I am BLOWN away by Karnataka. For some reason, tourists just don’t spend much time traveling in Karnataka. Backpackers pop over to Hampi (the mysterious boulders) or maybe a trip to Jog Falls and that’s about it. Even Indian nationals were saying, “holy cow is that REALLY in India!?” on comments of my Karnataka photos.
Karnataka is kind of this undiscovered state when it comes to international tourism… which means you should get your little booty here asap! I traveled the ENTIRE state for one month with goMowgli and learned so much, so without further ado, here is a little guide to the Indian state of Karnataka.
UPDATE: As of 2018, gomowgli is no longer – sadly! If you still want a tour in India, I recommend checking out my blog post with the best group tours and this post which explains the best day tours for the adventurer!
You’ll have here a quick guide to karnataka, 9 hotspots to visit, and my favorite hotels in Karnataka. All have links to full posts that share more in depth information.
Quick Guide to Traveling in Karnataka
Location: Karnataka is coastal below Goa, above Kerala and goes inland to reach Andhra Pradesh. It also go up to border with Maharashtra.
Overview: Karnataka is known for many things like it’s Hoysala Empire, Chamundi Hills (where the story of Dashara comes from), Tiger reserves, Mysore’s royal kings, and silk and incense manufacturing. There are tropical beaches (the coast is one of the wettest areas in India), jungles (the Western Ghats, which are protected because of how many incredible animals live and flora grow there), ancient caves, and some of the oldest temples in the entire world. At one point Karnataka ruled all of India! It also has Asia’s largest population of elephants.
Currency: Indian rupee
Food: I’ve written a post dedicated to this: Guide to South Indian Food… enjoy because it’s all drool-worthy.
Getting there & away: You can book a flight into Banagalore and take a train or bus anywhere you want. Traffic in Bangalore is terrible. If you are in Mysore and want to fly, it’s cheaper to bus to Bangalore. The buses in Karnataka are known as some of the best in India (although mine broke down once) and my train trips in 2AC were clean and safe. Karnataka is well connected, but in rural areas you’ll have to take crowded locals buses unless you hire a car our join a tour. Mangalore is a huge travel hub, and Hubli is another huge hub (and not worth spending a day in).
Solo Female Travel: I was on a tour, so rarely totally alone, but I found Karnataka safe. Many of the best places are very rural though, so I wouldn’t suggest traveling alone at night. Make sure you book ahead in rural areas and have someone meet you at bus stations. In Karnataka, dress appropriately.
Places NOT TO MISS in Karnataka
Land of filter coffee, cozy homestays, secret waterfalls, and homemade Kodova wine… this is my favorite place in Karnataka, and one of my favorite in India. Deep in the Western Ghats are teh Kodova people who are meat-eating, nature-worshipping, warriors. They can even carry their traditional knives. Loved 4-wheel driving in the Ghats, checking out a small Tibet town, and trekking to the second tallest peak in Karnataka. The Dubare elephant camp is here, and is a great place to bathe elephants. Don’t miss: eating pandi curry.
- Bathing Elephants at Dubare Elephant Camp
- Touring Coorg | Thadiyandamol & Iruppu Falls
- Backpacking Coorg | Chikli Hole, Bylakuppe & Mandalpatti
- 11 Kick-ass Things to do in Coorg
Mysore is the Royal city of Karnataka. The market is the most organized I’ve ever seen in India. Picture streets green and clean like Bangalore, but with less people. It’s a cozy place considering what a big city it is. Key sights: watching artists, going up to Chumundi Hill, and seeing lights at Royal palace. This is the place to try yoga and Ayurveda as lots of westerners move here to dedicate their lives to the practice. Don’t miss: eating Mysore Pak
- Mysore Art & Meeting the local Artisans
- 7 Must-Do’s in Mysore
- Your Mysore Shopping Guide
- Finding the Best Food in Mysore | 8 Mysore Restaurants
3. Around Mysore
If you only have time for one city, Mysore is the place because there are day trips you can take to experience so much more. There is a crocodile sanctuary nearby, a nearby reservation to see tigers and leopards, many ancient temples, Bahubali the largest monolithic statue in India, and small religious towns, massive waterfalls, and you can visit BR Hills to see even more wild cats & meet locals tribals.
- 8 Day Trips from Mysore
- Tailoring Clothes in India | Khaddi Cotton Tour in Melukote
- Jungle Safari with Kabini River Jungle Lodge
Hampi of course is the ultimate place for tourists to go in Karnataka. I will take my parents there when they visit this year, and I’ve already been there 3 times myself. It’s stunning, you can stay in little cabins looking over rice paddy fields, ride bikes around to the resevior, see ancient temples, and check out the mysterious boulders along the river. You can even watch the temple elephant be bathed. Getting here you can take a train to hospet and rickshaw to Hampi.
