15 days

Essence of South India

Essence of South India

British East India Company trading post town of Chennai

Cochin's diverse history

Train travel - a quintessentially Indian experience

Trip rating
  • Travel to India and embark on this classic southern India tour from Chennai to Kovalam Beach. Lush, tropical southern India is charming, captivating and hospitable. Discover a thousand shades of green and share smiles with the friendly local people. Experience the culture, religion and history of this region in its small rural towns, quaint fishing villages and scented spice plantations. This is a fabulous part of India includes Kerala and follows the road less travelled - without sacrificing too many creature comforts.


    From 1st May 2016 this trip will spend 2 nights in Pondicherry. We will still visit Mamallapuram on a day trip. All sites and activities will continue to be included.

    Why we love it

    • Lush, tropical southern India is charming, captivating and hospitable.
    • Discover a thousand shades of green and share smiles with the friendly local people.
    • Experience the culture, religion and history of this region in its small rural towns, quaint fishing villages and scented spice plantations.
    • This is a fabulous part of India and follows the road less travelled - without sacrificing too many creature comforts.


    Day 1-2 - Chennai

    • Upon arrival you will be collected at the airport by one of our transfer representatives. Your Indian adventure will begin with an important meeting at 6 pm. You will find details of the meeting venue at the hotel reception.
    • Keep in mind that you will need your next of kin and insurance details with you at this meeting.
    • Chennai, formerly Madras, is the fourth largest city in India. It was the first major settlement of the East India Company in 1639.
    • While it is exceptionally hot, and forever abuzz with activity and noise, Chennai is comparatively orderly; by Indian standards, it is considered to be quite efficient.
    • The Government Museum is an excellent place to develop an understanding of the history of the city.
    • Simply wandering the streets, exploring the lively local markets and beautiful temples is another lovely way to wile away the day.
    My Fortune Hotel or similar

    Day 3 - Mamallapuram

    • From Chennai, you will escape the busy city and head for the sprawling, laidback beaches of Mamallapuram. You will drive along the scenic East Coast Road for two hours to reach this scenic fishing village.
    • You might like to visit the Shore Temple, or see the abundant mandapams (carved pillars in front of temples). You can also watch stone carvers, see the fishing fleet, or just unwind and absorb the atmosphere of the town from a beachside restaurant.
    Indeco Hotel or similar

    Day 4 - Pondicherry

    • You will drive on to Pondicherry today, briefly stopping at Auroville to experience an incredible experiment in international living (driving time: approx 3 hours)
    • Auroville is home to 1,500 residents across 80 rural settlements. Half of the population are foreign nationals, and the purpose of the settlement is human unity. Auroville is also known for housing the world’s largest solid crystal.
    • You will continue on your journey to reach the united territories of Pondicherry. This region is distinctively French. It is charming and romantic, replete with a Hotel de Ville, French consulate and a police force dressed in traditional red kepis hats and belts.
    • Pondicherry also houses the famous Sri Aurobind Ashram. It was founded by Sri Aurobindo in 1926, and has become one of the most popular ashrams for tourists and ex-pats alike. It is also one of the most affluent in India.
    • Pondicherry is a duty free zone, reputed for its quality leather and hand crafted paper products, you will notice the French influence of the area extends to the European feel of the shopping.
    • You will wander through the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and also explore some local temples and the old French quarter.
    Hotel Atithi or similar

    Day 5-6 - Madurai

    • Today you will take an afternoon train to Madurai. This six-hour journey will be in air-conditioned comfort, with western toilets available to ensure your trip is enjoyable.
    • Fascinating ancient temples and heritage sites punctuate Madurai’s landscape, with the city’s recorded history dating back to the 3rd century BC.
    • You will wander the tailors markets and bazaars before visiting the Sri Meenakshi Temple, which lies at the heart of the city. Still active today, this ancient temple is a maze of lamp-lit corridors. The corridors lead to shrines where mysterious rituals take place.
    • A visit to the National Gandhi Museum will expose you to the life and achievements of the 'Father of the Nation'; a wonderful chance to learn about the remarkable man behind India's fight for independence.
    Germanus Hotel or similar

