How many times a day do you use the words mango, pajamas, jungle, or shampoo? If the answer is more than once, you're already experiencing the cultural, historical, and social impact of India. Home to 1.4 billion people, and the birthplace of worldwide gems like chess and wireless communication, what you know about India is just the tip of the iceberg. The only thing that'll slow your journey is some good old information overload. No worries, you’ve come to the right place.
Our ultimate guide to India will start your trip on the right foot, giving you the highs, lows, facts, and figures. Let's dive into what makes India so incredible, what to do once you get there, and how to create unforgettable memories in the land of mystery and diversity.
Why We Love India
India never lacks a mesmerizing scene, from the awe-inspiring Himalayas of the north to the enchanting classical dances of the south. The peninsula drew in 8.6 million foreign tourists in February 2023 alone. With 10.9 million international arrivals in 2019 and 6.98 million non-resident Indian arrivals, India beat out major tourist destinations like South Korea, Egypt, and Australia to be the 22nd most visited country in the world.
So is tourism booming in India? Yes! 2020’s slump saw only 3 million visitors, but they bounced back in 2022 with 6.19 million visitors. So why do tourists love India? The culture, cuisine, and landscapes are a great place to start!
Indian culture is celebrated globally, and these elements are but a glimpse of the melting pot of dialects, dressing, delicacies, and dances that await.
- Classical Indian Dances - Enchanting, vibrant, and full of life, India's folk dances are a passionate display of artistry. The energetic Bollywood moves that take the world by storm have deep roots in traditional dances such as Bharatanatyam and Kathak.
- Vibrant Festivals - If you're lucky enough to be in the country in March, carry a white shirt and a lot of energy for the world-famous Holi festival held across India. Everyone, whether you’re a believer or not, is invited and each region has a special celebration method.
- Spiritual Sites - Beautiful structures like the Vaishno Devi and the Shirdi Temple are just a drop in the ocean of India’s long romance with spirituality.
- Buzzing Bazaars - Looking for one-of-a-kind souvenirs? Head to Delhi's Chandni Chowk, or Hyaderbad's Laad Bazaar. Markets are the backbone of India’s cities, with everything from food and spices to fabric and jewelry. Be sure to go with a local guide for safety and great deals.
- Traveling By Train - India is known for its classic, charming trains, but if you're looking for luxury, check out the Palace on Wheels or the Maharaja Express.
Sweet, spicy, and savory, India is often considered a mecca for culinary travelers. Each region has its gems, so the best way to discover them is with one of our all-out India food tours!
- North Indian - The birthplace of butter chicken, aloo samosas, fluffy parathas, and dal makhani is an ideal place to kick off your foodie festival. A Delhi food walk would highlight the north's coveted cuisine.
- West Indian - Sweet and savory pork vindaloo, Laal maas, Ghewar, and fish curry are some of the delicious dishes you can expect from West India.
- South Indian - Spices from the south are on another level, so dishes like the Hyderabadi biryani, masala dosa, and chicken Chettinad have transcended local tastes to become international favorites.
- East & North East Indian - Welcome to the often underlooked east & northeast region. Khaja Pitha, mutton & pumpkin Lonvas, Sandesh and gobi manchurian are local must-haves.
- Central Indian - There’s nothing like a fresh cup of Thandai, some Boti kebab, and some murgh musallam after a festival.
When it comes to nature, India is a sanctuary blessed with scenery and terrain that makes it the only country to have tigers and lions. These landscapes will leave you breathless.
- Lohagad Fort Hiking Trail - Deep in Maharashtra lies an architectural marvel mixed with the lush greenery and steep hills that make this region a peaceful escape from the city.
- Nubra Valley - Ladakh is a bucket list location for many reasons, but this cold desert valley mixed with blossoming foliage blends Tibet and Kashmir’s beauty seamlessly.
- Alappuzha - There's a lot of praise for Kerala and with good reason. By far, the best way to enjoy this beach city is with a houseboat cruise through its backwaters.
- Chandra Tal Lake - The thrilling nature of the Indian Himalayan Region can hardly be explained. You'll be at a loss for words when you encounter the crystal waters of ChandraTal. Simply stunning.
