Discover the secretive kingdom of Bhutan, a country nestled in the Himalaya and visited by only a lucky few, and join us on one of the best Himalayan routes (part of the full Jumolhari Trek, also known as Soi Yaktsa Trek or Jomolhari Loop) offering seven trekking days of truly memorable experiences, the highlight being the spectacular view of Mount Jomolhari from the base camp.
A land of deep valleys and dzongs perched on precarious peaks, Bhutan is one of the most isolated nations in the world; its traditional culture is strictly protected and visitor numbers are carefully regulated. The tour is privately guided, and an experienced English-speaking guide will accompany you on all trekking days.
The trek follows the southern flanks of the Himalayas. You will pass remote villages and yak herder camps and come face to face with 7314m high Mt. Jomolhari and 6989m high Mt. Jichu Drake, the two highest mountains in this region. Trek through splendid rhododendron forests, past yak herder settlements and across several high passes. On this trek you will see blue sheep and many birds, such as the majestic lammergeier, and if you’re lucky the mysterious takin or even the elusive snow leopard.
We highly recommend adding at least one of our Bhutan Discovery Extensions after the trek. You will visit Bhutan’s most interesting places and explore its fascinating culture and (on specific dates) its colourful festivals. Booking an extension before the trek is also strongly recommended as it will help you acclimatise better and fully enjoy the hikes.
Day 1: Paro
On arrival, you will be greeted by our guide. If your flight is in the morning or afternoon you will have some time for sightseeing in Paro. Visit the Rinpung Dzong meaning “fortress of the heap of jewels”. It has a long and fascinating history. Along the wooden galleries lining the courtyard of the Dzong are fine wall paintings illustrating Buddhist lore. You will walk downhill till the road point crossing the traditional wooden bridge. In the evening, you can stroll freely in Paro town. Walking around the market and meeting with people will be an enjoyable experience. Overnight at a hotel in Paro.
Day 2: Tiger’s Nest Monastery Acclimatisation Hike
After breakfast, hike to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery, Bhutan’s most famous monastery, which stands at 3180m. The hike helps you acclimatize for the next days’ trek. The 8th century Spiritual Master, Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown on the back of a tigress to meditate in a cave where Taktsang Monastery now stands. It is perched on the edge of a steep cliff, about 900 meters above Paro Valley. Explore the Monastery and hike back to Paro. Overnight at a hotel in Paro.
- Walking for the day: 5 km, 4-5 hours, ↑900m ↓900m
Day 3: Drive Paro – Drugyel & Trek Drugyel to Shana (Start of the Trek)
First, we drive today (16km) to the Drugyel Dzong, in the northeast of the Paro valley. This dzong was built to commemorate a victory over Tibetan invaders. This is where you start the 7-day Soy Yaktsa trek. First, you follow an unpaved road to an army checkpoint (we need a special trekking permit as the trek skirts the Tibetan/Chinese border) where your trekking permit will be checked. Here, your trekking crew for the next seven days will be waiting (a cook, a porter, a horseman with the packhorses). The trail climbs gently traversing through well-maintained rice terraces and fields of millet. The route later enters an area of apple orchards and forests. Soon the valley widens and you reach the army post of Gunitsawa at 2,810m. Just beyond Shana Zampa, there are several good camping places in meadows surrounded by trees. Camp at an altitude of 2850m.
- Walking for the day: 17 km, 5-6 hours, ↑300m
Day 4: Trek Shana to Soi Thangthagkha
The trail follows Pa Chhu (Paro River), ascending and descending through pine, oak and spruce forests. Hot lunch will be served after crossing the bridge towards the left side of the river. After lunch follows the river climbing up through rhododendron forests and finally crossing another bridge, you reach the campsite at an altitude of 3750m.
- Walking for the day: 22 km, 7-8 hours, ↑900m
Day 5: Trek Soi Thangthangkha to Jangothang
The path ascends for a while until you reach the army camp. Then follow the river above the tree line enjoying a stunning view of the surrounding peaks. Hot lunch will be served inside a yak herder’s camp. A short walk into the valley will take you to the camp at Jangothang at an altitude of 4,100m. From here, the views of Mt. Jumolhari and Jichu Drake are superb.
