Discover South India in Less than 3 Weeks

By tripkygo | Jan 17, 2021
Asia > India

Information for a travel in South India

Contents

Best time to Visit South India?


Best time to visit South India is December to March. The days are hot and the nights cool.
We left in February 2020, the weather was great with only one day of rain.
Avoid the months of May and June when temperatures reach peaks and the following months when the monsoon is strong.

Which route?


There are so many things to see in South India so it all depends on how much time you spend there.
We stayed there for 19 days and got a good overview of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Mumbai.

Our itinerary:
Mumbai -> Mahabalipuram -> Pondicherry -> Thanjavur -> Madurai -> Munnar -> Marari Beach -> Alleppey (backwaters) -> Varkala -> Fort Cochin -> Mumbai.

What Budget?


We got it for € 3,029 or € 1,514.5 / person (excluding food and paid activities) while staying in very comfortable accommodation:
€ 1,715 for transport (planes, train, taxis, car with driver for 6 days, etc.)
€ 1,269 for accommodation
45 € for visas
You can easily get away at a lower cost by staying in lower category hotels that are clean and comfortable.

What Formalities?


You need a visa to go to India, you can apply for an eVisa online through the official government website . The procedure is quick and the cost is $ 25 (July to March or $ 10 April to June). It will be valid for 30 days from your arrival in India and will allow you two entries into the country.
Many unofficial sites offer to apply for a visa for you, avoid them you will pay a higher rate.
There is no compulsory vaccine to go to South India, the recommended vaccinations are: diphtheria-tetanus-poliomyelitis, typhoid fever, viral hepatitis A and B.

Day 1 : Arrival in Mumbai


9 hour direct flight to Mumbai from Paris CDG airport with Air France:
tickets purchased on Opodo 5 months in advance
cost of 607 € per person (-58 € per person thanks to Opodo Prime)
Mumbai Airport Terminal 2
We arrived at midnight at Mumbai airport and had to be very patient with immigration as there were a lot of people for few counters open at this late hour.

How to get from Mumbai Airport to the city center?


Once the administrative formalities have been completed, we leave the airport and follow the signs indicating an Uber counter in order to book a driver. At the counter, just ask for the WIFI code and you can easily book your driver. For a trip from the airport to the Branda district we paid only 300 rupees or 3.50 €.

Where to sleep in Mumbai near the airport?


We spent the night in the Horn Ok Please Hostel which we had chosen for its location in the lively Branda district in the west of the city, not too far from the airport. We had a double room with private bathroom and a rather modern decoration at the price of 45 € per night with fairly basic breakfast.

Day 2: On the way to Mahabalipuram


After a short night in Mumbai due to the jet lag, we go for a walk in the neighborhood in order to soak up the Indian atmosphere that we appreciate so much since our stay in North India in 2014 (travel journal to come soon).

The world, the noise, the colors and the smells immediately plunge us into India.

We then take an Uber (only 140 rupees or € 1.70) to go to terminal 1 of Mumbai airport to take a flight to Chennai capital of Tamil Nadu, the first state that we will explore during this stay. .

How to get from Mumbai to Chennai?


2 hour flight between Mumbai and Chennai with IndiGo company:
booked 2 months in advance directly on the company's website
cost of 40 € / person

How to get from Chennai to Mahabalipuram?


At Chennai airport (formerly Madras), a driver is waiting for us to take us to our guesthouse in Mahabalipuram. We had booked this transport through our accommodation for the sum of 2000 rupees or 23.60 €.
We had chosen to skip Chennai which is a big city in order to favor the rest of Tamil Nadu.
After more than 2 hours of travel (Chennai is very congested) we arrive at Mahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram in Tamul) small seaside town famous for its UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Where to sleep in Mahabalipuram?


We will settle in the charming Blue Moon Guesthouse where we will stay for 2 nights (reservation made on Agoda at the price of 29 € / night). It is run by a very helpful Indian couple who do everything to make your stay enjoyable.
The guesthouse is quietly located but 5 minutes walk from the shopping streets and 2 minutes from the beach.
The rooms are simple but clean and have nice balconies.
Breakfast is varied and the terrace where it is served is pleasant with a view of the sea. It is possible to book a very generous dinner made with freshly caught or vegetarian products.
The rooftop has a beautiful view of the city and the sea.

