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The Leader in Small Groups on the Road Less Traveled
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2018 Soul of India: The Colorful South

India: Chennai, Mahabalipuram, Thanjavur, Madurai, Periyar, Kerala’s backwaters, Cochin

90% Traveler Excellence Rating Read reviews

18 Days from only $3795 including international airfare

View details

Activity Level:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Courtesy Dmitry Sumin
Kovalam Beach, Kerala, India

Get a bird’s-eye perspective of Kerala, India’s scenic Kovalam Beach.

Courtesy of Théo Cheval

Roam Kerala's streets, lagoons, temples, and fields to see how this vibrant destination turns daily life into a rythmic dance.

Courtesy Andrew Hinton

Experience authentic Indian culture by following a local boy through his daily routine.

Courtesy CNN
Sri Lanka's Freshest Seafood

Experts take us to their favorite places and explain important parts of Sri Lankan culture, such as seafood and rugby.

Courtesy CNN
Whale watching in Sri Lanka

Set off on a private charter to spot whales in Sri Lanka, which you can visit on our pre-trip extension.

including international airfare
17 DAYS FROM $2595 Small Group Adventure Only
  • 3 nights from only $595
    Single Supplement: $295
Extend Your Trip

Save $500 on airfare to India
on January-April 2018
departures. Reserve by 10/6/17


The air routing for this trip is very demanding. Learn More »


Enjoy a Stopover in Dubai
en route to India.
See More Options >>

Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

1 2 3 4 5


Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5


Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5


Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

Itinerary Overview

Brimming with natural splendor and cultural diversity, South India is a mystical land of rock-hewn temples, palm-fringed shores, and fragrant spices. Fall under the spell of this captivating region as you journey from multicultural Chennai to the enchanting backwaters of Kerala, stopping to unveil the architectural wonders of Mahabalipuram, discover the mighty temples of Thanjavur, and explore the lush jungles of Periyar. With its endless exoticism, indescribable colors, and otherworldly magic, we welcome you to discover the other side of India.

Make It Your Adventure

Personalize your trip to meet your individual needs, from preferred flights and air routing, to “breaking away” to spend more time in a destination.

  • Did you know that you have control over the way you want to fly with us? O.A.T’s team of Adventure Specialists makes every effort to provide you with non-stop flights and acceptable connection times to and from your destination. You also have several other ways you can personalize your air itinerary, which include:

    • Choose your departure city and airline: We list the most popular gateway cities on our website, but not all of them. If you don’t see yours listed, or there’s one that better suits your needs, let us know. You can also tell us if you have an airline preference and we will try to accommodation your request.
    • Depart from one city and return from another: Just because your flight leaves from one city doesn’t mean you have to return there. Maybe you flew out of Boston and wish to visit friends in Los Angeles after your trip is over. Tell us where you want to go and we’ll do our best to get you there.
    • Upgrade your seat: We’ll gladly arrange a flight upgrade to business or premium economy class if it’s available. 
    • Fly the way you want to: When you fly economy class, we’ll do our best to see that you get your choice of seating preference or even add a special meal request if you have dietary restrictions or needs.
  • If you choose to purchase airfare through O.A.T., consider personalizing your flights to include a Stopover. Beginning with September 2017 departures, you can break up your lengthy flight to Chennai, India, and take time to relax, refresh, and add another stamp to your passport with a visit to Dubai before your main adventure—or before your pre-trip extension in Sri Lanka. An O.A.T. representative will meet you at the airport in Dubai and assist with your transfer into the city for three nights in a centrally-located hotel—the rest is up to you!

    From soaring to the top of the world’s tallest building, to shopping in the souks of the old city, to leaving footprints in the sand of the surrounding desert, an adventure in Dubai offers surprises at every turn. However you spend your time, you’re sure to leave energized and ready to begin your journey in India. This Stopover includes three nights at the Raviz Centre Point Hotel (or similar), daily breakfasts, and roundtrip airport transfers. Single Supplement is $295.