- Walking for the day: 19 km, 5-6 hours, ↑300m
Day 6: Jangothang Base Camp Acclimatisation Day
Today is a day of acclimatisation and rest to prepare for tomorrow’s demanding trek. But, if you have enough stamina, you can choose between a few day-hikes: a 3-4 hours hike up to a ridge that gives a good view of Jichu Drake; a hike up to the end of the valley, toward Jumolhari; a trek up the main valley towards Jichu Drake or a hike to Tsophu (4310m), a pair of lakes with a good supply of brown trout. Or you can just stay in the camp and ask the cook to make some extra pakoras.
- Walking for the day (optional): 3-6 hours
Day 7: Trek Jangothang to Soi Yaktsa
Today’s trek is the most difficult one because there is a lot of climbing to do. The trail leads north to the last settlement in the valley and drops to Paro Chhu (river) where you will cross the river on a wooden bridge. Walk up to Tshophu Lake (4380 meters). You will come across a second lake after you climb across a slope to a crest. Then descend into a hidden valley and climb steeply to Bonte La pass at 4890 meters. After the pass, the trail descends crisscrossing through yak trails down to the Dhumzo Chhu and after walking downstream below few houses you arrive at the camp at 3800m.
- Walking for the day: 16 km, 7 hours, ↑800m ↓1100m
Day 8: Trek Soi Yaktsa to Thombu Shong
The trail ascends about 100m over a ridge and then drops to another stream. After crossing this stream, the trail heads up the hillside dropping into a small valley before emerging onto a ridge. Here the route turns south, ascending past few huts to Takhung La (4520m). A short descend leads to your camp, Thombu Shong at 4180m with few yak herder’s huts.
- Walking for the day: 11 km, 4-5 hours, ↑720m ↓340m
Day 9: Trek Thombu Shong to Gunitsawa (Trek Ends); Drive to Thimphu
Climb out of the valley to Thombu La at 4380m, and then descend gradually to about 4000m. The trail then makes a steep descent, switching back down the ridge, finally reaching the helipad at Gunitsawa (2730m). Your vehicle will be waiting here to pick you up and drive to Thimphu where you can celebrate your return to civilization with a refreshing shower in the hotel. Overnight at a hotel in Thimphu.
- Walking for the day: 11 km, 4-5 hours, ↑200m ↓340m
- Car transfer: 65 km, 1.5 hours
Day 10: Thimphu Day Tour
You will visit the King’s Memorial Chorten (dedicated to world peace and prosperity), the giant Buddha Statue at Kuenselphodrang overlooking Thimphu valley and the Folk Heritage Museum. In the afternoon, you can visit the traditional paper factory and the Tashichhodzong, the beautiful medieval fortress which houses most of the Government’s office and Kings’ Throne Room. If it is the weekend, you will head over to the weekend market where farmers come together to sell their farm produce.
At the Memorial Chorten, a white stupa in memory of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk, you can see Bhutanese from all walks of life doing their daily, ritual circumambulations. Very much worth a visit is the School of Thirteen Crafts, where young artists are taught the traditional (religious) art of Bhutan, as well as Buddha Point, where the largest gilded Buddha statue in the world is located. Overnight at a hotel in Thimphu.
Day 11: Departure or Optional Discovery Extensions
After breakfast, you will be taken to Paro airport (1.5h). You can also book more nights in Thimphu or our extensions as detailed below (so this will be Day 1 of your chosen extension).
Optional Bhutan Extensions
Optional Acclimatisation Extension Before the Tour: Haa Valley & Thimphu
Day 1: Arrive Paro, Overnight in Paro (= Day 1 of Main Itinerary)
Day 2: Chele La Pass and Haa Valley, 70 km, 2.5 hours
After breakfast, we will drive to Kila Goenpa, a nunnery monastery set dramatically at the foot of a steep cliff and then hike up to to the nearly 3900m high Chele La pass (3-4 hours). This is the highest car-accessible pass in Bhutan. On top of the pass, you will take a short walk on which you will get fantastic views of the Himalayas. After spending some time on the top, you will continue your drive to the Haa Valley for overnight.