Day 3: Visit of Mahabalipuram


We wake up in Mahabalipuram (or Mammalapuram) perfectly rested to start a long day of sightseeing. We start with a good breakfast on the terrace in our guesthouse .

What To Do In Mahabalipuram?


The town of Mahabalipuram is not very large and quite pleasant, so it is possible to visit all the sites on foot.
After strolling through the alleys, we start with the UNESCO World Heritage Site made up of religious monuments carved into the rock around the 7th century. The sculptures are monumental and distributed in a pleasant park.
A lighthouse is located in the middle of the park, it is possible to climb to its top for a few rupees in order to have a spectacular view of all Mahabalipuram.

We then walk along the road for about ten minutes to reach the famous Five Rathas (five tanks). They date from the 7th century and were discovered only 200 years ago by the British because they were buried under the sand. Many schoolchildren are present on the site and welcome us with smiles.

We return to the city center, still on foot and under a blazing sun, to visit the Shore Temple on the edge of the beach.
The beach is very pretty (despite the garbage like most beaches in India) and it is very pleasant to sit there to watch the people who come to cool off in the sea. Many young Indians want to take pictures with us because some are not used to seeing westerners.

After a short break, we will go and enjoy the sunset on the beach before a good and hearty dinner in our guesthouse. The next day we will take the road to Pondicherry.

Days 4-5: Two days in Pondicherry


After this pleasant stay in Mahabalipuram to soak up the atmosphere of Tamil Nadu we took the road towards Pondicherry. French comptoir until 1956, is a little piece of France in India. Many inhabitants speak French there.

How to go to Pondicherry?


To get there we used Uber for a cost of 1545 rupees or 18 € for about 2 hours of driving (in India the Uber application allows to use their services between certain cities).

Where to sleep in Pondicherry?


We stayed two nights at the Hotel Villa du Ocean (74 € / night) in the heart of the French Quarter. The hotel is very pretty with a great rooftop pool. Our room was very spacious and nicely furnished. The staff were very friendly and nothing was too much trouble.
The only negative point is the little variety in the breakfast.

What to do in Pondicherry?


The first day we strolled through the French quarter with its beautiful colorful buildings and bougainvillea. A place out of time and in total contrast to Indian cities.

We then continue the walk to the beach and its pleasant promenade where we will see pétanque players.

In the evening we will take a rickshaw ride to the Sunday market outside the French Quarter.

On the second day, we walk to Sri Manakula Vinayagar temple built over 4 centuries ago. An elephant blesses those who give it money or food.

We will then take a tour of the Tamul district and the market.

In the afternoon we go by rickshaw to Auroville about 10km from Pondicherry. It is an experimental city created in 1968 bringing together 2,500 people from more than 50 different nationalities. It is only possible to get close to the Matrimandir (the species of giant golf ball…) and its gardens. Then return to Pondicherry where we will end the day in the hotel swimming pool.

Where to eat in Pondicherry?


I recommend the restaurant of the Hotel Villa Shanti where we ate very well in a very pretty interior courtyard. The prices are higher than in most Indian restaurants, but still reasonable for the quality of the food and the setting.

Day 6: From Pondicherry to Thanjavur


Today we leave the beautiful city of Pondicherry to reach Thanjavur (or Tanjore) which is located a little further south of the country.
We meet our driver who will accompany us for 6 days.
In India, renting a car with a driver for a long period is a good way to get around at a reasonable cost and seeing interesting places on the road.
Reservation with the agency Bas & Dasat a cost of 318 € for 6 days between Pondicherry and Marari beach in Kerala. It is a serious agency, good car and good driver.

How to get from Pondicherry to Thanjavur?


By car, it will take you a little over 4 hours to reach Thanjavur.

What to see on the way?


