Book a life-changing stay at the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary with Hyatt points

10 March 2023

A hotel described as a five-star holistic retreat in the mountains of a country known as the Last Shangri-La sounds dreamy. And reservations at this hotel include all meals and spa services? Sign me up.

From the moment I arrived until well after I left, I felt refreshed, relaxed and recharged at the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, part of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. This five-star, all-inclusive property isn’t cheap but delivers on its promises of excellent food and services for the mind, body and soul.

Throughout my stay, I was excited for each meal and spa service — wondering what the hotel had in store that could rival the previous day’s meals and activities. From a “no plastic” policy to incorporating traditional Bhutanese medicine and spirituality, this hotel is a destination in itself — one that melted away stress and worries during my visit.

After visiting more than 180 countries and staying at hundreds, maybe thousands of hotels, this was my best hotel experience ever. Here’s what it’s like to stay at the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary.

Quick take

The Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary opened its doors in 2018, intending to create a holistic retreat where guests experience Bhutanese culture. The resort offers a retreat from life’s stress, focusing on holistic treatments for guests.

Everything can be customized for the guest, from fitness plans to meal preferences and specific health and spiritual needs addressed with the on-site traditional medicine team during one-on-one consultations after arrival.

Each of the 24 large guest rooms is full of natural light throughout the day and overlooks the valley beyond the hotel. Guest rooms are spread across two floors in two wings, while facilities like the front desk, spa and restaurant sit in the main building at the center of the property. The property is laid out like a traditional temple or monastery, utilizing a central courtyard between the exterior wall and main entrance.

The restaurant grows much of its food on-site through organic farming and serves unique, delicious meals thrice daily. The spa team provides world-class treatments through traditional and Western offerings, including massages, fitness classes, guided meditation and herbal remedies. In each aspect, a top-notch, relaxing experience shines through.

Getting there

The Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary is 15-20 minutes from Paro International Airport (PBH) by car. I was surprised that the property, billed as a quiet retreat, is this close to Bhutan’s sole international airport. However, the property’s setting on the backside of a hill cuts off the city’s noise.

Before arrival, the hotel emailed me to ask about my plans and whether I needed pickup and drop-off services for my flights. The Hyatt website listed these services as “included,” though the hotel claimed they weren’t. After a few emails with my Hyatt Concierge, the hotel agreed to waive the $25 transfer fee.

It’s also possible to reach the hotel by taxi from the airport. Arriving by public transportation isn’t possible; neither is arriving by rental car, due to legal prohibitions.

Related: The 18 best places to travel in 2023

Booking details

The Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary is a Small Luxury Hotels of the World property that can be booked through World of Hyatt — including award stays with Hyatt points.

The Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary is a Category 7 property in World of Hyatt, meaning rates range from 25,000 to 35,000 points per night.

Cash rates can be as low as $500 per night or as high as $800 per night during peak travel periods.

For my stay, I paid 30,000 points per night for two nights. After taxes, this stay would’ve cost $1,322.40 — a redemption rate of 2.2 cents per point, well above TPG’s valuation of Hyatt points at 1.7 cents apiece.

However, on March 28, this property will drop to Category 6. Thus, prices will range from 21,000 to 29,000 points per night.

Standout features

The property is truly all-inclusive, including meals, laundry services, spa services that are tailored to your body’s needs and more.
The location is quiet and relaxing, seemingly disconnected from the world and allowing guests to escape their worries.
Each guest has a personalized stay, encompassing everything from what you eat to what you do and even the soap used in your room, based on the scent you choose from available samples at check-in.
Glass bottles with drinking water are provided and refilled regularly to avoid single-use plastics.

Drawbacks

Accessibility is an issue; this hotel is not ideal for those with difficulty using stairs.
Twice-daily housekeeping is a perk but can feel intrusive at times.
There is no menu at lunch or dinner, as guests receive a set menu prepared through consultations between the kitchen and the on-site traditional medicine team. Picky eaters may find this difficult.

The vibe

As the name implies, the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary feels like a sanctuary for the body and the spirit — a retreat from life’s worries. This is accomplished in several ways.

The first is through the hotel’s design, modeled after traditional monasteries in the Himalayas. It’s also done through intentional touches, such as providing a copy of “The Restful Mind” by Gyalwa Dokhampa in each room to teach guests about the relaxing and healing power of mental stillness.

