Essential Tamil Nadu & the Andamans

This 16-day itinerary takes you from Tamil Nadu's Coromandel Coast, through ancient towns with colourful and intricately carved temples, via former colonial enclaves, and into scenic rural spots. Taste speciality cuisines, and experience the art, music and traditional crafts of this fascinating region, home to one of the only remaining living classical civilisations. Finish your trip with time to chill on the beach in a true barefoot paradise, Havelock Island.

At a glance

  • Immerse yourself in South India’s rich cultural heritage
  • Saunter the bohemian streets of Pondicherry
  • Explore the extraordinary carved temples of Tanjore
  • Admire local craftsmanship & creative cottage industries
  • Savour the fantastic streetfood of Madurai
  • Stay in a grand Chettinad mansion
  • Relax amongst the coffee fields, high in the Palani Hills
  • Witness the ‘night ceremony’ at Meenakshi Temple
  • Discover early British influence in Chennai
  • Experience true bliss on an Andaman Island beach
Itinerary
Price & Hotels

Mamallapuram - 1 night

Mamallapuram, on the beautiful Coromandel Coast, was formerly known as Mahabalipuram, and is simply called ‘Mahabs’ by the locals, if you want to avoid the tongue twister! It's a popular beach resort, ideal for breaking yourself in to South India gently. The town was a former port of the Pallava dynasty, and boasts a rich heritage of stone carvings and temples, now UNESCO listed, which you'll explore with a local guide.

Day 1 - Arrive Chennai, drive to Mamallapuram on the coast

On arrival in Chennai, you'll be met by a Selective Asia representative, who will accompany you to your hotel in Mamallapuram.

Welcome to Selective Asia! This level of personal service (such as private transfers, private tours etc) is what you can expect throughout your trip. A few services (eg boat cruises) will be shared, but we'll always make sure you're aware of these.

Once you've arrived at the coast, you'll have the rest of the day at leisure to relax and recover from your journey. Enjoy the facilities at your resort, or take a stroll along the beach to soak in the views.

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Pondicherry - 2 nights

Now officially called Puducherry, Pondicherry remained under French rule until 1954, and still retains a degree of territorial independence from the rest of Tamil Nadu. In its tranquil French Quarter (also known as White Town), many locals still speak French, French cuisine is served, and a calm atmosphere is preserved which feels a world away from modern India. Despite being on the coast, it's not really a beach destination, but we do recommend a stroll along the prom to enjoy fabulous views over the Bay of Bengal! Spend your time here exploring, both with a knowledgeable local guide and under your own steam.

Day 2 - Tour of ancient spiritual sites, drive to Pondicherry, rickshaw tour

Includes:

You'll spend the morning with your guide, visiting Mamallapuram's stunning 8th century Shore Temple, before heading on to explore the Hill Complex with its sacred sights and spectacular carvings. You'll also stop at the Five Rathas - remarkable ancient monoliths each carved from a single huge rock. After lunch, depart for Pondicherry in time for a cycle rickshaw ride around the diverse streets of this former French colony.

Day 3 - Tour of Pondicherry, then explore under your own steam

Includes:

Spend the morning exploring Pondicherry with your guide, starting in White Town, with its manicured streets and villas, before heading over the canal to Black Town, which has its own flavour and a day-long bohemian bustle that nicely offsets the French colonial hauteur. You'll have the afternoon at leisure to explore under your own steam, perhaps dropping into some of the French Quarter's many art galleries and antique shops, or visiting its famous Goubert Market, within the Grand Bazaar.

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Tanjore - 2 nights

Tanjore (Thanjavur) was once capital of the ancient Chola Empire, governed by one of the longest ruling dynasties in world history. Responsible for spreading Hinduism beyond India to Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the town is home to the 11th century Brihadishvara Temple - one of South India's largest, with an extraordinary array of intricate details. The modern town bustles away, but retains a strong cultural focus on art, music and traditional crafts. Spend your time here exploring impressive temples and admiring local craftsmanship.

Day 4 - Drive to Tanjore via historic temple town

Includes:

Drive to Tanjore, stopping at Kumbakonam, one of the oldest towns in Tamil Nadu and home to 18 major temples. In its picturesque setting between two rivers, the town is also known for its intricately carved idols, silk weaving and exquisite brassware, especially lamps. Explore a couple of the town's most important sites before heading onwards to check in to your hotel.

Day 5 - Explore rock fortress & ancient temples

Includes:

Take a trip to Tiruchirappalli - aka 'Trichy' - to explore the 17th century Rock Fort Temple, perched on an 83 metre crag overlooking the town. As you climb the 400 steps to its summit, pause at various temples and cave shrines, with beautiful carvings to admire while you catch your breath! Next stop is Srirangam, famous for its huge temple complex, which sits on an island in the river. Return to Tanjore for lunch and an afternoon at Brihadishvara Temple, known locally as the Big Temple - because it is! The temple’s walls are covered in mythological scenes, and its monolithic cupola was carved from a single granite rock which weighs in at 80 tonnes. You will also have the chance to observe some bronze statues being cast by local craftsmen.

