Bhutan Travel Blog

Tiger's Nest hike – All you need to know

Tiger's Nest monastery called as Taktsang Phalphug in Bhutanse, is the major highlight of every trip to Bhutan. It is like the Eiffel Tower in France or Taj Mahal in India – if you miss it, it’s like you didn’t visit the country at all. On the other hand, for many travelers this iconic monastery perched on the steep cliff above Paro valley is also the source of concerns, since you need to undertake the hike – presumably difficult one – to reach up there. Should you be worried? How is the hike in real? Read more in this blog post!

Tiger's Nest from Viewpoint

How difficult Tiger's Nest hike really is?

Some travel writers, bloggers and influencers described hike to Tiger's Nest as arduous and almost heroic feat. Honestly saying, such reports are hugely exaggerated and those authors are either staggeringly feeble or amply over-dramatic.

The real question is not the hike's difficulty, but your physical fitness and health.

  • Hike is relatively easy for fit people with regular habit of physical exercise, especially for trekkers.
  • It is moderately demanding for average people with habit of casual walking.
  • It is quite hard if not impossible for elderly or obese people or those physically disabled or affected by serious musculoskeletal problems.

Some athletes might take two and half hours to hike up and down, including the monastery visit. Seniors might spend almost whole day on the trail. However, the vast majority of people will complete the hike within five hours.

Generally, if you are in habit or casual walking and you are not ailing with knees, hips etc. you don't need to worry. All you need is willpower and sufficient time!

Hike map
Tiger's Nest hike map

Hike described in numbers & words

Count about 20 to 30 minutes to drive from hotel in Paro to the parking where the hike starts. Your driver will be waiting for you, so you can leave inessential items in vehicle.

Elevations and distances table
Place
Elevation
Distance
Parking
2650 m
0 km
Cafeteria
2920 m
1.5 km
Viewpoint
3150 m
2.6 km
Tiger’s Nest
3120 m
3 km

There are some stalls with souvenirs on the parking, selling goods of mostly of Indian origin. You can use toilet or rent a walking stick here too. Regional travelers (from India, Bangladesh or Maledives) are required to buy entry ticket at the booth. Farther up, the horsemen are waiting with their animals for risk-daring customers (see later).

Walking about a hundred meters, there is clearing from which you might glimpse the Tiger’s Nest monastery towering on the cliff 500 meters above you. Enter the forest and walk for some few minutes until you reach cascade of three prayer wheels propelled by holy water flowing down from the monastery.

Tiger's Nest from below
Tiger's Nest from below

Trail with natural clay surface  is wide enough for two people comfortably walking side by side. At most parts it is not too steep and when it is, the stairs were dug out for easier walking. During dry days, the trail is bit dusty, especially on parts frequented by horses, while during or after the rain, it might become muddy and slippery. If you meet horse anywhere, always take the uphill side, since horses might accidentally jolt you down to the gorge if you happen to be on the wrong edge.

Hike facts
 
Up
Up & Down
Hike distance
3 km
6 km
Elevation gain
680 m
800 m
Elevation loss
120 m
800 m

After the three prayer wheels, the steep ascend starts, while some nice views towards the valley opens to the left. When you reach the junction with narrow and steep pathway to the right, follow it. It is shorter albeit steeper, but most importantly it is not used by the horses which are constant nuisance on the main trail.

After somewhat arduous zig-zag steep climb you will reach to the taps with water for horses. A bit further up, there is short flat area with large prayer wheel. Hooray, you just reached the half-way!

Elevation profile
Tiger's Nest trail elevation profile

This is also a place, where you can divert for refreshment to Cafeteria. It serves tea, biscuits, soft drinks and even beer, excellent view of the monastery included. Clean toilets are at the backside. Meals served here are infamous for dull if not appalling taste so you better take pack lunch or eat after or before the hike. There is direct ascent trail from Cafeteria which joins main path after few hundred meters so you don’t need to go back to junction.

