Why we shouldn’t miss visiting Bhutan in winter?
Visiting Bhutan in the winter months is definitely a good idea, and there are a host of reasons why. Aside from the fact that the low season in Bhutan means there are fewer tourists, and that the cost of the Minimum Daily Fee is reduced from 250 dollars per day to just 200 dollars per day, there are a great many things to look forward to in the winter months in Bhutan.
Winter in Bhutan is the best time to travel to the ancient Himalayan kingdom for snowy landscapes. While the south of the country is experiencing the mildest of winters, with warm temperatures, the northern areas are getting the snowfalls that are a common sight in the Bhutanese Himalayas during the winter months. Clear skies are another good reason for visiting in winter, as the views of the high mountains, such as Jomolhari and Jichu Drake, are outstanding. Then you have the abundance of festivals, the ability to trek in the lower regions of the kingdom, and the amazing black-necked cranes, which travel to Bhutan from northern Tibet during the winter months, migrating to their winter feeding grounds.
Bhutan Weather and Temperature in Winter
The climate in Bhutan can be extremely varied, as the kingdom has different climatic zones depending on the altitude and the influence of the Indian monsoon. However, while the climate can vary from north to south, the country has four distinct seasons. Winter in Bhutan normally runs from November until late March, and much of the northern area of the kingdom is subjected to colder weather, frost, and snow, especially at elevations above 3,000 meters.
The temperatures can also get pretty cold, with lows of -5 degrees at night, and daytime temperatures of around 9-12 degrees. However, in the south of the country, the weather is milder, and relatively temperate, with temperatures rarely getting below 4-5 degrees, even at night, and the daytime temperatures reaching highs of around 17-18 degrees.
Top Eight Things to Do in Winter Bhutan
While this landlocked kingdom is not very big, it does have a wealth of things to see and do, from trekking around the foothills of the Himalayas to bird watching around the lakes and rivers and enjoying the delights of the many festivals or taking a dip in the hot springs.
Get a closer look at the rare black-necked cranes
Black-necked cranes are a common sight in Bhutan in the winter months, and this is one of the best places in Asia to get some good views of these rare birds in their natural habitats. These elusive birds travel south from northern Tibet and China’s Qinghai Province to the lower reaches of Tibet and Bhutan for the winter months, when northern Tibet gets very cold. The cranes usually arrive in the middle of November, and stay in Bhutan for roosting and winter foraging until the end of February. The best places to spot them are at the Gangtey Monastery in the Phobjika Valley, in the Bomdeling Birds Sanctuary in Tashi Yangtse, and around the area of Chummey in Bumthang.
Enjoy lower altitude Bhutan winter treks
While you may not be able to take on the major high-altitude treks in the winter months, there are several treks at lower altitudes that you can do. One of the most popular options for winter trekking in Bhutan is the Nabji Korphu Trek, in the Trongsa District. A relatively low-altitude trek, at around 2,000 meters, there is also the chance to catch the local festivals if you arrive in January. Some parts of the higher treks can be done, though it largely depends on the weather at the time of your travel.
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Appreciate snow mountain peaks of Bhutan from Dochula Pass
Lying on the road from the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu to Punakha, the Dochula Pass is a famous site for its views as much as for the 108 memorial chortens that were built there by the queen mother in memory of the fourth Druk Gyalpo (King of Bhutan), Jigme Singye Wangchuck. At an elevation of 3,100 meters (10,200 feet), the view of the mighty Himalayas to the east is completely unimpeded, and the pass has some of the best views of the Himalayan vistas in Bhutan. Several of the mountains above 7,000 meters can be clearly seen from the pass, including Jomolhari, Masanggang, Kangphugang, Jejegangphugang, and Terigang.