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Chettinad - 1 night

Chettinad is a region of over 70 villages; a land of palatial houses, enormous temples and excellent cuisine. It's the traditional homeland of the Chettiars, who started life as traders of salt and gems under the Chola dynasty, later becoming known for money-lending and mercantile pursuits which helped them thrive throughout the British empire. Many of their spectacular mansions are still owned by Chettiar families who now live elsewhere, maintaining the properties to use for spectacular weddings and other family celebrations. Some have been converted into boutique hotels, one of which will be your splendid home for the night!

Day 6 - Drive to Chettinad, stopping at palace & cottage industries

Includes:

Depart for Chettinad, stopping to visit Chettinad Palace, known for its mix of architectural styles, and to explore the region's cottage industries, including colourful glass tiles that are still made by hand. Continue to your accommodation, in one of the extraordinary heritage mansions which were built here between the mid 19th and 20th centuries.

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Palani Hills - 2 nights

Renowned for their strikingly beautiful natural landscape, the rolling Palani Hills are covered in coarse grasses, their forested valleys hiding waterfalls and isolated pools, and plantations of teak, spice, bananas and coffee. It's an ideal place for a breather, with the chance to enjoy riverside walks, wild swimming, and pure relaxation in one of the historic estates.

Day 7 - Drive to 18th century estate in Palani Hills

Includes:

Head up into the cooler climate of the Palani Hills, where you'll spend a couple of days amongst the coffee plantations, enjoying the lush tranquil landscape. You'll be staying in one of the seven gorgeous planter-style guestrooms at Pallam Palace, the 18th century house at the heart of Rajakkad Estate. Your time here can be spent relaxing in a shaded hammock beneath the garden trees, exploring the estate, visiting the farm with its animals and coffee-drying yard, or walking to the village beyond. Guided excursions on offer include riverside walks, climbing escarpments to enjoy the panoramic views, or heading to waterfalls and isolated pools for an undisturbed wild swim.

Day 8 - Relax amongst the Palani Hills

Includes:

Enjoy a second day exploring your beautiful surroundings, or simply put your feet up and soak in the atmosphere.

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Madurai - 2 nights

Madurai is the cultural heart of Tamil Nadu, not to mention being one of the oldest cities in India. It's distinctively Tamil, having developed its own political and religious institutions with little influence from the north. An important centre for worship and commerce since the dawn of civilisation in South India, the city's early residents traded with ancient Greece and Rome. Today, despite being a burgeoning industrial centre, Madurai's vast stretches of paddy fields, dusty roads and crowded bazaars can make it feel more like an overgrown village, and it retains rich traditions and culture. During your stay, you’ll witness a sacred ritual, and explore the extraordinary Meenakshi temple with an expert guide, before finishing with a delicious streetfood tour.

Day 9 - Travel to the ancient city of Madurai, walking tour, temple ceremony

Includes:

Having arrived in Madurai, relax for a while before taking a late afternoon walking tour of this ancient city with your specialist guide. Your host will share fascinating tales about kings, gods, and intriguing Madurai residents, many of which are so ancient that they dance a fine line between myth and history. After dinner in town, you'll be taken to the Meenakshi Temple in time for the ‘night ceremony’. Amidst much chanting, drums, horns and incense burning, witness the image of Lord Shiva being carried in a procession from his shrine to that of his wife Meenakshi, where he'll spend the night.

Day 10 - Explore Meenakshi temple, evening streetfood tour

Includes:

Return to the Meenakshi Temple to explore this impressive South Indian temple with your guide. There's a lot to see in the 14 acre temple complex, including 14 ornately decorated step-temples, and 1000s of extraordinary monuments. Highlights include musical pillars which ring at different tones when struck, the pilgrims' bathing pool with its huge golden lotus, and exquisite stone carvings in the 1,000-pillared hall. Spend the afternoon exploring under your own steam, before meeting a specialist guide for your evening streetfood tour. Madurai's lively food scene goes back a long way, with written records – including recipes – spanning two millennia! Your guide will share some foodie history while you sample local delicacies in a city that takes its food very seriously.

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Chennai - 1 night

The gateway to South India, the port city formerly known as Madras became prominent after the British developed it as a trade hub. Before then, it was a cluster of villages along the Bay of Bengal, and Chennai's modern neighbourhoods still reflect their diverse styles. The city lacks major tourist attractions, but its heritage buildings and rich artistic, religious and culinary traditions make it a very pleasant city to spend time in. You’ll have time for a tour of some key heritage sites before heading onwards to your island getaway.

