HomeIndia Travel Guide How to Plan a Trip to India

How to Plan a Trip to India

 

In this travel guide, we will explain everything you need to know about planning your trip to India including the best destinations, top attractions, when to visit, the expected cost, and the best accommodation.

But first, some basics:

To get the most out of your journey in this incredible destination, it is important that your trip is at least 7 days.

For first time visitors, we recommend exploring the Golden Triangle cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. This itinerary allows visitors to see the most iconic Indian sites while also gaining insight into the local people and culture. Visitors who have a few extra days can also add in trips to Ranthambore National Park, Varanasi, or Rajasthan.

Indian Priest in Varanasi

India Travel Alert for Winter 2019/2020

Summary : While India remains a great travel destination and the Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most famous tourist attractions, a number of travelers have cut short or canceled their visits due to the violent protests across the country against a new citizenship law.

Despite the protests, India is still relatively safe for travellers as the protests only occur on specific streets in certain cities and are easy to avoid. Protests in India have been typically between citizens who oppose the new law and the police officials. By crafting your itinerary well and taking general precautions, you can still enjoy your trip without worrying about the effects of the protests.

The citizenship law protests have hit India’s tourism industry, hard:

Winter in India lasts from December to February and is often regarded as the peak season for tourism in India because most of the country experiences cool weather at this time. However, this year, India’s tourism has been hit hard by a wave of violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) across the country. Some countries have also released travel warnings for their citizens.

The United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Israel, Singapore and Canada have issued travel advisories asking their citizens to either refrain from visiting or to exercise caution when visiting regions affected by the protests.

Officials estimate that in the past two weeks, around 200,000 domestic and international travelers cancelled or postponed their trips to the Taj Mahal.

Traveling in India is relatively safe for tourists if you follow these simple safety measures:

Although the vast majority of travelers experience no trouble at all, travelers should still take a few precautions when visiting India this winter.

  • Don’t travel to the border areas such as the Indian-Pakistan border, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Manipur as these areas are high-security zones.
  • Stay away from the protesting crowds and the streets where they are gathering.
  • Book a tour with respected travel agencies and listen to your guide’s advice when visiting.
  • Don’t stray into streets alone, especially at night.
  • Protect your valuables and important documents at all times.
  • Dress appropriately. Women should consider wearing ankle-length skirts and tops covering the shoulders.
  • Don’t accept food or drinks from strangers and say no to people who approach you trying to sell their services.

India has a serene side and is rich in magnificent palaces and forts:

Escaping the daily hustle and bustle is easy by venturing into the country’s beautiful backwater canals, pristine coastlines, and fairy-tale palaces, lakes and forts.

In winter, destinations in southern India like Kerala and Goa are warm and pleasant places for beach breaks and healing holidays. Take a houseboat to see Kerala’s backwater canals allowing you to relax with a view of the beautiful sunset and abundant green paddy fields. You can also spend some time in an Ayurveda resort or a wellness center to receive a rejuvenating Ayurvedic treatments that focus on healing the mind, body, and spirit.

For those who want to witness India’s holiest city, Varanasi, the winter season is also a great time to take a cruise along the Ganges. By taking a boat ride, you will have the opportunity to see people washing laundry and offering flowers and incense to the river. There will also be an evening ritual at dusk where oil lamps are offered to the river and mantras are chanted.

You can also dive deeper into the local culture by exploring Rajasthan’s royal palaces, impressive forts, and unique desert landscape. Jaipur is the most visited city in Rajasthan as it is part of the Golden Triangle route. The most famous attractions in Jaipur include the Hawa Mahal, the City Palace, and the Amber Fort.

Udaipur, also known as the City of Lakes, is another popular tourist destination in Rajasthan and has a lot to offer for solo travelers, honeymooning couples, and history lovers. Take a boat ride on Lake Pichola to get amazing views of the City Palace against the sunset or take a heritage walk through the ancient city streets to see a fusion of Rajasthani, European, Chinese, and Mughal architecture.

5 Reasons to Visit India

India is an incredible country to visit for all types of travelers whether you are interested in history, culture, beautiful scenery, bustling cities, or wildlife reserves.

If you aren’t sure whether or not India is the best destination for you, go ahead and take a look at our 5 top reasons to visit India:

If jungles aren’t for you, admire the vastness of the Thar Desert by taking a camel safari over the dunes surrounding Jaisalmer.

