South India is a tropical paradise of endless beaches and dense jungles, ruined forts and mouthwatering food. Being India though, there’s almost too much to see. There’s never really enough time to see it in. In this blog, we’re going to help you pack the most punch into a two week trip. Do it without pushing yourself so hard you forget to have a great time.
If you’re looking for deserts and mountains instead, check out our post on similar routes through North India.
Mumbai – Goa – Hampi – Mysore – Kerala
This route is perfect if you’re young and wild and just aching to break free. We start off in vibrant, accessible Mumbai, full of great pubs and shopping and architecture. It’ll help to ease you into the less urban cities. From here you can catch a bus, a plane, a train, a cab and be in salty, summery Goa overnight. Goa is the greatest place to really let go. Just veg out on any one of the endless variety of beaches. Submit yourself to the awe-inspiring crumbling art work. Pack in the ultra-cheap beers between yoga classes on spice farms and cheap temporary tattoos. Slow it down a bit at peaceful Hampi. It’s a city steeped in history. It’s granduer is quiet and unimposing, sneaking up on you with as you slide gently down the Tungabhadra. It makes for a nice break after the more hectic Bomaby and Goa. It also drifts away from the Portuguese culture that has a heavy influence on both those cities. Spend a little time among Hampi’s gigantic boulder mountains and pick yourself up before moving on to Mysore.
Another haven for history lovers, though far better mainained and spectacularly opulent. Those who can handle the spice should try the famous Mysore masala dosa. it’s a paper thin rice pancake lined with chilli paste and stuffed with fried potatoes. No one can leave without a steaming cup of filter coffee. End your trip further down south among the lush lagoons of Kerala. It’s hard to recommend only one stop in this gorgeous state. We’d suggest Allepey for a night out on the backwaters. Munnar for unbeatably delicious weather and tea and Kochi for the culture-seekers.
Highlights: Pace yourself between hyperactivity and relaxation as your thread together different elements of a vibrant region.
Good to know: This route isn’t that well connected by trains which may mean longer trips on buses, usually overnight. That makes it better for active travellers.
The Deep South
Chennai – Pondicherry – Tanjavur – Madurai – Munnar – Backwaters – Fort Kochi
Travel down into the staunchest bastions of South Indian Pride–Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Two states that seem somehow both diametrically opposed in culture yet overflowing with similarities and a shared history.
Land in the capital of Tamil Nadu, Chennai. Formerly known as Madras. Growing upon it’s deep-set culture of fine-art, dance and music is a buzzing tech hub. Again, it makes for an easy entrance into the route. From here, it’s on to an even more uniquely blended culture at the erstwhile French territory of Pondicherry. An absolutely unique cit. It’s become a haven for peace-seekers that set up artsy cafes and organic goods stores on its rocky banks. There’s so much to see, and do and especially taste! From here it’s two of the most beautiful temple town of Tamil Nadu, Tanjavur and Madurai. Tanjavur is also home to the much sought-after Tanjore silk saris. They’re great gifts to carry home if you have the strength to lift them. Be sure to take a few rubbings of the intricately carved temple walls. Maybe even step in for a puja if they let you. Now cross the Nilgiri hills with a stopover in the clouds at Munnar. Visit a tea factory, ride an elephant, stay in on foggy cool nights with a hot cuppa. Then it’s back in the sun on the prow of a houseboat. Soak up that Vitamin D on a houseboat on the backwaters, probably in Allepey. Round off your trip with the hubbub of the quay at Fort Kochi. Be sure to take a walking tour through its more interesting quarters before catching a ride out of Ernakulam.
Highlights: Beautiful architecture, from the centuries-old temples to the colonial hangers-on. An important upside is that this route is much safer for women.
Good to Know: If you’re up for a few more days holiday, spend it on the beaches of Kerala, maybe in Varkala. Don’t be alarmed if the tourism industry isn’t geared toward helping foreign tourists in Tamil Nadu. They tend to focus more on Indians travelling for religious reason. Settle in for a really authentic experience!
The Off-beat trail
Mumbai – Aurangabad – Pune – Hampi – Aihole – Pattadakal – Badami – Goa
Are you a fan of old ruined forts? We’ll give you a dozen. Make the standard tourist trip from Mumbai to Goa but with six lesser known stops thrown in between.
Aurangabad, capital city of the mighty Mughal king Aurangazeb. These streets are paradise for the meat-lovers. They once kept huge armies well fed on succulent slow-cooked beef. Pune is much touted as the cultural hub of Maharashtra. Be sure to squeeze in a play or two, or a sub-titled Marathi film. Their concept of art will blow you away. From here you can catch a bus to Hampi and mellow out before moving on to Aihole. A tiny village in Karnataka, it boasts an ancient historical temple complex. Since it doesn’t draw a lot of tourists, it’s a good chance to experience village life untainted. The temples are part of the Chalukya ruins which continue into Pattadakal and Badami. The ones in Pattadakal are well-preserved enough for it to have been named a World Heritage Site. When you’ve had your fill of valuable knowledge skip off to the beaches of Goa for some well earned relaxation!
