Bhutan or Nepal Which Is Better? And How to Plan a Bhutan Nepal Tour?
Nepal and Bhutan are two of the countries that border the mighty Himalayas, the vast mountain range that stretches in a curve from northeastern Pakistan all the way around to southwest China. Both countries lie on the southern edge of the Himalayas, bordering with the Tibet Autonomous Region of China on their northern borders. Two of the hugely popular destinations for international tourists heading to the Himalayas for climbing, trekking, and sightseeing, both Nepal and Bhutan are excellent places in which to spend your time. As they both lie on the southern side of the Himalayas, their climates and geography are very similar, with high mountains in the north and lowland plains and sub-tropical jungles in the south.
However, despite their similarities, they are very different countries, with vastly differing religions, cultures, and ways of life. Nepal is mainly Hindu, with a small Buddhist population, while Bhutan is a devout Buddhist nation where the religion and culture are intertwined. Nepal is also an easier location to get to, with minimal requirements for tourists and the ease of being able to travel almost anywhere you want, however you want. On the other hand, Bhutan has a more defined policy on tourism, and its ecological and environmental policies mean that tourists can only travel to this beautiful kingdom on an organized tour.
Each country has its own unique beauty and culture, and while they may differ in their tourist resources, both are worth visiting as two of the last Himalayan kingdoms in the world. Which you travel to depends on you, your budget, and what interests you most about the Himalayas.
Travel Documents Needed for Visiting Bhutan and Nepal Respectively
Traveling to Bhutan is very different from traveling to Nepal in terms of what documents are required. Nepal has a simple policy on tourist visas and entry requirements, to further promote international tourism in the country, since tourism is one of the nation’s main sources of income, and possibly its largest industry. Tourists to Nepal only have to apply for a visa to enter the country, which can be applied for at either the embassy or the border, with their Visa on Arrival service. Simple requirements such as a valid passport and a photo are all that is needed to enter Nepal, as well as the fee for the visa, of course.
It is convenient to get Nepal Visa on Arrival with a valid passport and a photo.
Travelers do not need to provide proof of a place to stay, bank statements to prove they can support themselves while visiting, and many of the other requirements of certain countries around the world with higher restrictions. To ensure that tourists can move freely around the country, travel by public transport is permitted anywhere, though the public transport can often be crowded, noisy, hot, and slow. Tourists are also able to visit almost all of the temples and monasteries in Nepal that are open, and while there are a few that do not permit visitors, most do allow it, though some parts of the temples and monasteries may be off limits due to the sacred nature of the building or its contents.
Bhutan has a very different view on tourism, and promotes their own unique form of environmental tourism in the kingdom. Travelers heading for Bhutan first have to find an agent or tour operator that can handle their trip, as tourists not are permitted to enter Bhutan independently. Only Indian citizens may freely enter Bhutan without visa and tour requirements.
Once you have found our tour operator, they will be the one helping you sort out where you want to go and what you want to see, and will set it all out in a defined itinerary that will be the basis of your trip. Deviation from the set itinerary is rarely allowed, as the whole thing is registered with the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB). On completion of the itinerary and payment for the tour, the operator then makes the applications for the Bhutan Entry Visa and permits on your behalf. Travel around Bhutan requires tourists to have permits to enter the different regions, all of which are supplied by the TCB to the tour operator.
Visas for Bhutan are required to be arranged by tour operators.
The visa is not sent to the tourist or placed in the passport at this time. Instead, a Letter of Invitation is issued by the immigration office, which is sent to the traveler as proof of the booked tour. This letter is required to book and board the flights to Bhutan, as well as to present to the immigration desk at Paro International Airport on entry. The visa is then stamped into the passport and the other permits are issued. The two carriers local to Bhutan, Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines, are the only carriers permitted to fly into Paro International Airport, and the Letter of Invitation is required to book the flight with them. Without it, you cannot even book a flight or reserve tickets.
Different Travel Seasons in Bhutan and Nepal
The peak season for trekking in Nepal is from October to December, when the skies are generally clear and there is little chance of rain. The weather does remain dry until around May, when it gets hotter and more humid as the summer monsoon season comes in. However, January and February can be quite cold, and trekking in the depths of winter is not advisable. March to May is the spring shoulder season, when the weather is good, but getting slowly hotter and more humid. From May onwards, the temperature increases until August, the hottest month, and also the wettest thanks to the Indian monsoon, which runs from June to September.