Although India is often portrayed as a backpacker destination, in reality, India is a great place for travelers who want luxury experiences at affordable prices.

Here, you will find lavish accommodation, impeccable service, private cars, and personalized tours all for reasonable prices that can be managed by the average traveler.

Best Time to Visit India

India is a very large country with many different climates and weather patterns. Because of this, the best time to visit India is not always clear and depends largely on what the traveler wants to see and do.

Certain areas of India like the Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur can be visited year-round.

The overall best time to visit India is from November to February, but each of the country's 4 seasons offers something unique for travelers.

The best time to visit India for the most comfortable weather is in winter (December to February). This is when India experiences cooler temperatures across most of the country making it a great time to hike, go on a palace visit, or explore cities.

Although the winter months in India offer the most comfortable weather, it is also the high season for tourism meaning that travel will be less affordable and historic sites will likely be crowded.

For travelers who want to avoid the crowds, the best time to visit India is during the hot season which is from March to May. Although temperatures are high, popular attractions will not be crowded allowing travelers to spend more time at each site and explore at their own pace.

Fewer crowds also mean better photographs, overall better experiences, and more affordable prices. At Asia Highlights, we often plan tours in the early mornings or evenings to ensure guests are comfortable during the hot season.

The hot season is also the best time for wildlife safaris. During the warmer months, most animals such as wild tigers and elephants are more active as they come out in search of water.

India's monsoon season typically lasts from June to mid-September depending on the region. While South and Central India are quite rainy at this time, certain areas of west and northern India can still be visited.

The Himalayan region including Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh experiences its best weather at this time. If you would like to relax in a mountain town while taking in the views or go for a short trek at high elevation, then there is no better time than the monsoon season.

The rainy season is also considered the best time to visit Kerala for travelers who want to experience Ayurveda or yoga retreats.

The post-monsoon season typically lasts from mid-September to November. This is when the rains start to slow especially in North India and the weather gets cooler and more comfortable.

The post-monsoon season is a great time to travel throughout most of India. It is also the start of the high season and travelers can expect prices of travel and accommodation to start rising around October.

Top 8 India Travel Ideas: Where to Go and What to Do

There are so many great things to do and see in India that deciding what you want to do can be difficult. Below we have listed some of our recommendations for the top destinations in India.

For travelers who have never visited India before, we recommend visiting the Golden Triangle cities of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Those with more time can also choose to visit the holy city of Varanasi, Ranthambore National Park, or any of the other incredible locations listed below.

1. Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur—Iconic India

View of Delhi from the Jama Masjid View from the turret of the Jama Masjid in Delhi

 

The Golden Triangle travel route consists of three historic cities in northwest India including Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. The Golden Triangle is the best choice for visitors who have never been to India before because it offers the perfect mixture of elegant palaces, picturesque old towns, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Most travelers will begin their journey in Delhi which is the capital of the country and also a city bursting with sights, sounds, and history. Here visitors can stay in a heritage hotel that was built in colonial times while exploring the city's old town with its bustling markets and narrow lanes.

The small city of Agra is home to the world-famous Taj Mahal which is a white marble mausoleum inlaid with precious stones. This world wonder is impressive in photographs but breathtaking in person. In Agra, you can also see the Agra Fort, Itimad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb, and stay in a luxury resort hotel.

Jaipur is located in the desert state of Rajasthan and is often called the 'pink city' because many buildings in the city's old town are painted a pale pink. In Jaipur, travelers can get a panoramic view of the city from Nahargarh Fort and stay in a palace that used to be home to Indian royalty.

2. Varanasi and Ranthambore—Spirituality and Wild Tigers

Ganges river ghats in VaranasiPeople taking a holy bath in the Ganges at sunrise in Varanasi

 

Both Varanasi and Ranthambore National Park are easy to reach from the Golden Triangle cities making them great stops for visitors who have a few extra days in India.

India is famous for its religious diversity and the deep-rooted spirituality of its people. There's no better place to learn more about the religious practices of Indian people than in the holy city of Varanasi.

In Varanasi, visitors can witness the Hindu ritual of Ganga Aarti where worshipers amass on the banks of the Ganges River to place floating lanterns on the water, light incense, and pray.

