Paro Airport is the only international airport in Bhutan, and serves the town of Paro as well as the city of Thimphu, capital of Bhutan. Located within the deep valley of the Himalayan mountain range, the airport is surrounded by imposing mountain peaks as high as 18,000 feet and is elevated about 7,300 feet above sea level. It also sits on the bank of the Paro River, resulting in some truly breathtaking views when seen from above.
The unique geography of the airport also makes it one of the most challenging airports to land in (due to the strong winds and narrow valley), and even as of July 2014 only a handful of airlines stop at Paro. Takeoffs and landings at the airport are allowed only in daylight hours, under visual meteorological conditions. Despite these obstacles, however, few to no crashes have been reported at Paro, a testament to the extreme caution and care taken by both the pilots and Bhutan’s Department of Civil Aviation, which manages the airport. It is the home base of Bhutan’s national flag carrier, Druk Air, which offers both domestic and international flights to a number of destinations within Asia.
The airport handles around 30,000 passengers annually.
Located only about 6 kilometres from the town of Paro, getting to and from the airport is very easy. As most international tourists have to book a tour package with a registered Bhutanese tour operator before being allowed to travel in Bhutan, transportation from the airport for tourists is usually pre-arranged. For those holding Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian passports, though, this rule does not apply (as of July 2014) and they may travel independently within the country.
For these travellers, a taxi service is available from the airport. Otherwise, renting a car from the airport is a very popular option as it allows great flexibility in exploring the wild beauty of Bhutan’s natural landscape. Once in a car, further destinations like the capital city of Thimphu, about 60 kilometres away, also become accessible.
What to see and do
If you are in Bhutan, it would be a crime to miss seeing the Taktsang Monastery - otherwise known as Tiger’s Nest - the world-famous hanging monastery that is at once terrifying and breathtakingly beautiful. Established as a sacred place for meditation, this icon of Bhutan is built on rocks on the side of a cliff that stretches 1,200 metres into the sky and is, in total, about 3,000 meters above sea level. There is no other way into the monastery except on foot or by horseback, but either way the journey up is not for the faint of heart (especially for those with altitude sickness). The hike up is long and strenuous, usually taking around 2 to 3 hours, but many find the adrenaline rush and amazing views well worth the effort.
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