Following on from my How to Spend a Month in Northern India, I wanted to do a similar post celebrating the South of the country. North and South India are tremendously different in so many ways, from the landscapes to the climate, the people and the food. If you’ve only ever travelled to North India before, you might be in for a shock when you head to the South, as it’s much more laid back, touristy and less intense than much of the North. If you are a first timer in India, I’d recommend starting with the South, it’s a good way to ease you in, chill you out, get used to the food before tackling the North.

I loved exploring the South, and found the style of travel here to be much more similar to South-East Asia. This region is full of glorious beaches, intriguing highlands and hidden temple cities. If you’re considering a month in the area, here’s my guide for how to spend it.

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North Goa (3 days)

If you arrive in either Panjim or Mumbai, it’s easy to get to one of the many tourist hot spots in North Goa. For backpackers and budget travellers, I recommend basing yourself in either Anjuna Beach (home of the infamous Trance parties and a host of flea markets) or Arambol (hippie heaven). Both will give you great access to the beaches, forts and countryside around. If you’re worried Goa might be a little too touristy for you, hire a motorbike, buy a map and get off the beaten track to the quieter beaches and colourful villages in between. North Goa is all based around one main road, making travelling by bike a dream.

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Panjim (1-2 days)

Panjim is the capital of the state of Goa and one of the smallest and friendliest state capitals in India. The city is very manageable and has some beautiful old Portuguese architecture, well preserved churches, and great homely accommodation. If you are travelling between North and South Goa, I recommend stopping for a night or two in the city to check out a side of Goa away from the beaches and backwaters.

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South Goa (7 days)

Onwards to South Goa! This is one of my favourite areas in India, a backpacker haven full of stunning deserted beaches, organic food cafes, dreamy backwaters and colourful fishing villages. You’ll find a host of great places to stay, in busy Palolem or the quieter Agonda and Pantem beaches. Yoga is big business here, and it’s the perfect place to do an introductory course. Otherwise, the beaches are a sunbathers heaven and motorbiking through the backwaters and turtle beaches makes a beautiful day trip.

To see more of our recommendations for Goa, check out ‘15 Things You Must Do in Goa, India’.

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Gorkarna (3 days)

For those who want to imagine what Goa was like 20 years ago, head to Gorkarna and Om Beach. Now overtaken mostly by 20-something backpackers who don’t quite know how long they’ve been there. There’s a great friendly hippie vibe here. I recommend staying in one of the makeshift bamboo huts – it really does feel a little like being on a deserted island. Don’t spend all your time on the beach though, for Gorkarna town is a huge highlight of this area. The colourful holy town is full of pilgrims, hindu temples and market streets. It’s a great place to spend a day and to grab some authentic cuisine.

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Hampi (5-7 days)

For me, Hampi isn’t just a highlight of South India, but of the whole country. This place is something like heaven, and a completely unique heaven at that. I’ve never seen anything like the landscapes of Hampi, full of boulders, islands and huge lakes. To say this place is in the middle of the Karnataka desert, it’s quite remarkable that Hampi exists at all. But I’m so glad it does!

The beauty of the landscapes are matched with the remains of an ancient city, which in its day was one of the biggest and richest in the world. Many of the buildings are still preserved to a good standard, and what’s even more amazing about these ruins is that many of them remain a secret. Imagine visiting Angkor Wat without the millions of other tourists, that is Hampi (for the moment at least).

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Kochi (1-2 days)

Head South and back to the coast to Kochi, the tourist capital of Kerela and the start of your explorations of this beautiful state. Kochi is a huge city, but most tourists stay in the small, quiet enclave of Fort Cochin which is pretty and full of churches and Portuguese architecture. While you’re there, don’t forget to catch a Kathakali performance at the Kerala Kathakali Centre, it’s one of the best places in the state to catch this unique performance art in a traditional old theatre.

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Allappey (2-3 days)

The highlight of Kerela is exploring the backwaters of the state. The main hub of these are around Allappey, an area not so far south from Kochi. From here, it’s easy to take a boat trip through the lush green palm lined backwaters. Opt to take an eco friendly canoe trip rather than a motor powered tourist boat. You’ll be able to see more village life through the smaller canals and the tours often include a stop for lunch with a local family.

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Kerelan Beaches (Marari, Varkala or Kovalam) (3 days)

You can’t visit the state of Kerela without checking out one of its beaches, and you’ve got a great variety to choose from. Varkala is the obvious pick for anyone looking for a backpacker hub with great restaurants, a beautiful beach backed with cliffs and budget accommodation. Kovalam is much more touristy and has a lot of upmarket resorts, but there’s a great fishing scene here and beautiful rice paddies all around. For a real off the beaten track option, head to the deserted beaches of Marari where home stays are the only option for accommodation and there are only two restaurants along the beach, but also where you’re likely to have Kerela’s most beautiful beach all to yourself.

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Munnar (4 days)

After you’ve explored Kerela’s beaches, backwaters and city life, it’s time to head up to its tea plantations and highlands for breathtaking views, cooler air and a different pace of life all together. Munnar is one of the largest tea growing regions in the world, and offers some lovely accommodation and restaurants to go with it. Make sure to do a day trek into the plantations, catching a glimpse of the local tea workers as they begin their day.

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How to do it:

Visa: You will need a visa for India, but if you are visiting for 30 days 0r less and are from a number of countries, you can now apply online and get your visa on arrival, making visiting much easier.

Getting there: The easiest ports of entry for South India are Mumbai, Panjim (Goa) and Kochi (Kerela) if you are flying from overseas. If you are flying internally, SpiceJet and Indigo Airlines offer cheap fairs from all over the country, with a huge range of routes.

Getting Around: Unlike Northern India where trains are king, in the South, they only go to a limited amount of destinations and often it’s more convenient to take the local bus or hire a taxi.

What should I wear? South India is much more laid back than the North and wearing bikinis and shorts in Goa is completely normal. However, in larger cities and more rural, off the beaten track locations, it is still advisable to cover up, or at least take a shawl with you. The South of India is very hot, and it is recommended to take cool, light clothes.

So what are you waiting for? I hope this guide helps you plan your exciting adventure in South India.