Bhutan Base Camp
Get way out there at a new hotel in the foothills of the Himalayas
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It’s hard to wing it in Bhutan. The government famously controls tourism, imposing a daily $250 guide fee to access the country’s 20,000-foot peaks and deep river valleys. But at the new Uma Punakha—a nine-room, two-villa luxury hotel in the subtropical, ancient city of Punakha—the fees are factored in, so you can spend your energy choosing your own adventure from the hotel’s spectacularly remote location. Punakha is 80 mountainous miles (and a four-hour car ride) from tourist hubs like Thimphu, yet rooms still come with Wi-Fi and a private terrace overlooking the Mo Chu River valley. Explore the blue-pine-and-rhododendron-covered hills with scenic rafting on the Class II–V Mo Chu ($450, arranged by the hotel), day hikes into nearby Jigme Dorji National Park (home to snow leopards), and thrilling mountain-bike descents ($60 with a hotel guide). Or explore the country on the lodge’s seven-night Himalayan Explorer excursion between Uma Punakha and its sister hotel in Paro, which includes a visit to a 17th-century monastery, perched on a cliff in the clouds, and a stay at the Cave of a Thousand Prayers, a 13,000-foot campsite filled with fluttering prayer flags.
ACCESS: Fly Druk Air to Paro. A hotel driver will transport you to Punakha. Valley-view rooms from $400 per night.
MAY CLIMATE: 75° high, 36º low
DETOUR: Fire a longbow at targets 150 yards away during a lesson in datse (archery), Bhutan’s national sport. $20 for one hour
INDULGE: Get a traditional hot-river-stone bath and a massage at Punakha’s spa overlooking the river valley. $160