Day 3: Haa Valley / Thimphu, 105 km, 3 hours
Today you will explore the Haa Valley. You could start with a visit to the Lhakhang Kharpo, the largest temple in the area and also Haa’s monastic school. A short walk from here leads to the small but fine temple Shek Drak. In the afternoon you can choose from several short walks to beautiful villages, such as Talung, and hidden temples, such as Yangtho and Tsenkha Goemba. Afternoon transfer to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, and overnight.
Day 4: Thimphu Sightseeing / Paro, 50 km, 1.5 hours
Explore vibrant Thimphu and stroll its narrow streets and busy markets. Afternoon transfer to Paro and overnight. On next day you continue with Day 2 of the standard programme.
Optional After Tour Extension 1: Western & Central Bhutan (5 nights)
Day 1: Thimphu-Punakha, 76 km, 3 hours
After breakfast, we will drive to Dochula La (3100 meters) where there are 108 memorial chortens (also known as stupas). On a clear day, you can get spectacular views of the Himalayas here. After spending some time you will continue your drive downhill through the forests of rhododendron, fir and hemlock. After traversing through rice field and along the bank of the river you will soon arrive at Punakha. Visit the Punakha Dzong, which is stunningly situated in between the male and female rivers like an anchored ship. Overnight at a hotel in Punakha.
Day 2: Punakha
After breakfast, we drive a few kilometres and then walk to Khamsum Namgyel Chorten. This stupa was built by the Queen Mother of the 5th King of Bhutan. After visiting Khamsum we walk part of the way back to Punakha through the fields, along Yebasa village to Sonagasa where the car will be waiting. After lunch, we’ll visit a newly built nunnery temple not far from the hotel. Overnight at a hotel in Punakha.
Day 3: Punakha – Phobjikha, 78 km, 3 hours
In the morning, we drive to Phobjikha. Phobjikha is one of the most beautiful regions of Bhutan. It is a conservation area, protected because of the black-necked cranes that come here in winter from Tibet. The black-necked crane is the national bird of Bhutan and is very well protected by both the government and the local population. Overnight in a hotel or guesthouse in Phobjikha.
Day 4: Phobjikha
We walk down to the black-necked crane information centre. Here, you can learn all about this bird, which is the national bird of Bhutan. With some luck, you can observe them through telescopes from the centre. From the Centre, we’ll follow a nature trail through the valley along marshy dwarf bamboo and blue pines decorated with long ‘old man’s beard’ (lichens), leading up to Gangtey Goemba (monastery). On this lovely walk, chances are good that you will see the cranes while they forage on the harvest remains in the potato fields (the cranes are usually there between the end of September and mid-March). Gangtey Goemba is the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan and the biggest one in Bhutan as well. The Nyingma form a Buddhist sect that is older and different from the Drukpa sect, to which the vast majority of Bhutanese temples, monasteries and dzongs adhere. Overnight in a hotel or guesthouse in Phobjikha.
Day 5: Phobjikha – Thimphu, 134 km, 4.5 hours
Today a beautiful drive awaits you. Spend some more time strolling the streets of Thimphu. Overnight in a hotel in Thimphu.
Day 6: Departure (Transfer Thimphu – Paro Airport)
After breakfast, you will be taken to the airport for your flight (1.5h drive).
Optional After Tour Extension 2: Western, Central & Eastern Bhutan (9 nights)
Days 1-4: As in Option 1
Day 5: Phobjikha – Trongsa, 85 km, 2.5 hours
Following breakfast, you will drive to Trongsa through dense forests of oak trees and rhododendrons. The route is along a spectacular winding road crossing 3,300 meter- high Pele La pass and at certain times of the year, it’s possible to see yaks. Check into hotel on arrival. After lunch, you’ll visit Trongsa Dzong, the masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture, and you’ll also see Ta Dzong, the watchtower built to defend this Dzong. You can browse through Trongsa shops and town in the evening. Overnight at a hotel in Trongsa.
Day 6: Trongsa – Bumthang, 68 km, 2.5-3 hours
Today you’ll head to Bumthang, the religious heartland of the nation, with lush valleys and hilly forests. Along the way, you will stop at a yathra (textile weaving) factory at Chumey, where the yathra are designed with patterns unique to Bumthang, and you can even watch some of the weavers at their looms. Check into hotel on arrival. Later if you wish you can visit the local cheese and beer factory. Overnight at a hotel in Bumthang.
