Dazzled by regal North India? Rejuvenate your senses amid lush landscapes on your South India vacation.
Encompassing four states, each with their unique personality and flavor, the triangle-shaped plateau juts cheekily out into the Indian ocean. Flanked by the imposing Western Ghat mountains on the one side and the halting Eastern Ghats on the other, this ancient, resilient land has sheltered myriad nationalities, races, cultures, and incredible biodiversity in its tropical rainforests, over centuries. Here, ancient temples hobnob with bustling tech hubs, giant houseboats languidly traverse seemingly endless lakes, huge herds of elephants roam forested pathways of Bandipur National Park, centuries old Portuguese buildings offer cool shade from the summer sun, and swaying coconut palms line golden sandy beaches. Meanwhile, friendly neighborhood vendors sell delicious South Indian food around every corner, topped with a generous dollop of warmth.
From houseboat tours in Kerala backwaters, to the rock cut South Indian temples of Hampi, the French colonies of Pondicherry, and lush green plantations of Coorg – South India vacations will astound you. To help you maneuver through this alluring maze of countless places to visit in South India, we’ve made a list of our personal favorites to include in your South India travel itinerary.
1 Visit Heritage Havens on Your South India Vacation
There are plenty of regal palaces and forts in South India, such as the imposing Mysore Palace which is dazzlingly lit up every Sunday evening.
Just as unique as its illustrious sibling up north, South Indian culture is dazzlingly vibrant and diverse. Dynasties have risen and fallen over centuries, each leaving its mark on the land through exquisitely crafted temples that continue to be revered places of worship even today. Discover the imposing Meenakshi Temple of Madurai, or the stunning Tanjore Temple in Thanjavur. The 8th century temples of Mahabalipuram are one of the most-visited UNESCO World Heritage sites in South India, as are the spectacular rock cut ruins of the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire in Hampi – also a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are regal palaces and forts galore, such as the imposing Mysore Palace which is brilliantly lit up every Sunday evening.
Over the years, many a tradition originated within the walls of South Indian temple complexes, including dance forms such as Bharatnatyam, originally performed by temple dancers and now elevated to the national dance form of the country. Just as many visitors come to witness a performance of classical Kathakali dance, drawn in by the ubiquitous images of theatrically painted and elaborately costumed dancers. Lesser known but equally enjoyable, is a performance of the martial art form of Kalaripayattu that is synonymous with Kerala.
Auroville, just outside of Pondicherry, offers visitors a chance to seek inner peace through a harmonious community-focused life, or inside an imposing golden globe-like structure called Matrimandir.
In contrast to this thriving temple culture, witness the colonial charm of cities such as Pondicherry and Cochin. French-style houses frame the bougainvillea-lined streets of Pondicherry’s White Town. Auroville, just outside of Pondicherry, offers visitors a chance to seek inner peace through a harmonious community-focused life, or inside the imposing golden globe-like structure called Matrimandir. You’ll be just as charmed by the beautiful Portuguese buildings of Fort Kochi, one of the best-known tourist places in Kerala. Here, many of these buildings have been converted to swanky accommodations for visitors seeking a hearty mix of Kerala’s colonial heritage and its unique, contemporary culture – after all, this is the center of the Kochi Biennale, when the streets come alive with art and craftwork for a few weeks every year.
Take a heritage walk in Cochin to discover its rich culture and heritage.
Just a little to the north, Goa, a beach lovers dream, offers charmingly cobbled streets, Portuguese-influenced churches, and an industrial heart called Vasco, no doubt named after that enterprising sailor who arrived here six centuries ago. Sophisticated cities such as tech-hub Bangalore, Nawab-era Hyderabad and Chennai, the historic bastion of the British East India Company, offer interesting contrasts to these heritage sites.
2 Houseboat Bliss in Kerala
Stay in a tranquil lake resort set on the fringes of Lake Vembanad, enjoying the breeze, the views, and the tranquility.
