Relish in the exotic smells, appetizing food, fascinating people, towering mountains, and picturesque beaches of India. It’s a place that makes you question your own sanity, shreds you into millions of pieces and puts you back together like a taped up dollar bill. With the Ultimate Guide to Kerala, Karnataka & Goa, India, you’ll be able to experience it all for yourself.
At times you’ll love India and at times you’ll hate it. It’s a place you’ll swear you’ll never come back to and a place that ends up becoming your saving grace. India will thicken your skin like drying cement and melt your insides like ice cream in summertime.
You’ll feel every sort of emotion in India, emotions that you didn’t even know existed. You’ll find yourself swimming in tropical oceans and cruising along backwaters, exploring ancient temples and dancing to psytrance at sunrise, trekking through hill stations and wandering around palaces. It’ll make you reflect on certain aspects of your life you’ve never had the chance to before. You’ll find anything and everything in this magical country.
This post is your ultimate guide to three of my favorite states in India. This is a full length guide to Kerala, Karnataka & Goa.
The three states mentioned in this guide are Kerala, Karnataka, and Goa. Click on any link below to quickly get to each section of the guide.
Kerala: Kochi, Munnar, Alleppey, Varkala, Trivandrum, Periyar, Wayanad
Karnataka: Mysore, Bangalore, Hampi, Gokarna
North Goa: Vagator, Arambol, Anjuna, Sinquerim, Calanguete, Morjim, Panjim
South Goa: Palolem, Cola, Agonda, Butterfly, Galgibaga
Booking Hotels/Hostels/Guesthouses in India
I highly recommend using Booking.com to book your accommodation in India, they offer a ton of options for every budget. I’ve used them for pretty much every booking I’ve made. One of my favorite features is the fact that in some hotels, you can book accommodation and then cancel it several days before your arrival date if you need. Always make sure you read the reviews beforehand!
Booking Flights, Buses, & Trains
For flights, buses, and trains, I recommend using Goibibo.com. It’s a commonly used website here in India and makes finding and booking transportation extremely easy. I recommend having a staff at your hostel or guesthouse help you with booking buses and trains in India. It can be a bit confusing, and a lot of the time, you’ll need an Indian bank card to be able to complete the transaction.
Best time to visit Kerala, Karnataka & Goa
High season is from October-March, where you’ll experience the best weather but have the biggest crowds. I was in Kerala and Karnataka from January-February and Goa pretty much the entire month of March. It was sunny with beautiful blue skies the entire time. I arrived just after high season, so I luckily missed the hoards of tourists. April and May are the hottest months in India, and June-August is their monsoon season. It’s highly recommended to avoid visiting these states during the monsoon season, since they get hit pretty hard with horrendous weather.
Food in Kerala, Karnataka & Goa
The food in Kerala, Karnataka, and Goa is phenomenal. From curries to potatoes, lentils to rice dishes, your tastebuds will tingle from all of the delicious spices and flavors that comes with Indian cuisine.
It’s extremely easy to be a vegetarian in India, as most of their dishes are non-meat. However, it’s very difficult to be a vegan in India. Pretty much every dish in India has some sort of dairy product in it (except for sambar and dosa, and even then, sometimes you never know), whether it be cream, butter, milk, or paneer (or all of them!)
Popular South Indian breakfast dishes are:
- Dosa: Fermented rice and lentils, served with sambar (lentil soup and vegetables) and coconut chutney
- Uttapam: Dosa batter made into a thick pancake, served with sambar and coconut chutney
- Masala dosa: Dosa with potatoes, sambar and coconut chutney
- Cheese/Paneer Dosa: Dosa with paneer (cottage cheese) or cheese
- Onion rava dosa: Rice flour and rava, topped with onions
- Appam: Yeast, rice, coconut
- Puttu: Rice layered with coconut
- Idli: Dal (lentil) batter, cooked, served with sambar and coconut chutney
This is a great state to begin your travels in India. It’s safe, easy to travel around, and offers a ton of destinations for every type of traveler. Kerala lines the Arabian Sea, so many of its destinations are dotted with palm trees and boast a relaxed, hippy beach vibe. It’s also home to the Western Ghats, mountains that flourish with tea and coffee plantations. A few national parks in this state are home to wild animals like elephants and tigers. Kerala’s maze-like canals give travelers the opportunity to float around on house boats and canoes, while its cities are sprinkled with Portuguese influenced architecture.
