With a long coastline of more than 4,000 miles, India is home to a number of beach destinations catering to a variety of travelers.
While many of these beach destinations are popular with low-budget backpacking travelers, there are several destinations which can also delight history and architecture lovers. Those looking for a local, cultural aspect to their vacation may be delighted to know that several Indian beach destinations also happen to be temple towns; hence offering an opportunity to both soak up the sand and make rounds of temples. It is always a good idea to plan your beach vacation to India later in the year–the Indian summer is in no way ideal for a beach visit.
Goa, the most popular and well-known beach destination in India is a small state in the south-western coast of the county. Located somewhat close to major cities such as Mumbai, Goa’s beaches see a number of city-dwellers heading there for weekends. For the backpacking, yoga practicing, and drum-circle loving types of travelers, Arambol is the beach to head to. For large psychedelic trance parties, Anjuna is the place to visit. For those, however, who prefer instead to explore the vibrant local culture and architecture of the place, which was colonized by the Portuguese for over 400 years, Palolem in the south is a wonderful beach to set up base to explore Old Goa.
INSIDER TIPThe best time to head here, like most places in India, is between the months of October-March, though December and January are the months of high season.
Gokarna, another hippie haven in the southern part of India, is also a quaint temple town that has grown in popularity over the years. One can spot visitors from all over the world here, but Gokarna is also an important pilgrimage spot for the practitioners of Hinduism who worship the Lord Shiva. The contrast in the styles of travelers who visit here, hence, can make for quite an interesting observation. The main beach here is Kudle beach, but there are also others: Half Moon beach, Paradise beach and Om beach–some of which can be only reached by trekking.
INSIDER TIPGokarna offers cheap but very modest accommodation. Yoga classes are also available at Kudle and Om beach, thus making it a more suitable destination for backpackers looking to relax rather than travelers looking for a comfortable or luxurious vacation.
Varkala is located in the southern Indian state that is often called God’s Own Country. This beach destination in Kerala is a calm, holy place where one can find traditional centres of healing against stunning backdrops. A temple that dates back to over 2,000 years is also a major attraction of Varkala, along with the various Ayurveda centers on the cliff over Varkala beach. These centers, which host practitioners of the ancient system of medicine, also offer some pretty good massages. The Varkala beach, or the Papanasam beach as it is locally known, set against red cliffs, is a great place to watch the sunrise or sunset.
Nicknamed Pondy, this colonial city and adjacent areas saw French rule for more than 350 years and today hosts travelers from all over the world. Auroville, the intentional community which is located close by, is a world unto itself and another important point of attraction. The promenade, colorful streets, and the Aurobindo Ashram are some of the quintessential Pondicherry things to see, along with the churches and buildings built there by the French. For adventure lovers, scuba diving from cliffs into the sea is possible.
An offbeat beach destination, Tharangambadi, or Tranquebar as it is popularly known, is a lazy colonial town in southern India. As a result of over two centuries of colonial rule by the Dutch, this town is perhaps the most scenic location in India to see such architecture. The origins of this town date back to the 14th century, and this is a destination for beach lovers, history buffs, and architecture enthusiasts. On the beaches, one can spot the Danish ruins and enjoy a view into the lives of the local fisherman. Stay at the Bungalow on the Beach if your budget permits; it is breath-taking property located close to the Bay of Bengal.
INSIDER TIPA heritage walk in the town is a must for visitors.
Also known as Mamallapuram, Mahabalipuram in southern India is one of the region’s few destinations to have a UNESCO Heritage Site. The shore here is lined with Hindu temples dating back to the 7th century. Man-made caves, stone chariot temples, and monolith sculptures make up the aesthetic of the town. Its beaches are sandy and clean- though they can get crowded. This is not the best place for those looking to get a suntan as several religious visitors can mean that the general atmosphere of the city is somewhat conservative.
INSIDER TIPCheck for dates of Mahabalipuram Dance Festival during this time for getting to see some traditional forms of dance against the background of Shore Temples.
Located on an island between the Indian peninsula and Sri Lanka, Rameshwaram is a delightful beach destination. A tranquil, slow-paced town that is home to several temples, Rameshwaram is also believed to be home to the legendary Adam’s Bridge or Ram Setu, a point where Hindu God Ram is believed to have crossed in the mythological text of Ramayana. Rameshwaram is one town whose beaches have managed to remain less crowded and touristy, like the Dhanuskodi beach in the southern part of Rameshwaram, where two major bodies of water meet at the edge of the island- the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.
INSIDER TIPAvoid visiting Rameshwaram in the summers, when soaring temperatures can be unbearable.
Puri, located on the eastern coast of India, is a family-favorite with golden beaches and several luxury resorts. Though Puri itself has a number of shrines, temples, and other religious sites, the city sees an influx of religious visitors during its annual Rath Yatra, or Chariot festival. The rest of the year sees honeymooners and families looking to enjoy a beach vacation. Visitors can spot sand sculpture artists and taste some local delicacies.
INSIDER TIPIf you’re a surfing enthusiast, visit during the annual India Surf Festival, which is usually held for a few days in November.
Kanyakumari, the southernmost point of the Indian peninsula, is home to colorful sands and merging waters. This is the town which sees the coming together of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea, in the Triveni Sangam. A visit to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, located about 300 feet from the shore, is a must while here. As Kanyakumari is also a religious pilgrimage site, it is not necessarily known for a thriving nightlife. However, the beaches here are breath-taking and worth a visit. The main beach, called the Kanyakumari beach has a shoreline defined by rocks and is famous for the various colors of sand.
Alapuzha, known as Alleppey, is a scenic, busy beach town that beckons travelers from across the world. It’s the perfect beach destination for those beginning their journey into the backwaters of Kerala. With a pier that dates back over a hundred and fifty years, a thick cover of palm trees, and a lighthouse to be spotted in the distance, Allepey’s beach makes for an interesting visit.
INSIDER TIPTry visiting during a boat racing competition, such as the Nehru Trophy Boat Race to enjoy this beautiful traditional activity.
Daman and Diu
Twin islands located on the Arabian sea, Daman and Diu is an off-the-beaten-path destination even for Indians. Having been under Portuguese rule for over 400 years, the architecture found here is quite different to that in major parts of India. Besides the forts and cathedrals, there are several beaches to visit. Ghogla beach in Diu is tranquil and pristine; while Deveka beach in Daman is known for its proximity to major tourist sites.
INSIDER TIPVisit the Diu fort, which has a stunning lighthouse and cannons, for views of the Arabian sea.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands
A group of over 500 islands that are largely uninhabited, Andaman and Nicobar Islands are home to what could be considered a treasure trove of marine animals. Though most islands are off-limits for visitors, with some housing indigenous tribes, one can make a visit to the capital city Port Blair along with a few other spots close by. These islands are, however, not ideal for budget travelers. Havelock island is by far the most popular beach spot in this group of islands, with enough infrastructure to support accommodation and adventure activities.
INSIDER TIPBook flights and accommodation far in advance.