During my most recent trip to India I decided to focus all of my time in the tropical South.
Renowned for the chaotic party scene of Goa, the serene backwaters of Alleppey and the vibrant tea plantations of Munnar, I was excited to experience another, more liberal side to India.
However, with so many places to go and so much to see, when planning my six week trip, it was hard to know where to go, how long to stay in each place and where to prioritise/where not to bother going at all.
Therefore, to save you lovely lot from having the same problem, I’ve come up with this six week South India itinerary to help you plan your own trip to this sultry region.
Candolim/Anjuna/Agonda – 5 nights
For my first five nights in Goa I chose to stay in Candoli, around an hour North of the airport. My first piece of advice – do not stay here. Unless you’re a fan of trance beach parties, holiday complexes and a strip, which resembles that of Ayia Napa, it couldn’t be any further from the real India.
Being the culture craver I am, I was slightly horrified by how westernised and touristy Candolim seemed and was afraid that this was what had come of Goa. Alas, there was no need to worry as, when you head a further hour up the coastline to places such as, Anjuna and Arambol, the hotels morph into rickety beach huts and boisterous holidaymakers are replaced by zen hippies.
Base yourself at one of these areas and explore the palm fringed Northern coastline by moped, tuk tuk or taxi. Everywhere is reachable within an hour or two.
Must see sight: Anjuna Flea Market
GvG top tip: I travelled to Candolim over the New Year period so it may not be as touristy over quieter times of the year.
Panjim/Old Goa – 2 nights
Situated around half an hour inland from the coast, Panjim — the capital of Goa — is a whole world apart from Candolim.
Originally a Portuguese colony, this quiet city boasts cute, colourful alleyways as well as, some beautiful churches to explore. Although Panjim is a breath of fresh air from the hectic, touristy coastline, there isn’t a huge amount to do here and therefore, only requires a day or two to tick off the sights in both the city and the neighbouring ancient town of Old Goa.
Must see sight: Church of our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
Must stay: Caravela Homestay
Agonda/Palolem – 7 nights
Ohhh the South. With the beaches and scenery of the North minus the crowds and annoying tourists, the South is a more calm, charming and idealised Goa.
Agonda is relaxation on a plate. A perfect stretch of golden sand outlined by swaying palm trees, adorable beach huts and yoga and meditation retreats galore, it is the ideal place for a week of beach bumming and face stuffing whilst also exploring the neighbouring towns and beaches.
Spend a couple of days relaxing and doing yoga in Agonda before hopping on a moped to explore next doors’ beaches of Palolem, Kola and Khancola.
Must do activity: kayaking out to sea at sunset to try and spot some dolphins in Palolem
Must stay: Simrose, Agonda
Must eat: Fatima’s Corner
Gokarna – 3 nights
Heading around three hours out of Goa and into the state of Karnataka, you’ll find Gokarna, a relaxed haven boasting beach huts aplenty and a beach in the shape of the Om sign (gasp!)
Hampi – 4 nights
Hampi is extraordinary. Encompassed by gigantic stone boulders, ancient temple ruins and a picturesque lake, it is no surprise that this city is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Split over both sides of the lake, Hampi also offers a great backpacker scene. With cutesy rooftop restaurants and an abundance of souvenir shops, it is definitely worth spending at least 4 nights in this majestic city.
Must do activity: cycle tour of the temples
Must eat: Tibetan Kitchen and Mango Tree Restaurant
Bangalore – 2 nights
The high-tech capital of Karnataka, Bangalore is yet another crazy, manic and stressful city in India.
A stop in Bangalore wasn’t originally in my South India itinerary however, I decided to visit here to meet up with a friend I’d met in Goa who studied in the city.
Although it was great to be shown around by a local, I’ve never been a fan of huge cities, especially on the Indian scale, therefore I would only recommend 1 or 2 nights here as a pit stop on route to Munnar or the Keralan coast.
Must do activity: wander around the Botanic Gardens
Munnar – 3 nights
On my first trip to Kerala with my Mumma, we unfortunately didn’t have enough time to venture up into the depths of the Keralan tea plantations. Therefore, I knew it had to be in my itinerary on this trip.