The main trail is going up steadily with some few shortcuts which you can explore or not. Some excellent views of Tiger’s Nest monastery are to be spotted on the way. Path then enters forest again until you reach traverse trail which will lead you, gently ascending, to the Viewpoint. Along the way you will pass around canopy, where bigger groups sometimes have their lunch and the temple in which former Je Khenpo, late head lama of Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyü school of Tibetan Buddhism, was born.

Finally, you will reach to Viewpoint. Dramatic sight of Tiger’s Nest monastery will open just in front of you. Most people stop here for group photography and selfie, although the best photo-spot is about 50 meters farther down beside the short prayer wall.

Bhutanese student on Viewpoint to Tiger's Nest
Bhutanese student on Viewpoint to Tiger's Nest

Start descending by the steep concrete stairs down. Be careful since the misstep might be fatal. Luckily there is also banister by the side. In most busy parts of the day from the 10am till 13pm, the stairways gets jammed by tourists and Bhutanese pilgrims. In any case do behave gently, since you are already on the sacred ground.

After loosing some 100 meters of altitude, the stairway will lead into the gap between two cliffs below the impressive waterfall. After crossing the bridge, continue with the stairway up to the right. This is the last 80 meters of altitude gain before you reach your goal, the entrance of Tiger’s Nest monastery!

Please mind that before you enter, your guide need to clear you with the guards and you need to leave your belongings in the lockers. No phone or camera etc. is allowed inside.

What is to be seen and experienced in the monastery is beyond the scope of this article, and we will happily leave the explanation to your competent guide. We will just reveal that while you sweated and panted hiking up, the Guru Padmasambhava, the saint who established this place in 8th century, was brought here on the back of flying tigress, who was actually his morphed spiritual consort (wife actually). Hence the monastery's name.

View of Tiger's Nest when descending
View of Tiger's Nest when descending

Is it possible to make hike shorter and easier?

There is no shorter or easier way how to reach the monastery than the one described above. If you suspect that you might not be up to the task, we suggest you to give it a try anyway. In case you are too slow and exhausted, you can always turn back at some spot.

Maybe you can reach just till Cafeteria and have a tea with biscuits with the great view of the monastery?

Or maybe you will be able to reach even to the Viewpoint but avoiding the steep stairs to the monastery and back?

If you are totally unable to walk for any reason, going to the parking and spotting the monastery from the nearby clearing might suffice, supplemented by coffee, beer or snack in nearby Taktsang Boutique Resort which has terrace with nice view of Tiger’s Nest monastery and serves excellent meals.

View of Tiger's Nest nearby to Cafeteria
View of Tiger's Nest nearby to Cafeteria

Ride the horse or rather not?

Local people are renting horses and mules on the hike starting point, offering ride up to the Cafeteria.

The horses are of small Himalayan breed, so they are quite easy to mount. Unfortunately horses are rather disobedient and led by quite careless horsemen. This makes riding quite dangerous endeavor for the riders and all other people on the trail alike.

Horses are famous to be naughty with the obese riders, usually walking just at the very edge of the trail with a hundreds of meters downslope beneath, forcing the rider to give up out of fear at the very beginning.

Thus, we strongly discourage anyone from riding a horse at Tiger’s Nest.

It is not much help anyway, since horses will not carry you all the way up anyway. Also horses never carry people downhill. As per Himalayan saying, “Horse which can’t carry man uphill is not the horse and the man who rides the horse downhill is not the man.”

However, horse ride might be helpful to people with some unusual health conditions. In such case ask your guide to book horse one day ahead. Cost will be around 12 USD for each horse.

Hike to Tiger's Nest on terrain map
Hike to Tiger's Nest on terrain map

How to equip yourself to Tiger's Nest hike?