Two other aspects of the hotel’s vibe also merit description. The first is the idea of “family,” both among the employees and toward the guests being “welcomed home” on arrival and greeted with a traditional khata — a white scarf signifying respect and wishes for prosperity in Himalayan cultures. Additionally, hotel staff members line the walkway to welcome guests on arrival and continue this family approach through friendly conversations throughout the stay.

Additionally, a short spiritual cleansing ceremony on arrival encourages guests to leave their worries and stresses outside before opening the large, golden doors to enter the sanctuary beyond.

The vibe is more than just an attitude, however. It’s exhibited in design choices throughout the hotel, such as wide-open spaces in the main building and well-lit, simple hallways that feel spacious and free of distractions.

A key theme of the hotel is contemplation, and ample space is provided for it. To the right of reception, there’s a conference table with chairs and a small living room-style space with games like tic-tac-toe. To the left, a small shop offers traditional Bhutanese handicrafts while a small library with ample seating waits for guests to read and relax. Traditional portraits of Bhutan’s previous rulers and current king line the walls on both sides.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

The hotel is plastic-free and strives to eliminate waste, so bathrooms don’t have single-use items. Sample-size tubes of toothpaste and plastic toothbrushes are swapped for bamboo toothbrushes and toothpaste tablets, activated by chewing. Similarly, there are no small plastic tubes of shampoo or lotion; instead, refillable pump bottles are offered.

The room

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The only option for using points was a standard guest room with two double beds. Through emails with the hotel before arriving, the staff understood I was traveling alone and reassigned me to Room A11 with a single king-size bed. This was a spacious, well-lit room on the upper floor but a half-floor down from the reception area. Neutral tones and abundant natural light made the room feel even bigger than it was.

I was immediately struck by the patterns on the keychain and the woodwork, recalling the local culture. The wooden slats around the bed rested on rolling tracks and could be moved to the corners to create a more open feeling around the comfortable king-size bed.

Multiple pillows on the bed provided softer and firmer options, and the sheets were smooth against my skin. The bed provided a great night’s sleep.

The bed was flanked by solid-wood nightstands handmade by local artisans. On top of each, there was a lamp and universal outlet. One nightstand held a tissue box, a remote for the air conditioning, drinking water in a glass bottle, and plush slippers.

Across from the bed, a three-drawer table held a lamp, phone (with list of phone numbers for hotel services) and an hourglass. The table also had a framed picture of the king’s family.

After noticing the hourglass, I looked for a clock and realized there wasn’t one. The employee who showed me to my room told me this is intentional, fitting the hotel’s theme of unwinding and destressing. “How will I know what time it is so I don’t miss lunch?” I asked. “You can have your meals whenever you’d like,” she answered. Adherence to a schedule was a stress to avoid at the hotel.

Wooden barn doors slid open to reveal a spacious bathroom and a large tub.

To the left of the door, a large mirror hung above a sink with ample counter space, holding drinking water, the toothbrush and toothpaste tablets, tissues, washcloths, a pump bottle with hand lotion and the soap I had chosen on arrival.

Under the sink, one of the two drawers held a hair dryer while a shelf at knee level held a bath mat.

On the right, a second sink had the same counter and mirror without additional amenities. Next to this sink, a thermostat controlled the temperature for the heated bathroom floor. (Note that the heat did not extend to the shower or toilet areas.)

On the left, a frosted glass door led to a spacious shower with handheld and rainfall options. Water heated up quickly and had excellent pressure. Pump bottles contained bath products without branding. Only the body wash had a discernable scent: a pleasing berry smell. Unfortunately, the pumps on the bottles got stuck easily, and I found it simpler to open the tops and pour out what I needed.

To the right of the tub, a frosted glass door led to a toilet with a handheld bidet.

Past the bed, two steps led down to a sitting area with a small table, cloth loveseat and a chair flanked by a floor lamp. The table held a welcome gift of sweets, a flower vase and a copy of “The Restful Mind.”

In the corner, a small wooden table held a miniature hourglass, local pottery and a Bluetooth speaker.

A shelf under the table held a traditional brass incense pot.

My favorite features in the room were the floor-to-ceiling windows and patio door leading to a balcony overlooking the valley below. The balcony had a small table flanked by two armchairs with cushions that I found surprisingly comfortable. Afternoon sunbaths here were excellent.

Blackout curtains blocked out light from the windows and were easy to maneuver with the attached rods. Unfortunately, leaving the patio door open for fresh air was a mistake, as the wind knocked down multiple items in my room.

