Traveling through southern India is wonderful for those wanting to experience culture, adventure, delicious food and nature (the amount of bird life is seriously impressive!). During my trip, I took a Multi Activity Holiday with Kalypso Adventures, which allowed me to explore Kerala and its surroundings with a local guide in a very adventurous way. Based on my experiences, here are eight essential southern India travel tips.
1. Bring A Healthy Appetite
There is so much delicious food to sample in southern India: spicy curries, malabar biriyani, pazham pori, fish molee, mutton stew, pork masala. For many westerners India is extremely affordable, meaning that if you’re accommodation doesn’t include meals (many of the eco-lodges do) it’s easy to purchase an array of dishes to sample a bit of everything.
2. Get Travel Insurance
While I highly recommend visiting southern India, there’s no denying it can leave you more vulnerable than some other destinations. Many travelers report having intestinal issues due to unsanitary food or drink (don’t consume the tap water), cars race Nascar-style through hectic streets speeding head on into one another, and beginner adventure activities like cycling and trekking are more adventurous than what’s often promoted in western destinations. Especially since travel insurance is typically very affordable, it makes sense to purchase it.
3. Know How Much To Tip
When tipping in India, it’s important to get it just right by not giving too much or too little. During my time in southern India, I traveled with Kalypso Adventures, who gave me the following recommendation: *Guides: 500 INR per day *Drivers (for tours): 300 to 500 INR depending if he is also the guide and at your constant disposal *Houseboat Crew: 100 to 200 INR per person, per day *Bell Boys: 20 INR per bag
4. Go Camping
During my time in India, I traveled through the state of Kerala and its neighboring areas. Here you’ll find scenic countryside full of mountains, high-altitude rainforests, grasslands, rivers and tea gardens perfect for exploring the outdoors. A recommended way of experiencing the area is by hiking and cycling from campsite to campsite, many of which offer comfortable cottage tents with beds and bathrooms and meals included.
5. Skip The Bus Tours
Going off the previous tip, I recommend skipping any bus tours in southern India (although taking the local bus is certainly an eye-opening experience into local culture), which can shield you from the culture. Riding my bike through Kerala, I was able to chat with curious locals and children who wanted me to take their picture, watch them play or give me fresh fruit. Off the bus, I was able to experience the destination with all five senses, something you won’t want to miss in this tasty, aromatic, textured, colorful and birdsong-filled destination. For more on this, check out my series Bus-Free Through India.
6. Know The Local Customs
When traveling through southern India, there are a few customs one should be aware of. For example, excessive public displays of affection can make people uncomfortable, as can showing shoulders and legs, especially above the knee. Even when swimming, it is recommended to cover up with a long dress or sarong. Additionally, it is polite to take off your shoes before entering homes and temples.
7. Know When To Visit
Southern India is home to a tropical climate, although temperatures can vary depending how high in altitude or how close to the sea you are. The main monsoon season lasts from June through August, with the driest season lasting from the end of October through March.
8. Learn A Few Phrases In The Local Language
Because India was once under British rule, English is widely spoken throughout. That being said, you will most likely encounter people who speak little or no English, and instead rely on their local language. In Kerala where I traveled, the language was Malayalam. A few phrases I found helpful include: Namaskaram (Hello) Nanni (Thank You) Sukhamano (How are you?) Ethrayayi (How much?) Per enna (What is your name?) Varatte (Goodbye)
9. Bring Toilet Paper
You’ll definitely want to bring a roll of toilet paper with you. Many restaurants, cafes and public toilets don’t offer it, and even at hotels you’ll often find the rolls they provide are about 1/3 the size of a normal roll. Better to have some backup toilet paper just in case you run out in the middle of the night. My trip to Kerala was semi-hosted by Kalypso Adventures. I was not required to write this post nor was I compensated for it. All opinions are my own.