Day 11 - Fly to Chennai, city tour

Includes:

After your short flight to Chennai and hotel check-in, spend the afternoon with a knowledgeable local guide, exploring the British heritage of this fascinating city. Within Fort St George, which was the first English fortress in India, you’ll find a great museum and St Mary's, the country's oldest Protestant church. Explore Santhome, a stunning 16th century Catholic basilica, before enjoying some time at leisure to soak up the ambience.

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The Andamans - 3 nights

The Andamans are, in our opinion, one of India’s best kept secret. Stunning beaches, aquamarine coral lagoons, lush rainforests, active volcanoes, and excellent diving are just a few of its draws. Although Havelock Island is by far the most popular island for tourists, with a range of accommodation options, most of the island and its beaches remain relatively unspoiled and idyllic. Your time here will be spent exactly as you fancy, whether relaxing at the beach, making the most of your resort’s facilities, or enjoying a spot of snorkelling.

Day 12 - Flight & boat trip to the Andaman Islands

Includes:

Transfer to the airport for your flight to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, where you'll be transferred to the jetty for the (shared) ferry trip to Havelock Island. Prepare to kick back and relax by the beach for a couple of days!

Day 13 - Sea and sand at leisure on Havelock Island

Includes:

Your day will be at leisure to relax on the beach, enjoy some snorkelling, or maybe participate in one of the activities offered by your resort.

Day 14 - More time to relax

Includes:

Another day to enjoy this stunning environment, doing as much or as little as you like.

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Chennai - 1 night

Return to Chennai for a final night before your onward journey.

Day 15 - Ferry & fly to Chennai

Includes:

You'll take the ferry back to Port Blair this morning and connect with your flight to Chennai. On arrival you’ll be met and transferred to your hotel.

Day 16 - Depart Chennai

Includes:

Transfer to Chennai airport in time for your onward flight.

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We only provide privately guided holidays - meaning that you will not be expected to share guides or transport for the duration of your visit. You can also start on any day you choose.

Please click on the hotel category buttons below to view hotel details. These are recommended properties only - we have many alternative options for you to choose from if you would prefer. You can mix hotel categories throughout your holiday.

Hotel class Price per person (based on total # travelling)
2 persons 3 - 4 5 - 6
First Class £2,549US$3,321 £2,166US$2,822 £2,139US$2,788

Ideal Beach Resort

With its own private beach on the Bay of Bengal, just outside the historic town of Mamallapuram and within easy reach of Chennai, the Ideal Beach Resort is a comfy option with lots of family-friendly facilities...

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Maison Perumal

Located in the fascinating Tamil quarter of Pondicherry, Maison Perumal is a 130-year-old family mansion, lovingly renovated to offer boutique accommodation to a handful of guests...

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Ideal River View Resort

This welcoming resort enjoys a great location on the banks of the Kaveri River, amongst attractive gardens dotted with palm trees, and makes a quiet and relaxing base for exploring Tanjore...

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The Bangala

Built around a handsome old home that’s been in the same family for over 100 years, The Bangala in Karaikudi was the first heritage hotel in the Chettinad region of southeastern India...

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Rajakkad Estate

If you’re seeking a sense of history and a serious dose of peace and quiet, this small garden hotel in a converted 18th century palace, in the foothills of the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu, is for you...

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Taj Gateway Hotel Pasumalai

Sitting at the top of Pasumalai Hill, the Taj Gateway is a peaceful getaway about 15 minutes from the centre of Madurai, with superb views over the town and the hills beyond...

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The Raintree Hotel, St Mary's Road

A smart, contemporary hotel, the Raintree St Mary's Road is just minutes away from Chennai's city centre, but its quiet location on a tree-lined street in a residential neighbourhood means it’s a peaceful place to come home to after a day exploring...

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Barefoot at Havelock

Surrounded by Havelock Island’s lush greenery, just moments away from azure Andaman waters, Barefoot at Havelock is a welcoming, understated castaway retreat...

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Superior £2,910US$3,792 £2,526US$3,291 £2,499US$3,257

Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay

Sitting right on the shores of the Bay of Bengal in spacious grounds peppered with palm trees, the Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay is a perfect seaside escape within easy reach of Chennai…

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Palais De Mahe

Just 50m from Pondicherry’s seaside promenade and cooled by breezes blowing in from the Bay of Bengal, Palais De Mahe is a stylish colonial era hotel in the heart of the city’s French quarter…

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Svatma

In the historic town of Tanjore, Svatma is a hotel offering boutique luxury – indulgent spa, elegant rooms, great service – whilst also celebrating Tamil Nadu’s unique cultural heritage through its cuisine, décor and arts experiences...