    Suggested Activities in Dubai

    • After perusing the bright and shiny wares of the Deira Gold Souq, stroll over to the bank of Dubai Creek, where you can admire the brightly-colored dhow boats that ply the Indian Ocean—or hop aboard a smaller abra boat to see the cityscape from the water
    • Spend a day in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, where you can admire one of the world’s largest religious buildings, the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, or stroll along the beaches and gardens of the Corniche
    • Soar to the top of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, where you’ll look out on the surrounding city and desert from a vantage point that bests the Empire State Building by 46 stories
    • Discover Islam and Emirati culture at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where you can converse with local people and all questions, no matter how controversial, are encouraged
    • See how lights, water, and music combine to form a piece of art at the Dubai Fountains, the world’s largest choreographed fountain performance, where water shoots up to 500 feet into the air
  • You can extend your time abroad and "break away" anywhere you'd like to do more exploring on your own. You can also stay overnight iin your connecting city, before or after your adventure to break up a lengthy flight. Stay for a day, a week, or even a month in a favorite locale. Our Adventure Specialists can provide you with information on the accommodations we will use at the beginning of your trip so that you can make your own arrangements. That way, you'll know that you will be exactly where you need to be to meet your group. 

  • Many of our travelers choose to take another trip directly after their first one ends. Think about it: If you’re already overseas, why not see more of the region and avoid the expense and length of another international flight? Many of our travelers have taken two or three consecutive trips before returning home. One of the most common adventures combined with Soul of India: The Colorful South is Heart of India. And now you’ll save an additional $250-$350 per person when you reserve two trips right after one another.

  • Many O.A.T. travelers simply don’t want their trips to end. With an array of pre- and post-trip extensions to choose from, you have the chance to experience more of the places you’ve traveled so far to see, including Sri Lanka: The Resplendent Island, Rajasthan: Udaipur & Jodhpurand Dubai’s Timeless Desert & Modern Wonders. Plus, you lower your average per-day costs because you’re taking advantage of your already included international airfare.

Day-to-Day Itinerary

  • 3 nights from only $595

    When you purchase airfare through O.A.T., you have the option to personalize your flights and add a Stopover. Break up your lengthy flight to Chennai, India, with a 3-night Stopover in Dubai before your main adventure or before your pre-trip extension in Sri Lanka. An O.A.T. representative will meet you at the airport and assist with your included transfer into the city for three nights in a centrally-located hotel—the rest is up to you! Take advantage of this opportunity to relax, refresh, and explore the futuristic skyline, timeless desert tableaux, and traditional customs of this ultramodern Emirati city. Breakfasts and roundtrip airport transfer are also included. Single Supplement is $295.

    Looking for ways to fill your free time in Dubai? Check out some of our suggestions.

    Learn More
  • 9 nights from only $2595

    Sri Lanka is home to a range of landscapes, each more exotic than the next. Its predominantly Buddhist spirituality mingles with the remnants of its history in the spice trade. This tear-shaped island’s natural bounty is a cornucopia of treasures, from the tea fields to the coconut plantations. Before you explore India, come discover the land that inspired Mark Twain to exclaim: “Dear me, it is beautiful. And most sumptuously tropical.”

    View Extension Itinerary
Chennai Cochin Expand All
  • Today, you’ll depart the U.S. for your flight to Chennai, India, via Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

  • Today you’ll arrive in Dubai, where you’ll meet your connecting flight to Chennai, India. Depending on your flight schedule, you’ll arrive late on Day 2 or very early on Day 3. Travelers who took our pre-trip to Sri Lanka: The Resplendent Island will arrive in Chennai this afternoon.

  • This morning, we'll have time to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before we join our Trip Leader for a Welcome Briefing. Afterward, we'll have lunch together at the Writer's Cafe, a bakery that employs burn victims. We'll have a chance to learn about their lives and see their work during our meal. This afternoon, we'll go on an orientation walk around our hotel, then you'll have the rest of the day to spend at your leisure, with dinner on your own. Your Trip Leader may suggest some ways to spend your free time in Chennai.

