Bhutan is a fascinating, scenic Asian country that's on many traveler's bucket lists. Given the diverse climate and variations in seasonal rates, the best time to visit Bhutan is fall's post-monsoon season, from late September through November. During this time, travelers will find pleasant temperatures and clear days. Of course, those wishing to avoid crowds and save money on the country's government-implemented "Minimum Daily Package" rates may want to visit at another time of year.
Read on for more about Bhutan's climate, significant events and festivals, plus details on each season's weather and can't-miss festivals. This information about what you need to know when visiting Bhutan will help you plan your trip as well.
The Weather in Bhutan
Bhutan has an extremely diverse climate. This is due to the vast variations in altitude, as well as the influence of the southwest and northeast monsoons from India. From late June through September, the southwest monsoon brings heavy rain and high humidity to the southern border region of Bhutan. However, post-monsoon from late September through November, there are bright sunny days and sometimes early snowfall at higher elevations.
Winter (November through March) is the northeast monsoon season, which brings gale force winds through high altitude mountain passes, giving Bhutan its name "Drukyul," meaning Land of the Thunder Dragon. Winter sets in with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall often above 3,000 meters. December and January are the coldest months in Bhutan, with overnight temperatures dropping below zero in Paro, Thimphu, and Bumthang.
Spring is generally dry and pleasant, while summer produces occasional showers and maximum temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).
Peak Season in Bhutan
Passport holders of countries other than India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives must visit Bhutan on a guided tour. The government has set "Minimum Daily Package" rates for all tours. These rates differ according to high and low seasons as follows. High season encompasses March through May, as well as September through November, whereas low season consists of December through February and June through August.
Popular Events and Festivals in Bhutan
Many tourists visit Bhutan to experience the country's fascinating festivals. The Tshechu festivals, held in temples, monasteries, and dzongs (fortresses) all over Bhutan, are a highlight. Communities come together to witness religious mask dances, receive blessings, and socialize at these grand events. Each mask dance has a special meaning behind it, and it's believed that everyone must attend a Tshechu and see the dances at least once in their lifetime to dissolve their sins.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan has a handy extensive event calendar on their website.
Like Autumn, spring in Bhutan is also high tourist season. While the season may be busy, the weather is beautiful and the season hosts many of the country's best celebrations. The ideal season for rafting and kayaking in Bhutan is spring, too.
Events to check out:
- Punakha Drubehen and Tshechu (February or March) -- At picturesque Punakha Dzong, the Punakha Drubchen hosts a dramatic recreation of the scene from Bhutan's 17th century battle with the Tibetan army, who came to seize a precious relic. It's one of the country's most popular Tshechus.
- Paro Tshechu (April) -- Held every spring at Rinpung Dzong, this is the most popular religious dance festival in Bhutan. Early in the morning on the last day of the celebration, the monks display a huge thangka (painting) inside the dzong.
- Gomphu Kora (April) -- Unlike other Tshechu festivals, pilgrims circumambulate the path around the meditation cave at this scenic temple.
- Ura Yakchoe (April or May) -- The Ura Valley in Bumthang is renowned for its Ura Yakchoe dance, performed at this festival. During the festival, a sacred and important relic, passed on from generation to generation, is put on display so that people can receive blessings from it.
Bhutan's monsoon season usually arrives in mid-June, bringing lots of rain. Despite that, the country's lush greenery and lack of crowds can make it an appealing time to visit.
Events to check out:
- Kurjey Tshechu (July) -- The festival takes place at Kurjey Lhakhang, in Bumthang's Chokhor Valley. Apparently, Guru Rimpoche (who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan) meditated there and left an imprint of his body on a rock inside the temple.
- Haa Summer Festival (July) -- The perfect way to be immersed in the culture of the nomadic herders of the Haa Valley, this festival showcase's their traditional lifestyle, food, and sports. You can even stay in a village home and experience local hospitality.
Fall has mild weather, and like spring, many crowds. The scenery is beautiful, with rice fields turning gold before harvest. Many festivals, including Thimphu Tshechu—one of the country's biggest, take place during fall.
Events to check out:
- Thimphu Tshechu (September or October) -- This is one of the biggest festivals in Bhutan and people travel from all over the country to see it. It takes place at Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu. Days and nights of prayer and rituals are undertaken to invoke the gods before the festival.
- Wangdue Tshechu (September or October) -- This Tshechu is known for the Raksha Mangcham, the Dance of the Ox. It concludes with the unfurling of the great Guru Tshengye Thongdrol thangkha.
- Tamshing Phala Choetpa (September) -- Celebrated at Tamzhing Lhakhang in Bumthang, this festival has some rare mask dances unique to the monastery.
- Jambay Lhakhang Tshechu (November) -- Jambay Lhakhang, in Bumthang, is one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. The feature of this festival is an unusual fire ritual with naked dance at midnight.
Winter in Bhutan can be quite cold. Visiting during December, before peak winter has set in, can make for a pleasant trip with minimal crowds and lower prices. You can also see the country's beautiful black-necked cranes in the Phobjikha Valley.
Events to check out:
- Druk Wangyel Tshechu (December) -- This unique Tshechu is performed by the Royal Bhutan Army (rather than Buddhist monks) as a tribute to the wise leadership of the fourth king of Bhutan, and as a celebration of the army's protection of the country. It takes place agains the Jigme Singye Wangchuck mountain range, named after the king.
- Trongsa Tshechu (January) -- One of the oldest festivals of Bhutan, at 17th century Trongsa Dzong. It's believed that the country's festivals were spread from here.
- Nomad Festival in Bumthang (February) -- This special festival brings together the herders of the northeastern and northwestern Himalayan frontiers in an unforgettable celebration of their culture and traditions.