Accommodation in South India varies wildly in quality, character and cost. It's usually advisable to book ahead (online or by phone) and essential during high seasons.
Budget & Midrange Hotels Options range from bare-basics guesthouses (concrete floors, cold ‘bucket’ showers) to clean, comfy, often characterless midrange hotels.
Hostels South India's slowly growing number of well-run, modern hostels provides good budget digs for backpackers.
Homestays & B&Bs Homey, family-run operations ranging from village huts to gleaming city apartments; usually good value.
Top-End & Heritage Hotels Hotels vary from luxury city chains to Raj-era mansions and maharaja palaces; often good deals online.
As a general rule, budget ($) covers everything from basic hostels, hotels and guesthouses in urban areas to traditional homestays in villages. Midrange hotels ($$) tend to have larger, cleaner rooms, usually with air-conditioning, and are more likely to have restaurants. Top-end places ($$$) vary from luxurious chain hotels to gorgeous, one-of-a-kind heritage palaces and resorts.
Costs vary widely: highest in large cities (especially Mumbai [Bombay]), lowest in small cities and rural areas. Costs are also highly seasonal; hotel prices can drop by 20% to 50% outside peak season. Most establishments raise tariffs annually, so prices may have risen since the time this destination was last researched.
- It's a good idea to book ahead, online or by phone, especially for more popular destinations. Some hotels require a credit-card deposit for bookings.
- Some budget places won’t take reservations as they don’t know when people are going to check out; call ahead or just turn up around check-in time.
- Other places may want a deposit or full payment at check in; ask for a receipt and be wary of any request for you to sign a blank impression of your credit card. If the hotel insists, pay cash.
- Verify the check-out time when you check in – some hotels have a fixed check-out time (usually 10am or noon), while others offer 24-hour check out (you have the room for 24 hours from the time you check in). Sometimes you can request to check in early or check out late, and hotels will oblige if the room is empty.
- High season usually coincides with the best weather for the area’s sights and activities – normally spring in the hills (April to June), and the cooler months in the lowlands (around November to February).
- In areas popular with tourists, there’s an additional peak period over Christmas and New Year; make reservations well in advance.
- At other times you may find significant discounts; if the hotel seems quiet, it's worth asking.
- Some hotels in places like Goa close during the monsoon period.
- Many temple towns have additional peak seasons around major festivals and pilgrimages; book ahead.
Taxes & Service Charges
- State governments slap a variety of taxes on hotel accommodation (except for the cheapest hotels); these are added to room costs.
- Taxes vary from state to state and rates vary according to room price, with higher taxes for more expensive rooms.
- Some upmarket hotels and restaurants also add a ‘service charge’ (around 10%).
- Hotels often quote rates excluding taxes; it's best to check.
- Rates we quote include taxes unless noted.
- Note that India's new Goods & Service Tax (GST), due to come into force in 2017, may affect restaurant taxes and charges across the country.
Budget & Midrange Hotels
- Sometimes you'll find budget and midrange hotels in atmospheric old houses or heritage buildings, but most are modern-style concrete blocks with varying degrees of comfort. Some are charming, clean and good value; others less so.
- Room quality can vary considerably within a hotel, so inspect a few rooms first. Many places have a range of prices for rooms of different quality. Avoid carpeted rooms at cheaper hotels (unless you like the smell of mouldy socks).
- Shared bathrooms (often with squat toilets) are usually only found at the cheapest lodgings.
- Most rooms have ceiling fans and better rooms have mosquito-screened windows; cheaper rooms may lack windows altogether.
- If you're mostly staying in budget places, bring your own sheet or sleeping-bag liner (or even a sarong/shawl). Sheets at cheap hotels can be stained, worn and dirty. You may also have to provide a towel, toilet paper and soap.
- Insect repellent and a torch (flashlight) are recommended for budget hotels.
- Noise can be irksome (particularly in urban hubs); pack good-quality earplugs and request a room that doesn’t face a busy road.
- Keep your door locked, as staff (especially in budget hotels) may knock and walk in without awaiting permission.
- Blackouts are common (especially during the monsoon), so double-check that the hotel has a backup generator if you’re paying for electric ‘extras’ (air-conditioners, TVs, wi-fi).
- Some hotels lock their doors at night. Staff might sleep in the lobby, but waking them up can be a challenge. Let the hotel know in advance if you’ll be arriving late at night or leaving early.
- Away from tourist areas, cheaper hotels may not have the required foreigner-registration forms, and so may be unable to accommodate foreigners.