Highlights: This is a great route if you really want an authentic slice of village life, and some peace and quiet away from the city.
Good to Know: You’ll probably be giving up some comforts on the way, so carry anything extra you think you may need.
Into the Jungle
Bangalore – Mysore – Bandipur – Wayanad – Thekkady – Backwaters
This is the way to go if you’re here for wildlife parks and lush, green forest as far as the eye can see. Bangalore and Mysore are famous for their sprawling gardens. From Mysore you can drive straight in to Bandipur National Tiger Reserve. Funnily enough. it started off as a Maharaja’s private tiger hunting grounds.
The forestland spills over into the Wayanad Wildlife Reserve of Kerala. Dense and shadowy and teeming with elephants trumpeting about between the teaks. Fed by the Kabini River, this forest is full of farms and villages along its edges. Here you can find a great home stay that allows you to surround yourself with nature all day. And finally, the pride of tiger reserves, the Periyar National Park. Battling daily against the urbanization and growing tea plantations, it’s an oasis of spine-chilling beauty and peace.
Highlights: Beauty, calm, peace. But also mosquitoes. Wear full sleeved clothing.
Good to know: Wildlife resorts are always expensive, but they’re responsible and come with a great view! This is a seasonal route, best avoided from June to October during the monsoon.
Chennai – Mahabalipuram – Trichy – Tanjore – Chettinadu – Madurai – Kanyakumari
The Southern states have a strong tradition of making their temples the centre of the community. Into the temple go prayers and offerings and out come charity for the needy, dance, music and fine art. As society changes, they’re losing their grip on people’s minds, but they can never lose their charms.
This is often followed as a pilgrimage route, and you’ll be sure to meet a lot of religious travellers on your way. That makes it a good chance to actually get to know the people and their beliefs,. Take the trip a step beyond history and architecture. These cities have a lot more to them too. Chennai for its urban options, Mahabalipuram for its beaches. Trichy for its rock fort, Tanjore for its music and saris. Chettinad for its hot hot hot food, Madurai for the depth of its Tamil culture.. Finally Kanyakumari, simply for being the absolute end of India. What holds them together though, is the temples. You can make quite a study of the Tamil practice of Hinduism and religious architecture, and all in just two weeks!
Highlights: Since they’re used to local visitors, the food and entertainment will be rich in local colour. But the accommodation options will be up to the mark.
Good to know: Tamil culture is strong and unyielding, do a little research about the people before you go. Expect clean and comfortable accommodation, but not too many boutique hotels on this route.
Beach Bum Bonanza
Mumbai – Goa – Gokarna – Bekal – Marari – Varkala
What more can we possibly say about this one. It’s got every kind of beach city you can think of, and then a few more from your dreams. Start with Mumbai–urbane, hip, young, but with population that finds itself drawn to the seaface each evening. The beaches aren’t exactly the waterjet type. You can try and climb the tripods at Marine Drive if you’re looking for adventure sports. Goa on the other hand, is the classic beach city. The warm beach-y vibe oozes into the city. Open spaces are littered with flea markets and beer prices are low. Let your hair loose and get on the back of whichever scooter’s heading to the nearest party. Where Goa has a happening nightlife and year-round fiestas, Gokarna is all beach. There are a couple of temples inland, but the highlight is still the sea. Spend hours just gazing out at the surf, or dive straight in. Save up by living in a shack right on the seafront and gorge on seafood with the spare cash.
Bekal, in Kerala, has simply the most stunning sunsets. Spend your day clambering through the cool shade of the passageways of Bekal Fort. Make your way to a window to catch the sunset across the golden beach. From here you can afford to take it up a notch and splurge. Check into a beach resort at Marari, further down the Kerala coastline. A lot of them put in a great effort to be ecologically conscious. They work in harmony with the fisherfolk who’ve tended the sands for millennia. They’ll help you dip into the local life without being intrusive or exploitative. Simmer down in the soulful Varkala. Until recently it was only famous for its beach temple that brought in a handful of pilgrims each day. Now it’s popping with surfers and yoga geeks, and the locals have done a great job opening their arms and kitchens to them!
Highlights: While constant beaches may sound boring, each one on this list is very different from the other. Each of the cities that they border have a unique charm.
Good to know: Great route for backpackers, but you should book well in advance, particularly your trains. This route is best avoided from May to September during the monsoons.