Essentials to remember are:

  • At least one bottle of water
  • Warm jacket (fleece or down) so you don’t get cold in shades
  • Raincoat or umbrella in case of weather change
  • Hat, cap or other headgear for sun protection
  • Sunscreen
  • Long pants/skirt and long sleeves since foreigners are requested to wear these at the temple
  • Sport shoes. If you have weak ankles, you better take high trekking boots.  
  • Some money so you can purchase something at cafeteria or give small donation to the temple

You can also consider:

  • Walking sticks. You can also rent wooden one on the hike start.
  • Sun goggles
  • Energy bar to boost your strength on the way
  • Pack lunch if you need it
  • Offerings to temple like solidified vegetable fat for burning lamps, biscuits etc.

Keep in mind, that you will need to leave all your bags and things including camera and mobile phone in lockers before the monastery entrance, so don’t bring any unnecessary stuff, excessive cash, valuables or important documents with you.

Evening magic light on Tiger's Nest
Evening light on Tiger's Nest

Is it better to hike in the morning?

Monastery is open daily from 8am to 4pm so you can decide to walk early in the morning or later after lunch.

Anyway keep in mind that during the Spring and Summer months, the rain is less likely in the morning. Also, if you are not very fit, we recommend going in the morning, so you are not pressed by the time.

Earlier you start, the better. Most of the people will start after 7.30am so if you are able to reach starting point in 6.30am or 7am, you will avoid the crowd on the trail and in the temple too.

Another advantage of starting early is the sun-heat, which makes hiking less comfortable in later hours.

What about afternoon hiking?

Hiking in the afternoon is certainly interesting option, provided you don’t expect rain and you are confident with your strength and hiking pace. Also, you should not mind heat and exercising after lunch.

Tiger's Nest just after sunset
Tiger's Nest just after sunset

Afternoon will reward you with better light for photography, since the Tiger’s Nest monastery facade facing Viewpoint only gets direct sunlight later in the day. You can even wait for golden hour and sunset at the Viewpoint, but in that case you should also bring headlamp for descending in dark.

Other good point about afternoon hiking is that almost no tourists are doing that, only few Bhutanese pilgrims do. So you will have the place almost exclusively just for yourself. And that is wroth of some sacrifices, isn’t it?

Extending hike for hardy hikers

If you are hiking or trekking enthusiast or you simply want it hard way, there are some options for you too.

If you have spare energy and time, you can always extend Tiger’s Nest hike to the Zangto Pelri lhakhang, which is located on cliff some 100 meters above the Viewpoint. Narrow trail leading there starts below the Viewpoint, anyway be ready to negotiate few precarious stretches on metal ladders. Somewhat easier trail starts from behind of Viewpoint near to the lunch canopy mentioned previously. You can enjoy wonderful birds-eye view of Tiger’s Nest monastery from temple, but going inside in only possible if careteker is present.

Birds-eye view of Tiger's Nest from Zangto Pelri lhakhang
Birds-eye view of Tiger's Nest from Zangto Pelri lhakhang

If this is not enough, you can continue even farther up to Ugyen Tshemo temple above the Tiger’s Nest in 3260 meters and then continue to Yoeseling monastery in 3320 meters. From here, the narrow trail descends through dense forest steeply down. After some 15 minutes, there is turn-off to the right leading to Shama lhakhang, the temple just adjacent to Tiger’s Nets on the cliff face, but inaccessible from there. Definitely worth of visit! After a less than hour descent, the path joins the main Tiger’s Nest trail near to the three water propelled prayer wheels, just few minutes away from the parking. Please mind that this trail is not regularly used or maintained, hence it might be difficult to follow at some points.

Bumdrak campsite in the evening
Bumdrak campsite in the evening

Last but no least, our favorite option is to combine Tiger’s Nest visit with two days long Bumdrak Trek. It starts slightly to the south at Sangchöker nunnery ascending to stunningly scenic Bumdrak campsite with interesting temple in 3800 meters. Next morning you will be actually descending to Tiger’s Nest, passing around Yoeseling, Ugyen Tsemo and Zangto Pelri mentioned above and finally concluding the trek at the parking where the other people start.

Whatever option, easier or harder you choose, you will be rewarded, since the Tiger’s Net is place loaded with energy with stunning beauty all around. Enjoy your hike!

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