- There are very few public campgrounds. The only places where you're likely to find yourself sleeping in a tent are a few coastal resort hotels or lodges in and around wildlife sanctuaries, where tents are usually permanently sited and often as large and comfortable as hotel rooms, with bathrooms too.
- The Indian and state governments maintain networks of guesthouses for travelling officials and public workers, known variously as rest houses, dak bungalows, circuit houses, PWD (Public Works Department) bungalows and forest rest houses. These places may accept travellers if no government employees need the rooms, but permission is often required from local officials.
- Most state governments run chains of budget and midrange hotels aimed primarily at domestic tourists. They include a few lovely heritage properties, but most fall in the functional-but-bland category. State tourism offices normally provide details.
- Available only in some areas, these family-run guesthouses will appeal to those seeking a small-scale, uncommercial, intimate setting, with home-cooked meals.
- Standards range from mud-and-stone village huts with hole-in-the-floor toilets to comfortable, middle-class city homes.
- Particular popular in Kerala, where Fort Cochin is the homestay capital of India, with Alappuzha (Alleppey) close behind.
- Local tourist offices often provide lists of participating families.
- South India (particularly Goa and Kerala, but also Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Mumbai) has an expanding number of genuine backpacker hostels with clean dorms, free wi-fi, lockers, communal kitchens and shared lounges. Some are independent, others chain-run.
- Popular tourist spots with good hostels include Anjuna, Vagator, Palolem and elsewhere in Goa, and Fort Cochin and Alleppey in Kerala.
- Vedanta Wake Up! (www.vedantawakeup.com) and Zostel (www.zostel.com) operate several hostels (of varying quality) in Kerala, Goa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
- The YWCA, YMCA and Salvation Army run a few hostels, sometimes called 'guesthouses'. These usually have clean, comfy rooms (some with AC) as well as (or instead of) dorms, at high-budget or low-midrange prices.
Railway Retiring Rooms
- Most large train stations (listed at www.irctctourism.com) have basic rooms for travellers holding an ongoing train ticket or Indrail Pass. Some are grim; others are surprisingly pleasant, but can suffer from the noise of passengers and trains.
- They’re useful for early-morning train departures and there’s usually a choice of dormitories or private rooms (24-hour check-out) depending on the class you're travelling in.
- Some smaller stations only have waiting rooms, with different rooms for passengers in different classes and for men and women.
Temples & Pilgrims’ Rest houses
- Accommodation is available at some ashrams (spiritual communities), gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and dharamsalas (pilgrims’ rest houses) for a donation or fee.
- These have been established for genuine pilgrims so please exercise judgement about the appropriateness of your staying in one.
- Always abide by any protocols. Smoking and drinking are complete no-nos; there's usually a curfew.
Top-End & Heritage Hotels
- South India has a wealth of top-end properties, from contemporary high-end chain hotels to glorious palaces, luxury beach resorts and dreamy lodges in and around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
- Heritage hotels give you the unique opportunity to stay in former (or sometimes still current) palaces, mansions and other abodes of Indian royalty and aristocracy.
Get to Know Your Bathroom
Most of South India’s midrange hotels and all top-end ones have sit-down toilets with toilet paper and soap. Bathrooms in this category are generally improving and increasingly modern; the best have amenities like rainhead showers and a range of toiletries.
In ultracheap hotels, bus/train stations and places off the tourist trail, squat toilets are the norm and toilet paper is often not provided. Squat toilets are described as ‘Indian-style’, ‘Indian’ or ‘floor’ toilets; the sit-down variety may be called ‘Western’ or ‘commode’ toilets. In a few places, you’ll find the curious ‘hybrid toilet’, a sit-down version with footpads on the edge of the bowl.
‘Attached bath’, ‘private bath’ or ‘with bath’ means that the room has its own en suite bathroom. ‘Common bath’, ‘no bathroom’ or ‘shared bath’ means communal bathroom facilities.
Not all rooms have hot water. ‘Running’ or ‘24-hour’ water means that hot water is available round-the-clock (not always the case in reality). ‘Bucket’ hot water is only available in buckets (sometimes for a small charge).
Many places use wall-mounted electric geysers (water heaters) that need to be switched on up to an hour before use. The geyser’s main switch is often outside the bathroom.
Hotels that advertise ‘room with shower’ may be misleading; sometimes the shower is just a pipe sticking out of the wall. Meanwhile, some hotels surreptitiously disconnect showers to cut costs, and showers at other places render a mere trickle of water. Glassed-in showers are rare in lower price brackets.
Where possible, we recommend hotel rooms that have their own private bathroom.