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 the friendly, beachy south 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, white-sand beaches, inexpensive local food and short travel times make Goa India's most family-friendly state, with apartments, huts, resorts and guesthouses to suit all budgets.
Canoe and houseboat adventures, surf beaches, Arabian Sea sunsets, snake-boat races and wildlife-spotting: from the Ghats down to the sparkling coast, Kerala offers family-friendly action and relaxation in equal measure.
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?
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 holidays!), and your own will be treated just the same, but it can be invasive and tiring for kids, and being touched by strangers can bring hygiene issues. If necessary a polite 'no' should do the trick.
Hotels will almost always provide an extra bed or two, and there are plenty of restaurants with familiar Continental-style menus (from pancakes to pastas) as well as pan-Indian favourites that can dial down the heat for less adventurous taste buds.
South India's beaches are a major attraction for families, with Goa's sands generally considered the most child-friendly, but kids can also thrive on the region's spectacular wildlife reserves, glittering megamalls, scenic spice and tea plantations, lively bazaars, hands-on cooking classes, and backwaters trips aboard houseboats, kayaks and canoes.
Best Natural Encounters
- Elephants Kids will love spotting wild elephants on jeep safaris in Wayanad and Periyar, 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.
- Tigers, Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve Look for tigers on outstanding wildlife-sighting jeep safaris in this little-visited Maharashtra reserve.
- Underwater creatures, Havelock Island (Swaraj Dweep) Head out snorkelling or, for older kids, scuba diving in glassy, warm teal waters off the Andaman Islands.
Funnest Forms of Transport
- Autorickshaw, anywhere Hurtle at top speed in these snap-happy, child-scale vehicles.
- Houseboat, Alappuzha (Alleppy) Hop on a houseboat to luxuriously cruise Kerala’s beautiful backwaters, or keep it simple with a kayak or canoe. 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 (Udhagamandalam) Roll through the gorgeous Nilgiris on Tamil Nadu's super-scenic Unesco-listed 'toy' train.
- Hand-pulled rickshaw, Matheran Kids can roam this monkey-patrolled Maharashtra hill station on horseback or in traditional hand-pulled rickshaws.
- Bicycle, Kochi Take a two-wheel tour around the (relatively) calm, flat historical streets of Fort Cochin.
Do take care when swimming off 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 kayaking, SUP and Goa's safest waters.
- Arambol (Harmal), Goa Popular with backpackers, long-stayers and families for wide-ranging accommodation, safe swimming, water sports and surfing.
- Havelock Island, Andaman Islands Splash about and snorkel in the shallows at languid Havelock Island, reached by ferry; for older kids, there’s fantastical diving.
- Gokarna, Karnataka Low-key family fun on pristine golden sands at Kudle and Om Beaches.
- Kovalam and Varkala, Kerala Play on honey-coloured beaches at these two developed seaside resorts, but be careful with the currents.
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children and visit the Thorn Tree travel forum at lonelyplanet.com.
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.
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 or baby carrier, 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.
- 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), lassis (yoghurt drinks) 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).
- South 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 in with a warm bubble bath, room service, macaroni cheese and a film will revive even the most disgruntled young traveller’s spirits.
On the Road
- Travel in India, be it by taxi, 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 journeys.
- Pack plenty of diversions. Tablets stocked with films make invaluable travel companions, as do audiobooks and the good old-fashioned storybooks, cheap toys and games widely available across India.
- If you're hiring a car and driver (a sensible, flexible option) and 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 across South 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 South India, such as Goa or Kerala, 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.
- Wash hands frequently or use hand sanitiser to prevent upset stomachs.
Family travel blogs such as Globetotting (https://globetotting.com), Travel Mamas (https://travelmamas.com) and Mini Travellers (https://minitravellers.co.uk) have helpful sections on tackling India with kids.