Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan has been on my bucket list for a long time. This beautiful monastery appears to sit impossibly on the side of a jagged cliff in Bhutan. I knew a visit here was a must-do when headed to Bhutan, but I had no idea what to expect.
I headed to google, of course and found a wide variation in reports about how difficult it was to visit Tiger’s Nest, how long it took, was hiking/trekking was the only way there and back, etc. So when I hiked to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, I took detailed notes to put together this post. I hope it helps you to plan your trip to Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
What is Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
Table of Contents
- What is Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
- The hike up to Tiger’s Nest Monastery
- Visiting Tiger’s Nest Monastery
- Hiking back to the carpark
- Comfort Camp Lunch
- Tiger’s Nest Bhutan Monastery Hike timings
- Tiger’s Nest Monastery Frequently Asked Questions
- How difficult is it to hike to Tiger’s Nest?
- What is the best time of year to hike to Tiger’s Nest?
- Do you buy tickets to visit Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
- Why is it called Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
- What is the closest city to Tiger’s Nest?
- How long does it take to climb to Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
- Do I have to hike to visit Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
- What is the best time of day to hike to Tiger’s Nest?
- Does anyone live at Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
- Is there a dress code for visiting the Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
- What can I see at the Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
- What is the history of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
- Where to Stay
- How to Travel around Bhutan
- How to Travel to Bhutan
Tiger’s Nest Monastery or Paro Taktsang, is the most popular tourist attraction in Bhutan and a UNESCO-listed site. It is believed that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche or the second Buddha) flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tiger in the 8th century. He anointed the location as a site for a monastery. From the 11th century, Tibetan saints and other major figures visited Tiger’s Nest to meditate.
The first monastery was built at the location in 1692. In April 1998, it is believed that butter lamps in the monastery caused a major fire. The majority of the monastery was destroyed. Restorations took place between 1998 and 2005. Bhutanese people from all over the country traveled to help with the restoration. It reopened to the public in 2005.
The hike up to Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Like most hikes or treks, the walk to Tiger’s Nest Monastery starts in a car park. It is possible to see Tiger’s Nest from the car park, plus you can see the car park many times during the trek and feel good about how far you have walked!
Large signs detailing the types of birds which may be seen on the hike through the pine forest are at the beginning of the trek. We had many winged companions as we walked, which added to the atmosphere, as well as many local dogs.
After ten minutes of walking, we reached the first prayer wheel, powered by water. The water that feeds into the prayer wheel is said to become blessed.
The path is very well-marked and quite smooth. It is made from dried sand, soil and rocks. It can be narrow. The weather was very dry when I did the hike. I have read that the path can be quite slippery when wet, so check the weather conditions.
Steps are built into many sections. I found the first hour of the hike to be the most difficult, and my lungs felt the altitude. This section was quite relentlessly steep.
There is an option to ride a horse up this section of the trek. Personally, I would have found this quite scary. The path is steep, and I can’t imagine being perched on a horse and climbing up. Apparently, it is quite easy to fall off the horse. Also, a horse can only be taken to the halfway point of the climb.
The views along the way are stunning. There are wonderful views of Tiger’s Nest, and it is very satisfying to see views of the car park that show how far you have progressed. There are many prayer flags along the way and more prayer wheels.
We reached the halfway point after a fairly relentless 50-minute walk. The halfway point has a traditional-style wooden Bhutanese building that is relatively new. It is home to the Tiger’s Nest cafeteria. There is plenty of space inside as well as wonderful big ceilings. However, the best place to head is the terrace, which has spectacular views of Tiger’s Nest.
We arrived at the cafeteria just after 8:30am and it was serving coffee, cakes, and beer. The cafeteria also serves lunch. Some visitors choose to end their Tiger’s Nest climb at this point.
I found the second half of the climb up to Tiger’s Nest easier than the first. The path had more flat sections as well as downhill sections. And, of course, the views got better and better.
The section of the path closest to the monastery is a stone staircase and safety balustrades were added during the covid lockdown. My guide told me of two visitors who had fallen to their deaths taking selfies in recent years!
This section also provides the first close views of the monastery. We decided to take our photos on the way back as we realised the sun would have climbed higher at that point and would be shining on the monastery.