Travelers who love the outdoors and want to have up-close experiences with India's wildlife will love Ranthambore National Park. Ranthambore is home to around 30 wild tigers and plenty of other unique animals including leopards, Asian elephants, monkeys, striped hyenas, and several types of deer.

3. Rajasthan—Forts, Palaces, and Desert Safaris

Blue houses of Jodhpur and the Mehrangarh Fort View of the Blue City of Jodhpur

 

The state of Rajasthan is located in northern India and contains part of the Thar Desert. Because of this, Rajasthani people have developed their own unique culture based on desert life, trade routes, and the ancient Rajput rulers. Most cities in Rajasthan are also relatively easy to reach from the Golden Triangle travel route.

Known as the 'Land of Golden Sand' due to its proximity to the Thar Desert, Jaisalmer is the perfect place to learn more about the local nomadic desert people. Here you can explore the streets of the Jaisalmer Fort or take a caravan out into the desert and sleep under the stars.

Jodhpur is known as the 'Blue City' because many of the houses in its old town were painted blue to show they were the homes of Brahmins. In Jodhpur, travelers can visit the Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, or explore the city's famous spice market.

Udaipur is the city of beautiful lakes and decadent palaces. The most famous palace in Udaipur is the City Palace which is a large complex that contains 11 different palaces sitting above Lake Pichola. Udaipur is a great place to relax in a resort hotel and to leisurely explore the city.

Bikaner is a smaller city in Rajasthan and was once a desert oasis for caravans traveling along ancient trade routes. Bikaner is not on the typical tourist route but is a great place to experience Rajasthani desert culture.

4. Mumbai and Goa—Modern India and Beach Relaxation

Woman doing yoga on the beach in Goa Yoga on the beaches of Goa

 

Mumbai is the Indian city of dreams that millions of people flock to every year in search of better opportunities. Here, travelers can take a tour of the city at dawn to experience the rush of commuting workers or learn more about Indian cinema and Bollywood.

While Mumbai is a bustling metropolis, there is much more to see here than just the busy city. Visit the nearby Worli Fishing Village or head to the World Heritage Site of Elephanta Island to see 7th-century cave carvings.

From Mumbai, it is a quick trip to Goa which is famous for its stunning beaches and Portuguese fusion food. In Goa, visitors can stay in a beachside resort, enjoy the local seafood, participate in watersports, take yoga classes, and experience traditional Indian Ayurvedic treatments.

5. Kerala—Ayurveda, Tea Plantations, and the Backwaters

Lush green tea plantations in Munnar Tea Plantations of Munnar

 

Kerala is located in South India and is often called 'God's Own Country' due to its tropical beauty and laidback atmosphere.

Start your trip to Kerala in its capital city of Cochin which was once a Portuguese port city and home of the spice trade. Here, travelers can explore the streets of Fort Kochi which is full of old colonial buildings and charming boutique shops that sell souvenirs, clothes, spices, and coffee.

After exploring Cochin, head to Munnar to relax in the jungle and visit tea and coffee plantations and then to Allepey to take a cruise through canals surrounded by the quaint villages of the backwaters.

6. Ladakh and the Northeastern Himalayas—The Striking Mountains

View of Leh Ladakh and the surrounding mountains View of Leh and the surrounding mountains

 

Ladakh is located in the far northwestern state of Jammu and Kashmir in the Himalayan mountains. The main attraction in Ladakh is the town of Leh. Leh is the perfect place to visit if you want to escape the busy cities and enjoy the quiet of this small mountain town.

When staying in Leh, you will feel like you have left India and entered an entirely new country. Leh is a primarily Buddhist city whose unique culture has been protected by its difficult to reach location. It is hard not to enjoy a visit to Leh because no matter where you go in the city, you will get great views of the surrounding mountains.

From Leh, travelers can head along the Himalayas to Himachal Pradesh's Spiti Valley or to the northeastern Indian states of Sikkim or Assam which border Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet.

Here you can visit tea plantations, hike through the foothills, take in the views of snowcapped mountains, experience the culture of Indian minority groups, and learn about Tibetan culture in Dharamshala.