    Day 7-8 - Thekkady - Periyar National Park

    • Today you will drive to Thekkady, passing flourishing rubber and pineapple plantations (approximately 4 hours). Thekkady is the gateway to Periyar National Park (Periyar Tiger Reserve), which is perched high in the ranges of the Western Ghats.
    • The sanctuary surrounds a beautiful lake. The lake formed as result of a dam that was built in 1895. It ambles through the contours of the wooded hills, and is a permanent source of water for local wildlife.
    • A guided nature walk in the acclaimed Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary will offer you the chance to experience the wilderness and maybe glimpse some wildlife. Wildlife encounters are never guaranteed, but if luck is on your side you may see some Indian elephants or gaur - the world's largest species of buffalo. You are more likely to see Bonnet macaques who are often found near the entrance to the reserve, or the Malabar giant squirrel, a species native to India.
    • Next, you will be taken on a tour of a local spice plantation before sitting down to a delicious meal prepared by the owner’s family.
    • In your free time, you can enjoy an ayurvedic massage (optional) or attend an exciting demonstration of Indian martial arts (kalaripayattu) at the Kadathanadan Kalari Centre.
    Rangerwood Hotel or similar
    Breakfast | Dinner

    Day 9-10 - Munnar

    • You will be driven to Munnar today (approximately 4 hours). Munnar is an old British hill station that is cradled in a picturesque valley. Sitting higher up at 1525 metres (4575 feet) you will notice a dramatic drop in temperature here, so be sure to pack appropriate clothing to accommodate this.
    • You will visit a nearby tea garden, where you can bask in the luscious, green surrounds, and if the erratic scheduling of the museum allows, you will visit the tea museum.
    • Next you will journey out to Mattupetti Dam, a town known for its Indo-Swiss livestock project. It is situated 13 kilometres from Munnar and sits 1700 metres above sea level.
    Deshadan Mountain Resort or similar

    Day 11-12 - Kochi (Cochin)

    • After your stay in the hills, you drive on to Kochi (approximately 5 hours). Kochi, formerly known as Cochin, is spread over several islands, and is known for its melting pot of influences, from Chinese and Portuguese to Dutch and English. The ferry network is the best way to explore the area.
    • You will explore the wonderful antique shops and spice bazaars, as well the sights of Fort Cochin such as the Chinese fishing nets.
    • You will also visit the Dutch Palace (Mattancherry Palace), which was built in the 16th century by the Portuguese and later claimed by the Dutch in 1663. The Dutch improved upon the existing palace before presenting it to the rajas of Cochin.
    • In the Mattancherry area, you also visit the Paradesi Synagogue, the oldest existing Jewish synagogue in India, built in 1568.
    • Next up, there is time for an optional excursion to Vypeen Island, it is one of the group of islands that collectively forms Kochi.
    • In the early evening you will also have the opportunity to witness a Kathakali dance performance, a classical, powerful, and dramatic dance style that combines symbolic storytelling with physical virtuosity. It is one of the most vibrant and extraordinary theatre forms in the world, and requires incredible commitment and rigorous training physically, as well as incredible emotional sensitivity to properly express the nuances of expression required.
    Grand Hotel or similar

    Day 13 - Alleppey (Kerala Backwaters)

    • From the sanctuary, you will drive to the backwaters of Kerala (approximately 3 hours).
    • Discover Kerala’s beloved hidden treasure in Alleppey’s sleepy, palm-shaded backwaters. Previously a significant trading port, Alleppey is now famed for its snake boat races (in August). It is the most common starting point for most journeys through the backwaters, and hosts a music festival in December each year.
    • Tonight you sleep on a traditional Kettuvallam (houseboat), these floating cottages have western toilets, private bedrooms, dining area and sundeck.
    Pikadly Houseboat or similar
    Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner

    Day 14-15 - Trivandrum - Kovalam

    • A morning drive takes you to Kovalam via the capital of Kerala, Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram). The journey takes approximately 4 hours.
    • Kovalam used to be quiet coastal village known only for its export of fresh fish and coconuts. It was discovered 30 years ago and was transformed from obscurity to one of the most popular beaches in India.
    • You will visit one of the most ancient temples in south India, the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple. The majority of its devotees are women and as a result it is often described as 'Sabarimala of the Women'.
    • Your trip ends in Kovalam after breakfast on Day 15. The nearest airport is Trivandrum. Your tour leader can assist you with arranging a transfer to the airport. These are not included, but can also be booked through us or your travel agent.
    Sagara Beach Resort
  • What to Know

    What's Included

    • The services of Peregrine’s expert English-speaking local tour leader throughout the tour and local guides at some sites.
    • Authentic accommodation includes: 12 nights comfortable hotels, 1 night Heritage Property, 1 night resort
    • Arrival transfer.
    • Meals: 14 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 2 dinners
    • Sightseeing and entrance fees including: UNESCO World Heritage-listed site of Mamallapuram including the rock-cut temples, giant frieze and Shore Temple, Spice farm tour & dinner in Periyar
    • Sightseeing and entrance fees including: Madurai including Meenakshi Temple; Kochi including Fort Cochin and St Francis Church.
    • Stroll the French colonial promenades of Pondicherry.
    • Jungle walk in Periyar National Park.
    • Free time to explore Mamallapuram, Madurai, Kochi, Mysore and Chennai.
    • Gratuities are included for the essential services only that you will receive as part of your tour package.

