Explore the rich culture of the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala on this epic 12-day tour. Start in Chennai, then wander the charming streets of Pondicherry's French Quarter. Hop between ancient temples on the drive south to Tanjore, and savor Madurai's famous street food before strolling through the spice gardens of Periyar. After an overnight houseboat cruise through the backwaters of Alappuzha, relax on the beaches of Marari and end your adventure with a traditional dance show in Cochin.


  • Discover Chennai's many temples and foreign-influenced culture
  • Learn how silk saris are made before visiting Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram
  • Wander Pondicherry's quaint streets and visit key temples near Tanjore
  • Hear about Chettinad's history before taking a food tour in Madurai
  • Explore Periyar National Park, followed by cruising in Kerala on a houseboat

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Chennai Chennai
Day 2 Transfer to Mahabalipuram via Kanchipuram Mahabalipuram
Day 3 Transfer to Pondicherry, Walking Tour Pondicherry
Day 4 Transfer to Tanjore via Kumbakonam Tanjore
Day 5 Transfer to Chettinad via Trichy Chettinad
Day 6 Transfer to Madurai, Discover the Tamil Culture & Hindu Temples Madurai
Day 7 Transfer to Periyar, Spice Plantation Tour Periyar
Day 8 Half-Day Jungle Walk, Transfer to Kumarakom Kumarakom
Day 9 Transfer to Alappuzha, Cruise the Backwaters on a Houseboat Alappuzha
Day 10 Transfer to Marari, Free Day at the Beach Marari
Day 11 Transfer to Cochin, City Tour & Traditional Kathakali Dance Show Cochin
Day 12  Depart Cochin  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Chennai

Kapaleeswarar Temple, Chennai
A close-up view of Kapaleeswarar Temple in Chennai

Welcome to India! Your guide will greet you at the pickup point at Chennai International Airport and take you to your hotel. During the ride, enjoy the sights while your guide briefs you on the experience that awaits.

Friendly Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is one of the oldest cities in the country. Located on the Bay of Bengal's Coromandel Coast, this "capital of the south" has a rich cultural background and is the gateway to the temple state of Tamil Nadu. You'll experience its unique culture in the narrow streets of the Mylapore Tank and Mandavali areas with quaint shops, flower sellers, and street foods. After getting checked into your hotel, rest up, as tomorrow you'll start your journey south.

Day 2: Transfer to Mahabalipuram via Kanchipuram

Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram
Be sure to visit the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram

Leave behind the bustling city of Chennai on today's hour-long transfer south to Mahabalipuram. Along the way, you'll stop at Kanchipuram, also known as the "town of a thousand temples" to see the temples of Ekambaranathar, Kailasanatha, Varadharaja Perumal, and Kamakshi Amman. Kanchipuram is also known for its silk saris, and you'll visit the silk weavers and learn about the history of this colorful fabric, an essential part of a traditional bridal trousseau. 

At the Kamakshi Amman Temple, learn more about Kamakshi, said to be the super-goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva. She blesses all who dedicate themselves to her. You'll also witness a workshop where men sit at looms, weaving fabrics that you'll recognize immediately as "Madras cotton." Following the tour of Kanchipuram, continue to Mahabalipuram, a small village on the seaside with UNESCO-listed sculpted temples. Upon arrival, check in at your hotel and relax before dinner.

Day 3: Transfer to Pondicherry, Walking Tour

The best way to discover the French Quarter is by rickshaw

Your driver awaits this morning to take you two hours south to the coastal city of Pondicherry. A former French colony, the town is split north-south by a canal that once divided the French Quarter, at the edge of the sea, from the inland Indian Quarter. Once checked in at your hotel, your guide will take you on a walking tour around the French Quarter's historic buildings and ornate churches. Hear the tales of kings and commoners, poets, and villains, all of whom wove their way into the fabric of the city. Pondicherry's colonial past comes alive as you wander through its quaint boulevards.