- The Munnar Tea Hills - We're back in Kerala, but this time, it's to appreciate the rolling tea hills of Munnar, a spectacular example of man-made effort and nature's enduring allure.
Who Else Loves India
If you’re already falling in love with India, you’re in good company. The travel and tourism industry pulled in 194 billion USD, contributing to 6.8% of the country’s GDP.
So where does India rank in tourism? According to the World Economic Forum, it ranked 34th out of 140 counties in its Travel and Tourism Competitive Index for 2019. Want to know which country sends the most tourists to India? The winner is…
- Bangladesh - With 2.5 million visitors touching down in 2019, India’s neighbor to the east has been the country’s largest tourism pool for years.
- The United States - How many US citizens visited India? In 2019, 1.5 million travelers from the United States arrived, with most touching down in India for spiritually-related travel. In fact, US citizens can stay in India for up to 180 days with a digitized e-tourist visa.
- The United Kingdom - The UK’s obsession with all things India explains the 1 million visitors that spent time in the nation greatly contributed to the Brit's passion for tea and curry.
- Australia - Over 370,000 visitors from the land down under flocked to this beloved peninsula in 2019. In fact, Australia took over Sri Lanka’s 2018 position as number 4.
- Canada - Capping off the top five is Canada with 351,859 visitors.
So we know why, and we know who, but where would you go if you touched down in India today? Decisions decisions. To ask which part of India is the most beautiful begs for a complicated answer, but we’ll do our best!
India At A Glance: Planning The Perfect Trip (Where, When & How)
Alright, so you're ready to jet-set your way to the land of colors, but you're stumped about the rest. Here's our take on the best way to enjoy India's treasures.
Where To Go: India’s Top Destinations
- Kerala - Ask anybody which part of India is the most beautiful, and chances are they'll answer Kerala. Time Magazine agrees, dubbing Kerala the 9th greatest place in the world! Touring Kerala can take some time, so we recommend a detailed Backwater Kerala Tour that immerses you in the god's favorite land.
- New Delhi - From the India Gate to the Lotus temple and Humayun's tomb, India's capital city is the nation's heartbeat, combining stories and monuments from the nation’s grandest eras. To get a taste of the city, try a Private Delhi tour.
- Agra - One of the seven wonders of the world awaits, rested in Uttar Pradesh. This is the home of the Taj Mahal. Need we say more? Take on the Taj Mahal and Agra's history with a Hidden Gems tour.
- Jaipur - Rajasthan’s capital city is a place for palace lovers. Known for the stunningly designed Amber Palace, Hawa Mahal, Samode Palace, and the City Palace, Jaipur's charm is glaring. The pink city is particularly magnificent at sunset, so set out early with a Jaipur tourthat features a stunning sunset dinner.
- Mumbai - With over 20 million residents, Mumbai is often considered India's New York. Swanky apartments, busy highways, and bustling markets make it the best place for a full-day Mumbai adventure.
- Varanasi - As the birthplace of Buddhism, and the home of the oldest religion in the world (Hinduism), India, and especially Varanasi, is a key spot for spiritual travelers. From the sacred temples and satisfying tea to the holy waters of the Ganges river, our Varanasi walking tours paint a vivid image of the nation’s deeply rooted spiritual history.
Travel Tip: What to know which city is the most touristy in India? It's a close tie between Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur. Looking to escape touristy crowds? Private tours in places like Ladakh and Varanasi can be organized with a GWG private guide.
When To Go: India’s Spectacular Weather
Given its sheer size, India has a complex seasonal schedule featuring monsoons, light rains, intense heat and cold winds depending on the region. So when should you go? Let's weigh the options.
- Winter: The Big Chill (January - February)
Generally speaking, India’s coldest months run from December to February, with temperatures in the south and southeast ranging from 20-25°C and those in colder northwest regions dropping to 10-15°C.
- Summer: Sweltering Heat (March - June)
Summer in India is no joke. Hot and humid temperatures across the country average 30-35°C, but can go up to 40°C in parts of Central and Southern India.
- Monsoon Season: Heavy Rains (July-September)
July to September bring India's legendary and terrifying monsoon season, with rains lasting from 75 to 120 days, depending on the region. Areas in the southwest and western regions are heavily affected.
