Tested Itinerary: Bhutan – Visit the Magical Buddhist Mountain Kingdom – 12 Days

Is visiting Bhutan on your bucket list? This tested Bhutan itinerary will take you to see the highlights. And if it’s not on your bucket list, you should add it (photos here and here). Below is how to do it with minimal planning and maximum fun.

We did this trip with 2 adults (kids 8+ ok). I recommend 10 days at least, and it will take you two days each to get there and back. Book as early as you can, as domestic flights sell out fast (see below why you want those).

This post focuses only on the itinerary aspects of this trip, and makes some recommendations on choices to make. The quickest way to book this is to copy the itinerary section below into an e-mail to a local travel agent (recommendations at the bottom) and have them come up with proposals. Book the flights yourself, or through your home agent.

The Tested Itinerary

  • Day 1/2 – Fly to Paro (PBH) – the one international airport in Bhutan.
  • Day 2-10 – Fly to Jakar/Bumthan, then slowly make your way back to Paro. Make sure you visit.
    • Taktsang Gomba (Tiger’s Nest). Do it on last day when acclimatized. The operator will plan to be back in Paro a day early anyway, in case of delays because of road closure etc.
    • Do a home stay. We stayed in Ngang Lhakhang Manor, but there are plenty.
    • Stay at Ogyen Choling. This was our best hotel. Shift your dates if you must :-).
    • Stay in town in Timphu, so you can walk the town and shop in the evening. This is where you want to shop.
    • Trust the operator and guide. They have done this many times. Small changes to the itinerary are no problem if you are in a small group, so if you want to see one more temple, or say the textile museum, you can easily arrange that after arrival.
    • Visit a big Festival if the timing works out.
  • Day 12/14 – Fly home.
  • If you have extra time, visit the Taj Majal and Delhi on the way in/out.

Getting There

You have to use a Bhutanese airline to fly to Paro, Bhutan. We flew from Delhi. Bangkok is another good option.

Delhi is awesome because you can visit the Taj Majal during the layover. But in DEL you have to go through immigration (no transfer) and it is slow, both entering and leaving the country. Expect to spend up to three hours both arriving and departing. Going out there is nothing you can do to accelerate, but going in will be easier with a proper visa from the embassy. Don’t use an Indian e-visa until they decrease processing time. If you do anyway, know that the second time entering (on the way back) you can go to the regular, faster line.

You also need a visa for Bhutan. Your travel agency will take care of that and any other permits you will need.


As a Westerner, you need to book through an approved local tour agency, and it will cost $250/day (minimum). There is no benefit of adding an intermediary who takes a cut, so just book directly with the local agency.

The $250 will cover everything but drinks other than water and tea, souvenirs, and donations at temples (unless you want unnecessary high-end hotels). This is true whether you are in a big group, a small group or even single. Thus just do your own tour. Which, if you are just 2 people, will give you a very comfortable SUV instead of a van or bus.

For your money, you will be accompanied by a guide and a driver every day. They are not a minders. After they drop you at the hotel, they will hang out with friends and family and you are free to go explore on your own.

Bhutan has one major east west road. You can drive the road both ways, but it will take you at least an extra day (i.e. $250). You can safe yourself pain, time, and money by flying to Jakar, and just drive back. It’s a no-brainer. Some agency don’t fly the guide with you to save money, so you get two different guides. Make sure your agency flies your guide with you (the poor driver has to drive the car, though). Note: This flight has only 20 passengers due to high altitude, so seats sell out quickly. Book as early as you can!

You can trek in Bhutan, but at $250/day it’s a bit pricey. Consider trekking in Nepal and spend your time in Bhutan on a cultural visit instead. You still have plenty of opportunity to walk, either on a dedicated hiking day, or just around town at the various stops. Tell the operator and the guide that you like to walk, and he’ll send the driver ahead to the hotel, while you walk around town.

