A Traveler’s Guide To Places To Visit In Mahabalipuram

/, Destinations, India, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, UNESCO Heritage Sites/A Traveler’s Guide To Places To Visit In Mahabalipuram

There is so much India that lies unexplored. While we were planning our road trip to Pondicherry, I happened to stumble across a small gem called Mahabalipuram. Located on the coast of Tamil Nadu, this little town is known for its 7th and 8th century structures that exist till date. The archaeological interests that lie in the city isn’t the only reason to visit. Since Mahabalipuram lies on the coast of India you can treat yourself to some relaxing time on the white sandy beaches too.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

Most people haven’t heard of Mahabalipuram. I have to confess that three weeks before our trip, I hadn’t heard of it either. I expected it to be a great place to make a pit stop and enjoy the beach. I had no idea just how many places were there to visit in Mahabalipuram. Despite being really sick, the temptation to see each one of them was strong. That’s the main reason why I have started putting together this Mahabalipuram travel guide. Before we start talking about all the places to visit in Mahabalipuram, let’s take a look at some facts that could make planning your trip easier.


Since Mahabalipuram has so many archeological sites of interest, knowing a bit of the history makes the visit so much more interesting. The town was a sea port as far back as the 1st century. The archeological sites however are from the 7th century and belong to the time of a south Indian dynasty called to the Pallavas. You will find that the history is closely tied to most of the places to visit in Mahabalipuram.


Mahabalipuram has a tropical climate. Expect the weather to be hot and humid since Mahabalipuram occupies a sliver of land that is on the East coast of India. May is hottest season in the year (32oC) and January is the coldest (24oC). It also receives 1219 mm of rainfall every year so be prepared in case you reach there in the monsoons. The best time to visit this town is said to be between October and March.


The currency used in Mahabalipuram is the Indian rupee (INR). Being an Indian I did not have a problem with the currency. I did see only one money exchange shop in the city so I think it would be better to get your currency exchanged at a bigger city. That being said many places accept a credit card but a number of them ask for cash so it is wise to be prepared.


You can except to get both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food in Mahabalipuram. Most of the food is cheap enough. Seafood tends to be the most expensive thing on the menu. A lot of the restaurants and cafes specialize in breakfast items. Of all the places that we visited, Namaste and Babu’s café were my favorites.


For us Mahabalipuram was a stop on a short road trip out of Bangalore but if you are heading here without your own vehicle then you should know that the town does not have an airport. The closest main hub is Chennai so if you want to fly anywhere you need to fly there. The city is located at the south of Chennai (58 kilometers south) which makes getting there easy enough. The cheapest way is to get on one of the local buses in Chennai. Since it is only 58 kilometers, the journey won’t be that long. Bangalore is a lot further away but when I was doing my research I noticed that there were a couple of buses that leave from this city too.


We found that we could walk to most places in Mahabalipuram. This was largely because we were staying in the heart of the city and very close to the coast. Auto rickshaws are also available but I am not really sure about the prices. Renting a motorbike is another option. My choice however would be to rent a bicycle and cycle through the town.


Accommodation is cheap in Mahabalipuram. Then again it depends on what you are looking for. Shawn and I found ourselves a room at Rajalakshmi Guest house for 600/- ($9) a day. It was a small room with a fan and an attached bathroom but it did the job well and we were happy especially because of its location. There is a common area with hammocks that you can rest in and network with people. If not sitting in the attached balcony of your room and looking at the potted plants is also very relaxing.

MAHABALIPURAM TRAVEL GUIDE: Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

Like I mentioned before, there are a lot of places to visit in Mahabalipuram. A number of the archaeological sites are even UNESCO heritage sites. One thing that I loved the most about the little town was the way the monuments were cared for. There was no litter and trash in most places so I’m assuming that there are people who actually move around making sure that the monuments are kept clean.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

Relaxing at the beach is something that we always love to do.

Mahabalipuram lies on the east coast of India and it has some really beautiful beaches. If you head to the beach early in the morning you can catch the sun rising above the waves. Perch upon one of the docked fishing boats in the evening and let the wind whip through your hair. If you aren’t interested in the beaches close to the hub of the city, head a little way out and you will find less crowded stretched of white land.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

The shore temple is one of the most famous places to visit in Mahabalipuram.