Visit architectural highlights like the Town Hall, called Hotel De Ville. The landmark building dates back over 150 years and is a charming testimony of Pondicherry's French heritage. Nearby, see Notre Dame De Anges, a beautiful church built in the Greco-German style. Next, visit Le Café, the iconic École Française d'Extrême-Orient (Far East French School) and the tranquil Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Last, you'll visit Alliance Francaise, the art gallery, and Pondicherry Museum.

Day 4: Transfer to Tanjore via Kumbakonam

You never know who'll be waiting at Brihadishvara Temple in Tanjore

After breakfast, get back on the road for the four-hour drive south to Tanjore. Along the way, you'll stop at the many standout temples that line this scenic route. First visit Nataraja Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva at Chidambaram. Then continue your drive to Shiva Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, a UNESCO-listed wonder built in the 11th century by the Chola dynasty. You'll have lunch here in Kumbakonam before getting back on the road.

In the afternoon, stop at the 12th-century Chola Airavatesvara Temple in the small village of Darasuram. You'll reach Tanjore (or Thanjavur) in the early evening and check into your hotel. 
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Day 5: Transfer to Chettinad via Trichy

The roof of the ancient temple in Trichy

This morning's three-hour transfer takes you to Chettinad with a stop in Trichy, where you'll visit Srirangam and Rockfort Temple, also known as the Ucchi Pillayar Koil. You'll reach Chettinad in Tamil Nadu's Sivaganga district by mid-afternoon. Apart from being known as a temple town, Chettinad cuisine is the most renowned in Tamil Nadu. The word "Chetti" is a Sanskrit term meaning wealth, referring to the traders of the region who dealt with salt and spices for marble and other decorative items used in the construction of their properties. Chettinad mainly comprises a town known as Karaikudi and a cluster of 96 villages. 

Tour the Chettinad area with a visit to the Chettinad Museum to see how the famous Athangudi tiles are made. Later, you can visit Karaikudi and Kanadukathan villages—the home to the Chettiars, a community of Tamil traders. At Kanadukathan, see the weaving center famous for the beautiful Chettinadu saris. Visit some stately homes and mansions or havelis, that give insight into the legacy of this vibrant and prosperous community, then explore a local market called a santhai where you can shop for hand-spun cotton fabrics, woven baskets, and locally-grown produce. 

Day 6: Transfer to Madurai, Discover the Tamil Culture & Hindu Temples

Smiling kids riding a tuk-tuk in Madurai
Attend an evening ceremony at Meenakshi Temple

Your journey continues 2.5 hours southwest toward Madurai this morning. As soon as you arrive, you'll check in and drop off your bags at the hotel so you can begin your tour. Visit the Meenakshi Amman Temple, an outstanding example of Vijayanagara architecture. Its gopurams, towers that surround the temple, are known for their colorful stucco images of gods, goddesses, and animals. Afterward, visit Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal. This palace was built in 1636 in the Indo-Mughal style during the Nayaka Dynasty.  

In the late afternoon, take a food tour of the regional roadside food. Try kari dosa, a thick dosa topped with egg and crisp-fried mutton, or adirasam, a deep-fried sweet made from jaggery and spices. Cool off with a refreshing paruthi pal, a local beverage made from cotton seeds. Following the food tour, visit the Meenakshi Temple, one of the largest temple complexes in India, where you'll attend an evening ceremony before heading back to your hotel.

Day 7: Transfer to Periyar, Spice Plantation Tour

Awaken your senses as you discover authentic spices

Following breakfast, you'll turn west on today's three-hour drive to Periyar, located in India's Kerala state. This lush, green region is home to Periyar National Park, one of India's most important wildlife sanctuaries, which supports a rich habitat for large mammals with its succulent shoots and grasses. While you're here, you'll have the chance to spot up to 30 different species of mammals including tigers, elephants, sloths, and monkeys. 

After settling into your hotel, join your guide in the afternoon for a walk around a spice garden, where you'll be able to look at the assortment of plants. After you've explored, you'll have free time to wander around the town of Periyar where you can visit some shops selling wonderful spices such as cardamom and pepper, as well as other local crops such as tea, coffee, and vanilla.