On the way we stop to visit the beautiful temple of Brihadesvara in Gangaikondacholapuram. It dates from the 11th century and is dedicated to Shiva. It is one of the three major monuments of the Chola civilization.
We are overwhelmed by young Indians clamoring for selfies.

Where to sleep in Thanjavur?


We stayed one night at the very classic Gnanam Hotel , ideal for its location in the city center.
We were at the back of the building so not too much noise but the rooms facing the street at the front must be very noisy.
The bathroom was a bit basic and the breakfast consisted of Indian dishes only. But nothing shocking given the very low rate of 12 € / night!

What to do in Thanjavur?


The city is quite small but bubbling! Stroll through the lively streets of the city center to soak up the atmosphere. Meet at the palace for a pleasant visit away from the hustle and bustle.

We then walked to the majestic Brihadeeswara Temple. It is dedicated to Shiva Rudra and was built by King Chola Râjaraja between 1003 and 1010.
Half a day is more than enough to visit Thanjavur.

Day 7: Stopover in Tiruchchirappalli


We are now leaving Thanjavur to join Madurai and take the opportunity to stop at Tiruchchirappalli (or Trichy) to visit the superb and gigantic temple of Sri Ranganathaswamy.
It is the largest temple in India. One of its towers rises to 73m which makes it one of the highest in Asia! Multicolored and labyrinthine temple, it is like a city all by itself.
A step not to be missed in Tamil Nadu!

Days 7-8: Two days in Madurai


After Trichy , we continue the road to the big city of Madurai.

How to get to Madurai from Thanjavur?


By car it takes about 3 hours 30 minutes to reach Thanjavur . Remember to stop at Trichy to admire the superb temple of Sri Ranganathaswamy.

What to do in Madurai?


We arrived at the beginning of the afternoon in Madurai, one of the oldest cities in India and set off for a walk through the chaotic streets of the city. It is not very pleasant to walk around Madurai as it is a noisy city with poor streets, but it gives an excellent overview of the hustle and bustle of an Indian city. The tour of the main temple in the city is more pleasant since it is pedestrianized and undergoing renovation during our stay in February 2020.

You should not miss the pretty Pudu Mandapam market located in an old temple.

The next day we visited the magnificent Mînâkshî temple in the center of the city. Its towers are superb and the large interior nicely decorated with a basin in its center. Unfortunately, it is not possible to enter with a smartphone or camera (locker at the entrance).

We continue our walk by going to the Nayak Tirumalai Palace which was erected in 1636. We were a little disappointed because there was little to see inside except the large main room. It is also possible to continue to the nearby cathedral.

At the end of the afternoon we had an appointment for an experience that I recommend: a food tour to discover the gastronomy of Tamil Nadu! We had booked with Foddies Day Out this 3 hour tour by car and on foot that will allow you to go to places without tourists to taste dozens of different dishes (don't eat lunch!).
Not to be missed if you go to Madurai!
Cost: 30 € / person.

Where to sleep in Madurai?


We spent two nights at the Royal Court Hotel for the price of 48 € / night.
Classic Indian hotel well located near busy streets and a 20 minute walk from the main temple.
Spacious room and functional and clean bathroom.
Breakfast very provided but composed almost entirely of Indian specialties.
Too bad the reception staff are not more smiling ...

Days 9-10: Two days in Munnar in the heart of Kerala tea plantations


This morning, we leave Tamil Nadu, its spectacular temples and the frenzy of its cities to reach Kerala and its lush nature.
Munnar is a peaceful town surrounded by tea plantations. We are at an altitude of 1500m so the temperature drops by almost 10 degrees compared to Madurai , which is very appreciable!

How to get to Munnar from Madurai?


It takes at least 4 hours to reach Munnar from Madurai as the road is very winding when arriving in Kerala. We will take 1 hour more because the main road leading to Munnar was under construction which forced us to make a major detour.

What to do in Munnar?


We take a Tuktuk to visit the tea museum north of the city. It is actually a replica of a working tea factory showing very (too) quickly the basics of tea making.

