Chichén Itzá (El Castillo pyramid)(Tulum, Yucatan – 179 km. west of Cancún) — some time before Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, this site was once a thriving Mayan city, considered one of the largest in existence. The pyramid that marks this location exhibits a multitude of architectural styles, reminiscent of styles seen in central Mexico and of the Puuc and Chenes styles of the northern Maya lowlands. The presence of central Mexican styles was once thought to have been representative of direct migration or even conquest from central Mexico, but most contemporary interpretations view the presence of these non-Maya styles more as the result of cultural diffusion. Due to its prominence, at least 1 million tourists visit it annually.
Along with the main attraction (El Castillo pyramid, a.k.a. Pyramid of Kukulkán), there are: Juego de Pelota (Main Ball Court), the North Temple, Temple of Jaguars, Tzompantli (Temple of the Skulls), Platform of the Eagles, Platform of Venus, Sacred Cenote, Temple of the Warriors, Tomb of the High Priest, and other Mayan ruins.
Tashichho Dzong (Chhagchhen Lam, Thimphu) – a.k.a. ‘the fortress of the glorious religion’, this is a majestic fortress in all its grandeur and serves as the seat of Bhutan’s government. The Dzong houses the secretariat, the throne room, the offices of His Majesty the King and the ministries of home affairs and finance. The fortress was initially erected in 1641 and later rebuilt in the 1960s by the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Admission: Nu. 300 per person.
Tango Monastery (14 km. north of Thimphu, near Cheri Mountain) – this monastery was built in the 13th century. From the base point at Dodena, it’s an enjoyable one hour walk uphill to Tango. Tourists can visit the monastery and attend a special prayer ceremony at the monastery. Tango is presently the residence of the 7th reincarnate of the 4th Desi (Temporal ruler) of Bhutan, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye.
Taktsang Monastery (Paro) – a.k.a. “the Tiger’s Nest” and located on the edge of a cliff, some 900 meters above the rice fields of Paro, this 325-year-old monastery is considered one of the kingdom’s most sacred religious sites. Founded in the 8th century, the Buddhist temple clings to a cliff 900 meters above the valley floor.
Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, meditated for years inside a cave that lies at the heart of the temple. The Tiger’s Nest is now a revered Buddhist meditation site and tourist attraction.
Semtokha Dzong (Semtokha) – located 12 minutes (6 km) southeast of the capital, It is the first dzong built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1629. There are over 300 finely worked slate carvings behind the prayer wheels in the courtyard of the dzong. There is a believe that it provided protection against a demon which had disappeared into a rock close to the site.
Rinpung Dzong (Paro Chu River, Paro) — this is a large dzong (Buddhist monastery and fortress) of the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school in Paro District. The dzong’s full name – Rinche Pung Dzong is literally translated as “Fortress on a Heap of Jewels”. It gets such a name because of its large collection of treasured buildings. All the buildings are equipped with huge windows with elaborate wooden carvings of Bhutan traditional motifs. As the finest example of Bhutanese architecture, Rinpung Dzong is always listed in the top attractions in Bhutan. No matter you are in which corner of Paro Valley, you can see Rinpung Dzong easily.
During 17th and 18th century, Paro Dzong was an important bastion for the Kingdom of Bhutan against invasion from the north. At present, it houses the Monastic Body and government offices, and serves as the religious, military, administrative, and social centers of their district. Rinpung Dzong is also the site of colorful Tsechu when a series of dances are performed by masked dancer in honor of Guru Rinpoche. Some scenes of film “Little Bhutan” directed by famed Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci was filmed in this dzong.
National Textile Museum (Norzin Lam, near the National Library of Bhutan, Thimphu) — this museum offers an in-depth look into the Bhutanese art form of weaving. You can see examples of weaving techniques from different areas of Bhutan, as well as styles of local dress and textiles made by local people. A small group of weavers usually work their looms inside the shop giving you the chance to see weaving firsthand. Admission: Nu. 250 (foreigners outside of SAARC), Nu. 100 (SAARC nationals). Hours: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (Monday – Saturday), closed on Sunday.
National Museum of Bhutan (Taa Dzong, Paro) – established in 1968 by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, this is a seven-level cultural museum housed in the renovated ancient Ta-dzong building, above Rinpung Dzong. It displays hundreds of ancient Bhutanese artifacts and artwork including traditional costumes, armor, weaponry and handcrafted implements for daily life. The collection at the National Museum preserves a snapshot of the rich cultural traditions of the country.
Admission: Nu. 150 (foreigners outside of SAARC), Nu. 25 (SAARC nationals)*, Nu. 10 (locals), Nu. 5 (local students), Free for children under 10 years old, monks and nuns. Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (March – October), 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (November – February).
*Note: SAARC nationals are from: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka).
National Library of Bhutan (Pedzoe Lam, Thimphu) – this library, located amongst lush green hills and blue skies, ranks it as the most picturesque in the world. To many, the best way to learn about a country, especially one rich in culture and art like Bhutan, is by reading. The National Library has a collection of hundred-year-old manuscripts, scrolls, and books.
Admission: Nu. 20 per person. Hours: 9:00 am – 1:00 pm & 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm (Monday – Friday).
Memorial Chorten (Chhoten Lam, Thimphu) – this is one of the most iconic landmarks of the country and is a magnificent sight. This is a monument dedicated to world peace and a visit to this place is amongst the “must things to do” in Bhutan’s capital. The monument is painted in stark white and golden spires.
Set against the lush green hills, this place is very serene and peaceful. It is dotted with beautiful paintings, murals, and sculptures. The locals place their highest faith in this memorial, and you will see elderly monks circumventing it and paying homage.
Admission: Nu. 300 per person. Hours: 7:00 am – 9:00 pm (daily).