Just before the monastery, a beautiful waterfall runs down the rocks and drops 60 meters into a sacred pool. A few more uphill steps and we arrived at Tiger’s Nest Monastery!
Visiting Tiger’s Nest Monastery
The entrance to the monastery is where tickets can be purchased or pre-bought tickets shown. Visitors cannot take anything with them into the monastery, including phones and cameras. All items are left in lockers at the entrance. Visitors must remove their shoes when entering the temples inside the monastery.
Four main temples can be visited in the monastery, as well as four caves (there are nine caves in total). The caves and temples are all connected with rock steps and stairways. It is possible to meditate in the temples. I did this and recommend it. How often can you meditate in perhaps the world’s most famous monastery?
It is a good idea to bring small bills of Bhutanese money with you to the monastery. It is customary to leave offerings in all of the temples. Also, one of the caves has butter lamps and for an offering, the monk will light a lamp for you.
The fire at the monastery in 1998 was catastrophic. Only two things survived. One was the largest Buddha statue. Guru Rinpoche. in the monastery. The second was the dirt cave, Pel Phug, which is said to be where Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) meditated in the 8th century. It is also believed that other famous visitors to the monastery, such as the Unifier mediated in this cave. The cave can be seen from above in one of the temples. It is only open to the public one day a year.
The only person who lives at the monastery is the Lama. He is responsible for the monastery. There is a small house next to the entrance to the monastery where security guards live. They come for one month at a time and protect the entrance to the monastery.
Hiking back to the carpark
The initial return journey to the carpark involves a decent amount of uphill steps. We passed the waterfall and 15 minutes later had returned to the viewpoint, where we took many photos. I would recommend taking your shots from the higher area at the viewpoint, as you will then have them without balustrades. There are many ledges made for posing.
Once finishing the paved stairs section, it is a much faster and easy walk down to the car park. I am not the bravest when it comes to walking downhill, but most of the steep sections have stairs of some type which helped.
Comfort Camp Lunch
I can’t imagine a better way to finish a hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery than with a comfort camp lunch. When we arrived at the base of the climb, I saw a rug, a small table and cushions. The table was fully dressed with greenery, snacks, plates, cutlery, and a view of Tiger’s Nest. The lunch was organized by our wonderful tour company, MyBhutan. The chef MyBhutan use to prepare the comfort lunch cooks for Bhutan‘s King at special events.
The food was wonderful. We trekked to Tiger’s Nest on our last day in Bhutan, so the chef chose to prepare Tibetan food to give us something new to eat. We began with a wonderful charcuterie-style plate of orange pieces, nuts and dried fruits and cheese.
Then came dish after dish of Tibetan delights. Potatoes with peas, a salad with cucumber, carrots, onions and sesame seeds, a beef dish with onions, massive dumplings, a chicken dish and rice. The dessert was fresh fruit with homemade strawberry yoghurt.
Tiger’s Nest Bhutan Monastery Hike timings
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I took detailed notes during my hike, including how long each section took. I am a 51 year old female who is relatively fit and has no health issues.
7:50 am Began walking from the car park (2,200 metres)
7:58 am Reached the first water-powered prayer wheel
8:39 am Reached the halfway point (just under 5,000 steps) (2,600 metres)
9:00 am Left the halfway point
9:40 am Reached the steps that go down to the monastery
9:48 am Waterfall
9:55 am Arrived at Tiger’s Nest (8,600 steps) (3,000 meters)
10:47 am Left Tiger’s Nest
11:18 am Left photo spot
11:49 am Reached the halfway point
12:26 pm Arrived back at the carpark (16,500 steps)
Tiger’s Nest Monastery Frequently Asked Questions
How difficult is it to hike to Tiger’s Nest?
The answer to this depends on your fitness level. If you are relatively fit, it is not particularly difficult. No specialist equipment of any type is required. However, if you have lung or heart issues you may find the climb very difficult as it requires ascending 800 metres in a short amount of time.
What is the best time of year to hike to Tiger’s Nest?