Day 7: Bumthang
Today’s sightseeing includes Jambey Lhakhang, one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan, dating from the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan and Kurjey Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places, because Guru Rinpoche left his body imprint on the cave when he was meditating. After lunch, you will also have a chance to tour Tamshing Lhakhang, a treasure house of interesting religious Buddhist paintings and the Wangdicholing Palace, the first Palace for the royal family where our 1st and 2nd king was brought up. Overnight at a hotel in Bumthang.
Day 8: Bumthang – Mongar, 198 km, 7-8 hours
You will begin your journey to eastern Bhutan, which is very different from western and central Bhutan in terms of development and lifestyle. The steepness of the region lends itself to some spectacular views, with rushing waterfalls and sheer drops. The drive on this day is an exhilarating 7-8 hours, particularly the Thrumshing La (pass), which peaks at 3,750 meters. Stop for your picnic lunch at the Pass enjoying the great sceneries around. You can walk on the certain stretches of road to relax your muscles while your car will be following behind you. Check into the hotel on arrival at Mongar. You can wander around Mongar town in the evening and sit down to a relaxing dinner. Overnight at a hotel in Mongar.
Day 9: Mongar – Trashigang, 91 km, 3-4 hours
You will drive to Trashigang today. From Mongar, the road ascends to Kori La pass (2400m) marked by a café and a few prayer flags. As you descend from the pass you will cross Yadi, a small town. Continue your drive to cross the Sherichhu river bridge at 600m. The road from here is almost flat till Dangme Chhu river bridge from where you ascend till Trashigang. Trashigang is a compact and bustling town fitting its role as a business hub in eastern Bhutan. Overnight at a hotel in Trashigang.
Day 10: Excursion to Radhi and Phongmey Villages
After breakfast, you will visit Trashigang Dzong, standing at an extreme end of the spur overhanging the Gamri River. You will then drive to Rangjung, which is located on the bank of the river. Visit the Rangjung Monastery, which is founded by His Eminence Garab Rinpoche. You will then drive to Radhi and Phongmey Villages, which are renowned for “bura” gho and kira, a textile made from raw silk and you can even see women weaving in their homes. You can have your picnic lunch in one of the farmhouses. Later in the evening, you will drive back to Trashigang for your night halt. Overnight at a hotel in Trashigang.
Day 11: Domestic Flight to Paro; Paro – Thimphu
After early breakfast, you will drive for about an hour to Yonphula airport. It is an uphill drive passing through the villages of Pam, Rongthung, Kanglung and then finally to the airport at 2750 meters almost equal to that of Lukla in Nepal. Both airports have a tabletop landing. On clear weather from Yonphula airport, you can spot Mount Jumolhari in the distance The flight route to Paro offers stunning views of the Himalayan mountain ranges of Bhutan to the north of Tibet border. Beneath you have the views of the lateral highway and rivers flowing down the valleys. On arrival, you will drive to Thimphu, the capital. Overnight at a hotel in Thimphu.
Day 12: Departure (Transfer Thimphu – Paro Airport)
After breakfast, you will be taken to the airport for your flight (1.5h drive).
Accommodation is either in the best 3-star hotels available in town, charming traditional guesthouses where there are no hotels, and two-person tents in the high mountains during the treks. All places have been carefully hand-picked by us, and their quality is regularly monitored. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour.
Sample hotels we use in Bhutan:
- Thimphu: Hotel Namgay Heritage, Hotel Tashi Yoedling, Hotel Migmar
- Paro: Tashi Namgay Resort, Galing Resort, Khangkhu Resort
- Haa: Risum Resort
- Punakha: The Four Boutique Hotel, Drubchhu Resort, Punatsangchhu Cottages
- Phobjikha: Gakiling Hotel
- Gangtey: Phuntsho Yangkhil Lodge, Dewachen Hotel & Spa, Wangchuk Lodge
- Bumthang: Yugharling Resort & Spa, Jakar Village Lodge, Hotel Peling
- Mongar: Druk Zhongar Hotel, Wangchuk Hotel
- Trongsa: Yangkhil Resort, Puenzhi Guest House
- Trashigang: Druk Deothjung Resort
All meals (breakfast, lunch or picnic lunch and dinner) are included during the holiday and the optional extensions, as well as dinner on arrival day and breakfast on departure day. Meals when trekking include:
- Breakfast will include toasts, eggs, fruit juice, tea and coffee, sausages and hams. Oatmeal, drinking chocolates, baked means, peanut butter are also served.