Celebrate Bhutan winter festivals with locals
Bhutan, being a devoutly Buddhist country, has a huge number of festivals throughout the year, and winter is no exception. There are several festivals in the winter months, and one of the most popular is the Dochula Tsechu (festival), which happens every year in December. The festival, which is held at the famous Dochula Pass, celebrates the victory of the Bhutanese warriors over the Tibetan invaders. In eastern Bhutan, another great festival to visit is the Trashigang Tsechu, which is held at the Trashigang Monastery, or the Mongar and Khaling Tsechus, and there are also several smaller festivals in Bumthang during the winter months.
Visit Paro Bhutan in winter
The climate in Paro in the winter months is mild in comparison with the climate at higher altitudes, and with winter temperatures rarely getting below 5 degrees even at night, a trip to Paro is a great idea in the winter. Paro is also one of the most popular destinations for tourists to Bhutan, and the winter months means fewer tourists when you travel to the stunning locations of the Taktsang Lhakhang or the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, the Chele La pass, Rinpung Dzong, the National Museum, or the Druk Choeding Temple.
Travel to Thimphu Bhutan in winter
Winter may be the cold season in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu, but that does not stop it from being an amazing place to visit in the winter months. While there are low temperatures of around -2 to -4 degrees at night, the daytime temperatures can get as high as around 10-12 degrees, making it pleasant enough for travel. And the capital has some of the greatest tourist attraction in Bhutan, including the Tashichho Dzong, the Changangkha ridge top Buddhist Temple, the golden-topped memorial chorten, and the amazing National Library, with its collection of the largest holding of Buddhist literature in the world.
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Explore Royal Manas National Park
The crown jewel of Bhutan, the Royal Manas National Park is the largest example of the natural ecosystems of Bhutan, and was only recently opened to the public. The park contains thousands of species of rare animals and plants, some of which are on the globally endangered lists. As such, the park has become one of the most diverse protected areas in the country, and one of the most outstanding biological parks in the world. Located in central Bhutan, the site stretches all the way to the Indian border, connecting with the Indian Manas Tiger Reserve. To the north, it also borders with the Jigme Singye Wanchuck National Park. Designated as a protected area in 1966, the park is the kingdom’s oldest national park area, with a wide variation in climates from its northern edges to the southern borders with India. It is also one of the few places in the world where you can see the endangered Bengal Tiger, outside of India itself, and the only place in the world to find the rare Golden Langur, the most graceful primate in the world, with its long silky fur, once almost hunted to extinction for that same luxurious pelt.
Treat yourself with a cozy dip in Gasa hot springs
Known as a “tsachu” in Dzongkha, the Bhutanese national language, the hot springs at Gasa are the most visited hot springs in Bhutan. While it is a popular place for tourists to visit, it is equally as popular with the locals, and people travel from all over Bhutan to visit the hot springs. The hot spring was visited by the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel when he came to Bhutan in 1616, and he was so impressed by its treatment of his joint pain and fatigue that he blessed the springs to remain forever. The secluded location of the tsachu and its stunning views of the natural Bhutanese landscape have made it one of the best places to visit in Bhutan for a relaxing and therapeutic dip in its mineral-rich warm waters.
Useful Bhutan Winter Tour Tips
If you are planning a trip to Bhutan in the winter, then you are going to be able to get your tour for a much lower cost than in the peak summer months. With the 50 dollars per day reduction on the Minimum Daily Fee, winter is the ideal time to head to Bhutan if you are on a strict budget. It is also the best time to travel if you want to escape the crowds of tourists, though Bhutan does not really have the huge crowds of the other Himalayan kingdoms, such as Nepal and Tibet.
High-altitude trekking is not often available in the winter months, as the snows can get heavy at the higher altitudes and many of the high passes become blocked. However, there are sections you can trek along, avoiding the passes, as long as the weather is not too bad.
While many travelers paying the expensive fees of traveling to Bhutan prefer to stay in a comfortable hotel, winter is actually the best time for a Bhutan homestay trip, where you can stay with a local family for a few days and experience life as it is lived by the normal people of this mighty Himalayan kingdom. And it is useful to remember that, if you do choose this option, many of the Bhutanese homes still do not have power and running water in the areas outside the larger cities.