The Best Tour of South India

Day 1: Arrive at Chennai – Drive To Mahabalipuram.

This itinerary can be reversed to start at Cochin. You are greeted at the airport and ushered to your chauffeur driven vehicle and driven about 1.5 hours to your oceanfront resort in Mahabalipuram. Since most U.S. originating flights arrive in India late at night, an additional day on arrival can be added to allow for recuperation from jetlag.

Mahabalipuram (UWHS). Upon arrival in Mahabalipuram, you assisted with your check-in at if it is 3 PM or later. Mahabalipuram is a quintessential Tamil small town and is a great place to take walks and explore the local culture. The locals are very friendly and welcoming. Your top-ranked lodging is the closest upscale resort near the ancient sites of Mahabalipuram, and your hotel’s beach has a great view of the 8th Century UNESCO WHS Shore Temple, as well as the fishing village activities between you and the Temple.

(Overnight - Radisson Blu Temple Bay)

Day 2: Mahabalipuram.

Begin your exploration with a guided tour of the ancient port of Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This laid-back coastal town south of Chennai is world famous for its 8th century shore temple and other historical marvels. The massive rock sculptures carved into softly sloping hills, monolithic temples, ancient manmade caverns with incredible sculptures and the world’s largest bas-relief in stone, all combine to make Mahabalipuram a living museum.

Vying with this splendor is a beach and the picturesque Bay of Bengal. The famous Pancha Rathas (Five Chariots) Temples, the Penance of Bhagirath (also known as Arjuna’s Penance), the Shore Temple, the massive bas-relief Descent of the Ganges and the eight Mandapams (Shallow halls carved out of sheer rock) are all located within the small coastal community. Return to your resort for lunch at any time during this touring, or you can opt for a restaurant slightly closer to the attractions – your guide will make suggestions based on your preferences.

Late afternoon – Head to the beach near the Shore Temple as this allows you to mingle with the local fishing community and their colorful wooden boats. You will see a variety of activities going on - many of the fishermen are returning from their day’s work and they are going through various processes of pulling their boats up on the beach and organizing their nets and other gear. The fish are stacked into plastic bins which are then weighed right there on the beach. Now the negotiating takes place.

You will witness women repairing nets and a lot of other similar activity. Boats will be coming ashore, and some of the larger boats will actually head out at this time of day. Photo opportunities abound, including the famed 8th century Shore Temple, from which you are only a stone’s throw away.

(Overnight - Radisson Blu Temple Bay)

Day 3: Madurai.

Proceed for a guided city tour of Madurai. By far the main attraction of Madurai is the great Sree Meenakshi Temple. This awe-imposing monument is the finest example of Dravidian temple architecture on this planet. Its Hall of a Thousand Pillars is a fabulous collection of elaborately sculpted and painted deities as well as other creatures from Hindu religious annals. The temple is always a beehive of activity as pilgrims from all over India come to seek the blessings of Meenakshi (Goddess Parvati) and Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva). Its vast interior is filled with worshippers at all hours of the day. You will witness Hindu priests performing various ceremonies in different parts of the temple complex as you explore this huge structure, including religious aspects of traditional weddings.

According to Tamil belief, the temple has existed for about 2,000 years, but this current structure is a mere five centuries old or so (the previous majestic temple was destroyed by Muslim invaders in the 14th century). The massive complex includes 14 magnificent Gopurams that jut into the sky from different parts of the temple. These Gopurams have thousands of elaborate sculptures carved into them and these have been colorfully painted. The most significant of these Gopurams are the two golden towers dedicated to the two main deities, the tallest one reaches 170 feet.

Your stay in Madurai has time for other local experiences, including the following -

Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal Palace. The Palace was completed by an Italian architect in 1636 AD and was built for the wealthy rulers of the prosperous Madurai Kingdom. The unique Italian Dravidian Palace was once one of South India’s grandest palaces, but today only about a quarter of it remains. However, much of what remains has been restored and the unique grand design is more than impressive, making this a very good stop for architecture enthusiasts.

Gandhi Memorial Museum Madurai. You can also choose to visit the Gandhi Memorial Museum, located in the restored and beautiful Spring Palace of the great 17th century queen, Rani Mangammal. One of the five Gandhi Museums in the country, it is home to a simple but evocative narrative of his life, including items he used, original and reproduced images and letters, and a number of other similar displays.

Highly recommended is a walking tour through the colorful streets of Madurai and get to learn more about the fascinating history and culture of this ancient city.

(Overnight - Taj Gateway Pasumalai)

Day 4: Madurai – Thekkady Spice Country (Periyar National Park).

You are assisted with your check-out from your boutique hotel by noon and driven to Thekkady. The second part of this drive is through the incredible Western Ghats and you will have photo opportunities at pastoral hamlets and various lush plantations that grow tea and other crops. Arrive at Thekkady and check-in to your wonderful scenic nature resort. This is the heart of spice country and the pleasant, mild aroma from the surrounding plantations will fascinate you when you arrive. You will never taste the freshness of the premium spices used here in the delicious food the chef’s serve here.

