World’s Scariest Airport: Paro, Bhutan

I was less than thrilled to board a tiny prop plane for our 45 minute flight from Kathmandu to Paro, known as the worlds scariest airport to fly into, and the only international airport in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Drukair operates in an alpine environment with a small fleet, and delays often occur due to weather or other operational issues.

Paro Airport is located in a large valley, surrounded by mountains that reach 3000m above the runway. The approach requires a series of sharp turns through mountains and valleys, flying too close for my comfort to the mountain-tops. Flights are restricted to visual approaches only, but the only problem is the pilot doesn’t see the runway until he’s 500 feet above it. A few seconds before touchdown at 100ft, the aircraft makes a sharp turn, with aggressive braking and full reverse thrust so the wheels touch down at the tip of the runway and doesn’t overshoot and crash into the mountains. (Are you sweating yet?)

Yes, you can fly next to Mount Everest flying out of Bhutan
Yes, that’s Mount Everest, about the same height as the plane.

The runway is 6500 ft long and flights are only allowed to land during the day and under ideal weather conditions. (no seriously, are you sweating now??) The pilot manually flies into Paro avoiding the high mountains.  Clouds, wind and weather are not a great combo.worlds scariest airport os Paro BhutanCool right?!?! I was not excited to say the least, so decided to prepare myself with a little medicinal help to steady my nerves. Thank goodness I did. Take-off from Kathmandu was ok… a little bumpy but still ok. After 15 minutes and a cruising altitude of 23,000ft, the pilot announced we were flying past Mount Everest on the right side of the plane. I mean are you kidding me… it’s the stuff movies are made of. It was right there, poking through the clouds, giving us a beautiful show. The contrast of the bright blue sky above fluffy white could was a perfect frame for this tall beauty. Seriously cool stuff.
However, we didn’t enjoy the views for long before the plane began to bounce, and I realized we were very close to the mountains. The pilot told the flight attendants to take their seats, and we began the sketchy descent to Paro. Full disclosure, I think I might have been expecting it to be more scary… but maybe that was the drugs.Paro Valley, BhutanThe boys were having a blast but Hot Hubby was a bit freaked out, as we banked hard left, then hard right as we weaved through the Himalayas.  I thought for sure we’d be clipping the mountains with the plane wings we were that close. After about 20 minutes of swerving left and right, we suddenly dropped, and I could finally see the landing strip. It looked reeeeaallly small and far away. We hit the top of the runway fast and hard, and felt and heard the plane try to stop as quickly as possible.

The plane came to a stop, and I was so thankful, but realized when 50% of your fellow passengers are Buddhist monks, you have to have a fair bit of karma on your side… right? We deplaned to the most beautiful, clean airport we ever saw. The sun was twinkling over the mountains, the grey low clouds casting gorgeous shadows, and we headed into the cleanest immigration we have ever experienced. I mean the floors shined… for reals!

After collecting our bags we headed out to meet Gewang who was ready to share his incredible country.

It was a complete contrast from the humid, bustling landing in Kathamandu. It was clean, quiet, peaceful, and we immediately sensed that Bhutan was a very special place!

About The Author

Samantha

I’m a travel and health writer, digital and brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two active boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising feral wolves teenage boys, family life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.

3 COMMENTS

  1. 10 reasons to visit Bhutan with kids – My Travelling Circus | 30th Jul 17

    […] We took the scariest flight we have ever taken from Kathmandu into Paro, Bhutan. (You can read about that here World’s scariest airport to fly into). […]

  2. Amber Hill | 12th Mar 19

    Hi there, how scary was it really?!?!?!! I am investigating a trip to Bhutan for my family. Before kids my husband and I flew to and from Lukla and there is no way I can do anything like that with the kids. Eeek! It’s putting me off!!!!

    • Samantha | 13th Mar 19

      Hi! First of all, Bhutan is the most incredible place that we have ever visited. It is honestly life-changing. Now.. that said, you do have to fly there… it was sketchy… you fly very close to the mountains, i could hear the alarms of the plane being too close to the mountains, and there is a sudden drop to land at Paro airport. Maybe take something to relax you (i did!) or have a cocktail? We had to wait for the fog to clear to fly out.. they do not allow flights to take off or land if there is even a hint of fog, since it’s so tricky anyway weaving through the mountains, and when you take off the pilot needs to gain elevation quickly to miss the mountains, so you take off and the plane nose is practically sticking straight up into the air! You can watch some videos on YouTube too…. scary, but I wouldn’t let that hold me back! Hope that helps and let me know if you decide to go!

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