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Visalam

In Kanadukathan, one of the cluster of villages in the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, Visalam is a 70-year-old mansion lovingly restored and converted to offer atmospheric guest accommodation...

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Rajakkad Estate

If you’re seeking a sense of history and a serious dose of peace and quiet, this small garden hotel in a converted 18th century palace, in the foothills of the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu, is for you...

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Heritage Madurai

Well placed for exploring Madurai, the Heritage Madurai is a stylish and characterful hotel with a fascinating architectural backstory...

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Taj Connemara

Conveniently located in the heart of Chennai, the Taj Connemara has been a hotel since the 1850s, and today offers stylish accommodation that marries heritage elegance with modern amenities...

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Barefoot at Havelock

Surrounded by Havelock Island’s lush greenery, just moments away from azure Andaman waters, Barefoot at Havelock is a welcoming, understated castaway retreat...

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Solo travellers are always welcome - please contact us for a tailored quote.

These prices are shown in GBPUSD.
Selective Asia is a UK-registered company, but our client-base spans the globe, so we bank in both GBP and USD and can therefore provide a fixed price in either currency.
We also have payment facilities in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the EU, and can typically offer better-than-bank exchange rates on the date of payment in these currencies (against a booking priced in GBP).

Itinerary additions

At Selective Asia we specialise in creating unique, tailor-made experiences. The holiday itineraries provided on this website are intended to help you visualise what is achievable in your destinations of choice, over a given period of time and at an intended budget.

Whilst many clients are happy with one of our recommended itineraries in the current form (and at the price quoted), there are those that wish to personalise their holiday in some way, whether it be a change of hotel, an additional destination or even start from scratch. This is when our tailor-made specialists come into their own; with many years of experience both living and working in the region they are ideally equipped to advise on alternatives and to facilitate any necessary changes.

The important stuff

Please note: During high season periods (such as Christmas and New Year) hotels often levy a surcharge and these are not included in the above prices. Your consultant will be happy to advise you of these.


Inclusive:

  • English speaking, local guide
  • All accommodation listed
  • Land transportation by private air-conditioned vehicles
  • Any domestic flights listed (unless marked otherwise)
  • Any ferry journey listed (unless marked otherwise)
  • All admission fees at attractions, temples and activities as mentioned in the itinerary
  • All meals listed
  • International flight reconfirmation

Exclusive:

  • Flights to/from Asia. We are an ATOL bonded operator and can arrange flights for all our clients, regardless of whether you are departing from the UK or from almost any other worldwide destination.
  • Entry visas
  • International airport departure taxes
  • Any meals not listed in the itinerary
  • Drinks, other than water on activity days
  • Personal expenses (laundry, telephone, drinks, tip...)
  • Travel insurance
  • All other services not listed in 'inclusive'

Please note

All prices are correct at the time of publishing. They are liable to change and can only be confirmed upon submitting an enquiry.

Extras

Flights

We will arrange all internal flights used within our holiday itineraries. We can also arrange discounted flights from all UK airports to Asia and we are a fully bonded ATOL operator. If you would like a quote for your international flights then please complete the required section on the enquiry form.


Visa

You will require a visa to enter India. Your consultant will be happy to advise you on visa requirements.


Passport

Please ensure that you have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity remaining after your return date. You will also need at least one blank page for each of the countries you are visiting.


Insurance

You will require a comprehensive travel insurance that covers you for medical costs associated with hospitalisation, emergency travel and repatriation back to your home country. We offer our customers a specially discounted insurance policy, ideally suited to the needs that a trip such as this creates. Tick the insurance box in the enquiry form and we will send you a quote to suit your needs.


Vaccinations and Malaria Prevention

You will undoubtedly require vaccinations for your visit to Asia. Please consult your doctor or a vaccination clinic for the most up-to-date advice. They will also be able to advise you of the most suitable anti-malarial medication if required. It is important that you do this well in advance of your departure date.


Booking Procedure

Only once you are completely happy with any holiday itinerary we create for you will we ask for a payment. In order that we can secure availability for your booking we would typically require a deposit of 20%.


Travelling Responsibly

We care about the places and the communities that you will travel through. It is important to us that we travel as responsibly as possible throughout Asia and that we are giving something back to the regions and the people that make these journeys so special. Full details on our approach to responsible travel can be found on a dedicated section of this website.

Make it yours!

Call us on 01273 670 001

Get in touch

Make it yours!

Call us on 01273 670 001

Get in touch

Our tailor-made service costs you no extra

This itinerary is designed to work straight off the peg, but we'll happily tailor it until it's a perfect fit for you, to ensure we’re making the absolute best of your time and funds. All you need to do is ask...

Your own private guides & drivers

You'll typically have your own private guides & drivers throughout your trip. When you will be sharing a service (eg a boat cruise) with others, we'll always let you know.