There is now wifi internet in many of the hotels that we use, however, it is a quite patchy and should not be relied on to always be in service. Wifi is provided free in most hotels but there might sometimes be a small charge.
Mobile phone coverage is surprisingly good in Bhutan and all the towns we stay in have coverage. Roaming is possible so check with your home provider before travelling. It is also possible to get your guide to buy a local pre-paid sim if you would like a local number.
Bhutan has a reputation as an expensive country in which to travel. This is really all relative. Compared to other nearby countries like Nepal and India as well as much of Asia, Bhutan is expensive but when compared to a European, Australian or North American cycling holiday of similar quality Bhutan is not really expensive. The Bhutanese government has made a conscious decision to restrict tourism numbers for sustainability reasons. There is actually no restriction on tourist numbers, they merely reduce tourism numbers by imposing a closed tourism model where everyone must be on an organised tour and minimum daily costs apply. By travelling to Bhutan you will be assured of a distinct lack of crowds, postcard sellers, and other annoyances that are a part of travel elsewhere.
All tours include 3 to 3.5 star accommodation, all meals, guiding, land transport, and entrance fees. For upgrades in accommodation, extra activities such as rafting, single rooms, and group sizes of 3 or less incur a surcharge above the minimum daily cost.
A good proportion of the minimum daily cost includes a government tourism tax (currently US$65) which goes to the government - the government of one of the poorer countries in the world but one which provides free health care and schooling to all citizens.
When doing a bike tour the costs are invariably higher than they would be for a regular style tour as there are extra costs involved which included the extra transport vehicles and staff required to operate a tour of this nature.
Road conditions in Bhutan are basic. Most of the time you will be cycling the main west-east highway of the country which, after Punakha, is a single lane, hand built road, cut through the mountains. Traffic is light and reduces as you travel east. While the road is sealed there are many sections with potholes or a bumpy surface so care is needed particularly on descents. As there are a number of mountain passes with long climbs and descents it is important to have appropriate water and wind proof clothing to deal with cold and possibly wet descents.
While helmets are not required in Bhutan we strongly recommend the wearing of a helmet when cycling in Bhutan. There are many short sections of road that are equivalent in conditions to mountain biking and these can appear suddenly when rolling quickly downhill around a corner. In these conditions a helmet is an important part of being safe.
More details about the bikes are provided on the about us page.
Early Arrival/Late Departure
If you wish to stay longer in Bhutan we are able to offer daily rates. Note that all tourists in Bhutan must purchase full services from a registered Bhutanese tour company so it's not possible to just book a room for a night and for that to be your only cost. If you want to arrive early in Bhutan or stay a day or two longer you will have to pay the minimum government legislated costs which are dependent on how many people from your group want to do this. Please let us know if you wish to do this.
All locations in Bhutan should have 24 hour electricity. The service is somewhat reliable but power failures are fairly common. Make sure to bring a torch and spare batteries for electronic goods if you are very reliant having them working at all times. Bhutan is 220V and plugs are 3 large round pins as also found in India.
Bhutan is justly famous for its colourful and lively festivals. Every village and towns hosts some form of festival at least once during the year. The festivals are based around performances from Bhutanese and Buddhist history and involve huge casts of masked dancers. The biggest festivals are attended by thousands of people and are the only times you'll ever really see crowds of people in Bhutan. These festivals are also quite popular with international visitors so accommodation, flights and other services can be quite stretched at these times. If you do want to see a festival as a part of you holiday let us know and we'll work out what is on and where for the time you wish to visit Bhutan.
There is only one airline that provides international flights into Bhutan - Druk Air. These flights come via the following cities:
One flight a day
A couple of flights a week
The planes are quite small and with limited seats available on each flight you really need to get flights booked as early as possible. There is business class on the planes and it's not too much more expensive than economy class. Business class will give you more luggage allowance (useful if you want to bring your own bike) and extra services on the flight. It can also be useful if economy class is fully booked.
Many regular travel agents are unable to book Druk Air flights so we can provide this service for you through our local office in Bhutan as a part of your travel package.
There is now a domestic airport in Bumthang meaning you don't necessarily need to return back to Paro by road. While this looks like a great improvement for travel for locals and tourists the reality is that flights on this route are frequently cancelled. Druk Air has only a small number of planes and if there are any issues with any one plane the domestic flight is cancelled so that the international flights continue to operate. Also weather frequently impacts on the ability to operate the flight.