It is the best time to visit Chitwan National Park in winter as the temperature is more comfortable.
While the low season summer months are not the best time to travel, it is possible if you do not mind a little rain on some days. Thankfully, it does not rain every day, and often only comes in the afternoons and evenings. The depths of winter, from January to the end of February, may be cold in the mountains, but the climate in the lower Terai region is much milder, and the weather is pleasant and warm enough to travel comfortably, as the lower areas have a more sub-tropical climate. The winter months are the best time to travel around the lower regions and explore the areas of the Kathmandu Valley and places like Chitwan Nature Park, as the temperature is cool enough to be more comfortable, and it hardly ever rains.
For the best weather across Bhutan, October to December is the ideal time to visit the kingdom, and the climate of Bhutan is very similar to that of Nepal. In the high mountains, the winter can be very cold, especially in January and February, while in the lowland areas to the south, where the climate is sub-tropical, the winter months can be pleasant and warm. From March, the weather starts to warm up again, and by mid-April, when the beautiful rhododendron trees come into glorious bloom, flooding the valleys with color, the temperatures are getting warmer, and it remains dry and pleasant.
Rhododendron trees come into bloom in Spring.
May sees the start of the hotter and more humid weather, increasing into June and the start of the monsoon season, the low season in Bhutan tourism. The monsoons last until late September, and by October, the weather has dried up and it is cooling down ready for the peak tourist season again.
The peak season in Bhutan is the most popular time to go, for both trekking and sightseeing, as the skies are beautifully clear and the landscapes are stunningly spectacular. However, Bhutan is one of the Himalayan countries that has a large population of migrant birds during the winter, and the best time to see the stunning sight of the rare black-necked cranes is from late October until around the middle of February.
Nepal has almost no environmental policies, which can be clearly seen by the amount of trash that is strewn along the trekking trails and on the slopes of the mountains. It is only in recent years that cleanup operations have been put in place, but there is still no regulation of the environment to protect the natural landscapes that are the very bread and butter of Nepali tourism.
Conversely, Bhutan has a very strict environmental policy, which is the main reason that tourists are required to be on strictly controlled tours. The environmental policy of Bhutan ensures that the landscapes are protected and maintained as close to natural as possible, even to the extent of proclaiming that no less than 65 percent of the country MUST be natural forests or grassland at all times. Deforestation is only permitted in Bhutan with special permission from the royal government, and the trees and lands are well protected. Even the trekking trails, while still stunning, are restricted, and trekkers are forbidden from straying into the wilderness off the trails.
The quality of air in Bhutan is also much better than in Nepal. Nepal has hundreds of thousands of vehicles, all of which spew out toxic fumes, and there are times when the smog in the Kathmandu Valley is thick and choking. In Bhutan, while they do have vehicles, there are emission tests annually on every vehicle, and exceeding the national required limit means the vehicle is “grounded” until it is corrected and can pass the testing. Bhutan is the only country in the world that actually has a “negative” carbon footprint, where the carbon emissions are lower than the oxygen produced by the country’s trees. It could be said that Bhutan has the world’s “freshest air”.
For Mt. Everest and Himalayan Trekking, Where to Go?
Trekking is one of the most popular activities in both Bhutan and Nepal, and their locations on the southern side of the Himalayas mean that there is a wealth of Himalayan trekking routes in both countries. However, it cannot be denied that Nepal has the edge over Bhutan when it comes to trekking. While there are some awesome trekking trails in Bhutan, especially in the Jhomolhari and Bumthang regions of the kingdom. Trekking in Bhutan is very different, and the commercialization of the tourist industry around the trekking hotspots has not occurred in Bhutan thanks to its policy of Gross National Happiness. There is definitely something to be said for an entire nation that puts its people’s happiness above commercial profit.
South Everest Base Camp Trekking in Nepal
However, despite being immensely commercial in its entirety, the tourist trekking industry in Nepal has a couple of things that Bhutan does not have, the main one being Mount Everest. While the Himalayas produce some amazing mountains to trek around, Nepal is much more popular due to the status it gets from having Everest on its northern border. As the most popular hike in the world, the trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) and back attracts millions of tourists every year, and in the peak months of October and November, the trail can become crowded with tourists hiking one way of the other. - Check the Best Time to Enjoy EBC Trek in Nepal
Add to that the fact that there are ten of the world’s highest mountains in Nepal, while the highest mountain in Bhutan is Gangkar Puensum, at around 7,570 meters, and Nepal is the hands-down champion of high-altitude trekking. As well as Mount Everest, you have the variety of choices from the stunning Annapurna Range to Mount Manaslu, Mount Cho Oyu, and several other stunning trekking areas.
