Trekking Bhutan VS Nepal: should I trek in Bhutan or Nepal?
Bhutan and Nepal are both landlocked countries in the Himalayas, and both border with Tibet and have similar landscapes, with high Himalayan mountains to the north and low-lying subtropical regions in the south. However, that is where the similarities end. While Nepal is widely known as the trekking capital of the world, Bhutan is a more exclusive destination, albeit with some of the best treks on the planet.
Trekking in each country is different as well, with Nepal having a wealth of treks in a wide range of climates and landscapes, while Bhutan has a limited number of treks, but in some of the most beautiful and unspoilt countryside in the world. Trekking in Bhutan is a more isolated experience, while Nepal is a hotbed of trekkers and backpackers that crowd the trekking trails of the Himalayas throughout the entire trekking season. Let’s examine these two destinations for trekking around the Himalayas and find out which one suits you best.
Trekking Bhutan VS Nepal: different trekking resources and regions
Trekking in Nepal is very different to trekking in Bhutan, and there is a very different experience with each of these stunning trekking locations. Nepal is a country where trekking is the most popular activity, and the myriad of trekking trails that crisscross the Himalayas are often crowded in the peak seasons for Nepali trekking. There is also the teahouse culture of Nepal, which has grown up over the decades along the trekking trails, catering to avid trekking enthusiasts for their food, Wi-Fi access, and lodgings. While this is a unique idea in Nepal, and is rarely found elsewhere in the trekking regions of the world, it has grown into a culture that takes advantage of the trekkers across the country.
You can appreciate the amazing view of snow-capped mountain during your Nepal trekking tour.
Bhutan, on the other hand, does not have this kind of teahouse system for lodgings along the trails, mainly due to the eco-tourism that is a major policy of the country. Lodgings along most treks, if not available in the small villages that you may sometimes pass through on some of the treks, is normally camping, and the trekkers need to carry everything they need with them, making it a true wilderness adventure. There are also a limited number of treks in Bhutan, many of which are isolated and remote, and which are not as well-used as the most popular treks in Nepal. Overcrowding of the trekking trails is unheard of in Bhutan, as there is a limited number of people allowed to be in the country at any one time. However, while the treks may not be as well-used and busy, it does make them more enjoyable and more natural, and makes the trekking much more interesting.
Trekking Bhutan VS Nepal: most classic trekking routes in Bhutan and Nepal
The top treks in Nepal are normally the Everest Base Camp Trek and the treks of the Annapurna region, of which there are several, including the Annapurna Circuit Trek. These most popular treks take you high into the Himalayas, at altitudes of well over 5,000 meters, and are treks that are long and arduous, through the trail to Everest Base Camp can usually be done by novices, with a guide. In Bhutan, the treks are more arduous, and rarely take you to the heights of the Himalayan slopes of the mountains. The most popular treks are the hardest treks as well, such as the Jhomolhari trek which is rated as moderately challenging, and the famous Snowman trek, which is only for the most experienced of high-altitude trekkers.
The Snowman trek is considered the most challenging and expensive trekking in Bhutan.
The major treks in Nepal are much longer than most of the treks in Bhutan as well, often taking from 10 to 20 days, or longer for some of the biggest trekking trails. However, while the longest trek in Bhutan after the 25-day Snowman trek is only around 12 days, there are many more hard and strenuous treks than easy to moderate ones, and even some of the shorter 6-day and 9-day treks are more strenuous than the long 12-day trek to Mount Everest. One of the toughest treks in Bhutan is the Wild East Rodungla Trek, which takes you through some of the most uncharted areas of northeastern Bhutan, along with an ancient trail that was once used as the main trade route from China over the mountains.
Nepal has less of a requirement for physical fitness and stamina on many of its treks as well, and the teahouse culture of trekking in Nepal has given way to easier and less arduous trekking routes, with beds and cooked food at almost every stop. In Bhutan, most of the treks consist of camping for many of the nights of the treks, and with no teahouses to sleep in and cook for you, camping out and cooking your own foods is much more demanding on both the body and mind.
Trekking Bhutan VS Nepal: different trekking experience
Trekking in Bhutan is very different from trekking in Nepal, and the style of trekking is just as different as the type and quality of treks that you can find in both countries. With a very different experience available in each country, there is no contest, and you should really try both before deciding which you prefer.
Compared with the treks in Bhutan, Nepal treks will offer you a more commercialized experience.