The most popular time to hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery is between March and May. However, the path can be quite busy, and the weather is warm. November through January can be a better time to climb to Tiger’s Nest as the sky tends to be clearer and there are fewer people. Please note it is possible to climb to Tiger’s Nest all year round. Do be careful if you are visiting when it is or has been raining, as the path can be quite slippery. And check out my post on the best times to visit Bhutan for more information.
Do you buy tickets to visit Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
No tickets are required for the hike to and from Tiger’s Nest. However, a ticket is necessary to gain entry to the monastery. Visitors can only head to Tiger’s Nest with a tour guide. Your guide will take care of the tickets for you.
Why is it called Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
It is believed that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) flew to the location of Tiger’s Nest from Tibet on the back of a tiger in the 8th century.
What is the closest city to Tiger’s Nest?
The city of Paro is only 10 miles south of the starting point to climb Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
How long does it take to climb to Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
If you are reasonably fit, it should take approx two hours to climb up to the monastery (not including stops) and one hour to hike down. Plan on spending around 45 minutes at the actual monastery. Including stopping for a breath and coffee plus taking photos if you are relatively fit, the entire expedition should take around 5 hours.
Do I have to hike to visit Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
Tiger’s Nest Monastery cannot be accessed by car, plane, helicopter, bus or train. There are only two options: foot and horseback. However, it is only possible to travel via horse from the car park to the halfway point. Horses cannot take visitors past the halfway point and they cannot take visitors down. Having seen the horses and how steep the climb can be, personally I would rather be on my own two feet.
What is the best time of day to hike to Tiger’s Nest?
In the morning. I began walking at 7:50am. We saw only a few people on the way up to the monastery, and the weather was lovely. There was no queue to get into the monastery, and very few people were there. In my opinion, having so few people in the monastery very much added to its special feel. I saw many more people hiking on the way down.
Does anyone live at Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
The only person who lives at the Monastery is the Lama.
Is there a dress code for visiting the Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
Yes, there is a dress code for visiting the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Visitors are expected to dress modestly and cover their shoulders and knees. It is also recommended to remove shoes and hats before entering the temples.
What can I see at the Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is home to several temples, shrines, and meditation caves. Visitors can explore the main temple, which contains a large statue of Guru Rinpoche, as well as the “Tiger’s Lair” cave. The monastery also offers panoramic views of the Paro Valley and the Himalayan mountain range.
What is the history of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is believed to have been founded in the 8th century by the Tibetan Buddhist master Guru Rinpoche, who is also known as Padmasambhava. According to legend, Guru Rinpoche flew to the site on the back of a tigress and meditated in a cave for three months, during which time he hid many sacred texts and relics. The cave where Guru Rinpoche meditated is now known as the “Tiger’s Lair.” The present-day monastery was built in the 17th century by the Bhutanese saint Tenzin Rabgye.
Where to Stay
I can’t think of anywhere better to stay before and after visiting Tiger’s Nest than the beautiful Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary Hotel. It is the first and only 5-star traditional spa resort in Bhutan. The hotel is laid out in a traditional Bhutanese style. Entering the hotel feels as much like arriving at a high-end monastery as it does a boutique hotel.
Get ready to drop your jaw when you enter the main building and see the two-story floor-to-ceiling windows of the Neyphu Valley. We were also invited to light butter lamps and choose our own locally-made soap for our stay.
My terrace room was huge at 54 square meters plus an 8 square meter terrace. The rooms are simply designed with wooden floors, white walls, and wooden beams on the white ceilings. My massive bed was homed in a traditional Bhutanese structure, and I had a living area with a coach, coffee table, armchair, and table with two chairs. A small wardrobe to the side of the room took care of my case.
The bathroom had two sinks, a deep tub, a walk-in shower and a walk-in toilet. The floors were heated, and bathrobes were provided. In addition to the usual toiletries, Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary provides a toothbrush and toothpaste pills (just add water) for guests.
All rooms have coffee and tea facilities, including a large range of herbal teas. We also received some wonderful chocolates and a copy of the book, which was part of the inspiration for Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, The Restful Mind by Gyalwa Dokhampa.
Dinner was a six-course farm-to-table in the lovely restaurant. We began with a quirky nachos amuse bouche followed by pumpkin soup. Grilled vegetables were next, and then a single ravioli. The dessert was a creamy custard tart. We washed all of this down with some Bhutanese wine, a cabernet sauvignon from Raven.