Picture this: vast reserves of freshwater lakes and lagoons stretch as far as the eye can see, a giant houseboat toots its horn as you watch it pass by sprawled on the wooden deck of your own boat, swayed gently on the undulating waters, with a breeze ruffling your hair. At noon, try your hand at fishing, afterward having the fruits of your labor grilled à la Kerala by your chef on board. In the afternoon, climb into a wooden boat armed with a skilled oarsman who takes you through small channels past an entire town living on the edge of the water. Later, rejuvenate yourself with an authentic Ayurveda treatment in the comfort of your boat. Magical? Certainly!
Few experiences are as relaxing or unique than a Kerala backwaters tour, whether you take an Alleppey houseboat ride in the larger Lake Vembanad, or venture off on a quieter journey through the backwaters on a Kumarakom houseboat. If this is not up your alley, you can always choose a tranquil lake resort set on the fringes of vast Lake Vembanad, enjoying the breeze, the views, and the tranquility even as your feet are firmly planted on land!
3 Southern Landscapes to Remember
Ooty boasts panoramic views from the tallest peak in the Western Ghat mountain range just outside of town, a rambling old world toy train, tranquil lakes, and vast stretches of rolling plains.
A far cry from the desert and mountain landscapes of North India, a South India vacation offers tranquil sojourns amid rolling valleys of lush green tea plantations and coffee estates, thundering waterfalls, mist-laden mountain tops and high altitude lakes cradled between forested hills. Meandering roads lead you up steep mountains to mesmerizing Munnar or into the high altitude forests of neighboring Wayanad. Or take a challenging drive through the elephant-rich Mudumalai National Park to reach Ooty India – with panoramic views from the tallest peak in the mountain range just outside of town, a quaint toy train, and vast stretches of rolling meadows, Ooty is aptly known to locals as the ‘Queen of the Hills’. Next door lies the coffee plantations of Coorg and Chikmagalur – the main coffee-growing regions of India, they are offer tranquil getaways from the bustle of big cities, accompanied by steaming pots of delicious cuppa.
4 Wildlife Wonders in South India National Parks
Spend your days safariing in the wild and your evenings gathered around bonfires at stylish safari lodges.
How about a South Indian safari? In contrast to the tourist-laden confines of Central India’s national parks, a South India vacation takes you deep inside vast, untamed wildernesses that are home to thousands of animals and birds. Rambling roads pass through lush jungles where you could run into curious wildlife by the side of the road regarding you just as thoughtfully as you watch it. Elephant hordes regularly spill out into the roads near small settlements, spotted deer seek grazing grass in astonishingly large herds, here and there a peacock peeks through the branches of a tall tree in Nagarhole, wild boars grunt as if in greeting as they scurry past your safari jeep, and crocodiles bask in the sunshine on odd winter days at Kabini. In the evenings, the jungles near Masinagudi come alive with myriad birdsong as the winged wanderers retire for the day, while in Bandipur National Park, sulking tigers lurk behind bushes, giving themselves up only to the trained eyes of your naturalist.
Spend your days safariing in the wild and your evenings gathered around bonfires at stylish lodges. Or while away time in Periyar, watching giant herds of elephants frolic by the waterside all day. Unique wildlife experiences await on your South India vacation.
5 Golden Beaches of South India
Kerala’s coastal jewels such as Marari Beach, Neeleshwar, and Gokarna in Karnataka, offer quieter alternatives to Goa.
Almost all India enthusiasts will have heard about the mesmeric charm of Goa’s golden sands and azure waters. No matter your age or travel style, Goa beach holidays offer something for everyone – from swanky resorts that promise private beach experiences to lively strips of sand offering parties galore, secluded colonial buildings-turned-guesthouses set amid vast acres of farmland, and fashionable, designer bungalows by the waterfront. Just as beautiful are the several other pristine beaches lining India’s south western shoreline. Coastal jewels such as Marari Beach in the heart of Kerala, the lesser known Neeleshwar and Kasargod, and Gokarna beaches offer quieter alternatives to ever-popular Goa for your leisurely South India vacation.
What is the Best Time to Visit South India?
The best time for your South India vacation is during the cooler winter months between October and March. Click here to read more.
Plan Your South India Vacation
With so much to see and do in this vibrant heartland, choosing the ideal itinerary can be confusing. That’s where we come in. Jungle jaunts, temple tours, leisure vacations, beach holidays – we’ll plan it all for you.
Get in touch with us today to customize your dream South India vacation.