The room’s other corner had three shelves containing coffee and tea supplies and a battery-powered lantern to use on the balcony at night. A minifridge, where I was surprised to find sodas, sat below.

At the edge of the sitting area, a walk-in closet made of hardwood had a fantastic scent that left me feeling like I was in a forest. A chest of drawers sat below the space for hanging clothes on both sides, and the open shelves above held meditation mats.

A small safe sat on top of one chest. On the other, the employee told me the small basket was for dirty laundry that housekeeping would collect daily for a complimentary washing.

Food and drink

Choosing the best part of my stay is difficult, but the dining experience is up there.

A week before my arrival, the hotel emailed asking if I had allergies or any dietary requirements. I informed them that I have no allergies and am vegan. The hotel’s reply said that this wouldn’t be an issue.

Further consultation is done for each guest after meeting with the on-site traditional medicine doctor. The doctor will inform the kitchen of any alterations needed for a specific guest’s health plan. This could include avoiding spicy foods, for example.

Much of the produce and seasonings used in the restaurant are grown organically in the on-site greenhouse. The kitchen uses portion management to avoid waste, and food scraps are composted on-site.

Meals are served in the singular restaurant on the property, located below the reception area in a large, open space overlooking the valley through two-story windows that bathe the dining room in natural light. It’s also possible to have your meals on the outdoor terrace.

Guests can access the dining room through side doors without passing through reception. Near this door, there is a full coffee and tea bar for enjoying drinks between mealtimes.

Beyond cooking delicious meals, the kitchen presents the food beautifully.

Small details in presentation elevated the meal service, such as color combinations and serving the soup at each meal on top of a cutting board. As a nod to my being from the U.S., the kitchen made me a delicious nacho appetizer for dinner on the first night.

Lunch is a set four-course meal, including an appetizer, soup, main dish and dessert.

Dinner is a six-course meal, adding a salad and entree.

But despite a lack of menus to choose from, the food was not a total surprise. After I sat down, the staff provided the names of dishes I would be served and asked if I had any objections. I accepted what they offered and my only decision was selecting from the extensive tea menu.

Meals were delicious and satisfying. While six courses is much more than I would order at a restaurant at home, the portion control worked well. I never felt stuffed or uncomfortable after meals.

Dishes and ingredients changed throughout my stay, providing new and equally enjoyable options at each meal. Choosing a favorite dish from my stay would be impossible. However, two truly special items stood out.

An appetizer of smoked watermelon slices with barbecue sauce intrigued me as soon as the waitress announced it. It had a unique, smoky flavor while remaining juicy and sweet.

The Turkish roll was a new-to-me dessert. This milky, rolled dough was filled with cream and topped with coconut, served with ice cream and topped with a chocolate and mint garnish. I contemplated asking for seconds of this delicacy.

Breakfast included a menu. Guests can choose as many items they wish, with options including a pastry basket, fruit, toast, homemade yogurt, cooked-to-order eggs, porridge, pancakes, soup broth, a selection of cheese and chole bhature — a local dish made of deep-fried flatbread with a chickpea gravy.

I tried multiple items from this list, each as excellent as the next. The pastries were light and flaky. The porridge came with brown sugar and granola accompaniments, providing a hearty, filling meal before a strenuous hike one day. The pancakes were fluffy and airy, rivaling the best breakfast spots in the U.S.

Amenities and service

If you visit during low season, you may find yourself the only guest (as I was during the first day of my stay), but services, meals and facilities operate unaffected.

A full-service wellness spa below the restaurant offers services that are included with each reservation. After settling into my room, I visited the spa for my welcome consultation with the traditional medicine doctor.

From the candlelit hallways on arrival to the colored glass dome over the seating area, small touches in the spa made me forget I had worries and responsibilities back home. The central seating area is surrounded by hundreds of jars containing local herbs used in traditional medicine on-site.

After an introduction to traditional medicine practices, the doctor ran a series of tests to gauge my health. Then, he crafted a wellness plan for my stay, including guided meditation each morning, herbal tea remedies and services for recuperation after a multihour hike to the Tiger’s Nest (more on that below).

The spa includes multiple massage rooms, separate saunas for men and women and hot stone baths. Immensely popular in the region, stones are heated over a fire and then placed in a tub to heat the water to steaming levels.

While multiple massages are available, the doctor recommended a local specialty: a ku nye massage. This pressure point-based massage is intense and focused on relieving lower back pain.