Day 8: Half-Day Jungle Walk, Transfer to Kumarakom

Elephants of the Periyar National Park
Admire the views of Periyar National Park on a sunrise walk

Today begins with a sunrise jungle walk in Periyar National Park where you can spot colorful butterflies and birdlife such as kingfishers, storks, and hornbills. It's a serene way to start your day with nature all around you. Return to your hotel afterward to check out, then join your driver for a three-hour transfer east to Kumarakom. This village is situated on the shores of Vembanad, Kerala's largest lake, and the area is laced with a network of waterways traditionally used for transportation. These "backwaters" are now one of the major draws for tourists seeking a peaceful cruising experience. 

After you've settled into your hotel, you'll visit a local village to learn more about coir, a coconut fiber that's one of the main exports from the area. Meet the locals who make coir for a living, then learn how toddy (sap) is extracted from coconut trees by traditional tappers.

Day 9: Transfer to Alappuzha, Cruise the Backwaters on a Houseboat

A houseboat ready to receive passengers
The houseboat ready to receive you

Today you'll transfer an hour south to Alappuzha, also known as Alleppey, to take a houseboat cruise. This is the main base for backwater cruises in Kerala, nestled among small fishing and farming villages. You'll also find rubber and spice plantations. After checking into the houseboat, experience views of endless paddy fields, tranquil backwaters, spotless villages lined with coconut trees, and Vembanadu Lake.

These enchanting vessels, built of Anjili wood and bamboo, were the traditional method of transporting goods for hundreds of years. Now they have been decorated and made into comfortable cruise boats. As the boat meanders through the lush tropical greenery, observe the prolific birdlife and gain a different perspective on village life. All meals will be provided inside the houseboat and prepared exclusively for you by the houseboat crew. 

Day 10: Transfer to Marari, Free Day at the Beach

Marari Beach
Admire the towering coconut trees along Marari Beach

Leave the backwaters, jungle, and rice terraces today as you disembark from the houseboat and head to Marari Beach, about one hour away. This eco-friendly resort mimics the style of a traditional fishing village and boasts a stunning beachfront setting surrounded by lush coconut groves.

Upon arrival, check in, get settled, then spend the rest of the day relaxing on the beach, going for a swim, or getting an Ayurvedic massage. Other options include a bicycle tour to the nearby villages where people make handspun coir, visiting arts and crafts markets, or tasting some of the fresh spicy fish that Marari is famous for at one of its many beachside eateries. As evening falls, make sure to catch a glorious sunset over the Arabian Sea.

Day 11: Transfer to Cochin, City Tour & Traditional Kathakali Dance Show

 Bishop House is a museum in Fort Cochin
Become enthralled by a Kathakali dance performance in Cochin

Today takes you an hour north up the coast to Cochin (or Kochi), a Keralan port city on India's southwest coast. Cochin's history stretches back to the time of King Solomon, when it was known as the "Queen of the Arabian Sea." This city is where Arab, Chinese, and European merchant traders came in search of spices, silk fabrics, and sandalwood, and you'll learn more about this heritage on a leisurely guided walk through its streets. Start at Fort Kochi, a settlement with tiled colonial bungalows, then visit the Dutch Palace, built by the Portuguese in 1557 as a gift to the king, and Mattancherry Palace

In the evening, you'll have the option to see a classic Kathakali dance performance. Before the show, you'll see the preparation and dressing of the artists, which is an experience in itself. Kathakali is one of the most intricate and stylized Indian classical dance forms, noted for its heavy and attractive larger-than-life makeup, elaborate costumes, and intricate and synchronized hand-eye movements. The story in Kathakali is communicated through footwork and dramatic gestures of the face and hands with music and vocal performance. 

Day 12: Depart Cochin

Farewell Kerala
Farewell Kerala!

Your epic journey through southern India draws to a close today. After saying your goodbyes, your driver will take you to the airport to catch your onward flight. Safe travels!

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Map of Temple Tour of Southern India: Tamil Nadu & Kerala - 12 Days
Map of Temple Tour of Southern India: Tamil Nadu & Kerala - 12 Days