When you arrive at Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan’s most popular site, get ready for an intense climb that yields pleasing panoramas as a reward.
On a well-worn path high above Paro, Bhutan, you will find the most photographed site in this isolated, relatively unknown country: Tiger’s Nest. Ascending to the sacred monastery, which lies at the edge of a jagged cliff some 3,000 feet above the city, requires stamina, an ability to acclimate to elevation, and a few hours of your time. Your return for this endeavor includes sweeping vistas of the Paro Valley and a spiritual, sacred experience.
Where Is Tiger's Nest Located?
Located in upper Paro Valley, Bhutan, Tiger’s Nest sits on a Himalayan cliff approximately 10,000 feet above sea level. (The city of Paro lies at 7,000 feet, plus the 3,000-foot inclination.) From Paro Airport, the only international airport in the country, Tiger’s Nest is a drive about six miles north of town.
INSIDER TIPTo acclimatize to the elevation, wait at least 24 hours after arriving in the country to climb.
What’s Its History?
Known as “Paro Taktsang” in Bhutan, Tiger’s Nest was built in 1692 in the same area where 8th-century Buddhist master Padmasambhava meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours. Padmasambhava is credited as bringing Buddhism to Bhutan and was viewed almost as spiritual as Buddha himself. Today, Tiger’s Nest is known as “Taktsang,” translated to “tiger lair” in English.
INSIDER TIPSchedule your trip to Bhutan during the Paro Tsechu festival, which celebrates the honor of Padmasambhava during March or April each year.
What's the Draw?
Visitors to Tiger’s Nest find the following: a divine, metaphysical experience in one of the holiest places in the country; vibrant statues; an opportunity to exert physical prowess; extensive landscapes of Paro Valley, making for picturesque photographs; a feeling of being at a location bigger than themselves; checking off a UNESCO World Heritage Site on their bucket list; and much more. You will get whatever out of the experience you want, and you will be in good company. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge trekked the route in 2016.
What's the Hike Like and How Long Will it Take?
You should plan for three to five hours for a round-trip, six-kilometer (or four-mile) hike, and expect to expend a significant amount of physical stamina. The hike includes some steep areas with the final ascent requiring stair climbing. The descent can become slippery, especially if the area experienced any rain recently. The terrain includes dirt, gravel, and sand—do not wear your fancy clothes and stay mindful of your speed.
INSIDER TIPFor those who prefer, you can hire horses to take you up halfway. To descend, you must hike all of it on your own.
How Are the Crowds?
The best time to hike is from March to May, as the springtime provides agreeable weather. However, you might face a high number of hikers who can potentially bottleneck the trail. The best option is to hike later in the day when crowds have generally dispersed. The next most congenial time to hike is in the fall from October to December; you might experience some rain and snow, but fewer crowds.
What Should I Wear?
Visiting a religious site, you should cover your shoulders, legs, and toes. Once you reach Tiger’s Nest, guards will ask you to remove your hat and other ancillary clothing they deem inappropriate for entrance. (Don’t worry about where to store these items; these guards will provide you with complimentary lockers.) For the hike itself, you should wear close-toed hiking boots or running shoes and comfortable clothing.
INSIDER TIPLayering your clothes helps. Bring a jacket tied around your waist that you can slip on as you rise in elevation.
What Equipment Would Be Helpful?
For anyone who finds hiking uphill challenging, you can purchase walking sticks before you begin. If you arrive in the afternoon, you might find abandoned walking sticks from morning hikers at the base of the climb. Because the hike takes a few hours to complete, you might want to consider bringing a small snack like trail mix and a bottle of water or sports drink. If you want to bring your phone and money, a small backpack or fanny pack will keep your hands free, especially if you decide to use a walking stick.
Are There Good Stopping Points Along the Way?
Yes, at the halfway mark. You can visit the Taktshang Cafeteria to relax your legs and order tea that will both hydrate you and refresh your body in the thin, mountain air. Also, at the halfway point, a popular sitting area with crystal clear views of Tiger’s Nest makes for quality photographs.
What Can I Expect When I Reach Tiger's Nest?
Once you reach the monastery, you will be greeted by guards, other tourists, and perhaps Buddhist monks milling around the front. Upon entering Tiger’s Nest, you can expect more steps (you’re not done climbing yet!), coves with colorful Buddhist statues and various offerings around them, and above all, a sacred ambiance.
INSIDER TIPFor anyone with claustrophobia, stay away from the small entrances peppered throughout the monastery and keep to the coves.
What Should I Bring Into Tiger's Nest?
To pay homage to Padmasambhava, Bhutanese visitors often bring bouquets of flowers, money, and other offerings into the Tiger’s Nest monastery. If you wish to do the same, keeping these items in a backpack will make the trek easier rather than holding them in your hands. At the bottom of the climb, you can purchase souvenirs made by locals for nominal prices.