Alcohol is banned in Kerala, so if you’re looking to get your fix of ice cold beer, you’ll have to wander to some jail-style government alcohol shops.
Kochi (Fort Cochin)
Portuguese, British, and Dutch styled houses are spread throughout the city of Fort Cochi, also known as Kochin. Previously owned by the Portuguese, Kochi was also an area for the spice trade and gained its independence in the mid 1900s. If you’re wondering where to start your travels in India, this city is a great starting point due to its location and safety.
Walk Around the City
Take in the beautiful basilicas and narrow, winding roads in Kochi. You can easily spend the day exploring the crooks and nannies of the city.
Kochi has a ton of delicious cafes serving cheap and delicious food. One of my favorites was Oys Cafe. I really loved the cafe’s ambiance as well as their coffee and food, and found it to be a wonderful way to escape the midday heat.
Chinese Fishing Nets
The slow, mechanical motion of the Chinese Fishing Nets, as well as their massive size, will leave you awe struck.
Where to Stay
Happy Camper Hostel
This hostel is a bit pricier than any other hostels I’ve stayed at in India, but their rooms have A/C and their own bathroom, while their cafe serves up delicious food. The owner of this hostel used to conduct tours around India, so he has an extensive knowledge about what to do and where to go.
This hostel is known for having a homey, family spirit. It also has a wonderful social atmosphere; guests tend to hang out in the lobby and play card and board games. It’s in a great location in Kochi and close to a ton of good restaurants and cafes.
Maritime by the hostel crowd
You’ll find this awesome chain of hostels dotted around India. The rooms have air conditioning, a balcony, and come with breakfast. The staff here are extremely helpful and will help you plan any excursions in the area. It’s a great choice for the budget traveler.
Local Bus to Munnar (leaves every day at 7 or 7:30 AM)
Set your foot in one area of the Western Ghats, Munnar. It’s one of the most beautiful hill stations in India, and is home to rolling green hills, tea plantations, beautiful sunrises, and clean, refreshing air. It’s split into two sections, Old Munnar and Munnar, located in proximity to one another. Both offer cheap, local restaurants and tea and chocolate shops.
Embark on one of the many treks offered in the area for a taste of what Munnar has to offer. You’ll find yourself wandering through the tea plantations early in the morning, and may even have the chance to see the plantation owners at work. There are a ton of tour guides in the area. Your guesthouse will help you arrange a tour. You can choose to do a half day or a full day tour, both of which include lunch.
Some of the treks may take you to Top Station, a beautiful place for sunrise.
Where to Stay
There are a ton of guesthouses in Munnar (I’m pretty sure my guesthouse didn’t even have a name). Check out booking.com for tons of great deals.
A pricier but wonderful experience is staying at Wanderlust Camping. You get your meals, treks, and accommodation included in the price, and you also get to watch the sunrise at Top Station.
Bus back to Kochi, then train to Alleppey
Alleppey is located on the Laccadive Sea and is famously known for its rural network of canals. Travelers usually visit Alleppey to take a trip on the backwaters either via houseboat or canoe.
Rent a Houseboat
If you have a group of 5+ people, then renting a houseboat in Alleppey is one of the best ways to experience the backwaters. You’ll depart at noon and cruise along the backwaters until 9 AM the next day. They’ll feed you lunch, dinner, and breakfast, which is included in the price. The houseboats are massive, ours came with 5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, a living room, kitchen (which is only used by staff), dining room, and dance floor.