7. Calcutta and the East—Street Food and Tea Plantations

Famous marigold flower market in Kolkata Calcutta Calcutta's famous flower market

 

Calcutta is located in eastern India bordering Bangladesh and was once the capital of British India. In Calcutta, travelers can explore the British colonial architecture of the downtown area, visit the Victoria Memorial, or check out the city's famous flower market.

Calcutta is foodie heaven and a great place to try the local Bengali food with its fried fish and mustard oil or explore the city's lively street food scene. Make sure to try the famous Kathi roll which is a kebab wrapped in thin bread topped with onions, sauce, and egg.

From Calcutta, head to the Himalayan foothills of Darjeeling to explore tea plantations or travel south to the Sunderbans for the opportunity to see wild Bengal tigers.

8. Experience Nepal and India Together—Two Beautiful Cultures in One

Yaks on Everest trail Nepal Yaks carrying supplies along a mountain path in Nepal

 

The Himalayan Mountain Range starts in northwestern India and then sweeps down to the far northeastern part of the country and into Nepal. Travelers who want to experience the full beauty of the Himalayas can visit both India and Nepal in one trip.

Start your journey in Nepal where you can explore the medieval temples and palaces of Kathmandu's Old Town or take a scenic flight around Mount Everest. From Kathmandu, you can head to Chitwan National Park to see elephants and one-horned rhinos.

After exploring Nepal, cross the border into India's northeastern state of Sikkim with its unique culture and minority groups. Here you can visit Buddhist monasteries and stay in the impressive mountain city of Gangtok or head to Pelling to get a great view of Kanchenjunga, the world's third-tallest mountain.

After entering India, you can continue your journey through the country by visiting any of the above destinations.

Indian Cuisine

India is a large country with a wide variety of food. From the kebabs with bread of the north to the light coconut curries of South India, this country is full of so many different dishes to try.

So, what is Indian food?

India is a great country to visit if you are a vegetarian. Because many Hindus don’t eat meat, delicious vegetarian options are available at almost every restaurant.

Will Indian food upset my stomach?

Indian food has a reputation for causing upset stomachs amongst travelers. While this does happen, the problem can be easily avoided by eating meals at high-quality restaurants. We recommend that our guests eat lunch in the hotel where they will have both western and Indian options. If you want to try outside food, get recommendations for good restaurants from your guide or the hotel front desk.

Accommodation

One amazing thing about travel in India that most people don't expect is the INCREDIBLE accommodation options that are available here. In India, travelers can stay in hotels that have been created from Colonial-era buildings or that were once the palaces and mansions of Indian royalty.

In Delhi, the best places to stay are the colonial heritage hotels with their old-world charm and great amenities. We particularly love the Maidens Hotel for its central location, two onsite restaurants, spa, and quiet gardens. We also recommend the Claridges Hotel with its central location, spa, and pool.

Visiting Agra is the perfect opportunity to stay in a luxurious resort hotel. In Agra, our favorite luxury hotel is the Oberoi Amarvilas with its spa and sunset views of the Taj Mahal. Another great resort hotel in Agra is the Trident with its peaceful gardens, multiple dining options, and proximity to the city’s top attractions.

Jaipur is the land of the old Rajput rulers and there is no better place to stay in the pink city than in a palace hotel. Palace hotels are strikingly beautiful and give guests more insight into the life of Indian royalty. In Jaipur, our favorite palace hotels are Samode Palace and Chomu Palace.

In Ranthambore, there are accommodation options near the national park that offer guests comfortable and unique experiences. For a resort stay, there is nothing better than Oberoi Vanyavilas where guests sleep in luxury tents.

Kerala is the perfect place for travelers who want to stay in a retreat hotel. In Cochin, guests can enjoy spa and Ayurvedic treatments at the Trident hotel or Taj Malabar Resort & Spa. In the hill stations, enjoy the outdoors at Fragrant Nature Munnar or Windermere Estate.

How to Fly to India

When flying to India, most travelers will arrive at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. This airport receives flights from many international locations and is the 8th-largest airport in the world making it a convenient and affordable port of entry.

The Indira Gandhi International Airport is also well-connected to city transportation making it easy and convenient to find your way to your hotel. The airport also has a lot of convenient facilities including free Wi-Fi, ATM services and money exchanges, luggage storage, and plenty of restaurants that stay open late.