The Shore temple is located on the beach. If you want to catch a great photograph of the temple then head there for the sunrise. The gates open at 6 am sharp. There is hardly anyone at the temple and you can get some amazing angles without the crowds. It is also a lovely place to sit and enjoy the scenery.

An interesting fact about the Shore temple revolves around the tsunami of 2004. It was at this time that the Shore temple was discovered as a pile of collapsed rocks. The Archeological Survey of India has built a break water wall in order to protect the Shore temple from further damage by the sea. The Shore temple is one of the places that you must visit in Mahabalipuram and it belongs to a group of Monuments that has been declared as UNESCO Heritage sites.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

The kids sure found some interesting poses to use at the tiger cave.

The Tiger cave is situated a little away from the main town but I would advise you to put it on your list of places to visit in Mahabalipuram. There isn’t much to see in the area but the park itself is nice and lush green. Trees provide shade while the sea breeze keeps you cool. Just 100 meters away is a beach which isn’t very touristy. It’s a great place for a picnic if you have the time.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

The Descent into the Ganges is an impressive fresco that you can’t help but admire.

This particular monument is easily missed if you don’t walk on the outer road of the park that holds most of the UNESCO monuments. It is definitely a place to visit in Mahabalipuram. Two huge rocks rise to the sky but it is the carvings etched on their sides that catch a spectator’s eye. The carvings are said to depict the legend of how the Ganges (a sacred river) descended to the Earth.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

Sometimes ancient structures seem to defy the laws of Physics!

Listed as a historical monument by the Archeological survey of India, the Krishna butterball is one of the places to visit in Mahabalipuram because it seems to defy the laws of physics. The enormous rock weighs around 250 tons and is 5 meters wide and 6 meters high. It is balanced on a slope and a spectator can’t help but feel that it will come rolling down at any moment. Well the eyes can deceive you it seems as this rock has been precariously placed for almost (according to legend) 1200 years.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

One of the many UNESCO monuments in the area.

After gazing at the Krishna butterball, the first temple on your path will be the Ganesh Ratha. Like so many of the other monuments, the Ganesh Ratha is also a part of the UNESCO heritage site and is one of the places to visit in Mahabalipuram. This temple is fully complete and is carved out of pink granite rock.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

Another monument sculpted into rock.

The Varaha cave is another interesting spot to stop at as you move through the park. The temple is cut into a enormous rock. As usual the carvings on the wall are breathtaking. This particular rock-cave kind of architecture is called a mandapa. One of the most prominent sculptures that can be seen in the Varaha cave is that of Lord Vishnu. The Varaha cave also belongs to the group of monuments in Mahabalipuram that are declared a UNESCO heritage site.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

Incomplete or not, the Raya Gopuram is beautiful.

Gopuram means a gatehouse tower. The Raya Gopuram is thought to be an incomplete Gopuram. The structure itself is beautiful and is my favorite spot in the park because of the view that you get when you reach it. The Raya Gopuram is a great place to sit for a while and enjoy the cool breeze that blows your way.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

A fresco depicting an ancient legend.

Next on our list of places to visit in Mahabalipuram is the Mandapa of Krishna. This monument too is part of the UNESCO heritage site. The frescos inside are said to depict the scene of the Lord Krishna lifting a hill called Govardhana. He did this to protect the cowherds and the milk maids from heavy floods and rains.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

It is hard to believe that this spot is easy to miss!

The Mahishasuramardini Mandapa is an example of a cave temple. It dates back to the 7th century and was part of the Pallava dynasty. The cave temple is very close to the light house and is situated in a nice shady spot. Above the temple is a short hike to a small stone structure. Shawn climbed up and said the view was awesome.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

The lighthouse provides one of the best views in the city.

The lighthouse in Mahabalipuram stands tall with an awesome view of the sea. For a fee you can climb up and scan the area from the eagles perch. The light house itself is old and dates back to 1907 but seated at its side is the oldest lighthouse in India. The tiny square shape structure on the left is a lighthouse which was built by the Pallava dynasty way back in 640 AD.


The Mahishamardini Rock cut Mandapa is another one of the great places to visit in Mahabalipuram. It is cut into the rock just like most of the other Mandapas in the region. Situated near the lighthouse, the Mahishamardini Mandapa is easy to miss if you aren’t on the lookout for it.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

Shawn said that the temple was much prettier up close.

