Travel to Southern India: Discover the vibrant tapestry of culture, cuisine and natural beauty
November 14, 2023
The sheer size of India can make it a daunting destination for travelers. But when you consider the two halves of the country — Southern India and Northern India — choosing one can make exploring Indian culture a lot more manageable. Southern India is a popular place for international travelers to tour, with warmer temperatures and drier winters, and an abundance of ancient sites and modern-day marvels to satisfy any globetrotter’s interest.
Southern India is home to many communities, each contributing a unique imprint. It is a vibrant and culturally rich region, boasting a wealth of stunning natural landscapes, captivating festivals, and bustling cities. From the verdant hills of the Western Ghats to the pristine beaches of Kerala, it is a true traveler’s paradise. As with any trip, consider adding travel protection such as SafeTrip International Travel Medical Plus in case of cancelations, itinerary disruptions or unexpected health care needs.
About Southern India
Southern India is flanked by the Arabian Sea on the west and the Bay of Bengal on the east, and consists of the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Kerala. Thanks to the extensive coastline of this region, the cuisine is often based on coconuts and seafood, as well as rice and lentils. Additionally, since 94% of the world’s Hindus live in India,2 you will see the tenets of that religion infused throughout the way of life.
A myriad of civilizations over the centuries has created a culturally unique region, with an abundance of ancient sites for exploring India’s history. Built between the 7th and 9th centuries BC1, the Shore Temple Mahabalipuram is an impressive archaeological site with intricate sculptures depicting scenes from Hindu mythologies. The Ajanta and Ellora caves dating back to the 2nd century BC3, are also popular ancient India tourist attractions. They are filled with paintings and sculptures depicting stories from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
Learning about local fine arts traditions is a fascinating aspect to weave into your trip to Southern India. Indian artisan traditions such as pottery or silk weaving are available at boutiques and markets across a lot of Southern India’s cities. Southern Indian culture is also renowned for its musical traditions. These include classical Carnatic music as well as folk songs and dance unique to specific areas, with Bharatanatyam or Kathakali dance performed at Indian temples and local festival gatherings.
Places to visit in India
Exploring the many wonders of Southern India is an experience like no other. Visitors can embark on a journey back in time and discover some of the most unique cultural sites and natural wonders in the world.
Explore ancient cities
Kochi is a colonial port city that became prosperous as the international spice trade hit its peak in the 18th century. Filled with picturesque lagoons, beautiful architecture, and unique neighborhoods, it’s a remarkable combination of modern Indian life and ancient tradition.
Mahabalipuram is another ancient port city and home to some of South India’s most impressive temple architecture. The 7th-century Shore Temple is considered one of the oldest temples in India,1 plus visitors can explore Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with ancient ruins dating back to the 14th–18th century Vijayanagara Empire.1
Indulge in restful escapes
Lakshadweep Islands are a serene and pristine getaway, with 36 islands, 12 atolls and 3 reefs making up the area — but only 10 of these destinations are permanently inhabited.4 Visitors must acquire a special permit, and once you arrive, you’ll have very little company on the vast expanses of white-sand beaches and azure seas.
Dhanushkodi Beach in Rameswaram is known for being particularly stunning as it is at the convergence of the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, plus you can easily add a visit to the famed Ramanathaswamy Temple.
Immerse in world-class luxury
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is an iconic landmark in Mumbai, with an architectural style that combines Moorish domes and Florentine Renaissance elements with traditional Indian touches. As a bonus, the hallways and public spaces are filled with the hotel’s extensive Indian art collection.
Marvel at unique cultural delights
India’s festivals and markets are a must-see. During Dussehra and Diwali in the fall months, local festivals include community parades, fairs, and music and dance performances. The crowded bazaars and open-air marketplaces are filled with colorful fabrics, spices, and jewelry, plus street vendors serving traditional dishes like dosas, idlis, and uttapam at any time of the year.