Different Travel Cost for Visiting Bhutan and Nepal
Nepal has long been known for being a cheap place to visit, and in the ‘70s and ‘80s, backpacking in Nepal was the only way to travel. There may be less backpackers now than before, but Nepal remains a cheap country to visit, with low-cost accommodation in the form of hostels with multi-bed dormitories, inexpensive food costs, low entry visa fees, and cheap basic public transport. Even the cost of the trekking gear that you can buy or rent in Thamel, in Kathmandu, is low, making it cheaper to buy the gear there than to bring it from home.
Bhutan, on the other hand, is noted for being one of the most expensive places to visit in Asia. Travelers to Bhutan are required to pay the Daily Minimum Fee of 250 US dollars (200 US dollars in the low season), which is part of the cost of the tour. No matter what tour you take, the minimum amount per day will not be lower than the Daily Minimum Fee. Set by the government, the tariff is designed to keep tourism at its prime, and Bhutan is really aiming at the higher end of the tourist market, rather than the cheap, budget tours that can be found elsewhere.
The tariff actually covers all of your normal expenses whilst you are in Bhutan, from your 3-star accommodation (minimum requirement) and your main meals, to the tour guide, driver, and private vehicle that you will use for the entire trip. The only additional costs you will spend on are alcoholic drinks, additional food for snacks and treats, and any expenses for buying souvenirs and gifts. So, what may seem extortionately expensive at first view, is actually one of the best and most efficient set-ups in the world in terms of complete-package tourism.
A part of the tariff that is paid per day actually goes to the government, to help reduce poverty in the country and to improve the education system. The payment for the tour in Bhutan is actually held by the TCB until the end of the tour, at which time the percentage owing to the tour operator is handed over, once the post-tour survey has been completed and assessed. This means that any complaints about the quality and standard of service can be dealt with immediately, and is a great way to maintain a good standard of service across the tourist industry.
Nepal may be the more affordable option, with its cheap hostels, simple and inexpensive travel costs, low-cost food, and stunning Himalayan treks, but you cannot beat Bhutan for the quality of service that you get for your money. When it comes to how much “bang for your buck” you get, Bhutan is definitely on top.
Different Religious Significance in Bhutan and Nepal
Bhutan is a devoutly Buddhist nation, and the proliferation of Buddhism has made it the national religion of the kingdom for more than 1,200 years. First introduced into the kingdom in the 8th century by the Buddhist master, Padmasambhava, known locally as Guru Rinpoche, a name given to him in Tibet, Buddhism is prevalent throughout the kingdom, and is incorporated into their everyday lives in much the same way as it is in Tibet. Everything the people of Bhutan do is ruled by their Buddhist beliefs, from the moment they get up in the morning to the minute their eyes close at night.
Bhutan is also famous for its Buddhist monasteries, and some of the world’s most stunning and spectacular temples and shrines can be found in the mountains and valleys of Bhutan. Possibly the most famous is the Taktsang Monastery, which sits halfway up the cliff face overlooking the Paro Valley. Known locally as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, it was built on the site of the meditation caves of Padmasambhava, who is said to have landed there after traveling from Tibet on the back of a giant flying tiger, which was also his first consort. There are also several other monasteries of note around the country, from the Punakha Dzong to the Paro Dzong, both of which have a long and varied history.
Taktsang Monastery is possibly the most famous Buddhist monasteries in Bhutan.
Nepal is a mainly Hindu country, adopting the religion from their neighbors in India. Hinduism is said to have been brought to Nepal by a Hindu sage by the name of Ne, who traveled to the country from India in prehistoric times, stopping in the Kathmandu Valley to bring his religion to he local people. According to Nepali legends, Ne selected a devout herdsman to be the first king of Nepal, and began the Gopala Dynasty, which ruled the country for more than 500 years.