During a prescripted massage, I found the headrest of the massage table uncomfortable and it left me with a sore jaw at the end of an otherwise-enjoyable massage.

The wellness center also includes a heated infinity pool with water at a soothing 93 degrees. One of the best parts of the pool is that it doesn’t smell like chemicals, which can easily overpower an enclosed space like this. Swimming laps in the afternoon was very relaxing.

A small exercise room provides space for individual and group exercises, such as yoga and calisthenics, done independently or with guidance from wellness center staff.

Service from the staff was beyond excellent, and I remain impressed by the communication among the staff members.

I assume that staff members communicate with each other about hotel guests’ whereabouts and activities, given that I never saw the housekeeping staff during their twice-daily services. They always came while I was at meals, even though I didn’t take my meals at fixed times. Housekeeping arrived, cleaned my room and made the bed (or provided nightly turndown service) during my meals and were gone before I returned.

Additionally, each employee greeted me by name and could easily discuss my day’s activities. “How was your swim this afternoon?” or “How was your hike to the Tiger’s Nest?” I heard. It showed that the staff knew what guests were up to and could use this knowledge to treat them like family — not just someone sitting at a table waiting for food.

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

There is a drawback to these services for some guests, however. When I check in to a hotel, I typically put the “do not disturb” sign on my door. Those who don’t like housekeeping touching their stuff may struggle with the twice-daily service.

After returning from a hike, I threw my dirty clothes on the floor before showering and heading to lunch. That evening, housekeeping hung up the undershirt they’d collected and washed. Finding my folded, cleaned underwear on the bed felt a bit embarrassing.

Out and about

The hotel staff can arrange tours and provide advice on visiting sites throughout Bhutan. Staff members also can arrange cultural classes for cooking, pottery or archery, the national sport.

I arranged for a guide and driver to visit Bhutan’s most famous site: Paro Taktsang, or the Tiger’s Nest. It starts with a 45-minute drive from the hotel, and entrance tickets cost 2,000 ngultrum (about $25). For those with moderate fitness levels, expect six hours of hiking round-trip. It will take longer if you need breaks due to the altitude. The hike starts at approximately 7,000 feet above sea level and ascends to nearly 10,000 feet.

For an easier, free option, guests can hike through the Neyphug valley below the hotel and visit the Eutok Goenpa Monastery. Built in the 15th century, the grounds cover the previous home of Guru Rinpoche, one of the most important figures in Bhutanese history, and the monastery is home to more than 50 monks.

The city of Paro is a 15-minute drive. There, guests can shop, dine, explore and visit one of the many karaoke bars. Farther afield, the capital, Thimphu, is an hour’s drive. Foreigners can explore Paro and Thimphu independently, using taxis to reach their destinations.

Beyond these two cities, you are required to have a guide. Visitors can enjoy abundant nature in Bhutan, the world’s only carbon-negative country.

Related: 9 of the most beautiful sustainable destinations around the world

There are numerous treks, homestays and national parks with abundant wildlife. Consider Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park in central Bhutan, known as a bird lovers paradise, and Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary near the Indian border for opportunities to see elephants and tigers.

Related: 15 places to see tigers ethically in the wild

Accessibility

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Unfortunately, accessibility at the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary needs improvement.

It’s not possible to move throughout the property without using stairs. The front entrance and reception area are accessible by wheelchair, but beyond that, stairs are omnipresent and the only way to access the spa or restaurant. Chair lifts and elevators are absent, and there is no chair lift to get in or out of the pool.

Additionally, I did not see any hearing induction loops or use of Braille on the property. If you rely on these, traveling to the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary independently could be difficult.

Checking out

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Checking out was quick and simple, as I had booked my stay on points.

Since I had an early flight, I made arrangements for my departure the night before and settled my bill for the guide and entrance tickets to several temples. When I asked whether I should pay with cash or card, the employee said either was fine. I was surprised to find a 3% credit card surcharge on my receipt — something that should’ve been disclosed before my $100 payment.

The kitchen staff also prepared a breakfast for me to enjoy while waiting at the airport. I declined a hot sandwich but accepted the offer of fruits and nuts.

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The finishing touch on my stay provides a clear example of the hotel’s exceptional service: As I walked to the car, an employee checked my room to ensure I hadn’t forgotten anything.

From start to finish, this property attended to the needs of my body and spirit and left me eager for a return visit. I’m not religious, but I felt mentally and spiritually cleansed. I left feeling calmer about life’s stresses and committed to being more patient with others, thanks to this experience.

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