The Olakaneeswaara is probably one of the best preserved temples in the park. Situated on a hill above the Mahishamardini Rock Cut Mandapa, the temple is dedicated to Lord Siva. Shawn climbed up all the way and said that the view was gorgeous. The photographs that he brought back were certainly proof enough for me.


Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

Some of the thousands of shells that we saw at the museum.

Mahabalipuram has a number of museums that are worth visiting. Unfortunately because of my illness we couldn’t visit most of them. We however did manage to visit the India Seashell museum. The other museums of note are the Heritage museum, the Lighthouse museum and the Naval museum. Note that these three museums close at 5 pm and the timings that Google provides are far from correct. We reached too late and sadly couldn’t enter.

MAHABALIPURAM TRAVEL GUIDE: Accessories you should carry

Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

No travel guide is complete without advice of the accessories that you should carry. Mahabalipuram is a simple town but you do get most of the basic things required during travel. A few things that you should consider taking along however are:


When traveling through the tropical parts of India you are bound to find mosquitoes especially when it rains. With the number of mosquito borne diseases becoming more and more rampant, you will find that prevention is better than cure. Most of the accommodations that you book will provide you some form of mosquito repellent when you are in the room. It is when you are outside that the problems begin to start.

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You never know when the skies are going to open and shower you with their blessings. That being said you don’t want to be trapped in the rain while heading to the different places to visit in Mahabalipuram. I always find that a raincoat or a jacket is a good and practical shield to carry along.

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The rain maybe one part of your worries but make sure that you don’t forget about the heat of the sun. Sunburn is particularly easy if you aren’t used to the hot temperatures that India is bound to throw your way. That is the reason why sunscreen is always a good idea.

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A good camera is important wherever you travel to. Mahabalipuram also has a number of different activities to offer like surfing. While I was quite happy with my DSLR, I can’t help wonder whether a GoPro would be more practical especially where the weight is concerned.

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MAHABALIPURAM TRAVEL GUIDE: Experiences You Should Not Miss

We strongly believe that every place that you travel to has something to offer. Something that is best suited to you. Travel is enriched by the experiences that other cultures offer us but we need to be open to learning about them and understanding them. Here are our top picks of the experiences you should consider trying in Mahabalipuram.

Places to visit in Mahabalipuram
Places to visit in Mahabalipuram
Places to visit in Mahabalipuram
Places to visit in Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram is a quiet laid back place in South India. It has the best of both worlds: the old and the new. One thing that stands out is that all the places to visit in Mahabalipuram are well maintained and kept relatively clean. The people are genuinely friendly and you will find that most of them speak English so language shouldn’t be much of a barrier either. If you are ever in Tamil Nadu, do not skip this gem off a place.

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2018-08-12T23:27:29+00:00 November 4th, 2017|Asia, Destinations, India, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, UNESCO Heritage Sites|5 Comments


  1. Madhu November 4, 2017 at 1:40 am - Reply

    Visited Mahabalipuram sometime back. Although it was quite hot but worth the visit. Nice read and beautiful pictures

  2. Alison November 4, 2017 at 7:07 am - Reply

    I love that you visited without much expectation and fell in love with the city! The photos from Tiger’s Cave and Descent into the Ganges really impressed me. Looks like such a fun place to explore – and the beach is a good bonus 😀

  3. jin November 4, 2017 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    I must admit, I haven’t heard of this place either! And I was so close to Tamil Nadu the last time I was in the country!~ It looks all kinds of amazing here and I will def try to make it out when I go back to India. Thank you for the detailed post!

  4. Susanna November 5, 2017 at 9:11 am - Reply

    I loved seeing your photos on your facebook, so it was great to read the post! My husband has family. In Chennai, and we will be going there in 2018, so this might be something we have to do for a little break from family! Thanks for sharing and giving me some planning tips.

    • Penny November 6, 2017 at 10:43 pm - Reply

      You made my day Susanna. I’m so glad that you will get a chance to visit Chennai. Mahabalipuram is just a short drive away. In fact you could even make a day trip out of it! Do not miss it. It is absolutely amazing!

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