While Hinduism is the main religion in Nepal, there are also a small percentage of Buddhists in the country as well, and this has caused the two religions to intermingle somewhat over the centuries. The influence of Tibetan Buddhism on the hill tribes of Nepal has been a major factor in the development of both religions, and it can be seen today that many of the rituals and ceremonies in Hinduism and Buddhism share the same basis. Since Hinduism and Buddhism both have common roots, it is not unusual to see Hindus worshipping in Buddhist temples, and Buddhists in Hindu temples. These “dual-faith” practices have meant that Nepal has become a multi-religious community where the two religions are seen more as different branches of the same faith. This can be seen clearly in the wealth of Buddhist and Hindu temples that lie in the Kathmandu Valley, sitting side by side and sharing many aspects of each other’s religion in their architecture and construction.
Outdoor Activities in Bhutan and Nepal
Apart from the obvious trekking activity, Nepal is one of the most popular destinations in Asia for adventure sports, and with the massive Himalayas right on its doorstep, it comes as no surprise. Well known for trekking, the trails are also often used for mountain biking as well, and the most popular areas for this rigorous activity in around the Kathmandu Valley and in the area around Pokhara, to the west of Kathmandu.
White water rafting has become very popular in Nepal.
With a lot of fast-flowing rivers winding their ways down form the mountains, white-water rafting has become very popular in Nepal. One of the most popular stretches of river for this is on the Trishuli River as it flows down into the Kathmandu Valley, dropping down from its entry point into Nepal at the Gyirong Port/Rasuwa Fort border crossing point with China. You can also find plenty of other activities of this kind in Nepal, including bungee jumping, paragliding, base jumping, abseiling, and many others.
While Bhutan does have a lot of similar sports, including mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, and rock climbing, tourists to the kingdom are more inclined to the gentler activities. And Bhutan has a lot of leisure activities that will not stress you or leave you exhausted. One of the most popular is the visit to one of the kingdom’s many tshachus, or hot springs. Believed to have healing properties, these hot springs have been used by the people of Bhutan for centuries to cure themselves of bodily aches and sinus problems. It is traditional to visit the hot springs in the winter for their regenerative and relaxing properties.
It is traditional for Bhutanese to go to hot springs in the winter.
Aside from trekking and visiting the vast number of dzongs in the kingdom, Bhutan also has some of the best river fishing spots in Asia, as well as a number of rich fishing lakes. Ideal for fishing for snow trout and brown trout, the exact number of species of fish in Bhutan is still not fully known, due to its long isolation from the outside world. And while you do need a permit to fish, which is easy to obtain, and there is a strict policy of “catch and release”, there are few more relaxing things to do in Bhutan than go fishing.
Other Slight Differences between Bhutan and Nepal
When it comes to additional benefits of touring Nepal or Bhutan, it should be noted that Wi-Fi in Bhutan is a relatively new thing, and there are still plenty of places where you cannot get Wi-Fi. However, that does make for a more relaxing and rural holiday, as Nepal now has Wi-Fi or internet access via cellphone across most of the country. Useful for trekking, but if you are trying to get away from the rat-race, it is not good when the rat-race can call you at any time.
For many visitors to Nepal and Bhutan, English is the common language, and while there are people in the tourist industry in Nepal that have pretty good English language skills, most people know very little English. However, in Bhutan, around 96 percent of the country is literate, with many people in the country able to speak and read good English. It is the standard medium for teaching in schools, and all government documents, laws, and road signs are written in both English and Dzongkha, the Bhutanese language. This makes the country easier to navigate for international tourists, as English is the most widely spoken language outside China.
If You Love Both Countries, How to Plan the Bhutan Nepal Tour?
If you cannot decide on which country to visit, you can always go to both. A tour of Bhutan and Nepal together is one of the most exciting adventures you can experience, showing the similarities and differences of the two Himalayan kingdoms in more detail.
Many people say to tour Nepal first before going to Bhutan, but it really depends on your personal preference and where in the world you are traveling from. If you are already in Asia, then traveling to Bhutan first can be an advantage, as there are only five Asian countries from where you can get flights to Bhutan. If it is easier to travel to Nepal first, which is one of the five countries with flights to Bhutan, then it may be easier to travel around Nepal first.
The choice is wholly yours, and both routes can have their advantages. If you are unsure, you can contact our tour and travel advisors, who would be more than happy to assist you in making the decision.