  • After breakfast, we'll set out to explore Chennai, a bustling hub of commerce from its inception in 1639 by the British East India Company. This area has been an important economic and cultural center for nearly 2,000 years, thanks to its perfect position at the nexus of three rivers and the Bay of Bengal. Our discoveries this morning include a local maternity hospital and a Bodyguard Temple, where the bus for our upcoming journey will be blessed in a common local ritual. Lunch and the remainder of the afternoon may be spent at your leisure.

    Chennai is famous for its confluence of cultures, and is one of the few places on Earth with national celebrations for almost all major religious holidays. To capture the local flavor, we'll take a walk in Georgetown this evening. Vendors offer vegetables, flowers, and clothing in a scene of buzzing activity here. After our discoveries, we'll enjoy a Welcome Dinner together at a local restaurant.

  • After breakfast, we’ll visit Mylapore, a vibrant neighborhood that came into existence long before Chennai itself. In fact, Greek geographer Ptolemy wrote of the thriving port of Mylapore in the second century AD.

    Later this morning, we'll depart Chennai and travel south along the coast to the stone-carving village of Mahabalipuram (also called Mamallapuram), with a stop for lunch along the way. Believed by many historians to have been the site of a training school for sculptors, Mahabalipuram is situated between a shimmering lagoon and a silver, sandy beach with rocky outcroppings. With its remarkable rock temples overlooking the shining Bay of Bengal and graceful casuarina trees swaying in the tropical breeze, this open-air museum is truly a sight to behold. 

    After checking into our hotel, we’ll explore the rock sculptures of Mahabalipuram, beginning with the stunning Arjuna's Penance, often called the “Descent of the Ganges.” This bas-relief is renowned as the ultimate example of Mahabalipuram’s breathtaking stonework—as well as a crowning jewel of ancient Indian art. On this massive bolder, we’ll see images of Hindu mythology, local animals, and everyday life, as well as a natural cleft that was meant to represent the holy River Ganges. 

    This evening, we’ll return to our hotel. Dinner is on your own.

  • Today, continue your discoveries of Mahabalipuram on your own, or join us for an optional excursion to Kanchipuram, "City of 1,000 Temples." Kanchipuram was the capital of the Pallava Dynasty from the sixth to eighth centuries and is now hailed as one of India’s seven holy cities. We’ll begin our discoveries at Kanchipuram's temples. After an included lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll return to our hotel, where you’ll have some time at leisure before we all gather for dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Today, we’ll dive deeper into the vibrant culture of South India when we experience A Day in the Life of an Indian fishing village. After breakfast, we’ll drive to Kokilamedu, a small village south of Mahabalipuram on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. When we arrive, we'll glimpse into the future of Kokilamedu by visiting an elementary school supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation, where we’ll interact with the young students (when school is in session). Next, we'll visit the town women's center, where we’ll have a chance to meet the women who regularly visit the center, while learning more about the patchwork and handcrafts they make to earn money for themselves and their families.

    Later this morning, we get a glimpse of the local daily routine as we walk the village and meet villagers along the way. The fisherman's families will show us their homes and tell us about their lives and day's activities. We will eat fresh fish caught there and cooked for us in one of the fisherman's homes, just as they would cook for themselves.

    This afternoon, we’ll return to our hotel, where you’ll have the rest of the day to make your own discoveries in Mahabalipuram. Dinner tonight is on your own.

  • This morning, we’ll embark on a drive to Thanjavur (also called Tanjore). While Thanjavur is now a bustling Indian town, it was once a dazzling Chola capital under the leadership of Rajaraja I—often considered the Chola Empire’s greatest leader for his role in spreading Hinduism to Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Java. We’ll arrive in Thanjavur this afternoon, where you can have lunch on your own and enjoy some time at leisure. We'll also enjoy a heritage walk, exploring the modern city that was raised on 16th-century ruins before dinner together at our hotel.