- Hot packed lunch consists of rice, noodles, vegetables, meat, fruits and boiled egg or potatoes.
- Evening tea/coffee is served with biscuits and at times with peanuts or salted popcorn.
- Dinner begins with soup, followed by a main course including meat (chicken, pork or beef) and vegetables accompanied by either white or local red rice. Other side dishes may include dumplings, Indian lentil and ‘ema datshi’ – the famous Bhutanese local dish made of chilli and cheese.
Delhi is the most convenient international airport. Flying in from Kolkata, Kathmandu, Singapore and Bangkok also possible. You can optionally book all flights with Druk Air (Royal Bhutan Airlines) through us. Please note you will need to prepay for the flight ticket in full.
Luggage transfers are included as per itinerary, and we will arrange them from your current hotel to your next hotel (or tent camp). Porters (horse porters) will transport your luggage in the mountains, so please limit your main luggage to 15 kg per person and put it in a soft duffel bag.
Bhutan is an extraordinary country, and after visiting Bhutan you will surely come back with unique travel experiences. It is a Buddhist Kingdom that strives to protect its cultural and natural heritage like no other country in the world. Up-to-date travel advice on Bhutan is available here. Detailed travel information and hints will be provided in your holiday information pack.
Whilst visiting Dzongs, monasteries, temples and festivals ensure you dress neatly and modestly (covered arms, no shorts, three quarter length trousers, short skirts or tight or skimpy clothing). Do not wear a hat in the precincts of Dzongs or religious complexes.
Walk clockwise around Chortens (stupas) and Mani (prayer) walls and refrain from smoking on the premises. If you see a prayer flagpole on the ground waiting to be erected, do not step over it, as this is considered extremely disrespectful: walk around it instead. Never stray onto the dance ground at festivals in search of the perfect spot – this is the height of bad manners and will definitely give offence to all Bhutanese who see you.
Tipping in Bhutan is not compulsory. Hotels and restaurant bills include service charges of 20%; there is no need to add anything further onto these bills. The tipping of your guide, driver and trek crew is purely a personal matter. However, we would suggest a tip per day of 10 USD for your guide and 5-6 USD for your driver. If you are trekking in Bhutan then other trek staff (such as horsemen/cooks) should be tipped around 7-8 USD per day for a short trek, for treks over 5 nights we recommend 5 USD per day. Obviously this is very much a rough guide and you are completely free to give whatever you feel is appropriate.
For Bhutan, we will arrange the visa for you. The cost of the visa is included in the tour price. The Bhutanese visa is issued to your passport on arrival. No passport photos are currently required for this, but it’s always good to travel with a couple of current photos.
In order to arrange the Bhutan visa, you must provide us with the following 35-40 days before departure:
- Arrival and Departure flight details for Paro (unless you have booked your Paro flights through us)
- Scanned colour passport copy, which must meet the following requirements: the image must be extremely clear with no obstructions covering any part of the passport; it must have all details (including background letters) on the passport page in readable print, and there must be absolutely no reflections (due to flash photography) on the image itself.
We will then arrange the Bhutanese visa for you. The visa letter will be forwarded to you 2-5 business days before departure. We cannot get the visa letter issued any sooner, as it is issued by the Bhutanese government. Please print out the visa letter, you will be required to show this before boarding your flight to Paro.
Important: If you are planning to extend your stay in Bhutan, pre- and post-tour accommodation or extensions MUST be booked through us in order for us to issue a valid visa for the duration of your stay.
Difficulty Grade: Moderate to Strenuous
There are no long steep ascents, no scrambling involved and no exposed paths, but this holiday is graded moderate to strenuous due to some fairly long days at high altitude. You should be in a good physical condition and have experience of multi-day trekking before undertaking this trek. The effect of altitude should not be underestimated (read more about difficulty grades).
