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The first time I learned of Bhutan was from a postcard that featured the nation’s most famous landmark: the Tiger’s Nest.
Formally known as the Taktsang Palphug Monastery, the Tiger’s Nest is also one of the most sacred sites in this Buddhist kingdom. Hiking to the Tiger’s Nest is one of the must-haves for almost every visitor to Bhutan, and it’s not hard to see why.
The Tiger’s Nest is located 3,100 meters (10,171 feet) up in the air on the side of a cliff in Bhutan’s Paro Valley.
It is believed that the 8th-century Buddhist master Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambahva) flew to this cliff from Tibet on the back of a tigress (a manifestation of his wife). He meditated there and blessed the site, and for hundreds of years after, many prominent Buddhists also meditated at the site.
The temple complex itself was built hundreds of years later in 1692 (by one of Guru Rinpoche’s reincarnations, according to our guide).
How do I visit the Tiger’s Nest?
To get to the Tiger’s Nest, you have to climb 900 meters up from Paro Valley. Distance-wise, the hike is approximately 5 miles round-trip.
While that doesn’t sound like much, the hike to the Tiger’s Nest can be strenuous depending on your fitness level as well as your experience with acclimating to high altitudes. Before we went, we were told it takes an average of 3 hours to get up to the monastery, followed by the visit and then another 2 or 3 hours back down.
Personally, I’d gotten used to walking everywhere during my travels and had been feeling a little restless being chauffeured around with a private driver all week. So by the 5th day of our Bhutan trip when our visit to the Tiger’s Nest was planned, I was absolutely ready to go. In turn, I think I more than wore out our poor guide who had never done it so fast despite having hiked to the Tiger’s Nest more than 70 times.
For us, it took less than 35 minutes to get to the halfway point and then another 25 to the main viewpoint. The last segment from the viewpoint down to the Tiger’s Nest was punctuated by the frequent photo op stops, but even with that, the total ascent only took us around 90 minutes.
Coming down, it took us around 35 minutes to get to the mid-mountain cafeteria for our tea and lunch stop, and then about 20 or so minutes to get all the way down once we ate.
For me, the pace was normal and nothing more than how I hike regularly.
But I do want to acknowledge that the hike can be strenuous for many people. There’s nothing wrong with taking it at a slower pace, as many visitors do. This is especially the case if you’re not used to high altitudes. I also felt some fatigue at the highest altitudes around the main viewpoint, and I’d just come from trekking in the Himalayas. (I’d also hiked the Inca Trail earlier during my funemployment.)
So if you haven’t been physically active in high elevations recently, please take it slow, hydrate, and listen to your body.
You can also hire a horse to take you up halfway if you’d like, but everyone must go by foot the rest of the way if they wish to reach the monastery.
Related: Check out these other places to visit in Paro.
What do I need to visit the Tiger’s Nest?
First off, good shoes. While there is a maintained trail, you are still hiking up a mountain, and the part between the main viewpoint and monastery has a lot of steep stairs.
When we got to the start of the trail around 8 a.m., it was utterly freezing. I was so cold I was cursing myself for not bringing my scarf and an additional layer. But within 5 minutes of starting the hike, I was so warm I was unzipping my down coat and removing my beanie.
The day we visited in mid-December, the morning temperatures ranged from 9° F to 41° F. I wore a thermal top base layer, a sweater, workout leggings, a down parka, and a knit beanie. The beanie came off quickly and the parka was also off by the time we got to the halfway point.
Third, water! Besides the obvious fact that water is important to have when you’re hiking, staying hydrated will also help you deal with the side effects of the high altitude.
You’ll also need a good attitude, potentially walking sticks as the downhill trek can be rather steep and slippery, and your guide.
Once you get up to the monastery, your guide will lay on you all the history and stories about Guru Rinpoche, the Tiger’s Nest, and all intricacies of the monastery. Your guide will show you the temple showcasing the eight manifestations that Guru Rinpoche can turn into and tell you the story of the talking Buddha, the only valuable part of the monastery to survive when the complex burned down in 1998. (Yep, surprise! Everything you see was actually built in the past 20 years!)
Keep in mind that no photos or videos are allowed inside the temple complex, and you’ll be asked to leave all your stuff outside. That includes phones, cameras, and water bottles — there are small lockers you can use.
A guard will also pat you down and check your tickets (which your guide will have) before letting you proceed. Keep in mind that the Tiger’s Nest is an extremely sacred and holy place, so please respect their rules.
Other things to know: there’s a bathroom at the base as well as one at the mid-mountain cafeteria. It’s 20 ngultrums for the base bathroom and free for the cafeteria one if you stop for a snack or meal, as most people do (if only for a bathroom break!).
And apparently, there is another way down the mountain instead of doubling back on the same path. It’s not maintained, however, and only used sparingly by monks.
Still filled with plenty of energy and full from lunch, I suggested we take a hike on that route too. Both our guide and my friend agreed… for me to go forth and for them to nap in the car. Ha.
Got any other questions about visiting the Tiger’s Nest? Ask them in the comments below!
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