- 8 Things to do in Hampi
- Bear Watching at the Sloth Bear Resort Near Hampi
- Guide to Hampi | Second Time in Hampi
- Taking my parents to Hampi
5. Around Hampi
People come and go from Hampi without checking out the nearby UNESCO Heritage sites! Crazy! Make sure to take time for a tour (or you can hire a car). Nearby are Aihole and Pattadakal built by the Chalukya in the 4th and 5th centuries. There are 100’s of temples here. It’s some of the oldest stuff you can see in India. Driving through the villages and rural areas here is an event of it’s own and it’s great to take time and get out to take photos and meet local kids. The Badami caves are also a day trip from Hampi and are very intriguing and ancient. The hotels here are scarce and had terrible amenities and food. Bring snacks!
- Aihole and Pattadakal |100’s of barely visited temples
- Why You’ve Got to See the Badami Cave Temples
6. Coastal Karnataka
Worth a visit, but not as good as Goa (Ashwem, Little Vagator, Keri beach) or Kerala (Varkala, Kovalam). Karwar was beautiful because it was empty and pristine- but there wasn’t much to do there plus you have to drive into town to find a restaurant and the roads aren’t easier. I also didn’t see many scooter rentals. Gokarna is popular thanks to Om beach because shaped like “om” but personally, I found it dirty, the food terrible, and I was constantly bothered by domestic toursits with their cameras and even video recording me. Most girls there (both Indian and foreign) discussed not feeling comfortable in a swimming suit. You can also head down to Murudeshwar to see the second biggest Shiva statue in the world.
7. Dandeli and nearby areas
Dandeli was a cute little forrest area. There are tons of homestays as it’s a popular place for people from Maharashtra to come visit on their holidays. If you take a small holiday within India, this is a great spot to go for a weekend getaway. It’s all about nature, hiking, relaxing, and a little bit of adventure sports on the river.
This is another very popular domestic tourist destination in India. There are lots of homestays and they are QUITE pricey. Funnily enough, domestic tourists usually pay more for a room than backpackers because backpackers are on tight budgets, while domestic tourists save up for this big trip and can spend more – therefore they are charged more. This area is therefore pricey. Homestays will run up to 2,000 rs per night (without food), whereas in Coorg they were closer to 1,000 (food included).
Just near Gokarna heading to Chikmagalur, is Banavasi temple. You can see this temple and Jog Falls in the same day. The temple is one of the coolest I’ve seen in India and it’s not even in the guidebooks! Jog Falls are the second biggest falls in India. In this region you’ll do lots of treks (to the tallest peak in Karnataka at 6,300 feet), see great views, find secret waterfalls, and try amazing food at cozy homestays. I also thought that the temples in this area were insanely cool!
- Mallandur Homestay & Waterfall Chasing in Chikmagalur
- Chikmagalur Homestay & Trekking the Highest Peak in Karnataka
- Where to Stay Near Incredible Jog Falls | Gundimane
- Nagara Fort / One of the Coolest Forts in Karnataka
- Banavasi Temple | not even lonely planet knows this one
- Are the Belur and Halebid Temples the most impressive in India?
- Birding Boat Ride at River Tern
The best place to come and go from in Karnataka if you are flying. This is the biggest city full of expats, traffic, IT industry, big city life, great food, and all the amenities and 5 star hotels you could ask for. I’ve been a couple times, but haven’t spend more than a weekend at a time. Nh7 Bangalore was hosted here but it’s not as good as the Pune one.
Favorite Hotels and Homestays in Karnataka
I stayed at a lot considering I spent a month in the state, so I won’t list them all here- just the ones that really stand out. In all my posts on Karnataka, I mention each place I’ve stayed so the information is there. Here are my favorites:
- Dhyan’s Den in Coorg – cozy homestay, amazing family
- Green Hotel in Mysore– an actual palace & you can stay in princess rooms
- Indus Valley Ayervedic Center (IVAC)- most famous in all of India
- River Kabini Jungle Lodge in Kabini – just outside Mysore, good chance of seeing wild cats
- Gorukana in BR Hills – luxury cabins in the jungle, amazing spot
- Gundimane near Jog Falls– extremely nice family, cozy rooms, and great food
- Shanthi Guesthouse in Hampi– take a room facing the water
I went on a month-long tour sponsored by goMowgli, and suggest that if you want to see all of the above! It was stressfree and easy. Although the tour was sponsored, all opinions here are my own.