Take the atmosphere of Shimla or Darjeeling, add lush tropical jungle and you have the Western Ghats: a hotspot of thundering waterfalls, tea plantations, spice markets, and echoes of a colonial past.. Glide through the backwaters of Kerala on a pole boat, going ashore for a village homestay – a beautiful break from hotels and overnight trains and a perfect way to get close to local customs and culture.. Cross into Kochi – a colonial centre and major port city in India’s southwest. Explore the seaside Fort Kochi area and consider watching a traditional Kathakali dance performance in your free time.. The word ‘colourful’ gets thrown around a lot when people talk about India, but the gateway towers of Meenakshi Amman Temple truly are a technicolour dream.
Unplug from everyday routine and head to the beaches and backwaters of southern India on a 16-day Lonely Planet Experience, powered by Intrepid. Explore the lush landscapes, intriguing cultures, bustling bazaars, and incredible cuisine of this region. Jump on and off local transport and go rural through coconut groves and fishing villages, discovering the heart of the subcontinent. See ancient ruins and stunning temples, eat spicy curries, and drink luscious lassis. Join the bustle of city streets and, at the end of it all, unwind on the beautiful beaches of Goa.
Breakfast Included: 3 Lunches Included: 1 Dinner Included: 1
Welcome to India! Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting this evening at 6 pm. Afterward, join your local leader on an orientation walk around Trivandrum. Tonight is all about introductions, so perhaps get together with your group after the walk and have an optional dinner – your leader will be able to suggest the best neighbourhoods for a delicious local meal.
In the morning, head up the coast by private vehicle for around 2 hours to the town of Varkala. Once settled into your hotel, use the free time to explore the Keralan coast, which is home to some of India’s best beaches. Soaring cliffs protect Varkala’s sandy bay and, depending on the time of year, dolphins can be spotted from high up on the rocks. In the evening, maybe head into town to one of the numerous restaurants serving fresh, local seafood caught right off the coast.
Enjoy a free day in Varkala. This is a great place to sit back and relax, but if you want to get active there are plenty of water activities on offer, such as surfing and windsurfing. Even though this is a popular destination for Indian tourists, the beaches are quiet and pretty laidback. Today is also the perfect time to check your Lonely Planet app and see what else is popular around the area. Take the rest of the day to relax, beachside, or otherwise, before the rest of South India beckons.
This morning, take a 3-hour train journey along the Keralan coastline to Alappuzha (Alleppey). Once an important trading port and now renowned for the annual Snake Boat race in August, Alappuzha is the starting point for most journeys into the backwaters. An auto-rickshaw will take you from the train station to the boat boarding point. Explore the Keralan Backwaters in a pole boat before heading to an island village for an overnight homestay with a local family. Your guide will take you on a walk around the village and introduce you to the community.
In the morning, cross the backwaters by private boat back to Alappuzha. You’ll then take a 2-hour local bus to Kochi, arriving around midday (12 pm). Once arrived, go for a walk around the Fort Kochi area, where you’ll be staying for the next two nights. In the early evening, there’s the option to attend a classic Kathakali dance performance – a snapshot into traditional cultures of the region.
Today, head to the Mattancherry part of Fort Cochin to explore the old Jewish quarter, synagogue, and Dutch Palace (Kochi Palace) on a guided walking tour. The tour takes around three hours, with the rest of the day free to do as you wish. Afterward, why not join an Urban Adventure day tour, such as Aromas of Kochi, to get more of an in-depth look into this city and its cuisine. Visit urbanadventures.com/destination/kochi-tours for more information, and check with your local leader in advance if you’d like to book one of these trips.
This morning, get ready for a day of travel as you head by private vehicle to Periyar National Park (approximately 7–8 hours). After checking in to your hotel, head out on a tour of a local spice farm, sampling cardamom, pepper, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Afterward, enjoy a relaxed evening around your accommodation, perhaps settling in for an early night.
After breakfast, enjoy a free day with an optional walk around Periyar National Park. Encounters with animals in the wild are never guaranteed, and this is more of a jungle walk than an animal-spotting tour, but do keep an eye out for tiger tracks, spotted deer, Indian elephants, or gaur – the world's largest species of buffalo. In the afternoon, unwind with an optional ayurvedic massage or just relax in your scenic setting.
In the morning, take a local bus to Madurai (approximately 4–5 hours). This buzzing city is crammed full of bazaars, pilgrims, and cycle rickshaws. After a walking tour to see the sights, perhaps visit the Sri Meenakshi Temple. This ancient temple is still in use and features a labyrinth of lamplit corridors leading to shrines.
Madurai – Overnight Train
Today is a free day in Madurai. Perhaps head to the Gandhi Museum to learn about the man who fought for India’s independence or wander through the 1000 pillars of Aayiram Kaal Mandapam. This is also a great opportunity to haggle with vendors at the bazaars and the tailors' market. Keep in mind that this evening, you’ll take an overnight sleeper train to Mysore. The journey is approximately 14 hours, so you may want to bring some extra snacks.
On arrival, transfer to your hotel in Mysore. Mysore is an easygoing town with a pleasant climate. Go on a walk with your group, checking out the ornate Mysore Palace along the way. There’s also the option to visit the Keshava Temple in Somnathpur, which is a stunning example of Hoysala architecture. The temple is a 1-hour drive out of town.
Mysore – Overnight Train
Today is a free day in Mysore, with plenty of optional activities to keep you busy. If you’ve seen all you need to in town, perhaps explore the countryside surrounding Mysore. Climb up Chamundi Hill to the Sri Chamundeswari Temple at the top, which is dedicated to the goddess Durga. At around 7 pm tonight, meet up with your group and board a 10-hour overnight train to Hampi.