This two-week journey will take you on an epic odyssey through two of the most fascinating states of southern India. You'll be enchanted by the French flavors of Pondicherry and the grand temple complex at Madurai in Tamil Nadu, the lush natural world of Periyar and the traditional culture of the backwaters of Kerala. Discover why this laid-back part of the country is a traveler favorite.

Highlights

  • Stroll the French Quarter of Pondicherry, a distinctly different pocket of India
  • Discover the lush, green world of Kerala and its backwaters
  • Relax on the beach in Varkala and soak in the sun
  • Explore the backwaters and visit historic Fort Cochin

Overview

The South is often said to be India turned down a notch, as the pace of life is just a little less hectic than in the North. You will discover this through exploring the mountains, national parks, and coastlines of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Start in the cosmopolitan city of Chennai, once called Madras, before stopping at several of Tamil Nadu's premier historic and religious sites: Mahabalipuram and Tiruvannamalai, Tanjore, Madurai, and Trichy. For something completely different in the midst of this Hindu culture, spend a few days in Pondicherry, a coastal town that was a French colony.

From there, head west to Kerala, a smaller state that Tamil Nadu but no less spectacular. Enjoy some nature pursuits in the Periyar National Park, then travel down to the backwaters of Kerala, an interconnected set of canals where people have lived and worked for centuries. Spend a few relaxing days at stunning Varkala beach, before ending your tour in historic Fort Cochin.

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Chennai

Sri Ramakrishna Math in Chennai

Arrive in Chennai, the biggest city in South India. After settling into your hotel, take an easy trip to the San Thome Cathedral and the Kapaleeshwara temple, one of the most beautiful temples in India.

Day 2: Chennai to Mahabalipuram and Tiruvannamalai

South Indian temples

Head to Mahabalipuram (60 km – 2 hours), a coastal village where you'll find magnificent statues along the beach. This village was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a tourist area still waiting to be discovered.

Days 3-4: Tiruvannamalai to Pondicherry; Full day in Pondicherry

Pondicherry

Pondicherry, a seaside town, is one of the finest destinations in South India. Over the next three days, you can enjoy cooking and mandala making workshops, classical Indian music and dance lessons, and a guided bike ride along the coastline. Admire the French architecture, enjoy your local guide's stories, and eat delicious Indian and French-inspired food.

Day 5: Day trip to spiritual Auroville

Auroville

Auroville is located 10 km from Pondicherry. It is a town inhabited by a diverse group of people who aim to live in peace and progressive harmony. In 1966, UNESCO declared this project as unique in the world. One of the purposes of Auroville is the realization of human unity and to bring inner changes in the individual, as well as to constructively investigate the difficulties faced by humanity. It's a unique place, and a local guide will take you around.

Day 6: Pondicherry to Trichy, then Tanjore

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Trichy

The city of Trichy was built around the famous Fort Rock temple, a spectacular monument perched on a huge rock that rises from the middle of the old town. In the afternoon, continue on to Tanjore (Thanjavur), an important cultural center in South India.

Day 7: Tanjore to Madurai and its famous temples

A lavish South Indian temple

Explore Tanjore, one of South India's most important religious, cultural, and artistic centers. The Great Living Chola Temples of Tanjore are a UNESCO World Heritage. Continue to Madurai, one of the oldest cities in the world, where you will visit the amazing temple of Meenakshi Amman and the palace of Tirumalai.

Day 8: Madurai to Periyar for a retreat into nature

Periyar National Park

Leave Tamil Nadu and head west to Kerala, with its many natural riches. Stay at an organic farm near the Periyar National Park, in the mountains of Kerala. You will be surrounded by tea and spice plantations. This place is a must for nature lovers.

Day 9: Nature activities around Periyar

Birdlife in Periyar National Park

Visit plantations growing some of Kerala’s key crops, including coffee, cardamom, cinnamon, and pepper. Take a walk with the forest guards to discover a wide variety of birds and plants. Enjoy a boat trip on the lake.

Day 10: Periyar to the beaches of Varkala; Days 11 & 12: Relaxation at Varkala

Varkala

Kerala apparently has it all, as you move from the mountains to the beaches. Varkala is located in the south of Kerala and is famous for its wide beach, its incredible cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean and for being one of the places where Ayurveda, a form of traditional Indian medicine, was born.

You'll get three luxurious days to hang out at the beach. You can swim in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, watch splendid sunsets from dramatic clifftop cafes, eat fresh fish, and have a wellness break that includes Yoga and Ayurveda. Your hotel is located 200 meters from the beach and near the cliffs of Varkala.

Day 13: Varkala to Kumarakom, for backwater boat tours

Kerala backwaters

Kumarakom is a paradise of mangroves, green fields, flowers and coconut trees interlaced with water channels. Take a traditional boat tour on Lake Vembanad and through the fascinating backwaters of Kerala. This will be a unique experience in which you will get up close with the families who live next to the canals. Learn to climb a tree and how to make a rope with coconut thread.

Day 14: Kumarakom to historic Fort Cochin

Historic Fort Cochin

Fort Cochin is a blend of Portuguese, Jewish, Dutch, Hindu and even Chinese heritage. The city was founded in 1341 when a flood created a safe harbor in which to found a city, which turned into one of the main commercial ports on India's Malabar Coast.

In the afternoon, enjoy a Kathakali dance show at one of Cochin's oldest theaters and art centers. Kathakali is a traditional art form that uses amazing make-up and costumes to enhance the telling of stories from Hindu mythology.

Day 15: End of tour in Fort Cochin

Transfer to another Indian city, catch your flight home or stay on for an extra few days in Kerala after the end of the tour.