Fascinating and thrilling: India can be every bit as exciting for children as it is for their wide-eyed parents. The scents, sights and sounds of India will inspire and challenge young enquiring minds, and, with careful preparation and vigilance, a lifetime of vivid memories can be sown.
Best Regions for Kids
Palm-fringed, salt-white beaches and inexpensive local food make Goa an ideal choice for family holidays. If you're looking to stay for a while, you'll find apartments and homey guesthouses to suit all budgets.
- Karnataka & Bengaluru
Hampi's magical World Heritage–listed ruins bewitch travellers of all ages, there's beach bliss at Gokarna, and who wouldn't get excited about searching for wild elephants and hoping to glimpse a tiger or leopard in Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks?
Canoe and houseboat adventures, surf beaches, Arabian Sea sunsets, snake-boat races, wildlife-spotting and elephant festivals. From the Ghats down to the coast, Kerala offers family-friendly action and relaxation in equal measure.
South India for Kids
In many respects, travel with children in India can be a delight, and warm welcomes are frequent. Locals will thrill at taking photographs beside your bouncing baby, and there's an endless stream of family-friendly activities and sights to keep kids busy. But, while all this is fabulous for outgoing children, it may prove tiring, or even disconcerting, for younger kids and those with more retiring dispositions.
As a parent on the road in India, the key is to stay alert to your children’s needs and remain firm in fulfilling them, even if you feel you may offend a well-meaning local by doing so. The attention children will inevitably receive is almost always good-natured; kids are the centre of life in many Indian households, and your own will be treated just the same. Hotels will almost always provide an extra bed or two, and restaurants a familiar meal.
Best Natural Encounters
- Elephants Kids will love spotting wild elephants on jeep safaris in Wayanad, Kerala; Bandipur and Nagarhole, Karnataka; and Mudumalai, Tamil Nadu.
- Dolphins, Goa Splash out on a dolphin-spotting boat trip from almost any Goan beach to see them cavorting in the waves.
- Hill Station Monkeys, Matheran Climb into Maharashtra's hills for close encounters with cheeky monkeys.
- Tigers, Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve Look for tigers on outstanding wildlife-sighting jeep safaris in this little-visited Maharashtra reserve.
Funnest Forms of Transport
- Autorickshaw, anywhere Hurtle at top speed in these child-scale vehicles.
- Hand-pulled rickshaw, Matheran Kids can roam this monkey-patrolled Maharashtra hill station on horseback or in traditional hand-pulled rickshaws.
- Houseboat, Alappuzha Hop on a houseboat to luxuriously cruise Kerala’s beautiful backwaters. If you hit town on the second Saturday in August, take the kids to see the spectacular Nehru Trophy Boat Race.
- Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Ooty Roll through the gorgeous Nilgiris on Tamil Nadu's super-scenic Unesco-listed 'toy' train.
Do take care when swimming at South India's beaches: there can be strong undertows.
- Palolem, Goa Hole up in a palm-thatched seafront hut and watch your kids cavort at Palolem's beautiful beach, featuring Goa's safest waters.
- Arambol, Goa Popular with backpackers, long-stayers and families for wide-ranging accommodation, safe swimming, water sports and surfing.
- Havelock Island, Andaman Islands Splash about in the shallows at languid Havelock Island, where, for older kids, there’s spectacular diving.
- Gokarna, Karnataka Low-key family fun on pristine golden sands at Kudle and Om Beaches.
Before You Go
- Look at climate charts: choose your dates to avoid the extremes of temperature that may put younger children at risk.
- Visit your doctor well in advance to discuss vaccinations, health advisories and other heath-related issues involving your children.
- For more tips on travel in India, and first-hand accounts of travels in the country, pick up Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children and visit the Thorn Tree travel forum at lonelyplanet.com.
What to pack
You can get some of these items in many parts of India, but prices are often at a premium and brands may not be those you recognise.
- For babies or toddlers: disposable or washable nappies, nappy rash cream (calendula cream works well against heat rash too), extra bottles, a good stock of wet wipes, infant formula and canned, bottled or rehydratable food.
- A fold-up baby bed or the lightest possible travel cot you can find (some companies make pop-up tent-style beds), as hotel cots may prove precarious.
- Don't take a pushchair/stroller, as this will be impractical to use and pavements are often scarce. For smaller kids, a much better option is a backpack, so they're lifted up and out of the daunting throng.
- A few less-precious toys that won’t be mourned if lost or damaged.
- A swimming jacket, life jacket or water wings for the sea or pool.
- Good sturdy footwear.
- Audiobooks or tablets loaded with games, films and music for long journeys – and headphones!
- Child-friendly insect repellent, hats and sun lotion: essential.
- You may have to work hard to find something to satisfy sensitive childhood palates, but if you’re travelling in South India's more family-friendly regions, such as Goa, Kerala or the big cities (where there are plenty of familiar Continental dishes), you'll find it easier to feed your brood.
- Portable snacks such as bananas, samosas, puri (puffy dough pockets) and packaged biscuits are easily available.
- Adventurous eaters and vegetarian children will delight in paneer (unfermented cheese) dishes, simple dhals (mild lentil curries), creamy kormas, buttered naans (tandoori breads), parathas (flaky breads), pilaus (rice dishes) and Tibetan momos (steamed or fried dumplings).
- Few children, no matter how culinarily unadventurous, can resist the finger-food fun of a vast South Indian dosa (paper-thin savoury crêpe).
- India offers such an array of accommodation – from beach huts to heritage boutiques to five-star fantasies – that you’re bound to find something to suit the whole family.
- Swish upmarket hotels are almost always child-friendly, but so are many upper midrange hotels, whose staff can usually rustle up extra mattresses. Some places won’t mind cramming several children into a regular-sized double room along with their parents; there are often interconnecting rooms for families too.
- The very best five-stars come equipped with children’s pools, games rooms, kids clubs and babysitting services. An occasional night with a warm bubble bath, room service, macaroni cheese and the Disney Channel will revive even the most disgruntled young traveller’s spirits.
On the Road
- Travel in India, be it by taxi, local bus, train or air, can be arduous for the whole family. Concepts such as clean public toilets, changing rooms, safe playgrounds etc are rare in much of the country. Public transport is often extremely overcrowded. Plan fun, easy days to follow longer bus or train rides.
- Pack plenty of diversions. Tablet computers stocked with movies make invaluable travel companions, as do audiobooks and the good old-fashioned storybooks, cheap toys and games available widely across India.
- If you're hiring a car and driver (a sensible, flexible option) and you require safety capsules, child restraints or booster seats, you'll need to make this absolutely clear to the hiring company as early as possible. Don't expect to find these items readily available. And finally, never be afraid to tell your driver to slow down, stop checking their phone and drive responsibly.
- The availability of decent health care varies widely in India.
- Talk to your doctor about where you will be travelling to get advice on vaccinations and what to include in your first-aid kit.
- Access to health care is significantly better in traveller-frequented parts of India, where it’s almost always easy to track down a doctor at short notice. Most hotels can recommend reliable doctors.
- Prescriptions are quickly and cheaply filled over the counter at numerous pharmacies, which often congregate near hospitals.
- Diarrhoea can be very serious in young children. Seek medical help if persistent or accompanied by fever; rehydration is essential, so pack rehydration sachets or similar.
- Heat rash and skin complaints such as impetigo, insect bites and stings can be treated with a well-equipped first-aid kit.
- Keep kids away from stray animals and try to ensure they understand the dangers of rabies; rabies vaccinations are worth considering.