Periyar National Park is located around a picturesque artificial lake that was formed in 1895 by building a dam on the Periyar River. The terrain is hilly and the elevation of the park ranges from a few hundred feet to about 6,000 feet above sea level. The lake occupies the valleys of the thickly forested hills serving as a permanent source of water for wildlife in the park. Although it falls under Project Tiger, the main attractions of the park are definitely elephants.

Periyar is home to just under a thousand elephants and also more than 60 other mammal species including tigers, bison, deer, wild boar and wild dog. There are more than 300 species of birds, and even 160 species of butterflies. Prominent among the birds are Cormorants, Kingfishers, Darters, the great Malabar Hornbill, and the racket-tailed Drongoes. Unlike Bandipur, your chances of seeing a tiger in this park are extremely slim. Thekkady is a great stopover on this itinerary for a variety of reasons, only one of them being the National Park. The Spice plantations are another reason to stop here, as is the fact that this rural area happens to be located in one of the most picturesque parts of the Western Ghats.

(Overnight – Spice Village)

Day 5: Thekkady (Periyar).

Start your day with a drive up to Lake Periyar and embark on a join-up cruise, along with your guide, on the spectacular lake. The scenery is both gorgeous and surreal, as ancient tree stumps still protrude from the waters of the 26-square-kilometer lake. Although Lake Periyar is officially a Tiger Reserve, chances of you seeing a big cat here are almost non-existent. What is very common is to see elephant herds as they come to the lake to drink, or as they traverse the terraced hills surrounding the lake. Wild boar is also a common sight. Return to your resort after this for breakfast.

Spice Plantation Naturalist Tour. In the late morning you will visit to a neighboring spice plantation where an experienced naturalist will guide you through scores of different spice plants and illustrate their medicinal and gastronomical properties.

You are at leisure for remainder of the day to enjoy your scenic pastoral resort and its surroundings, or you can explore the charming rural town and region with your Guide and chauffeur driven vehicle. Walks in the town The flora (and other attractions) of your nature resort is very impressive, as are the nearby spice shops that sell locally grown products. The resort staff will be happy to give you a guided tour of the variety of plants and trees there, as well as their organic gardens. Upon request you can spend time with the chefs who will give you insights into the preparation of the delightful local cuisine that they offer. There is also a great Ayurvedic Spa that you can try – advance reservations are recommended.

(Overnight – Spice Village)

Day 6: Thekkady – Kumarakom.

Check out from your hotel in the morning and enjoy the fascinating drive through the incredibly scenic rain forests of the Western Ghats as you head for Kumarakom. This is one of the most beautiful drives in all of South India. Arrive at Kumarakom and check-in to your magical lakefront resort. GH Coconut Lagoon is a serene and picturesque retreat nestled along the banks of the tranquil Vembanad Lake. This eco-friendly resort is a haven of natural beauty, combining traditional Kerala architecture with modern amenities spread over a vast area of lush greenery, dotted with coconut groves on the backwaters.

The backwaters are teeming with wildlife, including a variety of bird species, making it a paradise for bird watchers. The resort has an in-house Ayurvedic center where guests can consult with experienced practitioners. The resort’s butterfly garden is worth visiting, as is indulging in the various activities offered here.

(Overnight – Coconut Lagoon)

Day 8: Kumarakom – Cochin.

Check-out from your resort in the late morning, or after enjoying lunch, and then you are driven to historic Fort Kochi. Arrive at Fort Kochi in about 1.5 hours and you are assisted with your check-in at your comfortable and charming Hotel.

Public Ferry Experience. In the afternoon you will board the ferry to Vypin Island and enjoy the fascinating 10-minute cruise across as you observe locals using the ferry as they go about their daily activities. Disembark at Fort Vypin and you will now visit the village of Cherai, starting with the 19th century Azheekkal Sree Varaha Venkateswara Temple – the temple Ratha (Chariot) is unique and very impressive. Also visit the remnants of the Portuguese Fort, which was built in 1503 and is the oldest European structure in India. You will also stop at the Pallipuram Church, completed in 1577 by the Portuguese. There are some interesting artifacts in the church. This exploration is followed by a walk on Cherai beach that allows you to experience coastal Keralan culture.

Fort Kochi. With its cobblestone streets and colonial-era architecture, the small town tells the many millennia story of the spice trade flourishing, and the unique convergence of diverse cultures over centuries. In the early 16th century, the Portuguese arrived on these shores, establishing Fort Emmanuel, from which Fort Kochi derives its name. The Dutch followed the Portuguese, and constructed numerous buildings and added more diversity to the cuisine and culture. In the 18th century, the British took control.