Trekking in Nepal is a more commercialized experience when you are planning the trek, and you will have to deal with all of the aspects of the trip, from planning your trekking route and finding out how to get to the trailhead under your own steam to hiring a guide if it is your first time trekking and making sure you have all the right equipment and know where to go.
Trekking in Bhutan is a less commercial experience, and is done in an environment that has not been spoilt by hundreds of thousands of people traipsing around the mountains every year, leaving their trash on the hillsides and stomping through traditional Nepali villages where the way of life is often threatened by the tourists that descend on these small settlements in their thousands.
Bhutan’s trekking experience is one of ecological and environmental care, and while the treks are done by a lot of people, the landscape does not suffer for it. Trekking in Bhutan also requires you to be on an arranged tour with a private guide, which means your trek is managed by experts and professionals that know how to give you the best experience without damaging the environment.
Trekking Bhutan Vs Nepal: different trekking documents needed
Trekking in Nepal is relatively simple, and once you have your Nepal Visa, which can be obtained when you arrive at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, all you really need is the Trekkers Information Management System (TIMS) card, a permit to the area where you are trekking, and some decent trekking insurance. All of these can be obtained in the Nepali capital with the minimum of fuss and expense, and can be done in a single day.
Bhutan Visa will be arranged for you by the tour operator.
Conversely, in Bhutan you do not need to do anything, not even make your own application for Bhutan Visa. All of the documents required for your trek are handled by the tour company that is providing your tour of the kingdom. All you have to do is turn up and go trekking. From the application for your visa to the permits for travel inside Bhutan and the trekking permits that are required for some of the areas of the kingdom, all of this is arranged for you by the tour operator, and is made available for you once you arrive at Paro International Airport.
Trekking Bhutan VS Nepal: different trekking seasons
Trekking in Nepal is best done in the spring and autumn, when the weather is warm and dry. Spring runs from March to mid-June, and autumn from September to November, and these are the best times to trek. However, it is still possible to do many of the treks in the lower altitude areas throughout the winter months, and while the summer is the rainy season, there are areas of Nepal, high up in the mountains, that see so little rain throughout the summer that you would never think it was a monsoon country. The Mustang region is one such place. This gives you the opportunity to trek at almost any time of year.
Spring trekking gives you a wonderful opportunity to explore the spectacular landscape of Bhutan.
Bhutan has the same peak seasons for trekking, in the spring and autumn. Spring in Bhutan runs from March to May, through March can sometimes be a little too cold still for high-altitude treks. Autumn is from late September to the end of November, and is the best time of all to trek around the mountains of the Himalayas in Bhutan. However, in the winter months, from late December to the end of February, most of the treks in the higher regions are covered in thick snow and impossible to do. There are treks in the lower areas that can still be done in the middle of winter, though, as the temperatures are warm and pleasant, especially in the southern sub-tropical zone. Trekking in summer, however, is not recommended in Bhutan, as there are few places that do not get the monsoon rains and the country is prone to heavy and torrential downpours and violent storms in the monsoon season.
Trekking Bhutan VS Nepal: plan trekking cost differently
The cost of the different treks in the two countries is vastly different. In Bhutan, you are limited to a minimum daily cost of 200-250 US dollars per day for the cost of your tour, whether you are trekking or not, and this can go up even more if you are a solo traveler or just two of you. While the cost of the trek and all your needs is included in this Minimum Daily Fee, the overall cost of a 10-day trek in Bhutan is five times that of the same duration in Nepal.
Due to the Minimum Daily Fee, trekking in Bhutan will cost you more but it will be worth it.
Nepal is rated as one of the low-cost countries in Asia to spend time in, with food costing from less than a dollar for a good meal to accommodation being available for a few dollars a day. Probably the most expensive costs of the trekking trips in Nepal are the flights into and around the country (you can get to the Everest Trek easiest by flight to Lukla, though you can walk if you wish) and the TIMS card and insurance. If you are traveling by bus to your trek’s trailhead, then you can be sure that it will not cost a fortune, but it might take a long time. Overall, you can probably expect to pay less than 50 dollars a day for a very good trek in Nepal.
Both countries have some great trekking trails, and are well worth visiting, just for the complete difference in the trekking experience you will have. While the treks in Nepal can be amazing high up in the Himalayas, if you are an environmentalist then Bhutan may be the better tour for you. If cost is your main concern, then Nepal is always going to come out on top. The choice is yours.