  • After breakfast this morning, we visit Thanjavur’s most renowned landmark (and one of India’s crowning architectural jewels): the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Brihadishwara Temple, built between 1003 and 1010 AD to reflect the power of Chola king Rajaraja I and honor the Hindu god Shiva. In its prime, the temple worshipped the god by employing as many as 400 female dancers and a total of 200 dance teachers, musicians, astrologers, accountants, tailors, laundrymen, and other ritual attendants—the names and addresses of whom were diligently inscribed on the temple wall. This afternoon, we’ll learn more about Thanjavur’s long-standing appreciation for the arts when we visit a bronze foundry, where they practice a 4,500-year-old "lost-wax" casting process.

    After an included lunch, you’ll have time to explore Thanjavur on your own. We’ll regroup tonight as we meet a local family for a Home-Hosted Dinner.

  • This morning we continue to Madurai, the second-largest city in the state of Tamil Nadu. An important Hindu pilgrimage site, Madurai is a temple city that draws streams of worshippers making puja (prayer ceremonies) every day. This cultural hub dates back more than 2,500 years, making it one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the entire subcontinent—and also one of the most culturally diverse. You'll feel the pulse of these ancient grounds in the bustling marketplaces and streets that merge concentrically like lotus petals around Sri Meenakshi Temple, the glorious fortress-like temple in the center of the city. Sri Meenakshi's labyrinthine grounds are dedicated to the Hindu Lord Shiva who, as legend has it, descended on Madurai to bless the city during its first days and showered divine nectar down from his locks, giving Madurai its original name, Madhurapuri, the “City of Divine Nectar.”

    En route to Madurai, we’ll stop to enjoy a lunch of Chettinad cuisine—typical of the Chettiar community of Tamil Nadu. We’ll arrive in Madurai in the late afternoon and check in to our hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • This morning after breakfast, visit Sri Meenakshi Temple for a daylight viewing of its tall and fascinating gopurams. These pyramid-shaped structures often function as gateways to the temple complex, but at Sri Meenakshi they rise above mere gateways due to the riotous and highly colored tiers of sculptures culminating in shell-like finials. With over 1500 figures, the Southern Tower is tallest and most impressive.

    Next, we'll visit Thirumalai Naicker Palace, a stunning fusion of diverse architectural influences, including Italian, Dravidian, and Islamic.

    After an included lunch, enjoy time at leisure this afternoon. Tonight, we enjoy dinner together.

  • After breakfast at our hotel, we'll embark on a scenic transfer overland to Periyar in Thekkady, set high in the rugged mountains in the state of Kerala. Kerala is another timeless region thought to have been inhabited since Neolithic times; indeed, many of the region's caves harbor some of mankind's oldest secrets: ancient tombs, mysterious rock formations, and prehistoric artifacts.

    On the way, we'll make a few stops: one at a local brick-making factory, and one for lunch on your own. We’ll arrive in Periyar in the afternoon and check in to our hotel. Then we’ll visit a local spice plantation, where we’ll learn about the many spices that grow in Thekkady, including pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. Tonight, we’ll have dinner together at our hotel.

  • South India is home to an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna, and many of its most exotic species are native to the region. We’ll learn more about the area’s rich biodiversity today when we visit Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary—one of South India's most renowned national parks, set high in the Cardamom Hills. Here, we’ll embark on a jungle walk, keeping our eyes peeled for the sanctuary's 62 animal species, including elephants, wild boars, leopards, wild dogs, and monkeys.

    This afternoon, you'll have lunch on your own and some time at leisure.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning, we’ll travel west to India’s sun-soaked coast, breaking up our drive with a stop at a rubber plantation. In the afternoon, we’ll arrive in the small Kerala village of Nedumudi, where we’ll board a Kettuvellam (houseboat)—our home for two nights. Originally designed as rice barges, these distinctive boats were later used by royalty when touring.