At the exit of the museum we attend the exit of the school where the children pile up in Tuktuk or buses to return home. We decide to continue the path on foot to the small town center of Munnar. Take a stroll through the market to admire the colorful fruits and vegetables on the stalls.

The main attraction of this city lies in the fact of going on a trek through the tea plantations, which we did on the second day with a friendly guide from Munnar Trekking Adventure for 17 € / person (lunch included).
The plantations are beautiful, pruned and sculpted like hedges by the pickers who harvest the leaves.
The vast majority of them belong to the important Indian industrial group Tata.
The day trip is pleasant and easy, not to be missed to have a superb panorama of Munnar and its plantations.

Where to sleep in Munnar?


There is no shortage of accommodation in the city and its surroundings. If your budget allows it, you can choose a luxury hotel outside of Munnar to enjoy the peace of the countryside and beautiful swimming pools with views.
We had instead chosen to stay close to the city center by staying at the Grand Plaza Munnar hotel, where we were lucky enough to be upgraded to a suite.
The rooms are modern and comfortable, some with a lovely view of the river. The staff are very friendly and smiley. Good value for money !
The only negative point: the spa area should be modernized.
Cost: 43 € / night.

Days 11-12: Two days of relaxation at Marari Beach


How to get from Munnar to Marari Beach?


The most practical is the car, so we continued our journey with our driver for almost 5 hours of driving (and 17,324 turns!). It's hard not to get motion sickness as the roads are winding to leave Munnar … After 6 days with our driver, we will say goodbye to him when we reach our destination.

What to do in Marari Beach?


Nothing ! In any case, that's what we did as the setting encouraged relaxation.
The beach is beautiful (despite the waste) with fine sand and lined with palm trees. Even in high season you will find a quiet corner just for you.

So we spent these two days relaxing at the beach or by the pool at our hotel.
In the evening we went for a walk in the city center of Alleppey whose main interest is the presence of the backwaters .

Where to sleep in marari Beach?


If your budget allows it, go to the Flamingo Marari Boutique Hotel (90 € / night). This superb residence has a large swimming pool and a quiet garden on the edge of a canal allowing quick access to the beautiful beach of Marari with the boats provided by the hotel.
The rooms and common areas are very well decorated with quality furnishings. The staff are very friendly and nothing is too much trouble.
The breakfast is plentiful and very varied. You can also enjoy delicious Indian or Western dishes here during a dinner in the garden.

Day 13: Kerala backwaters cruise by houseboat


This is the main attraction in Alleppey: exploring the backwaters, a network of navigable waterways and lakes stretching almost the entire length of the Kerala coast.
We had booked our tour with the Marvel Cruise agency .

We embarked on our private boat at 12 noon, accompanied by a captain, his assistant and a cook.
Our houseboat was very nice and built with quality materials unlike others seen during the cruise.
Cost: 156 € for 1 day and 1 night on the boat with 3 meals included.

The tour allows you to admire superb landscapes and to have a glimpse of the life of the locals living on the banks and using the backwaters for their toilet or laundry.
We docked at 5.30 p.m. which allowed us to take a walk on the banks in order to soak up local life and chat with some locals.

We then spent the night on the boat before resuming navigation in the early morning to our starting point.
The staff are very friendly and the Indian food is excellent.

Days 14-15: Relaxation in Varkala in The South of Kerala


After a day sailing on the peaceful backwaters, we take the road to Varkala, a seaside resort in southern Kerala famous for its superb cliffs.

How to get from Alleppey to Varkala?


We had chosen to book a taxi with the company Ms Tour & Travels for the 3 hour drive to Varkala at a cost of 39 €.

What to do in Varkala?


Varkala is located at the top of a superb cliff at the foot of which beautiful sandy beaches unfold. The sea is very warm but the waves can be violent! It is a peaceful city where it is good to relax.

We mainly took advantage of the beach and the swimming pool at our hotel.
On the morning of the second day we took a walk to South Beach and then walked to a temple but it was only accessible to Indians.

Where to sleep in Varkala?


