constructed in 1692 to commemorate a series of events that brought Buddhism to Bhutan, is considered to be Bhutan’s holiest site. It is a place that most Bhutanese hope to visit at least once in their lifetime. And it should be on the top of the list of things to do in Bhutan. But due to the altitude, I recommend saving Tiger’s Nest Monastery for the end of the trip. More on this under Travel Tips.
Clinging to a cliff 3000 feet above the valley floor, reaching Tiger’s Nest Monastery requires a steady two-hour climb to 10,000 feet above sea level. The trail to Tiger’s Nest Monastery begins approximately 6 miles from the town of Paro. Paro is at 7000 feet above sea level, so there is an elevation gain of 3,000 feet on the way to Tiger’s Nest. I tell people that our trek to Tiger’s Nest was literally and figuratively one of the highlights of our family vacation in Bhutan.
Travel Tips – Things to Do in Bhutan with Kids
- Bhutan’s high value, low impact approach to tourism means that most visitors to Bhutan require a certified guide. In addition, travelers are required to spend a minimum amount per day. During our family vacation in Bhutan, we stayed with Como Hotels and Resorts, who arrange dedicated drivers and guides for their guests. I recommend staying with COMO if you plan to visit Bhutan — it was an incredible family vacation. You can read more about our exceptional stay at Como Uma Paro here.
- We visited Bhutan with our teenage children. Given the altitude and types of activities, I recommend visiting Bhutan with tweens, teens, and kids.
- You can read more about our experience in Bhutan in this article for TravelAge West.
- Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines provide service to Bhutan’s only international airport in Paro. We fly flew from Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan on Druk Airlines. You can read about flying Druk Airlines Business Class here.
- And lastly, plan to trek to Tiger’s Nest after spending time getting used to the increased altitude in Bhutan. This is particularly important if you live at sea level or a lower elevation.
Is Bhutan on your travel wish list?