Kerala is often referred to as "God's Own Country". This coastal state in South India is rich in distinctive traditions and culture, and lush unspoiled tropical beauty. Most of all, Kerala is known for its elephants, elaborate temple festivals, and the tranquil backwaters.
1. Backwaters: Traditionally, the backwaters are used by local people for transport, fishing, and agriculture. Annual snake boat races, held along the backwaters, provide a great source of entertainment for the locals and tourists alike.
The lush green palm-fringed landscape, diverse wildlife, houses, and villages that line the backwaters make a journey along these waterways seem like a trip through another world. Don't miss it!
2. Fort Kochi: Known as the "Gateway to Kerala", Kochi is an enchanting city that's had an eclectic influence. Arabs, British, Dutch, Chinese, and Portuguese have all left their mark there. The architecture and historical sites in Fort Kochi attract most of the visitors to the area. Kochi is also a lively and vibrant city and home to one of the biggest malls in India.
3. Munnar: If you like tea, a visit to Munnar is a must! The surrounding region is renowned for its sprawling tea plantations. See tea being picked and processed, and try fresh tea straight from the gardens. There's even a tea museum. The area is blessed with the natural beauty of winding lanes, misty hills, and forests full of exotic plants and wildlife. Adventure enthusiasts can trek to Anamudi, the highest peak in south India, explore Eravikulam National Park, or go rock climbing and para gliding.
4. Varkala Beach: This beach will take your breath away, with a long winding stretch of cliff and views that extend over the Arabian Sea. A paved footpath runs along the length of the cliff, bordered by coconut palms, quaint shops, beach shacks, hotels, and guest houses. Nestled at the bottom of the cliff is a long stretch of sparkling beach, reached by steps leading down from the cliff top. It's not surprising that Varkala is one of India's best beaches. If you're there during late March/early April, try and catch the temple festival.
5. Wayanad: Is a bright green mountainous region that stretches along the Western Ghats. It has a great deal of scenic appeal. Abundant coconut palms, thick forests, paddy fields, and lofty peaks form the landscape. Due to the nature of its terrain, the area also has much to offer adventure enthusiasts. Popular attractions include trekking to Chembra Peak and Meenmutty Falls, exploring old Jain temples, climbing to Edakkal Caves, and wildlife spotting at Muthanga and Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuaries.
6. Periyar National Park: Kerala's Periyar National Park is one of the most popular parks in South India and stays open all year round, even during the monsoon season. Periyar is known for its elephants and provides 30 minute elephant rides through the jungle. Safaris are carried out by boat and the lake is particularly captivating at sunset. Visitors can also take part in an excellent variety of eco-tourism activities.
The state is known for its unique and ancient Dravidian culture and is a popular destination for both tourists and pilgrims alike. Tamil Nadu is famous for its towering, intricately built temples as well as its beaches, resorts, and hill stations.
1. Chennai and Mammalapuram Beach: Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, is known as the gateway to South India. The city's main attractions are its beach, temples, museums and galleries, old Portuguese style churches, and amusement parks. One hour south of south Chennai, you will find the best beach on the east coast -- Mahabalipuram (also known as Mamallapuram). The beach has a thriving backpacker scene and is extremely popular with tourists who come to relax at the resorts.
2. Madurai: Madura is home to the most impressive and important temple in South India, the Meenakshi Temple. If you only see one temple in South India, the Meenakshi Temple is the one to see. The city of Madurai is more than 4,000 years old and has remained a major center for Tamil culture, education, and literature. During the Nayak dynasty, many magnificent temples and buildings with superb architecture were constructed. The older part of the town, with its narrow winding lanes, is fascinating to walk though as well.
3. Ooty: Established in the early 19th century by the British as the summer headquarters of the Chennai government, Ooty is now a soothing place to escape the summer heat. Ooty's most popular attractions include the 22 hectare Government Botanical Gardens (a flower show is held there every May as part of the Summer Festival), going on a boat on Ooty Lake, and climbing Dodabetta Peak for an excellent view of the Nilgiri hills. To get to Ooty, you can take the scenic toy train from Metupalaiyam.
4. Pondicherry: Pondicherry, on the east cost of Tamil Nadu, was a former 18th century French colony, and still retains a distinctly French flavor. You can easily enjoy the taste of French culture and a relaxed atmosphere here. There are plenty of glorious churches, temples, and gardens to see as well. Beach Road, bordered by the Bay of Bengal and a long stretch of hotels and restaurants, is the most happening part of the city.
5. Kanyakumari: Is located on the southernmost tip of India, where the Bay of Bengal merges with the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The distinguishing feature of this spiritual town is the Swami Vivekananda Memorial and towering statue of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, located on a rocky island off the shore. Kanyakumari is also home to a striking Gandhi Memorial, with architecture resembling that of an Orissan temple. If you visit Kanyakumari on the full moon night in April, you'll be treated to the magical sight of the sun setting and moon rising simultaneously over the ocean.
The state of Karnataka is very special but is often overlooked by tourist in favor of more popular places such as Goa, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Those who visit Karnataka, however, are not disappointed and are met with a mixture of city life, lovely scenic spots and intriguing historical sites.
1. Bangalore: Known as the garden city, Bangalore, by far, is South India's most vibrant and eclectic urban area. It welcomes Indians and foreigners alike and nearly every one speaks English. Bangalore is known for its malls, parks, pubs, movie theatres, cafes, art galleries, and palaces. At any given point, Bangalore is buzzing and vibrant with activity. The city is also known for its cool climate and temperate weather.
2. Hampi: Considered one of India's top historical destinations, the laid back village of Hampi was the last capital of Vijayanagar, one of the greatest Hindu empires in India’s history. It harbors many captivating ruins intermingled with large boulders that rear up all over the landscape. The ruins, which date back to the 14th century, stretch for just over 25 kilometers (10 miles) and comprise more than 500 monuments. An incredible energy can still be felt at this ancient place.
3. Mysore: This charming city has an impressive royal heritage, with the main tourist attraction being the imposing Mysore Palace. There are many other interesting buildings, palaces, and temples to see as well. Mysore is an excellent place to shop for sandalwood and study Ashtanga yoga. Visitors can even stay at the beautiful Lalitha Mahal, a palace-hotel in the city.
4. Coorg: The Kodagu region, often referred to as Coorg, is an extremely picturesque and alluring mountainous area in southern Karnataka, not far from Bangalore and Mysore. The area is renowned for its sprawling coffee estates, possessing captivating and stunning scenic beauty.
5. Gokarna: Gokarna is a small and remote holy town in northern Karnataka. Home to some of India's best beaches, it draws both pious pilgrims and tourists with equal enthusiasm. Gokarna is known for its open beaches, undiscovered coves, beautiful sunsets, jagged cliffs and quaint temples.