I must have visited Mahabalipuram more than 10 times now and each time a fascinating new element, a new experience and a new story of this intriguing town gets introduced. There is a hidden story at each corner of this small UNESCO world heritage site. In this Mahabalipuram tour guide, I have collated all my experiences to bring everything you may want to know to plan the best Mahabalipuram trip itinerary.
Mahabalipuram is a perfect confluence of art, architecture, culture, history, mythology, and beach luxury and water activities. Spend one or two days at Mahabalipuram to explore this quaint town reminisces of historical era.
9 Fun Facts About Mahabalipuram
Let’s begin with sharing some interesting trivia about Mahabalipuram in Tamilnadu
- Mahabalipuram is actually known as Mammallapuram.
- It has been given designation of UNESCO world heritage site.
- The temples of Mahabalipuram were built by the kings of Pallava dynasty
- There were 7 shore temples out of which currently just one is standing tall while all others are submerged in the sea. You can take a catamaran ride to explore the hidden shore temples. We did find one temple in deep sea and it was the most exhilarating experience.
- Some carvings have optical illusion. Get a good guide and nudge him to show it in detail. It is a good learning for kids as well.
- Look for fascinating stories in the carvings. Opt for a dedicated guide rather than one who has a big group.
- There is a lane in Mahabalipuram opening to the beach that is dedicated to foreign travellers interests. This lane reminisces of hippy culture. You will find open terrace restaurants overlooking the sea, shack style guest rooms and small shops catering to basic needs.
- Ask for local beer. This is made at a local brewery in Chennai and served only in Mahabalipuram.
- Fresh catch of the day is displayed on the tray and you have to choose from it along with your choice of preparation (dry, gravy, sautéed, pan-fried). Bon appetite!
Tourist Attractions In Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram Shore Temple
Shore temple at Mahabalipuram is the most fascinating structure of Mahabalipuram. Every tourist trail also begins from the shore temple. It is an architectural beauty standing tall by the beach. This place looks epic during sunset which is the perfect time for photography enthusiasts. Though you are not allowed inside the shore temple after dark but if it full moon and the tide is high then try to stroll as close to it as possible to experience a completely different dimension.
Shore temple is built from top to bottom as it was chiselled out of one rock. Post this information when you look at temple of Mahabalipuram you will surely have a new found fascination for the magnificence of this structure.
Panch or five rathas (chariots) known to be used by the great Pandavas are depicted through stone carvings. This temple of Mahabalipuram is best enjoyed with a guide who will pepper the visit with stories from mythology and observations like the optical illusion concept – some fact, some stories but a lot of fun. The stories are mostly from Mahabharata. My personal favourite is the draupadi rath. Infact, when I read, Palace of Illusions, retelling of Mahabharata through the voice of Draupadi (written by Chitra Banerjee devakurni) and then visited Drapaudi rath, it was magical experience.
When you climb the claustrophobic wooden spiral staircase and reach the top of lighthouse, a whiff of coastal breeze welcomes you. It is the highest point of Mahabalipuram for viewing. While foreign countries have sky deck concept, we in India have lighthouse. You can see the expansive sea at one side and the coastal greens on the other.
Lighthouse is a must visit for photography enthusiasts.
There is also a lighthouse museum if you are with curious kids and wish to make learning an integral part of the trip.
Right besides the lighthouse this is another famous temple of Mahabalipuram. It is a Shiva temple with a granite roof.
Another episode from Mahabharta is depicted in this section of temple wherein Arjuna went through severe penance to win over Lord Shiva and get weapons of war. The symbolism in these carvings is best enjoyed leisurely. Don’t rush through.
Big Rock – The Krishna’s Butterball
Just a huge rock, boring, right?
Marvel at the alignment and balance of this huge monolithic rock that seems to roll down any moment but in truth this Krishna’s butterball has been like this for years. No tsunami or earthquake could move it.
Activities in Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram will be as you want it to be. You may choose the type of activities based on your mood.
Take a beer,
Soak in the beach or pool,
Swing by the hammock,
Gaze the waves crashing by,
Take an ayurveda massage,
Watch the sun rise,
Watch the moon rise,
Go for a stroll,
Stop by the local vendor and buy without negotiating
Take a tour of tourist attractions of Mahabalipuram like the Shore temple of Mahabalipuram, Arjuna’s penance, Panch rathas, lighthouse, sea shell museum.
Engage in activities offered by the resorts like Burma bridge climb, horse riding on the beach, zorbing in the pool.
High Adrenalin Activities in Mahabalipuram
At the break of dawn when the tide is not high you will embark upon the boat wearing your life jackets and looking at the myriad hues of morning sky to explore the hidden shore temples into deep sea.
The small motor boat jumps and jolts with the waves crashing. This ride is not for the faint-hearted. It takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour for the complete boat ride. Boatmen will try to take you as close to the remains as possible and then it is your luck.
I was lucky second time over. Once the submerged shore temple is traced the boatmen will take a round of it. You just have a few minutes to see, click and experience. There is a different vibe at this moment of time. I was transported to the era of Pallavas. I didn’t click. I didn’t think. I was just in the moment enjoying every second of this unique exploration.
