• Essence of South India

  • Essence of South India

  • Essence of South India

  • Essence of South India

  • Essence of South India

Discover the heartland of India on this overland journey from the imposing Meenakshi temple to the serene backwaters of Kerala

Days: 13 | From: $5,900/per person

  • Accommodations at best-in-class luxury hotels, including centuries-old mansions and seaside hotels
  • Learn the stories behind the region's unique architecture and ancient temples with superb private guides
  • From Tamil Nadu to Kerala, wonder at how this region absorbed foreign influence but remained proudly Indian

India’s South is a tapestry of diversity, weaving together lush landscapes, ancient traditions, and dynamic cities. Journey across the South, traversing from the resplendent temples of Tamil Nadu in the east to the mystical backwaters of Kerala in the west. Accompanied by our expert local guides the whole way, your luxury accommodations are as varied as the region, from houseboats to French colonial manses. Step into a local home to try your hand at making dosas, be mesmerized by a classical Kathakali dance performance, pluck your own spices at misty plantations, float lazily through palm trees on a traditional houseboat, and relish in the warm hospitality of India’s south.

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1 (510) 335-8229

We tailor itineraries to your dates and interests, adjusting hotels, excursions and length as desired.

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At a glance

  • Mahabalipram
    1 night: Seaside town on the Bay of Bengal
  • Pondicherry
    2 nights: Meander through the French Riviera of the East
  • Chettinad
    2 nights: Taste your way through the culinary capital of South India
  • Madurai
    1 night: Experience an aarti ceremony at the towering Meenakshi Temple
  • Munnar
    2 nights: Escape to the misty hill station of Munnar
  • Kochi
    2 nights: Culture, Kathakali, and the picturesque backwaters
  • Kumarakom
    2 nights: Relax on the shores of the Arabian Sea

  • All itineraries are fully customizable. We will send you a personalized variation that reflects your interests and travel dates at no extra cost. Call to discuss your travel plans with one of our Specialists who know this region firsthand.

Customize this trip
1 (510) 335-8229

Sample itinerary

Day 1:

Welcome to India!

Bay of Bengal

Fly into Chennai. Upon arrival, meet your local guide and transfer to the coast. Your hotel is located in Mahabalipram, a quaint seaside town situated about 60 km from Chennai. Mahabalipuram served as the primary port for the Pallava Dynasty from the 5th to the 9th centuries. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Mahabalipuram boasts some of India’s finest rock-cut art, including the Shore Temple.

Check into your hotel and enjoy the evening at your leisure.

Accommodations: Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram

Discover the breathtaking Bay of Bengal views from the Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram. This award-winning resort is nestled just steps away from the Shore Temple. Discover the on-site spa, fitness center, large pool, various cafes, restaurants, and bars, and beachfront location. The 157 rooms are all bright, spacious, and designed with comfort in mind.

Day 2:

The Shore Temple

The Shore Temple of  Mahabalipuram is a master piece of Tamil architecture

Visit Mahabalipuram’s most iconic site, the Shore Temple. Carved out of granite, the Shore Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. This distinctive two-spired shrine overlooks the Bay of Bengal, providing a stunning backdrop for its intricate sculptures and carvings. The temple complex originally consisted of seven pagodas, out of which only one, the Shore Temple, remains intact. You can choose to visit the nearby open-air museum before continuing south towards Pondicherry.

Pondicherry, known as the “French Riviera of the East (La Côte d’Azur de l’Est)”, offers a unique blend of Indian and French cultures and was once the largest French colony in India. Settle into your hotel and enjoy a free evening.

Accommodations: Palais de Mahe, 2 nights

50 meters from the Bay of Bengal and in the heart of Pondicherry's French quarter is this charming French-colonial style hotel. Palais de Mahe inspires feelings of nostalgia with its airy old-world architecture, boasting bright colors and antique finishings. The on-site restaurant features Indian and International cuisines, and a coffee shop and bar are lovely choices for a casual beverage. The rooms all have a distinct French character and are outfitted with balconies and verandahs. Rooms are mostly classic in their concept, but with stylish modern touches.

*Includes: Breakfast

Day 3:

Picturesque Pondicherry

French architecture in Pondicherry

Pondicherry has a long and interesting history The city showcases a strong French influence, particularly in the old quarters, where streets and boulevards are lined with Mediterranean-style houses and bakeries, even though the city retains its distinctly Indian character. Today’s tour will explore the lanes of the French Quarter and visit one of Pondicherry’s most famous ashrams.