- Autumn: Monsoon Recovery (October-December)
By September, the rains have eased up, and temperatures generally drop from 38°C to 28°C between October and November.
Overall, Winter and Autumn are considered ideal travel times due to the cool weather and calm rains. India’s status as a peninsula invites diverse winds and terrain, creating specific weather conditions for each region. Notable regions include;
Northern & Northeast India
Destinations: Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Rajasthan, Himalayas, Varanasi
Hottest Months - March to June (highs of 42°C)
Average Daily Temperature - Erratic (from 20-40°C)
Ideal Travel Time - October to February (average 17-26°C)
Stay Inside - July to August, May.
Southern & Southeast India
Destinations: Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh
Hottest Months - March to May (highs of 40°C)
Average Daily Temperature - 32°C
Ideal Travel Time - November to March (average 20-30°C)
Stay Inside - June to September monsoons
Destinations: Mumbai, Udaipur, Goa
Hottest Months - May (highs of 33°C)
Average Daily Temperature - 26.4°C
Ideal Travel Time - November to April
Stay Inside - July Rainy Season
How To Get There: Navigating India’s Transport Systems
Traveling through India can be hectic, as the country's transportation networks can be tricky for newcomers. These transit tidbits are a great starting point, but we recommend discussing travel options with a knowledgeable local guide.
- Travel By Rail - Catering to 8 billion travelers per year with over 20,000 daily trips, India’s rail system is a national symbol of ingenuity and coordination. Highly affordable and highly convenient.
- Rickshaw Rides - Need to get to a nearby landmark or monument? Hop in one of these three-wheeled wonders and watch your driver navigate traffic with ease. Rickshaws are fast, super cheap, and convenient.
- Taxi, Please - Taxis are a dime a dozen in India, but picking the right one can be a hassle. It’s best to stick to services like Ola Cabs or Uber when hailing a cab. Alternatively, GoWithGuide tours can be customized with a private car to ensure you spend your time touring and not in transit.
Travel Truth: Tourism’s Highs and Lows
So what is a major problem in India's travel and tourism industry? One of the biggest hindrances is the outside world's perception of India as a nation. That takes a lot of time and money to change. This is followed by the lack of infrastructure management and expansion to meet the growing tourism sector.
What To Expect: Life In The Land Of Colors
With so much culture to absorb, some shock is bound to set in. Is India a friendly country to foreigners? Yes, but there are a few things you should know before you go. Here’s the scoop on living your best stress-free life in India.
Do’s & Don’ts
Every country has its quirks. When in India, it’s good to keep these tips in mind.
Staying Safe: Red Flags For Travelers
Alright, let's get to the tough stuff. India's magic can sometimes be dulled by valid safety concerns. In 2021, the National Crime Records Bureau recorded 446 crime incidents for every 100,000 people, so can you stay safe while touring the country? Yes, if you start by looking out for these red flags;
Tampered Taxi Meter - the phrase “Sorry sir/madam, my meter is broken” followed by a hiked taxi price is common. To avoid this, agree on a price beforehand, travel with a guide, or use set prices from apps like Uber. If your taxi doesn’t have a meter, don’t even bother getting in.
Pickpockets and Public Transport - It's unavoidable. So stay as vigilant as possible and keep your things close when on public buses and trains. The stations are where pickpocketing antics run wild.
Train Ticket Valet - After you purchase a train ticket, anyone asking you to pay for "stamped validation is a scammer". There's no such thing. Keep your ticket to yourself and only show it to the train's conductor after paying.
Bags, Please - Anyone asking to assist you with your luggage will want a tip afterward, even if it was for two seconds. To avoid this, keep your luggage in your hands.
That last part can put a dark cloud over your dreams of touring India, but it shouldn't. You can dismiss those travel woes with a private tour guide, so you get to;
- Stay away from sketchy venues and vendors.
- Avoid strange people looking to take advantage of you.
- Stick to a schedule designed by Y-O-U, so every activity is what you want to do.
- Discover India’s hidden gems, known only by locals.
Sounds like a sweet deal right? Let’s take your trip to the next level with a customizable private guided tour, and make those memories we’ve been talking so much about.
P.S. Looking to travel with companions? The more, the merrier. Share this post with your friends and get them as excited about touring India as you are.