Dress Code

Bhutanese have their own national dress (Gho/Kira), and most of them wear it most of the time. As a tourist, you need to be properly dressed, too. This means a long sleeved shirt (full length, no 3/4). It seems for men, a polo with collar is ok, but a t-shirt without collar won’t get you into the administrative buildings, which means most castles. Jeans and a shirt would work, but you may be better off with the standard westerner hiking pants/shirts from your outdoors store. Leave your shorts at home, you cannot wear them. You will have to take off your shoes in temples, so wear socks.

Travel Agency

We used Firefox – Google for [Firefox Tours Bhutan]. They are super responsive. Send an e-mail to Firefox, with your dates, and the above itinerary, and you’ll get a few suggestions back.

Firefox Tours: info@firefoxtours.com


Get a local SIM card. Local SIMs are cheap and you likely have much better coverage. It takes half an hour to get one in a city (Paro, Timphu, even Bumthang). You can recharge it in small stores anywhere.

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PSA: Gate 16J, or what to do when Stevens Creek Trail is closed at 101.

During heavy rains Stevens Creek floods Stevens Creek Trail at 101. As a result, the trail gets closed, and it often stays closed for the beautiful days after the storm.

There are three detour options (scroll down for an aerial view).

Stevens Creek Detours when it’s closed under 101 (the green Stevens Creek Trail marker on the map).


  • East on Moffet
    If walking/running, cross to the South side – there is no sidewalk on the North Side. Be careful on the 101 crossing. They are controlled intersections, but they are huge.
  • Left before the Moffet Field entry gate
    Google Maps calls this MT Jones road, and as of February 2017, Google Maps will not route you on this road. It will send you into the Moffet Field guarded perimeter. You so not need to go into Moffet Field.
    There is a lot of construction going on. Remove ear buds and head sets, and watch for heavy equipment that may not see you. Especially during the week.
  • Left at the end of the wind tunnel
    That would be the huge building on the right. There is lots of construction going on, but you may see a sign for PG&E. It’s a narrow passage on the left, after the National Guard.
  • Follow the packed earth/gravel path along Steven’s Creek.

The gravel road on the east side of Stevens Creek


  • West on Moffet
    Under the 85 overpass
  • Right on Middlefield Road
  • Right on Shoreline
  • Right on La Avenida
    Just before the Computer History Museum. You could also continue on Shoreline all the way to Shoreline Park.

Looking back. On the right is Stevens Creek Trail. On the left is the gravel road, and in the distance, the wind tunnel

Permanente Creek

  • West on Moffet
    Under the 85 overpass
  • Right on Middlefield
  • Continue on Middlefield at Shoreline
  • Right on Siera Vista
  • Right on Rock St
  • Left on Permanente Creek Trail

Below is a satellite view of the three routes.

Stevens Creek Detours when it’s closed under 101 (the green Stevens Creek Trail marker on the map). The big building on the right, at about 3 o’clock, above the (B) marker is the wind tunnel. You cannot miss it.

It normally takes a few days to clean the trail before it opens up again. As you can see below, they open it up quickly…

Stevens Creek under 101. Just a bit more water, and the trail floods, leading to closure.




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PSA: The Great American Eclipse of 2017


Book your travel this week. Accommodation and Transportation is filling up fast.

If you don’t want to do the research, book a flight to Portland, OR (PDX) on Saturday or Sunday, back on Tuesday. Get a rental car and book a hotel in Portland or close. On Monday, get up at 5am, check the weather, and drive to the closest area inside the path of the eclipse that promises a cloud free sky.

What’s going on?

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 is happening August 21st. The moon will completely cover the sun for a bit over 2 minutes. If you want to see it, you may need to plan ahead.  It will be like this:

The next one in the US mainland will be August 21st, 2017, around 10:30am. 12M Americans just have to s step outside and hope for a cloud free sky. If you are one of them, block your calendar from 9am to noon. The rest of us has to travel. Check now if you can take the day off. Your kids may already be back to school.

1. Decide Destination

Find out where you want to go first. Distance to where you live, and expected weather are the main criteria. Madras, OR is a good location if you live in Silicon Valley, as it’s close and typically has good weather in August. (If your company has an office in Portland, a visit there is worth a shot, too. The visitor desks will be busy.)