Breakfast the next morning was just as good. We received homemade pastries, bread, local cheeses and fruit. A selection of “main” breakfast dishes are then available, from yogurt and granola to pancakes to porridge. I enjoyed a cheese and vegetable omelet.
All hotel guests can make use of the spa. The heated indoor swimming pool is huge and has floor-to-ceiling windows. There are two saunas, one steam room, and two jacuzzis. Free yoga and meditation classes are available and there is a fitness center.
The spa has six treatment rooms. A consultation with an in-house traditional medicine doctor is included in the room rate for all guests. The doctor can then advise you on the best treatments to suit whatever is ailing you. I had two fantastic massages at Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary that worked miracles on my tight neck and shoulders.
After visiting Tiger’s Nest, I returned to Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary for a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath. These baths are regularly taken by Bhutanese people throughout the year but particularly in the winter. The stones are heated and then placed in a bath to heat them. It is believed that the stones contain valuable minerals that are transferred into the water and then into the guest!
I needed to add some cold water to my hot stone bath before I was brave enough to immerse myself. But wow once I did, it felt amazing!!! I managed to stay in the hot stone bath for only 10 minutes (one hour is recommended). However, the combination of my post-trek hot stone bath and massage meant that my muscles were virtually pain-free the day after the trek to Tiger’s Nest.
How to Travel around Bhutan
There is quite a bit of conflicting information online regarding the “rules” around visiting Bhutan. The key reason is that major changes have happened to Bhutan’s tourism policy since Covid. I will try to break down the key points visitors need to know.
In the past, most visitors to Bhutan paid a $USD65 “tourism tax” for each day of their stay in Bhutan. This also covered basic services such as a 3-star hotel. To stay in, say a 5-star hotel, visitors would have to pay to upgrade. Neighboring countries tended to pay a lower tax or none at all. Independent travel was not allowed.
Since covid 19, the Bhutanese Government has introduced a new SDF or sustainable development fee of USD$200 a day. This must be paid by all visitors to Bhutan and does not cover any services eg visitors pay the SDF in addition to all of their other costs, such as accommodation, guides, food etc. The purpose of the new SDF is to fund local programs and prevent over-tourism.
Independent travel to Bhutan is now allowed. However, if you want to visit tourist attractions, go trekking, or explore outside Paro and Thimpu, a guide will be required. Also, the roads in Bhutan are of varying quality and can be very tricky due to the country’s mountainous terrain. I would absolutely recommend having a driver rather than doing your own driving.
A visa and travel insurance are required to visit Bhutan.
I traveled to Bhutan with the wonderful MyBhutan. MyBhutan is run by an American, Matt, who spends a good deal of time in Bhutan and locals staff the company. We had a guide and a driver for our entire stay. As I have already mentioned, I would not want to drive in Bhutan.
MyBhutan put together our itinerary and booked everything. We were able to review the itinerary ahead of the trip and provide feedback for changes as well as ask questions on everything from the quality of the accommodation to the difficult of the hikes. I have an allergy to spicy food. MyBhutan ensured that everywhere we ate was aware of my allergy and nothing spicy appeared on my plate.
MyBhutan did cover part of the cost of my trip to Bhutan. However, I only recommend organisations with whom I have worked that offer excellent services at fair prices and I highly recommend using MyBhutan for your trip to Bhutan.
When you book your trip with MyBhutan use the code BOUTIQUE and you’ll receive a free hot stone bath with your booking.
Our guide accompanied me on the hike to Tiger’s Nest. Although the path is quite straightforward I preferred having someone with me and he was able to explain the various prayer wheels and points of interest on the way. He also took care of the entrance to the Monastery and was my guide in the monastery.
How to Travel to Bhutan
Fewer than ten pilots worldwide are licensed to fly in and out of Paro Airport. There are only two airlines that fly to Bhutan, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. These airlines operate from Bangkok, Kathmandu and five cities in India (New Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Gaya, and Bagdogra). However, if you fly in and out of India you will need a visa, even if you are only in transit.
MyBhutan can book flights to and from Bhutan for you as part of their service.