We had chosen a hotel at a high enough price in order to enjoy its swimming pool with a view of the sea, but it is possible to find quality accommodation without a swimming pool for 2 to 3 times less!
We were at the Krishnatheeram Ayur Holy Beach Resort at the price of 102 € / night. Nice hotel with nice rooms but quite small. The garden and the swimming pool are very pleasant.

Days 16-17: Two days in Fort Cochin


After two lazy days in Varkala , our next stop will be Fort Cochin (or Fort Cochi) in northern Kerala.

How to get to Fort Cochin from Varkala?


We opted for a train ride to Cochin.
Cost: less than 10 € / person for a 3:40 hour journey in air-conditioned 1st class. Ticket reservation from France on the Cleartrip website.

From Kochi station it is simple and inexpensive to reach Fort Cochin by rickshaw. Go to the counter outside where you prepay your fare.

What to do in Fort Cochin?


It is very pleasant to walk around Fort Cochin because few cars circulate and the pretty streets are planted with trees.

The first day we visited on foot: the Dutch cemetery, the basilica, the church of Saint-Francois de Cochin where the tomb of Vasco da Gama is located (his remains are now in Lisbon) and the Chinese fishing nets (huge nets of peach imported by Chinese merchants in the 14th century).

The next day very early we went to see the fishermen operate the lift nets, a spectacle not to be missed!

Then we took a rickshaw to reach the east shore of Fort Cochin. To see: Dutch palace, Jewish quarter, temples, ...

At the end of the day we went to admire the sunset on the beach and took advantage of the seaside market.

Where to sleep in Fort Cochin?


We took up residence at Neemrana's Tower house , a very beautiful colonial-style hotel ideally located near the Chinese squares.
The common areas are beautiful and the spacious rooms well decorated.
The pool is warm and very pleasant.

Two downsides: the breakfast is not at the level of this type of hotel and the numerous small flying insects in the rooms are annoying (despite the actions of the staff to try to eradicate them in all parts of the hotel) .
Cost: 63 € / night.

Where to eat in Fort Cochin?


I recommend the Fort House Restaurant, a good restaurant in a beautiful setting: garden and pontoon overlooking the sea.
The dishes are tasty (even if a little too spicy for our Western palates) and the staff very friendly.

Days 18-19: Visit of Mumbai


We are nearing the end of our trip to South India with our last two days in Mumbai (Bombay).

How to get to Mumbai from Fort Cochin?


We took a 2 hour flight from Cochin with the company IndiGo at 39 € / person by booking two months in advance on the Opodo site (13 € reduction per person thanks to Opodo Prime).

What To See In Mumbai?


There is a lot to see in Mumbai and the city is very large.
Do not miss: the Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal Palace, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Station (formerly “Victoria Terminal”) classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the magnificent British-style buildings that line the streets of the Colaba district .

The second day we strolled through the markets through the Muslim quarter and then we went to the surprising Christian quarter of Khotachiwadi and its pretty little Portuguese-style wooden houses.

Where to eat in Mumbai?


I recommend the vintage Bombay in the Colaba district. This is a good Indian restaurant with a nice decoration and very friendly staff.
The prices are higher than in other restaurants in the area but the food is excellent.

Where to sleep in Mumbai?


For our last night in India, we had the pleasure of sleeping in a luxury hotel, the Trident Nariman Point located by the sea. The price is high for India but reasonable for this standard (158 € / night).

The common areas are very beautiful and the swimming pool very pleasant with a view of the sea.

The staff are very friendly and nothing is too much trouble.
The breakfast is perfect with a huge choice of food, the best we have had in India.
Our room on the 14th floor deserves a little decoration refresh.

Back to Paris


There you go, this trip ends after 19 days in South India. 5 years after our first stay in this unique country we have the confirmation to be crazy about it and that we will return soon.

Beaches Train Tamil Nadu Munnar Food Chennai Temples Pondicherry Varkala Mumbai Maharashtra Alleppey India Accommodation Things to do Restaurants Itinerary Hostels Budget Transportation Tiruchirappalli Madurai Asia Kochi Cruise Thanjavur Puducherry Marari Beach Mahabalipuram Kerala

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Written by tripkygo
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