    Not Included

    • International flights
    • Airport departure taxes
    • Airport departure transfer
    • Visas
    • Insurance
    • Other meals including lunches and dinners
    • Any optional tours and activities during free time
    • Excess baggage charges
    • Gratuities for tour leader and non-essential services
    • Items of a personal nature
    • Camera fees (some places that we visit charge additional fees if you are entering with a camera or camcorder - your city guide will advise on these and they can be paid for locally)

    Safety Information

    We strongly recommend the use of a neck wallet or money belt while travelling, for the safe-keeping of your passport, air tickets, cash and other valuable items. Leave your valuable jewellery at home - you won't need it while travelling. Many of our hotels have safety deposit boxes, which is the most secure way of storing your valuables. A lock is recommended for securing your luggage.

    Your leader will accompany you on all included activities, however during your trip you'll have some free time to pursue your own interests, relax and take it easy or explore at your leisure. Please use your own good judgement when selecting an activity in your free time. Please also note that your group leader has the authority to amend or cancel any part of the trip itinerary if it's deemed necessary due to safety concerns.

    Festivals: Holi and Diwali
    Travelling in India and Nepal during the Holi festival, a lunar festival generally held in March each year, can at times be dangerous - a lot of locals participate in consumption of intoxicating substances. The day has been associated with physical violence and danger. Your leader/guide will be advising you and your group on what places to avoid on this day and it may even be necessary for us to alter your itinerary for the day to avoid putting you or our group leader/guide in high risk situation.

    Travelling during the Hindu festival Diwali (a lunar festival generally held from mid October to mid November every year) can also be dangerous. During this time there are many displays of fireworks in the streets. It can be very noisy for several days and there is also a lot of pollution caused by the fireworks. As there are no restrictions on buying fireworks in India there are often injuries caused by people exploding them inappropriately. During this festival your leader/guide may be required to alter your itinerary to avoid any dangerous areas to avoid putting the group at risk.

    Petty theft and personal safety
    While travelling there is always the risk of pick-pocketing and petty theft, particularly in the more touristy cities. We recommend that you exercise caution when walking alone at night and encourage you to walk together and only on main, well-lit thoroughfares. Be particularly vigilant on public transport. Simple measures like carrying your day pack on your front, not hanging your bag over the back of your chair and wearing a money belt will reduce any chance that your valuables should go missing.

    Traffic and driving on the other side of the road
    Depending on where you come from please note that drivers in this part of the world may drive on the opposite side of the road from what you are used to. Look both ways before crossing any road. Traffic can be a little more chaotic than you might be used to at home. Be aware!

    Women should exercise caution when travelling in India. Reported cases of sexual assault against women are increasing; recent sexual attacks against female visitors in tourist areas and cities show that foreign women are also at risk. While the risk of an incident occurring on your trip is very low, below are some things you can do for your safety and peace of mind when travelling:

    -    Respect local dress codes and customs, perhaps dressing more conservatively than you do at home
    -    Avoid isolated areas, including beaches, unlit city streets and village lanes when alone at any time of day
    -    Avoid travelling alone on public transport, or in taxis or auto-rickshaws, especially at night
    -    If you have to use a taxi get them from hotel taxi ranks and use pre-paid taxis at airports. Try to avoid hailing taxis on the street. Some cities (including Delhi and Chennai) have special taxi services for women with women drivers
    -    If you’re being collected at the airport by a driver make sure they have properly identified themselves before you set off. When leaving your compartment on overnight trains (ie. going to the bathroom), ask a male travel companion to accompany you where possible

    Click here for more about women's safety when travelling in India.

    For further information and advice, visit:

  • Past Travellers' Ratings & Comments

    At the end of each trip, we ask our travellers to provide feedback. We publish the positive, negative and neutral feedback on this page to give you an overall idea of what to expect on this trip.

    Essence of South India

    Patricia - New Zealand, 1 Jan, 1970
    Overall Rating

    Very diverse and interesting travels covering both east and west coasts, plus interior of south India. 'Total Holidays' and the bus transport companies were of a very professional standard,with excellent drivers.The hotels were of a varying standard but I realise that this was often due to lack of choice; however all were clean and well serviced.

    Essence of South India

    karen - Canada, 28 Jan, 2014
    Overall Rating

    Trip was fantastic, no issues what so ever!

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Trip at a glance

Trip Code PIES
Group size 4 - 16
Start City: Chennai
End City: Kovalam
Style: Small Group

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