2. Book Accommodation and Flights – now

Hotels are sold out out along the path. Expect to have to drive an hour or two on the day of the eclipse, and expect traffic jams.

But there is an opening coming this week (week before 2/19) for Federal Campgrounds that take reservations 6 months in advance. These sites will go fast. Portland still has some reasonable priced flights, mostly because there are so many flights from Silicon Valley to Portland. But flying to, say Redmond, OR, costs $800 already…

More Information

For Geeks

This guys computed the irregular shadow using elevation models of the Earth and the Moon and created an amazing video. The practical impact of this level of details is minimal, as you want to be in the middle of the shadow anyway, not at the edge. But it’s awesome.


Solarfest is the local even in Madras, OR. Their Facebook page has more updates than their Web site.

National Eclipse

They have some background information and some nice maps on their site.

Next Chances


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Tested Itinerary: Galapagos – Walk in Darwin’s Steps – 11 days

Is visiting the Galapagos Islands on your bucket list? This tested Galapagos itinerary will take you to Galapagos, and Quito, Ecuador’s capital with minimal planning and maximum fun.

We did this trip with 3 kids from 8-14 years old.  I recommend ~5 days on a cruise, and ~3 days in Quito at a minimum.

This post focuses only on the itinerary aspects of this trip, and makes some recommendations on choices to make. The quickest way to book this is to copy the itinerary section below into an e-mail to a travel agent (recommendations at the bottom) and have them come up with proposals.

The Tested Itinerary

  • Day 1 – Fly to Quito. Relax
  • Day 2-6 – Fly to Galapagos Islands, Cruise, Fly back. Spend 5 days on the boat.
  • Day 7-10 Spend time in Quito and visit the surroundings – especially Otavalo. You want a Saturday in Otavalo, and you want to spend Friday night there.
  • If you have extra time and interest, consider visiting a rain forest, like Maquipucuna.
  • Day 11 – Travel Back.

Getting There

From SFO and other US cities, it’s a red eye on United through Houston. Stay the night, acclimatize, rest. We stayed an extra day. I don’t like to rush things, but it’s probably ok to just stay one night, or possibly head straight to Galapagos. You may also fly through Guaiaquil.

The Cruise

You have to make a few decisions regarding the ship, foremost Size and Itinerary. We picked a large ship and chose the South Eastern Islands. 5 Days 4 nights.


You are trading stability and amenities of a larger boat against intimacy of a small boat. We chose the go with a 100 passenger boat, which is maximum size of boat allowed by the National Park Service. This is also the maximum number of people they let anchor at any given spot. While a smaller boat may be more intimate, you may end up with multiple boats at the same place.


These boats are on a two week itinerary to most of the Islands. Unless you want to stay 2 weeks on the cruise (why not, if you have the time and means), you will need to pick a part of this. Which Islands mostly depends on the alignment of your travel dates and the ship itinerary.

Travel Agency

This itinerary requires some transfers, and various bookings. We don’t usually use travel agencies, but did for this time for the Ecuador part and just booked the flights ourselves (to Quito). I recommend both Gabriela Fuentes our travel agent and the agency. They seem expensive, but we got premium service and everything worked out very well. There is of course no guarantee for that.

We had great drivers, and always felt save. That folks that spoke English, spoke it very well (on one trip we had an extra guide, so the driver didn’t need to speak English, but understood quite a bit anyway). I organized everything over e-mail. As a heads up, you probably end up wiring a lot of money because credit card (or PayPal) fees will be significant on this transaction. Galapagos is not a cheap destination – by design.

Send an e-mail to Columbus Travel, with your dates, and the above itinerary, and you’ll get a few suggestions back.

Descripción: GabrielaFuentes


There is very little signal on the Islands. Both T-Mobile and Google Fi worked well enough in Quito. Don’t bother with a local SIM, unless you travel around the mainland a bit.

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