There are two options for booking a houseboat:
- Spot Booking: Arrive in Alleppey and make a booking on a houseboat a day or two in advanced. This is good because you get to physically see the boat and potentially haggle the price.
- Online Booking: Some good houseboat companies are Pournami Houseboats and Xandari Riverscapes. Keep in mind that you will not get to see the houseboat beforehand.
If you don’t have a houseboat but still want to experience the backwaters, you can rent a canoe and drift along the canals at your own leisurely pace.
Visit Munroe Island
Munroe Island is a new tourist destination, so get there before everyone else does. It’s a lot quieter and cleaner than the Alleppey Backwaters; you can enjoy a relaxing afternoon riding on a canoe and swimming in the water.
- Munroe Island Backwaters Homestay
- Family run, this homestay will take you to a part of the backwaters where no other tourists go. You’ll be able to live and interact with a local family and munch on delicious homemade food. Book early, as spots at this homestay get filled quickly!
Where to Stay
This hostel is a great place to meet people, there’s a really nice hang out area where you can relax and chat to other travelers with a chilled out community vibe. The hostel itself offers free breakfast and comfortable rooms. They’ll even help you book a trip to the backwaters, either via houseboat or canoe.
Train or local bus to Varkala
Located on the Arabian Sea, Varkala is known for its picturesque red cliffs that tower over the ocean. Many shops and cafes line the cliffs, offering magnificent views at sunset.
Varkala boasts yoga and meditation classes, a beautiful beach, and cheap food. I spent my mornings doing yoga and my afternoons watching the sunset and having techno parties on the beach.
Yoga, Meditation, & Ayurvedic Treatment
If you’re looking to experience any of the above, Varkala has it all. It’s a popular place to come and engage in Ayurvedic treatment or try a yoga class for the first time. There’s anything from Hatha yoga, Vinyasa flow, Asana yoga, and everything in between.
Get a Tattoo & Piercing
Because Varkala holds such a special place in my heart, I got my first tattoo here. I went to Lord Shiva, who also has shops in Mumbai and Kochi. He’s an awesome tattoo artist and really friendly.
Float above the beautiful cliff attached to a parachute! Varkala offers adrenaline junkies the chance to go paragliding. Make sure you research a reputable company beforehand.
You can also visit Kappil Lake, Anchengo Fort & Lighthouse, and Janardhana Swami Temple.
Where to Stay
Shiva Garden Homestay
I ended up staying at Shiva Garden for over two weeks. It’s one of my favorite hostels I’ve ever stayed in, the dorm is open air and you’ll fall asleep under mosquito nets to the sound of animals in the background. It’s simple accommodation for a cheap price, and you get what you’re paying for. Don’t expect much luxury! They have events like campfires and movie nights, and have hula hoops, poi, and a slack line to play around with to pass the time.
The Lost Hostels
I met the owner of this hostel while in Palolem, Goa. He was one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met! They have events like campfires and games, as well as an open kitchen for their guests to use.
Where to Eat
A bit pricier than other local shops, this restaurant serves up delicious fish, curries, biriyani, soups, salads.. you name it! I went here several times because of how flavorful their food was. Expect to pay between 200-400 rupees per meal. Their cafe has a warm, homey ambiance and is the perfect place to come and relax after spending the day on the beach.
Come to Abba for their curries and breakfasts. They have some of the freshest pita bread I’ve had in India. Their German Bakery serves up some delicious desserts, especially their chocolate balls!
Coffee Temple has some of the best coffee in Varkala, hands down. They also have a ton of delicious, healthy food like salads, sandwiches, fruit and muesli, and curries.
Train or local bus to Trivandrum
Trivandrum is the capital of Kerala. Some of its distinctive characteristics include the British colonial architecture and art galleries.
