Home to the Taj Mahal and famed Golden Triangle, north India is the place to go for first-timers. But once you’ve experienced these places and fallen in love with this colourful country, what then? It’s time to turn your sights to the south. So if you’re returning to India and looking to explore a different region, this is the itinerary for you. Here’s our guide on how to spend two weeks in south India.
Day 1-2: Mahabalipuram
If you fly into Chennai, the town of Mahabalipuram is just 50 kilometres further south. Home to ancient archaeological wonders, this is the perfect place to start your time in south India.
Explore the beautiful Shore Temple, overlooking the Bay of Bengal, or Arjuna’s Penance, which is one of the greatest ancient pieces of art in India. Another must see is the Five Rathas. These 7th century temples have each been carved from single, large rocks and were hidden under sand until their rediscovery by the British 200 years ago.
Day 3: Pondicherry
Less than a 2-hour drive down the coast, your next stop is Pondicherry. Under French rule until 1954, Pondicherry’s colonial legacy is still strong today. The older part of the city is home to French-inspired architecture and you’ll find many of the locals still speak French or English with a French accent.
However, the city’s biggest offering is its unique cuisine. You’ll find a fascinating mix of French-Indian restaurants here, serving dishes such as Indian curries with subtle French flavours. And once you’ve eaten your fill, you can spend some time unwinding on the golden sands of Pondicherry Beach.
Day 4: Tanjore
Journey inland from Pondicherry to the ancient temple town of Tanjore. Also known as Thanjavur, Tanjore has been a cultural center for over a millennium and is best known for its spectacular temple.
An exquisite example of Tamil architecture, Brihadishwara Temple was built between 1003 and 1010 by King Rajaraja I. Dedicated to the god Shiva, the temple draws visitors from across the world and was deservedly awarded World Heritage status in 1987.
Day 5-6: Madurai
Next stop takes you further inland and to the cultural capital of Madurai. One of the oldest cities in India, Madurai once traded with ancient Rome and has been a center for worship and commerce for centuries.
Its highlight is the spectacular Meenakshi Temple, which draws over 15,000 visitors every day. Decorated with colourful mythological figures, this is a site you’ll definitely want your camera for.
Visit this dazzling structure both during the day and in the evening to witness an Aarti Ceremony. This lively event sees Hindu devotees gather with candles to sing songs of praise and is a cultural experience you won’t want to miss.
Day 7: Trichy
Retrace your steps slightly today to visit the ancient city of Trichy, also known as Tiruchirappalli. The Kaveri and Kollidam rivers run through Trichy and form an island called Srirangam, where you’ll find the colourful Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple.
This vast temple complex covers some 156 acres and features seven different enclosures with 21 spectacular towers. So be sure to set aside enough time to explore! Another top spot is the Rock Fort Temple, perched 83 metres above the city on an ancient rock. It’s a 400-step climb to the top, but the views are well worth the effort.
To get to your next destination, the city of Kochi, take the overnight train from Trichy. Whilst this isn’t the most glamorous form of transport, no trip to India is complete without experiencing its bustling railways.
Day 8: Kochi
Boasting a serene coastal location in Kerala, Kochi has been luring travellers and traders to its shores for over 600 years. The first European colony was formed here in the 16th century, followed by the Dutch and then the British.
The resulting mix of cultures makes Kochi a truly fascinating destination to explore. And what’s more, the city is also an important center for Keralan arts. Why not spend tonight enjoying a traditional Kathakali performance? Combining dance, music, vibrant costumes and make up, Kathakali is a form of storytelling art that retells great tales of India’s past.
Day 9-10: Munnar
Nestled among picturesque rolling hills, Munnar is the centre of south India’s largest tea-growing region. Sitting at an altitude of over 1,500 metres, the scenery is carpeted with emerald green plantations overlooked by the peaks of the Western Ghats.
There’s plenty of scenic walks and bike rides on offer, with bikes available to hire in various locations across town. Spend these two days exploring and soaking up the scenery or visit the Tea Museum to learn more about this stunning region.
Day 11-12: Kerala Backwaters
You simply can’t visit south India without spending some time on the Kerala Backwaters. So today, journey back towards the coast and to Alleppey, where you can board a traditional houseboat and set sail along this network of palm-fringed waterways.
Gliding past local villages and scenes of rural life, you’ll gain a deeper insight into this incredible part of India. Enjoy some delicious local cuisine and watch the sunset over the backwaters, before retiring to your cabin for the night.
Day 13-14: Kumarakom
End your time in South India in the sleepy village of Kumarakom. Located on Lake Vembanad, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, this is the perfect spot to relax and reflect on your travels.
Check out the wonderful bird sanctuary here, which is home to species that have travelled from as far as Siberia. Or perhaps enjoy an Ayurvedic massage at one of the nearby spa resorts.
Make your return from Kumarakom to Cochin International Airport. Or, if you have more time, why not extend your trip? Lying just off the southern tip of India is the Teardrop isle of Sri Lanka, where you could explore the UNESCO-listed sites of the Cultural Triangle or spot elephants in Udawalawe National Park. Alternatively, the stunning white beaches and turquoise waters of the Maldives are just a short flight away.