Spice Trade. Today, Fort Kochi is a charming amalgamation of its historical spice trade roots and contemporary vibrancy. The town’s narrow streets are lined with quaint cafes, art galleries, and boutique hotels that cater to a global clientele. Walking through Fort Kochi, the blend of architectural styles with colonial buildings coexisting with traditional Kerala homes, creating a picturesque and harmonious streetscape. The vibrant murals and street art add a contemporary touch, reflecting the town’s thriving artistic community.

(Overnight – Fragrant Nature)

Day 9: Cochin.

This day will start with a short walk or drive to the most photogenic of Cochin’s attractions, the Chinese fishing nets. Folklore will have it that these enormous nets (or at least their design) were brought here by famed Chinese explorer Zhang He about 600 years ago. Local fishermen manipulate these massive nets with an ease that comes from centuries of generational experience. Ownership of the net and its prized location is handed down from generation to generation. The lowering and raising of the nets, with the fishermen deftly walking up and down the angled wooden poles and manipulating them in and out of the water with thick, well-worn ropes, has a synchronicity and rhythm that is fascinating to observe.

Public Ferry Experience.Continue exploring more with an 8-to-10-minute walk through historic Fort Kochi’s charming streets and alleys that are surrounded by Portuguese, Dutch and British architecture, and full of chic small cafes, boutique stores, art galleries, and a lot more. Arrive at Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica and experience its impressive collection of colorful artworks. A 5 minute walk from here will bring you to the St. Francis Church, which was established by the Portuguese Franciscan Friars in 1503. This is the first European church built in India, and the famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco Da Gama, the first European to reach India by sea, was buried in its courtyard for a few years before his remains were returned to Portugal.

A 2-minute walk will bring you to David Hall, a 17th century historic building that has been painstakingly restored and houses a rotating selection of art exhibits, mainly focusing on young artists. We recommend the excellent and popular small café in the building as your stop for lunch, if you are hungry, but there are other alternatives that you can discuss with your Guide. Here the focus is on casual Indian and western cuisine and drinks, including woodfired thin crust pizza’s prepared in an Indian clay oven – we strongly recommend trying the seafood topped ‘Fort Cochin’ Pizza!

After lunch you will proceed on a 10-minute drive through Fort Kochi, arriving at the Dutch Palace which was actually built by the Portuguese in 1555 and is famous for its detailed carved wooden murals depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Puranic legends. Also known as Mattancherry Palace, this is an unattractive squat building that bears no similarity to the opulence of other palaces, or even mansions, in India. Very near the palace is the Jewish Synagogue which was built in 1568 and is still an active house of worship for the few remaining Jews in the area.

To get to the synagogue you will walk on Jew Street which runs through Jew Town – ancient street signs still identify these names! Fort Kochi’s ancient and colorful Jew Street now has antique stores and souvenir and art outlets. There was a Jewish presence in Kochi from 70 A.D. and the charming synagogue you will visit once was a busy house of worship for the locals.

Optional: In the evening you are driven to an experience that is extremely highly rated by many of our guests. You will be hosted by a famous Keralan Chef and her family at their home. A Keralan cuisine cooking lesson will be followed by a delicious dinner, along with an interesting conversation about life in historic Fort Kochi. You will be asked about this option soon after reserving your tour.

(Overnight – Fragrant Nature)

Day 10: Cochin – International Flight Or Flight to Delhi or Mumbai.

You are assisted with your checkout at any time before noon. There are some international flights out of Cochin Airport, or you can fly to Delhi or Mumbai (optional) and connect with your international flight. You are driven to Cochin Airport at the appropriate time for your flight. Additional services, including airport lodging in Cochin, Delhi, or Mumbai can be added once your international departure details are known.

Our services end at Cochin Airport.


Radisson Resort Temple Bay – Pool View Chalet
Taj Gateway Madurai – Executive Room Garden View
Spice Village – Spice Garden Cottage
Coconut Lagoon – Heritage Bungalow
Fort Kochi
Fragrant Nature – Duke’s Chamber

* Daily breakfast at all the hotels.
* Lunch on the houseboat in Kerala.
* Evening Palli Arai ceremony at the Sree Meenakshi Temple
* Boat ride for wildlife viewing on Lake Periyar in Kerala
* Spice Plantation tour with naturalist
* Applicable monument entrance fees as per the itinerary
* All other meals as specified
* Hotel check-in is at 3pm and checkout is at noon for almost all the hotels
* All transfers and sightseeing by personal upscale Vehicle
* Availability of an Easy Tours Travel Facilitator at all destinations
* Services of the best English speaking local guides at all destinations.
* Services of ETI Travel Facilitators for all airport arrivals and departures and associated hotel check-in’s and check-outs.
* Bottled water during sightseeing/excursions and other drives
* All currently applicable taxes.

Not Included
* International Travel
* Expenses of a personal nature like tips, laundry, telephone calls, drinks etc.
* Meals other than those specified above
* Travel insurance, visa etc.
* Camera fees - still and video


Land Cost for Double Occupancy
$4300* Per Person
Internal Flight Cost of Coach Class
$134* Per Person

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