Pricey or priceless? Find out why Bhutan is regarded as one of the world’s most expensive, and unmissable, travel destinations.
A land of mystical mountains, alluring culture and transcendent spirituality, Bhutan is one of the most sought-after and rewarding travel destinations on earth. By all accounts, however, it’s also considered one of the most expensive. Unless you’re an Indian, Maldivian or Bangladeshi national, you’ll be charged a daily tourist fee that ranges between USD 200 and USD 250 per person, depending on what time of year you visit. This may seem a ludicrous fee, at first glance, yet if you understand more about how the fee is used – and why it was ever introduced – you may also come to the conclusion that this financial commitment is worth its weight in gold.
Why is visiting Bhutan so expensive, you ask? And, more importantly, is it money well spent?
Read on to find out!
The Bhutanese Government is intent on preserving the country’s culture and pristine wilderness
What makes Bhutan so unique is that this is one of only a handful of countries that’s exceptionally authentic: not only has it never been conquered by a foreign army but it was also literally closed off from the rest of the world until the mid-1970s. Painfully aware of the consequences of a possible wave of foreign tourism, the government immediately imposed a cap on the number of yearly visitors it allowed in. Keen to promote its unique culture but also preserve it as best it can, the Bhutanese Government has continued to impose strict rules on visitors, the current law stating that tourists must commit a certain amount of spending once there. As one can imagine, Bhutan attracts a certain kind of traveller, one who is so keen to visit, they’d be happy to pay more for the privilege.
And be sure about one thing: it is an absolute privilege to be granted a glimpse of this incredible, enigmatic ancient kingdom. Its raw wild beauty is unlike any you’ll ever see, totally unspoiled by man and – given its location – of vertiginous, jaw-dropping beauty. Step foot in the country and you’ll surely understand the people’s commitment to maintaining it utterly pristine.
The tourist funds help pay for health serviced and education for locals
Its authenticity notwithstanding, Bhutan is still a developing country in many ways. It is home to barely 800,000 people and, until tourism kicked it, had very basic infrastructure in place. The tourist fee not only contributes towards free education and healthcare for the populace but also helps the government continually improve on the very infrastructure visitors will rely upon to explore the country.
Bhutan believes the high tourist tax guarantees a ‘high value – low impact’ tourism scene
We’re all very aware of the toxic consequences of a particularly inexpensive tourism scene – the most visited Southeast Asian beaches are nowadays renowned more for their rubbish-causing full-moon parties than for the delights of the local wilderness. It is devastating to see that tourism, sometimes, can have such detrimental effects on such beautiful, welcoming countries. Avoiding this kind of cultural dilution and environmental degradation is a major enticement for the Bhutanese Government to uphold its steep tourist fees: the Bhutanese simply don’t want the pub-hopping rowdy crowds they have seen invade its southern neighbours.
And who on earth could blame them?
Your daily fee INCLUDES your accommodation, meals, guide, driver and car transport
Unless you want to stay in 5* hotels, eat in upmarket restaurants and fly domestically, the daily fee required to visit could well cover all of your travel expenses and this is the most pivotal point of all. The daily Bhutan visitor fee is not an extra expense (as so many seem to believe) but can actually be used towards your accommodation, meals, local registered Bhutanese guide and car transport with local professional driver. So yes, although a portion of the fee is set aside for environmental protection and internal taxes, a big chunk of it can go towards your travel expenses whilst there. Given that flights and insurance are not included – or the fact you may desire a more luxurious hotel in which to stay and dine in more elegant restaurants – a visit to Bhutan is never going to be ‘cheap’, that’s for sure, but it also doesn’t have to be as exorbitantly priced as you might envisage.
And even if it is…it will be some of the best travel-funds you’ll ever spend.
Seasonal variations & early flight bookings can save you some serious cash
Travel to Bhutan during low-season (Dec/Jan/Feb and again June/July/Aug) and you’ll pay the lowest fees of the year – USD 200 per day. Do also note that the highest fees are reserved for single travellers whilst those on private group tours of Bhutan can expect to receive a small discount (depending on the size of the group) given that transport and guide expenses can be shared. Moreover, it pays to remember that flights in and out of Bhutan can be expensive (as there really aren’t all that many) so you really should book your trip months in advance to pay the lowest airfares available.
When all is said and done, a trip to Bhutan is well worth the expense
From the local’s perspective, it’s quite clear that opening up the country to this kind of high-value tourism has had very beneficial effects – poverty has been alleviated and given the Kingdom spends its income as intended, locals are really benefitting from foreign visits. From a visitor’s perspective, the highlights are just as many. Sure, the flights into the country can be expensive but if you include a side-trip to Bhutan on a visit to Nepal, you’ll get to fly over Mt Everest and enjoy the most magnificent views in the world. Imagine…the flight alone is what travel dreams are made of!
Our very own Get About Asia travel expert, Nicole Ballard, travelled to Bhutan in 2016 and she’s STILL raving about the magical experience. You can read all about her insights, right here. As you’ll soon learn, even just a few days in Bhutan can deliver a huge travel-bang for your buck.
If you’re normally quite the independent traveller, do know that your time in the country is yours to do with as you please. You’ll have plenty of time to explore on your own and also the luxury of changing your itinerary as you go. Unlike what many may think, the expensive Bhutan tourist tax is by no means a way to ‘control’ foreigners in the country: everyone you meet here will genuinely work their hardest to ensure your visit is one of the most unforgettable experiences you will ever have.
And that, to us, is rather priceless.