The crystal clear rivers of Bhutan are one of the kingdom’s most precious natural resources. The pristine environment and the sheer variety of the rivers' courses provide a unique opportunity for travellers to explore Bhutan’s beautiful wilderness. The rugged, untamed waterways of Bhutan will not disappoint the adventurous seekers. The rivers are plentiful with strong currents varying between slow, gentle flows in some places and powerful, raging torrents in others.
There are six rivers in Bhutan, and if you are a highly-skilled rafter, you can choose a multi-day water trip and explore Bhutan's stunning landscapes. Or have a combination of rafting and trekking itinerary. Fed by the glacial-melt of the Eastern Himalayas, six major rivers (Wang Chhu, Sunkosh, Puna Tsang Chhu, Mangde Chhu, Kuri Chhu and Dangme Chhu and their tributaries), have been scouted for kayaking and rafting.
Rivers are graded from Class I to Class VI, I being easy to VI being dangerous. The river courses in Bhutan offer something for all rafters, regardless of experience. There are easy routes for beginners and difficult runs for the veterans.
Best time to do rafting in Bhutan
The best time for rafting and kayaking is from March to April and November to December. In the summer, from April to October, rafting operates from 6am to 5pm (last departure) and during winter from November to March, rafting operation timing is from 7am to 3pm (last departure).
How much does it cost to do rafting in Bhutan?
It costs minimally 10,000 ngultrum (approx. USD150) per raft. A raft can take up to six passengers excluding the rafting guide and your tour guide.
Who can do rafting in Bhutan?
Children below aged 7 is not allowed. Children above aged 7 to 13 must be accompanied by adults or guardians.
Is it safe to do rafting in Bhutan?
Safety is a priority and all rafters will be briefed, securely equipped and safely guided throughout the entire journey. The only thing needed is a willingness to paddle and perhaps even get a little wet! Life jackets, helmets, waterproof bags and rubber slippers will be provided.
Even if you are totally new to rafting without prior experience, fret not, as the rafting guides will raft you through the journey safely. The rafting guides are highly trained and experienced in rafting and kayaking. The guides have obtained safety rafting guide certificate in institutions recognised nationally or internationally. Rafting is a fun and safe activity to do in Bhutan with your family or friends. If you have children or elderly with you, opt for the rafting in Mo Chhu river as it's milder than the Pho Chhu river.
Where can I do rafting in Bhutan?
Today, there are many sites for kayaking and whitewater rafting in Bhutan. The most popular one is in Punakha along Mo Chhu (female river) and Pho Chhu (male river) and in Paro along Paro Chhu.
The first river Pho Chu is 16km long with 15 rapids of class 2 - 4. The second river Mo Chu is 10km long with 10 rapids of class 2 and 2+.
Pho Chhu river is one of the most popular rafting spots amongst tourists. You'll pass through stunning landscapes of Punakha valley and see rare exotic birds such as White-Bellied Herons and Kingfishers. Rafting will meander along the upper Pho Chhu with a series of Class IV rapids immediately below the village of Wangthangkha. Further downstream, experienced rafters will enjoy the Class III rapids as the fast-flowing river eases and slows. Prior to September 2018, rafters can even raft pass the majestic Punakha Dzong taking in its glorious presence. As of September 2018, rafting in front of Punakha Dzong is not allowed.
The rafting takes about 1.5 hours to complete.
Whitewater rafting in Bhutan a recommended activity for those who wants to experience Bhutan in a fun, memorable and relaxing manner.
History of Rafting and Kayaking in Bhutan
It was in 1997 that Bhutan hosted the very first kayak expedition in the country. The expedition consisted of a team of international kayakers including Gerry Moffatt and Peter Knowles from the United States. The team was hosted by Tourism Council of Bhutan, known as Tourism Authority of Bhutan back then.
The team was invited to look into adventure activities in Bhutan for tourists. During the month-long expedition, Gerry and the team mapped the major river systems and kayaked down the unexplored gorges and crystal-clear rivers of Bhutan. Prior to visiting Bhutan, Gerry worked in Nepal on a British expedition in 1983 at the age of 18. Over the next 20 years, he became the first man to descend down all the major rivers in the Nepalese Himalayas.
Gerry plays a pivotal role in kickstarting the whitewater rafting and kayaking activities in Bhutan. He is a whitewater consultant for Bhutan and trains the local tour guides on the kayaking and rafting skills.
Being the first team to kayak in the country, the team had to figure out everything by themselves including the logistics. The team helped in bringing resources and contacts to develop the kayaking and rafting industry within the country.
With Gerry and his team’s connection at the Discovery Channel, the first film crews were brought into Bhutan to document the first descent from Mangdechhu in Trongsa to Manas in 2006. It was another milestone achieved for Gerry and 17 other members. The documentary is titled ‘Adventure Bhutan’. Gerry described the experience as very challenging since the most of the rivers falls under Class V white water only for experts.
Aside from Gerry, experts like Land Heflin from the United States frequently visit Bhutan to kayak. Land first visited Bhutan in 1999, working as kayak guide. A few years later, Land returned with his company bringing a group of people to kayak and travel around Bhutan.
If you are keen to have a rafting experience in Bhutan, you just need to inform us that you will like to add-on a rafting adventure to your travel itinerary. Kayaking can also be arranged.