While Bhutan is a relatively small country in South Asia, its main draw for tourists is the Wangchuck Centennial National Park. The nation is built on principles of sustainability, conservation and preservation. Bhutan is also the only country on earth that measures its progress by the happiness of its people. The use the Gross National Happiness scale. Through ecotourism, people from around the world are able to visit this beautiful country while preserving its natural areas. During your stay you can expect to see Bhutan monasteries, religious festivals, cultural tours and protected animal species such as the snow leopard.
Bhutan and its residents have struggled in recent years to earn a living. This led to the introduction of ecotourism in the region. Due to the country’s pristine ecosystem and environmental conservation, its government developed the “homestay programme” in partnership with WWF (World Wildlife Fund). Tourists are able to stay in traditional Bhutanese homes as a member of each home’s host family. You are also encouraged to participate in the local activities such as festivals, programs for environmental education and local crafts. Since it’s establishment, 21 family homes are now participating in the homestay programme – all located in Wangchuck Centennial National Park, the country’s largest conservation area.
Bhutan is home to hundreds of monasteries, sprinkled across the country. One of the most popular is the Taktsang Monastery, otherwise known as Tiger’s Nest, because of its location along the side of a 1,200 meter cliff. This religious structure was built in 1692 and is the most-visited monastery in the country. As the world’s last Buddhist Kingdom, this Bhutan monastery is also a highly important Buddhist site for its culture.
Throughout Bhutan’s history, many monasteries have closed their doors and become defense dwellings or sites of cultural activities. These temples, or “dzongs”, can hold other purposes as well such as monk living quarters or religious centers. One of the most breathtaking views in the country is Bumthang Valley, “the Switzerland of Bhutan”. It is home to the nation’s oldest sacred monuments – some even dating back further than 1,200 years. It is tradition for every Bhutanese person to visit the valley once in their life to receive a blessing and cleansing of all sins.
With 70% of Bhutan’s land made up of forest, it is the perfect landscape for snow leopards to hunt and thrive. Thanks to a recent law, one-third of the country is now a national park area with protection of hundreds of species of birds and thousands of species of plants. Due to the adopted homestay programme, the Bhutanese are able to protect and maintain their environment including these various species.
In Jigme Dorji National Park, snow leopards often feed on yaks which also creates a problem for local farmers and herders. While their livestock declined at first because of these animals, practices such as livestock monitoring and snow leopard management have allowed herders and other residents to live in peace with the large cats.
Due to Bhutan’s pristine environment and conservation practices, the country limits the number of tourists allowed each year to continually manage its ecosystems. One night in a homestay can range from $200-$300 per night and can vary in price throughout the year. The country is also only accessible through the Paro International Airport. This is, however, driving up the price of airfare on it’s sole airline. Wangchuck Centennial National Park is currently working with Bhutan to develop a booking system for interested tourists to reserve a homestay online themselves and this should be up and running in the near future. Interested in finding out more about mixing luxury with sustainability? See our list of favorite eco-friendly spaces from around the world.