Accommodations: Palais de Mahe, 2 nights

*Includes: Breakfast

Day 4:

Culinary Chettinad

Traditional food of South India

Head inland, making your way to the secluded oasis of Chettinad. Nestled deep in the heart of Southern India, this region is characterized by gracious mansions, flavorful and spiced cuisine, intricate tile craftsmanship, and a distinctive cultural identity. After settling into your grand mansion, which is half a century old, connect with a local chef to glean tips and tricks for crafting the aromatic and spiced dishes that define Chettinad.

Accommodations: Visalam, 2 nights

This hotel is housed in a beautiful centuries-old historical South Indian home. Much of the furniture, tiles, and woodwork are handmade and original. The gardens and pool offer a calming oasis, and the restaurant features local cuisine, which is famous for its diverse range of spices and flavors. Visalam also boasts an "interactive kitchen" where guests can observe and participate in cooking classes. The rooms are airy and spacious, and feature amenities such as air-conditioning and WiFi.

*Includes: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 5:

Culture & Heritage of Chettinad

Chettinad murukku

After a leisurely breakfast, join your guide for an exploration of Chettinad, offering a glimpse into its rich culture and heritage. Visit the temples dedicated to Lord Ayyanar, the guardian deity, adorned with terracotta horses leading to a simple shrine. Witness the time-honored craft of handcrafted Athangudi tiles, preserving traditions dating back two centuries. Marvel at two opulent mansions with expansive courtyards, showcasing Burmese teak, Italian marble, and global architectural influences reflecting the region’s trading prosperity. Experience the vibrant weekly market, a lively village affair filled with colorful stalls and cheerful banter. Indulge in the delectable offerings of a thriving “Murrukku” and snacks bakery, empowering over 40 women. Conclude the journey with a leisurely stroll through the Antique market, promising the potential discovery of rare treasures for enthusiasts. Return to the hotel and have the evening free, or choose to head out for a heritage walk in the area, showcasing the village of Kanadukathan.

Accommodations: Visalam, 2 nights

*Includes: Breakfast

Day 6:

Madurai's Meenakshi Temple

Meenakshi Temple in Madurai

Today’s journey takes us farther into the heartland, arriving at Madurai in the late morning. Renowned as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Madurai boasts a vibrant history that dates back over 2,500 years. The city is known for the Meenakshi Amman Temple, a sprawling complex with towering gopurams (entrance towers) adorned with intricate sculptures and colorful deities. Madurai’s bustling streets are full of life, featuring lively markets and street food stalls. The city is renowned for its classical music, dance, and literature.

Upon arrival, enjoy some free time at the hotel before heading out with your guide to visit the fortress-like Shri Meenakshi temple that dominates the city skyline. Immerse yourself in the temple scene and experience an evening Aarti ceremony, characterized by rituals, music, and dance as Shiva is brought to rest next to Parvati for the night.

Accommodations: Gateway Hotel Pasumalai

The Gateway Hotel Pasumalai sits at the top of the Pasumalai hill, surrounded by 62 acres of scenic gardens. This hotel in Madurai serves a perfect vantage point to take in the picturesque views of the temple town and the Kodai hills. In addition to landscaped gardens, it has an outdoor pool, tennis courts, and a bar and restaurant with a billiards table.

*Includes: Breakfast

Day 7:

Hill Station of Munnar

Green tea plantations in the mountains of Munnar

Set your sights for the hills, departing the inner lowlands and ascending to the hill station of Munnar. Nestled in the Western Ghats, Munnar is a picturesque hill station recognized for its tea and spice plantations, mist-covered hills, and serene landscapes. The region boasts an abundance of biodiversity, making it a haven for nature and wildlife lovers. Munnar has something for everyone; you can choose to relax and take in panoramic views from your lodge, embark on day-long treks through the mountains, visit tea estates, or experience the tranquility of serene lakes from a local boat. Munnar is a welcome respite in the middle of this southern India odyssey.

Check into your hotel and have the evening free.

Accommodations: SpiceTree Munnar, 2 nights

Nestled among the pristine mountain landscape of Munnar, the charming chalets of SpiceTree offer perfect tranquillity with incredible views of the verdant valley below. SpiceTree has a solar heated outdoor swimming pool with organic mountain spring water that is sparkling clean at all times. The rooms, nicely decorated with rich tones and outfitted with comfortable amenities, offer sweeping views. Guests can also enjoy a tea tasting in the bakery and coffee shop, yoga in the yoga shala, delightful Indian cuisine, a library and bar, and a swim in the pool.

*Includes: Breakfast

: Essence of South India
Day 8:

Hike the Tea Plantations

Workers collecting tea leaves

Begin your day with a walk through the misty hills of Munnar. The trail begins in lush tea plantations before ascending to a ridge, offering breathtaking views of grasslands bordered by rocky mountain slopes, interspersed with patches of Shola Forest. On clear days, the majestic Anaimudi, the highest peak in South India, graces the horizon. The route takes you through a private coffee and cardamom plantation within the Shola Forest, providing opportunities to learn about these industries and spot endemic birds.