Starting Location Departing Cities Flight Time Average Cost
United States Non-stop flights available from New York, Chicago, San Francisco 14 to 17 hours 800 USD
Europe Non-stop flights available from London and Paris Around 8 hours 900 USD

June and July are typically the most expensive months to fly to India and the price may drop slightly during other seasons. Winter (December to February) is the high season for travel in India so its a good idea to book tickets early.

How to Travel Around India

How should you travel over short distances?

How about longer journeys?

Cost of a Trip to India

India is a surprisingly affordable travel destination. The cost of goods is lower in India than in most western countries meaning that travelers can often visit India without breaking the bank. 

In India, you'll find affordably priced 3 and 4-star accommodation along with inexpensive and delicious food. The cost of hiring a private car and driver for your journey is also comparably low and can be made more affordable by booking a Golden Triangle Tour that includes private transportation.

The starting price for tailor-made private tours in India is 160 USD per day. This price includes guided tours, chauffeured private cars, 4-star accommodation, free breakfast, and a hearty lunch. The price will be higher for clients who prefer 5-star or resort accommodation.

At Asia Highlights, we provide travel packages to India that are affordable and make traveling enjoyable and comfortable for our guests. Booking through Asia Highlights allows your trip to run smoothly with private transportation, expert advice, and a local guide to show you all the important sites.

India Travel and Safety Tips

  • Book Hotels and Travel in Advance—Because India is becoming a more and more popular travel destination, hotel rooms and travel tickets can sell out quickly during the peak season (November to February) and during popular festivals such as Holi, Diwali, and the Pushkar Camel Fair.
  • Prepare for the Unexpected—India is a beautiful country that is full of colorful sights and interesting sounds and cultural ideas that westerners aren't used to. Travel in India will be easier if you are prepared to laugh at minor frustrations and prepare to be completely surprised by what you see and experience.
  • Eat at Approved Restaurants—India food is well-known for upsetting the stomachs of western travelers. While this does happen, it can mostly be avoided by eating lunch in your hotel restaurant and at restaurants that have been preapproved by your guide.
  • Beggars and Poverty—India has made economic strides in recent years but is a developing nation and while there, you may be shocked by the level and amount of poverty you see. While it is honorable to want to help, it is not recommended to give money to street beggars. Begging has become a lucrative industry in India and the people who participate have often been forced into the profession.
  • Dress Conservatively—While traveling, it is important (especially for female travelers) to wear modest clothing in order to avoid unwanted attention. For women, its a good idea to wear long shirts that cover the shoulders and hips as well as loose pants that fall past the knee. Men should also cover their shoulders and wear pants that fall past the knee.
  • Safety for Solo Travelers—While woman's rights are slowly improving in India, traveling here is more difficult when traveling alone as a woman. It is possible to be a solo female traveler in India, but it requires more focus on safety. When traveling alone in India, make sure you are not out by yourself or on public transportation after dark. If you are unsure of your safety, the best group to ask for help is Indian women or families.

Getting an Indian Tourist Visa

Citizens of most countries will need to apply for a tourist visa in order to enter India. There are two options for visas, the first is the E-visa and the second is visa on arrival. We recommend applying for the E-visa, if possible, as it is a more streamlined and convenient process.

Tailor-Made Tour or Independent Travel

While independent travel is a great experience in some countries, in India it is often a better idea to travel through a tailor-made private tour. This is because tailor-made tours to India are quite affordable and offer many benefits that independent travelers don’t get.

1. Comfortable Transportation: When with a private tour, customers will travel in a prearranged chauffeured car. This means that you won't have to worry about catching the train on time or getting off at the correct stop.

2. Seeing Everything on Your List: Private tours allow travelers to see more in each city and to have a knowledgeable guide answer all of your questions about each location.

3. Visit the Right Place at the Right Time: By booking a private tour, you will have access to a professional personal advisor who can help you plan your trip and visit the right cities or attractions at the right times to make your experience the best it can be.

4. Experience the Culture First-Hand: When traveling on a private tour, you can see things that independent travelers won’t be able to. Private tours have access to more resources and will create unique experiences for their guests such as learning to cook Indian food in the home of a local or witnessing religious rituals in Varanasi.

5. Money-back Guarantee: We understand that life sometimes gets in the way and that's why we offer free cancellation on tours up to 30 days before your trip.

Explore India with Asia Highlights