If you’re a yoga and meditation enthusiast, you might want to check out the Sivananda Ashram. Their retreats begin on the 1st and 16th of every month. For 840 rupees/day, you can experience life in a yoga and meditation ashram, the price of which includes accommodation, 2 meals a day, 2 asana yoga classes per day, meditation, and lectures. It’s located on the stunning Neyyar Dam.
You can also take a trip to Kovalam, a beach resort located roughly 18 km south of the city. You can visit Lighthouse Beach (the most popular), Hawah Beach, and Samudra Beach. A bit further south is Kanyakumari, the Southernmost point of India.
This is home to Periyar National Park, where you have the chance to spot some of India’s wildlife such as elephants, buffalos, monkeys, deer, boars, and pigs.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard from many people that there’s a pretty big chance you won’t see any animals (but maybe you will!)
Where to Stay
Travelers usually stay in Thekkady and then take a trip to Periyar.
Wayanad is nestled in the Western Ghats of India, tucked away in lush green nature in the mountains. It’s full of wild animals, culture, and tropical landscapes that will make any nature enthusiast gawk in awe. Not many people make it to Wayanad because of how out of the way it is. If you do make it to Wayanad, you’ll surely be rewarded with incredible sites. Visitors can check out Edakkal Caves and Bandipur National Park, both of which are stunning and quite secluded.
From Kerala, you can take a 24 hour train to Goa, or split up the journey and visit Karnataka, beginning in the charming city of Mysore You can also take a direct train/bus to Bangalore, and then continue onwards to Hampi.
There is an overnight bus to Mysore from Kochi (best option), or you could take a train to Bangalore and then a train to Mysore, or a train to Calicut and then a bus to Mysore
Karnataka is the next state that backpackers tend to frequent. This beautiful state along the Arabian Sea boasts cities with ancient temples, shopping, ruins, and picturesque cliffside beaches. Karnataka also has Bandipur National Park, a forested reserve known for its tigers. It’s home to major backpacking destinations such as Mysore, Bangalore, Hampi, and Gokarna.
Mysore was the capital of the Kingdom of Mysore up until 1947. It’s most popular attraction is Mysore Palace, from the Wodeyar dynasty, which combines Hindu, Islamic, and Gothic design. It was completed in 1912, and is now surrounded by lush gardens. The interior is stunning, with granite and marble domes. Another place to visit is Devaraja Market, a market in Mysore selling spices and sandalwood. You can also climb over 1000 steps on Chaumandi Hill to see the Sri Chamundeswari Temple. Mysore also has its own style of ashtanga yoga, people flock from around the world to partake in classes here.
Where to Stay
One of the best known hostels in Mysore, this is a great place to meet fellow travelers. You’ll even get a delicious breakfast included in the price.
The Mansion 1907
The rooms are spacious, and guests receive free yoga classes. It’s incredibly easy to meet people in the social common area. They serve up a tasty breakfast for guests as well.
Train or bus to Bangalore, roughly 3 hours
Bangalore is a bustling city in India and the capital of Karnataka. If you’re looking for some delicious food and a taste of the hectic city life India has to offer, then you may find yourself enjoying your time in Bangalore.
Explore Bangalore Palace, a very beautiful castle-like building on sprawling grounds. Entrance for foreigners is 500 rupees. If you’re an architecture fiend, then you shouldn’t miss this place. Another interesting attraction is Bangalore Fort, which began as a mud fort in the 1500s and was then constructed into a stone fort in the 1700s. Cubbon Park and the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens are great places to visit to escape the hustle of Bangalore.
Where to Stay
Social Rehab Downtown
This hostel was quite difficult to find, since it’s on the top floor of an apartment building. The beds are comfortable and have curtains, and guests have access to the kitchen and balcony. I found the vibe in this hostel to be a bit strange!
Electric Cats Bed and Breakfast
The staff are super friendly at this hostel and eager to help you. The atmosphere is cozy and you’ll immediately feel right at home.
Overnight train from Bangalore to Hampi, departs around 10 PM, arrives around 7 AM or 11 AM depending on which train you take.
