The Northern Part of India is visited much more by travellers, it has all of the big sites including the Taj Mahal, the Holy City of Varanasi, the Majestic Cities of Rajasthan and of course Mumbai and Delhi, oh and the Himalayan Mountains. However South India is also a great area of India to travel around and it’s also very diverse, it has the Beaches of Goa, the lush Green-ness of Kerala, impressive Hindu Temples, huge wildlife filled National Parks and Tea Plantations.
I have just spent 2 months travelling Northern India and 2 months travelling Southern India, I enjoyed both sides but I found South India very different to travel. I also felt that a few things I had heard or thought before visiting South India were untrue.
There’s a lot of information online with travel tips for India but a lot are aimed at the North because that’s the most popular part of India to travel to, so with that in mind, here are 8 things you need to know before travelling South India:
1. In Tourism Terms it covers 4 States.
Technically South India is bigger than 4 states but in terms of tourism and where travellers to India will visit there are 4 main states with the best things to do in South India- Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
All of these states are very different. I had my Marco Polo South India Guide with me on my trip and it covers all the Cities and major tourist sites which was a huge help and helped me understand the difference between the states (because they are very different) and what to see in each.
2. South India is very Big.
On a map the South is much smaller than the North but India is huge so it’s good to note that South India is very big too. I took an overnight train from Goa down the coast to Kerala and it took me 15 hours! My train from Chennai to Mysore took me 7 hours. Make sure you keep this in mind when planning your trip around South India.
3. The East & West of South India are very different.
Talking about it being very big, the biggest difference I would say is the difference between the Eastern and Western side of South India.
Goa is on the West Coast and has all of the dreamy beaches, or at least that’s what people know it for. The Marco Polo South India Guide reminded me that Goa is not all beaches, it has a portuguese colonial charm mixed in with Indian mysticism with bustling markets as well as its endless broad beaches so it keeps everyone happy.
Further down the coast towards the bottom of the Country is the Coastline of Kerala. Kerala is extremely diverse with a huge coastline but inland it has coconut palm forests, rice paddies, and hill stations with tea, coffee and spice plantations. Kerala is a really nice state so many people take a holiday to Kerala but I will say that it’s beaches are not as nice as Goa as many are very local, can be quite dirty and are not for sunbathing.
The Eastern Side of South India has the beaches and coastline too but the state of Tamil Nadu is much more known for its Hill Stations and Historical Sites. The Marco Polo Guide informed me that Tamil Nadu in fact has the most world heritage sites in this area.
In terms of religion, the West- Goa and Kerala are very much Christian mainly due to the Portuguese influence, the East and Middle of South India- Tamil Nadu & Karnataka are very much Hindu, although you will find both religions and many others in all areas.
The West is also a lot more touristy because of the charm of Goa and Kerala, it attracts backpackers but also many holiday makers. The East is much less visited by tourists to India in my opinion. This may be good for you or it may not.
4. Think about your Priorities.
Based on the above differences between the states and the sides of South India, the best way to plan a trip around South India, especially if you are on a tight timeframe is to think about what your priorities are in my opinion because as I said South India offers a lot.
Do you want to chill on the Beaches? If so, Goa is for you.
Do you want to go Hiking in Hill Stations and to spot Wildlife? If so, Kerala is for you (note that I saw Wild Elephants in Thekkady National Park!).
Do you want to experience Hindu Culture and Cities with past Colonialism? If so, Tamil Nadu is for you.
Do you want to experience a more Modern City, a Royal City and a Rock Adventure Town? If so, Karnataka is for you.
Of course you can mix and match these, I managed to see all 4 in my 2 months in South India but you don’t want to end up on the East Coast visiting Cities such as Madurai and Chennai if really you wanted to spend your time in South India on the Beaches, Hiking and seeing Wildlife.
The Marco Polo South India Guide was great for helping me work out what was in each state and the map on the back was my go-to in helping me figure out the best route around South India so I’d really recommend purchasing it before you go to South India as it will help you with the planning aspect and it’s nice and small and very lightweight so you can take it to South India with you and it will continue to help you whilst you’re there.
5. Local Buses are the most popular mode of transport in many parts.
I found this to be one of the big differences between North and South India. I took a few trains in South India between Cities and Goa and Kerala but as soon as I started going inland in Kerala and through Tamil Nadu I took my fair share of local buses too.
Local Buses in India are quite tricky too. There’s no schedules, you don’t prebook then, there’s no English written on the front to show where it’s going, they get very busy and the roads are bumpy and windy. I’m not selling this to you I know, the best thing about the buses in India though are that they are cheap!
So keep this in mind when planning your trip around India, if you can’t see a train on the official Indian Train site then it’s likely you’ll need to take a bus, and there will be a bus if you’re going between tourist places, but you’ll have to wait until you arrive to sort that out, your accommodation will be able to help you.
6. There is Less Tourism.
As a whole I’d say South India receives less tourism. The areas of Goa and Kerala are touristy because they are popular holiday destinations in India but if we take the example of backpacker accommodation for example, North India is full of hostels whereas I found in many cities in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka there was only one or two hostels to choose from.
There are plenty of nice hotels though, the Marco Polo South India Guide recommends quite a few hotels in all Cities in South India. For Mysore they recommend The Green Hotel which I went to for a coffee and it is really nice!
7. It Does get Cold.
I had this idea that South India would be really hot all of the time. In fact before coming to India I thought that the whole Country would be hot, this is not correct and also incorrect for South India.
Generally it is very warm, it has 2 main seasons of Winter which is the dry season and Summer which is the wet monsoon season and although the West Coast by the beaches stays pretty warm in the Winter and is the perfect time to visit Goa, when I was in Goa in December it really cooled down at night and was quite chilly. Munnar one of the Hill Stations was so cold at night and a few weeks after I left in January they woke up to frost!
So be sure to include some warmer clothes in your South India packing list.
As the Marco Polo Guide says the best time to visit South India is between November to March.
8. It’s not Safer or less Busy than the North.
Before I travelled to India myself I had heard many things about the South being a lot more chilled than the North and a lot safer with nicer people.
To the point where I, as a nervous solo female traveller to India, nearly visited the South first as a ‘wind in’ to India. However, firstly I had no need to be nervous either way (you can watch my YouTube video here on why), secondly I did not find much of a difference between the North and South after 2 months in each in the terms of safety and busyness.
This is good of course in terms of safety as I felt very safe in North India and continued to do so in the South, and the North is very busy, loud and a bit crazy, but if I’m honest, so is the South!
The Beaches of Goa are quiet, chilled and very ‘Un-India’ in that way, but once you’re out of Goa, you really feel like you’re in India!
Related Post: My First Impressions of India!
I hope these points help you plan your trip around South India.
I really enjoyed my 2 months there. Goa was my favourite place in South India with Palolem Beach being my favourite beach, that might have had something to do with the amazing yoga holiday I did there too!
You can purchase a copy of the Marco Polo South India Guide Book on Amazon here for a great price. It was really handy when planning my trip around South India and once I was there too!
For more of my posts on India see:
This post is in collaboration with Marco Polo Guides but all thoughts, opinions and real use of the guidebook are my own. This post contains affiliate links at no extra cost to you.