In the afternoon, you can visit a local tea plantation and the tea museum to gain more in-depth knowledge of the process and its importance to this region.

Accommodations: SpiceTree Munnar, 2 nights

*Includes: Breakfast

Day 9:

Arrive in Kochi

Sunset over Chinese fishing nets and boats in Kochi

After a relaxing few days and rejuvenating mountain air, finish your traverse with a transfer to Kochi, also called Cochin, on the western side of Southern India. Kochi is a beautiful coastal city as well as an important port and trading hub. The city’s strategic location has attracted various influences, from ancient civilizations to colonial powers, resulting in a unique blend of architecture, traditions, and cuisine. Check into your hotel and have the evening free to explore the town.

Accommodations: Brunton Boatyard, 2 nights

Brunton Boatyard at Fort Kochi is inspired by colonial history. A former shipyard in British times, this historical plot of land that once housed a famous boatyard now has another landmark, the Brunton Boatyard. Brunton Boatyard is a five star hotel whose 22 rooms and interiors reflect an eclectic but tasteful blend of English, Portuguese and Dutch influences, as seen in its high ceilings, hanging fans and a plethora of artifacts and curios from a great mercantile age. Most rooms have a sea view. Airy lounges, manicured lawns, a spacious pool, unmatched harbor views, and varied cuisines are all on offer.

*Includes: Breakfast

: Essence of South India
Day 10:

Discover Kochi

Traditional Kathakali dance

Your day opens with a city tour, starting at the historic Fort Kochi area. With its charming colonial buildings and narrow streets, it’s a highlight for travelers. Here, you can explore landmarks such as St. Francis Church, one of the oldest European-built churches in India, and the iconic Chinese Fishing Nets along the waterfront. The Mattancherry Palace, also known as the Dutch Palace, showcases Kerala’s traditional architecture and houses beautiful murals. A dip into the spice market showcases how Kochi has been a melting pot of cultures, including Malayalis, Jews, Arabs, and Europeans. This cultural diversity is reflected in the local cuisine, which is a delightful fusion of flavors.

In the evening, visit a local theatre for a traditional Kathakali dance drama performance. With elaborate makeup, colorful costumes, and live music accompaniment, Kathakali offers a captivating blend of dance and theater, representing a rich cultural tradition passed down through generations.

Accommodations: Brunton Boatyard, 2 nights

*Includes: Breakfast

Day 11:

Cruise the Backwaters of Kerala

Backwaters of Kerala

The backwaters of Kerala form a network of inland lakes, canals, and lagoons parallel to the Arabian Sea coastline. The backwaters offer a tranquil escape, allowing travelers to experience the unhurried pace of life in the charming villages along the water’s edge. Today, you’ll board a Kettuvallam, literally a ‘tied together boat,’ a comfortable and traditional way to navigate the backwaters. Your friendly crew will manage the engine, navigating through the lagoons while a skilled chef prepares delightful meals in the compact galley. Simply relax, savor the scenery, bask in the sun, or catch up on the holiday reading you’ve been meaning to do.

Disembark in the late afternoon and transfer to your hotel, nestled on the banks of Lake Vembanad. Alternatively, you can choose to spend the night aboard the houseboat. Simply reach out to us to discuss options.

Accommodations: Kumarakom Lake Resort, 2 nights

Kumarakom Lake Resort sits on the serene banks of the Lake Vembanad. Sprawling across 25 acres of lush greenery, Kumarakom Lake Resort exudes the charm of Kerala's true heritage while offering a complete range of New Age amenities for a luxuriously comfortable stay. A wide range of thoughtfully designed rooms, villas and suites are available to choose from, and guests can also enjoy resort features such as the Ayurveda Spa, the many swimming pools, the health club, multiple multi-cuisine and specialty restaurants, shady lawns, and a traditional Kerala teashop.

*Includes: Breakfast

Day 12:

Relax on Lake Vembanad

Lake Vembanad resort

Today is a free day to enjoy the tranquil setting of Kerala. If you would like us to organize an activity, there are options such as local village walks, cycling, a morning canoe canal cruise, a visit to a bird sanctuary, or learning the local Kerala style of pottery.

Accommodations: Kumarakom Lake Resort, 2 nights

*Includes: Breakfast

Day 13:


Today you say goodbye to your local guide as you transfer to the airport for your flight home or to your next destination.

Popular Ways to Customize This Itinerary

  • Add a few days to explore the rock hewn temples of Hampi, a UNESCO site and the last capital of the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara

  • Extend your trip to the pristine beaches of the Maldives

  • Contact us to learn about more options for designing and customizing your trip!

Call us to start planning your journey today:

1 (510) 335-8229

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