Before you go
Preparing by doing research and packing carefully is essential for travel in India. As with much of the world today, it’s important to look up document requirements such as an India travel visa plus recent developments within the country. Check out U.S. Department of State information before scheduling your flights to India for the most up-to-date info. Visas are generally required, although there are exceptions for individuals holding diplomatic, official or service passports, depending on nationality. Passengers with a re-entry permit issued by India also do not need a visa.
Essentials to pack for your trip
Light and comfortable clothing is key for a summer adventure in Southern India. Breathable fabrics like cotton are great for keeping cool in hot temperatures, while light layers will come in handy if night temperatures drop. Make sure to also pack a rain jacket or umbrella if you are traveling in June through September, as the rainy season often brings showers and thunderstorms. Additionally, don’t forget your sunglasses, hat, sunscreen and insect repellent.
Once you arrive
Southern India is filled with a high degree of ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity, with different customs in different regions. However, here are some pointers to keep in mind throughout your travels in this part of the world:
- In the South, locals speak primarily Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, or Kannada, so learning a few key phrases in these languages will serve you well.
- Physical contact between opposite genders should be avoided.
- It's customary to use hands to eat traditional India cuisine, though forks, knives and spoons are available at many restaurants. Visitors should only use their right hand to eat. Different religious groups have varying dietary restrictions. Hindus typically do not eat beef or products with gelatin, while Muslims typically do not eat pork or drink alcohol.
- It is also important to take precautions when it comes to food and water. It’s best to avoid tap water in most parts of India as it may contain bacteria that can make you ill. Be sure to drink only boiled or bottled water or beverages made from boiled water. Additionally, be aware of the food you eat: Select freshly cooked food and avoid fresh fruits and vegetables that have been washed in tap water.
Sightseeing and shopping
- Visitors must remove their shoes at most religious sites, including mosques and Hindu temples. Different religious and tourist sites have different rules for personal items (including bags, liquids and cameras) that visitors are allowed to carry with them. Most facilities have check-in counters where shoes and other items can be stored for a nominal fee.
- There are usually separate security lines for men and women at religious and tourist sites. Avoid wearing shorts or short skirts.
- Tipping is customary for workers in the hospitality and transportation industries. Tips of 30 rupees (RS) are common for bellhops; waiters usually are tipped 10–15%.
- Bargaining is common, especially at markets and bazaars. Most department stores and shops in shopping malls have fixed prices.
Traveling for business?
- Formal business attire is appropriate for most meetings. During the summer months, the rules may be slightly relaxed for comfort. Certain sectors have a more casual dress code.
- Handshakes are common greetings in urban areas. Men should only shake hands with women when they initiate. Indian women are more likely to initiate handshakes in business settings.
- India has a large number of public holidays when many government offices and business offices close. Some holidays are only observed in some states, rather than nationwide.
Safety and health considerations
- Crime also affects security conditions throughout India. Petty theft is the primary risk for foreign travelers.
Emergency numbers to be dialed locally:
- Ambulance & Medical emergency services: 102, 104, 108 (varies by state)
- Fire: 101
- Police: 100
- Prepare for your trip by checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest recommendations for travel in India. Vaccinations are recommended for some areas of the country, so be sure to consult with your health care provider about any necessary vaccinations prior to your trip. Additionally, pack a first-aid kit with basic items like bandages, antiseptic wipes and any other medication you may need. As with any international travel, check with your Indian embassy to make sure your prescriptions are permitted in the country.
- If you need emergency healthcare while traveling, know that the quality of care in India can vary dramatically between urban and rural areas, and between the public and private sectors. Private hospitals usually provide a higher standard of care than public hospitals, especially in major urban areas.
Be sure to protect yourself by considering travel protection. For instance, SafeTrip International Travel Medical covers you for any medical emergency including evacuations or repatriations, while International Travel Medical Plus helps you in a medical crisis as well as provides support if there are unexpected changes in itinerary or travel plans. Love a little extra adventure when you travel? Whether you’re river rafting at Dandeli, surfing in Varkala Beach, or rock climbing at Savandurga, you can add extreme sports coverage to your SafeTrip policy to support you in case of an injury or emergency.