I don't think anyone goes to Bhutan, at least the first time, and doesn't hike to the Tiger's Nest, which is more correctly called Paro Taktsang Monastery. For many visitors, hiking to the Tiger's Nest is the most strenuous thing they will do during their visit and as such, a source of some apprehension. So here are some FAQs from our experience climbing to the Tiger's Nest.
Do you need hiking boots?
Absolutely not. Even if it was really muddy I think hiking boots would be overkill. There are not boulders or rocks, and the hardest part of the whole hike is the set of stairs at the end, close to the monastery. DH and I both hiked in lightweight trail running shoes, and though we are both fit and active, we still feel like hiking boots are really unnecessary. If you are particularly concerned, you can get hiking shoes.
Are there tigers?
Uh, no. But if you see one, you might want to sit down and make sure you aren't about to faint.
Is it hard?
We made it up with little difficulty–it took us about 2 hours up, with a good 30 minute break in the middle to drink some tea and gawk at the beautiful view. If you are in decent shape and have acclimated a bit to the altitude, it's not bad. That said…on our way down we passed people who started at the same time as us, some of who had barely made it half way. If you are not fit, it will be rough. The guides are great and will carry your pack and coax you up, but it may be a long day. Also–for those trying to get into shape–walking on sidewalks at sea level is not the same as walking steep uphills at 7000 ft plus. Just sayin…
How high is it?
High. You start at about 7,000ft and the monastery is at 10,240ft.
Do you have to go all the way?
The best view is at the set of stairs which you have to climb down, and then back up, to reach the monastery. Quite a few visitors decide to call it a day at those stairs and turn around. The monastery–inside–is interesting, but not any more or less spectacular than the other monasteries you will see in Bhutan. It's totally personal preference if you are content seeing it from afar or you really want to go inside.
Why is this monastery so special?
The Tiger's Nest is where Girum Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress from Tibet. Additionally, there is a cave where Langchen Pelkyi Singye came to meditate, and legend has it, when he died in Nepal, the body was miraculously returned. The cave is now sealed.
What should you wear?
Layers, if you are willing to carry them. Like on all hikes, layers are your friend. It gets warm, quickly, even if it's cool in the morning. Plus, you have to be fully covered to enter the monastery, so take that into consideration (this means short sleeve shirt + collar for men, and long sleeve shirt for women, both have to wear pants). Lightweight, tech material that won't be drenched in sweat and weigh 10 pounds is ideal.
Will it rain?
A raincoat is probably a good bet if you aren't a fast hiker–rain tends to move in to the valley in the afternoon.
Are there restrooms at the Tiger's Nest?
Yes, but I'd advise you strongly to avoid them. You've been warned. They weren't quite Olduvai Gorge bad, but they are probably #2 on worst restrooms ever list.
Should I be concerned about all the dogs?
Nope. The dogs are nice company on the hike. I mean, I wouldn't get all up close and personal, but they are vaccinated for rabies (mostly…the notches in the ears means they've been vaccinated), and just want some company as they make their way up for some free food. Yea, they also think western snacks are yucky…we gave one dog a piece of peanut butter cliff bar and he looked at us like we were nuts.
What's it like inside?
Hmmm….well, pictures aren't allowed and I sort of feel like it's selling out to tell you too much with no hiking effort! But it's interesting, lots of shrines as usual and some curious little rooms. Feels like a maze you could easily get lost in, lots of turns and nooks from being built precariously on a mountain.
Do I need to pack food?
Up to you. We packed some snacks but were up and back down in time for lunch in Paro. If you think you'll be hungry, pack some things. There is a restaurant and cafe at the half way point–the food looked decent (all Bhutanese) and there were many people eating there.
Are there souvenirs to buy anywhere?
This is one of the few places where there are hawkers swelling stuff at the bottom when you head down. Not sure if there is anything to Tiger's Nest specific, but their are little shrines, jewelry, old coins, carvings, etc. They will haggle, even if they pretend like they won't.
Is it worth it?
Of course! What a silly question.
Have you hiked to the Tiger's Nest? Is Bhutan on your bucket list?