Cost ~ 300-500 rupees for non A/C
Hampi is an ancient village in India, home to many ruins and crumbling temples. It’s important to Indian culture because of its relevance to the Hindu epic, Ramayana. A demon fled to Sri Lanka with Sita, wife of Rama. Rama met Hanuman in Kishkinda, also known as Hampi, and together they helped rescue the wife. The entire epic narrates the life of Rama, the prince of the Kosala Kingdom.
A lot of backpackers decide to stay on Hippie Island. Once you get to Hampi, take a 20-30 rupee boat across the river to get to Hippie Island. There are a ton of cafes, shops, and guesthouses designed with the hippie backpacker in mind.
A lot of people climb up sunset rock to watch a phenomenal sunset amongst the rocks and boulders that surround Hampi. Bask in the fiery glow of the boulders as the sun makes its final descent for the day below the horizon.
You can also rent a motorbike on Hippie Island, something that’s forbidden on the other side of the river where the ancient temples are. Grab a motorbike and head off on your own adventure through the hills.
The ancient temples date back to the Vijayanagar Kingdom, circa 1336. Some of the temples have entrance fees, while others are free to wander around and explore. Hire a rickshaw for the day to drive you around to each of the temples (our rickshaw was 300 rupees and it took us about 2 hours). You can also choose to rent a bicycle for the day and explore the temple at your own pace, or join a bicycle tour so you have a guide that will explain the history of the temples.
Where to Stay
There are a ton of guesthouses in Hampi. From personal experience, I recommend avoiding VJ’s Guesthouse. Not only did they purposefully give me fake money as change, but their guesthouse was disgusting, their toilets and showers looked like they have never been cleaned, their staff was extremely rude, and their huts are see through.
Instead, opt to stay at Bobby Guesthouse/German Bakery. Additionally, the Laughing Buddah is a great place to spend some time relaxing along the river and meeting fellow travelers. It’s quite easy to arrive in Hampi and sort out accommodation when you get there, however, you run the risk of not having decent or affordable accommodation.
Overnight bus from Hampi to Gokarna, includes rickshaw from Hampi to bus, departs around 7 PM, arrives at 3-4 AM, includes second bus transfer to Gokarna town, arriving at 4-5 AM.
If you want to skip Gokarna, this same bus will take you directly to South and North Goa.
Cost ~ 700 rupees for A/C seater, 900 rupees for A/C sleeper (same bus) to Gokarna, a bit more if you’re going to Goa.
Gokarna is known as a pilgrimage site for Hindu’s and many sacred sites such as the Mahabaleshwar Temple. The surrounding secluded beaches are pristine, with striking cliffs and scenery along the Arabian Sea.
Guesthouses and restaurants line Kudle Beach. This beach is a bit more popular than Om Beach, so it’ll be easier to meet fellow travelers if you’re alone. I didn’t personally stay here, but spent a day relaxing here. There are a ton of guesthouses to choose from.
Dotted with tiny guesthouses, Om Beach boasts beautiful sunsets, a gorgeous cliff, and a place to unwind for a few days. It’s a bit less touristy than Kudle Beach, so if you’re looking for some peace and quiet, Om Beach is the place to be.
I recommend staying at Dolphin Shanti; the guesthouse is out of the way at the end of the beach on top of the cliff. The family that owns the place is lovely, and I really enjoyed how secluded it was from everything else. Reggae Guesthouse is another popular guesthouse that backpackers seemed to enjoy.
Paradise Beach is popular for those wishing to go camping. Bring a hammock or a tent and make yourself at home. This beach is very secluded and is accessible from Om Beach. There is a path through the forest that will lead you there.
Train from Gokarna to Madgaon (Margao), then 1-3 local buses depending on your next destination in Goa. North Goa: You’ll take a bus to Panaji, a bus to Mapusa, and then a bus to Arambol/Vagator/Anjuna.