    Once aboard our Kettuvellam, we’ll enjoy lunch and begin our cruise of Kerala’s scenic “backwaters”—a system of interconnected lagoons, lakes, and canals that stretches along the western edge of Southern India. Like Louisiana's bayou country, the waterways are a unique ecosystem, lushly overgrown and labyrinthine, but now scattered with communities ranging from large towns to small enclaves.  Today, we’ll drift through the backwaters of Alleppey, known as “God's own country” for its serene natural beauty.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    Today we’ll continue our discoveries of Kerala’s palm-fringed canals as we float past small villages and backwater communities. We’ll have lunch aboard our houseboat before continuing our exploration of the canals.

    This evening, we'll disembark at a village and witness a puja ceremony at a local temple. We’ll then enjoy dinner on our houseboat.

  • After breakfast, we’ll depart for Cochin (Kochi), the cosmopolitan “Queen of the Arabian Sea,” with its fine natural harbor—where mariners from Arabia, China, Holland, and elsewhere have left their mark among inimitable South Indian tradition and style.

    We’ll have lunch at a local restaurant, then check in at our hotel. Tonight, enjoy an evening cruise on the Kerala backwaters with an exclusive Kathakali performance, an Indian tradition of storytelling through dance and music. You don’t need to worry about speaking the language because Kathakali dramas have no dialogue; instead, the drama unfolds through the actors’ dancing and gestures, called mudras. The dancers’ elaborate movements and painstakingly crafted costumes and makeup come together to create a truly unforgettable visual performance. Dinner afterward is on your own.

  • Early this morning, you may elect to join us for a glimpse at the way the day starts in Cochin, visiting a slaughterhouse and a fish landing, before returning to the hotel for an included breakfast.

    This morning, we will first explore two of the multiple cultures for which Cochin is famous. By motorbike, we’ll visit the Muslim neighborhood, including an orphanage, and have tea with local youth. Our motorbike tour will bring us to the Hindu Brahmin neighborhood, where we visit a Vedic School.

    Then explore Fort Cochin and the Portuguese Mattancherry Palace, with its mural-covered walls.

    Our morning wraps up with another culture, as we explore the Jewish Quarter. Jews were once granted protection by the local king, and we’ll see the Paradesi Synogogue which was established here.  

    After lunch on your own, we return to the hotel. The afternoon is free for discoveries at your leisure.

    This evening raise a glass of sula wine as we celebrate our journey over a festive Farewell Dinner.

  • Very early this morning, you’ll transfer to the airport for your return flight to the U.S. via Dubai. Travelers taking our Dubai’s Timeless Desert & Modern Wonders post-trip will remain in Dubai and begin Day 1 of their extension. Travelers who are joining our post-trip to Rajasthan: Udaipur & Jodhpur will transfer to the airport this morning for their flight to Delhi.

    Dubai’s Timeless Desert & Modern Wonders

    3 nights from only $995

    Experience the interplay of the United Arab Emirates’ sleepy Bedouin past and its bustling cosmopolitan present. Exquisite architecture, antique and modern, surrounds us as we explore the culture, history, and traditions of the UAE’s two most populous cities: Dubai, the gem of the Persian Gulf, and Abu Dhabi, the country’s capital.

    View Extension Itinerary
    Rajasthan: Udaipur & Jodhpur

    7 nights from only $1895

    Nestled among the fairytale landscapes and sweeping desert vistas of Rajasthan—India’s legendary Land of Kings—are two of the country’s most spellbinding destinations. We invite you to unveil the romantic allure of Udaipur and the blue-tinged magic of Jodhpur to discover how these cities captured the hearts of India’s mighty maharajas.

    View Extension Itinerary

Click below to read our Travel Planning Guide on Soul of India: The Colorful South

Read Travel Planning Guide

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