Yet another example of India’s diverse scenery, Munnar flaunts strikingly vibrant tea plantations with beautiful speckles of colourful flowers as well as, the incredible opportunity to watch locals as they pick the finest tea leaves in the fields.
Munnar blew me away and was probably my favourite stops on my South India trip. Although the scenery is second to none, there isn’t much else to do in Munnar other than exploring the plantations and hitting up the tea museum meaning, you only need a few days (if not less) here.
Must do activity: a trek of the tea plantations
Must stay: JJ Cottage
Cochi – 2 nights
Home to Kerala’s authentic Chinese fishing nets, Kochi is one of the main portals into Kerala and offers a lovely city stop over before fleeing further down the coast.
Laze in a waterside bar shack with an ice cold beverage whilst admiring the local fisherman as they lower and hoist the Chinese fishing nets out of the water or, watch as others weave and fix old nets to be reused.
Must do activity: watch a Kathakali show
Must stay: Maritime the Hostel Crowd
Alleppey – 2 nights (house boat dependant)
Alleppey is the door to India’s famous backwaters and therefore, a trip to Kerala would not be complete without popping by to say hello to the ‘Venice of India’.
From bobbing along the still, palm-fringed waters in a kayak to renting a 5 star luxury houseboat with your very own on board butler, the options to explore the backwaters are endless and cover all budgets.
If you can’t afford a houseboat, I would advise hopping on a local rowing boat. Alot better for the environment and, allowing you to fit down the cute, side waterways, it’s a lot more peaceful than being on a motor boat.
Alleppey itself doesn’t offer much more than its easy access to the backwaters. However, I did have one of the best fish curries of my whole trip at a place called Dreamers restaurant (on the beach) so, perhaps stop by here before moving on to your next stop…
Must do activity: exploring the backwaters
Amritapuri – 2 nights
I went to Amritapuri to check out the Ashram of the Hugging Mother.
Built by the famous Indian guru, Ama aka. The Hugging Mother, Amritapuri ashram is home to people from all walks of life – Indian families, devout followers, the sick and disabled as well as, westerners who are either on the path to seeking ‘enlightenment’ or, tourists like me, who are staying for a couple of days to learn about and experience a polar opposite way of life.
During my stay I suffered with my first bout of food poisoning, was subject to an unbearable number of mosquito bites and couldn’t quite wrap my head around the concept of the ashram so, I don’t feel I was able to experience ashram life as well as I’d hoped.
I’m usually extremely open minded to these sort of things however, this one I found very hard to grasp. Rather ‘commune-esque’, devotees roam around in floaty white clothes, fight for their Darshan (hug) and complete ‘seva’, a selfless service, before heading to the main hall for Bhajan (spiritual song).
Varkala – 5 nights
Varkala is absolute bliss.
Situated around two hours further South of Amritapuri, this area of Kerala is tourism at its finest. Perched high up on a rugged cliff, Varkala boasts a small strip of charming restaurants, hotels, shops and yoga retreats.
Here, you can spend your days relaxing on the beach or swinging in a hammock with a good book before winding down in a yoga class and having a traditional Ayurvedic massage. Varkala is touristy but on a small backpacker scale and could easily lure you into staying for weeks on end.
Must do activity: cooking class at Bohemian Masala
Must stay: Bohemian Masala
Trivandrum – 2 nights
The capital of Kerala, Trivandrum is a city with not all that much to offer. I stayed here for one night/one day before getting the overnight train to Chennai to catch my ongoing flight to New Zealand and in all honesty, I wish I’d stayed in Varkala for an extra night instead.
Don’t panic if you have to skip this city altogether.
Chennai – 2 nights
My visit to Chennai was very fleeting. I’d been told by other travellers that there wasn’t much to see or do and, as I’m not a huge fan of big cities anyway, I decided to only spend one day here. It’s a great place to fly in or out of however, it’s probably not somewhere you need to allocate a huge amount of time to explore.
My trip to South India was fascinating. Not only was it my first proper trip travelling on my own but, it also showed me a whole new, laid back side to my favourite country.
Are you planning a trip to this part of the world? What is on your South India itinerary? Let us know if we missed anything or if you have any questions!