So we generally stay clear of including the domestic flight on our tours, however, it is possible to make it part of your trip providing you make an allowance within the itinerary for the flight not operating. We suggest not flying out of Bhutan the day immediately after taking the domestic flight. This allows time to drive back to Paro if required.
The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillies are an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy, although you'll find the food served for you probably leaves out the chilly. Rice forms the main body of most Bhutanese meals. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often. Vegetables commonly eaten include spinach, pumpkins, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, river weed, onions and green beans. Grains such as rice, buckwheat and barley are also cultivated in various regions of the country depending on the local climate. Breakfasts are fairly standard usually with eggs and toast and sometimes porridge or cereal. Tea and coffee are the usual drinks. During the riding days we will supply snacks of fruit and biscuits. You should consider also carrying your own favourite snacks or energy bars to complement this.
For most people food is not considered one of the highlights of travelling in Bhutan. The can be due to a lack of variety in the food because of the remoteness of the country few imported products making their way into the country. While on tour you will usually take your breakfasts and dinners in your hotel while lunches are at restaurants along the road you are cycling and on occasion a picnic lunch will be carried in the support vehicle.
The national dish is a cheese and chilly dish which is quite powerful. Most hotels will not serve this up to tourists so ask your guide if you want to give it a go.
There are no specific health requirements for travelling in Bhutan, however, we recommend that you visit a travel medicine doctor before travelling. You should carry a well stocked first aid kit with you when you travel. Our local guides are first aid trained, however, they are not permitted to distribute any medications.
Travelling to Bhutan takes a little more planning that travelling to most parts of the world. You will need to bring cash and change money on arrival in Paro. While there are now some ATMs in the country these are quite new and should not be relied on for your money. The best approach is to simply bring a major currency (USD, AUD, CAD, EUR, GBP) and change this at the airport when you arrive. Any excess cash you have can be changed back when you get back to the airport at the end of your holiday.
As your tour will include all meals you don't actually need that much money. You will need to pay for your personal drinks and any shopping that you might do and there are some places where you can get massage and spa treatments. There really aren't too many opportunities to spend a lot of money!
The national currency is called the ngultrum and should be used for all transactions. Indian rupees can also be used at the same value as ngultrum.
It is customary to tip you local guide and driver at the end of your holiday.
It is a requirement that all travellers with CycleBhutan.com hold valid travel insurance when travelling with us. The insurance must include emergency evacuation and medical coverage. We will request these details from you before you travel. We do recommend that you take out your insurance at the same time as you pay for your tour or flights (which ever comes first). This will not cost you any more for your insurance and will cover you in the event that something happens to you that prevents you from going on your holiday.
Trek, Run, Travel
While we are a cycling specialist we can also arrange other activities like trekking, competing in the Bhutan marathon, or general travel holidays. These can be included within a cycling holiday or as a specialist trip. Or you can even mix up a trip within your group with some cycling while others are off walking. Speak to us about what you would like to do and we'll do our best to arrange it all for you.
We will do the processing of your Bhutan visa for you and the cost is included in the quoted prices of our tours. The process is very simple and there is no need to send your passport away, all we will require from you is a colour scan of the details page of your passport.
The process goes as follows: usually in the weeks before you are due to travel to Bhutan you will receive a visa authority letter us. The letter is basically notification that you will be granted a visa on arrival in Bhutan. So all that you need to do is print out the letter, present it to the airline staff when you are checking in for your flight to Bhutan, and then when you land at Paro Airport queue up with the other foreigners for the very quick process of having your visa entered in your passport.
Some people feel a little uncomfortable traveling with only the visa authority letter rather than an actual visa but there is nothing to worry about as this is the process used for every foreigner entering the country (except for passport holders of India, Bangladesh and Maldives who may enter visa free).
When To Travel
There are two quite distinct seasons when travel to Bhutan is most popular: Spring (Mar-May) and Autumn (Sep-Nov). During these months the weather is at its most stable with lower rainfall and warmer days. The Summer period (Jun-Aug) is warm and quite wet while Winter (Dec-Feb) is cold and snow can close some of the higher passes.
The peak seasons of Spring and Autumn are a little more expensive than Summer and Winter. If you don't mind cooler weather and a little snow around the hills February and late November can be great times to travel as the air is crisp and clear. Downhills on the bike will be quite cold but there are clothes that can handle this.
Another factor to consider is whether you want to see one of Bhutan's festivals. These are the busiest time of year and it can be hard to get flights and hotels during this time so booking early is the best approach to being able to travel at this time of year. See the festival section above.