Drive an ATV on the beach
ATV is a beast and when you drive it on sand it becomes unpredictable. Ask your resort to arrange ATV ride for you. Remember to train well before hitting the sandy beach on your own.
Recommended Hotels in Mahabalipuram
If you are in Mahabalipuram then there are two resorts that I have been to personally and would highly recommend.
Radisson Blu Temple Bay Resort
27000 square foot of pool meandering through the resort makes this place Asia’s largest pool resort. You can see the complete resort through waterways, swimming underneath the bridges amidst greenery; it is truly a unique experience. You can very well imagine the beautiful landscape with the meandering pool in it. Words can’t do justice to the panoramic beauty. A perfect photo op too.
Chariot Beach Resorts
When at Chariot beach resort it seemed that I was staying at a friend’s place just that his house was way bigger and better. The warmth that the people exuded around was contagious, to say the least. They have innovative and out of the box services to warm your heart. Once a day the cart full of fresh coconut arrives in front of your rooms, refreshing coconut water is cut and offered, right there at your doorstep.
Both the above Mahabalipuram resorts are ideally located by the sea, excel in luxurious stay, offer plethora of activities, serve gastronomic delight, epitomize ambient romanticism and complete relaxation.
Usual to a beachside town, in Mahabalipuram you will find all sorts of sea shell inspired trinkets.
This area is also famous for red stone carving statues and you will see workshops and artisans chiselling away while driving by the ECR road. However, these are heavy and you can only buy them if you stay in South India. Though, you can always pick up a small piece as a souvenir.
How To Reach Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram can be easily reached from Chennai. We usually book a taxi or hire a self-drive car. Enjoy the ECR drive by the sea to reach Mahabalipuram in about an hour. If you are in Chennai for work or going for vacation then a quick one day trip to Mahabalipuram is ideal for it offers a mix of luxury, beach, temple, history, architecture, fun activities, beer and great food.
If you have more time at hand then follow the next day with onward journey to Pondicherry via Auroville. From the ancient city of Pallavas to international city of Auroville to French colony of Pondicherry – it is only in this route will you find such trajectory of culturally inspired trip.
And, if you are already doing this tour and looking for an offbeat destination then Tranquebar, a Dutch colony should be next in your itinerary. You will thank me for recommending Tranquebar, for sure.
Itinerary To Follow
Chennai – Mahabalipuram-Auroville-Pondicherry-Tranquebar
Bonus Destination Enroute Mahabalipuram
It is a unique concept based museum to showcase various cultures and traditions of South India by making it interactive and letting you immerse into that. They have houses built as per different South Indian style like Kerala, Chettinad, Fishermen etc and a compelte setup to go alongwith. There are many activities to engage. You will need atleast half a day to explore.
What Travel Bloggers Say About Mahabalipuram
This blogger duo from Kolkata who visited Mahabalipuram recently says:
During your stay at Mahabalipuram, make sure you visit the UNESCO World Heritage Shore Temple. You can go there in the early morning hours or during the golden hours in the evening to catch a spectacular view of this ancient temple. Located just near the shore, and hence its name, the temple is carved out of granite made in a quintessential Pallava dynasty style and architecture. There is an entry ticket to enter the temple and we even had a guide. It’s better to take a guide if you want to understand the temple’s rich history from a local. Keep about an hour to yourself for making a tour of this Shore Temple.
Mahabalipuram Travel Tip 1
It is best to combine a road trip to Mahabalipuram with a tour of Pondicherry. The two epic places are not too far away and can be easily seen in one entire journey. No matter where you come from, make a halt at Chennai for a day or two, then proceed to Mahabalipuram and spend couple of days there to soak in the historical charm of the place and then head to Pondicherry for creating a long lasting memory.
Mahabalipuram was my first taste of India and being able to walk down the beach while witnessing the grandeur of the Post Card Perfect Shore Temple was just a must see for me. It was a good way to welcome me to India. I also enjoyed the Krishna Butterball— lots of fun to take pictures with.
Mahabalipuram Travel Tip 2
Mahabalipuram can get quite hot so bring a bottle of water all the time. Try the street food, it’s good. Plus it can be a good refreshing break while walking around the different temples.
Saks & Viv, travel enthusiasts, food lovers, sunset chasers and adventure seekers have travelled more than 20 countries. They visit Mahabalipuram quite frequently and share that rhe architectural grandeur is a time traveller’s delight!
From shore temple to tiger’s cave, Arjuna’s penance to butter ball – one can get lost in time.
Mahabalipuram Travel Tip 3
Bring out the adventure junkie in you, hop onto a catamaran boat, let the fishermen take you inside the sea, it’s a beautiful sight to watch the sun rays fall on the temple and the sky change colours. Take a dip in the deep sea, on a clear day you can see some temples submerged under water.
Suruchi, a travel and lifestyle blogger based in Noida, loved the changing colors of the sky during sunrise on the private beach of Mahabalipuram.
Mahabalipuram Travel Tip 4
Do climb the lighthouse in Mahabalipuram, to get the bird’s eye view of the whole city.
So, with this I wrap the guide on Mahabalipuram. Enough has been said, Now, it is time for you to go and explore.
Do share your travel experiences and write to me if you need any assistance with planning the itinerary, [email protected]
Mahabalipuram In Pictures – Vblog