Acute mountain sickness
AMS is a significant concern when trekking above 3500 m and although our itinerary is designed to minimise the chances of you suffering from AMS by providing enough acclimatisation days before the actual trek and ensuring a gradual increase in altitude, each individual is affected differently by height. If you have any pre-existing health conditions that you think may make you more susceptible to AMS, we recommend that you consult your doctor before booking this trip.
Portable hyperbaric bag
Only a few outfitters in Bhutan provide portable altitude chambers. As we always put safety first, we bring such on all high-altitude treks (e.g. the Snowman Trek). A portable hyperbaric bag (of which we use the reliable Australian TrekSafe brand), is an inflatable pressure bag large enough to accommodate a person. The patient can be placed inside the bag, which is then sealed and inflated with a foot pump. Within minutes, the effective altitude can be decreased by 1000 m to as much as 3000 m (3281 to 9743 feet) depending on the elevation. We carry this safety equipment on all our high altitude treks. All our trekking guides are well trained in using this equipment. Once inflated, the Gamow bag simulates a descent to lower altitude. At 3000m, the Gamow bag can simulate a descent of 1,500m. Once the patient is taken out of the bag, the acclimatization will last up to 12 hours. This gives enough time to the patient to descend to a lower altitude and allow for further acclimatization.
Qualified guides make the difference between a regular trip and an unforgettable experience. Our certified Bhutanese English-speaking guides are qualified and trained. All have many years of experience of guiding trekkers in the area. They will bring a wealth of knowledge to your journey, opening your eyes to the legends, culture, food, flora and fauna of the regions.
We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never try to shorten the path through the unknown and unmarked terrain. Your private guide is highly experienced, and you should always follow their advice.
When to Go
This trip is available between April and November. The flexibility of the privately guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates and you can start your holiday on any date in the season. The best time to travel to Bhutan if going on a discovery tour or a lower trek is between March and late May and between mid-September and November. In these two periods, the weather is relatively dry and the daytime temperatures are generally pleasant. In addition, in spring nature is at its most abundant with flowering floral carpets and rhododendron forests. Autumn offers the best view of the high peaks. For the higher treks such as the Jhomolhari, Laya-Gasa and Snowman Trek, the summer and autumn months (June – October) are best.
What to Bring
While trekking, you will only have to carry a day bag with water, snacks, spare clothes and your camera. Your main bag will be moved by a porter. We will provide a detailed equipment list as part of your pre-departure information pack. You will need quality walking and travelling gear as well as a sleeping bag and warm clothes. The sleeping bag should withstand negative 10-12 degree Celsius/14-10 Fahrenheit.
Camping/trekking equipment provided by us:
- Sleeping tents (twin sharing; optional single tent supplement)
- Spacious dining tents
- Kitchen tents
- Toilet tents with chairs
- Air mats
- Compressible pillows (we find them much comfier than the inflatable ones)
- Hot water bags to keep you warm in the tent
- Tables and chairs
- Qualified English-speaking guide and porters during the trek and experienced English-speaking guide/driver during the transfers/in the lowlands
- Overnight stays in private rooms and tents as listed in the itinerary (3-star hotels where available, best hotels/guesthouses in towns, optional homestay on 2 days)
- All breakfasts, lunches and dinners during the holiday; dinner on arrival day and breakfast on departure day; bottled water
- Visa for Bhutan, all related bank costs
- All car transfers as listed in the itinerary
- All entrance fees as per the itinerary
- Compulsory contribution to the Bhutan Tourism Development Fund – Sustainable Development Fee (USD 200 per night)
- Luggage transfers (by car and porters) during the trek.
- Pre-departure travel and tour documents
- 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative in Thimphu
Options and Extras
- Single room supplement for group members (single tent use in the high mountains subject to availaiblity)
- This holiday is NOT available for solo travellers
- Optional extra nights are bookable on request
- International flights
- Visa fees other than Bhutan needed for connecting flights (e.g. India)
- Travel insurance
- Sleeping bag for camping during the trek (4-season or quality 3-season)
- Personal expenses such as drinks, snacks, phone calls, extra transfers, tips, etc.
- Tips for the guides and porters
- Any items not specifically mentioned as ‘included’ in the programme